My Favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Part 2)

Continuing where I left off in my last essay, Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the seminal TV shows for me as a child. Without being exposed to Star Trek, I can honestly say that my love for science fiction would not be as strong as it is today. In the first essay, I covered some of my favorite episodes from the first two seasons. Picking up from there, I’ll go over the episodes that I consider must-watch episodes from the third season (because there were so many to choose from).

“The Defector” (Season 3)

Perhaps more than any other species on the show, the Romulans could be said to be the primary antagonists, since the peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire prevented the same kind of stories from Star Trek to be repeated. One of the first episodes that really struck home for me was “The Defector”, where the turncoat Romulan Admiral named Jarok defects to the Federation. The reason for the defection as Jarok reveals is that the Romulans have been planning a forward base in the Neutral Zone, a sector of space that serves as a buffer between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. With this base, the Romulans would be in a prime position to strike at the Federation, starting a war that Jarok hopes to avoid. The episode also features the return of Commander Tomalak (portrayed by the late Andreas Katsulas), who was a fine antagonistic foil for Jean-Luc Picard. When Jarok learns that he led the Enterprise into a trap and that his betrayal of the Romulan Star Empire as for nothing, he quietly takes his own life rather than live in exile, knowing that his daughter will be taught that her father was a traitor. A truly heartbreaking episode, made all the more poignant by the stellar performance from James Sloyan as Jarok.

“The Offspring” (Season 3)

The Data centered episodes are often hit or miss but this one was by far the best from the early episodes. In an effort to understand humanity better, Data creates an android child, who later chooses her own gender. Lal, as she is later named, is inquisitive, naïve, but sweet in an endearing way. When Starfleet learns of this, a brusque Admiral attempts to order Data to turn over his child to Starfleet. In an echo of “The Measure of a Man”, Picard fights this decree, pointing out that Starfleet would never order an organic member of the crew to hand over their child to the state. The performance of Hallie Todd as Lal is refreshingly honest, particularly once Lal begins to experience emotions, something that Data has still not achieved at this point. It is, without going to deep into sentimentality, one of the more heartfelt episodes the show produced.

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” (Season 3)

One of the most celebrated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is perhaps the moment when many in the fandom decided this was a legitimate follow-up to the Original Series. When an Enterprise from the past travels through a temporal anomaly, the Enterprise the audience knows goes through a dramatic shift. As we soon learn, the Federation has been at war with the Klingon Empire for decades and has nearly lost the war. The Enterprise is a warship rather than an exploration and scientific vessel. But most importantly, Tasha Yar is still alive, having never ventured to the planet where she died in “Skin of Evil”. Temporal hijinks are a mainstay of Star Trek, for good and for ill, but this was one of the episodes that used time travel to tell an intriguing story about faith in fighting the good fight, even if it means everything you know will change without the guarantee of it being better.

“Sins of the Father” (Season 3)

Worf is one of my favorite characters, largely due to the impactful performance of Michael Dorn. Across several years, two different series, and a handful of movies, the often-stoic and no-nonsense Klingon was given some excellent story arcs to work with. The beginning of that arc for me is this episode, where Worf’s younger brother Kurn (played with screen-chewing aplomb by Tony Todd) arrives on the Enterprise. Worf must stand before the Klingon High Council to address the claim that his father Mogh was responsible for the destruction of the Khitomer base, betraying the Empire to the Romulans. As we later discover, this was not the case, with the High Council member Duras’ father being the actual traitor. Rather than plunge the Empire into civil war, Worf holds to his honor and accepts discommendation, a ritual banishment from the Empire, allowing Worf and his brother to live but at the price of Worf never being allowed back within the Klingon Empire ever again. Powerfully written and acted, this is one of the best episodes of the series.

“Sarek” (Season 3)

The late Mark Lenard was synonymous with the role of Sarek, Spock’s father, having appeared first in “Journey to Babel” and making multiple appearances in the Star Trek films that featured the original cast. Star Trek: The Next Generation used the original cast members sparingly, a wise decision on their part in order to make the show stand on its own two legs rather than relying on nostalgia to pump up the ratings. Sarek, now old and losing control over his emotions, is tasked with helping the Federation negotiate with a new species that wishes to join. The loss of control is explained as a degenerative mental disorder that afflicts many Vulcans who reached advanced age. The real joy of this episode is watching Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart play off one another. These two powerhouse performers bring out the best in each other, particularly during the tense moments where Picard attempts to get through to Sarek what he is experiencing.

“The Best of Both Worlds” (Season 3 & 4) The first of the two-part season finales and openers that would be used for the remainder of the series, “The Best of Both Worlds” is an example of an excellent start to a story but a middling conclusion. The Borg return to threaten Federation space but this time, they manage to capture Jean-Luc Picard and force him to be assimilated. Using Picard’s knowledge of Federation tactics and procedures, the Borg destroy a Federation fleet in the Battle of Wolf 359 (which would later be used as the backstory for Commander Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine). My favorite part of these two episodes is the position this places Commander Riker in, allowing Jonathan Frakes to take the helm and show what kind of a leader Riker is. It’s easy to see Riker as an ersatz Kirk on The Next Generation, and given Riker’s penchant for seducing guest-stars, it’s not hard to make that argument. “The Best of Both Worlds” gave us a chance to see Riker in command of the Enterprise, allowing Frakes to showcase his talents outside of the large shadow cast by Stewart.

I had originally intended this essay to cover both the third and fourth seasons but there were a bevy of excellent episodes that I enjoyed from the third season. Without delving into hyperbole, the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (for me, at least) is where the show really found its footing and its own voice as a series. There were still missteps during the season but the writers and showrunner began producing some exceptionally good television in the third season, a trend that would continue in the remaining seasons.  

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