The best storytelling of Star Trek: The Next Generation

It’s been my opinion for the past three years that any Star Trek produced in the 21st century is merely Star Trek in name only. The label is on the box, yes. But with each iteration, the product strays farther and farther from the prime days of the Kirk-era films + TNG/DS9.

[NOTE: It’s true that some of the Kirk-era films were stinkers — most notably ST5 — but the winners (like ST2) saved the franchise from becoming the butt of memes, as has happened to Firefly. Without the success of ST2, ST3, and especially ST4, there is no TNG, and without the success of TNG there is no DS9. So we can thank Harve Bennett for assuming the helm after Roddenberry’s perhaps too-cerebral, too-slow first Trek feature film. Just as we can thank Rick Berman for grabbing the wheel after Next Generation’s again too-cerebral, too-slow first season — a first season which, not coincidentally, showed Roddenberry’s secular utopian hedonist fingerprints to an embarrassing degree. But I digress!]

Taken as a whole, the quality Kirk movies with TNG and DS9 make one amazing run for the franchise. Two whole decades of (mostly) quality Star Trek.

But then Braga and Berman ran out of mojo, and things got distracted and tired for VOY and ENT, at which point the corporate men wholly took over and it only became about milking the franchise for money. They threw out the canon. Deliberately pissed on it, in fact. Got Woke. Decided to turn the thing into a hideous zombie of itself (with PIC) and a self-mockery (with LD).

I don’t want this CBS crap. And I’ve written off the Chris Pine movies, even though I did enjoy the first one.

VOY and ENT have episodes I embrace, and where ENT is concerned I especially enjoyed the Andorians — and am sad we didn’t see more of Shran and Co.

But the franchise in the new millennium is a Frankenstein impostor. Not Star Trek in spirit. Not Star Trek in flavor. Not Star Trek as we know and love.

So, what made the heyday so good? I think it was because most of the people working on the Kirk films and Next Generation especially, understood what made the franchise tick. They not only respected the canon (even the bad episodes of TOS, and there were many) they also respected the fandom which had embraced Star Trek over the franchise’s then 25 years of existence. They wanted to make new stories with new characters, sure. But at no point did anyone writing or producing Next Generation actively mock and antagonize the TOS fandom, because most of those producing and writing the (then new) show in 1987 were themselves fans. People who’d fallen in love with the concept, the universe, the backstory, the legacy, and the cultural footprint. So much so, they built on what had gone before — versus ripping everything down, and throwing up a trashy Mirror Universe imitation.

Viewers unfamiliar with Next Generation sometimes ask if there is a Cliff’s Notes version, for people who don’t want to have to go through every single episode of every single season. It’s a fair request. Like with TOS, you don’t actually have to watch every single episode to get the gist of the series, and hit the major highlights. Everyone who became a fan of Next Generation probably has his/her own list. This one is mine. I’ve structured it for Top 5 (my opinion, obviously) in each season.

Season One
12 – The Big Goodbye
13 – Datalore
15 – 11001001
18 – Home Soil
20 – Heart of Glory

Season Two
29 – Elementary, Dear Data
34 – A Matter of Honor
35 – The Measure of a Man
* 37 – Contagion
* 41 – Pen Pals
42 – Q Who?
46 – The Emissary
* 47 – Peak Performance

Season Three
* 58 – The Defector
* 61 – Deja Q
63 – Yesterday’s Enterprise
64 – The Offspring
65 – Sins of the Father
* 68 – Tin Man
70 – The Most Toys
74 – The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1

Season Four
+ 75 – The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2
* 76 – Family
* 77 – Brothers
81 – Reunion
85 – Data’s Day
86 – The Wounded
* 93 – The Nth Degree
95 – The Drumhead
100 – Redemption, Part 1

Season Five
+ 101 – Redemption, Part 2
103 – Ensign Ro
107 – Unification, Part 1
+ 108 – Unification, Part 2
114 – Conundrum
* 117 – The Outcast
* 118 – Cause and Effect
123 – I, Borg
125 – The Inner Light

Season Six
130 – Relics
* 132 – True Q
* 134 – A Fistfull of Datas
136 – Chain of Command, Part 1
+ 137 – Chain of Command, Part 2
138 – Ship in a Bottle
* 140 – Face of the Enemy
141 – Tapestry
* 142 – Birthright, Part 1
* 143 – Birthright, Part 2
* 149 – Rightful Heir
152 – Descent, Part 1
* 150 – Second Chances

Season 7
+ 153 – Descent, Part II
158 – Phantasms
162 – Inheritance
167 – Lower Decks
* 173 – Firstborn
176 – Preemptive Strike
177 – All Good Things, Part 1
+ 178 – All Good Things, Part 2

* denotes episodes which very much deserve Top 5 status but there just wasn’t room. So, I advise watching them _IF_ you find yourself liking the show at that point, and you want some nice extras. They are worth it.

+ denotes two-parters, the second part of which technically counts as being the same episode as the first part.

46 comments

  1. TBH, by season 3 i was tired of Q.

    You also should have tagged which episodes were originally written for Phase II.

  2. The best Star Trek, original and after, keep the sense of wonder and curiosity. The crew of the original Enterprise wanted to know what was out there, and enjoyed (often) exploring. As did the fans. And the best movies acknowledged the passage of time (Kirk’s reading glasses, and his trying to hide them from Khan), with a dose of wit that didn’t talk down to the audience. Just like the original series.

    I think that’s partly why Galaxy Quest is such a cult classic. It pokes fun at the genre, but with a lot of love and respect for what makes it fun, and what makes fans love TOS, some of the Kirk movies, and the best of TNG.

  3. I hated Next Generation from the instant I saw it. Which means I didn’t see much of it, of course. One episode was interesting in an intellectual way (how to communicate with someone who thinks totally in terms of his people’s founding myths). But mostly it left me cold.

    1. I never believed in that episode. How could a child (of that species) learn the founding myths if communication within the species referred the foundation myths?

      I also disliked the NG episode “Devil’s Due”. All the nations of a world “faked” a deal with the Devil to solve their world’s problems? Could you imagine all the nations of Earth agreeing to “fake a deal with the Christian Devil”?

      1. I thought it was an interesting try at creating a genuine “alien” culture. But it was flawed.
        And I got the impression that all the best cultures had, of course, “outgrown,” primitive superstition, i.e., religion of any kind.
        The episode where Troi’s mom falls in love with a man from a culture where you’re expected to commit suicide when you reach the age of 65 made me want to strangle the cast, the writers, everyone involved….it would have been interesting if the reason for the cultural imperative was that the individuals were subject to some slow and nasty way of dying if they aged past 65. But I guess that never occurred to the writers.

        1. There was another NG story that wanted me to kill the writers/actors.

          A Federation watch-post on a primitive world (the natives were Vulcan-like) had IIRC an equipment failure and some of the Federation researchers were discovered by a local tribe.

          In the course of cleaning up the mess, the leader of the tribe saw Picard and the inside of the Enterprise. He imagined that Picard was God and wanted to “restart” religion on his planet.

          Some of the rescued researchers wanted Picard to give the tribal leader a “Holy Book”.

          Picard didn’t want anything to do with That Idea because the inhabitants of the planet had “discarded irrational things like religion”.

          What really Pissed Me Off was that a Religious Star Fleet Captain very likely would not wanted to Play A God.

          But No Mister Holier Than Thou Atheistic Star Fleet Captain showed his real opinion of Religion. 😡

          1. Trek’s childish disdain for religion is rooted in Roddenberry’s secular hedonism. He didn’t realize (as many still don’t) that religion is part-and-parcel of the human condition. Obliterate the old religions, and people will simply fashion new ones. Like the Church of Woke. Or the Church of Climate Catastrophism. There is no “evolving beyond religion” because that’s not how human beings are wired. And we haven’t been wired that way for 500,000 years or more. It won’t magically change in four centuries.

            It wasn’t until DS9 that the writers finally began to (grudgingly) admit that religion matters, with the Bajorans, and also the Klingons. Though there was usually some extraterrestrial or technological sleight-of-hand to explain whatever it was which needed explaining, versus postulating the existence of a genuine deity, or deities. But at this point Star Trek had spent three decades taking a steaming dump on anything that resembled organized Earthly religion. And that’s a real and tragic flaw in the franchise.

            The other tragic flaw is the supposed moneyless society. Again, childishness. Wishful thinking. And the Ferengi were clownish, unserious adversaries in the first few seasons of TNG which did everything it could to (again) suppose that we had “evolved beyond capitalism.” Which is poppycock.

            1. Except they didn’t always take a dump on it. In TOS, they only briefly touched on it… in the Roman-parallel world, Uhurua chose to inform Kirk that the Resistance’s ‘sun’ worship religion was actually worshipping the son of god, and she said that with a smile like it meant a significant improvement for their development.

              1. And there was the one episode (the one with Gary Mitchell?) where a crewman was killed and his fiancée (also serving) was sitting in the “chapel” waiting for the word from Sickbay.

  4. I liked Enterprise some, but haven’t tried anything newer.

    On a lot of media franchises, I have shifted to the position that property owner endorsement doesn’t have anything to do with whether something actually happened, and that weird non canon bits can be useful if they can be spliced into an interesting fanfic.

    1. I liked Enterprise at first, though Quest for Xindi got to be a bit much (not to mention alien Nazis at the end of the arc). Seeing the background of things like the Warp 1(?) transports and Trek tech (transporters, phasers) was fun to this engineer.

      FWIW, I got the sense that Bakula’s character in NCIS New Orleans was pretty much the same as his ST:ENT. Just a bit one-note…

      1. I’m still trying to figure out how Sam leapt to the 25th century, and why he;’s stuck in 2020-ish nawlins now.

        1. That one always puzzled me too. However, I was quite pleased to see the U.S Government had hired MacGuyver to lead the exploration forces through the stargates…

    2. On a lot of media franchises, I have shifted to the position that property owner endorsement doesn’t have anything to do with whether something actually happened, and that weird non canon bits can be useful if they can be spliced into an interesting fanfic.

      Amen.

      This kind of gestures to copyright and author authority vs the fact that humans do stories. After about 15 years on the outside? Sorry, even if you were one of those authors who managed to make a powerful story all by yourself, that thing is loose and you do not have control over it. People grew up with your characters in their heads. You don’t get control of that, and the tighter you hold the more it will slip through your fingers.

      The folks who “made” a story with vast input from a wide range of folks, and eventually got power and fame enough to be put in sole control of it? Those are notorious for sucking for a REASON.

      ::points at second paragraph about keeping the spirit of the story alive::
      :: points at Warcraft::
      ::points at the use of “Jossed” as recognizing active malice in demonstrating control over a franchise::

      Just because someone told a good story doesn’t mean they know HOW they did it!

  5. When I was a kid, TOS was the bomb. I was one of those First Run Viewers who knew every scene and every line and would watch ’em daily on endless binge repeat. (Enabled by one of the cable channels which did just that.) They still hold up pretty well, given when they were made.

    However, I did not like ST: The Motionless Fixture. I was, that cardinal sin, BORED. Was never much on the other films I did see (2-4-??6 all pretty good, and one of the new models, which was awful — the one with the motorcycle chase).

    Had looked forward to a new series, but so hated the first season of TNG that it took me a couple years to get into watching it regularly, and I really disliked Q. IMO the best season was with Pulaski, because Diana Muldaur has this weird ability to pull the best from all the actors around her (and frankly most of ’em were stiff as boards before that), and it was definitely better After The Beard.

    Quite liked DS9, up until the Mystical crap near the end totally lost me. Loved the Cardassians. Began to agree with ’em that the Bajorans needed to be flung into the sun.

    Back to hating it with Lost In Trek, er, Voyager, where you could HEAR ’em ticking checkboxes for each and every character and their list of traits. Watched spottily first couple seasons, it wasn’t getting better, watched now and then thereafter but never went back to regular viewing. Best thing to come of it is a BBS tagline: “Dear Starfleet: Hate you, hate Alpha Quadrant. Took Voyager.” — Janeway

    Expected to dislike Enterprise, but after a rough start (and a finale episode best forgotten), it has become my favorite. Absolutely loved the nonhuman characters and interactions, and the complex running storylines.

    But the newer stuff… no. I don’t recognize these people, or this universe. Saw first four eps of Discovery and I was done. It might have been okay as its own new thing. It did not fit as a mutant ST banged in sideways, and far worse, “I don’t like any of these people.” And have seen enough reviews and clips from Picard to be like Oh Hell No. I don’t know what the hell THAT is (other than torture porn), but it’s not ST.

    Nowadays when I want new ST, I watch any of the numerous fan films. Production quality and acting may be entirely absent, but they feel like I’m watching real ST.

    What was the question??

    1. Loved the Cardassians. Began to agree with ’em that the Bajorans needed to be flung into the sun.

      Yeah, when the cardboard hams start to have a point…. I think I’d watch an entire series of Cardassians, even though they’re kind of like “What if the USSR got to rebuild Japan and then they all turned into snakes who think Brian Blessed is a bit understated. Because that scenery needed chewing.

      But man, did Major Kira’s growth go well! (With you on the woo-woo.)

      Also… root beer is insidious.

      1. The last time I watched DS9, the writers were making the Bajorans into The Religious Right In Space. 😡

        1. At various points they were the Indian Caste system, and Islamic terrorists, but both with very plausible deniability because they’re aliens in space.

          Finding out that their world was infested with bleepin’ fire demons made things make MORE sense.

          1. When first introduced, they were the poor-little-Palestinians. [Very Big Sarcastic Grin]

  6. I can never forgive them for the Ugly Enterprise. The Enterprise in the first few movies was PERFECT.

  7. Off-topic for this post, but on-topic for the blog in general: those interested in copyright law and how you should always, ALWAYS read your contracts before you sign them might be interested in seeing this. It’s a Non-Disclosure Agreement that Games Workshop has been asking people to sign. One of the clauses is that “the existence and terms of this agreement” are among the things that must not be disclosed. But that’s not the worst one. Here, see for yourself.

    4. Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation. The Recipient undertakes to GW that it shall not: […] 4.1.2 without GW’s prior permission, at any time during the Term, have any business dealings with a Restricted Customer; […]

    The Term is defined as “a period of thirty six (36) months from and including the date of the last disclosure of Confidential Information to the Recipient by GW.” And a Restricted Customer is defined as “any person who is at the Effective Date, or who has been at any time during the period of twelve (12) months immediately preceding the Effective Date, a client or customer, or in the habit of dealing with, GW”.

    So if you sign this agreement, you’re not only agreeing not to disclose confidential information like upcoming releases (which would be fair). You’re also signing away your right to do business — of any kind — with any of Games Workshop’s current or former customers. Even customers who decided years ago that GW products were too expensive and quit buying from GW more than 12 months ago would be covered by the “in the habit of dealing with GW” clause. And so, for the next 3 years, you’re forbidden to sell anything whatsoever to Games Workshop customers, even if what you want to sell them is a video game based entirely on your own intellectual property.

    But wait. You think that’s the worst thing in this contract? It gets better:

    7. Term and Termination. Regardless of any termination of this agreement, the obligation of each party under this agreement shall continue in full force and effect for the Term.

    So you can’t even back out of the agreement for the full three years. But after three years, you’ll be free of this contract, right? Right?

    Look at the Term definition again. “The last disclosure of Confidential Information to the Recipient by GW.” Nothing in that definition about “according to this contract” or “while this contract is in force”. Any time they tell you confidential information, that resets the 3-year timer… even if you’ve notified them that you want to terminate the agreement. Confidential information, by the way, includes (quite reasonably) “the business, affairs, contracts, customers, suppliers, plans, intentions, or market opportunities of GW”. Which means that if 3 years minus one day after you sign this contract, GW emails you to say “Hey (name), we’re planning to release some new Space Marines models next month. By the way, that’s confidential according to the terms of our NDA with you.” Well, guess what? They’ve just unilaterally reset the clock, and now that’s three more years in which you’re not allowed to sell anything to any former GW customers.

    Now, maybe that interpretation of the terms wouldn’t hold up in court. But as I (a non-lawyer) read it, this NDA gives Games Workshop an effective stranglehold on your business forever if they want to exercise it.

    Always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS!!!1!1eleventy!! read your contracts thoroughly before signing them!

    1. Remember that Games Workshop is the outfit that tried to sue MCA Hogarth over the use of the term “Space Marine”. They can fuck themselves with one of every mini they’ve produced, sideways.

    2. And always have a contract lawyer vet them before signing!

      I’ve heard of a few similar “you will never work anywhere else ever again” and “all your words are belong to us until the end of time” contracts from publishers. They’re part of why I backed away from the idea of pursuing tradpub for my own work.

  8. The thing is…however clunky and rough and sometimes even “ewww” cringe-worthy some TNG epsiodes were, I’d watch them over a single episode of STD. I have to involuntarily watch STD and STP when they came out, and I’d rather have a raging case of syphilis than see Bad Reboot’s efforts to create their version of Wonder Rey!(The Bestest Evar!). The pain and hallucinations would be more fun and remotely coherent. I wouldn’t want to claw my eyeballs out, and maybe I could get it cured.

    And, people wonder why I hate those shows. Why I’ve been methodically canceling all of my subscriptions to streaming services. And otherwise cleaning out my library.

    1. ST:D featuring Commander Retcon The Adopted Human Sister Spock Had But Never Mentions

      seriously, the main character is a freaking mary jane fanfic character to a T.

  9. Frankly, I never made it out of season 1 unless a friend dragged me to specific episodes. I got tired of “reruns of the original now with more sex!”

    There are a few of those episodes that seemed worthwhile. Fist full of Datas. And the one where Data’s person hood was on trial, though that was one of the few times we seemed to see Riker as a person not a cheap Kirk knock off.

  10. Seth MacFarlane’s version of Star Trek (The Orville) was actually – even with the tongue in cheek parody humor – more like Star Trek than any of the modern shows. To actually take an interesting premise / question (‘what if we all lived by our social credit rating?’, ‘what if aliens treated humans like humans treat animals?’ ) and work it into an episode or two was quite enjoyable to watch.

    Not perfect by any means, but a huge step up from Discovery or Picard.

    1. Season 1: rocked. Wife and I watched them all several times. Stil ROFLing.

      Season 2: “The season of characters and their backstories.” Waste of storage media.

    1. That he did, but I think the character sort of ruined the episodes by being what he was. A villain who is also sort of comic relief should not elicit a cringing, “Ah shit, him again?” from the viewer. I guess he was our little boy who pulls wings off flies….

    2. “The Squire of Gothos? Again? Really?”

      It was bad enough they recycled a TOS episode into one of the movies, but with the apparent budget of TNG, they had to scrape characters out of bad TOS episodes…

      I made it through a handful of episodes and gave up. Picard needed armed security on the bridge? WTF? Wesley Crusher?! “Let’s hope the bad guys don’t kill us while we’re holding this Important Meeting?”?!?!

      I didn’t quit watching it because they were bad, I quit watching them because they were insulting.

  11. The senior people from Galaxy Quest (the absolute *BEST* Star Trek movie, ever made, in my opinion) showed up at the Worldcon to accept their Hugo Award. And they spent the evening after the Hugo ceremony going from open party to open party, carrying their Hugo, just being amazed at how much everybody loved that movie, and wanting to share that love and amazement with everybody.

    And I certainly agree — DS9 was, for me, tied with TOS for best TV Star Trek, with a lot of TNG close behind. And nothing else came close.

    And I thought the animated series was a really interesting continuation of TOS, even though most people don’t remember it from the early 70s.

    1. Heh, yeah, I’ve seen the animated series and had forgotten it entirely. It was good enough that I picked up the novelizations too. Definitely in the spirit, even with the over-the-topness that tends to happen when you don’t have the constraints of a makeup and effects budget.

      1. One episode was even an adaptation of Larry Niven’s ‘The Soft Weapon’. Which I had read recently.

  12. Q reminds me of the Greek gods: immortal, powerful but with human failings, bored and therefore meddling with humans for amusement, with impunity. De Lancy captured that arrogance perfectly.

  13. I used to love Star Trek. I even liked Enterprise, the first season. I even liked the Chris Pine movies.

    But the new TV shows? Picard and whatever the thing is this year? Nope. nopenopenope. I am noping very hard on all of them. Shame to see it die like that, strangled by Wokeness.

    1. I would argue that Star Trek, even TOS, has always been on the bleeding edge of wokeness. Over the decades, the definition of ‘Woke’ has changed to the point where most people can no longer suspend their disbelief when it shows up in entertainment.

  14. My dad really liked TOS when I was a kid, so I’d watch those with him. I was too young to pick up the subtexts and whatnot, but it was “in space” with ships and all that, so I thought it was pretty cool.

    I really enjoyed TNG in high school and my 1st year of college, but then I did a stint of no tv for 2 years, so I missed the final seasons of TNG and DS9’s release.

    By the time I was watching the teevee again my dad had recommended Babylon 5 to me, so I started watching that. It aired at the same time as DS9 and I didn’t have a VCR at the time, being young and newly married, so since I’d never seen DS9 anyway, despite hearing how good it was, I always watched B5 instead.

    I watched all of VOY, despite feeling that it was 1 good episode, then 4-5 bad ones, then 1 good one, then 4-5 bad ones… the few gems came along just often enough to keep me watching, despite not really liking the series as a whole that much.

    I watched the 1st season of ENT, but it never really “clicked” with me. Season 2 started the same day that my Babylon 5 season 1 dvd’s arrived from Amazon (for $75…. dvd’s were expensive then…) and it suffered by comparison, so I never watched anymore ENT after that.

    I liked the 1st “Abramsverse” Trek movie well enough. The 2nd didn’t offend me, but was pretty forgettable, and the 3rd was pretty much the same — fluffy and forgettable, was all. But yeah, I’ve watched and re-watched the original cast’s 2, 3, and 4 many many many times, so…. the Abramsverse very much suffers by comparison.

    I fell asleep while watching the 1st episode of Discovery. Never could get up the enthusiasm to even try to re-watch it to catch the parts I missed, and then the word of mouth was that the rest of it was pretty bad anyway. I’ve not heard a single good thing about Picard either, so…. yeah, I think I’m Star Trek’d out.

  15. The really pathetically sad thing about milking Star Trek?

    They could print money by doing tie-ins.

    Look, I’m the kind of person who set an entire day to visit the “Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk,” got a half-dozen shirts and plan to go back and get more. Enabled by my husband, and the kids thought it was EPIC. We’ve got signed pictures on the wall, I went to Star Trek: The Experience, we took the kids to Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Puyallup fair, my husband has a very nice TOS Science polo that he’s worn to work. My phone’s new message sound is the bosun’s whistle from TNG. My husband has the totally-not-Data voice pack for Elite Dangerous.
    We don’t own a single piece of officially authorized memorabilia. There is no official fan website where I can download a theme for my android tablet, or my computer, or wallpapers. I cannot buy an Officially Licensed PADD, or even a blue-tooth speaker shaped like various insignia, or a batch of Star Trek themed bumper stickers/vinyl stickers.

    They could PRINT MONEY by setting up a Zazzle account, making a fan store front, and just ASKING people to submit stuff then selling it for an impulse-buy price.

    Instead, they make generic scifi movies and try to Make A Statement with stuff that was old 20 years ago, and they do it in a manner that makes it clear they didn’t even let fans in the room…..

      1. There’s a *ton* of stuff that’s been done by fans. There are even PADD themed things, and– heck, most of my examples are stuff that has been done by fans. There’s occasional licensing of stuff for products, like a Klingon stuffy. (Er, *probably* licensed….)

        What there isn’t, is a sane attempt to make money. Even Star Trek Online does a better job of milking it for money.

        1. not talking about fan stuff, its a commercial, licensed product,
          and yeah, i have *done* the fan-made stuff, and one of the peoplei worked with in VFX used to make resin kits back in the day (iirc, one of his best sellers was a conversion kit to make a Ent-D model into a Nebula class.)

          1. The “special offering for 30 year anniversary that costs $80 bucks” is exactly how not to do it, especially when I can get better quality by going bootleg. Especially since they got in the game so very late.

            They do not make it EASY to give them money, and they make dang sure it won’t be an impulse or gift purchase. (That’s before the known issues with the quality of that overpriced stuff.)
            Heck, I’ve nearly talked myself into making a t-shirt on the “Root Beer: It’s Insidious” conversation from DS9, just from this.

            1. Contrast:
              I got a ZAK! reusable cup.

              It’s got Baby Yoda on it.

              It was impulse purchase price.

              I did not get the Star Trek coffee mug above it, because that was $25 bucks.

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