Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top 5 Best Star Trek: TNG Episodes

We've been watching every episode of every Star Trek series in reverse order (episodes in order, but series starting with Enterprise and ending with Kirk and his crew on the original Enterprise), and recently finished Star Trek: The Next Generation ("TNG").  TNG has some terrific episodes, and is difficult to narrow down to 5.  Our rough list--which already excluded a bunch of good ones--had 12 (counting two-parters as a single episode).  We narrowed it to the 5 below, but you can certainly disagree in the comments!

5: Cause and Effect - The teaser opening is the Enterprise blowing up and everybody dying.  After commercial, everything is back to normal--until things go horribly wrong and the ship blows up again.  And again.  And again.  Every time, resetting to hours before the explosion.  The crew eventually comes to realize they've been living out the same sequence over and over, and they devise a clever way for Data to signal himself and avoid the actions that lead to the time loop.  There are probably better stories and better episodes that didn't make this list, but this one has stuck with me since I first saw it decades ago--something about the idea of being stuck in a temporal loop makes my mind reel.

4: The Inner Light - Captain Picard is unconscious and lives a whole lifetime on another planet as a member of a dead civilization.  He also learns to play the flute.  This is a trippy episode, since Picard retains the memories of a full lifetime after coming back to his "present" reality.  DS9 did an episode like this with O'Brien called Hard Time, in which he has memories implanted (or some such thing) about serving a decades-long sentence for a crime he didn't commit.  He is stuck with these horrendous memories, including memories of awful things he did behind bars.  But that's a different series, so The Inner Light represents here.

3: Chain of Command 1 and 2 - "There are four lights."  Picard is taken captive and tortured.  His torturer shows him some lights and demands that Picard say there are 5 lights, though there are only 4.  It is the best treatment in all of TNG of the resilience of the human mind, and its breaking point.  There's an episode called Frame of Mind in which Riker is made to believe he is slowly going insane.  It's another well-done piece (and easily the best Riker episode), but Chain of Command is just a bit better, and gets on the list.  There's also one called Remember Me, in which people keep disappearing from the ship and Dr. Crusher is the only one left at the end.  We learn that she's basically trapped in her head and everyone is working on getting her to come out of it.  It's cool and nicely-done, and is Doc Crusher's best piece, but it's not as good as the two mentioned above.

2: Darmok - "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra."  The aliens speak only by metaphor, so the universal translator can translate some of their words, but the meaning is completely lost.  While the crew of the Enterprise work, unsuccessfully, on figuring out the language, and while we sit and wonder why the show Enterprise (set in the past) had a linguist as part of the crew but the current Enterprise doesn't, Picard us trapped on the planet with one of the aliens whom he befriends and eventually learns to understand.  He arrives back on the Enterprise after his alien friend dies, and speaks to the alien's shipmates just in time to prevent a catastrophic battle between the ships.  This episode reminded me a bit of Enemy Mine, one of my favorite movies, and has been cited by Russell T. Davies (of Doctor Who fame) as being an inspiration to him, though he's never seen the episode.

1: All Good Things - The finale; maybe the best sci-fi finale ever.  It involves Q, time travel, Guinan, and multiple Enterprises.  Retired Picard of the future is seeing visions (courtesy of Q), but everyone he tells thinks he's crazy (except Data).  They indulge the old man's fantasies, talking derogatorily about him behind his back--until he turns out to be right.  The best moment of the series is the end of this episode--the bridge officers are sitting around a card table for their regular game of poker.  Picard walks in, accepts an invitation to play for the first time in the series, looks at each of them and says, "I should have done this years ago."  He takes the cards to deal (after someone else was handling them and about to deal a game with a bunch of wild cards and crazy rules) and says, "So, five card stud, nothing's wild, and the sky's the limit."  Which is the perfect line to close the series.  A lot of the best episodes involved time travel, including two that didn't make the list but easily could have (Time's Arrow 1 and 2, and Yesterday's Enterprise), but this episode was perfect, so it's here, natch.

Lost in the shuffle is Lower Decks, and episode that follows some relatively unknown junior officers bucking for promotion.  It's really a fantastically emotionally-driven episode, but looking back, I don't have the same attachment to it as I do to the other episodes, probably because I didn't come to know and love the characters in the same way.  Anyway, that's the list--as usual, comments below and like us on Facebook!


  1. Truly wonderful list. Its VERY hard to get a great TNG list, because of the body of episodes. Darmok is by far my favorite episode. There is no other TNG episode where the universal translator doesn't overcome the language barrier. There is something very human about trying to understand someone, in a dire situation, where you both are speaking different languages.

  2. I totally agree about the language issues--that's what made it so great. Plus, I love Picard, and he walks back onto that bridge at the end and is just so badass when he takes control of the situation--picking up the language where everyone else failed! Great episode. Thanks for the comment!