Pick of the Week – February 23-March 1, 2015

There are very few events in my life about which I can tell you exactly where I was when they occurred.  One of those was on September 28, 1987.  You remember that one, right?

Possibly not.

So perhaps a bit of background is in order.  About a year earlier, I discovered Star Trek.  Yes, I’d seen a couple of the movies prior to that, but they didn’t really make an impression.  But in the Fall of 1986, I started watching the original Star Trek series (TOS) at 5PM every weekday in syndication, and I became OBSESSED.  I devoured every episode of the original, dragged my family to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on opening night, and, when word broke that a new Star Trek series was in development, I hunted down every bit of information I could find.

Then on September 28, 1987, while the rest of my family ate dinner in the kitchen, I was planted in front of the TV with a tray table waiting anxiously for the new series, titled Star Trek: The Next Generation, to premiere.  Next Generation (Henceforth, TNG) ran for seven seasons, racking up 178 episodes, more than double the count of its parent series.  Despite airing in syndication rather than on a network, it was hugely popular and garnered a Best Dramatic Series Emmy nomination in its final season.  That popularity allowed the crew to jump to the movies, taking over for the TOS crew when TNG ended in 1994.

With 178 episodes to choose from, narrowing them down to a single episode for this week’s Pick is exceptionally difficult.  There are several fantastic episodes, such as “The Inner Light,” “The Offspring,” and the epic “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter (Part One ends with Trek’s first-ever season-ending cliffhanger that quite literally had me screaming at my TV.), that are not the best place to jump in for someone who has never seen the show and doesn’t know the characters.

So which one to pick?  After a bit of consultation with Corinne (Herself an avid TNG fan), I have selected “Darmok” from the fifth season.  Don’t worry that it’s so far along into the show.  This is a standalone episode, and it does a wonderful job of both showing the characters’ personalities and telling a solid science fiction tale about differing cultures working to understand each other.

In the episode, the USS Enterprise establishes first contact with an unknown species, the Tamarians.  The usually-reliable universal translator (One of Star Trek’s inventions that speed up storytelling and would be fantastic to have in the real world) can’t make sense of the Tamarian’s language structure.  It translates the words, but the message is lost.  The Tamarian captain (Played by Paul Winfield, who was also Captain Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.) basically kidnaps Captain Picard and takes the two down to the surface of a nearby planet to try to find a way for them to communicate.  The episode is very well done and consistently makes “Best Of” lists for the series.  “Darmok” is an example of TNG at its peak.  I hesitate to say more about it and risk spoiling or over-hyping it.   As a side note, “Darmok” also has a small appearance by Ashley Judd, in one of her first roles, as Ensign Robin Lefler.

- Alan Decker

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