To the delight of Star Trek
fans everywhere, the stellar second season of The Next Generation
(1988-89) belonged to Lieutenant Commander Data. As the Enterprise-D
's resident android, Data (in the Emmy-worthy hands of Brent Spiner) would gain legal sentience in the season highlight "The Measure of a Man," and his increasingly "human" personality would refine itself in such diverse episodes as "Elementary, Dear Data" (Data as Sherlock Holmes), "The Outrageous Okona" (a misfire, but worthy from the Data perspective), and "Pen Pals." While Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) took a sabbatical of then-unknown duration (gracefully replaced by original Trek
guest star Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski), the remaining bridge crew would match Data's vitality: Riker grew a handsome beard and proved his command potential; Worf became richly nuanced in "The Icarus Factor," and met his match (and mate) in guest Suzie Plakson's fiercely Klingon sexpot K'Ehleyr; Wesley matured admirably, despite continuing fan disapproval; Betazed culture emerged as Troi locked horns with her eccentric mother, Lwaxana (Majel Barrett, in a recurring role); and La Forge made good on his promotion to chief engineer while Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) flawlessly rode on Geordi's coattails.
In a crucial series development, Guinan (special guest Whoopi Goldberg) revealed a connection to Q in her helpful capacity as Ten-Forward's enigmatic host, while Q himself (John DeLancie) precipitated the Enterprise's first, fateful encounter with the Borg (in the suspenseful "Q Who?"). Through it all, Patrick Stewart brilliantly intensified all of Picard's renaissance qualities (especially in the dazzling "Time Squared"), exploring the captain's facets with equal measures of curiosity, fascination, amusement, courage, and philosophical insight. Despite its lame finale with the money-saving clip-show "Shades of Gray," season 2 charted a warp-nine course to the even better season 3. --Jeff Shannon