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‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ Season 2 – A Defense

6 Minute Read
Mar 5 2024

Riker may have the beard in Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2, but there are way more reasons than that to recommend it.

The common wisdom is that Star Trek: The Next Generation doesn’t really find itself until the show’s third season. The arrival of lead writer Michael Piller in that season ushers in an era of character-focused episodes that define the shape of all Star Trek for decades to come.

But, come here, real quick. I want to tell you a secret: TNG was already good by then.

Usually, when people defend the show’s second season they name three things: the episode “Measure of a Man,” the introduction of the Borg, and, of course, Riker’s beard. And, listen, those are three excellent things, worthy of singling out. However, three isolated things do not a great season make. And believe it or not, TNG season 2 is genuinely pretty great.

Yes, the season opens with Deanna Troi’s forced pregnancy. And, yes, it ends on a clip show. But season 2 doesn’t work in spite of notorious elements like the Space Irish or Anbo-jyutsu, it works because of them.

So let’s down and talk about the unique ways Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s second season seeks out new life, new civilizations, and boldly goes where it had never gone before.

Courtesy of CBS Television

Star Trek: The Twilight Zone

Before Deep Space Nine, Star Trek is almost entirely an episodic affair. And while that often means there’s a complete resolution by the end, that’s not always the case. Submitted for your approval is the theory that Rod Serling would’ve loved even some of the more contentious episodes of TNG season two precisely because they often leave things uncertain—not unlike The Twilight Zone.

Take for example the episode “Where Silence Has Lease”. In it, the Enterprise finds itself in a pocket dimension under the torment of the mysterious being Negilum. People suffer and die. Self-preservation nearly loses out to self-determination. And, in the end, even though the Enterprise escapes Negilum, there’s no explanation for why they ensnare the Enterprise beyond curiosity. And there’s no guarantee Negilum can’t just do it all again at any time. It’s unnerving.

Similarly, there’s “Time Squared” where the Enterprise encounters a future version of Captain Picard. That Picard is unable to communicate and is fresh off escaping a version of the Enterprise destroyed by a mysterious spatial anomaly. Originally, Q was supposed to be behind the event, but it’s better without him. Space is existential and dangerous. Even Picard is capable of uncertainty to the point of cowardice.


Even something like “The Royale” which is a silly romp also reinforces that sometimes aliens create a casino in space and there’s no escape. As Q says in “Q Who” after the Enterprise encounters the Borg: “It’s not safe out there”.

TNG becomes a show with easy resolutions most of the time. But in season two, we’re often left uncertain and ill at ease—and that’s a good thing.

Courtesy of CBS Television

Doctor Katherine Pulaski

Everybody loves Beverly Crusher. There’s no need to debate who the better Enterprise D doctor is. However, there is a need to talk about how great Diana Muldaur is as Doctor Katherine Pulaski. People sometimes mistake her for a distaff counterpart to Dr. Leonard McCoy, but she’s so much more than that.

Dr. Pulaski puts everyone through their paces. Picard is afraid of her. In the infamous “Spice Irish” episode “Up the Long Ladder” Worf is blown away by Pulaski’s ability to take part in the poisonous Klingon tea ceremony. And, of course, Pulaski doubts Data’s sentience. She is the counterpoint to Picard’s position in “The Measure of a Man”. And as unethical as you can argue her position is, she adds dimension to Data’s story in a way few other characters do.

In “Unnatural Selection” an oft-overlooked TNG story, Pulaski puts her life on the line, suddenly aging rapidly. She risks everything to understand and protect innocent children. Like Picard, Pulaski is brave even in moments when she is most scared.


And, of course, there are the surprising relationships she does have. Beyond just Worf’s respect, she also has a very close relationship with Will Riker’s father, Kyle. Which brings us to the last reason TNG season 2 stands out.

Courtesy of CBS Television

Star Trek: The Next Generation Family Drama

“The Icarus Factor” is maybe one of the most slept-on episodes in Star Trek history. People love making jokes about this story because its resolution involves those silly Anbo-jyutsu costumes and Will and Kyle Riker going full butch to fight their problems out. Leaving that aside, however, “The Icarus Factor” is about family trauma and how it clouds Will Riker’s judgment.

Riker is ready to be captain—at least according to Starfleet. And so his father, Kyle, comes to brief him on his new assignment as captain of the Aries. But Will hates his father because he feels abandoned. And Kyle sometimes competes with Will in ways that make things even worse.

But through Katherine Pulaski and Deanna Troi, we see the complexity here. Will’s mother’s death left a void in both men’s lives. And neither of them has ever healed from it. That pain keeps them apart and arrests their development. At the heart of it, “The Icarus Factor” is a touching story where a father and son begin to move beyond their grief.

We also see this in episodes like “The Emissary” where Worf comes face-to-face with K’Ehleyr, the future mother of his son. And, yes, we get family drama through comedy with Lwaxana Troi’s return in “Manhunt”. If there’s one thing to know in this article it is that Lwaxana Troi putting the whole Enterprise crew on the backfoot is a good thing.

Courtesy of CBS Television

The Standbys

Just to say it: yes, the episodes that always get a mention are all still great. “Elementary Dear Data” is a delicious romp with Data as Sherlock Holmes and Geordi La Forge as John Watson. Unsurprisingly, Pulaski also shines here as does Daniel Davis as Professor Moriarty.

“A Matter of Honor” gives us insight into Klingon ship politics while pushing Riker to more risky heights. “Q Who” introduces the Borg in one of the scariest episodes of any Star Trek series ever made. “Measure of a Man” is still the best courtroom drama in Trek history.


The classics are still the classics. However, you may find rewatching Data’s betrayal of the Prime Directive in “Pen Pals” more touching on the rewatch. And thanks to Star Trek: Lower Decks, you may discover there’s some fun to ring out of “The Outrageous Okona” and “Samaritan Snare”.

But in the end, Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2, an era embroiled in chaos, struggling against strikes and forced to rely on old Star Trek: Phase II stories actually pushes the Enterprise crew further than you remember. The groundwork for the Golden Age Trek formula may not come into the following season, but that’s all the more reason to revel in the Before Times.

TNG season 2 is full of risk, fear, wonder, and silliness. And despite what anyone tells you, the uncertainty and the unevenness actually makes this era exciting, and, yes—Very Good Actually.

Lina Morgan
Author: Lina Morgan
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