Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation Part 3

Must Watch Episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation Part 3

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. Part Two is in this direction.

The third portion of the list focuses on episodes that attempted to tackle important issues of the day. It can be argued they didn’t always handle those issues well. But I think the show at least deserves credit for trying.

Since we’re pretty deep in the list now, I’m also going to skip the embedded videos. Mostly because I hope I’ve convinced you by now that if I’ve mentioned an episode, it’s worth giving it a watch!

Without further adieu, here’s the final portion of the list!

11. The Outcast (Season 5, Episode 17)

The plot: The crew of the enterprise encounter a race known as the J’naii who claim to have no gender. While the crew attempts to help them locate a shuttle which has gone missing, Riker develops feelings for one of the J’naii, named Soren, who admits she identifies as female.

Why it’s on the list: With the fight for transgender rights ongoing, it seems I would be remiss if I failed to mention this episode. It’s clear this was Star Trek’s attempt to address LGBTQ rights and comment on sexual identity-based prejudice.

While many people praised the episode for its attempt to tackle an important contemporary issue, the episode was also criticized for its presentation. Many feel the episode’s ultimate conclusion condones brainwashing and conversion therapy that many in the LGBTQ community are still subjected to today. My personal feeling is also that eradicating gender identity and sexual attraction aren’t necessarily good societal goals. (Which is how the J’naii are presented in the episode.)

But as I said at the beginning of this post, I feel like the show deserves credit for trying to present non-binary and other LGBTQ characters and the issues they might face.

Why I love it: When I was a teenager watching this episode, there was a lot of discussion surrounding transgender murder cases in the headlines. I appreciated that a show I respected as a positive vision of the future took the time to address that people with different gender identities and sexual orientations exist and are not going anywhere. Looking back as an adult, I’m able to recognize the flaws in the episode’s presentation. But it still seems like a good way to get people thinking and talking about an issue that continues to be extremely relevant in our society.

12. Deja Q (Season 3, Episode 13)

The plot: The infamous Q appears on the Enterprise and announces that he has been stripped of his god-like powers. He is now human and has chosen to live out the rest of his mortal life among the Enterprise crew. Meanwhile, the crew attempt to prevent a moon from falling out of orbit and murdering an entire planet full of people.

Why it’s on the list: Pretty much any episode involving Q that isn’t ultra serious is, frankly, hilarious. This episode pretty much turns the idea of Q’s character on its head. What does someone who has lived with near godly powers for his entire life do when he suddenly finds himself ordinary? Q can’t even help the crew of the Enterprise with their mission. They lack the ability to implement his solution. (Which, by the way, is to change the gravitational constant of the universe.) This episode strikes the perfect balance between harsh reality and humor, which makes it fun to re-watch.

Why I love it: Honestly, I’ll watch just about anything that involves John de Lancie numerous times. He appears in the new My Little Pony as the voice of Discord. And that’s pretty much all I need to know to watch those episodes.

Like so many other episodes in the Star Trek series, this one tackles the question of what it means to be human. Q finds for himself an unlikely companion in Data, who strives to achieve what Q has been given. Though many of the other members of the crew ridicule Q because of his prior behavior, Data sympathizes with him. And as a reward for his loyalty and companionship, Q eventually grants him the ability to laugh. An emotion that Data cannot genuinely experience on his own.

13. Tapestry (Season 6, Episode 15)

The plot: During a diplomatic mission, Captain Picard experiences unexpected, severe injuries. He awakens in a world of pure white where Q informs him that he has died. The reason for his death was his artificial heart – the result of an incident from his youth. Q offers Picard a chance to go back in time and change his fate in order to extend his life. But will Picard like the results of his new life?

Why it’s on the list: At the beginning of this list, I mentioned that I hated Star Trek the first time I tried to watch it. Irony of ironies… this was the episode that made me feel that way. And it still somehow made it to my list of top episodes.

Mostly because it’s hilarious once you’re a little bit familiar with the series characters. Largely due to the interactions between Q and Picard.

Again, the theme here isn’t really new or innovative. It’s all about how the decisions we make shape our lives. And how we might not be the same people if we made different decisions. But it’s presented in a fun, fresh way (so long as you know what you’re getting into). I think that’s what makes it special.

Why I love it: Okay, I am going to employ a clip for this one. Enjoy!

14. Frame of Mind (Season 6, Episode 21)

The plot: Riker experiences a fractured reality split between a play which he performed on the Enterprise and being an inmate in an alien asylum charged with murder. As Riker learns more about his situation, it is difficult to tell which world is real.

Why it’s on the list: This is another episode that seems to get rave reviews from critics and top ten lists. I think it has a lot to do with the story’s structure. This is a character drama, shown from the perspective of the brain it takes place in. Riker is confused throughout the episode about where and when he is at any given time. He’s trying to unravel his thoughts and get to the truth right along with the viewer. And Jonathan Frakes nails absolutely every scene.

Why I love it: I actually don’t think I appreciated this episode enough when I first saw it. Yes, it was cool, but I didn’t really appreciate all the factors at play in weaving the tale. First there’s a deep understanding of the way the brain organizes and presents information, especially during or after trauma. Second, there is some truly epic writing involved in weaving the many layers and facets of this episode into something that is at once Shakespearian and mystery.

This might not be the most exciting episode in the series. And in many ways the plot, once it reveals itself, treads old ground in terms of the prime directive and racial biases. But the presentation, the genuine fracture in reality and the difficulty unweaving what actually happened make it a story with a lot of staying power.

15. A Matter of Honor (Season 2, Episode 8)

The plot: Riker serves as part of a transfer program wherein a Kingon officer temporarily takes his position on the Enterprise. He, in turn, serves as first officer on a Klingon vessel. But the cultural exchange takes a dark turn when Riker is forced to take action against the Enterprise.

Why it’s on the list: Cultural understanding and cooperation between races is a big theme in Star Trek. Throughout the original series and its movies, the Klingons were usually depicted as villains. The Next Generation is really the first time we see them cooperating with the federation. (And all the problems that causes.)

Why I love it: Partly, I like this episode because it provides a lot of world building for the Klingon culture, which pleases my nerdy little heart. Partly I like it because it eventually leads to one of the series’ major plots. But the biggest reason I like this episode and the reason it edged out my other choice for this slot, is that Riker fully embraces the culture he is supposed to be supporting.

No one believed that Riker could manage his time on a Klingon ship. And it would be easy to argue that some of the expectations the Klingons had for him were unreasonable. But Riker did not question or sidestep the role he was meant to play. He didn’t criticize or judge the Klingons. Instead, he acted within their cultural strictures while he was serving with their crew. Best of all, he was able to do that without compromising his own culture’s morals and values. We could learn a lot from that in our world really.

Closing Statements

That’s it for me and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I genuinely feel like the entire series is worth a viewing, even if not every episode is as great as the ones on this list. There are so many more awesome stories that I just couldn’t include unless I wanted to be blogging about The Next Generation until the end of time.

I will give one honorable mention, however, to the episode Data’s Day. Data narrates his regular activities during the course of this episode to better help his old friend, Bruce Maddox learn more about how his brain functions. I, of course, love it because it presents all of the events almost exclusively from Data’s perspective.

Don’t forget to share your favorite Star Trek episodes in the comments!

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