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The Munificent Musings Of A Maniacal Mammal

A list of my personal top 25 favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

1: Yesterday’s Enterprise (3×15)

No surprise to find this at the top of my list. It’s a favorite of many fans, and with good reason. It’s funny to listen to the comments of the writers and producers regarding season 3 of the series. It was a tumultuous time behind the scenes, with a number of the earlier writers leaving and new ones coming in (which would start to stabilize from season 3 into season 4). Production was behind the 8 ball from the start and they were desperately struggling to just get episodes churned out on time. This episode was one that just kinda slipped into the schedule unassumingly and got quickly divided up among multiple writers and the crew just desperately ran with it as best as they could. Somehow, amidst all the chaos, they all managed to totally stick the landing. Amusingly, most of the people involved make comments along the lines of “I sure wish we knew at the time that we were in the middle of making the groundbreaking season of the show that would change everything, because we would have stopped a couple times to smell the roses and enjoy it, but in reality it was just a mad scramble to simply manage to meet deadlines, somehow.” This episode is the most stylistically different from any episode of the series’ run, taking full advantage of the story to give everything a different tone. Given the constraints and limitations, they did an amazing job with it all. And the cast steps up and nails it as well. Go figure. Sometimes limitations and deadlines can force excellent work out of people.

2: Tapestry (6×15)

A charming and well-written script that the excellent writer, Ronald D. Moore, admits to being somewhat influenced by his own life, taking a “what if” approach to how things would have turned out with different choices. While it’s solidly produced and well written, it’s Patrick Stewart and the always fantastic John De Lancie as Q that really make it all work perfectly. This episode is certainly well liked by fans, but I probably rank it higher than most do. I love this one.

3: The Inner Light (5×25)

Another universal fan favorite, this one is another Patrick Stewart showcase. From a sci-fi concept, this plot is pretty straight forward, but that’s kinda what makes it work so well. Add in a fantastic production (when you watch this episode, pay close attention to the lighting in the village and consider the fact that it was filmed entirely on a sound stage), and you’ve got a real winner. Special mention goes to composer Jay Chattaway for his wonderful main theme that Picard spends his time playing on his little flute throughout the episode. And if you haven’t heard this orchestral arrangement that Chattaway did, you really should give it a full listen. It’s absolutely fantastic.

4: Déjà Q (3×13)

This is the John De Lancie performance as Q that gives his work in Tapestry a run for its money in perfection and entertainment value. While Tapestry was more of a showcase for Patrick Stewart, with De Lancie getting to be the icing on the cake, this episode is all about giving De Lancie the stage, front and center, and letting him shine. There are many hilarious and very fun moments in this episode, but a series highlight is this perfectly delivered exchange between Q & Worf near the beginning of the episode.

5: Cause and Effect (5×18)

You could pick apart some of the details of this one if you wanted, as is the case of many of the more sci-fi or conceptual plots of the series. But this one is a fun exercise in playing with plotting and nuances of acting, filming and editing. The solution comes off as a little bit too simple, but it still works well enough to make the great episode work.

6: The Measure of a Man (2×09)

The series would occasionally slip into becoming a legal drama, but this initial take at it really hit the ground running. It also touches on some of the fundamentals of Starfleet and the Star Trek franchise in general, debating a core sci-fi topic – what determines sentience and determines something to be intelligent or a lifeform. It’s a solidly written script, and the cast makes it all work well.

7: The Best of Both Worlds (3×26 & 4×01)

It may not be perfect, but this two-parter is highly entertaining and it was a real groundbreaker for its time. One also has to consider that it capped off the third season of the series, which is when the show really hit its stride. If Yesterday’s Enterprise was the moment where many fans realized that TNG had more potential than many had anticipated, The Best Of Both Worlds was when the fans realized that TNG was going to be another respected classic that stood on its own with confidence. The producers had been worried about TNG being overshadowed by its predecessor. By the time this episode aired, they really had no need to have any such worries anymore.

8: Data’s Day (4×11)

This is just a simple and charming episode that casually allows Brent Spiner to do all the things he does best. We get plenty of details about a number of the characters along the way, including the marriage of Miles O’Brien and Keiko. Personally, I rather enjoy episodes like this, where things get to slow down and breathe. And this one does it with effortless charm.

9: All Good Things… (7×25)

This is how you do a series finale. Both TNG and DS9 managed to nail their finales (something no other Trek series to date has managed to pull off). Amusingly, writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga were both writing the feature film Generations when they also got the job of writing this series finale in the middle of working on Generations. They’ve said that they spent like 2 weeks on this finale episode, compared to the year-or-more they spent on Generations, and they freely admit that this finale turned out much better than Generations, which is absolutely true. Patrick Stewart is absolutely perfect in this. John De Lancie solidly book-ends his Q character arc with the Encounter At Farpoint pilot episode. The rest of the cast does a nice job with performing 3 versions of their character, including Denise Crosby’s return as her original season 1 character version. And that final poker scene is the very definition of simple perfection. When I saw it on first airing, I actually said out loud, “and that’s how you do it” as the end credits began.

10: I, Borg (5×23)

While the Borg were never properly used again in the series after this episode, this was a wonderfully unexpected idea to follow-up The Best Of Both Worlds. Jonathan Del Arco turned in a great guest starring performance as Hugh, giving the Borg a new spin. Like many of the Trek franchise’s best episodes, it has a nice moral quandary at the core of the story.

11: Lower Decks (7×15)

A very fun exploration of life aboard The Enterprise as experienced by the junior crew members. The new guest cast members do a nice job with the material, including a very nice return by Shannon Fill as Ensign Sito, reprising her small role in season 5’s The First Duty.

12: Family (4×02)

This is a wonderful downshift following The Best Of Both Worlds, with Patrick Stewart proving yet again how lucky the producers were in deciding on his casting in the role of Picard. Add in an excellent guest performance by Jeremy Kemp as Picard’s brother, Robert, and you have a solid and atypical episode of the series.

13: The First Duty (5×19)

Wesley Crusher’s story kinda fizzled out in a very unsatisfying way, in my opinion. This episode, however, showed some fantastic potential for the character. Had they followed through with things after this episode in a different way, they could have really made his character work well. This episode is very well done, with some excellent performances, including a truly great scene performance from Ed Lauter (apologizing to Wesley for his son’s mistake). The icing on the cake for this episode is Ray Walston as Picard’s friend Boothby, the groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy.

14: The Wounded (4×12)

Star Trek tends to be particularly good at plots involving revenge, and this is no exception. It features a great guest performance by Bob Gunton. This episode also has a number of curious ties to Deep Space Nine. Not only is this the first mention in Star Trek of The Cardassians, but Marc Alaimo portrays the Cardassian Gul Macet (Alaimo would go on to portray the major role of Gul Dukat on DS9), and Colm Meaney’s Miles O’Brien gets to have a significant role in the episode. Even more interestingly, Deep Space Nine would go on to produce an episode, season 3’s Defiant, which would take a similar idea of helping the Cardassians hunt down a rogue Federation ship, but put a different spin on the reasons and results.

15: Brothers (4×03)

A very technically proficient episode that weaves together three very good performances from Brent Spiner. We get to first experience his “brother”, Lore, as well as his “father”, Dr. Noonien Soong. It’s all wrapped up into a nice little narrative that let’s Spiner shine.

16: Ensign Ro (5×03)

One of the biggest disappointments in Trek is that Michelle Forbes didn’t stick with her excellent role of Ro Laren long term. She was fantastic in her handful of episodes (and has been equally fantastic in various roles in other shows and movies). This episode begins to set up the Bajorans, who would be a key part of Deep Space Nine, which would debut the next year. But as the title would make obvious, the success of this episode rests on the shoulders of Forbes in her performance of Ensign Ro.

17: Qpid (4×20)

The most delightfully silly episode of the series, to be sure. John De Lancie has fun with Q yet again, but this time the entire cast gets to have silly fun along with him. There are many entertaining quotes from this one, from amusing scenes such as this or this. The return of Jennifer Hetrick as Vash is also a welcome addition.

18: The Offspring (3×16)

The implications of this episode are a little bit too far reaching, but it’s handled well. The key to making this episode work is the casting of Hallie Todd as Lal, who does an excellent job. And not surprisingly, Brent Spiner also nails all of his material as Data.

19: Disaster (5×05)

What can I say, I’m a sucker for the disaster story genre. I love ’70s disaster movies, and I love this episode. Besides the disaster plot itself, which does work well, we get plenty of great character scenes, filled with all sorts of great details.

20: Conundrum (5×14)

You can pick apart the plausibility problems of this episode, to be sure, but the central idea and plot setup are wonderfully fun. It also provides some fun out of character moments.

21: The Next Phase (5×24)

This is another of those episodes that’s just a very fun and entertaining episode based around a core idea. The pairing of Geordi with Ro Laren at the center of the episode’s plot gives the writers a fun way of approaching the situation from both a scientific and religious perspective. And yet again, Michelle Forbes is great as Ro Laren.

22: A Matter of Time (5×09)

The simple fact that Matt Frewer is the main guest star of this episode is reason enough to love it. Not surprisingly, he’s great in it. This is one of those episodes that is casually and effortlessly entertaining.

23: Darmok (5×02)

You can pick apart the linguistics of this episode is many, MANY ways. But who cares, because the result is an entertaining and well written episode. It also features a great guest performance from Paul Winfield. It’s also a fun presage of modern meme culture.

24: Relics (6×04)

Sure, this episode is all about giving the great James Doohan a reason to return to Star Trek, and he does a great job, but there’s other aspects of this episode to enjoy as well. In fact, the episode kinda squanders a plot (the Dyson sphere) that probably should have been the central focus of an episode without all the Scotty stuff to compete with.

25: Ship in a Bottle (6×12)

This follow-up to the also-enjoyable second season episode, “Elementary, Dear Data”, takes things and kicks it up a level. As before, Daniel Davis is excellent as Moriarty. Add in a charming and simple guest performance from Stephanie Beacham, and you have a very enjoyable and fun episode.

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