It’s been half a century since Star Trek first began to make waves across the planet. However, after The Original Series ended, the question arose as to how the franchise could follow up on one of the most beloved sci-fi television series of all time. Thankfully, the cast and crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation were able to not only step up to the task but step out of the massive shadow cast by their predecessors.
For seven years, ST: TNG followed the exploits of – as the name implies – the next generation of the Enterprise crew as they broke all sorts of new ground in the Star Trek universe, delivering a number of standout episodes that loyal fans continue to revisit to this day. Picking the greatest chapters of the show’s 178-episode run is no small feat, but we here at Epicstream think we’ve managed to narrow it down to absolute best of the best. That being said, here are our picks for the 10 best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
In this episode, Q – ever the thorn in Picard’s side – accidentally sends the Enterprise hurtling 7,000 light years off course while trying to convince Picard that the crew needs him. This leads to Picard and company’s first encounter with the Borg – a race of cyborg-like beings that some consider just as integral to the show as the Klingons were to Star Trek: The Original Series. “Q Who” is one of ST: TNG’s first real classics, introducing a crucial and exciting new element to the franchise’s established mythos and proving that the Enterprise crew are capable of taking a beating and coming out better because of it, having been humbled by their formidable new foes.Advertisement
Chain of Command (Parts I & II)
When Picard, Worf, and Crusher are sent on a secret mission to scope out a Cardassian weapons facility, a harsh new leader by the name of Captain Jellico assumes command, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crew. However, the mission goes wrong, and Picard is captured and subsequently tortured by a sadistic Cardassian officer in an attempt to break him down. This two-part episode contains some of the darkest moments in ST: TNG history and Patrick Stewart delivers one of the greatest and most emotional Picard performances of his career. Plus, this episode led to the popular Star Trek catchphrase, "There - are - four - lights!"
Cause and Effect
In this Groundhog Day-esque episode, the Enterprise is caught in a time loop, forcing the crew to relive the same day over and over again, each time ending in the destruction of the ship. What’s perhaps most commendable about “Cause and Effect” is that it not only manages to successfully balance excitement, action, and logic - it also manages to uphold this while repeating the same incident numerous times, which is as much a testament to the script as it is to the actor’s performances. Some may argue that time-related calamities are an overused trope in the Star Trek universe, but nevertheless, this episode puts a fresh spin on the concept and delivers something surprisingly unique.
“Darmok” sees Picard trapped on a mysterious planet where he’s forced to work with an alien captain in order to survive against a deadly beast. However, this proves to be problematic as the other captain only speaks in a complex language riddled with metaphorical “codes.” The episode works so well largely because it’s the epitome of what Star Trek is all about: Attempting to seek out new life and communicate with them, trying to remain peaceful when the odds aren’t in their favor, and the crew teaming up to solve a particular crisis. What’s more, it offers a very intriguing look at how two completely different cultures can start to build a relationship, despite massive communication barriers standing in their way.
When Picard is shot in his artificial heart, the omnipotent Q allows him to go back in time and change the event that destroyed his original heart in the first place. However, this simple act causes a butterfly effect that drastically alters the timeline and changes the man Picard would eventually become, making him see the importance of his past decisions – good or bad. It’s a truly compelling episode about the journey Picard went through to become captain, and it shows how the darkness in our lives can actually lead to us becoming better people.
After defeating the Borg, the crew of the Enterprise takes a brief shore leave, with Picard returning to his family's vineyard in France following his time spent as a member of the Borg collective. We see Picard forced to deal with the trauma of being made into a pawn who murdered thousands of people, in one of the first installments of ST: TNG that actually paused to look back at a previous episode rather than simply jumping from adventure to adventure. For some, the episode can be seen as uneventful due to its “down to earth” tone (both literally and figuratively), but after the high drama of “The Best of Both Worlds,” a touching human drama was exactly what we needed.
All Good Things…
The aptly titled “All Good Things…” is the series finale of ST: TNG, which sees the past, present, and future collide as Picard is bounced around between three distinct periods of time - the Farpoint mission, the present, and a future in which a number of changes have affected the lives of the Enterprise crew. The episode brilliantly sums up seven years’ worth of adventures, revealing that everything that had come before was leading up to this moment. It’s a near-perfect finale, rich with history, devoid of loose threads, but still packed with all the action, heart, and sci-fi goodness fans had come to expect from the series.
When a temporal rift alters reality, the Enterprise becomes a warship that’s locked in a conflict with the Klingon Empire, with only Guinan realizing that something is wrong. It’s one of Star Trek’s better executed alternate reality tales, and it also presents the intriguing moral dilemma of whether Picard should send the inter-dimensional travelers back to their own time (and certain death) or keep them alive and hope the war with the Klingons will finally go their way. The final decision by Enterprise-C to sacrifice themselves and return to their own timeline is made all the more powerful by the inclusion of Tasha Yar, who makes a special appearance after her senseless death in a previous episode to finally get the goodbye she deserves.
The Inner Light
In “The Inner Light,” Picard awakens to find himself living in a small village on the dying planet Kataan, with a wife, children, grandchildren, and the reputation of being an eccentric fool that believes he’s a starship captain. Watching him grow old against the backdrop of a dying planet is one of the most beautiful things ST: TNG ever accomplished, with the idea of Picard raising and then losing children who never truly existed serving as one of the most heartbreaking. After all, from Picard's standpoint, he lived about 30 – 40 real years as someone else, only to be dropped back into his Starfleet life in an instant, which makes recovering from a Borg assimilation seem almost trivial by comparison.
The Best of Both Worlds (Parts I & II)
While responding to a distress call on one of the Federation's outermost colonies, the Enterprise and its crew arrive, only to find themselves in the midst of an attack by the Borg, who kidnap Picard and convert him into the Borg Locutus. The episode has massive ramifications that span not only across the rest of the series but even to the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact. The cliffhanger ending to part one (the Season 3 finale) drove fans absolutely insane, but the payoff in part two makes it well worth the wait, leaving fans to wonder just whether or not Picard will be able to cope with the atrocities he’s committed while under Borg assimilation. However, when Riker asks Picard how much he remembers and Picard replies, “Everything,” you realize that the road to redemption will be no small journey.
What about you? What are your favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Let us know in the comments section!