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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 13 ONLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted November 26 2013 - 07:15 PM

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification Blu-ray Review

The advent of CBS’s investment in re-mastering Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons for release in the Blu-ray high definition format has brought with it an interesting opportunity to own popular two-part episodes edited together into a single ‘movie’ event. Perhaps just another chance at generating revenue from an always eager fan base, these special releases give fans three things. First, the chance to own a unique presentation of popular episodes; second, these releases come with a couple of special features each that can only be owned through the purchase of these releases; and third, it gives fans like myself another way to support these releases, demonstrate that the massive effort and investment in re-mastering the entire series in High Definition was a wise one for CBS, and increase the hopes that at least Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gets the same opportunity.

“Unification” was a wonderful choice to get the ‘feature’ treatment.


Cover Art


Studio: Paramount

Distributed By: CBS

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French 1.0 DD (Mono), Japanese 1.0 PCM (Mono)

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Other

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 1 Hr. 26 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

Standard Amaray with Special fold-out Slipcover

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 11/19/2013

MSRP: $24.99




The Production Rating: 4/5

Spock: "In your own way, you are as stubborn as another captain of the Enterprise I once knew."
Picard: "Then I am in good company, sir."

Ambassador Spock, spotted on the Romulan home world, is feared to have defected. Captain Picard is tasked with determining Spock’s intentions. A visit with Sarek, Spock’s estranged and dying father, yields little answers. With no other recourse, and the possibility of Spock divulging a lifetime of secrets to a longtime foe of the Federation, Picard must travel to Romulus and track down the legendary former member of the USS Enterprise. Securing passage on a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey, Picard and Lt. Commander Data make their way to find Spock, donning Romulan facial prosthetics as subterfuge; they must avoid detection for fear of death, and solve the mystery of Spock’s disappearance.

The second of three Star Trek: The Original Series actors to appear in The Next Generation, following DeForest Kelley’s appearance in the Pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”, and preceding James Doohan’s entertaining re-materialization in Season Six’ “Relics”, Leonard Nimoy’s guest starring role on the successor Star Trek series was much anticipated. Appearing less than a month before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the two-part episode and the final Star Trek film featuring the full Original Series cast shared interesting thematic similarities; the potential for a thawing of tense relations between species and the courage and trust exhibited by once skeptical members of the United Federation of Planets (and those of the associated species).

The strength and longevity of “Unification” comes largely from the maturity of the storytelling and the potency of its core idea. Drawing from the reunification of the German Democratic Republic (East) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West) that began, rather peacefully, at the end of the 1980’s, and was symbolized by the fall (the tearing down piece by piece by jubilant and dedicated protestors) of the Berlin Wall, this two-part episode wades into compelling political territory. An examination of two cousin species (like the kindred lives of the East and West Germans), and the politics, propaganda, and cultural separation that had erected barriers between them, is an absorbing subject ripe for exploration. This is most effectively raised in the discussions on Romulus between Spock and the members of the underground movement he has come to foster, and between Spock and Picard and Data as they discuss the opportunity Spock is bravely exploring.

“Unification Parts I & II” succeed as quality Star Trek and entertaining television in general. More subdued and dramatic compared to other two-part episodes, which until this point had been the Pilot and the season three and four finales, it finds energy in its drama. The B-plot of Commander Riker taking the Enterprise on the hunt for related clues to Spock’s appearance on Romulus is lighter in tone, serving as a nice balance. The conclusion may not be wholly satisfying in and of itself, but the experience of Spock, Picard and Data sharing scenes is historic.



Video Rating: 4.5/5  3D Rating: NA

As a reminder, the show’s visual effects were shot on film requiring every visual effects element to be re-compositioned (rather than suffer an upconversion from videotape). This requires re-cutting over 25,000 film reels, meticulously rebuilding the episodes and preserving the original episodes in lush detail transferred to high-definition detail.

As part of the handling of Season Five’s conversion efforts, CBS-Digital has done a terrific job with Unification. Some recycled junk-yard shots from Best of Both Worlds are put to good use, but this is mostly a planet-based feature (besides the scenes on the Enterprise and the Klingon Bird of Prey), particularly the streets of Romulus and the secret cave meeting space of the underground. Colors are strong, a little cool, but presented well with fine detail levels. Picard and Data’s make-up effects show off the difference in (as in difficulty matching) skin tones between the actor’s faces and the Romulan adornments. Strands and details on the fabrics of the quality Romulan costumes are pleasing, as are black levels and the overall quality throughout.

It should be noted for the eagle-eyed fan that Galorndon Core is now back to the correct color, blue, versus the discontinuity of the SD presentation.



Audio Rating: 4/5

The audio quality for “Unification”, as with the season set from which these episodes can also be found, is very good featuring a robust 7.1 DTS-HD track. A dialogue-centric episode, Unification delivers consistently in the center channel. The hum of the Enterprise and the clang and harsher hum of the Klingon ship are nicely reproduced. No issues here.

Also included is a DTS-HD 2.0 track that more closely resembles the stereo presentation of its original airing.



Special Features Rating: 3/5

Audio Commentary by Jeri Taylor and Mike & Denise Okuda: This audio commentary is perhaps the most compelling reason to pick up this stand-alone release. Jeri Taylor, former writer for TNG and co-creator of Star Trek: Voyager is a welcome participant, joining long-time production crew, holders of Trek facts galore, and cheerleaders of the Trek legacy, Mike and Denise Okuda, in discussing this two-part episode. Taylor seems quiet as the show begins but during the course of the episodes warms up and, thanks to some probing questions from the Okuda’s, reveals some good information about this episode and more. Of particular intrigue are Taylor’s comments regarding Geneviéve Bujold’s decision to withdraw from playing Captain Janeway given her discomfort at the rigor of a television shooting schedule (allowing Kate Mulgrew to fill those shoes nicely), and her unfortunate first appearance at a Trek convention where her fan-fared entrance on-stage was met with much less than Taylor had expected (it’s a funny and sad story all at once). A very worthwhile listen.

From One Generation to the Next: The Making of “Unification”– HD: A short and somewhat disjointed peak into making the episode. Comments on the significance of Leonard Nimoy appearing on The Next Generation are welcome as various cast and crew share how it was a stamp of recognition and approval (perhaps enough to sway any hold out fans of the Original Series that hadn’t warmed to the new crew). Not as in-depth, revealing or absorbing as other special features accompanying similar releases.

Deleted Scene (HD): A nice scene featuring Picard and Perrin (Sarek’s wife) aboard the Enterprise. Joanna Miles’ solid portrayal of Perrin was always relatively short in the first episode and so more of her appearance is welcome.

Two Episodic Promos (SD)



Overall Rating: 4/5

“Unification” is a quieter two-part episode than others from The Next Generation’s seven year run, but a memorable and historic one nonetheless. Again, the editing together of the two episodes into a single feature still feels like two-episodes, but it’s a good way to enjoy Spock’s return to Trek on the small screen (and ties nicely with Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country). The extras aren’t as compelling as the previous ‘feature’ releases of episodes, but the commentary is engaging.

I look forward to what gets the feature treatment from season six.


Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss


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#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted November 26 2013 - 07:22 PM

Cool slipcover too.
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#3 of 13 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted November 27 2013 - 06:58 AM

I listen to a lot of Trek podcasts and, for some reason, some of them don't think the "Unification" two parter is very good.  Sure, the second hour suffers from the same problem all TNG 2 part episodes do: not living up to the expectations of the first part.  But I don't think this is a "lesser" two part episode.  Even the use of Sela, which was laid down ahead of time in "Redemption II" works for me.  (What was the alternative?  A character we'd never seen before and had to be introduced for this episode?)

 

In regards to what will be given the "feature" treatment in season 6, here's the options: "Time's Arrow," "Chain of Command," "Birthright" and "Descent."  I'm hoping for "Chain of Command" because it is the best two part episode outside of "The Best of Both Worlds."  But it's not very effects heavy...so I'm dubious.  Here's to hope, though!



#4 of 13 OFFLINE   The Obsolete Man

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Posted November 27 2013 - 07:13 AM

 

 

In regards to what will be given the "feature" treatment in season 6, here's the options: "Time's Arrow," "Chain of Command," "Birthright" and "Descent."  I'm hoping for "Chain of Command" because it is the best two part episode outside of "The Best of Both Worlds."  But it's not very effects heavy...so I'm dubious.  Here's to hope, though!

 

THERE... ARE... FOUR... CHOICES!

 

...and Chain of Command is the only one that makes sense.


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#5 of 13 OFFLINE   SilverWook

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Posted November 28 2013 - 04:40 AM

I guess the theatrical screenings of these movie edits is history. Too bad. I was looking forward to All Good Things on the big screen.

 

Does this version open with the Gene Roddeberry memorial title screen?



#6 of 13 ONLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted November 28 2013 - 06:39 AM

I guess the theatrical screenings of these movie edits is history. Too bad. I was looking forward to All Good Things on the big screen.

Does this version open with the Gene Roddeberry memorial title screen?


It sure does.

In the full season set the memorial title card opens both parts.
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#7 of 13 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted November 28 2013 - 05:57 PM

THERE... ARE... FOUR... CHOICES!

 

...and Chain of Command is the only one that makes sense.

 

HAHAHA!  Love it!  I just hope we don't get "Gambit" for season 7 (though the only other choice is "Descent" since "All Good Things..." originally aired as a 90 minute movie and not two episodes).



#8 of 13 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted November 28 2013 - 11:51 PM

Thanks for this review, Neil. 

 

I actually enjoy the first part of this episode a lot more than the second part.   The Sarek material is compelling, although some of it is a little on the nose in ways you'd think they'd avoid.  Sarek's sudden question of "Pardek? The Romulan Senator?" is one of those great TNG moments where you realize the character is much farther gone than you thought.  The side stuff in the first part is a lot more fun than what happens later.  Picard's moment of discussing "gratitude" with the Klingon Adjunct is a classic bit, performed with just the right level of classy menace by Patrick Stewart.   Riker's issue at the Qualor II Depot is nearly my favorite part of the whole thing, down to the moment that the pirates stupidly try to fight off a starship...  

 

The second part suffers a bit, not just in the fact that they're having to pay off what came before.  Keep in mind that this script was rushed - they had to do this one first to shoot Leonard Nimoy out.   Some of it is sadly on the nose.  The bit with the bar with the fat Ferengi wasn't funny then and still isn't very funny now.  Nimoy's performance itself is far different than one would have expected.  If you were to just look at the dialogue, you can hear the original Spock, albeit with a bit of Michael Piller thrown in.  But Nimoy chose to play this in an older, more tired vein than really feels needed here.   There are still some fine grace notes.  Spock's inevitable scene with Data where they exchange notes is a classic, albeit with a few unnecessary techie bits.  And the final moment with Spock melding with Picard is a classic for the series.  It's the one moment in all of Star Trek where we see Spock as himself, in his right mind, mourn something as fundamental as his father's death.  Given that this is the last time we will see Spock (outside of the JJ Abrams stuff, which really doesn't count), that final moment is a summation of the idea that he is not only half Vulcan but also half Human.   And as he learned over the course of the series and the movies, he is best as a combination of the two qualities.  Mourning his father is not something a full Vulcan would do, but it's something Spock would and should do.

 

I agree that the featurette is a strange affair.  The oddest part is the devotion of too much time to Marc Cushman.   Cushman was not involved in this episode.  He submitted a story idea for the "Sarek" episode which wound up being completely rewritten by the staff during the 3rd season.  And he's now done a yeoman-like job of combing through the public archives at UCLA of the memos, schedules and general information about Star Trek TOS to compile his "These Are The Voyages" volumes.  How that gives him any authority to speak in this featurette escapes me.   The hard part here is that Leonard Nimoy was unavailable to discuss this, and that they have precious little from anyone else to really get into the nuts and bolts of this episode.   With Michael Piller having passed away, the only one left from the creative staff with that much input is Jeri Taylor, who doesn't participate, other than in the commentary.   One would think they could have spoken with Les Landau and Cliff Bole, the directors of each part, but that didn't happen either.  So what they're left with are just the brief observations of some of the cast and staff without anything to really tie it together. 

 

The commentary gets into some interesting territory, but I would agree that Jeri Taylor starts fairly quiet.   There are a couple of odd moments here, one of which I referenced in the thread of the other review.   First, there's a strange moment when Denise Okuda is initially questioning Taylor about her joining on to TNG in the 4th Season.  Taylor mentions she'd never seen the show, so Michael Piller sent her a couple of tapes of episodes.  Okuda suddenly starts grilling her about which ones those were, which Taylor really can't remember after over 22 years, most of which have been in retirement.   The really strange moment comes when Okuda apparently confuses a 5th season episode "The Outcast" with a 3rd season episode "The Offspring" that was done a six months before Taylor joined.  She starts asking Taylor about writing the 3rd season episode and Taylor clearly has no idea what Okuda is talking about.  Okuda proceeds to describe the whole plot of "The Offspring" and only serves to confuse Taylor further.   It's one of those moments that's almost inexplicable when you hear it.   But Taylor's description of her first con experience is not only accurate but humbling, and her visual metaphor for writing a television series through a full season is spot on.   I doubt she'll pop up again, but you never know.  I think she's very happy in retirement and was quite gracious to agree to do this appearance. 

 

For the remaining seasons, I agree that the most likely 2-parters to get their own separate Blu-rays will be "Chain of Command" and "All Good Things".   "Chain of Command" is to my mind the best 2-parter they ever did, and it's the one time that the 2nd part actually surpassed the 1st part.   That's the one I'd hope for a Patrick Stewart commentary, if they can get it, particularly if they can bring in David Warner.   Maybe even Ronny Cox.   I know they already interviewed him for either the full season set or for this separate Blu-ray.   And "All Good Things" is the summation statement for the series.   I would strongly expect that to be singled out, hopefully with a commentary by multiple people involved in the production as a way of closing out TNG.   I remember at the time that it was far and away the best episode of TNG in the entire 7th season, and possibly the best episode seen since all the way back to "Chain of Command".   A lot of the 7th season was quite unfortunate, and the writers have admitted they were running on fumes that year to come up with new stories.  Some good ones still got in there - most notably "Lower Decks".  But the 7th year was to my mind a wasted opportunity.   The 6th season also had a lot of clunkers, but when they got themselves rowing in the same direction, there were some great episodes - "Relics" (for sentimentality's sake), "Chain of Command", "Ship in a Bottle", "Frame of Mind".  I'd even throw in the first part of "Birthright" just for the Data dream material, which was one of those moments in the show where you really got knocked for a loop.  Even Brent Spiner noted that material as having grabbed him as soon as he read the draft.

 

I look forward to what we'll see with the next releases, but I have a feeling there won't be anything further til either the end of March or April at this point.  As an educated guess, I'd bank on dual releases of TNG S6 and "Chain of Command" on the same day.  I'd guess that they will do a few more commentaries, including the separate disc, and then for "Relics" (with Ronald D. Moore) and a few others, depending on the availability of commenters.   TNG S7 and "All Good Things" will likely be saved to next fall.  And beyond the finale, I can't think of a single episode in that season that really calls for a commentary.  Given the various reunions they've done over the seasons, I'd assume that pattern will continue.   So far, they've done a cast reunion, a writers reunion, an Art Department reunion, and a Music reunion.   I have a feeling there will be a Directors Reunion, if they can pull it off.  And they could also do either a Production Reunion or a Makeup/Costumes Reunion.   An option that's occurred to me is that they could gather the cast members who directed episodes to get together to specifically discuss that aspect of their work on the series.   We'll see what comes to play. 


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#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted November 29 2013 - 06:26 PM

Given that this is the last time we will see Spock (outside of the JJ Abrams stuff, which really doesn't count), that final moment is a summation of the idea that he is not only half Vulcan but also half Human.


Just out of curiosity, but why don't either of those appearances count? They are the same exact Spock played by the same actor.

For the remaining seasons, I agree that the most likely 2-parters to get their own separate Blu-rays will be "Chain of Command" and "All Good Things"...I look forward to what we'll see with the next releases, but I have a feeling there won't be anything further til either the end of March or April at this point.  As an educated guess, I'd bank on dual releases of TNG S6 and "Chain of Command" on the same day...TNG S7 and "All Good Things" will likely be saved to next fall.


I don't know if I agree with that. "Chain of Command," yes. But not "All Good Things..." The track record has been to create a 90-minute movie from two part episodes. "AGT..." originally aired as a 90 minute movie and that's how it was always intended to be seen. "Best of Both Worlds," "Redemption" and "Unification" are two part episodes.

I also believe S6 will hit in the spring (Enterprise S3 is in January). Presuming a March or April S6 release, I don't see why S7 doesn't hit in July and then either DS9 or Voyager start in the fall. There's no indication they're going to go 8 months between TNG releases.

#10 of 13 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted November 29 2013 - 11:27 PM

To answer Jason (and hopefully not to take any attention away from Neil's fine review here):

 

I've always seen "Unification" as the farewell appearance of Spock as we had known him from the original series and movies.  Granted, he played the character as much older than I believe the producers intended, but there was still enough of a link to the past for that final melding scene to have a lot of significance.   This is the last moment in which we saw Spock in anything related to the Star Trek we grew up with, which was continued through the various spinoff series in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.   JJ Abrams' movies are designed as a complete resetting of the whole Star Trek universe, allowing Abrams to go back and recreate the original series in a feature format.  I don't know that he was entirely successful in that endeavor, as both movies struggled with troubled scripts and direction.   You're absolutely right that Nimoy is continuing his Spock character into those movies, but these are truly odd appearances.  How the heck the new young Kirk encounters him in the 2009 movie is baffling to me, and the 2013 cameo is even more baffling.  In terms of the Spock character contributing in any more than an ancillary way to the storytelling, "Unification" is the last time we see it.  And it's the last time we really get to take time with the character as played by Nimoy.  In the Abrams' movies, he was used more as an expositional tool, frankly.  

 

Regarding the S6 and S7 Blus, I think you may well be right about "All Good Things" not getting its own release.  And in that event, you'd just have a S7 release with as many bells and whistles as they could put on it.  There simply weren't any other episodes, particularly two-parters, in the final season that could justify a separate release.  "Descent" was a fairly bad episode - albeit with a fun teaser at the end of S6 with Stephen Hawking.  "Gambit" was frankly a REALLY bad episode, and dragging it out to two parts made it almost interminable.  "All Good Things" was a welcome return to form at the end of the line for the series, and it's one of maybe four or five episodes in the final season I'd ever want to watch again. 

 

I believe that the release schedule will need to accommodate for the guys to get things ready and not rush.  My understanding is that the 4th season was a bit rushed, thus leading to less material being added in.   I would hope they could spend as much time as necessary to do things for the final seasons.  Stretching out the releases by a few months would allow them more time, and would fill 2014 with new Blu-rays, given that there will be two Enterprise Blus and at least 3 TNG Blus.   Given the Enterprise S3 release in January, I'd expect the TNG S6/"Chain of Command" date to be possibly at the end of April.   I'd guess that they'd follow with the final Enterprise season in July, and then the final TNG season in late September or October, thus lining it up with the holiday season of 2014.    We have yet to hear about CBS actually committing to doing any work on any other Star Trek series.  We've only heard a tweet from Michael Okuda that he thinks CBS would do DS9 on Blu if the sales for the TNG Blus are high enough.   They may well do it, but it's also possible that they may call it a day after the TNG eps are done.   If we were going to see anything of another Trek series on Blu, I'd think you would hear rumblings about it long in advance.   With TNG, the announcement was well ahead of any seasons coming out, and they had the "Next Level" disc out as a test six months before anything else happened.   I'd be curious to see if they do such a release.  I'd be happy to see it, but I tend to be skeptical until these guys actually commit to doing it...


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#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted November 30 2013 - 12:54 AM

I respect your opinion on the new movies, Kevin, but I completely disagree with it.  However, this isn't the place for that discussion.  Thank you, though, for answering the question.  I'm always interested in hearing other perspectives.

 

I know CBS hasn't committed to doing any other series in high def; it's always been my argument they're doing this as much for the audience today as they are the audience in 20 years.  It would be silly to have TOS, TNG and ENT in high def and TAS, DS9 and VOY in 480.  I don't think there's going to be a Next Level disc for the next show getting the conversion.  The audience already knows what the high def version of the show is generally going to look like. 

 

The release schedule in 2013 was very condensed, I'll grant that.  It felt like a new release was hitting the shelf every month.  (ENT S2 was July, TNG S4 was August, for example).  Time will tell...I'll be the first person to preorder the next show-especially if it's DS9-when it's announced, too.



#12 of 13 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted November 30 2013 - 07:20 PM

I've enjoyed reading this detailed review and discussion.  Even as a big fan of the show, and esp. of Spock, I didn't buy the stand-alone release, since both parts are already together on the 5th Season set. 

 

I think it's good that Nimoy played Spock as old in this, because he certainly was. And he was on a mission that he himself increasingly knew was doomed in the short run. I like the second part better than the first, actually 

 

As you can tell from my avatar, I'm very much hoping for a release of DS9. As I read the discussion above, and recall how rocky things were in that last year, I'm beginning to think that DS9 was actually a stronger show overall. It was maybe as weak as TNG during its first year, but over the next 6 years DS9 slowly and steadily built itself into perhaps the greatest Trek show ever. The last three seasons, esp., are truly impressive. Even seasons two, three, four, and five are quite good. Anyway, I hope the economics for it work out. 



#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted December 01 2013 - 01:45 PM

There are certainly plenty of DS9 fans out there, so I'd think that CBS would have a pretty good chance of selling a good number of Blus of it, if they choose to do so.   My thinking is that they'd go into DS9 before doing Voyager, which likely wouldn't come up for a couple more years, at least. 

 

For me, DS9 had its ups and downs.  There were some outstanding episodes along the way.  They took chances with stories that Star Trek would not normally touch, and had their characters do things that were definitely outside the comfort zone for Trek.  But I always had the feeling that they were really trying to figure out what the show was for its first few years.   I've understood the show in the context that it co-existed with Babylon 5.    Each show had its own strengths.   DS9 had stronger dialogue and a stronger overall cast.   Babylon 5 had a much stronger overall story arc.   For DS9, the overall story seemed to shift back and forth up to about the 5th season, depending on what they thought would be an exciting season-long arc.  I still think the sudden Klingon War during the 4th season was inexplicable.   I'd agree that the show got stronger in its final seasons - particularly in the last spread of episodes as they tied everything up.  

 

We'll just have to see if CBS thinks they can make enough money from Blu-ray sets to justify the cost of repeating the TNG work on another 7 years of material.  If not, the nice part is that we already have the existing DVDs in any case.


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