Star Trek: The Next Generation is the crew I grew up with. I was eleven when the series premiered in 1987, and I was wary at first—how would new Star Trek work? Who were these new characters? It was so different, how could it be the same? All these years later, I shake my head at little me. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the beginning of my love for more. The new series took nothing away from the original series, it was just more Star Trek to love!
Here are my top ten episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“Darmok” is all about communication — how to talk to someone with no shared language, history, or culture, and without the benefit of a universal translator. It’s something we struggle with here on Earth, and it’s scary. But “Darmok” shows us it’s possible to find a middle ground and work together to create understanding. That’s a simple but powerful lesson.
9. “Chain of Command, Parts 1 and 2”
This episode, specifically the second part, is about as brutal as The Next Generation gets. It touches on war, espionage, prison, and both physical and psychological torture. The series was nominated for 58 Emmy Awards, but all behind the scenes and technical. Patrick Stewart deserved recognition for his work as Captain Picard and this episode is his most obvious “Emmy reel”.
8. “Remember Me”
Doctor Crusher was the first character I connected with—in the first season episode “Datalore” she pulls a phaser on the villainous android to protect her son and I looked up to her as a maternal figure from then on. “Remember Me” is her best turn. It’s heartfelt and humorous and makes me happy every time I watch.
The next three episodes follow roads not taken, to see what happens when they are. In “Tapestry”, Picard has a near death experience that features Q—or “Q” depending on what you believe—and allows him to experience his life as if he’d played it safe and colored inside the lines. Another wonderful Patrick Stewart performance in probably my favorite version of It’s a Wonderful Life.
6. “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
Here it’s Tasha Yar, killed in action in season one, who gets a chance to make new choices. I loved Tasha Yar, but the series didn’t figure itself out until she was already gone (you’ll notice there are no episodes from season one on this list and only one in season two) so I am forever grateful Tasha got to come back and be the hero I always knew she was. The episode also features a woman captaining the Enterprise-C, a whirlwind romance, and Guinan, who is always welcome.
5. “The Inner Light”
And another excellent turn by Stewart as Picard, here transplanted into another life with no memory of his travels amongst the stars. An alien race who died out when they ignored the signs of catastrophic climate change sent a probe into space to preserve their existence in the memories of whoever encountered it. Picard is cast as the scientist who knows what’s happening and can’t stop it. Although the aliens’ method is questionable (I’d love to chat with Picard about the difference between his experience in this episode and his experience with the Borg or the Nexus) their message is one we can relate to: they wish to be remembered and not only for their mistakes. It’s also a cautionary tale about global warming that gets more and more frighteningly real every time I watch it.
4. “The Measure of a Man”
Besides Picard, Data is the most fully realized character in The Next Generation and I could easily do a Data themed top ten list (“The Most Toys”, “The Offspring”, “Data’s Day”…) and this episode would top it. Data is put on trial to prove he is not Starfleet’s property but an individual member of its organization, a person, essentially, with the right to choose not to be experimented on or dismantled. The episode features nuanced performances by the three regulars involved — Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner as Data, and Jonathan Frakes as Riker who must argue for the prosecution—as well guest stars Amanda McBroom as Starfleet’s JAG (I want an entire series about Starfleet JAG) and Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan whose scene with Picard elevates the episode from great to brilliant, and important.
3. “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2” and “Family”
Yes, I consider these three episodes as three parts of the same story. I watched “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” live with my brothers and all four of us gasped aloud at the cliffhanger ending. It was shocking! Watching the three episodes together as what amounts to a film may not have the same heart stopping suspense (that lasted an agonizing three months and five days) but the drama is intact. It’s a scary, sad, story about monsters within and without and how family of all kinds saves us from the dark and it’s The Next Generation at its best.
2. “Lower Decks”
But “Lower Decks” is Star Trek at its best. The episode gives us another side of Starfleet and its flagship by following four junior members of the Enterprise crew and their bartender friend. The standout storyline is Sito Jaxa’s as she seeks acceptance and redemption for her part in an Academy cover-up (seen in an earlier episode, “The First Duty”, which I also highly recommend watching, especially in conjunction with this one). I feel strongly that this episode is one of the very best of all six series in the Star Trek canon—and I’m excited that the upcoming new series Star Trek: Discovery is reported to follow a similar structure by not focusing on the captain.
1. “All Good Things”
“All Good Things” is not the very best episode of the series, but it is the most representative. While Picard is the main focus, the episode highlights the ensemble and includes Tasha Yar and frequent guest star John DeLancie as Q. It has a structure similar to Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol so we revisit the beginning of the series and follow our heroes into one possible future. It’s a joyful end to the series, focused on the crew as family, and that family as representatives of humanity. It’s a big picture story that inspires all of us to think universally and act boldly and believe, truly, that anything can happen.