Here at Set The Tape, we like Star Trek. We’ve ranked the movies and the TV shows, and now we’re looking at the top five episodes from each series. Last week I considered the top five shows of my favourite show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Tony Black picked the top five episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Now I turn myself to the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D as I consider the five greatest episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
All Good Things (S7, E26)
John De Lancie’s omnipotent Q was the first villain Picard and his crew ever faced and he was entertaining as hell. While his debut saw him putting humanity on trial, his returning appearances became more comical in nature but also helped to open up the crew to their own fears and beliefs. He introduced the Enterprise to the Borg in ‘Q Who’ and helped Picard explore his transgressions as his younger self in ‘Tapestry’. But it was the show’s finale at the end of season seven that brought things full circle as the trial for humanity continued and he became a proper villain once more.
‘All Good Things’ is the best finale any Star Trek show ever did and was a masterpiece in storytelling as Picard zipped between the present, the events of the pilot episode ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ and twenty-five years in the future to explore an anomaly moving backwards through moving back through time that would destroy the universe. But it was also great to revisit old faces (Tasha Yar) and get a glimpse of the future where Crusher and Picard were divorced and she was Captain Picard herself, Admiral Riker commanded a souped up version of the Enterprise D and battled against Worf over the events of Troi’s death, Data was a professor at Cambridge and Picard himself faced a debilitating disease while desperately trying to convince old friends of what was happening.
It was a great time travel story in its own right, unravelling the mystery on multiple levels and brought the series full circle. And with the first movie approaching it left things open ended without leaving fans unsatisfied. That final scene where Picard asked to join the senior crew’s regular poker game is as heartwarming a moment of the crew coming together as the show ever did.
The Offspring (S3, E16)
Data’s exploration to become human was a central focus of Star Trek: The Next Generation and while there are classics like season two’s ‘Measure of a Man’ to chose from, it was season three entry ‘The Offspring’ that was the highlight of his journey in a heartfelt, comic episode as he created a daughter Lal and saw her evolve beyond his own personal struggles.
This episode has the perfect combination of humour (Lal’s kiss with Riker), to emotional heartbreak (Lal’s decay and death) and everything in between. Hallie Todd was a delight as Data’s android daughter, exploring the Enterprise with the wonder of a child in an adult’s body and Brent Spiner is at his very best, playing the proud mentor without ever being able to express the emotions of love and later grief. And there’s even the classic ‘is she a sentient life form or the property of the Federation?’ trope, when Admiral Haftel came to take her away.
‘The Offspring’ is an incredibly bittersweet episode that makes great use of the ensemble cast as their interact with Lal in their own different ways and adding another fascinating facet to Data’s character. Star Trek was always about the exploration to seek out new life forms and Lal was a uniquely special interpretation of that mantra. If you were to suggest one Data-centric episode to a new viewer, this should be it.