Having recently completed my tour through all of the Next-Gen Era Star Trek episodes, I’ve decided to dedicate a 10-List to those I consider to be essential viewing to understand the essence of each series.
Some clarification may be needed here. By “Next-Gen Era,” I am referring to the following Star Trek series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I can understand the argument that Star Trek: Enterprise may not exactly belong in this cluster. Since Brannon Braga left during the final season of Voyager to develop the series, I think it qualifies as a creative continuation of the previous three incarnations.
What this list doesn’t include are any episodes of The Original Series, The Animated Series, or Discovery.
I maintain a list that I’ve titled All-Time Best Trek (which incidentally, includes TOS episodes). After finishing the final seasons of the Next-Gen Era series, there were about 30 of those episodes on the list. These are episodes that I scored 4-out-of-5 stars and above. In distilling these 30 down to my 10-List “essentials,” I’ve kept the percentages intact. Since TNG episodes represent around 40% of the total list, that series earned 4 places on the 10-List. And so on. Since ENT represents 20% of the total list, and it had fewer seasons, I considered factoring that into the 10-List, but, in the end, gave it only 2 slots, compared to DS9‘s 3. Despite impressing me during its final season—and, especially, its finale—VOY gets only 1 episode on this list. I think this is fair.
I’ve arbitrarily excluded series finale episodes from the list, although two out of the four would probably have made it, otherwise. Also, two-part episodes count as only one episode.
And, now, the list:
#1) “The Measure of a Man” (TNG): a 5-star episode in what is mostly a crappy season. I think this was the first TNG episode that gave the viewer a glimpse into what the series could be and, eventually, became.
#2) “Carbon Creek” (ENT): a Season 2 episode that was a frame story about one of T’Pol’s ancestors who crash-landed on Earth. It reminded me a lot of the TOS episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which is probably why I liked it so much.
#3) “Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2” (TNG): This was the Season 3 finale and Season 4 opener. Locutus of Borg was my original introduction to the world of TNG (I was a late bloomer), and this remains one of my favorite stories.
#4) “In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts 1 & 2” (ENT): Yes, I’m aware that TNG and ENT are dominating the top of this list. For good reasons. These episodes are ENT’s foray into Mirror Universe storytelling. We get to see the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise in TOS-era uniforms. Worth it for that alone.
#5) “Inner Light” (TNG): For me, the best of TNG always showcases Picard. In this one, our confirmed bachelor captain gets to live out an entire life as a family man and learns to play the flute.
#6) “The Way of the Warrior, Parts 1 & 2” (DS9): This Season 4 opener brings Worf into the DS9 world, and the series begins to get better.
#7) “Darmok” (TNG): This final TNG episode on the list wasn’t an easy pick. I had to bypass perfectly fine episodes such as “A Matter of Honor” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Two things tipped the scales in its favor. One, it’s undeniably a Picard episode, and you know how I feel about those. Two, it’s a perfect showcase for the quiet type of science fiction that Star Trek excels at, where the realm of ideas becomes more important than action.
#8) “Trials and Tribble-ations” (DS9): This Season 5 episode hit some of the same buttons as ENT’s “In a Mirror, Darkly” did, but did it even better, I think. This is a time travel episode that puts the DS9 crew inside the TOS “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode. Simply amazing.
#9) “Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2” (VOY): I had to do some soul-searching and break a few rules to find the one quintessential VOY episode to add to the list. Full disclosure: this episode wasn’t originally on my All-Time Best Trek list until I went back and bumped it up from 3.5 to 4-stars, but, in hindsight, I believe this story represents what the series could have been. Two bonuses, it guest-starred Kurtwood Smith and he didn’t say “dumbass” once; and, it may have helped to inspire Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot.
#10) “The Visitor” (DS9): Even though my favorite things about DS9 were usually the ensemble pieces, this episode continues to resonate in my memory. It features Tony Todd as an elderly Jake Sisko, and a poignant story about how time travel can be used to correct mistakes. Tony Todd elevates everything he appears in, I think. Plus, it’s a great story.
There’s my 10-List. Your mileage may vary, of course. #1 through #8 came relatively easy once I established the ground rules for myself. The last two required some mental anguish.
What episodes do you think I should have included instead?