Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ten Best Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Or, at least, these are my ten favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, since Next Gen is my favorite TV show of all time, that pretty much means they are ten of my favorite TV episodes of all time.

Side note: I'm counting two-parters as single episodes. It's just easier that way. And, remember, these are just my opinions. They could be wrong.

#10. Genesis

Nobody else seems to like this episode as much as I do. Nobody ever talks about it and it's never on any best of lists. Well, now it is. I love this episode. It's that rare episode that actually manages to be full of action, science, horror, and humor. And, come on, what can you say about an episode where Riker devolves into a caveman? That's just good characterization.

Interesting trivia: This was the only episode (and maybe the only thing ever) directed by Doctor Crusher herself, Gates McFadden. I'm not sure why since it's really well done. I think she could have a second career as a director.

#9. Relics

"I was driving Starships while your great-grandfather was still in di-ah-pers!!"

This episode is so stupid, but it's so much fun. This is exactly why I watch Star Trek. Next Gen tried many times to feature characters from the original series, but this was the only time it really worked, in my opinion. Kirk's appearance in Generations was a disaster because that movie had such a terrible script, Spock's appearance was way too overdone and pretentious, and Bones was only there for about five seconds, and completely unrecognizable... but this episode was just... funny.

Sure, there was some story about a Dyson's Sphere and something to do with a transporter accident (surprise surprise!), but at its core, this episode was just a comedy. And it also featured James Doohan in his finest ever Star Trek performance. I loved it, and so should you.

#8. I, Borg

You know, the one with Hugh, the world's most lovable Borg. And, no, I'm not forgetting 7 of 9. She was the world's most humpable Borg, but Hugh is far more lovable. This was another episode from Next Gen's prime, when it was just cranking out some of the best science fiction stories of all time. This episode was where they took their most evil, terrifying villains and allowed us to see another side of them. Star Trek rarely gets any better than this.

#7. The Most Toys

This is my favorite Data episode. This is the one where he gets kidnapped by an evil collector of rare memorabilia, and he gets pushed so far, he almost (and maybe even does) becomes willing to commit murder in cold blood. The nebulous, open-ended final act is one of the best in Trek history, and Saul Rubinek plays one of the best villains ever.

#6. Ship in a Bottle

I love Star Trek in all of its forms, but I am as much, if not more so, a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So I'm lucky to be a fan of both, since they have intersected so many times. Spock was an ancestor or Sherlock Holmes, by the way. Ship in a Bottle was the second Sherlock Holmes inspired episode of Next Generation, and it is far and away the best.

This episode is notable for having a brilliant, almost mind-bending plot that folds in on itself over and over again and keeps you guessing until the very end, and also for the brilliant return performance of Daniel Davis as the Napoleon of crime himself, Professor Moriarty. Davis gives the best interpretation of the character that I've ever seen, in any other film or TV episode. He's awesome, and makes my list as one of the best Trek villains ever. Or is he one of the best heroes?

#5. The Best of Both Worlds

I've watched a lot of TV in my time, and a lot of Star Trek in particular, and the scene where Jean Luc Picard comes on screen as a Borg and says, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile," was the best cliffhanger in TV history. Rounding out the top three would be the Battlestar Galactica where the Cylons landed on New Caprica, and the Supernatural where Dean literally died and went to hell.

But we were talking about Next Generation. This episode is awesome. It was the first time we had scene the Borg since season 2, and the show was still new enough that, quite literally, anything could've happened. Picard might really be dead. We honestly didn't know. For the first time, a Star Trek series was going into a fourth season, where no one really had gone before.

Anyway, Picard didn't die (spoilers!!), but it was still an awesome, action-packed episode.

#4. Chain of Command

If for nothing else, Chain of Command has to be on the list for giving us the most quotable line in all of Star Trek:

"There... Are... Four... Lights!!!"

But, even more than that, it's a brilliant episode dealing with the realities of torture, something you don't really see on TV outside of CSPAN or 24. Oh, and we also get to see McLean Stephenson as Captain Jellico, and Patrick Stewart in the nude!

#3. All Good Things

All Good Things was the last episode of the series, so the pressure was on to end with a bang. To be honest, season 7 was, overall, one of the weakest storywise, so hopes weren't high. At least, my hopes weren't high. But then the episode finally aired and it was amazing. This was, without any doubt in my mind, the perfect way to end the series, bridging the story perfectly with the original pilot episode, and giving viewers the greatest series finale of all time.

And, no, I have no idea what really happened in this episode, since it had the mostly overly convoluted plot, had way too much technobabble, and ended with a huge deus ex machina... but, come on... that's Star Trek. Somehow, they make that stuff all work.

#2. Darmok

As pure science fiction goes, Darmok is one of the most brilliant and creative stories I've ever seen. Star Trek, as science fiction, has always been about character first, story second, but this episode managed to combine both equally. It's the story of two truly alien cultures coming together for the first time and trying to reach peace.

To non trekkies, it's the one where the aliens speak in a language based on metaphors, and not on any linguist vocabulary. Its sounds complicated -- and it is -- but that's what makes it such a rare, brave moment in episodic television. It's also one of the most wonderfully quotable episodes in Trek history.

#1. The Inner Light

If you ever want to see me cry, all you have to do is put on either E.T. or this episode of Next Gen. In fact, all I need to hear is Picard play that song on the flute and I immediately get misty. It's just heart-breaking. This may, in fact, be beat episode of any program in television history. And I'm not exaggerating. It's that good, it's that thought-provoking, it's that emotional, and it's that entertaining.

If you've never seen an episode of Star Trek, this is as perfect a jumping on point as any, but it is that much more poignant if you understand how living this double life, and finally having a family, actually means to the character of Picard.

I'm sorry. I can't write any more. I'm already getting misty...

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