The season finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was the first season-ending cliffhanger for the series, continuing a proud Star Trek tradition. In “Hegemony,” Captain Pike (Anson Mount) faces off against the reptilian Gorn, with the lives of hundreds of his crew and several civilians on the line, and what ended with a life-or-death standoff. It’s definitely an effective Star Trek season finale cliffhanger (perhaps one of the best), and it’s got our anticipation levels for season three even higher than they already were.
Although a staple of Star Trek now, the season-ending cliffhanger was not part of the original Star Trek series. It didn’t begin until Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third season finale. Since then, however, some of the most memorable Trek moments have been those cliffhangers at the end of the season.
We rank our 10 best Star Trek season finale cliffhangers, from across five decades of the franchise. We should note, these are only season-ending cliffhangers, and not mid-season nor two-part episodes.
10. Star Trek: Discovery “Such Sweet Sorrow – Part II” (Season 2 Finale, 2019)
Star Trek: Discovery was ostensibly a prequel to the original series in its first two seasons. But unlike its spin-off Strange New Worlds, it never felt like it was using Trek canon as something to play off of, or lean into. It felt like it was set in a totally different universe. Even the uniforms didn’t evoke that classic Starfleet “feel.” So they made a decision at the end of season two. The Discovery crew, in order to save the galaxy, take important information that needed to be safeguarded to prevent universal annihilation into an unknown future time.
This decision took the brakes off of Discovery’s storytelling limitations by journeying to a future totally out of the prequel timeline. Where would Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her colleagues wind up? Turns out, it was 930 years into the future, far past any known Trek series timeframe. But in that Star Trek Discovery season two finale cliffhanger, they left us wondering just where, and more importantly, when, the starship would find itself in the following season. And that mystery had fans speculating fervently for quite some time. It is the mark of a successful cliffhanger, indeed.
9. Star Trek: Enterprise “The Expanse” (Season 2 Finale, 2003)
Star Trek: Enterprise, the prequel series which ended an 18-year run of first-run Star Trek, didn’t get the love from fans in its initial run. But since then, Trekkers have embraced the adventures of Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and his pioneering crew. While the first two seasons were a bit rough around the edges, things really got rolling in the season two finale, “The Expanse.”
In that episode, an unknown alien force attacks Earth, killing millions. This attack prompts Starfleet to recall the Enterprise NX-01 home. They task them with finding out the truth about the Xindi, the mysterious race they believe was behind the tragedy. This cliffhanger ending is when many fans believe Star Trek: Enterprise got good, as season three paid off this strong finale with a compelling season-long arc. Sadly, Enterprise lasted only two more seasons, but many consider this finale a storytelling high point.
8. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Tears of the Prophets” (Season 6 Finale, 1998)
Most Star Trek season finale cliffhangers place our main characters in terrible peril. But there’s little worry that they won’t make it back by the next season. That was not the case with Deep Space Nine’s season six season finale, which saw series antagonist, and Trek’s greatest villain, Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) murder Commander Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell). The Trill symbiote returned inside a new body in season seven, as Trill are a joined species of host and symbiote. But Jadzia herself, DS9‘s science officer, best friend of Sisko, and wife of Worf? She was gone for good. This tragic event on the station shattered the crew, already demoralized by the ongoing Dominion War. A heartbroken Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) left for Earth, where he began working in his father’s restaurant in New Orleans. A more depressing cliffhanger for sure, but one with real ramifications going forward.
7. Star Trek: The Next Generation “Time’s Arrow, Part I” (Season 5 Finale, 1992)
This episode is pretty goofy, and doesn’t hold a phaser to the best The Next Generation cliffhangers on this list. But it’s still really fun to watch. Scientists on Earth discover Data’s severed head miles beneath San Francisco and estimate it’s been there for 500 years. The Enterprise crew realizes their beloved android crew member was destined to die centuries in the past. Not long after, Data (Brent Spiner) finds himself stuck in 19th-century San Francisco, entangled in a sinister alien plot.
Soon, Data is interacting with major historical figures of that period like Jack London and Mark Twain. He even met a much younger Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), whose species lifespan is very long. In one of the most absurd Star Trek: Next Generation cliffhangers, the finale shows the entire bridge crew going back in time to save Data. Thus, leaving the Enterprise with no senior staff at all. Was it all ridiculous? Yes. Were we dying to find out what happened in the next season? Also, yes.
6. Star Trek: Voyager “Equinox – Part I” (Season 5 Finale, 1999)
For six seasons, Captain Janeway and the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager thought they were the only Starfleet vessel lost in the Delta Quadrant. Then they discovered they were not alone as they thought in this season five finale. Janeway learned that the Equinox was pulled into this part of space the same as they were. But soon, they discovered its commanding officer, Captain Ransom, (John Savage) has been harvesting bio-energy from a nucleogenic alien species. He had murdered dozens of them and used their energy just to enhance their warp drive, traveling 10,000 light years in mere weeks.
Naturally, Janeway was appalled at these atrocities from fellow Starfleet officers, and the Equinox crew eventually kidnaps Seven of Nine when Janeway tries to end Captain Ransom’s plans. Then, towards the episode climax, the angry nucleogenic aliens attack Voyager, making no distinction between one Starfleet ship and the other one that’s killing their species for fuel. We genuinely wondered for several months just how the heck the Voyager crew was going to get out of this one.
5. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “The Jem’Hadar” (Season 2 Finale, 1994)
Throughout season two of Deep Space Nine, viewers heard whispers of a malevolent power in the Gamma Quadrant, the area of space on the other side of the Bajoran wormhole. They learned a name—the Dominion. But we never saw them. That is until the season two finale, which introduced us to the Dominion properly. Mainly, in the form of their foot soldiers, the clone army called the Jem’Hadar. And also, their administrators, the Vorta. And it all happens while Ben Sisko and his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) are on an interplanetary camping trip, believe it or not. We learn how deadly the Federation’s new enemies are when they destroy a Galaxy-class starship. Sisko then has to go back to DS9 and prepare the Federation for a powerful new enemy.
4. Star Trek: Voyager “Scorpion – Part I” (Season 3 Finale, 1997)
This was definitely a game-changing episode for Star Trek: Voyager in every way. After three seasons lost in the Delta Quadrant, and a lot of fan apathy towards the series, the Voyager crew finally bumps up against Borg space. They were a threat they always knew was on the horizon, since Starfleet knew the Borg were from the Delta Quadrant since the days of The Next Generation. But they also meet the first alien race ever encountered more powerful than the Borg, known as Species 8472.
When Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) discovers something that could help the Borg in their conflict with the one species they can’t assimilate or defeat, she does the unthinkable. She forges a truce with the Federation’s deadliest enemy. They would resolve this big cliffhanger ending in the fall of that year, with the addition of a Borg crew member to the Voyager cast—Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). This makes the finale one of the more impactful payoffs to any Star Trek cliffhanger.
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation “Redemption – Part I” (Season 4 Finale, 1991)
After a watercooler moment cliffhanger the season before (see our number one entry), The Next Generation writer’s staff felt the need to top themselves. And they came pretty close to doing so. In the fourth season finale, “Redemption,” Worf (Michael Dorn) resigned his commission in Starfleet, and joined the Klingon Empire in their civil war. Worf leaving the Enterprise is emotional and surprising, leaving the audience wondering how/when the Son of Mogh will return.
However, the real cliffhanger is finding out the mysterious Romulan behind the Klingon civil conflict was …Denise Crosby?? Yes, the actress who played Enterprise-D security chief Tasha Yar in season one, and was infamously killed off, was somehow back. And also now a Romulan. Or was she? Star Trek fandom was talking about this for the entire summer of 1991, trying to make sense of it all. Turns out, she was Tasha’s half-alien daughter, Sela. Still, we had no idea what it all meant, and speculated furiously. The true definition of a great cliffhanger.
2. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “A Call to Arms” (Season 5 Finale, 1997)
Since the end of Deep Space Nine’s second season, the mysterious Dominion had been making its presence known in devastating ways. But in the fifth season finale, they dealt the biggest blow to our heroes. They take the series’ titular space station away from them. Captain Sisko and the officers under his command must flee DS9 as the Dominion take it for themselves. But not before Starfleet mines the entrance to the wormhole, cutting them off from their own part of the galaxy.
With our heroes now on the run, and their home base taken over by a very formidable enemy, we officially have the start of the Dominion War. It’s a conflict that would up as one of the best storylines in all of Star Trek history. This goes on for two more seasons with ramifications lasting all the way into Picard’s recent final season. When it comes to storyline-altering cliffhangers, we think this one’s got it all.
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Best of Both Worlds – Part I” (Season 3, 1990)
Alright, you probably guessed this one would top the list. If you did, you were right. Before this episode, the Star Trek franchise had never done a season-ending cliffhanger before. The original series only had one two-parter, “The Menagerie,” and that was mid-season. To say this one changed the game for The Next Generation is a massive understatement. They had introduced the cybernetic Borg Collective in season two, and the only way the Enterprise crew got away from this technologically superior enemy was with the help of Q.
But in this third season finale, they finally came to Federation space, and destroyed a whole colony. While Riker struggles with choosing to take his own command, fate forces his hand. The Borg assimilates Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and makes him one of their own—Locutus. In the episode’s final moments, now-Captain Riker opens fire on his Captain and mentor. And fans everywhere had their jaws on the floor. Would Picard return? Was this the “Captain Riker Show” now? “The Best of Both Worlds” finally took The Next Generation out of the original series’ shadow. And it successfully launched it into a place the classic show never went into a fourth season. This is why it is the best Star Trek season finale cliffhanger of all-time.