Finale a time-traveling mind-twister

May 23, 1994|By John Engstrom | John Engstrom,Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" finishes its remarkable seven-season run on a high note with a top-notch finale on Monday.

"Next Gen" delivers a tasty last episode spiced with complex puzzles, intriguing discoveries and a return of one of the series' finest villains, the all-powerful, capricious Q.

The series ender revolves around seemingly uncontrolled time shifts experienced by Capt. Jean-Luc Picard.

One moment he's in the present, the next he's either 25 years in the future, as a retired space guy in France tending his beloved grape vines, or seven years in the past, repeating his arrival to take command of the starship Enterprise.

First Picard must grasp and begin to control this phenomenon and also explain it to those around him.

Then he's faced with a couple of larger questions: how the time shifts may be connected, and what they have to do with the possible destruction of the human race.

As Q, John de Lancie delivers a delicious turn as a tyrannical, omnipotent and evilly playful dictator representing the wishes of The Continuum. It's a clever, powerful echo of "Next Gen's" very first episode, when Q put humanity on trial.

Picard's scenes with Q are often riveting, but it's also fun to discover, along with our time traveler, what happens to the Enterprise crew over the next quarter-century. Don't get hooked on these images, however, because, as you'll discover, they may not be the only possible outcome.

The finale is uneven in pace, but it heats up in the final hour, as the time shifts become quicker and more frequent, challenging the viewer to determine from moment to moment not only what's taking place and where but also when.

Given such a superb send-off, one wonders why Paramount is axing "The Next Generation." It's certainly not for a lack of creativity or viewer interest.

Instead, look to finances and network competition.

The older a hit series gets, the more expensive it becomes to produce, as the cast and crew negotiate larger salaries from the revenue bonanza.

Also, Paramount is launching its own network in January with a night of programming anchored by a new series, "Star Trek: Voyager."

What Paramount doesn't want is original "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes airing on a competing channel.

Since some stations have contracts for "Next Gen" extending to the year 2000 and beyond, the only choice Paramount had was to stop production.

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