Following on from my run through the first season, it's time to continue with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 2 was broadcast in 1988 and 1989, with the episodes being set in 2365 during the second year of the USS Enterprise-D's mission.
While season 3 is generally thought of as the point at which TNG really came together as a series, season 2 shows some definite - if extremely patchy - signs of improvement over the first set of episodes. The two most impressive episodes are "The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who", which are often seen as some of the very best from TNG's early years. Notably, the latter introduces the Borg for the very first time - the implacable beings set up as a formidable threat both within TNG and even moreso, in Voyager.
Some significant changes this season include the introduction of Guinan (played wonderfully by Whoopi Goldberg), the promotion of Worf and LaForge to security chief and chief engineer respectively, and the temporary replacement of Beverly Crusher as chief medical officer. Dr Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur, isn't often popular with fans not least due to her (initial) antipathy towards Data. Plus, who can forget the introduction of Riker's beard? Engage!
S2E1 "The Child" (2/10)
Troi falls pregnant due to the intervention of a mysterious alien in this risible series opener. This warmed-over script lifted from the cancelled Star Trek Phase II comprises two barely-connected plotlines, each as stupid and inconsequential as the other. Riker's beard and the half-hearted introductions of Ten Forward and Guinan are the only saving graces.
S2E2 "Where Silence Has Lease" (3/10)
An episode which begins somewhat promisingly, but quickly lapses into some of Trek's absolute worst and most embarassing tropes. The Enterprise encounters yet another godlike alien entity, and escapes by means of a laughable bluff. The characters' reactions to events are bizarre, and the story sometimes comes off as a poor imitation of the TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuvre".
S2E3 "Elementary, Dear Data" (4/10)
More slow improvement in this next holodeck episode. The idea of a self-aware holographic Moriarty is an excellent one, but the script runs out of steam completely just when it should hit its stride and the ending is very flat and perfunctory. Credit is due to Daniel Davis' very good English accent as Moriarty, as well as to the recreation of 19th-century London. Still, this is far short of what it should be.
S2E4 "The Outrageous Okona" (5/10)
While this is still only a middling episode, the slow improvement in season 2 continues. Again, there are two barely connected plots here and the approach is broadly comic - especially in one where Data continues his effort to master humour. The plot is basic and predictable but loveable rogue Captain Okona is a most welcome character, a flamboyant foil to the stuffed uniforms of the Enterprise. Teri Hatcher appears, uncredited.
S2E5 "Loud as a Whisper" (4/10)
Tasked with transporting a gifted mediator, the Enterprise become embroiled in a conflict on Solais V that has lasted over a thousand years. Guest actor Howie Seago campaigned for a story with a positive portrayal of a deaf person and it's admirable - but the episode lacks excitment and can be almost embarassingly over-sincere. While it burnishes the series' progressive credentials, it's hardly a standout episode.
S2E6 "The Schizoid Man" (3/10)
A classic example of a good idea, executed very poorly indeed. Data is overtaken by a vain but brilliant scientist, and the entire episode is predicated on the Enterprise crew being inexplicably unable to understand what has happened. W. Morgan Sheppard's role as the pompous Ira Graves is good, but it can't salvage what is a bitterly disappointing episode which uses Data very badly.
S2E7 "Unnatural Selection" (3/10)
Another very poor episode continuing a worrying early run in season 2. Here, the Enterprise encounter the USS Lantree and then a Federation research station, each suffering an outbreak of rapid aging. The attempt to find a cure devolves into endless anodyne jargon, and very little in the way of real drama. Transparently an effort to make the character of Pulaski more likeable, it fails.
S2E8 "A Matter of Honor" (7/10)
In season 1, the episode "Datalore" delivered some desperately needed quality; in season 2, "A Matter of Honor" performs the same function. Riker volunteers to serve on a Klingon vessel as part of an exchange programme, while a Benzite serves on the Enterprise. The story explores the radically different command structures and cultures of each ship, as well as a tense inter-species crisis. A very strong, much-needed episode.
S2E9 "The Measure of a Man" (9/10)
A wonderful episode. Arriving at a new starbase, the Enterprise crew is told that Data is to be disassembled - prompting Picard to mount a legal challenge. The best episode of The Next Generation so far, this superbly written and acted story is philosophically and emotionally profound. Although Data is the driver of the plot, it's Patrick Stewart's performance as Picard at the centre of this very special entry in the series.
S2E10 "The Dauphin" (4/10)
A somewhat interesting episode about Wesley's thwarted romance with a teenager monarch-to-be. The story is marred by some absolutely laughable creature designs, which are probably the series' worst so far but there are a few more deliberately amusing scenes, such as Wesley's attempt to get romantic advice from Riker and Guinan, and Worf's encounter with the princess' "governess".
S2E11 "Contagion" (3/10)
After the destruction of its sister ship USS Yamato, the Enterprise becomes contaminated with the same alien computer virus. As interesting as this sounds, it sadly results in a poor episode. The Yamato's destruction is almost completely trivial, and the solution is for Picard and Data to vacillate in a small, beige set for half of the story. Desperately lacking personality and real threat, this episode is a damp squib.
S2E12 "The Royale" (5/10)
A quite decent story here: Riker, Worf and Data become stranded in a simulation of the story from a cheap 20th century paperback novel constructed decades earlier by apparently guilty aliens. While the plot doesn't ultimately amount to much, there are some excellent and very funny scenes set at a craps table, in which Data and the simulated hotel "guests" are used well.
S2E13 "Time Squared" (5/10)
The Enterprise gets caught in a six-hour time loop, and Picard must take extreme steps to escape. The mysterious vortex that causes this effect is a complete, vague cop-out but its dramatic effects make it worthwhile. In particular, the shocking discovery of another Picard is an interesting scene and Patrick Stewart's performance throughout is excellent. Still, it's easy to wish that more was made of this idea.
S2E14 "The Icarus Factor" (4/10)
With precious few actual sci-fi elements, this is almost pure melodrama, similarly to "The Dauphin" a few episodes earlier. Riker is offered his own command, but has to spend time with his estranged father Kyle. The performances are good, but it's hard to regard this family drama as being particularly worthwhile Star Trek. The subplot, about Worf's alienation and a Klingon ceremony he must undergo, is the main interest.
S2E15 "Pen Pals" (4/10)
An indifferent, uneventful episode. Data and Wesley each have their own dilemmas prompted by a geological survey of a system affected by severe volcanic activity. That these planets appear to only have one inhabitant implies that this episode had little in the way of a budget, and neither of the two plots generates much in the way of interest. A strictly passable and in no way memorable episode.
S2E16 "Q Who" (9/10)
Q returns, this time hoping to join the Enterprise crew. Upon being rebuffed, he pushes the ship 7,000 lightyears away and into humankind's first-ever encounter with the Borg. This deservedly revered episode is packed with superb performances, not least from Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie. Far better than almost any episode of the series so far, this deftly introduces the Borg and makes the Federation seem more vulnerable than ever. (Best Episode)
S2E17 "Samaritan Snare" (3/10)
An exceptionally stupid episode, in which Geordi is abducted by some apparently backwards but acqusitive aliens, the Pakleds. The plot is full of holes and logical leaps, and the subplot is even worse. Having Wesley and Picard spend time together is a good idea, but Picard's sudden need for heart surgery is almost stunning dumb in its execution. A very weak episode, and a terrible successor to "Q Who".
S2E18 "Up the Long Ladder" (3/10)
Just two episodes on, and the wonderful "Q Who" seems a long time ago - this is the second overwhelmingly stupid episode in a row. The Enterprise discovers two human colonies, one dependent on cloning and one a ludicrous Irish stereotype. There are a few laughs, but the concept is a very weak one and Picard's solution the situation seems to fly in the face of any kind of Federation sense or decency.
S2E19 "Manhunt" (4/10)
It's a sign of how weak season 2 has become that a Lxwana Troi-centred episode which features an unrecognisable cameo by Mick Fleetwood represents an improvement. This is complete fluff, of no consequence whatsoever, but there are nice callbacks to season 1 episodes "Haven" and "The Big Goodbye" and it's sometimes amusing. Still, this is a far cry from the series' best.
S2E20 "The Emissary" (8/10)
An excellent episode, and one of the season's best. An emissary who meets with the Enterprise for a top-secret mission turns out to be K'Ehleyr, a human-Klingon hybrid and Worf's former lover. The story effectively exploits the personal stakes, as Worf and K'Ehleyr are forced to work together to neutralise a Klingon vessel whose crew believes that war with the Federation still continues. Special mention is due to the excellent costumes.
S2E21 "Peak Performance" (8/10)
In anticipation of a new conflict with the Borg, Picard agrees to take part in a combat simulation in which Riker commands the decrepit USS Hathaway. Here's another extremely strong episode, which wrings a lot of tension out of its "simulated" battle and allows almost all the key characters to have a moment to shine. Worf and Riker are particularly key to the episode, and the subplot involving Data dovetails nicely with the main story. A blast.
S2E22 "Shades of Gray" (2/10)
Just as season 2 opened with an extremely poor episode, so too does it end with one. Having said that, the reviled clip show "Shades of Gray" isn't entirely bad. Those scenes which were shot specifically for the episode are quite good - but naturally they are overwhelmed by the weight of re-used footage. It's certainly a very poor substitute for a real season closer, but sadly clip shows were simply a fact of life in 1980s TV, Star Trek included. (Worst Episode)