Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation

A while back I made a list of what I consider to be the best episodes from the original Star Trek TV series. A friend of mine was on the fence about watching any of it, and I wanted to save him the trouble of wading through the uninteresting episodes.

At the time, it was suggested that I should continue the list with my favorite Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes. I loved that idea! So I started compiling a list… Which quickly got out of hand.

Star Trek the Original Series ran for only 3 seasons, leaving the series only 79 episodes in total. The Next Generation ran for a total of 7 seasons with 178 episodes under its belt by the time the series ended.

I quickly realized that compiling lists by season would be long and unwieldy. And a long list might defeat the purpose, since the goal is to highlight only those episodes that feel truly worthy of distinction.

Then I saw a post by my good friend Lydia talking about Star Trek as comfort food, and it encouraged me to finish what I started.

It took a lot of careful consideration and lip biting, but I’ve paired the list down to the 15 most note worthy episodes across the entire series. The list is further broken down into three categories.

First and foremost: my list of top favorite Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes, presented in my order of personal preference.

1. Masks (Season 7, Episode 17)

The plot: Shortly after encountering a rogue comet, pieces of the Enterprise begin transforming into strange objects. Most shocking of all is the transformation that overcomes Lt. Commander Data. He starts exhibiting a myriad of different personalities. To save the Enterprise, the crew must unravel the mystery of the enigmatic Masaka.

Why it’s on the list: This is my all time favorite episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. Unlike many of the other episodes on this list, it was not well-received by critics. It is not rated highly in terms of ranked lists. But it strikes a personal chord with me, and this is my list, so it gets top honors.

Why I love it: If you want to truly understand how amazing an actor Brent Spiner is, look no further than this episode. He absolutely carries the plot and nails every performance, even when rapidly switching between characters.

But I will admit to being biased in my reasons for giving this episode top billing. Data is my favorite Star Trek character across every series. So I have a fondness for every episode that centers around him. And this is, in my opinion, the best. In this episode, Data carries a civilization within him, and comes to understand something about humanity in the process. But I think the most powerful thing about this episode is the symbology of Masaka’s mask. It is the only object that turns out to be real and does not vanish when the journey is complete.

2. The Measure of a Man (Season 2, Episode 9)

The plot: Data has been ordered to report to Bruce Maddox for reassignment. The scientist intends to dismantle him and study his brain. Captain Picard fights the order, hoping to establish Data’s rights as a sentient being. The official to whom he appeals orders the crew to participate in a trial. Picard is allowed to defend Data. But Riker must arbitrate against him or the court will rule in Maddox’s favor.

Why it’s on the list: Remember what I said about loving Data? Well, this episode highlights why I love him so much. Data is unique. And the people who inhabit his world don’t necessarily understand him. Which only makes his character all the more interesting.

Critics generally consider this episode to be the first great episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. It is often included in lists of the best and most groundbreaking episodes in the series.

Why I love it: I mentioned when I made my list of favorite TOS episodes that I feel Star Trek is at its peak when tackling complicated issues. At the heart of this episode is commentary on sentience. What defines it? If we ever create an artificial intelligence, how will we know when it has achieved personhood? But this episode isn’t a one trick pony. It also tackles the issue of slavery.

Adding to the moral complexity is the fact that Riker must argue with his whole heart against the position he actually believes in. Otherwise his friend’s petition is doomed to failure from the start.

3. I, Borg (Season 5, Episode 23)

The plot: While responding to a distress signal, the crew of the enterprise recover a single Borg drone damaged and confused after the crash of their cube. At first, the crew plan to use the drone to infect their enemy with a potentially deadly virus. But the more time members of the crew spend with the Borg drone, the less certain of their plan they become.

Why it’s on the list: Just watching the clips included below is enough to make me cry. Like the previous episode, I, Borg generally receives high ratings and praise from critics. It is, in my opinion, one of the most enduring episodes of the series. (Especially if watched in relation to First Contact.)

Why I love it: Hugh is such a powerful and haunting image of humanity – and the bond between intelligent beings – at its most innocent. But what I love most about this episode is that absolutely everyone feels the same way at the beginning of the episode, and one by one they are convinced to re-evaluate their opinions based on evidence of new and unexpected evidence. This episode presents the Borg for the first time not as a relentless and all-encompassing devouring swarm, but as a series of individual victims forced to serve an unrelenting and inescapable force.

(These clips are so epic, this episode gets two!)

4. Darmok (Season 5, Episode 2)

The plot: The Enterprise are tasked with negotiating a treaty with a species that are notoriously difficult to communicate with. Their captain initiates a protocol that strands himself and Picard on a hostile planet. And while the Enterprise crew scramble to both rescue their captain and understand how to communicate with this strange species, Picard learns a brand new form of communication.

Why it’s on the list: Once again, watching clips from this episode brings me to tears. Heck, even seeing the memes sometimes melt my heart. At the core of this episode is the profound power of stories to affect individuals even across cultural barriers – a concept I certainly hold close to the heart.

Darmok is one of the most discussed episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation. Many people consider it to be one of the show’s greatest episodes. And even those that do not seem fascinated by the commentary on language – enough that it has spawned a fair amount of discussion.

Why I love it: Gligamesh and Enkidu at Uruk. Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel. Sokath, his eyes uncovered!

5. The Inner Light (Season 5, Episode 25)

The plot: While examining a strange alien probe, Captain Picard is struck unconscious by a strange beam. He awakens on a strange alien world where he is known as Kamin. Picard’s protests about his life on the Enterprise soon become a humorous indulgence of those surrounding him as he slowly settles into Kamin’s life.

Why it’s on the list: This is generally considered to be the best episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation. And while it is not the top of my list, it’s a pretty amazing episode. I’ve always believed that great stories make you think long after they’ve come to an end – and this episode certainly does that!

Why I love it: In many ways, Masks is an inversion of this episode (which came first). Both involve time capsules carrying the memory of long-lost civilizations. In the case of Masks, Data carries the civilization within his databanks while the crew experience the culture’s strange rituals. In this case, Picard experiences the civilization contained within the probe.

Since most of the rest of the crew are only seen at the beginning and end of this episode, it is largely carried by Picard’s considerable acting skill. In many ways the story is slice of life – strange for a science-fiction series, but haunting when the story reaches its conclusion.

At the end of Masks, most of the crew goes back to their daily lives, but Data retains a symbol of his experience to help him come to terms with what he experienced. At the end of The Inner Light, Picard retains the memories of an entire lifetime – a life he can’t share with anyone else because no one else experienced it. He becomes the life, the hope of a lost people.

And he too gains a symbol of his experience in the form of a flute – possibly the most beloved prop ever developed for the show.

That’s it for the first round of the list! Join me next time for episodes I thought tackled issues in interesting ways! Until then, drop your favorite Next Generation episodes in the comments!

2 Replies to “Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation”

    1. Thank you for reminding me to continue the list! :D I had tons of fun once I figured out how to organize everything!

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