The Star Trek franchise has been a part of pop culture for over 50 years and, thanks to new entries like Star Trek: Discovery and Lower Decks, is having a bit of a renaissance. Perhaps the most famous and well-loved of the canon is Star Trek: The Next Generation. With the launch of Paramount+ on March 4th, you’ll be able to boldly go and stream the entire Star Trek library, so let’s take a look back at some of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes you’ll be able to beam up to your device from the new streamer.
10. Sins of the Father - Season 3, Episode 17
Worf journeys to the Klingon homeworld of Q’onoS (pronounced Kronos, naturally) to clear his long-dead father’s name of treason. Until Star Trek: The Next Generation, Klingons were the franchise’s chief villain. Known mostly for their warrior and brutish status, “Sins of the Father” starts to flesh out these fan favorite aliens with plenty of politicking and intrigue, including the first appearance of Worf’s secret brother, played by the Candyman himself, Tony Todd. Ultimately, Worf must sacrifice his honor and family name for the sake of the Klingon Empire, which would have lasting repercussions throughout all seven seasons of The Next Generation and into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
9. Data’s Day - Season 4, Episode 11
Chief O’Brien’s wedding to Keiko. Gift shopping with Worf at the replicator. Learning to dance with Dr. Crusher. This is “Data’s Day.” This Season 4 episode takes a look at a day in the life aboard a starship when the crew isn’t fending off the Borg or brushing up against the Romulans. A quasi-companion episode to “Measure of a Man,” Data records his observations for Commander Bruce Maddox. In typical Data fashion he has a childlike, inquisitive nature as events unfold around him. The B-plot of this episode is also fun, complete with a Romulan defection.
8. I, Borg - Season 5, Episode 23
The breakout villain of TNG, the Borg are a chilling cybernetic enemy with one mission, assimilation. Part of the brilliance of “I, Borg” is taking everything the audience has learned about the Borg and flipping it on its head. After finding an injured Borg drone, the crew brings it back to the Enterprise. With fresh memories of Picard’s capture and assimilation during “The Best of Both Worlds,” the crew hatches a plan to use this drone to wipe out the entire Borg species. But as the drone spends more time away from the collective, he begins to develop individuality and autonomy, even taking the name, Hugh. A stellar Season 5 episodes that explores prejudices against your enemies and the right choice vs. the easy choice. This episode is also required viewing for fans of Star Trek: Picard.
7. The Measure of A Man - Season 2, Episode 9
Early on in its run, Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn’t exactly known for quality episodes. An early diamond in the rough, however, is Season 2’s “Measure of a Man.” Commander Bruce Maddox wants to disassemble Data to study how he was created, which Picard strenuously objects. At its core a courtroom drama, Picard must defend Data’s right to life before a Starfleet hearing. This is Trek at its very best. Often known for its weighty themes, “Measure of a Man” gets to the very heart of TNG’s most enduring themes. Humanity, sentience and right to life. What is humanity worth if someone, or something, isn’t entirely human? You may be sensing a theme, but this is another key episode for viewers of Star Trek: Picard.
6. Darmok - Season 5, Episode 2
Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you’ve heard the phrase “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Its near-ubiquity alone is a testament to the strength of this episode. After the Tamarian captain, played by Wrath of Khan’s Paul Winfield, beams himself and Picard to the surface of the nearby planet, Picard first assumes the Tamarian wants battle. In reality, Dathon has brought Picard for a bonding ritual meant to unite the two. What follows is a wonderful episode about communication and trust between two disparate cultures. Although they cannot understand each other the two captains, through common goals and shared respect, eventually overcome the threat before them. More Trek at its absolute Trekkiest.
5. Yesterday’s Enterprise - Season 3, Episode 15
Although TNG never had a traditional Mirror Universe like the original series’ “Mirror, Mirror,” this is the closest we get to one. After the never-before-seen-on-screen Enterprise-C emerges from a temporal rift, the timeline is changed. Now, the Federation has been at an unceasing war with the Klingons, the Enterprise is no longer a ship of exploration, but one of battle. Picard is now hardened by years of conflict. Riker, usually a loyal second in command, is at constant odds with his captain. Tasha Yar, unceremoniously killed off in Season 1, is once again alive in this alternate timeline. Even though this is an alternate timeline episode, there are lasting consequences that reverberate in later seasons, especially “Unification”.
4. Chain of Command - Season 6, Episodes 10 & 11
Cardassians eventually end up being a primary protagonist in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but they were first introduced in The Next Generation. This is the first Cardassian-centric episode to showcase how sinister they can truly be. After a secret mission turns out to be a trap, Picard is held captive and tortured by Gul Madred, a Cardassian interrogator. Famous for the meme-worthy “There are four lights!” scene, in the context of this two-parter it’s much more harrowing. David Warner is effecting as Picard’s interrogator, and Patrick Stewart knocks it out of the park as our favorite captain pushed to the breaking point of his resolve and will.
3. All Good Things… - Season 7, Episodes 25 & 26
“All Good Things…” is one of the best series finales in television history. At once a swan song as well as a victory lap, this super sized episode revisits key moments in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 7 season run. Coming full circle, this episode brings back fan favorite character Q, who resumes his “trial against humanity”, which began in the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.” Picard finds himself passing through different moments in both his past, present and future.
Old favorites like Tasha Yar and Chief O’Brien appear for one final time. In the future, we find Beverly divorced from Picard, Worf now part of the Klingon Empire and Captain Riker of the Enterprise, hardened over the loss of Deanna Troi. A thrilling adventure through time where Picard will need to have all three Enterprises work together to save all of human existence. In a 2018 interview with EW, Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige cited this finale as a model for Avengers: Infinity War saying, “That to me is one of the best series finale ever. That wasn’t about death. Picard went and played poker with the crew, something he should have done a long time ago, right?” Who’s to argue with Kevin Feige?
2. The Inner Light - Season 5, Episode 25
One of TNG’s most beloved episodes, “The Inner Light” finds Picard living a life not lived. After a mysterious alien probe puts him into a coma, Picard wakes up off of the Enterprise and the strangers around him are all calling him Kamin. Over the course of the episode, years pass and Kamin sees his kids grow up while he grows old. We eventually come to learn that the colony has built a probe with the intention of sending it into space to share their heritage and history with anyone who might stumble upon it. After a flash of white light, Picard wakes up back on the Enterprise and, while he has lived a full life as Kamin is his mind, mere minutes have passed on the ship. Patrick Stewart turns in a wonderful performance playing a gentler family man than we are used to seeing in Picard. This episode fundamentally changes Picard, with ramifications that follow through in “Lessons” and into Star Trek: Generations.
1. The Best of Both Worlds - Season 3, Episode 26 and Season 4, Episode 1
As if any other episode could land the top spot on a Star Trek: The Next Generation best episodes list. Sure, this is the Borg episode where Picard is assimilated and turned into the mouthpiece of the Alpha Quadrant’s greatest threat. The real secret to this episode, though, is that it’s actually all about Riker. It turns out, unbeknownst to Picard, Riker has turned down three promotions to Captain, and it’s beginning to hurt his career. Enter Commander Shelby, played by Brian Dennehy’s daughter, Elizabeth Dennehy, a rising star who is sent to help strategize about the Borg threat. A hot shot who constantly butts heads with Riker, her arrival starts to make the Commander question what he’s even still doing on the Enterprise.
Jonathan Frakes is firing on all cylinders in this two-parter, leading up to the iconic cliffhanger. As the now assimilated Picard appears on the view screen with a threat, the music swells, the camera whips around and acting-Captain Riker utters three words, “Mr Worf. Fire,” and the “to be continued” card appears. The cliffhanger of cliffhangers, this moment is sure to give any TV viewer goosebumps.
The beauty of Star Trek is there’s certainly no shortage of episodes to watch. If you’re looking to binge some on your own, Star Trek: The Next Generation is streaming just about everywhere, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and starting March 4th on Paramount+.