Top 10 Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Let’s face the facts. Lists of  the best episodes of television, movies, novels, Broadway musicals, burgers and fries- you name it- are completely subjective and irrelevant. Favorites, especially pop-culture favorites, are in constant states of fluctuation. Depending on the time of day or the mood one is in, a list of favorites may alter entirely. However, lists are fun and they do, at least for that particular moment, allow you to really decide, once and for…well, the time it takes you to create the list, what your favorites really are.

In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the airwaves, and fans were…less than thrilled. You have a bald Englishman playing the French Enterprise captain?! There would surely be a cure for baldness in the distant future, right? Plus, you’re resurrecting one of sci-fi’s sacred cows, which in and of itself is enough to incur the wrath of every basement-bound shut-in from coast to coast. The show was practically considered doomed to fail from the onset, but it surprised everyone, running for a total of 178 episodes, 4 big screen movies (only one of which, First Contact, is any good, alas), and spurned the creation of one of the most profitable sci-fi franchises of all time (after all, we would have never had Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise were it not for Next Gen’s success, though we can argue whether or not we really owe thanks for all of the series just mentioned). Here was a Star Trek with adequate production values, a fantastically talented lead, and the same “boldly go” spirit of the original series. Since I already did a Top 10 of the original series, I thought it only seemed fair to pay tribute to the spin-off that sent the Star Trek franchise into warp drive. Plus, you know Star Trek: Into Darkness’s US theatrical release date is on the horizon, so We Minored in Film may as well have a Star Trek celebration week.

(SPOILERS EXIST BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL.)

10) “Family” (Season 4)

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Next Gen’s season 3 finale concluded with Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by the completely awesome Patrick Stewart) assimilated by the Borg, one of the series best monsters (more about them below). Following his return to a normal state of humanity, he goes to his brother’s home to visit family. Meanwhile, Worf’s adopted, human parents come to visit him on the Enterprise, and Beverly Crusher gives her son, Wesley, a recording her late husband made for their son before his birth.

So much of Star Trek exists in a vacuum. A major, catastrophic event in one episode may never be referenced again in the series, so the typical fan could have assumed the series would never reference Capt. Picard’s Borg assimilation again, and to be fair, it probably doesn’t haunt him quite as much as it should. However, here the series at least gives the character a chance to fully reveal how traumatized he is by recent events, and Patrick Stewart does it beautifully. This episode, coupled with “Best of Both Worlds” (again, more on them later), made Picard a more human, relatable individual. The other storylines, revolving around Worf and Wesley are also pretty effective, especially Worf’s, who finds out his parents love him, no matter what (Awww!). But it’s really Stewart’s episode to carry, and carry it he does.

Check out a Trailer Below:

9) “Remember Me” (Season 4)

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Gates McFadden was never given that much to do on Next Gen. I mean, sure, she’d stand around and look concerned or supply some comforting platitudes when required, but she rarely got a showcase episode. “Remember Me” kind of implies that’s a shame, because she’s great here. The plot revolves the unexplained disappearance of the enterprise crew, with only Dr. Crusher remembering their existences at all. Eventually, only she and Picard are left aboard (her attempt to point out how strange it is that this large ship is the home to them alone is a fantastic moment), until he too disappears and she becomes completely isolated. The explanation as to what’s really going on is a touch underwhelming, as is the solution to the problem, but McFadden brings her A-game, and the episode effectively portrays the psychological terror that accompanies such feelings of loss and fears of insanity (after all, remembering individuals no one else does would lead most to conclude you’re just insane).

Check out a Trailer Below:

8) All Good Things… (Season 7)

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Season finales are difficult to pull off. Series finales for shows with no real ongoing plots or character drives are even more of a challenge, which makes “All Good Things…” even more impressive. It’s not a perfect episode, as the much of plot revolving the primary threat is pretty unremarkable, but my love for this episode really comes down to the episode’s final scene: the final poker game. When Picard joins the crew’s regular poker game, it’s a small moment that feels massive and significant. He’s with his family, those who know him best and those for whom he most cares. After a sub-par final season, “All Good Things…” reminds us why we’ve watched the series for so many seasons, and it’s the little character moments that have really driven the series.

Check out a Trailer Below:

7) “Measure of a Man” (Season 2)

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You may have noted there aren’t any episodes from season 1 on this list. Yeah, there won’t be either. The fact this series got a second season, let alone seven total seasons, is something of a minor miracle when you look at what they were producing in their early goings (See: “Naked Now.” No, wait. On second thought, don’t). Much of its second season wasn’t any better, and then…this episode happened. It’s like, someone walked into the writer’s room, eyes beaming, voice so excited he can hardly form syllables and expel them into the air, proclaiming, “Hey, did you know we have a classically trained, Shakespearean actor in our cast?! No, really it’s true. We should probably do an episode that caters to that, huh?” I like to think little light bulbs appeared above the rest of the staffs’ heads, and, just like that, the brainstorming session to end all brainstorming sessions was underway.

If, perhaps, I’m over-playing this episode’s awesomeness, it’s because it feels so different from pretty much everything the series had done up to that point. The episode, centering around a scientist’s desire to disassemble everyone’s favorite Pinocchio/ Android, Data (played with extreme likability by Brent Spiner), Data’s desire to not be disassembled and whether he has the right to have any say in the matter, feels fresh and compelling. Data, up to this point, was a problematic character, because the series played fast and loose with exactly how he functioned (I know he’s fully functional, but that weird and creepy and really best just best left alone). He was supposed to be emotionless, but the early seasons sometimes indicated he felt emotions just fine. At the very least, he sometimes has an understanding of other’s emotions, only to then act completely ignorant of them later. Basically, he acted how the plot needed him to act. The series never questions whether or not Data exists as a sentient being, so the audience doesn’t either, but the drama on screen is effective nonetheless. Again, though we have Patrick Stewart, defending Data’s rights with a fiery  impassioned speech, who elevates the episode to an entirely new level. Spiner and Stewart interact well together, what with Data’s neutral line delivery and Stewart’s passionate powers of persuasion serving as the perfect contrasting styles and each enhancing the other. Really, though, this pretty much marks the beginning of Next Gen’s brilliance and indicated how amazing a series it could be.

Check out a Trailer Below:

6) “Deja Q” (Season 3)

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Whether or not this is really the 6th best episode Next Gen ever produced is probably up for debate. Actually, it’s probably not, but I find the episode so enjoyable that it ended up here in-spite of itself. Star Trek takes itself very seriously most of the time, seeming to realize if it so much as cocks an eyebrow, the entire premise’s absurdity could all be revealed, and the entire show could fall apart. In addition, Star Trek often didn’t often do humor well. When it does, as I think it does here, it deserves noting.

Q, along with the Borg, is my favorite Next Gen creation. Next Gen was often a show whose sense of self-righteousness was in dire need of puncturing, and Q, the omnipotent, God-like, irritant who pops up every now and then filled that need quite well. Here, Q’s powers have been stripped and he appears on the Enterprise, whining and grousing about being a mere mortal. Of course, the crew is dubious as to his claim that his powers are no more, though that perception seems to stem more from irritation than logic. They just don’t want him there, and if he had his powers, he could simply go away. Granted, Q gets his powers back at the end, and it’s a pretty light episode, but at one point Picard is driven to an angry outburst by a Mariachi band. Take a moment to process that. A Mariachi band!

Check out a Trailer Below:

5) “Chain of Command, Parts 1 &2” (Season 6)

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“How many lights do you see?”

Come on, I think we all know the answer: “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”

Definitely the series’ most brutal episode (meaning part 2, which is the real reason this is in the top 10), in which a Cardassian commander (played with cold malice by the frequently cold and malicious David Warner) tortures Captain Picard, both physically and psychologically. Warner continually asks how many lights Picard can see (there are four), but Warner insists there are five, and inflicts pain upon Picard every time he insists there are four. There are other plotlines going on in the episode, but the episode’s power really stems from the interactions between Warner and Stewart. Warner’s dispassionate approach to torture, coupled with Stewart’s emotional line delivery gives their scenes an extremely compelling, visceral quality. It’s amazing how dark this episode still feels. The episode doesn’t hold back on the torture, even though its more suggested than explicit (eat your heart out 24!).  Stewart’s fully committed performance makes it difficult to watch. Everyone remembers the “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” line Picard defiantly shouts once he has been rescued, but it’s Part 2’s final lines, uttered by Picard, that are more moving and also, brutally, quietly devastating  Before he was rescued, he was about to state there were five lights, and, more horrifying, he feared he could actually see five lights instead of four. It’s a lovely, sad moment that undercuts Picard’s defiant shout, and makes the episode all the more brutal as a result.

Check out a Trailer Below:

4) “Tapestry” (Season 6)

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“You see, Jean-Luc, you really had a wonderful life.”

Alas, this episode doesn’t end with Patrick Stewart running down a snow-covered street, shouting Merry Christmases to inanimate objects, and having a massive pile of cash piled into a basket for his legal troubles, but it might as well.

In this episode, Picard is near death, because his artificial heart is failing. Q gives him the chance to prevent the actions that resulted in him needing an artificial heart, Picard does so, but finds his life, while actual-heart enhanced, lackluster and unsatisfying. This episode really drives home how much of the series revolves around Captain Picard. We learn the most about him through the course of the series, and Patrick Stewart always made that an eventful, compelling journey. There are things I could nitpick here (Is this world Q presents for him merely a fantasy, or is it reality? Would not partaking in this one fight really completely alter Picard’s entire life?), but why would I want to do that when Stewart is so amazing in this episode?

Check out a Trailer Below:

3) “Inner Light” (Season 5) 

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If you haven’t caught on by now, I think Patrick Stewart is brilliant on Next Gen, and this is one of his best. Picard awakens to find he is on a planet, with a wife and a new identity. He lives something close to forty years as this other individual, going on to have children (and grandchildren), all the while the Enterprise crew works to detach an energy bolt that has enjoined itself with Picard. What makes this episode so amazing, beyond Stewart’s performance, are the ideas on display. Through this glimpse into another life and culture, Picard gets to see the life we know he’ll never have– quiet, simple, domestic, more interested in learning a flute than exploring the galaxy. There’s a tragedy to that realization, even though Picard would probably never give up his Enterprise life by choice. Even so, it’s surprising how quickly he takes to his simple existence  He comes to love his wife, he loves his children and grandchildren, and he establishes friendships with those the encounters. In the end, his return to the Enterprise (he’s only been unconscious for twenty-five minutes, while he has lived nearly an entire lifespan) and the loss of that simple, complacent existence feels like a real loss, and the final scene of Picard playing the flute he spent a twenty-five minute lifetime struggling to master is a moment of beauty.

Check out a Trailer Below:

2) “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (Season 3)

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Tasha Yar died a stupid, stupid death on Next Gen. However, this episode allows me to let that pass, because it gives her the send-off she deserved from the outset. She may have been a problematic character, but her death in season 1 was an insult to the loss of a series regular. Here, though, the series rights what it had once put wrong and allows her a fitting end. The episode takes place in a parallel time, in which everything is ravaged by wars, that seems to only exist because Tasha Yar remains alive when she should have died (again, a stupid, stupid death). Her choice to choose a more noble, sacrificial death here is extremely effective, and by the episode’s end (once everything’s back to normal) in which Guinan asks Geordi to tell her about Tasha Yar, one cannot help but feel her loss is significant.

Check out a Trailer Below:

1) “Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1&2” (Season 3-4)

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Come on, you knew this one had to be here, right? This season finale cliffhanger is, far and away, the best season finale the series ever produced, and the second part, while not quite as strong as Part 1, is still pretty effective. It also has the the Borg, the assimilating, adapting, robot/ organic, zombies of the universe. The Borg is so effective because they are near unkillable. They simply adapt when they encounter a new weapon and they assimilate almost everything they encounter into The Borg Collective. They’re basically Nazi Zombies, and you can’t get more horrifying than that. Granted, they are wiped out in the series, and the explanation as to how they’re back in the film First Contact is basically, “Um…Shut up!” However, here they’re at their best. The reveal of an assimilated Picard, coupled with Riker’s command to “fire” is a jaw-droppingly fantastic episode end. Also, it signals the ever-evolving character of Jean-Luc Picard, whose loss and assimilation here feels brutal and devastating. The series hit several highs over the course of its seven season run, but nothing tops these episodes.

Check out a Trailer Below:

Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream through Netflix, Amazon (free to Prime members), and Hulu. The whole series can be purchased on DVD and the first three seasons are on Blu-ray.

Check Out Our Other Top 10 Lists for Other Stark Trek TV Shows:

So, what do you think, guys? Are you a fan of our picks, or are there other episodes you think should have made the cut? Let us know in the comments!

About Julianne Ramsey (115 Articles)
Oh you know, I'm just your typical wallflower, high school theatre nerd who minored in film studies, attained her M.A. in English Literature,works as a substitute teacher, and decided to go to nursing school, but really wants to be a writer who blogs about pop culture, and then have people who. . .wait for it. . .actually read/ look forward to what she writes. In my spare time (when it's there), I watch one of my many blu-rays or DVDs (about 800 now), reading my kindle (one of the greatest inventions ever), playing my ipod (another one of the greatest inventions ever), obsess over b=Broadway musicals and horror films, and play my guitar (badly). In other words, I have no life that doesn't revolve aroung pop culture or school. Sigh.

20 Comments on Top 10 Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

  1. I would agree with eight of your ten picks. However, I’d replace “Remember Me” and “DejaQ” with “Sins of the Father” and “Relics”. SOTF gave us a look at Klingon culture, the consequences of which would resonate through several more seasons and even into DS9, and featured Picard in an atypical position as Worf’s second. “Relics” of course gave us Scotty and an examination of one of the most basic needs, to be useful to others. Plus, it had some excellent moments including Data in Ten Forward and Picard on the recreation of the original Enterprise bridge. The Dyson sphere was magnificent too.

    “Measure of a Man” is also a close call with “The Drumhead” though both are excellent examinations of civil rights.

    • These are interesting points, Jason. As I said though, lists are subjective and these are just MY picks.

      • But of course. 🙂

        Are you doing DS9 as well? This is their 20th anniversary. How about Voyager, Enterprise and a shot at ranking the films? 🙂

      • Right now, the plan is for us to finish what we started and do top 10 lists for the other tv shows (DS9, Voyager, Enterprise) as well. DS9 is going to be a bit more difficult than the other shows, I think, because it became so serialized over time, especially during the back half of its final season. However, we’re definitely doing that. For the moment, though, we are taking a break from the lists to turn our focus to the new movie.

  2. Good choices, although I think I would have put Tapestry at number one. I also liked Parallels, and what I thought was one of the more clever episodes, Ship In A Bottle.

  3. ‘Drumhead’ is great and probably would’ve been even better if it had stretched into two parts – the end scene, Picard’s trial is cut short by an out of character breakdown by the seasoned old admiral [witch].

    I also really liked ‘Lower Decks’, which never seems to make it onto many people’s best of lists. Not sure why…I wish the whole series had been like this at times…

  4. No “Darmok”? What a shame.

  5. Great list but I would probably have to list “First Contact” as my number 1. I had only seen occasional re-runs of TNG on tv until I bought the entire series on DVD. I watched first contact 2 nights in a row. Aside from that “all good things” and any episode with Q would have to be my favorites

  6. All of these are excellent episodes. I would add offspring as well. With the exception of the over-the-top misanthropy of the admiral until his final and compelling description of Data’s struggle to save Lal, the episode is simultaneously effective in exploring struggles of both parenthood and childhood. It also juxtaposes some of the most genuinely heartwarming scenes with one of the funniest one-liners in the entire series – “He’s biting that female!” C’mon, that was even better than “Take my Worf” or “Sir, I must protest. I am not a merry man!”

  7. What about “Future Imperfect”, “11001001”, “Elementary, Dear Data”, No “Skin of Evil”, “The Next Phase”, “Clues” or “The Big Goodbye” (“Ship In A Bottles” predecessor and I think the inspiration for it) So many thought provoking episodes missed. Id even take “Remember Me” or “The Game”! I think anyone can argue their list as being acceptable but id leave off a couple that made this one. “Darmok” is definitely top 10 on my list! Still and all its cool to see other people choices and what strikes a chord with them.

  8. “Spawned”, not “spurned”.

  9. Neutral zone is a great episode were they explore the philosophical implications of not needing wealth or possessionsomething in the 24th century.

  10. How is “Darmok” not on this list???

    • I don’t go back and rewatch it very much. I get what it’s doing, and I appreciate the episode, but it’s never been one of my favorites. Lists are totally subjective, so of course other opinions are available.

  11. Really enjoyed your list. My absolute favorite is inner light. I get emotional every time when Picard plays his sons naming ritual song at the very end of the episode. And his wife and Batai comes back in their primes to explain. Leaving me with the question did they know all along that he was really Picard and still and acted liked ignorant for 40+ years. Also I’m not sure which episode of yours I would take out and insert i Borg.

  12. Measure Of A Man made your list? It’s one of my least liked episodes. No fault of the actors ar their acting, but the story itself. Data is a toaster. Really? Wow, a toaster is not only allowed to join Starfleet but as an officer and elevate to the rank of Lt. Commander. Impressive toaster. If Data had not already been seen and accepted as sentient, he would never have been allowed to make his petition to join Starfleet. I have always had a huge problem with this episode. And always will.

  13. There’s a lot of great TNG episodes and you’ve put together a nice list there. To me there is something remarkably special about THE INNER LIGHT. I watch it every few years and I always lose it at the end when his daughter takes “Camin” to the probe launching and he realizes after all these years that he really is, as he always suspected, Jean-Luc Picard. By the time his friend Batai and then his wife appear, I’m completely weeping. I was a big fan of the original series, Voyager, and, and Enterprise, but I only ever cried watching Next Generation. This episode in particular, I just can’t explain it. It’s the most touching thing I’ve ever seen on television. Years ago in Vegas they auctioned off a bunch of the props and uniforms used throughout the various Star Trek series. I was there and got to hold that flute in my own hands. Paramount expected it would fetch $800-1200 at auction and because I wanted it so badly I totally overbid for $2800, thinking for sure I would get it. That flute, which was just a little piece of brass that didn’t even play, sold for over $40,000. Crazy, huh?

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