Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation Part 2

Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation Part 2

A while back I made a list of what I consider to be the best episodes from the original Star Trek TV series.

At the time, it was suggested that I should continue the list with my favorite Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I managed to slim the list down to 15 total episodes worthy of distinction. My top 5 Next Generation episodes of all time can be found over here.

This list falls into 3 categories: the best of the best, episodes that present interesting subjects in interesting ways, and episodes that tackle issues of the day.

This week’s list involves interesting topics presented in interesting ways. Star Trek is at its peak when it presents a mystery and challenges the characters to solve it. There are tons of popular episodes that fall into this category (such as when they birthed a baby space whale, then needed to wean it). But of all those dozens of episodes, these are the ones I like best.

6. The Offspring (Season 3, Episode 16)

The plot: Data decides to reproduce. Rather than finding a mate, he passes on his form and knowledge in a way that improves upon his original designs. This takes the form of a young woman named Lal. But when Lal unexpectedly experiences emotions (something Data is incapable of), her development takes a turn.

Why it’s on the list: True confession: I used to hate Star Trek. Here’s what happened when I decided to give it a try. I turned on the TV to a man standing in white space. Some guy then informed him that he was in Hell. PASS, I announced and changed the channel.

Fast forward several years. I’m sitting on the couch surfing channels for a way to spend Saturday night. I have a passing familiarity with Star Trek from popular culture at the time. I see Data striding a corridor with Councilor Troi announcing that he has decided to become a father.

Robot dad? thinks I. This sounds interesting! And that’s how a single episode of Star Trek made me a fan forever. Yes, indeed, this episode is single-handedly responsible for making me a Star Trek nut. After seeing this, I regularly watched TNN’s 8 hour Next Generation blocks every Sunday to catch up with the series.

Why I love it: It’s a reoccurring theme throughout Next Generation that Data is more of a thing than a person. Even after winning his autonomy, the issue keeps popping up. This time, when he creates offspring (an idea that is fascinating on its own), the Federation pops in to ask but is she really your daughter or do we actually own her?

I spent so much time thinking about this episode (and how it devastated me) that I almost made it number 2 on my list. I bumped it this far down because, let’s be honest, Next Generation has a lot of gems.

7. Cause and Effect (Season 5, Episode 18)

The plot: While responding to an odd anomaly, the crew end up on a collision course with a ship out of time. They attempt to evade, but fail, which catches the ship in a time loop.

Why it’s on the list: It’s something of a tradition (I think) for every science fiction or fantasy show to do a Groundhog’s Day episode. Though I think my all time favorite might be the Xena one. But I find the method for solving the loop used by the Next Generation crew to be particularly interesting. Which is why the episode is on this list.

Why I love it: This episode follows a familiar framework: the day is repeating. In order to escape the loop, the crew have to fulfill a specific goal. In this case, the goal is to avoid exploding when it collides with the other ship caught in the same loop. This means the outcome of the episode is not going to be a surprise. You know from a the start that at the end of the episode, the ship will escape the loop – and not before.

Therefore, in order to make the episode entertaining, it has to use different aspects of production and storytelling to keep the audience invested in what’s happening on the screen. I think the makers of the show did a spectacular job of that. I have seen this episode numerous times and never grown tired of it.

Something a little different for this clip… here’s a side by side of the various attempts to escape the loop. Can you spot the differences?

8. Clues (Season 4, Episode 14)

The plot: The Enterprise crew awaken from a short period of unconsciousness apparently after traveling through a wormhole. But as time goes on, they notice lots of little discrepancies about the missing time and start to pool their resources to solve the mystery.

Why it’s on the list: It’s all in the title for this one really. It’s a good old fashioned mystery. The plot is interesting. The show provides a steady drip feed of new information to keep the mystery interesting, and it’s tons of fun to speculate about what’s actually happening the first time you watch the episode.

Why I love it: I was never a huge fan of mystery novels. As a kid, I tried to read the Clue books but I could never figure out who done it. Still, when I encounter a really well put-together mystery that doesn’t frustrate me, I appreciate it. (Knives out, anyone?) This episode certainly clarifies.

I’m not going to include a clip from this one because I really don’t want to spoil anyone’s first watch.

9. Sarek (Season 3, Episode 23)

The plot: Spock’s father, Sarek comes aboard the Enterprise to perform his final mission as an ambassador. Despite the Vulcan reputation for emotionless composure, he suffers an angry outburst. Sarek, it turns out, has Bendii syndrome, a Vulcan condition that makes it difficult for him to control both his emotions and his telepathy. But Captain Picard is determined to help him make his mission a success.

Why it’s on the list: Back on the first part of this list, I mentioned a few times that my favorite episodes are carried by the skill of a particular actor. Well, between Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart, this episode is phenomenal. Whenever there is spill over between two characters, actors have to perform some complicated mental gymnastics in order to nail their portrayal. And both the leads are in top form for this one.

Why I love it: I like character-centric stories. (Those are the kinds of stories I write, so that’s probably obvious.) This story also tangentially involves one of my other favorite Star Trek characters, Spock, since the relationship between him and his father comes up over the course of this episode. Honestly, I just feel like it’s really touching story. So get ready for that.

10. Force of Nature (Season 7, Episode 9)

The plot: A pair of sibling scientists set out to prove to the Enterprise crew that warp travel is putting their planet at high risk. The reason? Warp travel is tearing a rift in the nearby space, and they expect the situation to worsen.

Why it’s on the list: We’re actually moving into the ‘tackling relevant issues’ section of this list at this point. The wiki page for this Next Generation episode is shockingly sparse. It was my opinion when I first saw it that it was a roundabout way of tackling the issue of global climate change. And I still feel that way today. It’s conclusion is also shockingly similar to our behavior in reality, which I feel drives the point home.

Why I love it: Art imitates reality and makes a point. Science offers irrefutable proof that damage is being caused by convenience, but people don’t want to hear that so they close their eyes. That tragic realism makes me nod and shake my head in turns. In some ways, I feel like the spear tip of this episode is even sharper today than it was two decades ago.

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