TotL – 5 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Season 3)
On to the next one, as our series celebrating Star Trek: The Next Generation continues throughout this 30th Anniversary year of arguably the greatest science fiction television series of all time. We’re slingshotting around the moon, exceeding Warp 10, and traveling back in time to season 3 of the series, and, oh my, what a season it was! So many great episodes to choose from made this particular Top o’ the Lot (or TotL – Pronounced “Total” by the kids) feel more like the Kobasyashi Maru than just writing a simple list. I mean, a lot of great episodes just had to be left off. Wesley’s smart nanites, that sweet old couple, the Mintakans, Geordi’s Romulan pal Bochra, Tinman, and others were just really great episodes, but the competition was way too stiff for them to make the cut. So, without further ado, we love Reg, we love Q, and it’s all about the recurring characters, in Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot: 5 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Season 3).
Honorable Mention: Hollow Pursuits
Again, there were so many great episodes in season 3 that the Honorable Mention spot was wide open. But it came down to one thing: We meet Lt. Reginald Barclay. A gifted engineer who lacked confidence and was socially awkward, Reg sought the safety and control of the holodeck to help him deal with his problems, mostly to his detriment. He overcomes quite a bit in this episode, comes back in several great episodes later (see future lists for more), and becomes a hero to the stranded crew of USS Voyager in the most interesting of ways, but it’s the way we can relate to Barclay that puts his debut episode on this list.
Star Trek nerds are typically passionate, intelligent, and proficient, but are also quite often lacking in confidence, nervous, and socially awkward. But most often Starfleet officers are full of confidence, have no problems in social scenarios, and are anything but awkward. Reg gave some of Trek’s most diehard fans someone who was more like them in a very specific context, and it was a wonderful addition. Sure, Reg could have been a throwaway character in this single episode, and that would have been enough, but the fact that he did return shows just how big of an impact he had on Trek fans and the franchise as a whole.
5. Déjà Q
I love Q, and as long as they keep doing episodes starring John Delancie’s omnipotent alien character I’m going to keep choosing them for these lists. By this time in the series, Q and the Q Continuum have become firmly established in the Star Trek franchise. The fans know him. The fans love him (or at least love to hate him). His habit of thrusting the Enterprise and her crew into danger, presumably for no other reason than to entertain his own twisted desires, made him an easy character to despise while simultaneously envying. But all that got flipped in this episode.
Déjà Q sees Q stripped of his powers for some violation of Q Continuum rules and seeking refuge with the Enterprise crew. Q requested to become human as part of his punishment, suggesting he at least understands the human quality of compassion, because he knew there would be some aliens tortured by his hand looking for some payback. Sure enough he’s tracked down by an energy being, but safely protected by the Enterprise’s shields. Alas, those shields need to come down to accomplish some mission or another. Anyways, the episode has some great moments for Q and many members of the crew, including a cool Guinan moment and one of the best Data moments of the whole series. The true appeal of this episode, however, is Q himself. Was this just the Continuum testing humanity? Was Q perhaps even in on it in some weird way? Is a new fascination with humanity growing within the Q Continuum? Later episode of the series and the franchise would suggest as much, and I’m a sucker for this sort of subtle continuity.
4. Captain’s Holiday
One of the first really great Picard episodes, Captain’s Holiday sees exactly that happen. Captain Picard reluctantly agrees to take some much needed vacation time on the pleasure planet Risa. But in proper Picard fashion, what should be a trip to paradise full of back rubs and naked surfing lessons, Jean-Luc meets a girl and goes on an adventure Indiana Jones himself would be jealous of, and, oh my, what a woman!
Vash is a great example of the “opposites attract” tropes, and despite their deep passion for archeology, Jean-Luc are Vash are exactly that. Equals in more ways than one, Vash is such a great character, she plays so well off of Picard, and (again, as seen in later episodes), may point to who Picard may have become had he chosen a path other than Starfleet. The unique look at Picard’s complex and wonderful character put this episode on contention for a spot in this Lot, but Vash puts it there.
3. Sins of the Father
This episode introduces two very cool elements to the TNG Universe. First, and funnest, is Worf’s brother Kurn played by the great character/voice actor Tony Todd. But second, and far more importantly, it introduced more of the chaos that is Klingon politics, a traitor given secret pardon, and a conspiracy that made a man. While it was believed that Worf’s father betrayed the Klingons to the Romulans, it turns out that it was a Klingon with a son named Duras who actually committed the dishonor. But it also turns out that Duras is a member of the Klingon Council and a very powerful Klingon in his own right. Revealing the truth would result in a civil war, so Worf is forced to carry his dishonor while Duras gets to keep his power, station, and most importantly, his honor.
This episode takes the entirety of Worf’s very small history as revealed up to this point, and turns it on it head in such a masterful and complete way. It not only opens up Worf as one of the more compelling members of the crew, but it’s also inherently Klingon in its approach, delivery, feel, and fallout. It may be the most perfect Klingon episode, if not for the fact that they build on this single episode so expertly in future episodes.
2. The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1
Narrowly missing the Top spot o’ this Lot, the season finale, cliffhanger from hell, that was The Best of Both Worlds wasn’t just a great episode of Star Trek dealing with ambition, service, rivalry, and war against an seemingly unstoppable foe, but it had what many consider to be one of the greatest moments in television history. Going up against The Borg again, but this time the half-man/half-machine hive-mind of The Borg has its sights set on Sector-001, Earth. To help facilitate that end, The Borg kidnap and assimilate Captain Picard, in one of the biggest moments in Trek and TV history. Commander Shelby ambition, Riker’s apprehension, and Locutus may have been huge deals in the episode, but it was the battle with The Borg itself that pushes The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 into the number two spot in this Lot.
To borrow a bad example, this episode is Pre-9/11. This was the last day before everything changed. We may not see it much in the overall context of TNG, but the final moments of this episode amount to the dawn of a new direction for The Federation. The threat of The Borg isn’t just some vague threat on the outskirts of known space. This is Wolf 359, this is making a longtime friend the most vicious of enemies in the matter of hours, this is a Borg Cube in Earth space moments away from assimilating the entire planet. Starfleet’s directions, motives, and plans change drastically in the wake of this one moment, setting up major ripples throughout the entire franchise for years to come.
1. Yesterday’s Enterprise
A great episode of science fiction television in and of itself, Yesterday’s Enterprise also happens to be an episode of Trek, it involves in-series continuity AND franchise continuity in terrific ways, it touches the feels, and involves multiple timelines, time travel, and all-around temporal f&^%ery. It really does have it all. The Enterprise-D (I have to make the distinction) comes across a strange portal in space, sees a ship starting to come out, and then everything instantly changes. It’s all very weird, but we come to find out that this mysterious ship is the Enterprise-C, an Ambassador Class ship lost years ago defending a Klingon Outpost from a Romulan attack. It turns out that the Enterprise-C escapes that attack through the aforementioned time portal, but in doing so sets off a chain of events that leads to all out war between the Klingon Empire and The Federation. And The Federation is losing. But that’s really just aside to the fact that, in this new timeline, Tasha Yar did not die and still has her station on the bridge. Only Guinan can see this temporal change, and she reports everything she knows. Tasha eventually decides to go back through the time portal to hopefully “fix” this broken timeline, despite the great chance of death. Yeah, it was great.
Not by far the best episode of the season, but still the best, as it includes just about everything you want from the science fiction television series, and, oh man, it did so much to expand the history and continuity of the franchise. Tahsa Yar’s descendants become even more important down the road, only adding to the complexity of what happens in this one single episode.