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on October 30, 2016
"Star Trek: The Next Generation" had a rocky start -- the first season was a wasteland of pretension, and the second season was merely mediocre.
But the third season was where the series bloomed, fully coming into its own with new writers and a lessening of Gene Roddenberry's eccentric viewpoints. It still had some issues and a few self-righteous moments, but "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" moved the story into far more intelligent, well-developed ideas and political strife, as well as the return of one of Star Trek's greatest villain species.
Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) returns to the Enterprise just in time for her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) to accidentally endanger the ship with his science project -- he had his nanites communicate with each other, and now they've evolved into intelligent life. This would be less disastrous if the ship weren't right next to an about-to-erupt pulsar, and an attempt to kill them didn't lead to deadly retaliation.
And that's only the start of the series. From then on, they have to deal with stubborn colonists, Q (John De Lancie) being stripped of his godlike powers, accusations of murder and treachery, ancient blood feuds, a booby trap, an escaped super-soldier, the creation of a gynoid, a living starship, a mysterious pair of senior citizens, kidnappings, shore leave gone awry, and an awkward crewman who seeks social acceptance on the holodeck.
The highlights: the arrival of the legendary Vulcan diplomat Sarek (Mark Lenard) heralds sudden outbursts of violence among the crew, and the sudden appearance of the Enterprise-C leads to a radically altered timeline. And finally, the cybernetic aliens known as the Borg begin their devastating invasion of Federation space, with a very familiar face as the herald of their arrival...
One of the best aspects of "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" is that after two seasons of stifling moral certitude, it was time to examine serious moral dilemmas and issues once again. Oh, sometimes it's a bit too simplistic ("The Hunted"), but most of the time they deal with some serious issues worthy of the Star Trek ideal, such as the repercussions of the Prime Directive, the implications of new life, and the responsibilities of great power.
There's also a stronger interstellar political undercurrent to this season, with the brewing unrest in the Romulan empire that ensnares the Enterprise more than once, as well as hints that the Klingon empire may be destabilizing as well. It's not quite the arc-driven storytelling that is now much more common in TV, but it adds a feeling of depth, realism and intelligence. And even the standalone episodes are simply better quality -- one episode is essentially a science-fiction retelling of "Rashomon," using the holodeck as part of a criminal investigation.
Flaws? Well, there are a few dud episodes. Some episodes have echoes of the insufferable sense of superiority that suffused the first episode -- for instance, "Who Watches The Watchers" has a distinctly anti-religious flavor, and "The Bonding" is all about how "superior" people are immune to grief. And if you feel it, just repress it.
This season also saw the return of Gates McFadden as Doctor Crusher, and her warmth and passion are a welcome change from the second season. Indeed, the cast had clearly all grown into their roles, and each character has their own distinctive quirks and oddities -- Picard is an introvert with an impressive personality, Geordi has rotten luck with women, Wesley is becoming overly scholarly, Riker's horniness leads to a murder investigation, and Worf's powerful sense of honor leads him into conflict with his own people.
There are a few flaws, but on average "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" is a powerful, well-written string of science fiction stories -- and it ends on one of Star Trek's finest hours (and cliffhangers).