This fall marks 30 years since Star Trek: The Next Generation boldly hit the airwaves — the show had huge shoes to fill and was marked for failure by many. But after all this time, TNG ultimately stands side by side with its famous predecessor. With an amazing cast led by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the show floundered at first before finding its voice and becoming one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever made.
In honor of the series’ 30th, we’re listing the best episodes ever. His eye open.
In a rare reference to the original series, Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) boards the Enterprise for one last mission at 202 years of age. He’s suffering from a Vulcan form of Alzheimer’s, which forces him to lose control of his emotions, something totally repellent to his species.
Picard steps in to mind meld with him and give him his fortitude (temporarily), and the scene where he has to unleash two centuries of buried emotions — love, regret, sadness, anger — is a powerhouse moment for Stewart.
10. “All Good Things”
One of the best series finales of all time, the show’s final episode finds Picard taking a journey in three different timelines — the past (recreating the show’s pilot), the present, and the future, when the crew has all drifted apart. There is a cool sci-fi concept about anti-time at the core, and guest star John de Lancie is great as ever as Q, but the real heart of this episode is when Picard finally realizes his crew is the best family he could have ever had.
9. “Sins of the Father”
Worf’s long lost brother Kurn (Tony Todd) shows up, and brings with him news of an attempt to smear Worf’s family name back on the Klingon homeworld. This episode shows how complicated the duty-bound Klingon society is, and the lengths Worf will go to protect the thing most important to him — his honor.
8. “The Offspring”
Even the hardest of men cry at the end of this episode. Another example from TNG‘s incredible third season, this story finds Data attempting to create another android like himself, whom he considers to be his child. This episode is the directorial debut of Jonathan Frakes, who went on to direct many Treks, as well as First Contact.
The sci-fi version of It’s A Wonderful Life, in “Tapestry,” cosmic nuisance Q (John de Lancie) gives a dying Jean-Luc a chance to go back in time to his wayward youth, when he was more hooligan and a lot less scholar. It’s a wonderful, semi-autobiographic treatment from longtime Trek writer Ronald D. Moore, and a wonderful reflection on how the parts of our past we are most ashamed of help to make us who we are.
6. “Chain of Command”
“THERE. ARE. FOUR. LIGHTS!”
You’ve seen the meme, and this is the episode from whence it came. A two parter that deftly juggles two very different stories, one, about the horrors of torture and the plight of POWs, and the other, about what it’s like to have an awful, humorless jerk as your boss, as the Enterprise must take on a new captain. Somehow, it all makes for a compelling two hours of Star Trek. Once again, Sir Patrick proves he’s an acting god in some of his most powerful work on the show.
The Enterprise encounters an alien race whose language is entirely metaphorical, and based on their own mythology. Even the always reliable universal translators can’t help the Enterprise crew understand them. The alien captain takes extreme measures to make sure a form of communication can be established between the Federation and his people, in a story about what one person is willing to sacrifice to make sure that two different races can just sit down and talk to one another.
4. “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
Maybe the most fan service-y episode in all of TNG history, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is also incredibly well written and acted. Not only does this alternate timeline episode give fans a proper farewell for Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), whose death in season one was lackluster and pointless, but it also gives us Enterprise history by introducing us to the previous ship to go by that name, the Enterprise-C. This ep actually makes you buy into the idea that Picard sent a ship back in time and altered history on the word of his bartender, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Oh, and the episode contains a very, very rare belly laugh from Worf. Pretty much everything about this episode is amazing.
3. “The Best of Both Worlds”
This is the episode that put TNG on the map as far as pop culture is concerned, and with good reason – it’s a riveting two-parter that puts the Enterprise and her crew in an unwinnable situation against their most powerful enemy, the Borg. Picard is taken by the collective and transformed into one of them, and Riker has to step up as captain and possibly kill Picard — a father figure — all while dealing with a new first officer of his own.
2. “The Inner Light”
In this episode, Picard gets to live out the life he never had, thanks to an alien probe (there’s always one of those) that projects an entire lifetime into his brain over the span of just a few minutes. Patrick Stewart gives the performance of a lifetime in this episode as Kamin, a man we see age from fifty to one hundred years old over the course of one hour. It ends with one of the most emotional moments in all of Trek history.
1. “The Measure of a Man”
Season two of TNG was when the show started to find its footing after the extremely lackluster first year (it was Riker’s beard, of course), but TNG still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Nevertheless, season two has this, arguably the finest episode in the show’s entire run.
Essentially a courtroom episode, Data must defend his very existence as a living being when a scientist wants to take him apart to build an entire race of sentient androids. Due to various circumstances, Picard must play defense attorney to Data, while Riker must act as prosecutor, in the trial for Data’s life. This episode is everything great about Trek, as it deals with questions about race, equality, personal freedom, and the very nature of existence. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Which episode of TNG is your favorite? Be sure to let us know down below in the comments.
Continue to boldly go…
- An oral history of “The Inner Light”.
- How the director of Wrath of Khan made a seminal Star Trek film.
- Meet Star Trek: Discovery‘s Klingons.
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