Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Top 50 favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, part 5

To make it easier for anyone out there who doesn't want to take the 2 minutes required to click on my previous countdowns and scroll through them to see what episodes made #50-11, I'm gonna take that grueling work away from you and put the list right here. If you want to know what I have to say about them and see what seasons they're from, just click on the following links. I'll put them right before the #50-11 list. But first, look at this picture of the cast of The Next Generation.

Part 1: #50-41
Part 2: #40-31
Part 3: #30-21
Part 4: #20-11

50. Redemption
49. The Emissary
48. Attached
47. Dark Page
46. Justice
45. Thine Own Self
44. Samaritan Snare
43. The Battle
42. Silicon Avatar
41. Darmok

40. Relics
39. A Matter Of Honor
38. Gambit
37. The Chase
36. Skin Of Evil
35. Preemptive Strike
34. Remember Me
33. Half A Life
32. Clues
31. Deja Q

30. Unification
29. Reunion
28. Frame Of Mind
27. Conspiracy
26. The Pegasus
25. The Defector
24. Data's Day
23. Cause And Effect
22. Who Watches The Watchers
21. Tapestry

20. Parallels
19. The Wounded
18. A Matter Of Time
17. Ship In A Bottle
16. Sarek
15. Lessons
14. Disaster
13. The Drumhead
12. The Offspring
11. The Measure Of A Man

And now, the conclusion...

10. 'Elementary, Dear Data'
Season 2, Episode 3

One of the first, and what I consider the best, of all Data-centric episodes. Though I've never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes (I thought Hound Of The Baskervilles was a pretty crappy book), watching Data play dress-up with Geordi and fill the roles of Holmes and Watson made for an excellent beginning to a holodeck adventure, but the twists and turns it takes pitting them against a sentient Moriarty program sums up everything that's great about Star Trek: an exploration of moral rights, the nature of heroism/villainy, and what it means to be alive.

9. 'Chain Of Command', Parts I & II
Season 6, Episode 10 & 11

While I enjoyed 'Relics', this is the first totally fantastic episode of the 6th season, a two-parter that challenges Picard as much as (if not more than) The Best Of Both Worlds. While it could be criticized for being a bit plodding in its first third, the scenes pitting Patrick Stewart with David Warner provide some of the most brilliantly-acted sequences in all of Star Trek and more than make up for any of the episodes misgivings. This is a grueling episode that pushes Picard to his limits and defines the Cardassians as an intimidating and terrifying force.

8. 'Q Who'
Season 2, Episode 16

But not even the Cardassians can hold a candle to the Borg and their introduction to the Star Trek universe as a terrifying and totally badass entity. A collective conscious that could accurately be described as robotic space zombies (three cooler words have ne'er been spoken to describe a species), this is the episode that brought the Borg into the series and set the timer leading to all-out war. It's the first great Q episode, and honestly makes any irritation he causes worth sitting through just because of it.

7. 'Family'
Season 4, Episode 2

Following Starfleet's challenging encounter with the Borg, it was nearly an impossible task for the showrunners to top themselves in regards to sheer scope and danger, so it was a very wise choice of them to dial it back and focus on the personal and emotional impact this event took on cretin members of the Enterprise crew. A small-scale story that was apparently hated by Gene Roddenberry (some nonsense about it not being futuristic enough), this is a necessary and wonderful episode that managed to develop Picard and give his experience even more dramatic weight.

6. 'Lower Decks'
Season 7, Episode 15

As much as I love Picard, Data, Worf, Riker, and the rest of the crew (well, actually, those are the only members of the crew that I really do love), sometimes it's important to sit back and let someone else take the spotlight. It's especially good when this focus is made on characters who we can understand, relate to, and enjoy watching. This is the only episode of the show that really allowed lower-ranking members of the crew to be focus of the story, and witnessing lives on the Enterprise from this perspective only serves to add depth and weight to every away mission and tragedy aboard the ship.

5. 'I, Borg'
Season 5, Episode 23

While 'Q Who' established the Borg as a threat and 'The Best Of Both Worlds' expanded on that threat by demonstrating their power of destruction, 'I, Borg' did what could be seen as nearly impossible by making the Borg into sympathetic creatures. As mentioned previously in my section on 'Elementary, Dear Data', digging deep into the nature of characters and not simply allowing them to fill traditional good or evil roles is not unfamiliar to Star Trek, and this is probably the greatest example of that idea. It's an unusually small-scale Borg tale, with touches of levity along with its more weighty and tragic material.

4. 'Yesterday's Enterprise'
Season 3, Episode 15

The death of Tasha Yar (oh yeah, I forgot...SPOILERS BEHIND) was a relatively meaningless one that came as a bit of a shock due to the abruptness in which it took place, but it worked. This episode, almost two full years afterwards, strives to give that death some meaning. I love when TNG explores time travel and the way this episode is handled, balancing its emotional weight with the importance of accepting your fate and fighting for the greater good. The alternate Enterprise has an excellent design, and seeing crew members struggle with the realistic notion that they must die to preserve the future of humanity is powerful stuff.

3. 'The Best Of Both Worlds', Parts I & II
Season 3, Episode 26 / Season 4, Episode 1

One of the many obligatory picks to appear in my top 10, The Best Of Both Worlds is quite simply some of the greatest science fiction storytelling this side of George Orwell's 1984. While the top 2 on here appeal to me more on an emotional level, the scope and power of this war is compelling from beginning to end, offering up one of the greatest cliffhangers in television history. As much as I enjoy First Contact as a movie, this two-part episode dwarfs it by comparison, and provides the unforgettable image of Locutus -- Picard's Borg identity. There's a grand scale to this episode, and its impact on the characters involved (and the entire show itself) can't be understated. There were plenty of great episodes before this, but this is the first one that felt like it really made a difference to the show's story as a whole. It might as well be #1.

2. 'All Good Things...'
Season 7, Episode 25

The series finale and my original pick for the #1 spot on this list, (but I settled on the other one, which should be pretty easy to predict by now) 'All Good Things...' isn't the most complete and self-contained of the show, but it was never intended to be. To close out a show as sprawling and broad as this could not have been very easy, but this episode somehow managed to do that in an appropriately emotional and intense way. This is possibly the biggest story in the entire series, but it never feels like it's trying too hard to be seen as epic -- it just is. Picard bounces back and forth in time as Q appears and forces him to consider the events as leading to the destruction of all life. We get to glimpse into the potential future of our characters, and the slow reveal and development of the story is incredibly well-paced. I love petty much everything about this episode (with the exception of Denise Crosby, obviously), and the final scene brought a tear to my eye. Thanks, Star Trek.

1. 'The Inner Light'
Season 5, Episode 25

Oh yeah and then we have my actual favorite episode, one which rightfully sits near the top of every single Star Trek-themed list covering the absolute greatest in the history of the 50-year franchise. This really is an episode that speaks for itself, but that doesn't mean I don't want to speak on its behalf, as it managed to capture the domestic side of Picard's character and shape him over the following seasons. In terms of scope, the previous few on this list have this one beat. But when it comes to emotion, execution of story, writing, performances, development, and pacing, there isn't a single other episode in this entire series that can stand up to it. I was completely invested in this story, and on rewatch found myself in tears for the final 20 minutes of the episode. It's an overwhelmingly beautiful and heartbreaking episode, which gives Picard an opportunity to live a life completely unlike his own, and examines the depths of his character and his values. While most of the episodes that developed Picard put him through some form of hardship or torture, 'The Inner Light' gives his life meaning far beyond anything he experienced before or after. The weight he carries following this episode not only shapes him, but defines an entire civilization. That's a lot to put on one man. This is one of my favorite episodes of any show I've ever seen.

And there we have it, my voyage through The Next Generation. Is it better than the original Star Trek? I would say so, but that doesn't mean I don't love the original series. Star Trek is a rich franchise that continues to expand (a new series with original characters premieres this year) as it continues, unlike something like Star Wars, which has been scrambling for new ideas for years, and ultimately settling for retelling the same stories again and again. I like Star Wars enough, but there really is no contest which is more impressive, expansive, and mentally and emotionally stimulating. Anyway, I'll probably be doing a countdown of my favorite episodes of the original series following this, and then doing the animated series as well, just because. Hopefully I won't get sick of writing about Star Trek anytime soon, but somehow I doubt that will happen. Thanks for reading.

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