I’m Lynn. The first sci-fi show I ever watched was Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was the only show I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and it’s still one of my favorite shows. And I’m an Anomaly.
I recently re-watched ST:TNG and DS9. I like to do this every few years to remind myself about how wonderful they are. While some episodes are awful (I’m looking at you “Genesis,” “The Game,” and “Sub Rosa”), so many more stand out in my mind as wonderful, thought-provoking touchstones of my life. A few notes before I start my list: 1) This is not in any particular order. In fact, an ultimate favorite would vary based on my mood and the situations in my life, so I’m not even going to try to finalize it with numbers. 2) These are not necessarily in order of air date. 3) I count two part episodes as one episode since the story continues throughout.
Here we go!
“Darmok” Season 5, Episode 2
I am now and have always been a word nerd. “Darmok” usually remains my favorite episode because of this. The future of Star Trek often takes for granted the use of the universal translator. What a marvelous device this is to translate any known language! But this episode explores the deeper intricacies of translation. It’s one thing to translate words from one language to another, but a language is a culture and the culmination of customs, traditions, and beliefs of its speakers, and it takes true integration to fully understand a language. There was no better way for Picard and Dathon to learn about each other than to be immersed with each other, and Dathon was a far more patient teacher than Picard was a learner of this lesson. It’s not often that Picard is frazzled, so it was nice to see him taken off guard. I think that the ultimate lesson is what I like the most: we all speak different languages and have different points of view, but if we try to stop and listen, we can bridge the gap to understanding.
“Cause and Effect” Season 5, Episode 18
I like this episode for a very, very silly reason. This episode of Next Gen is the one that I think of when I think of TNG. The reason this makes my list is because when it first aired, I was very, very sick. I had been running a high fever for about 24 hours or so, and when I run a high fever, I tend to have strange hallucinations. I mean, so strange that I got out of bed in the middle of the night, and ran into the living room yelling and scared my mom half to death. Watching this episode can cause confusion in the most sober, well-rested fans, but imagine watching it doped up on cold medicine with the bad rest that one has with the flu. I still like it though. I like when the whole crew has to work together to solve an unsolvable riddle. Sometimes the greatest mysteries of the universe happen to us right inside our own doors.
“Time’s Arrow” Season 5, Episode 26 and Season 6, Episode 01
Any episode of any show that involves historical costumes has my utmost attention. I liked how this episode blended the past and the future so well. I’m not usually a fan of time travel episodes because, as Capt. Janeway said, they “give me a headache,” but this one was a bit effortless with no loose ends. And besides, how can you not like an episode where Whoopi Goldberg has giant puffed sleeves? For me, the main story seemed secondary and short compared to the joy of watching the Enterprise crew interact in late-19th century San Francisco. This episode was both fun and poignant and showed the deep intimacy that Picard and Guinan shared.
“Who Watches the Watchers?” Season 3, Episode 04
This could almost be the prequel to the movie Insurrection. Everything goes horribly wrong for an anthropology crew and the Enterprise crew has to fix it. It seems silly to look at how wrong it is to send two people who don’t know anything about the culture to suddenly become immersed in a culture, but I guess the writers couldn’t resist an opportunity to remind us Troi is an empath and Riker used to date her. Maybe it beats us over the head a bit by showing how similar the Mintakans are to Humans, but I think we need that sometimes. We Terrans get a little caught up in “this is how things are,” that we forget that things changed when we moved from caves to wood houses to stone houses and onward through the eons. Change isn’t bad. It’s scary, but it isn’t bad, and the biggest change of all is accepting that we aren’t necessarily the center of our own universes.
“The Drumhead” Season 4, Episode 21
This episode is probably one that will work in any age, any generation, any time. It’s just as relevant now as it was when it came out in 1991. Witch hunts seem to be so easy to justify in the name of safety and justice. Admiral Satie (played beautifully by the wonderful Jean Simmons) may have committed her life to justice, but she is, like all of us, only human, with human emotions and drives. Even in the advanced society that Star Trek ascribes, prejudice, fear, and the desire for revenge can overtake our more logical and evolved sensibilities. As she sinks deeper into solving a mystery, Admiral Satie loses herself in her desire for revenge. Lucky for us, Picard is there to talk to sense into her. Sometimes, however, pedestals don’t crumble so easily.
“Half a Life” Season 4, Episode 22
When I was younger and saw this episode for the first time, I didn’t care that much about it. But with age comes some sort of wisdom and a heightened sense of mortality and purpose. I can’t imagine a more unlikely pair than Timicin and Lwaxana, and I supposed neither could Timicin, but a great pair they made anyway. That is until it’s time for him to go gently into that goodnight. And “gentle” is not exactly a word that Lwaxana has any use for (unless she’s getting a spa treatment). I like this episode because it spoke eloquently and sympathetically of euthanasia, aging, and usefulness into old age. Difficult themes for sure, and one that left interpretation open to the viewer. Respecting tradition isn’t a bad thing, but neither is questioning it. Dying isn’t a bad thing, but neither is expressive living. One thing that doesn’t cause a paradox, however, is that a sense of purpose is important, no matter how old you are.
“Cost of Living” Season 5, Episode 20
Another Lwaxana Troi episode. As though to contrast her rebellion in “Half a Life,” Lwaxana decides to settle down again and follow the rules her future husband wants her to follow. As the ship fights from being destroyed by a parasite, Lwaxana and Alexander fight a similar battle to keep their own senses of self. It’s sometimes amazing to learn that people who are much older are still children at heart and don’t always have life figured out either. It’s nice to look around, have a bit of fun, and realize that we’re all just fumbling along trying to figure out what to do next.
I also like this quote from the episode:
Alexander: I’m supposed to do everything right all the time. I don’t know how.
Lwaxana: To tell you the truth, little warrior, neither do I.
Also, I’m totally going to start taking mud baths and calling my nephew ‘little warrior.’
“Birthright” Season 6, Episode 16 and 17
I don’t like these episodes because of Data. I like these because of Worf and because it’s the crossover episode with Deep Space 9. I liked the evolution of Data that led him to dream, but the story seemed a bit anti-climactic. Worf’s story, however, had depth. Worf knows who he is; he knows where he comes from; he knows where he is going, so it’s nice when all that gets messed up in his head and he has to come to terms with the fact that his history isn’t what he thinks it is. The glory of Worf is that he keeps his sense of self even when those around him try to get him to neglect that self. When confronted with the idea that Khitomer didn’t exactly end as he thought, he worked to teach the children of the survivors the side of their history that had been denied them. As he comes to terms with the disappointing and shame-filled moments of his past, he helps others do the same. Our histories aren’t always lovely, but they are there, they happened, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We do an injustice to ourselves and others when we try to deny or change the past instead of learning and growing from it.
“First Contact” Season 4, Episode 15
Not the movie, the episode where Riker gets hurt while checking out a pre-warp planet and first contact is made a smidge sooner than the Federation had hoped. I believe that one of the purposes of science fiction is to hold a mirror to the audience. For all our faults, graces, virtues, and oddities, this episode does that. Politicians don’t seem to use any form of logic. Strangers can often provide the best of allies. Scientists seem cold in their work to solve the mysteries of the universe. And sometimes, regular citizens just want to have an alien baby. Some of us are a bit more intellectually evolved and able to warp to through the stars, but it’s working together that will really get us there.
“Sarek” Season 3, Episode 23
I think that this episode was one that was great for Patrick Stewart. It gave him a chance to show that Picard is not cold hearted. It’s also a chance to have a bit of an Original Series call back with Mark Lenard. The biggest reason that this episode makes the list is because it was written by Peter Beagle, and I, without knowing who he was at the time, once sang him a song that I wrote and he liked it. I’m glad I didn’t really know who he was at the time or I would have lost my mind and all ability to control my chord fingers. “Sarek” not only tied in to the past, but tied to the future. Later on, Spock becomes closer to his dead father through Picard.
Fraught with sentimentality it may be, but these episodes are those I go to when I just need a bit of reminder of what makes this type of sci-fiction great. I have found more recent sci-fi to be a bit dismal, and while that’s not a bad thing, sometimes it’s helpful to have a reminder that perhaps after all that gloom and doom we’re in for, we’ll still have a bright future at some point.