My Favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Part One)

Poster Art for Star Trek The Next Generation. Source

Recently, I went through a binge-watching spree of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For me, this was the Star Trek show that I grew up on. First-run syndication was a fairly new venture in the halcyon days before Cable television became ubiquitous across the nation. Sunday evenings from 1987 thru 1994, my family and I would gather around the television to enjoy dinner and watch The Next Generation. It is from this show that my love of science fiction was born, largely due to my mother’s influence (who is an old-school science-fiction nerd).

After pouring through the series, here’s a list of my favorite episodes in no particularly order. Obviously, there will be spoilers but this is a show that’s been out for over thirty years.

Lore, Data’s misanthropic “brother”. Source

“Datalore” (Season 1)

The first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is by the admission of every one involved not a great season of television. There were a lot of creative missteps (the introduction of the Ferengi being a clear example) that hindered the quality. “Datalore”, while not the most widely identified episode for the show, introduced the audience to Lore, Data’s “brother” and evil mirror. Star Trek loves to set up foils for their characters. In the case of the android Data, Lore became his mirror opposite: capable, charming, and utterly devious. While the story beats of the episode are not that inspired, the performance by Brent Spiner is the main reason to watch. Spiner infuses Lore with all of the qualities lacking in Data, which is most readily on display during the side-to-side scenes between the two. This episode is a must watch to get many of the later episodes where Lore reappears to cause further problems.

“Elementary, Dear Data” (Season 2)

The holodeck episodes are a mixed bag throughout the series. One has to wonder with all of the various issues the holodeck encounters, why anyone on the crew would continue to use them, but I digress. The main reason to watch this episode is the performance of Daniel Davis (most famous from his time as Niles on Fran Drescher’s The Nanny) give a wonderful performance as James Moriarty. When Geordi LaForge gives the holodeck computer the command to create a Sherlock Holmes story and antagonist that could confound Data, the holodeck changes Moriarty to the point that the holographic character gains full sentience. This concept of a holographic entity obtaining sentience would be explored in much greater detail years later during Star Trek: Voyager with the Emergency Medical Hologram. Moriarty would reappear again in the episode “Ship in a Bottle” but this episode is one of the more thought-provoking episodes largely because it asks the audience to empathize with a character that is not flesh and blood.

Data (Brent Spiner) in “The Measure of a Man”. Source

“The Measure of a Man” (Season 2)

For many Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, this is the episode that cemented the show and signaled that it was going to be as good (and in many ways surpass) the original Star Trek series. The question at the center of the episode is whether or not Data, as an android and artificial lifeform, is a sentient being and therefore a citizen under Starfleet’s rules and regulations. The performances of all the main cast and guest-stars is top-notch, with Patrick Stewart in particular giving a stellar performance as Picard tries to prove Data’s sentience. The bar scene between Picard and Guinan (portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg) is also deeply poignant, hammering home the message that if Data is considered the property of Starfleet rather than a person, any android created from his designs would also be property, in effect becoming the slaves of the Federation. It’s about as subtle as an anvil being dropped from a plane but sometimes, anvils like this need to be dropped to get the point across.

“Q Who” (Season 2)

The last entry from Season 2 of the show is one that would have far-reaching consequences for Star Trek (both to its benefit and detriment, depending on your point of view). John de Lancie’s Q is such a wonderfully written character but the real star of this episode is the introduction of the Borg, the single most powerful enemy introduced in Star Trek up to this point. The Borg would go through several changes between their introduction here and what would be shown in later movies and TV shows but the implacable nature of the Borg in this episode is still bone-chilling. Q’s admonition to Picard at the end of the episode that the universe is a dangerous place is not without merit, leading many to believe that the Borg were already on their way to the Alpha Quadrant and Q gave Picard and Starfleet advanced notice to ensure their survival.

There are quite a few more episodes that I’ll be covering in these essays. For now, these are the ones from the first two seasons that I highly recommend watching if you’re just getting into Star Trek: The Next Generation or if you’re a long-time fan want to experience some wonderful nostalgia.

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