TotL – 5 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Season 7)
We finally made it to the end of our series of list covering the greatest science fiction television series of all time, Star Trek the Next Generation. Season 7 is by no means the strongest of the series, and despite the fact that this season does have one of the best episodes of the entire franchise, choosing everything but that Top spot in this Lot is a pain. The two-part adventure story that was ‘Gambit’ is wildly fun, while ‘Sub Rosa’, an episode that sees Dr. Crusher in an erotic horror story is terrific, and ‘Phantasms’ is also a pretty scary episode. But episodes like ‘Dark Page’, ‘Inheritance’, even ‘Homeward’ miss the mark way too much for consideration. ‘The Pegasus’ was okay, but Riker’s daddy issues extend way to far past his daddy for me to take things seriously, and ‘Masks’ is a great episode spotlighting Brent Spiner’s acting ability, but it does nothing to add to his brilliance as it was seen in ‘A Fistful of Datas’, and episodes like ‘Journey’s End’ are great ends to arcs for characters I just don’t really care about. Whittling through everything else, there are some great episodes to wrap up this series of lists celebrating the series. So, without further ado, great science fiction rules, focus on the potential, and what an amazing ending, in Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot: 5 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes (Season 7).
Honorable Mention: Lower Decks
A unique episode is a lot of ways, ‘Lower Decks’ follows several junior officers as they work towards promotion, interact with each other, and work with the better known bridge officers. The episode culminates with one of the juniors being killed in the line of duty. The episode gave the audience a glimpse of the military aspect of Starfleet that can see a commander order a much younger individual into extreme danger, an aspect of Trek that is often times ignored. But the episode also gave a brand new insight on something that’s always been there, but has also been mostly overlooked: There’s a whole ship full of people. And that potential is worth a mention in this Lot.
‘Lower Decks’ could have been turned into an entire series of Star Trek that focuses on the lower ranking officers. This could have made for a wonderful series all on its own if only things would have taken a different turn. Alas, Deep Space Nine was already a thing, and TV just couldn’t handle three ongoing Trek series. If only streaming had been a thing back then.
5. Thine Own Self
One of those great mystery episodes that I truly adore, ‘Thine Own Self’ sees Data on a less advanced alien planet to retrieve the radioactive remains of malfunctioning satellite, only to be damaged himself, losing his memory, and hanging out with the pre-industrial race. But that’s an aside to Deanna Troi taking the Commander Test to achieve a rank increase herself.
Troi episodes up to this point still mostly fit into the constant stereotypical tropes that most often plagued female characters. She was always playing the damsel in distress. ‘Thine Own Self’ saw the character’s most endearing and enduring qualities – her heart – put on front street as her test force her to send a friend to death to save the ship. Again, it showed just how difficult it can be to succeed in Starfleet, as Troi’s best quality works against her command training. But she does overcome, and wins her rank. A wonderful example of female empowerment through the lens of internal struggle that is purely Trek to its core.
4. Preemptive Strike
At this point in the Trek franchise we have a solid knowledge of the political situation between the Federation and the Cardassian Union, including the freedom-fighting/terrorists (depending on who you ask) Maquis. The Maquis are a paramilitary organization made up of Federation citizens who are against the current treaty. The Maquis have a unique quality that makes them sympathetic to the audience, and that sympathy found much of its ground in this single episode.
Ensign Ro was one of the first Bajorans we met, and throughout this point in the Deep Space Nine series were given a lot more backstory into the plight of this peaceful race at the hands of the Cardassians. How could the Federation just sit back and allow this to happen? ‘Preemptive Strike’ shows just how frustrating that question is in the universe of Star Trek itself. The Maquis are terrorists for all intents and purposes, moving violently against a government sanctioned peace treaty. Yet, it’s difficult for the viewer not to at least feel a bit sympathetic, and some viewers outright supported the Maquis and their tactics. That gray area is a wonderful aspect of this series, and the rest of the franchise continued to borrow from this into the future.
A fantastic sci-fi episode that could really only be done on Star Trek, the crew of the Enterprise inadvertently creates a virus that devolves the lifeforms on the ship, and Data and Picard, who happened to be away for a time, must solve the mystery and save the day. But ‘Genesis’ only makes this list because it is inherently Star Trek The Next Generation.
Cool science stuff? Check. Accidentally causing the trouble to begin with? Check. Data is immune so he can save the day? Check. An allegorical tale of just how modern man is to his savage ancestors? Check. I mean, this episode is simply Star Trek through and through.
In ‘Parallels’, Worf returns from a sword tournament to find himself seemingly bouncing between alternate realities, and it’s so freaking cool! I’m a sucker for time-travel and I’m a sucker for alternate universes, so when you mix the two in an X-Men sort of way I’m going to love it. Every time Laforge enters a room with Worf his visor makes Worf “jump” to another timeline where things are just a bit different. But with each bounce things are more different from the actual reality we all know. It makes for a wonderful pacing for an episode that’s deeply technical.
Worf episodes typically tend to be either Klingon episodes or heartfelt family matters, but ‘Parallels’ takes Worf out of that mold and puts him in a more traditional Star Trek character conundrum, and it was refreshing. This episode also puts Troi and Worf in Cupid’s sights, which is a thread Trek never really followed through on, but that single misstep does not take away from the awesome of the episode.
1. All Good Things
The series finale of TNG brings the entire series full circle, continues the overarching theme of the show, and does so while still telling an awe-inspiring science fiction story that is purely Trek. Q takes Picard on a wild ride through time, telling a linked story between three difference points in time. The episode takes viewers back to ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, the series first episode, where Picard has to earn the trust of his crew all over again, while concurrently telling a story in the present with the crew working together like the well-oiled machine we know, but also into the future where a venerable Picard must convince his former crew to save the universe one more time.
Q’s trial of humanity never ended, and ‘All Good Things’ takes this idea of an all-powerful race putting humanity on trial for their ignorance to the Nth degree, and fills the superfluous space with nods to the past, looks to the future, and nothing but a respectful and graceful exit for a series that changed television for all time. Picard’s interactions with the crew during those very first days of the series were great nods to nostalgia, while the present-day parts were just great TNG storytelling. But the future stuff that showed how the TNG crew evolves in a time when we’ll never get to see them (and, as it turns out, doesn’t even really exist), including the Enterprise-D retrofit, the medical frigate USS Pasteur, and the changes to the entire crew are all just so compelling in a way that ensures we’ll never get to see it again. In an otherwise sub-par season that had relatively little going for it, ‘All Good Things’ ends the season, and this series, with a flare and style synonymous with Star Trek.