Many of the season’s best episodes offer deeper insights into the characters than previously seen. Episode number two, “Family,” expands our knowledge of both Picard and Worf (Michael Dorn). The former visits his estranged brother (which reaches its breaking point with a fistfight) while the latter’s adoptive parents pay the Enterprise a visit. Continuing the character development, the following episode “Brothers” introduces us to Data’s (Brent Spiner) creator, Noonien Soong (also Spiner). Later in the season, Worf continues to evolve, taking center stage in “Reunion” and the season finale, “Redemption - Part One.”
As revealed by some of the writers, developing an on-going story arc was prohibited for a rather peculiar reason. Since Next Generation was a syndicated series, the concern was that the various stations airing it in different markets might not show them in order. As a result, nearly every episode continues to be a standalone. “Reunion” and “Redemption,” however, harken back to one of season three’s sharpest episodes, “Sins of the Father,” in which Worf is dishonored before the Klingon council. Interestingly, in his final years it seems Trek creator Gene Roddenberry presented somewhat of an obstacle. As discussed by the writers, Roddenberry felt Worf was a side character unworthy of such focus. Luckily, he apparently stood down eventually, allowing the team to focus on the character.
Other killer episodes include the twisting, turning “Future Imperfect,” a strong showcase for Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as he finds himself with amnesia some 16 years in the future; a widower and single parent. “Final Mission” presents the emotional departure of Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton). “Clues” offers one of the season’s cleverest plots, with a wormhole encounter resulting in everyone on the Enterprise losing consciousness, save Data. As Picard tries to solve the mystery of why the ship’s records show the passage of a full day despite Data’s insistence that they were only out for seconds, Troi (Marina Sirtis) has had her consciousness taken over by an unknown entity. These strong episodes hold lots of repeat viewing value, making season four a deserved favorite among fans.
Among the most thrilling aspects of these Next Generation Blu-ray releases are the stunningly restored visuals. Much nitpicking has occurred over the fact that CBS has farmed out the even-numbered seasons to outside digital production companies. The disappointment some felt with HTV-Illuminate’s handling of season two got more than a little overheated, quite frankly. Modern FilmVideo had the daunting task of recreating the original standard definition effects work. By and large, things look great. Aside from a few shots of clunky, temporary-looking digital animation (“Galaxy’s Child” in particular), season four effectively continues the rebirth of the series in high definition.
The Blu-ray presentation leaves little room for improvement. At this point it’s easy to be a little blasé about how good these look and sound. Four seasons in, memories of those dingy, mastered-from-SD videotape DVD sets are quickly fading. The live action footage continues to truly shine, with a rich, nuanced, film-like appearance. A good example of the incredible upgrade is “Identity Crisis,” when the away team is on the foreign planet’s surface. What was once murky and dark, with smeary colors, is now more along the lines of feature film standards.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixes also keep up with the standards of previous seasons. If you’re familiar with the overall sound design of seasons one through three, expect more of the same here. That’s a good thing, of course, with realistic on-ship ambiance and impressively directional action sequences. Oddly, the original stereo mixes are offered only in Dolby Digital whereas lossless DTS-HD would be far preferable.
New supplemental content includes two hour-long documentaries, two new commentaries, about 20 minutes of deleted scenes, and a gag reel. “In Conversation: The Star Trek Art Department” is fairly self-explanatory, a laidback sit-down with numerous key members of the craftspeople responsible for the show’s look. Honestly, it comes across a little dry. But for those with a strong interest in all behind-the-scenes minutiae it’s worth a look. More suited for casual viewing is “Relativity: The Family Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation,” conveniently split into two half-hour parts. We hear from the primary cast and crew members, including Wil Wheaton discussing his departure from the show.
Overall, Star Trek: The Next Generation in high definition continues to be a sci-fi fan’s dream.