The fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation
saw some of the very best of all 178 shows. "Darmok" had the feel of a "classic Trek
" episode, dealing with language as metaphor. "The First Duty" challenged Wesley Crusher's loyalties. The season closer "Time's Arrow" (which concluded in year 6) ranks as one of the best TNG
cliffhangers, and treats fans to canon-changing story lines and tons of in-jokes. Best of all was the painfully melancholy "The Inner Light," in which Picard experiences an alternate lifetime. There were great guest stars--Paul Winfield ("Darmok"), Ashley Judd ("The Game"), Kelsey Grammar ("Cause and Effect"), Famke Janssen ("The Perfect Mate"), and Jerry Hardin ("Time's Arrow")--and as always there were contributions from Q, Lwaxana, and Barclay, too.
After the confidence of the previous two years, however, year 5 often disappointed by not seeing a good idea through to the end. Denise Crosby was swept back under the carpet in the Klingon soap opener ("Redemption, Part II"). No one could make the prospect of Deep Space 9 attractive enough to Michelle Forbes, so her fantastic performance as Ensign Ro seems wasted in retrospect. And no one could reschedule Robin Williams to guest star, so we had Matt Frewer instead ("A Matter of Time"). Of all stories to use Leonard Nimoy in, "Unification" wallowed in Romulan politics instead of anything emotionally engaging. Gene Roddenberry wanted to introduce a gay character, but mere months after his death all we got was the trite "The Outcast." This was inarguably where the series weakened, without the Great Bird overseeing what was going on. Worst of all, his hard-as-nails bad guys the Borg were given a touchy-feely side in "I, Borg." Fans and critics now appreciate that the behind-the-scenes focus had shifted from The Next Generation to the next spinoff, and it would never fully return.
26 episodes on 7 discs: Redemption Part II, Darmok, Ensign Ro, Silicon Avatar, Disaster, The Game, Unification Part I, Unification Part II, A Matter of Time, New Ground, Hero Worship, Violations, The Masterpiece Society, Conundrum, Power Play, Ethics, The Outcast, Cause and Effect, The First Duty, Cost of Living, The Perfect Mate, Imaginary Friend, I, Borg, The Next Phase, The Inner Light, Time's Arrow Part I.