Ten best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes
Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will get a special treat tonight, when National CineMedia brings two episodes of the classic series (complete with newly polished special effects) to the big screen, including the United Artists Denver Pavilions 15. That's the good news. The less good news is the episodes they chose: "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Datalore," two season one episodes. While it's true that those two episodes are among the best season one had to offer, that's the definition of damnation by faint praise -- even most diehard fans acknowledge that season one was pretty rough going.
Considering there were many fantastic TNG episodes over the full seven seasons, we can't help but feel like this is a bit of a missed opportunity. With that in mind, we combed through the series to pick out ten truly great episodes, presented here in chronological order, that would have made far better choices to feature on the big screen.
"The Measure of a Man"
"Datalore" is certainly not a bad episode, but for Data-centric TNG episodes it's hard to top "The Measure of a Man." Everyone's favorite android is ordered to present himself for study by a Starfleet researcher who plans to disassemble him to learn more about how he works. Data (Brent Spiner) refuses and a trial is set to determine if he is, in fact, a sentient being who enjoys rights and protections under Federation law, or merely Starfleet property. This season two episode explores some thought-provoking territory, including questions of what it means to be alive, slavery and free will, and is arguably the show's first genuinely great episode.
You want your cinematic, high-stakes, kick-ass Trek? This season three episode has it all: space battles, time travel and major character deaths. A time rift delivers a badly damaged version of the Enterprise C to the show's present day, but it's a strange present day to regular viewers. The Federation is at war with, and about to fold into, the Klingon empire and, hey, isn't that Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), who should be long dead, manning the security station? It sure is! Thanks to an assist by the timeline sensitive Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the crew determines that the Enterprise C needs to return to the past to avert the war that is now raging. Tasha goes with, once she hears she's dead in the proper timeline anyway, and a horrible war is averted (but not before we get a kick-ass space battle between the Enterprise D and some pissed-off Klingons).
Everyone loves Worf (Michael Dorn), and the taciturn, turtle-headed Klingon gets a real chance to shine in this season three episode. A Starfleet-Klingon exchange program puts a Klingon named Kurn (played by Tony Todd) on the Enterprise and sends Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to a Klingon ship. It turns out that Kurn is Worf's little brother and before long Worf is headed home to defend his family honor against charges of treason. Naturally, it turns out to be a much more complicated issue than it seems at first glance, but by the time Worf decides to take one for the team and accept dishonor rather than upset a delicate status quo in his homeworld, he (and the audience) learn a fair bit about his family and cultural history, Picard gets to be a stand-up guy and, Riker manages to hit on some Klingon women. That's a win-win-win, and it sets up a great season four/five storyline as a bonus.
Spock's dad Sarek (Mark Lenard) is an old, old Vulcan by the time of TNG, but he's still a VIP. Unfortunately, on the eve of some important ambassadorial duties, old Sarek is coming a bit undone, not only displaying emotions but broadcasting them. That would generally be a problem, but considering the treaty negotiations he's about to tackle, it's disastrous. Luckily, Picard comes to the rescue, offering to take Sarek's emotions via mind-meld, which gives Sarek a chance to do his duty emotion-free and Patrick Stewart a chance to show off some serious acting chops as Picard grapples with a lifetime's worth of bottled-up emotions in the space of an hour.
This two-parter spanned season three's ending and season four's opening, offering one of the series' best cliffhangers. It also offers up the Borg, Trek's best villains, in their best storyline ever. Picard gets kidnapped, and assimilated, by the Borg, the Borg invade Federation space, and all hell breaks loose. There are few, if any, lines more chilling in TNG history than Borgified Picard declaring, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over."
One of the great strengths of Star Trek in all its incarnations -- but perhaps most exemplified in TNG -- is its flexibility. Just as an episode like "Yesterday's Enterprise" excels at delivering high-proof space opera on a grand scale, "Darmok" exemplifies the smaller, think-piece approach. Here, Picard and an alien are beamed down to a planet and held there, where they have to learn to communicate to survive. Sure, the central conceit of a language made entirely of metaphor is a little shaky, but the way it's all worked out on screen is captivating, not because of crazy special effects, but because of a cool idea, well-executed. That's a style of science fiction that doesn't make it to television nearly often enough, and this season five episode is one of Trek's best examples of it.
This season five episode could arguably earn a spot on this list by virtue of its cold open: the Enterprise is damaged, things go downhill and blammo, the ship explodes. That's right: just minutes into the episode they kill every damn member of the crew and destroy the entire ship. Then we start over, and relive a series of events over and over until subtle clues tip the crew off that they've been reliving a time loop and Data manages to send a message to his next time-loop iteration that saves the day. It's a strong episode that gets pushed over the top by a brief, but awesome, guest role by Kelsey Grammar as the captain of the USS Bozeman. That's right, kids: Frasier is a starship captain in the Trek universe.
There are few, if any, Trek episodes from any series more poignant than this one. Picard is hit by an alien probe and goes unconscious. He awakes in a new world, where he's told he is someone else and that his memories of the Enterprise are merely figments of a fever dream. He proceeds to live an entire lifetime on the planet, raising a family, learning to play the flute and discovering the imminent destruction of his world. Eventually, after his children are grown and his wife dead, he sees a probe launched that contains the memories of his planet, sent to contact aliens and share those memories. Upon realizing he's the one the probe met, he awakes on the Enterprise, and when the probe is brought aboard he finds his flute inside. Good stuff -- so good it won a Hugo.
This two-parter from season six is arguably the high water mark of the entire series, particularly part two. Picard is sent on a dangerous covert mission into Cardassian territory, leaving Captain Jellico (played well by Ronny Cox) in command of the Enterprise. Then, in an unusually dark turn for Trek, Picard is captured, and tortured, by the Cardassians. Patrick Stewart and David Warner (playing his Cardassian interrogator) deliver two of the best Trek performances of all time, in the service of strong story that offers one of the most nuanced and realistic treatments of torture in television history. What's not to love?
The omnipotent Q (John de Lancie) is a fan favorite, even though his episodes aren't necessarily among the series' best. But in season six's "Tapestry," he does some good work. Picard dies after his artificial heart suffers damage and he meets Q in the afterlife. Q offers Picard a chance to go back to his youth and change things so he never has to have an artificial heart, only to find that taking the safe path in the past leads him to a life of mediocrity. Having taught his lesson, Q restores Picard to his original timeline and Dr. Crusher revives him. Not only is it the TNG version of It's a Wonderful Life, but this episode offers a fantastic glimpse into the backstory of its best character (Picard) while finally giving Q a great episode in which to shine.
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