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17. ALL GOOD THINGS The Next Generation - Season Seven


Written by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga
Directed David Carson
First broadcast May 23rd 1994


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The Next Generation is a transitional series. It begins under the control of Gene Roddenberry, assisted by a number of his 1960’s acolytes, and for its first two seasons largely attempts to recreate the idealistic model of its predecessor with more ‘realistic’ characterisations, better dialogue and a more up-to-date ethos. Although there a few interesting episodes in the early TNG, and the supporting characters like Worf, Geordi, Troi, Yar and Crusher are certainly better realised than their original series equivalents, overall the early TNG somehow fails to find the ‘magic’ that characterised Kirk-era Trek. Despite the often limited nature of the dramatic interplay in the original series, it did have the advantage of having extremely strong characterisation for its three principal characters. The TNG equivalents – Picard, Data and Riker – did not, as yet, match up. Although the superb acting of Patrick Stewart established Picard as a distinctive captain, and Data as the ‘android who wants to be human’ was an interesting reversal of the ‘Spock’ archetype, Riker as the ‘romantic hero’ in the Kirk mould was at this point poorly realised as a character. There was little of the primal interplay between the principals that had been seen in the earlier series. Also the use of established alien races like the Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans is restricted, and the addition of the Ferengi (at first cast as villainous characters) was rather unconvincing.

combadgeAll this changed, however, by the time of the third season. With Roddenberry having pulled away from the series due to ill health, TNG was now in the hands of his successor as ‘Great Bird of the Galaxy’, Rick Berman. Berman was from a different generation to Roddenberry and there is little doubt that he had far greater understanding of the modern TV landscape than Roddenberry. Together with the new head of the writing team Michael Piller, Berman transformed TNG into a highly literate and expansive series which soon superseded the original series in virtually every department. New and more complex villainous alien races – The Borg, and later the Cardassians – were added, whilst the Klingons became (perhaps surprisingly) the most well-developed alien race, with a number of stories throughout the remaining run of the season exploring the depth of their cultural traditions, creating a sstrong ense of cultural pastiche. The Klingons in TNG are far removed from the simplistic villains they appear as in the original series. Much of this change was focussed through the character of the Klingon Worf TNG’s only really ‘divided’ character. As the series progresses Worf becomes one of its most well defined characters, fulfilling much of the ‘outsider’ role once held by Spock. Unlike Data, whose character remains rather fixed, Worf truly develops throughout the series, so much so that he later reappears as a major character in DS9. Riker’s character is also explored in a more imaginative way - as the series progresses he becomes a more cynical and perhaps more morally dubious character. Meanwhile, the naive Utopianism of Roddenberry’s day is continually challenged, so that the ‘neat solutions’ of Kirk’s day are no longer possible. Picard becomes characterised as a rather haunted captain, sometimes suffering because he has internalises so many of his feelings and at other times finding himself involved in a Starfleet which is sometimes corrupt and capable of distinctly morally dubious policies and actions. In short, the Star Trek universe successfully progresses from the simplistic if memorable 1960’s model to the more complex world of the 1990’s.

combadgeAlthough the importance of Berman and Piller’s overall contribution to this process should not be underestimated, the renewal of TNG owes most to the team of young writers that they assembled during the third season. Of these writers, two of the most outstanding and prolific were Ronald D. Moore (who specialised in ‘Klingon stories’, ‘family dilemma stories’ and comic philosophical pieces like the outstanding Tapestry) and Brannon Braga (whose imagination was rather more fantastical, often veering towards ‘horror’ inflected stories or mind-boggling multiple-timeline explorations like Parallels). Moore and Braga were chosen to write the TNG finale together. The resultant All Good Things is a feature-length episode with a broad cinematic scope that puts virtually all the Star Trek movies (except for First Contact, also written by Moore and Braga) to shame. The original series had never had an ‘official’ ending and for the first time the writers were called upon to create a suitable climax to a Star Trek series. The need to do this reflected the way in which TNG had taken on many of the qualities of the serial form. It was also necessary to end the series in a way that would make future exploits of the crew possible. By now the TNG crew were being primed to take over from the ageing original series crew in the lucrative movie series. Overall, Moore and Braga were faced with the task of ‘tying together’ the various plot-threads and characterisations of a series which, as we have seen, had evolved into a very different ‘beast’ by its ending that it had initially been.

combadgeMoore and Braga succeeded admirably in their task, using the time paradox device which with the third season’s tour-de-force Yesterday’s Enterprise had done much to establish TNG’s independent status as an original and distinctive series. Since then there had been a number of extensive variations on the theme, culminating in Braga’s multi-timeline collision in Parallels. All Good Things also benefits from clever manipulations of the audience’s expectations as regards characterisation and includes generous doses of subtle humour. The episode ‘rounds up’ the TNG saga by bringing Picard and his crew back into conflict with Q, the alien super-being who in the first episode of the series Encounter At Farpoint had put humanity on trial and questioned its right to exist. All Good Things brings back this theme so skilfully that on reflection the whole of the series can be seen as a continuous ‘trial’. The plot centres around Picard, who finds himself – like Worf in Parallels – shifting between time periods into different ‘alternative realities’. These are the present, seven years ago at the time of ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ and twenty five years into a possible future. This effect has been caused by Q, who has created the time shift as a result of the appearance of a time anomaly which has appeared in the Neutral Zone and which threatens the whole existence of humanity. Q takes Picard back to yet another time zone – this time to primitive Earth, where the first amino acids of life appear in a pool in front of them but do not appear to connect. Picard’s task is to restore the existence of the human race, which is in imminent danger of being wiped out forever. Conscious of his shifts between the three eras, but often bewildered, Picard finally discovers that only by destroying all three Enterprises can he restore the present time line. When he finds the courage to do this, he passes Q’s test. At the beginning of the series, Q mocks the ‘puny’ human race and seems disposed towards destroying it, but as the series progresses he gains more and more respect for Picard and his crew. Finally here he states that Picard has had a glimpse of what humanity is really capable of, so tying the theme of the whole series together as a kind of ‘evolutionary’ one. It is notable that Q’s later appearances in DS9 and Voyager only emphasise the trivialities of his character and that the episodes he appears in are amongst the weakest of those series. Q is a character created by Roddenberry as a kind of ‘cosmic philosopher’ – he is modelled to a great extent on Trelane, ‘The Squire of Gothos’ from the original series, as well as a number of other original series ‘superbeings’. Q thus does not fit in with the realist ethos of the post-TNG series.

combadgeIn terms of character development, All Good Things takes some radical steps in its projections into the future. Various plot developments from the series are taken to their logical ends, which are not always happy ones. Although Data – now installed in the Lucasian chair at Cambridge once occupied by Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking (both of whom had appeared in hologrammatic form in the earlier Descent) is essentially unchanged, rifts have developed between other members of the crew. Geordi, who has had his sight restored and has become a successful novelist, is the only crew member to have a ‘bright future’. Deanna Troi is now, for unexplained reasons, dead, and Worf and Riker have not spoken to each other for many years, having fallen out over her affections. Riker in particular displays the most character-growth here of any TNG character. Whereas in the first series (the settings and styles of which are brilliantly recreated here) Riker was a kind of fresh-faced all-American hero, in All Good Things’ future-projection he has become a cynical and world-weary figure, apparently carrying out Starfleet orders with little moral awareness. Meanwhile, Beverly Crusher is now a starship captain who has been married to Picard, but has since divorced him, although she still calls herself ‘Captain Picard’. There is no mention (thankfully, as many people would say) of the ‘boy-wonder’ Wesley Crusher. This rather sour vision of the future fits well with the tone of the latter series of TNG, which frequently positioned itself in opposition to the ideal/utopian model Roddenberry favoured, yet it is stressed that the scenario presented is just one possible future timeline. All good things may come to an end, but Moore and Braga manage to keep TNG’s conclusion open-ended, and the final episode is one of the series’ best, with a suitably ‘cosmic’ plot and some fascinating character projection. The essential idealism of the series – inherited from Roddenberry – and the new psychological realism as introduced by Berman and Piller are married together and carefully balanced.

 

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COPYRIGHT CHRIS GREGORY (C) 1999-2002 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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