In honor of its anniversary, Ben and Kyle sat down this week and discussed their favorite episodes from the much-celebrated Star Trek: The Next Generation. We’d love to hear from you on our Podcasting Them Softly Facebook page. Which is your favorite TNG episode and why?
The Inner Light
BEN: From the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is the series’ 125th episode, wherein the Enterprise encounters an alien probe adrift in space. As the crew investigates, the ship is probed by an energy beam which renders Captain Picard unconscious. What appears to be minutes in real time, is the story of a lifetime as Picard is transported to Kataan, where he lives 40 years as a Kamin, a scientist. The story and teleplay by Morgan Gendel is first rate science fiction television and in all the years of Star Trek, I’m hard pressed to find a more personal, intimate story. We get to witness Kamin’s life in politics, his efforts to recognize a pending global ecological disaster, a family (Margot Rose as Kamin’s wife, Eline), his friend Batai (character actor Richard Riehle) and to watch his kids grow up (real-life son Daniel Stewart in the role of Batai and Jennifer Nash as Meribor). This episode came towards the end of an already strong season. This is, hands down, one of my favorite episodes.
KYLE: This is not my favorite, but easily one of the strongest of the entire franchise, let alone series. I love how it is such a departure from the traditional episode, and entirely focused on Picard…and yet it’s not. The ending is one of the most heartbreaking and simultaneously uplifting conclusions of the entire show.
BEN: From the third season, comes a story which directly reflects Star Trek’s own past as well as The Next Generation when a time-space rift opens, allowing the Enterprise – C to move forward in time 20 years. As a result, the timeline the audience knew was subtly altered as Picard wrestles with the idea that he must send the war-damaged ship back to its own time. In the altered timeline, Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) is the ship’s tactical officer, while Worf is largely missing. This episode was a highlight for many reasons, not the least was Crosby’s return. It also gave us a chance to explore everyone’s favorite bartender, Gunian (Whoopi Goldberg) and her abilities related to time. We are also introduced to the former ship to bear our favorite ship’s name and registry number, completing a gap in the overall history of Star Trek.
I remember as a teenager how violent and effective one of the scenes was. The guest cast was also very remarkable here given the short amount of time we had to see how Yar and the change in the timeline would affect the future. And I’m just willing to bet that fans the world over will remember this line for all time . . . .
KYLE: This is my favorite episode of the series and one of my all-time favorite episodes of television. The direction is tight, the cast give some of their best performances, and the special effects for the battles were ahead of their time. Aside from exploring the mysteries of Guinan, I think what I really appreciate about this episode is that it defines the heart of the show: Doing the most good. Star Trek is about an ideal, about striving to better the universe and uncoupling ourselves from the petty things that drag us down. I absolutely adore Crosby’s return, but it’s the sacrifice of the crew that always sticks with me. This is what heroism is about, being brave in the face of certain death, but always thinking about others and the greater good.
I also think Crosby’s performance is reflective of the series’ concepts of destiny and purpose. The capstone with Guinan and La Forge discussing her legacy was a great nod to the fanbase.
The Best of Both Worlds
BEN: Hailed as one of the best cliffhanger episodes at the time, the producers of the series decided to not only bring back the most feared and revered threats to the universe, but they took it to the next level when they made it a personal story about Picard while being a Riker-centric story. The ongoing tension built through Michael Piller’s teleplay was palpable. Make no mistake: this is as good a serial television gets. The guest cast was also amongst the strongest of any episode so early into the series with Elizabeth Dennehy (Brian Dennehy’s daughter) as Lt. Commander Shelby and a familiar face in the role of Admiral Hanson (George Murdock who had played ‘God’ the previous summer in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). They managed to alter the Borg’s look and this was the last time we would see the Enterprise-D’s emergency saucer separation procedure. Although I don’t think the second part was as strong as the first part, the entire two-part episode was edited into a single, feature length episode and it seems to play best that way. I also like the fact that it was the impetus for the Benjamin Sisko character in the future series, Deep Space Nine which Michael Piller co-developed with series producer Rick Berman.
KYLE: It’s no secret that First Contact is my favorite Trek film. I love the Borg, how they’re essentially high-tech zombies that convert rather than infect. The genius of these two episodes is that they showed no one was safe. Even Picard, the face of the show, the captain of the Enterprise wasn’t safe from harm. A theme they would explore in depth for the remainder of the series and the films. PTSD and the horrors of war were not themes often explored on TV during TNG’s run and it was refreshing to see them tackling so many important, and extremely (sadly) still relevant issues.
Chain of Command
BEN: We’re on a role here with Star Trek feature film guest stars, Kyle. In our next series, we get to focus on the Cardassians. Introduced during the season four episode “The Wounded,” this two-part episode actually surprised audiences with its brusque nature, with Edward Jelico (Ronny Cox in a very snarmy performance) assuming command of the Enterprise-D while Picard, Worf and Crusher are sent on a clandestine mission to sabotage a Cardassian installation which threatens the Federation. The episode’s strength lies in its contentious dichotomy, featuring a palpable ongoing argument between Jelico and Riker and Picard’s incarceration at the hands of David Warner’s Gul Madred. Although I was bothered by Jelico’s departure at the end of the second part, I loved the final scene in Picard’s Ready Room as he recounts his experience to Troi, admitting . . .
Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearean acting came in handy in this episode.
KYLE: This is probably both Frakes and Stewart’s best performances in the series. Picard’s ability to convey a wheel of emotions is staggering, while Frakes and Cox’s political dance if chock full of tension. It’s a marvelous balance of the two, showcasing rare covert operations and the price of being captured, an issue that usually serves as an inconvenience in action adventure shows. Once again, TNG decides it has more in store for the audience and ups the ante by showing an unthinkable torture scenario around which is framed a complicated battle of friendship and duty.
All Good Things
BEN: The series finale was a bittersweet moment for me. I grew up on The Next Generation and though I’d missed a season or two because the local network airing the series had changed their schedule, Rick Berman never forgot to bring the theme of family into an episode. But it was equally bittersweet because the same week the finale aired, I was finishing my finals, and getting ready to graduate from High School. The episode would mark the return of Denise Crosby as Yar (though I still wonder why they didn’t do something with her hair towards the end of the episode) as well as the illustrious, omnipotent Q (John de Lancie) who I contend makes the finest, funniest threat to the crew of the Enterprise-D. I didn’t find his subsequent visit to DS9 or Voyager as strong as his bond with the TNG crew, only because we were introduced to Q seven years prior. Colm Meaney returned from DS9 for this episode in an extended version of the Bridge Conn Officer role (though he was featured on the Battle Bridge in “Encounter at Farpoint”) and Andreas Katsulas just chewed up the screen every time he played Tomalak, a Romulan commander. There was something in this episode for every member of the cast, and I think I could make the case that we never again saw the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation cast as well-utilized as we did in this episode, a credit to Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, who would go on to write Star Trek: Generations which was filmed while this episode aired. My favorite scene in this episode? The overhead cam shot of the senior staff playing poker.
KYLE: Pure fanfare and I love every single second. You’re right, the shot of the poker game almost defined description. This is a show that set a lot of trends, won a lot of awards, and yet, they decided to end it on an intimate note. There’s effects, and the usual hijinks, but in essence, this is a very tame and humble episode that is the perfect send off. There’s a lot of truth to the final conversations and revelations about the future, about the fracturing of friendship and the unstoppable light of hope. I’m honestly not sure you could ask for a better send off for Enterprise D’s crew.
BEN: Our final favorite episode is from the very maligned first season, which is interesting for a number of reasons. The first, is that we get to return to Earth of the 24th century (though I cringe every time I see the stock footage from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). The second is that this is a continuation of an episode from earlier in the first season, “Coming of Age”. Robert Schenkkan, Ward Costello reprised their roles as Lt. Commander Remmick and Admiral Aaron, respectively. The episode is celebrated for its graphic makeup and effects work, compliments of Michael Westmore (who would win one of the three Primetime Emmy Awards for the first season.) I loved this episode because it left so many loose ends, but it also stands on its own. It gave rise to Section 31 and a political tension that Star Trek lacked up to that point. Bet you’d never thought I’d like this episode as much as I do, Kyle, eh?
KYLE: I’m surprised, but in a good way! I love this one because it’s the closest the series ever came to going full horror. The effects work is phenomenal, but I love how it’s a genuine mystery almost until the very end. While the reveal is cheesy by today’s terms, the level of over the top insanity was a welcomed addition to the hit and miss first season. As you say, it left a ton of loose ends, which I was sad to see never come back around. Still, despite this, Conspiracy will always remain one of my personal favorites because it’s so different. The mood, the tone, everything is darker and it’s a great example of how horror has a place in primetime entertainment.
I want to give a parting shout out to Lower Decks as another great episode that just missed the cut!
Join Ben and Kyle next time as they discuss their favorite Ridley Scott films in honor of Blade Runner 2049’s release!