Ranking All The Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Part 5)
This is the fifth part in a continuing series; the first four parts can be found here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). I took a year-long hiatus (I was busy with school!) but hope to finish this series off in the coming weeks.
There are some really enjoyable episodes in Part 5 and admittedly the ordering gets especially arbitrary here.
(CW): As with the previous four parts, this post discusses racism, sexism, and violence.
68. Rightful Heir (TNG 623)
Experiencing a crisis of faith, Worf visits a Klingon monastery and Kahless appears, setting off a potential crisis among the Klingons (spoiler: Kathless is a clone and has not, in fact, returned from the dead).
This is the episode that answers “do Klingon forehead ridges sweat?” The answer is yes (we learn this from the Klingons praying by fires at the monastery).
This episode starts with Worf missing his shift because he’s praying in his quarters. Afterward, Picard comes to visit him and while he initially expresses some irritation with Worf (mostly because he doesn’t stand when Picard enters) he’s actually pretty understanding of his crisis of faith. In fact, it’s Picard who suggests Worf check out the monastery (Picard’s mental list of Klingon holidays, colonies, nearby outposts, and monastic orders is truly impressive).
But this brings up the thorny issue of who gets religious/cultural accommodation on the Enterprise and when/why. Worf is given significant leeway. He wears a Klingon baldric/sash over his uniform (Worf only takes it off on TNG to face charges in front of the High Council, to kill Duras, for sex, and on two occasions while… playing poker?). Which is great? The sash doesn’t interfere with his duties or his uniform (remember, Worf is “decorated as well”). Worf’s religious and cultural practices divert the Enterprise on several occasions. Vulcans are frequently given permission to have open flames aboard (candles for meditation) and seem to be the most likely to modify the art/furniture of their quarters, which on stricter ships probably needs approval (for a species that suppresses emotion, they’re also a deeply aesthetic people which is incredibly interesting to me).
The problem is, not everyone is allowed these rights (I’m looking at you, Bajorans). Riker forces Ro to take off her earring (which is much less intrusive than Worf’s sash) when she arrives on the Enterprise, which was pretty shitty. What’s worse, Riker decides on this inconsistent application of the uniform code to make an example of her/penalize her for previous mistakes — even though she’s already served her punishment for those actions. Ro makes wearing her earring a condition of remaining on the ship but she shouldn’t have to choose between this expression of her religion, culture, and family and a chance to serve on the bridge of the Federation flagship. I’m willing to bet more than a few officers haven’t made similar pushes for the sake of their career. Like Sito Jaxa. Sito doesn’t wear a Bajoran earring while in the academy and also doesn’t while serving on the Enterprise. Whether that’s because she’s strictly adhering to the uniform code or because she doesn’t wish to wear one isn’t stated. Anyway, it sucks that in the 24th century people are still fighting to wear the clothing/jewelry of their culture/religion.
I love Gowron in this episode. He’s so transparently a politician and I enjoy exploring the underbelly of the Klingon honour system. Worf shows a lot of creative thinking in this one as well as some diplomacy skills that have, until now, been under-utilized. By brokering an arrangement between the priests, Gowron, and Kahless, Worf actually comes up with a solution that appeases everyone and probably cuts down on Gowron’s ceremonial duties!
67. Ethics (TNG 516)
Worf is paralyzed after an accident in the cargo bay and his only hope for a full recovery is and experimental procedure developed by Dr. Toby Russell, who has questionable morals.
This is obviously a Worf episode and it does a lot of work building a bond and furthering the relationship between Worf and Alexander, father and son. We’ve seen a lot of Worf’s Klingon ethos in terms of duty and friendship and at this point in the series, even love, but here we start to explore how his strict adherence to codes of honour impacts his parenting.
So one of the things that happens in this one is Picard plays a lot of Devil’s Advocate (uhoh). However, Picard takes this position to speak to Worf’s beliefs while debating the various choices Crusher and Riker face. As usual though, Star Trek’s discussion of disability could use more nuance.
Dr. Russell is pretty loathsome in a lot of ways (her lack of concern for patients and her prioritization of her own research), but I kind of love watching her and Dr. Crusher bond over Science and disagree over methodology. You didn’t get a lot of intellectual scenes/intellectual disagreements between women 25 years ago (you still don’t) so that’s pretty great.
66. Suspicions (TNG 622)
Dr. Crusher investigates the death of a Ferengi scientist and breaks several rules in the process.
Bev seems pretty accepting of the traditions of other cultures except when it comes to autopsies. When an autopsy is on the line, Bev does not give a fuck about rules, regulations, and culture practices, she just wants to cut you open and see how you died. Anyway, this is an episode like that (spoiler alert: the autopsy solves nothing but does cause Picard to relieve her of duty!).
This is also a “Law & Order” episode in that Bev has to investigate the death of Jo’Bril (spoiler: he’s faking his death!) and the Ferengi scientist, Dr. Reyga. Best thing about this episode is Bev putting in the extra effort by organizing this mini scientific conference and seeing some non-stereotypical Klingon and Ferengi scientists. Plus Reyga’s shield designs are pretty awesome. Also, I really like Jo’Bril’s make-up.
Actually, the best part of this episode is the Chuck Norris-esq roundhouse kick Bev delivers to Jo’Bril during their fight in the shuttlecraft. It’s super awesome, watch for it.
65. Datalore (TNG 113)
The Enterprise goes to Data’s home planet, Omicron Theta, finds his brother Lore, and encounters the Crystalline Entity, an alien lifeform that travels space and feeds on lifeforms like the planet’s colonists.
I like this episode. It introduces us to Lore and I like Lore because there’s really nothing redeeming about him and he has a very punchable face. More importantly, he’s a good foil for Data and the writers wisely didn’t overuse him (Lore only appears in this episode, S4’s “Brothers” and “Descent Part 1&2”).
Lore’s a good foil for a lot of reasons. His original insistence that Data’s more “imperfect” raises the question of what perfection looks like for a Soong-type android and because of Data’s series-long exploration of what it means to be human, what human perfection looks like. Lore provides an example of what a Soong-type android with emotions and feelings might act like. Importantly, while Lore makes Data less unique in some ways (he is, after all, not the only android in existence) he helps the viewer see that Data’s particular combination of intelligence and morality isn’t easily duplicated and mark him as distinct and exceptional.
This is the beginning of Data’s exploration of family (he becomes a father, has a relationship with both his parents and siblings) and while there’s no one Data’s biologically related to, his exploration of his nuclear family takes place alongside his developing relationship with his found family, the Enterprise D crew. The successes he has with his found family (Geordi obviously, Picard’s mentorship, Riker’s vocal friendship, the ease of his friendships with Troi and Crusher etc.) are important within the show’s exploration of being orphaned/familial loss.
Also we learn about Data’s off switch (which somehow makes its way into his medical/technical record which….Bev, you promised) and this is the episode where Picard and Bev say “shut up, Wesley” (it’s definitely worth noting that Wes is 100% right about Lore tho).
64. Force of Nature (TNG 709)
The Enterprise meets two scientists who believe that warp drive destroys the fabric of subspace (shit!)
My appreciation for this episode has grown over time. What seems like an obvious early 1990s “Save the Environment” themed episode (hey, remember acid rain?) is of course an early 1990s “Save the Environment” themed episode. Like any sort of environmental parable it has only (unfortunately) become more relevant with age but I think what makes this one rank relatively high for me is the absolute unwillingness of Serova (one of the scientists) to compromise her beliefs and her willingness to sacrifice herself for the cause. Geordi and Picard put in good shifts too, grappling with their initial refusal to listen to Serova (in part because their careers depend on warp drive) and then, after she dies and they realize her theories were correct, grappling with the harm their careers (engineer and explorer respectively) have caused.
I think it’s important to note that Serova and Rabal are adult siblings, and yet this brother and sister pair are dressed in matching grey coats with grey brain-like folds on the collar like their parents are taking them to Sears portrait studio. This may be why the scientific community doesn’t take them seriously.
The B plot in this one isn’t really connected to the main plot at all, but that’s ok. It’s kind of fun and features some Data-Geordi best buds training Spot the cat scenes.
63. Thine Own Self (TNG 716)
Data crashes on a planet, suffers from amnesia, and inadvertently gives a medieval village radiation poisoning while Troi takes the command test.
I don’t know, I just like this episode. I quote lines from it all the time. I like that even without his memory, Data basically acts like Data (ie. logically tries to solve the problems he’s faced with). Bonus points for showing a medieval society that isn’t patriarchal!
I do think the more interesting part of this episode is Troi’s effort to get promoted to commander. On the one hand, the “give Troi more to do!” episodes show the real limitations of the mostly white, cis, mostly straight men who made up the bulk of the writing team at this point in TNG’s run. If you read interviews with the writers or watch dvd/blu ray special features, they make it clear that they were flummoxed by her character in part because they felt a therapist on the bridge would date the show and seemed somewhat redundant in a utopia. But, that reasoning always seemed silly to me because the series illustrates even in a perfect society trauma happens (see basically every episode starring Picard). Hell, in an ideal society, I’d like to think I’d have access to mental health care should I want or need it? More to the point, I think an empathic therapist who primarily addresses the emotional well-being of men (Picard, Data, Worf, Barclay) made the young dude writer staff uncomfortable (the trouble wasn’t Troi, it was them!). Consequently, the mocking tone they take when talking about her character has more to do with their emotional immaturity than it does her quality as a character.
That said, I like that she takes the bridge officers test. It seems to me that everyone on your senior staff should have the ability to take over in a crisis (Troi even references her command experience in “Disaster” as one of the reasons she wants to become a commander). For those who think command’s not in her wheelhouse, you only need to see her as a cutthroat Romulan in “Face of the Enemy” to know she’s capable of ordering someone to their death; plus she oversees every evacuation/separation of the ship, so she’s more than capable of giving orders in a crisis.
62. Descent (TNG 626, 701)
The Enterprise fights a Borg faction acting as individual and being led by Lore; Data gets to experience emotions.
This episode is fine. I didn’t really need a “what if the Borg were led by an android” cliffhanger, but whatever. I also find “the Borg need a leader!” plots to get a little stale because really, if they want to assimilate humans, stop searching for emissaries, leaders, and queens, and just send more than one cube.
I do like that we get to see Hugh again, and see that even though Picard ultimately didn’t order Hugh to be returned to the collective as a weapon of mass destruction, the individuality he developed while on the Enterprise still sent shockwaves through the collective.
I like the aesthetics of this episode. I like Lore’s padded, football-inspired, pseudo-Borg outfit, I really like the Borg-inspired tile job in the main hall of their evil layer.
Why does Picard leave a skeleton crew on the ship (captained by Bev) so that the majority of the crew can conduct searches on the planet, but then creates two small groups made up just of senior officers while the rest of the crew just fends for themselves? Bad leadership.
The best parts of these episodes are the parts that take place on the ship with Bev in command. It’s interesting to watch what an aptitude she has for command and how good a leader she is. The way she instills confidence in Ensign Taitt is also great, as is Taitt owning that condescending security lieutenant.
Shoutout to the Borg names we get in this episode: Goval, Tayar, and Bosus.
61. Sarek (TNG 323)
Sarek, now super old and living with the effects of a Vulcan disease that makes everyone around him super violent, tries to complete his last diplomatic mission. Picard melds with Sarek so he can continue.
Here’s the thing: Sarek’s always been kind of a jerk? It’s not because he’s Vulcan and it’s not because he lacks emotions. In fact, rather than being an emotion-supressing Vulcan, he’s actually petulant and somewhat vindictive when it comes to his son? And we all like Spock a lot better, don’t we? That’s why this one isn’t higher for me.
Anyway, the reception Sarek’s given in this episode reminds me of the way people treat really old former world leaders, which is to say, there’s probably a few hundred “Sarek Streets” and “Sarek Avenues” on earth. Ooooh I hope he has a cargo vessel or shuttlecraft named after him (with the way they rave about him, it’s probably a Galaxy class ship, ugh).
Picard is of course great in this episode and his emotional breakdown after the mind meld with Sarek is both noble and incredibly vulnerable. That he’s willing to share it with Bev makes it even better. They’re both terrific in that scene.
I also like that during Picard’s breakdown scene we get to see that he kept the Mintakan tapestry (given to him earlier in the season by a group of Mintakans — proto-Vulcan humanoids — who had thought Picard was God) on the back of his desk chair (it remains there and in his ready room throughout the series and movies). Usually it’s symbolic of the Prime Directive but here, the first time we see it after it was initially gifted, I think we’re supposed to recall the image of “Picard the God” as we watch Picard the Man breaking.
60. Conspiracy (TNG 125)
The Enterprise tries to stop aliens from taking over Starfleet Command.
Who doesn’t like a mind control conspiracy episode? This episode introduces a “Starfleet Command/HQ is vulnerable to attack” theme that gets explored more fully on DS9 (spoiler: it’s not the lack of security but the truly suspect character of many of Starfleet’s admirals and leaders that make Starfleet, and by extrapolation, the Federation, vulnerable).
This episode has a little of everything. Clandestine meetings on red-hued planets by Starfleet’s best and brightest? Check. An old friend from Picard’s and Bev’s past? Check. A ship blowing up? Check. Geordi being thrown right through a door? Check. Alien parasite with corresponding neck gill? Check. Worms served in a fondue pot? Check. The possibility that Riker is infected and will kill Picard? Check. A gross alien infested corpse? Check. Ominous threat the invaders will be back? Check.
59. Ménage à Troi (TNG 324)
Riker, Troi, and Lwaxana Troi are kidnapped by DaiMon Tog.
This episode probably shouldn’t be rated so high since it’s both gross and sexist (the usual result when the Ferengi are involved on TNG) and also pretty racist/discriminatory to the Ferengi (which is also unfortunately typical).
Despite those negatives, there’s still some stuff I like about this episode, chiefly the ending, where Picard has to pretend to be Lwaxana’s ex and recites Shakespeare in an attempt to win her back. There’s something about Patrick Stewart’s performance when he plays an awkward and socially uncomfortable Picard that is simply marvelous. In this scene you get the awkward Picard who initially sputters through the conventional demands of a spurned lover, but then he throws himself into the part, and starts reciting Shakespeare and it’s absolutely wonderful. That scene is pretty much the reason to watch this episode.
Wes once again passes up a chance to move on to the academy (he skips out on his ride to save the day for Riker, Troi and co.). On reflection, his failure to pass his entrance exams and skipping his ride were probably signs that he was always ambivalent about a future in Starfleet. I really wish someone had told him earlier in life that it was ok not to follow in the footsteps of his parents and other people he admired, like Picard. He probably would have been happier.
Other things of note, Riker wears a lot of blue in this episode and looks good doing it. This is probably one of those episodes where Riker and Troi are having sex even if it’s not explicitly stated in the episode.
58. Contagion (TNG 211)
The Enterprise and a Romulan warbird are attacked by an ancient and deadly computer virus.
This is a standard “tech fail in space” episode, but there’s some nice added tension during the scenes where the Enterprise and the warbird are squaring off. But what I really like about this one is the addition of the legend of the Iconians, an ancient and extinct race of travellers. Picard’s interest in the Iconians hints at his love of archeology and the scenes exploring the Iconian command centre are pretty cool. This episode highlights a tension with tech that we’re pretty familiar with: its potential for enormous good and enormous destruction. The Iconian gateway that allows its users to travel anywhere is super awesome, can’t be trusted to the Romulans, and must be destroyed. Love that one of the distant, alien worlds you can travel to is Toronto’s City Hall. 50 years later that building is still incredibly futuristic. I love that we meet the Iconians again (DS9’s “To the Death”) and we get to meet a similar sort of race in the Vaadwaur on Voyager.
It’s also worth noting that this episode features JLP’s first-ever order of Earl Grey tea.
57. Brothers (TNG 403)
Data diverts the Enterprise away from an emergency mission to save a seriously ill boy because he receives a covert message from his creator, Dr. Noonian Soong.
To have not one, but two episodes that focus on family (more narrowly on brothers, as both “Family” TNG 402 and “Brothers” are about the complex relationships between brothers) after the conclusion of “The Best of Both Worlds” cliffhanger was probably a good choice (especially “Family” and it’s exploration of Picard’s Borg trauma). This episode is fine, but that’s mostly because Brent Spiner can carry the weight of portraying three different characters (he’s definitely no Tatiana Maslany though).
Anyway, Lore shows up, tricks Dr. Soong into giving him an emotion chip meant for Data. Which seems like a really shitty thing to do, especially to your brother. But Movie Data, who has emotions, just isn’t as good as Series Data, so maybe Lore did the audience a favour. Also, for the galaxy’s preeminate cyberneticist, Dr. Soong doesn’t come across as very smart.
As an aside, why does everyone remark about Data’s inability to use contractions? I mean, I understand why, because it distinguishes him from Lore (and from Lal) and is a marker that he isn’t perfect. Except, it’s not remotely unique among the Enterprise crew? Worf doesn’t use contractions and Tasha definitely doesn’t either. With Worf it seems to be like an aspect of Klingon speech? I have no idea why Tasha can’t though except that it sort of makes her sound more forceful?
56. Power Play (TNG 515)
Aliens take over Data, Troi, and O’Brien and they commandeer the ship.
I have no idea why I ranked this so high? It’s not a great episode or anything and alien possession isn’t exactly an original plot on this show. Keiko puts in a pretty good shift in this one. She’s protective, strong, heroic, and provides some insight into how the civilians on the ship feel about the inherent risk of space travel and the spectre of death.
To be honest, I think it’s just because I love the way Troi says “Ux-Mal” at the end of the episode. I love it so much.
55. Clues (TNG 414)
Data informs the Enterprise crew that they passed out for 30 seconds after going through a wormhole when in reality, he’s covering up the fact that they are missing an entire day.
I actually really like this one. I like that initially Picard and co. are willing to accept “went through a wormhole, lost 30 seconds” because a) Data told them that’s what happened and b) weird shit happens in space. The tension in this episode rests on Data’s established track record as someone with incredible integrity and it’s interesting to watch as that slowly gets chipped away (in reality he’s acting with even more integrity than usual and carrying out difficult orders from Picard at great personal cost).
Ultimately, this episode is just an enjoyable mystery and more than any Trek show, the TNG crew loved a good mystery. You have Data and Geordi’s Sherlock Holmes holodeck time, Picard’s Dixon Hill fascination (which Data, Bev, and Guinan all participate in and is actually how this episode begins) and Crusher’s real-life detective mystery when she tries to solve the murder of Dr. Reyga. So when Picard says to Troi’s Paxan-inhabited body at the end of the episode “Clues were left behind that suggested a mystery. And to many humans, a mystery is irresistible. It must be solved” he’s not wrong.
54. Relics (TNG 604)
The Enterprise finds a Dyson’s sphere and a ship that crashed on the sphere’s surface 75 years earlier. Suspended in the ship’s transporter is Captain Montgomery Scott.
I don’t love this episode. I know I’m supposed to because Scotty and TOS and TNG crossover etc. etc. but I never needed TOS characters on TNG to legitimize it (though those Sarek & Spock episodes bother me less since the writers didn’t need to come up with any kind of narrative trick to keep them alive in the 24th century). But that Dyson’s sphere set and model are pretty great and conceptually the sphere’s incredibly interesting.
Mostly I don’t like this episode because it feels like Geordi behaves in uncharacteristic ways. He’s easily frustrated with Scotty and dismissive of him. But we have multiple examples in previous episodes of Geordi appreciating transportation/engineering history. In addition, in season four’s “Family” Geordi is super patient with Worf’s father and pays him a lot of attention. He would just be a hell of a lot more respectful to Scotty is all I’m saying. Scotty could still feel sad about being displaced in time without this shitty behavior from Geordi. When they finally start working together it almost makes it worth it though.
I do like when Data describes an alcoholic beverage succinctly as “green”. I like it even more when Picard shows a lot of care for Scotty’s wellbeing and goes to drink with him on the holodeck. Picard downs that Aldebaran whiskey like a pro. Anyway, I’m not super interested in the 23rd century when I have the option to spend time in the 24th.
53. The Quality of Life (TNG 609)
Data decides to defend group of machines he believes to be alive and risks the lives of Picard and La Forge in the process.
This is sort of a “Law & Order” episode in that Data investigates to see if the machines, called exocomps, are a life form and there’s a sort of informal attempt to decide if they are. This is ground TNG has covered before, and better, but it’s a fine, if unremarkable, episode.
My favourite part is probably the opening scene though, when Crusher monologues about beards being an affectation while playing poker with her thrice-bearded colleagues (Riker, Worf, and La Forge who has a beard for a couple of episodes in S6). What Crusher touches on here is consistent with what she tells Soren in “The Outcast” the previous season and that’s a nice tie-in. Also, Geordi looks good with a beard, he should have kept it.
52. Realm Of Fear (TNG 602)
People trapped inside the transporter beam force Barclay to confront his fear of transporting.
This is a “when future tech goes wrong” episode and it’s pretty decent for one of those episodes. Maybe it seems to be piling on a little to give Barclay another phobia but this feels consistent with what we already know of him.
I like Barclay on TNG a lot (the same can’t be said of his appearances on Voyager). He’s used the right amount by the writers and his shyness contrasts nicely with the confidence of the senior officers. When he’s introduced at the end of season three, he’s not someone you’d expect to find on the flag ship of the Federation but his assignment to the Enterprise makes me feel like people like me could find their way aboard. Sometimes the crew of the Enterprise seems a little too 24th century perfect and characters like Barclay with his shyness, stutter, anxiety, phobias, and holo addiction (or Ro with her bad attitude and tarnished service record) make the crew a little more relatable to 20th and 21st century audiences.
Also, I feel you Barclay, while I would marvel at the tech and appreciate the speed of travel it would provide, I’d be a shuttlecraft person, not a transporter lover.
Now, I love Troi, think she’s underrated, and I think most of the criticism directed at her is unwarranted. That said, I think she’s actually a terrible and unprofessional counsellor? In this one she ambushes Barclay in the hallway, which, I guess might happen on a starship, but like, doesn’t say (or order him, she does outrank him after all) “let’s go to my office” and instead she has this whole conversation about his mental well-being and relieves him of duty in the hallway? Not cool.
51. Ship in a Bottle (TNG 612)
The Enterprise crew meet up with Holo Moriarty again, but this time he gains control of the ship.
You either like the Sherlock Holmes TNG episodes or you don’t and I like them. I still like the first Holmes episode better, but I think this one ties things up nicely. Moriarty is well-cast, he’s convincing as both a villain and a caring individual and the Countess is fun.
I like the “ship in a bottle” theme given Picard’s comments in S3 “Booby Trap” (“Good Lord, didn’t anybody here build ships in bottles?”). In this one, Picard’s enjoyment of the practice is sort of turned inside out when he’s “stuck in the bottle” being controlled by an external source (Moriarty). He turns the tables on Moriarty in the end when they make him think he’s left the Enterprise when really he’s just in a continuous holo program and then that power pack gets left on Barclay’s desk? In a closet? I’ve always wondered what happened to it. Regardless, it’s the 24th century version of a ship in a bottle.
Let’s talk about the holodeck. If everything that’s gone wrong with it (by season 6 there’s a litany of problems associated with the holodeck) hadn’t change their minds about using it, surely a holodeck character becoming self-aware and subsequently taking over the ship should have done it. I know the holodeck is a problem on Voyager as well, but let’s chalk that up to their inability to undergo regular maintenance at a star base and continuous usage. Holosuits rarely go wrong on DS9 and I think it’s because they’re all a little more upfront and realistic about the purpose of such spaces: they mostly just use it for sex. And that’s fine! If the holodeck was primarily used for sex on the Enterprise and not for recreating favourite detective stories, fewer ship-wide emergency would have happened is all I’m saying.
50. Hollow Pursuits (TNG 321)
The introduction of Lt. Reg Barclay, a nervous and introverted engineer who suffers from holo-addiction.
Barclay’s a great character and his introductory episode is probably his best episode. He’s very relatable because he’s not perfect. I think the reactions of Geordi, Riker and co. are pretty revealing about how behavioural difference is handled in the 24th century (spoiler: there’s room for improvement!). Like, they call him names for goodness sake? It leads to a funny/embarrassing scene where Picard calls Barclay “Mr Broccoli” to his face on the bridge and we get to see awkward and embarrassed JLP, and while he’s always excellent in such scenes (his face when he realizes his mistake always makes me laugh), that’s a pretty shitty situation for Barclay to be honest.
Let’s talk about the holodeck some more! How the events of this episode weren’t used to established clear and specific protocols for holodeck use regarding the recreation of actual real people is somewhat of a mystery, especially given how strong Riker (and to a lesser extent Geordi and Troi) react to having their likenesses and names used in Barclay’s fantasies. Riker’s like “there should be a regulation against this!” and he’s right there should be, since I would hope consent is actually something we agree on in the 24th century? But Riker, dude, you’re the first officer so, make a regulation? There are scenarios where reproducing the likeness/personality of real people on the ship might be necessary (I’m thinking of training scenarios and testing like the Kobayashi Maru or Troi’s command test) but those should be limited in scope and should still require the consent of the individuals involved to avoid any Geordi-Leah Brahms grossness. You definitely want to avoid people’s likenesses being used in a sexual context without their consent (think Quark trying to get Kira’s holo pattern for a holosuit sex program on DS9). But again, the Enterprise D has no HR department so these things happen.
49. Ensign Ro (TNG 503)
Ensign Ro Laren joins the crew to help track down some Bajoran terrorists, but ends up revealing another corrupt Starfleet admiral.
This episode’s place on this list is primarily because it introduces a terrific character, Ro, and less because the episode is remarkable (it’s ok, but not great or anything). Why is Ro great? She’s smart, is an unconventional thinker, stands up to authority, is tough, and wears a headband like nobody’s business. Young Me very much looked up to Ro. If we’re being honest, I also had a big crush on her (but that’s me with most TNG characters). Starfleet characters sometimes get a little too cookie cutter: they’re smart, follow orders, are polite, say the right things etc. Ro isn’t like that and as a result she’s a lot more interesting. She thinks on the fly and is willing to take risks to do the right thing (even with the knowledge that she’s made mistakes in the past) and she doesn’t take crap from Riker, who has it out for her.
One of the things I like about this episode is as much as Riker (and to a lesser extent Geordi) immediately Do No Like Ro (both are forced to confront that later too, which is nice) Picard just as quickly notices there is something special about her and very much values her insight and expertise on the mission. She’s much more of a diplomatic equal in this one, despite her comparatively low rank. Their special relationship carries all the way until the end of the series when she ultimately betrays him and joins the Maquis (his face when Riker informs him that Ro has joined the Maquis is incredibly devastating. I’m glad she never saw it).
We also get the development of the Ro-Guinan friendship (explored later in season 6) and it’s pretty great. Guinan’s advocacy for Ro is actually important. There are reasons Guinan does this and it gives a glimpse into her past as a result. But I like that it doesn’t significantly interrupt her essential, enigmatic characterization.
Anyway, Ro tells about half a dozen different people to fuck off in this episode and it’s pretty great.
48. Schisms (TNG 605)
Enterprise crew members are being kidnapped at night and tortured in a subspace pocket by aliens.
This episode is probably a little high, but there’s a lot of interchangeable episodes in this middle section this list so whatever. What I like about this one is there’s a lot of different fun elements. There’s another mention of JLP’s Aunt Adele and her home remedies, Data reads his poetry, including his verse about his cat Spot. We get a great scene with Mot the barber and hear his opinions on Klingon hair. It’s sort of a weird grab bag but whatever.
47. Birthright (TNG 616, 617)
While the Enterprise visits DS9, Worf hears a rumour that his father is still alive, held captive at a Romulan prison camp.
Lots of stuff happens in this episode (it is a two parter after all). Worf goes looking for Mog on Carraya IV where the prison camp is located but finds only Khitomer survivors who have made a life (and families) with their Romulan captors. Doctor Bashir is involved in an experiment with Data which results in Data dreaming and having visions of his father. As he tries to interpret the significance of the imagery he sees he paints a lot and produces a series of blacksmith and bird-inspired art that I actually really like (which could be a post all on its own). There’s an alien named Shrek. Troi’s snarky with Worf (“did the table do something wrong?”). We get another moment in the “Worf loves food that Geordi hates” ongoing storyline (“Worf, I don’t see how you can eat that stuff, it taste like liquid polymer”). We learn about Klingon exercise and training routines. We get to see Worf the mentor/teacher as he teaches the local prison camp teens about Klingon culture.
Worf is also pretty awful in this episode? He says some pretty terrible things. He tells Ba’el, who is of Romulan and Klingon ancestry that offspring of the two species are “an obscenity”. Like wtf Worf (to be honest, it’s unfortunately not unexpected from him)?
But for me, the most important thing about these two episodes is it’s our first true introduction to Klingon music. I used to have a Klingon playlist on my ipod. I love Klingon music. Klingon music is introduced in S5 “Unification” where we get a few bars of Klingon opera but here we get the versatility of Klingon music. We’re introduced to the “Klingon Victory Song” (“ylja’Qo’”) in the first part of this two part story, when L’Kor, an elderly Klingon, sings it to a group of Klingons as some sort of adult lullaby. The weird thing is, it works! It’s elegiac and comforting. However, its melancholic feel doesn’t quite fit with the Klingon way of life. We hear the song again when Toq, a Klingon living in the prison camp and one of the teens most interested in Worf’s instruction, sings it in the second part but the tone and meaning change. He sings it after a successful hunt and reclaims the song’s original meaning as a hymn of victory. Toq even speaks of how his understanding of a song he learned as a lullaby has shifted. Tellingly, when it’s sung as a lullaby it’s a solo, but when Toq sings it, it’s participatory and communal, as the other Klingons in the dining hall join in and sing along. There’s even an acoustic version if you’re interested.
The communal nature of Klingon song is emphasized on Deep Space Nine as well. Worf’s role on that show introduces fans to “The Klingon Drinking Song” (“‘ej HumtaH ‘ej DechtaH ‘Iw”). This is my favourite Klingon song, though it’s hard to narrow it to one song. It’s a song of comradery (Worf and Huraga sing it while getting drunk, but it’s also very direct in a way that resonates with the way Klingons speak and interact (“And the blood was ankle deep. / And the river Skral ran crimson red. / On the day above all days. / When Kahless slew evil Molor dead”). It’s sung again by Seven and the Doctor on Voyager, and it’s in the same vein (celebratory, drinking song between comrades). There are more Klingon songs I could write about, like the terrific “The Warrior’s Anthem” (“Qoy qeylIS puqloD” sometimes known as “SuvwI’ van bom”), but if you’re interested watch seasons 4 through 7 of Deep Space Nine.
46. The Chase (TNG 620)
Picard and co. lead a chase to discover the origins of all humanoid life in the galaxy.
I’m generally pro any episode that allows Picard to indulge his love of archeology and this one does that in spades. It actually starts with a marvelous scene in which Picard is surprised by his former archeology professor/father figure Professor Galen, who presents him with a Kurlan naiskos. Picard is overwhelmed by the object and is pretty adorable as he describes the significance of the object to Riker. Aside: one would have hoped we’d be beyond taking archeological objects and material from cultural specific sites/planets and gifting them at random to various successful white dudes from different species, but here we are.
Anyway, since the archeology mission Galen is undertaking (he’s murdered early on in this one which spurs Picard to take up his mission) involves biology, Bev and Picard team up to solve the mystery and that’s pretty fun. Nu’Daq, a Klingon who was also trying to solve the mystery, joins them for the ride and I find him to be fairly charming; he head butts Data, he interjects frequently, and he bonds with Worf. Anyway, they’re racing both the Cardassians and the Romulans to discover this 4 billion year old genetic mystery and along the way we see the violent ends the Klingon, Cardassians, and Romulans are willing to undertake to solve the mystery. Eventually they all get to Vilmor II and as the rest of the reps squabble, Bev and Picard activate an ancient holographic program that features a humanoid who looks a lot like what the Founders will look like on DS9 (which leads to an interesting discussion for a later date).
Anyway, this alien states that her species was once alone in the universe and they basically seeded the galaxy hoping to create many diverse species of humanoids who would subsequently peacefully interact. Well, that didn’t work, oops! Nu’Daq’s response is pretty great and totally misses the point: “That’s all?! If she were not dead, I would kill her!”
This ending works in the context of this episode because in this one difference leads to violence; Yridians kill Galen for his info, all life on Indri VIII is destroyed to ensure no one but the Klingons obtain genetic data from the planet, and there are several uneasy standoffs. This episode ends with the Romulan commander heeding the words of the alien hologram illustrating that if our differences can divide us, than our similarities can bring peace. Which is all very nice, except this “genetically we’re all the same!” both erases history and obscures individuality. Surely in the 24th century difference can be celebrated without it leading to erasure and violence? Surely to co-habit the galaxy peacefully we don’t have prioritize sameness?
45. Allegiance (TNG 318)
Picard is abducted and held prisoner with three other captives while a duplicate fills his role on the Enterprise.
I love this episode so much. That wasn’t always the case and it’s certainly not “good” by most standards but I enjoy it anyway. For most of my history watching TNG, I didn’t really pay much attention to this episode, but a few years ago I had an epiphany and realized it’s actually tremendous! Duplicate Picard is just so enjoyable to watch and Stewart really brings it. The fake Picard that’s running the ship has all the best qualities of Awkward JLP but all the confidence of Regular Jean-Luc and the combo is fantastic. There’s his awkward dinner with Bev, where they dance, he utilizes one hell of a seductive lean, and the abruptly kicks her out. His arguments with Riker are great too. But my favourite part is definitely when Duplicate Picard struts into Ten Forward, addresses everyone assembled, orders them all ales (super generous in a synthehol post-currency universe, but it’s the thought that counts), and then leads them all in Academy drinking songs. It’s wonderful.
The performance Real Picard and his fellow imprisoned cellmates give isn’t bad either. The star of the cellblock is a Chalnoth named Esoqq, who delivers one of my favourite TNG lines to the Mizarian named Kova Tholl “Collaboration is what your species does best”. Damn! These two actually have some pretty entertaining exchanges and while Chalnoth is somewhat gruff, I find him really appealing.
44. Conundrum (TNG 514)
The crew’s memories are erased and the computer records are altered; forcing Picard and co. to fight a war.
This is one of those fish out of water episodes, where people are doing jobs they normally wouldn’t or interacting with characters they generally don’t share screen time with (“Disaster” is the ultimate for this in terms of TNG episodes). So yeah, it’s fun to watch Ro and Riker get along and reveal their attraction, but it’s also great to see how confident and easygoing Ro is without the context of her court martial/Garon II mission.
It’s also fun to see how naturally they all gravitate to their skill sets and jobs. Picard tries to lead, Worf really wants to blow stuff up, Geordi to engineering issues, Riker and Troi to their deep connection.
This episode is pretty compelling the first time you see it and it holds up to multiple viewings.
It’s not remotely important, but Worf’s wig is glued slightly too far forward on his forehead in this one and it does something strange to his wig and now I can’t stop noticing it. Whenever Worf gets new forehead/hair style, there’s an awkward adjustment period.