Star Trek: The Next Generation viewer’s guide

The Enemy (Original Air Date: 11/6/89)

TheEnemy

While the Federation and Klingons are no longer enemies (as they were in TOS), the Romulans have remained a sly, overly aggressive adversary in the 24th century. Any time they cross our path, a “misunderstanding” is sure to follow, and we’ll once again have to talk ourselves out of a war. This tension is best exemplified in The Enemy, when Geordi and a wounded Romulan officer end up stranded on a barely hospitable planet. With Geordi’s vision out and the Romulan’s mobility shot, they are forced to put generations of hostility aside and get off the surface.

But the coolest part is the B story, where – for whatever reason – Worf is the only suitable donor who can save another Romulan’s life. If you thought Federation relations were icy, it’s nothing compared to the disgust and animosity between the Klingons and Romulans. Worf, specifically, lost his parents during an infamous Romulan skirmish, so he has an extra layer of hatred seething below the surface. But when it comes time for him to save the day and avoid a potential political nightmare (“Romulan officer dies at the hands of the Federation! At last the war we’ve always wanted!”), Worf… does not help. He lets the Romulan die out of principle, despite Picard pleading for him to volunteer.

That is some cold ass shit, and not what you expect on generally uplifting television. But it’s the RIGHT CALL for characterization – there is no way Worf would make that compromise, because, unlike Picard, Riker etc, he’s not part of humanity’s “perfect” 24th century. He’s a true Klingon, and collaborating with Romulans is off the table. Most shows would try to teach a lesson about burying the hatchet, but instead, this ep sort of says “hey, this guy stuck to his guns and sometimes that’s more important than bending your personal beliefs.”

That’s all kinda spoilery, but the scene-to-scene drama still makes this worth watching. Plus, you see two sides of the same coin – an old rivalry lives on, but thanks to Geordi and Centurion Bochra’s proof that shaky compromises can be made, the war is delayed for another day.

 

The Offspring (Original Air Date 3/12/90)

TheOffspring

Season two’s exceptional “The Measure of a Man” ruled that Data was a sentient being with the same rights and privileges as any human. But what happens when he creates his own child? Is this technological miracle similarly protected, or does it fall to the Federation as property? Can anyone actually “own” life?

That’s the Big Question posed by the episode, but the joys of this episode are the “first step” moments that show Lal attempting to understand human interaction. To me, that makes The Offspring a true Trek story – some decent laughs, a moment of questioned morality and, best of all, some drama and strife that doesn’t involve personality flaws. In a way, everyone’s right, but also wrong. Or at least ambiguous enough to give you pause.

This is also the episode that gave us the immortal Picard Double Face Palm, which IMO only further backs my previous statement. It’s a dead serious scene with AaaAaAACTING, and Picard’s frustrated face palm is genuine, but Data disarms the whole moment with an innocent – childlike, even – glance at the put-out captain.

It’s also the first episode directed by a castmember – Johnathan Frakes, who would go on to direct First Contact and Insurrection!

 

The Nth Degree (Original Air Date 4/1/91)

NthDegree

By season four, it’s increasingly hard to choose just two episodes. But this one blew me away as a kid, so I’d like to think newcomers would get a kick out of it as well.

See that crazy contraption up there? That’s a completely physical, real-world effect made with light, mirrors and all that good stuff. Seeing this thing in action is incredible, especially in 1991 – but what’s the deal? Welp, a strange probe knocks Lt Barclay unconscious and when he awakens, he’s notably smarter. Within minutes he’s beyond genius level intellect, and before long he’s integrated himself with the ship’s computer via that device you see above. So, for all intents and purposes, Barclay IS the ship.

What he does with that power, I’ll leave for you to discover. Obviously Barclay does not remain one with the Enterprise, but this is another case of the journey being more interesting than the destination.

 

Half A Life (Original Air Date 5/6/91)

HalfALife

Science fiction, at its best, examines a contemporary issue and wraps it in enough far-out concepts to make said issue more palatable or understandable for a wide audience. The hope is, your prejudices will be checked at the door when space lizards are trying to solve their egg-laying politics. Next thing you know, BAM you just comprehended both sides of the abortion debate and are better equipped to discuss either side. (Damn, someone write that story.)

Anyway, Half A Life shows pretty solid reasoning for all sides of assisted suicide / right to life / health care concerns. The scientist you see above is close to a breakthrough on his experiments which, if successful, will literally save his planet from destruction. But his society is one where, at age 60, everyone must submit to “The Resolution” and honorably kill themselves. To refrain for any reason – even finishing your life’s work to save a world – is unheard of.

It’s a great example of TV slowing the hell down to just… talk. There’s not a whole lot of technobabble or forced action scenes, it’s just discussion, discussion, discussion. I won’t say this episode really makes a bold statement about any of the issues it touches upon, but again, it’s thoughtful TV.

 

I, Borg (Original Air Date 5/11/92)

IBorg

After their first harrowing encounter in Q Who, and the devastating mini-war seen in Best of Both Worlds, how do you continue to use the Borg without making them seem anything less than unstoppable? Why, you go the Alien route and focus on just one – what does it do when it’s separated from the collective?

Turns out, it’s pretty scared and confused. Like anyone would be when cut off from a stream of unified thoughts and voices. But the more it learns resistance is NOT futile, and that other species do NOT want to be assimilated, the drone eventually starts regaining pieces of individuality. It’s an amazing breakthrough once again told through solid acting and some great, thought provoking writing.

The twist – having this much access to one drone has revealed a crippling weakness, one that if exploited could wipe out the Borg. But do we do this, even against an enemy that would not hesitate to do the same to us? Or should the crew keep this Borg on board, now that it’s starting to rediscover what it means to be human? Difficult choices, both with severe consequences. And that means another riveting episode of TNG.

16 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation viewer’s guide

  1. I tried to watch next gen a few times, but the the show just feels off to me. I’m usually pretty good at getting over things I dislike in a t.v. series I know I will enjoy, but there is just something that puts me off about next gen.

  2. I recently watched Where Silence Has Lease and though I can understand A) the points you make and B) why people enjoy it, I just found it awfully, uh… long. Boring. I really couldn’t wait for it to end. And the ending itself is.. stunted?

  3. Thanks a lot for writing this Brett. I’ve actually never seen a single episode of TNG before, but I’ve been meaning to get into it for while ever since I realized it’s all on Netflix. I’ll definitely use this since I probably wasn’t going to fully commit to watching every episode anyway.

  4. So If I were to watch TNG, should I watch the HD remastering or is the original quality the way to go?

    1. Seeing as the whole series is on Netflix, that’s probably the easiest path to take. The Blu rays do look markedly better though, so if you watch the first four eps on this article and enjoy, Season 3 onward is much better and might be worth upgrading to BD.

  5. I finally started TNG because you always talked about how good it was and when they put out the Blu-Rays, I jumped in. I just got to season 3, the first 2 seasons are patchy but luckily this blog http://jphalt-startrekindex.blogspot.co.uk/ has been quite good at letting me know what episodes I should skip. Seems like from Season 3 onward most episodes are great

  6. Good job of convincing me to jump on the wagon (…).
    even though I was around when it aired originally, I only checked it sporadically and it didn’t catch me. but as the saying goes – “with great bandwidth comes great availability” – and knowing where to start should do the trick.

    another thing i’d like to know is what transformers episodes onw should see before the 86 movie (saw it years ago, didn’t recognize a single character), and what later episodes are actually worth watching.

  7. Excellent article Brett, and well done for avoiding at least some (heh) of the obvious episodes to recommend. I personally also love Silicon Avatar, which I’m watching again right now and hasn’t lost anything.

    Deep Space Nine had a pretty damn good finale as well, although that had the excuse of finishing the Dominion War which was always going to be cool.

  8. Oh wow, I’ve been interested in checking out TNG since that Lasertime, so this is basically exactly what I needed. My mother loved it so it’s something that was always on in the background during my childhood but I could never really comprehend what was going on, though weirdly, one of my earliest memories is putting a banana over my face and pretending to be Geordi.

    Also, poor Worf… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edflm7Hh3hs

  9. As a kid I never got Star Trek, and it wasn’t until recently after many years of listening to you guys podcast (and friends begging me to watch) that I finally folded.

    Man, I regret not watching it sooner. Season 1 is rough, but Encounter at Farpoint blew me away with how… large its scope was, especially for a pilot. Then the episode Where No One Has Gone Before (with the Traveler adjusting the Enterprise’s warp engines so they fly across the galaxy to parts unknown) cemented how incredible this show is.

    I can’t put it as elegantly as Brett, but even now, to someone who only knew of it through pop culture references, it still shocks me. So few things have a positive outlook on the future, and considering this stuff is 20+ years old? That’s the real kicker.

    Star Trek 4 Dummies was a great, great episode and I would love to listen to a monthly, quarterly, whatever-would-work podcast where Brett and guests mused and talked about Star Trek.

    I’m just about to finish season 2 and I cannot wait to start season 3 after the incredible hype its received from everyone.

  10. About a year ago I made watching Star Trek a part of my “sleep schedule”, passively watching an episode before bed on weekends. I started with ToS, which was alright, but Next Gen has been great.

    I’m nearing the end of Next Gen, and I’m really glad I gave the series a fair shot. It’s entertaining enough, and I’m even more glad that I can appreciate the milieu of references and at-length conversations on the subject. I enjoy most of the popular episodes, including those mentioned here.

    Two of my favorite episodes took me by surprise as they were basically horror-themed; “The Game” and “Night Terrors”. The Game was basically Body Snatchers, but Night Terrors felt like the beginnings of a Dead Space scenario… I even grabbed a few screens: http://willwakeup.tumblr.com/post/35524148495/star-trek-tngs-night-terrors-somehow-gave-me

  11. I watched TNG almost religiously as a kid and i’m sitting here reading this piece just nodding my head in agreement to every entry.

    Then i get to the top of page three and see the pic of Picard at the end of The Inner Light and, i shit you not, teared up.

    I probably haven’t seen that episode in almost a decade, as it is rarely shown in reruns on Syfy today or on TNT, USA and a few others in years past, and for some reason that episode resonates with me the most…

  12. Just finally watched this show over the course of last year and it is one of my favorite shows ever, I will be going back to this throughout my life many times for certain. Just wonderful, thanks for always talking about it Brett as that definitely helped in getting me too check it out.

    Working on the fifth season of DS9 now and enjoying that quite a lot as well, can’t believe I had pretty much just watched the movies and some random episodes until so recently.

    Thanks again for always pushing ST Brett very good article I will probably keep in mind when trging to sell this to friends.

  13. Started watching this lately on Netflix and this list seems to be a pretty good guide so far (even though I’m watching it all anyway). Thanks Brett!

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