When you’re on a show for seven seasons and 176 episodes, you see a lot of material. An through his years on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Patrick Stewart saw his fair share of scripts and episodes (we’re not even going to get into the movies), and as you can imagine, he has one that stands out as his favorite: 1992’s “The Inner Light.”
During an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, was asked to talk about his feelings on that episode, and why it stuck with him. He said:
My favorite episode is "Inner Light." It was a beautiful script, which for me was almost entirely located away from the Enterprise—and it's crew! And because I was given the chance to perform what Picard would have been like if his life experience had been different. But another important reason is that I had a son in that episode who was played by my son, Daniel Stewart.
Written by freelancer Morgan Gendel, based on his own original pitch, “The Inner Light” is something very different from your usual Next Generation episode, and it’s easy to understand why it left a substantial impression on Stewart. It’s a drastic departure from the norm, especially when you take into consideration that his real life son plays his on in the episode.
After the Enterprise picks up a mysterious probe, it blasts Captain Picard with an energy beam, knocking him the hell out. When he wakes up, he’s not where he expected to be. Instead of being in the medical bay aboard his ship in the middle of deep space, he finds himself on the surface of Kataan, a non-Federation planet. Also, he’s not a starship captain anymore, he’s an iron weaver named Kamin living in a small rural village. He has a wife, a son, and is recovering from a raging fever, and when he talks about his time on the Enterprise, people think he’s delusional. Picard lives out his entire life in this new world, growing old and even learning how to play a mean flute.
Though the episode is bookended by scenes on the Enterprise, and intercut with moments of the crew trying to revive him, the bulk of it is somewhere very different from the standard futuristic sci-fi trappings of the series. As a performer, it must have been nice to tackle such a dissimilar story.
Patrick Stewart isn’t the only one with an affinity for “The Inner Light.” Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Next Generation, has also said it’s his favorite episode, and fans routinely cite it as one of the series’ best. It even won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation shortly after it first aired.