My Favorite “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Episodes – Part 3

My first two essays covering my favorite episodes for Star Trek: The Next Generation covered the first three seasons the show. As I was writing the second essay, I realized that there were too many good episodes from the third season that I enjoyed to include any from season four. That holds true for season four as well, so this essay will be focused on my favorites from that season.

By the time season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation was broadcast, the show’s quality had risen significantly. The writing had become crisper, the actors were finally comfortable in their characters’ skins, and the staff were beginning to focus on creating stories for this cast of characters rather than trying to rehash scripts from Star Trek: The Original Series. Some of the stronger, character-focused stories grew out of this season, including a classic episode that is almost universally beloved, both in the fandom and among critics of television.

“Family” (Episode 2 of Season 4)

As a general rule, Star Trek: The Next Generation did not do long-form storytelling. Since the series was broadcast in first-run syndication, the decision was made early on in the show’s life to make largely standalone episodes. This decision made it easier for the show to be rearranged in subsequent reruns or broadcast initially in any order. There are exceptions, like “Family”. Picking up in the aftermath of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I & Part II”, a traumatized Jean-Luc Picard returns to Chateau Picard, the vineyard that has been in his family for generations and currently run by his older brother, Robert. The underlying bitterness between the brothers is palpable, with Jeremy Kemp playing Robert as having a large chip on his shoulder with regards to his brother. The fistfight between the two (and subsequent camaraderie and drinking afterward) should be familiar for anyone who has siblings. “Family” is an important episode in Picard’s journey. It’s the first step in the healing process from his ordeal with the Borg. We also get some wonderful scenes with Worf and his adoptive parents, Sergey and Helena Rozhenko. Though they aren’t given a lot of screen time, it becomes readily apparent how Worf became the man he is today is in large part because of these two people and the love they showed him.

“Remember Me” (Episode 5 of Season 4)

Gates McFadden didn’t get a lot of good material in the first season. When she returned in the third season, that didn’t change at all. One of the fairer criticisms that can be thrown at Star Trek is the lack of quality stories for the female characters. “Remember Me” is a great example of giving Dr. Beverly Crusher a standalone story that McFadden could sink her teeth in to. When Dr. Crusher realizes that people on the USS Enterprise-D are disappearing and no one has any recollection of them, she begins to question her sanity. Rather than have Dr. Crusher fall into hysterics, the writers wisely allowed Crusher to work through the problem soundly and logically. A great showcase for McFadden’s talents as an actress.

“Reunion” (Episode 7 of Season 4)

Episodes centered on Worf were a great way for the Star Trek: The Next Generation writers to delve deep in to the culture and political machinations of the Klingon Empire. “Reunion” brings this into focus as Jean-Luc Picard is asked to investigate who on the Klingon High Council is responsible for poisoning High Chancellor K’mpec (who first appeared in “Sins of the Father”). The episode also sees the return of K’Ehleyr, the half-human/half-Klingon ambassador and her son with Worf, Alexander. A civil war is brewing in the Klingon Empire and K’mpec asks Picard to serve as his Arbiter of Succession, a judge who will mediate the transfer of power to the next High Chancellor. Duras, the traitorous Klingon commander who was responsible for Worf’s discommendation, and Gowron (who would become a recurring character in both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) are vying for the title of High Chancellor. The episode is an emotional ride for Worf, who not only finds out he has a son, but loses the woman he loves to Duras’ treachery, which leads to a climactic duel between the two. This episode set up a number of storylines that would be featured in later episodes of the series and the Star Trek universe. There’s also an element of Shakespearean tragedy to the episode, which I feel is appropriate for the Klingon Empire.

“Clues” (Episode 14 of Season Four)

From time to time, Star Trek manages to utilize other genres outside of science fiction to tell a good story. “Clues” is a good example of a “who done it”-style story, with the entire cast working through the mystery of how the USS Enterprise-D lost nearly a day of time and all the records of that point. Superb writing allows the episode to move at a strong pace without ever feeling like it’s skipping over important beats or getting bogged down in minutiae. “Clues” is definitely one of the better standalone episodes in the series’ run.

“The Drumhead” (Episode 21 of Season Four)

When top ten lists for Star Trek: The Next Generation are written, “The Drumhead” usually features prominently in those lists. Part legal drama and part social commentary on the risks of totalitarian fearmongering, “The Drumhead” pits Jean-Luc Picard against Admiral Norah Satie, a Starfleet Judge with a pedigree thanks to her father Judge Aaron Satie. Jean Simmons plays Admiral Satie brilliantly from start to finish in this episode, starting off with a sweet, almost grandmotherly tone before revealing the twisted ideology and fearmongering soul that resides within her. What began as a simple investigation into sabotage quickly becomes a witch hunt that threatens to undermine the principles of Starfleet, pitting Picard against Satie in one of Sir Patrick Stewart’s best performances during the run of the show. A stand-out episode and one that I highly suggest even non-Star Trek fans check out.

“Redemption Part I & Part II” (Episode 26 of Season 4 and Episode 1 of Season 5)

Picking up where “Reunion” left off, Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise-D travel to Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld to complete the installation ceremony of Gowron as the new High Chancellor. Even though Duras was killed in ritual combat by Worf in “Reunion”, Lursa and B’Etor (Duras’ sisters) are still in play and wield a tremendous amount of influence, as well as a secret alliance with the Romulans. Using Duras’ illegitimate son Toral as a wedge to prevent Gowron from ascending to the Chancellor’s seat, Picard and Worf begin working from opposite sides of the conflict. When Picard votes in favor of Gowron due to Toral’s lack of any definable victories or status, Lursa and B’Etor use it as a pretext for civil war, which takes up the majority of the second part. This two-parter also introduces us to Sela, the daughter of the Natasha Yar from “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, who would become a recurring villain in season five of the show. Filled with bombastic moments, as well as some fine acting on the part of the major guest stars and the main cast, “Redemption Part I & Part II” had a far better start and finish than the previous year’s two-parter finale and season opener.

My next essay will cover my favorite episodes from season five of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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