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Sophomore seasons are hard to ignore. In some cases, a television series' best years begin here, when endless possibilities lie ahead and there's enough of that "new car smell" to keep everything exciting. We haven't yet grown weary of the formula, but everything's familiar enough to settle into on a weekly basis. More often than not, there's a measure of change as a show grows into its own skin: characters become more three-dimensional as the writers create dynamics and the cast settles in behind the scenes. All of these factors directly apply to Star Trek: The Next Generation during its 1988-89 sophomore season. This 22-episode run features a number of changes from the show's popular but uneven first year: a handful of characters have been moved over to more familiar posts, at least one regular is introduced and the writers have begun to strengthen the series' core. No longer is TNG a weekly serial that stands in the shadow of its 1960s predecessor; it's starting to have its own voice.
The Next Generation's measured, diplomatic approach to sci-fi stood in contrast to Star Trek's rough edges. Creator Gene Roddenberry wished to smooth out these edges right from the start, and this wish was respected long after his 1991 passing. Nonetheless, danger still existed outside of the ship's walls: alien threats challenged our crew on a weekly basis... yet distrust of new races was never shown as a first response for the crew (except for Worf, on occasion). The show's pacifist tendencies clicked surprisingly well with audiences right out of the gate, and TNG's second season maintains its philosophy of "ask questions first and arm the photon torpedoes later". Ironically enough, this season just happens to introduce the crew's most formidable threat in "The Borg" (seen above), a race of cybernetic organisms that assimilate weaker species to absorb their technology and, in many cases, their people.
The Borg would return a number of times during TNG's seven season run (not to mention First Contact and other Trek TV incarnations); for now, their single appearance during the Season Two highlight "Q Who?" hits hard enough to make quite an impression. It's the first time our crew really seems to be at the end of their rope, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.
There's a renewed focus on character development during TNG's second year; not just how they interact with one another, but what makes them tick. There's no more obvious proof of this than during "The Measure of a Man", a fan favorite episode written by Melinda Snodgrass that focuses on Lieutenant Commander Data (above) and his "human rights" as a member of Starfleet. A cyberneticist plans to pick apart Data's positronic brain to learn more about its construction, yet Data adamantly refuses the procedure. It's a brilliant metaphor for what makes a person...well, a person, and "Measure" hits all the right notes from start to finish. Interestingly enough, this episode has also been blessed with an extended cut (see "Bonus Features" below) and earned a theatrical double billing with "Q Who?" in the last week.
Other highlights this season include "Elementary, Dear Data" (a Sherlock Holmes-themed mystery), "Time Squared" (the crew encounters a double of Captain Picard from the future), "Loud As A Whisper" (the crew escorts a deaf mediator to end fighting on a nearby planet) and many more. A condensed episode and bonus content listing are provided below.
This Blu-Ray collection from CBS arrives just over four months after its landmark Season One release and further cements the series' technical impact and legacy. Carefully crafted models once again sparkle with detail, from tiny lights to specks of battle damage. Close-ups reveal the highlights and occasional mistakes of makeup and costume design. Outdated effects that couldn't be salvaged for HD have been tastefully upgraded to preserve the series' distinct visual design. Sound effects and music are more robust and dynamic than ever. From this masterful A/V presentation to a generous assortment of entertaining and highly informative extras, Trekkies of all ages will enjoy seeing these 22 episodes again...for the first time.
Complete List of Season Two Episode Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Video & Audio Quality
TNG's second season has a different appearance by design, due to a film stock that originally produced a more muted and film-like picture. Of course, the obvious limitations of the original videotape master disguised many of these subtleties...but once again, CBS' painstaking visual efforts have lifted the gauze from our eyes. Textures are exceptionally crisp during close-up shots, minute details are seen in vintage (and new) matte paintings and those detailed ship models can once again be appreciated in full 1080p resolution. Of course, a handful of seams can also be spotted due to the bump in quality, but that's just part of the charm in seeing these episodes again for the first time. It's worth noting, however, that a handful of the new visual effects aren't quite as strong as those from Season One...but there's so much to love about these remastered episodes that any complaints pale in comparison.
DISCLAIMER: These captures are from promotional sources and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
Not to be outdone, the audio is basically flawless from every angle. Each episode features a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix; the added punch mostly beefs up music cues and warp fly-bys, but it also creates a pleasing ambiance for scenes inside the ship as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, LFE is notable at times and the score never fights for attention. The original 2.0 Stereo Surround mixes are also included for purists, but they're presented in lossy Dolby Digital instead of DTS-HD Master Audio. Most fans shouldn't consider this a deal-breaker, but it's definitely an odd oversight in an otherwise detail-oriented effort. Speaking of which, the infamous audio glitches from the Season One Blu-Ray collection (which, to CBS' credit, were corrected within a matter of weeks) don't appear to repeat themselves here. I'd imagine that those unfortunate mistakes led to a much more thorough quality check this time around.
Optional DD 2.0 dubs are provided in German, Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese. Optional subtitles are provided in English (SDH), German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. Sadly, no Klingon or Ferengi, but what can you do?
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the "computer interface" menu designs are attractive, simple and smooth, much like the old DVDs. Each episode has been divided into more than half a dozen chapter stops, though no sub-menus are present. No obvious layer changes were detected during playback and these discs are unlocked for region-free viewing. This five-disc set is, once again, housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a handsome embossed slipcover and no inserts of any kind. A condensed list of episodes and bonus features has been printed on the interior artwork.
CBS has served up a generous amount of supplements here, and it's all high quality material. For starters, the original Ernie Anderson Episode Promos
(SD, 0:30 each) are spread over all five discs. On a related note, Disc One
also includes the Season Two Promo
(SD, 1:10) that aired before the premiere, plus a like-minded Tech Update
(HD, 8:00) that retrospectively details some of the overall changes to TNG
during its second year. A vintage TNG
-themed "Reading Rainbow" Episode
(17:03, with a new introduction) shows host LeVar Burton going behind the scenes, and there's also a Promo
for the Reading Rainbow iTunes app (HD, 1:30). This disc closes out with an Archival Mission Log
originally created for the 2002 DVD release (SD, 17:30), which offers another summary of the Season Two production as a whole.
Disc Two keeps the momentum rolling with a new Extended Version of the landmark episode "The Measure of a Man" (HD, 57:30), which was assembled with the help of a VHS tape from the collection of episode writer Melinda Snodgrass. Supervised by long-time Star Trek editor Robert Lederman, this episode includes approximately 13 minutes of footage not seen during the original broadcast version. Also here is a slightly shorter "Hybrid Extended Version" of the same episode (SD and HD, 56:00); unlike the other extended version, the new scenes are presented in rough VHS quality and aren't sweetened by post-production effects. If you still haven't had your fill of "Measure of a Man"-themed extras, an informative Audio Commentary with Snodgrass and TNG veterans Michael and Denise Okuda has also been included.
Disc Three offers a never-before-seen Blooper Reel (HD, 10:30); this is highly entertaining in its own right, but the fact that it's taken from original 35mm source elements is just icing on the cake. Also included here are two additional Archival Mission Logs from the 2002 DVD (SD, 31:30 total) which focus on Star Trek archivist Penny Juday and selected cast interviews about their respective characters (Picard, LaForge, Riker, Wesley, Troi and Dr. Pulaski).
Disc Four serves up another Audio Commentary during "Q Who?" with director Rob Bowman, visual effects producer Dan Curry and the Okudas. It's great to see selected episodes get new commentaries, so here's hoping the trend continues. We're also treated to yet another Archival Mission Log (SD, 16:30) with key cast members sharing their favorite Season Two episodes, including "The Icarus Factor", "Up the Long Ladder" and "Measure of a Man".
Disc Five finishes strong, leading off with a 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion (HD, 62:00, seen above) featuring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, and Wil Wheaton. Moderated by filmmaker and DVD producer Robert Meyer Burnett, this essential piece of TNG history is enjoyable from start to finish, as the grateful cast members do a fine job of recounting personal memories, expressing their doubts about the series' first two years and, of course, throwing plenty of friendly jabs at one another. Also, for a fun drinking game, take a shot whenever Sirtis cuts someone off mid-sentence. Next up is a two-part Retrospective Documentary (HD, 81:30 total); divided into "Strange New Worlds" and "New Life & New Civilizations", this exhaustive piece touches on cast changes, the villainous Borg, the 1988 WGA strike, life on the set, visual effects, production design and much more. Our last extra is a fifth Archival Mission Log (SD, 14:40) which largely focuses on the new characters and construction of the "Ten Forward" set.
All bonus features include optional subtitles in the languages listed above. Overall, this is a near-perfect collection of extras that sets the bar high for future TNG season releases.
Like most sophomore seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation moved one step closer to a comfortable consistency during this second year, surviving the 1988 WGA strike, a few cast changes and a handful of less-than-impressive episodes. As the cast and crew developed a distinct voice and identity for the surprisingly successful series, its strengths became more evident as the season progressed (save for the finale, which somewhat spoils the party). Fortunately, CBS has once again gone to great lengths in making TNG: Season Two a must-own Blu-Ray collection, pairing a top-tier technical presentation with a generous assortment of entertaining bonus features. Set wallets to "buy", or whatever. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a few websites in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.