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The 10 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes

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“The Best of Both Worlds” is routinely cited not just as the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episode but as one of the greatest pieces of science fiction programming ever created. Who are we to argue? That two parter probably is Next Generation’s best episode. We’ll concede that right here and now. So when we came together to discuss our favorite episodes, we agreed that one is entirely off limits.

The other contender? “The Inner Light.” Absolutely an amazing episode. It won a Hugo, for crying out loud, and it’s fondly remembered by pretty much everybody. Which means it, too, is  too easy a pick. So out it goes, we tossed it right out of contention, just to make things interesting.

So to celebrate the first arrival of Star Trek: The Next Generation we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite TNG episodes, aside from the one where Picard gets turned into Locutus the Borg, or the one where Picard plays a flute. Make it so…


Encounter at Farpoint Part 1 & 2
Season 1 | Episode 1 & 2
“Encounter at Farpoint” is the only episode on our list which actually made it on to the newly released Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level Blu-ray set. It’s worth it. This was the premiere episode and while in the beginning fans were a little unsure of how to react to this bold new vision, over time this two-parter has aged like a fine wine. It introduces the crew and then sends them on a complicated mission, in which they’re put on trial for the crimes of humanity by an omnimpotent being named “Q” and then must unravel the mysteries of a far off outpost which in the end turns out to be two imprisoned aliens who leap up into the stars like stunningly beautiful space-faring jellyfish. It manages to weave in all the elements which made TNG so great into a single, nearly cinematic storyline with huge special effects. Even though the characters are still getting to know each other, the chemistry is almost instantaneous. Plus it has Q. You can’t go wrong with Q.


Skin of Evil
Season 1 | Episode 23
Counselor Troi’s shuttlecraft crashes on a remote world, and the Enterprise swoops in to the rescue. Unfortunately, they discover they can’t beam Troi or her pilot up, so they send down the requisite away team. On the ground, they discover the craft being guarded by a living pool of black liquid, an entity that calls itself Armus. When the creature refuses to let the team past, security chief Tasha Yar tries to move past him. Instead Armus blasts her with a wave of psychic energy…killing her instantly. Trek gave us one of the best known onscreen deaths with Spock’s demise in Star Trek II, but the death of Yar was a shocking and unforgettable moment in a series that at that point still felt fairly safe and predictable. For many young fans such as myself, it was one of our first exposures to the death of a major character on a TV show, and it was all the more shocking in that pre-internet era. Yar’s death was so sudden, Armus’ actions so offhanded, that it is to this day one of the most memorable TV deaths I’ve ever seen.


The Measure of a Man
Season 2 | Episode 9
After the Enterprise puts into spacedock for maintenance, Data is confronted by a Starfleet cyberneticist named Maddox who wants to study Data’s positronic brain. Unfortunately, they soon learn that by “study,” he actually means “disassemble.” Data, quite understandably, refuses to submit to the procedure, and threatens to resign. Maddox counters by suggesting that Data is not a sentient being, but rather a machine, and furthermore property of Starfleet, therefore, he can’t resign…and can’t refuse. Picard demands a hearing be held in order to determine Data’s legal status, with Picard acting for the defense and Riker forced against his will to serve as prosecutor. The very best Star Trek episodes delve into the Big Questions, and there are few bigger than the simple question “What does it mean to be alive?” “Measure of a Man” is one of the very best Data stories TNG ever told, and even gave Riker something interesting to do.


Q Who
Season 2 | Episode 16
Nearly every episode involving Q is worth watching but this one combines the best Star Trek guest star in John De Lancie as Q, with the best Star Trek villain: The Borg. It was Q who first introduced the crew of the Enterprise to their cube-shaped foes, as part of one of his cruel jokes to teach humanity its insignificance. Q shows up on the bridge and flings the Enterprise beyond the borders of known space, where they encounter a race of impassive and seemingly unstoppable cyborgs who immediately set to work carving out portions of the Enterprise’s hull. The best thing about “Q Who” is that in the end, Picard and his crew don’t win. They only survive because Q snatches them up and takes them back to the Federation, leaving them with dead crewmen, a hole in their hull, and a haunting warning: The Borg are coming.


Yesterday’s Enterprise
Season 3 | Episode 15
If “Best of Both Worlds” is the episode most often cited as TNG’s best, then “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is a close runner up. It involves time travel and the creation of an alternate universe, when the Enterprise-D’s predecessor, the Enterprise-C suddenly appears out of a time rift badly damaged and on its last leg. The ship’s emergence changes the timeline and transformers Enterprise-D from a ship of exploration to a ship of war as part of a Federation in the midst of a losing battle with the Klingons. The crew of the Enterprise-C was supposed to give its life defending a Klingon outpost, but by escaping through the rift they destroyed decades of peace. Picard must choose between sending the crew of the Enterprise-C back through the rift to face certain death, or fighting a battle that the Federation cannot win. The episode ends with Picard on the Enterprise bridge, surrounded by flames, firing phasers in a hopeless bid to distract their enemy while Enterprise-C returns to her death in the past.


Hollow Pursuits
Season 3 | Episode 21
Not everyone on the Enterprise is a born hero. “Hollow Pursuits” was our first introduction to a recurring character named Reginald Barclay, given the unfortunate nickname of Broccoli by the snickering Enterprise crew. Barclay is everything everyone else in the Star Trek universe is not. He’s awkward and shy, he stutters, he’s easily intimidated and even more easily convinced he has some fatal disease. Barclay has no idea how to deal with the real world, he retreats into the holodeck, creating fantasy worlds where he’s a confident hero and the crew of the Enterprise are his admirers or even servants. LaForge tries to work with him, to no avail. Troi tries to treat him, with only limited success. Yet for all his psychosis Barclay is utterly brilliant and “Hollow Pursuits” offered our first look at what the world of the Enterprise might be like for someone who isn’t part of the ship’s heroic bridge crew. In the end Barclay overcomes his anxieties long enough to save the ship, and after being commended by Geordi swears off the fantasy world of the holodeck. Don’t worry, he’s addicted. It won’t last.


Data’s Day
Season 4 | Episode 11
Like ‘The Measure of a Man’, this episode is about Data, his identity, and his relationship with humanity. Instead of handling the topic in an overtly philosophical or legalistic way, however, ‘Data’s Day’ takes a somewhat lighter approach. The episode is framed as a “day in the life” recorded for Commander Maddox, which includes a wedding, a birth, and the application of Sherlockian principles to solve a political mystery. There are many reasons for ‘Data’s Day’ to be included in this list, but it’s greatest merit lies in the wedding subplot. Data has difficulty with the complex matrix of emotions that go along with weddings – the pressure, cold feet, etc – and we get to see his interactions with various crew members as he works through them. There is even a moment when Troi and Data discuss what it would mean for Data to ever marry someone. The wedding subplot also gives us one of the most enjoyable scenes in all of TNG: Data dancing.


Darmok
Season 5 | Episode 2
Everyone in the Trek verse may be able to understand each other’s words, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily understand each other. In ‘Darmok’, the crew interacts with a race who communicates entirely in metaphors and mythological allusions. Universal translators can convey the words the Tamarians say, but not what they mean. After a frustrating initial attempt at communication, the Tamarian captain and Picard are transported to and temporarily stranded on a nearby planet. There they bond and face off against a murderous foe, while the crew tries to make sense of the language and whether the Tamarians are a threat. The episode is wonderful for a number of reasons. It interrogates a basic part of the Trek ‘verse – universal translator – and makes you really think about the nature of language and how complicated communication is. Also, the metaphor-based Tamarian language is just so damn evocative. Who wouldn’t rather grumble “the beast at Tenagra” instead of “this is a problem”?


Relics
Season 6 | Episode 4
Like every Star Trek series since the original, TNG often struggled with the balance between acknowledging previous incarnations and striking out on its own. Sometimes the result was far from stellar (“The Naked Now”), but other times you get episodes like “Relics”. In the sixth season episode, the Enterprise crew finds Scotty’s bio signature trapped in a transporter and, essentially, brings him back to life. The former chief engineering officer is eager to get back to work and, initially, excited about the technological leaps that have been made while he was away. As he realizes how far he has fallen behind (and that Ten Forward no longer serves real alcohol), though, Scotty finds that it is difficult living as an anachronism. The episode’s strength is largely drawn from the viewer’s nostalgia for the original series cast and James Doohan’s performance – a performance that is sweet and sad despite being full of Scotty’s characteristic charm.


Chain of Command Part 1 & 2
Season 6 | Episode 10 & 11
Captain Picard, Lt. Worf, and Dr. Crusher are deployed on a covert mission to destroy a weapons factory on a Cardassian planet. Unfortunately, the mission goes wrong and they learn that the entire thing was a Cardassian ruse to lure in and capture Picard. While Worf and Crusher escape, the Captain is taken prisoner. Over the entire second episode of the two-parter, Picard is tortured and interrogated by Gul Madred (David Warner). While Trek had plenty of conflict and even death throughout its history, “Chain of Command” dipped into dark territory that was rare for the franchise until Deep Space Nine shook things up. Appropriately enough, “Chain” also set up the Cardassians as a major nemesis, a thread that would be played out over the course of DS9. Best of all, Patrick Stewart gets the chance to really show his acting chops as the tortured Picard, playing off an equally masterful actor in David Warner. Who can forget Picard’s defiant cries of “There are four lights!”

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Comments

  • 5 Eyes

    I’m surprise not one thought Redemption was any good – I though it was a good way to show both the difference between Star Fleet and Th Klingon Empire

  • poop

    Ok, everyone agrees that “The Inner Light” is one of, if not THE best TNG episode. Move on.
    I am surprised to see that “Half a Life” not only didn’t make the list but hasn’t even been mentioned by anyone here, at least not that I’ve seen. Great episode. Does no one else like that one?
    And I must add that in my opinion both “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Skin of Evil” were among the absolute worst episodes ever. I do agree with some of this top 10 list, especially “The Measure of a Man” and “Chain of Command (I & II)” Both great choices for a list like this.

  • red

    ALL … GOOD … THINGS

  • http://profiles.google.com/historyphdguy Robert Karma

    One not on the list is “Who Watches the Watchers.” I would tape (an ancient form of analog recording using a medium known as “VHS”) TNG as they aired back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. “Watchers” aired the semester I had an anthropology class. I told my professor about the excellent job the episode did in presenting the secular humanist views of Gene Roddenberry about the dangers of primitive religious superstition. He borrowed the tape and watched it and he wound up using several clips from the show in our class. It led to a great discussion about the issues raised in the episode about religious superstition versus critical rational thought. It took “The Picard’s” near death to convince the true believer that there were no god or gods. Still love watching that episode. Also “Measure of a Man” was just bloody brilliant especially when Picard and Guinan are talking about disposable people in Ten Forward. Guinan leads Picard to the obvious consequence of having Data ruled as property… slavery. Star Trek at its best and most inspirational. I really miss having a Star Trek series on television.

  • thebonafortuna

    I’m glad others have mentioned The Wounded in the comments. I re-watched that recently and, like DS9 (which it setup), it translates better today than maybe it did at the time. The last scene with Mark Alaimo (who would eventually go on to play another Cardassian, Gul Dukat) was pretty amazing.

    Frame of Mind is another I would include in my top ten. Really, really well done.

    Survivors was great. The Game was another. Man, this show really was brilliant.

  • Ben

    There are many great episodes but one of my favourites not on this list is Times Arrow 1 and 2. Although the conclusion was not as strong this time travel story had a great historical thread and was really able to bring Picard into a mission where he usually stays on the ship. And who doesn’t love the fact that data had a five hundred year old head re-attached to his body.

  • Haedrion

    Too Short a Season

    Simply, great writing…”I see only the gold.”

  • Paul

    How can “Drumhead” not be on the list? (Season 4, episode 21)

    Containig the outstanding “With the first link, a chain is forged …” speech.

    The reason why TNG is my personal definite favorite tv series is the overwhelming moral and ethical core which guides almost every episode. Every decision problem, every line of Picards orders appears to be written by an entire ethics committee. In my opinion this episode is exemplary for this aspect.

    “Chain of Command” and “Who watches the watchers” are also great, mostly for Patrick Steward beeing awesome! Literally playing a naked man, tormenting his torturer in a staring contest shows what superb an actor he is.

    • picardvskirk

      totally agree.. dont understand why drumhead isnt on the list, especially in our time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffany.clark.7773 Tiffany Clark

    Taking out “The Inner Light” and “Best of Both Worlds”
    “Genesis”
    “Parallels”
    “The Child”
    “Devil’s Due”
    “The Game”

  • toma419

    Inner Light for sure

  • Laszlo

    I cried my eyes out to Offspring. I also especially liked Tin Man. But I recognize my emotional reactions are not even remotely objective. I did select Other, but I do not dispute that there were much…”better” episodes.

    I must disagree on the point of Chain Of Command. All to often, Star Trek has stolen from other works (Shakespeare, Melville, et al). I’m sorry, but the question of how many lights versus Orwell’s how many fingers (“Nineteen Eighty Four”), is just *TOO* literal of a theft! For me these otherwise great episodes went from treading very deep water to the sound of a toilet flushing in seconds!

    At the end of ‘Wrath of Kahn’, I was willing to accept Kahn quoting Melville’s Moby Dick, because it not only summed up his own vengeful character, but also drew upon and further enhanced the Kahn character as well-read, intelligent, and at the very last moment gave him a little extra dimension of self-awareness that he lacked, as if finally realizing the error of his ways, yet still refusing to back down. This was a very good finale’ to the Kahn character, leaving us with a sense that perhaps he did have some depth, and yet he still couldn’t let go of his hatred.

    In Chain Of Command, the battle of wills over how many lights there were failed to convince! This was an opportunity for Gul Madred to provide us with depth, a la Kahn’s Melville quote. However, this failed for two reasons. First, for Gul Madred to have shown depth for his knowledge of Earth’s 20th century writings of Orwell, he certainly would have assumed Picard to have this same literary knowledge. This would have clearly given Picard unending psychic strength to simply hold out and never, EVER change his stated observation of “four lights”. Such a battle of wills would be like knowingly going to war without an army. Second, for the Star Trek audience to have not realized this as well is insulting to the audience *OR* paints Picard in the mind of the audience as an illiterate buffoon. What Starfleet flagship captain would have read Melville and *NOT* Orwell??? I’m sorry, that’s simply beyond reason!

    That having been said, Chain of Command 1&2 were otherwise great episodes. I recognize Josh’s logic, if subjective (), in including them here! However, I think there were a number of Borg and Data episodes should have easily beat out these.

    Best wishes! And remember, opinions are like…umm…bellybuttons. Everyone’s got one. :)

    • Laszlo

      Excuse me! I didn’t point out we KNOW that Picard definitely knew Melville from his recital in ST:First Contact. Granted, this was filmed and presumably too place long after Chain Of Command in the TNG series. Still, I simply don’t buy it. It was presented as being a deep and important part of his character to know not only the teachings of Moby Dick, but verbatim quotations on que. I stand behind failure of Chain of Command’s suggestion to the audience that the “four lights” interaction between Picard and Gul Madred would ever have taken place is insulting.

      • Laszlo

        PS – David Warner F-ing Rocks! Time Bandits? I mean, c’mon!! OK, Tron wasn’t that great, but he did very well considering the script, plot, and direction! Best *EVER* was David Warner as Jack The Ripper in Time After Time (1979)…if you ask me, also Malcolm McDowell’s best work, maybe tying with A Clockwork Orange.

        Hmm…I think I’m digressing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/hannah.king.94043 Hannah King

    awsome! i recently became addicted to startrek, this is so cool! i’ll be sure to check out inner light! ;) Xxx

  • Worx

    I think you mean “All Good Things” is often cited as the best by many pundits and fans

    Why on earth you choose “Skin of Evil” is beyond me. Even the producers and writers said in hindsight it was a shocker – and hence why Denise Crosby returned so many times.

    Anywho … here’s my list;
    #1 The Inner Light
    #2 Yesterday’s Enterprise
    #3 All Good Things (1&2)
    #4 Parallels
    #5 The Best of Both Worlds (1&2)
    #6 The Chain of Command (1&2)
    #7 Cause and Effect
    #8 Measure of a Man
    #9 Tapestry
    #10 Q-Who

  • Lauren

    Season 3, Episode 13 – Deja Q…simply because it is hilarious! So, so funny when Data starts laughing! Or when the mexican band starts playing and Q’s dancing in front of the Captain xD