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So, what dynamite plot ideas do we have to kick of season two with? How about: Troi has a baby...
Wow, let's gawp at all the new Level 2 members of the crew with their new uniforms, haircuts, and of course, Riker's awesome beard! Then one of those pesky glowing light aliens appears and zwooshes around the ship, trying to find the right person to impregnate. It ops for Deanna Troi. Welcome to our A plot. Meanwhile, LaForge is replicating containment modules to safely store a deadly plasma plague that the Enterprise is transporting just for the fun of it. Our B plot. Oh, and Picard and Wesley share an awkward moment in a turbolift. Our C plot. Wait... C plot? Yes folks, even the plot structure is now upgraded to Level 2, and we are allowed a whole three stories per episode.
Anyway, the A plot goes a bit like this: in a day and a half, Troi gives birth to a little baby boy, aided by an amusingly excitable Data. She names the child Ian. He grows fast. A lot of dramatic music helps us to understand that this is weird. There are puppies. But Ian is endangering the B plot, so he has to go.
Meanwhile, the B plot goes like this: the Enterprise is transporting a buffet of deadly viruses and genetically engineered nonsense that could kill everyone if it escapes. So of course, the circumstances develop that mean that it might escape owing to the A plot. But it doesn't, because then the show would be over.
And the C plot goes like this: Wesley is sad because he has to leave the Enterprise. But Guinan manipulates him into staying on the Enterprise. So we're all sad.
I've always thought this was an odd choice for kicking off season 2. It's not a bad episode, it's just pretty low impact for an opening story. The reason we get this story at all comes down to that pesky writers strike that disrupted the end of season one. Lacking a ready-made script, they borrowed one of the two that had been written for Star Trek: Phase II, the never-to-be-filmed sequel to classic Trek. (The other one, "Devil's Due", comes around in season 4, so we'll get to that later.) Trace Tormé, who was tasked with holding the fort during the writer's strike, seems to have chosen this one because it was relatively easy to adapt to the TNG format.
As for words, 'Plasma plague' is the big load-bearing concept in the B plot... we don't really do anything with it other than create the impression that everyone is in jeopardy, but I guess that's enough.
Not just one but two new recurring characters?! Even the cast has levelled up!
Let's start with Diana Muldaur's Dr Pulaski. I always thought of this character as disliked, but listening in on fan discussions reveals that there is actually some love for our backup Doctor. As painfully obvious as it was to recreate the tension between McCoy and Spock in classic Trek between Pulaski and Data, it actually works very nicely. The scene in this episode, for instance, where she calls him 'Dah-ta' not 'Day-ta' is really quite charming, and sets up a much more playfully acerbic relationship than Spock and McCoy. It really is the best thing about Muldaur being on the show.
But the addition of Muldaur to the cast is completely overshadowed by the addition of Whoopi Goldberg. This was a huge dollop of stunt casting that generated a lot of positive press for the show. But it wasn't an intentional play by the production team to drum up interest. Rather, Goldberg asked Gene Roddenberry (via LeVar Burton, who was a personal friend) to create a recurring role for her because she was such a fan. My only problem with Guinan is that she somewhat overlaps with Troi's role as counsellor. Don't get me wrong, the Guinan scenes are almost always excellent and usually subtly written too. But we already had a member of the crew whose role was to advise people! Having a second one seems to undercut the already marginal role of Troi.
Yet, no matter how huge the appearance of Guinan was at the time, the absolutely huge development from a retrospective perspective is that we get Colm Meaney as Transporter Chief. He's still not O'Brien, much less Miles O'Brien, but at least he has the job that TNG fans know and love him for. He also has the rank of Lieutenant, which is inexplicable in retrospect but seriously wouldn’t have made any difference when this was first aired. We still have a long way to go before Meaney gets to be a fully-fledged character, but at least he’s established as a regular unnamed supporting cast member now!
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Welcome back to the wonderful Excelsior model, which appears in a luxurious new sequence alongside the Enterprise in the opening shot.
This footage was actually shot for "Encounter at Farpoint", but wasn't used in that episode and - for reasons unknown - they weren't tempted to use this shot anywhere else in season one. Well, whatever the story might be here, it's a great opening moment to this show.
And this is followed with the first of our new sets - a proper shuttlebay to house the new shuttlecraft model. This is a studio miniature superimposed onto the set, but it’s masterfully done.
Then of course there's the other new set: Ten Forward. This is a great addition to the show for a great many reasons, not least of which is housing Guinan and setting up moody staring off into space shots (and there will be a lot of these over the years!).
Ten Forward also affords opportunities to meet the characters when they're off duty. There are some Trek fans for whom this shift towards personal drama and away from epic space adventure mars TNG (these are the fans for whom season one is the only good season). I'm not one of these. I love the blend of sci-fi nonsense and character-based drama and comedy that TNG develops, and this set helps it all to happen.
We also get a new planetary matte painting. It's blue. And of course, we'll be seeing this one again many more times in the shows ahead, but not necessarily in this colour.
Okay, it's not the most striking matte painting, but at least we didn't get an episode with no paintings at all!
Finally, there’s some more stock footage reused from the motion pictures this week: Science Station Tango Sierra appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as Regula I, although the shot we see here isn’t in the movie and we have no way of knowing if it was new footage shot with the same model, or something rescued from the cutting room floor. The model itself also appeared in an earlier form in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as an orbital office complex.
Let’s not let those great models go to waste! Between the studio miniatures, the levelled up cast, and even some gratuitously cute puppies, there’s a lot to enjoy in this episode, even if the story itself is fairly forgettable.
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