What are the best episodes of Star Trek?
May 7, 2010 12:37 PM   Subscribe

What are the best episodes of Star Trek? Except I don't care so much about the mythology, I'm just looking for good acting, good writing, and universal subject matter. Any series is fine, though to give you an idea Deep Space 9 is my favorite.

I've been watching through Deep Space 9 lately, and this question was prompted by the fourth season episode "The Visitor," where Jake Sisko narrates the story as an old man about how his father disappeared, and later reappeared to him every couple decades over the course of his life. This episode was amazing because for one it was out of the ordinary for Star Trek, and also it was well acted and hinged on something as basic as the relationship between a father and son, and it rang true.

When Star Trek is bad, it can be really bad, but on the same token there are some good parts. I'm not about to go watch every episode of Star Trek ever made, though, so I was hoping you could help me highlight those episodes that stand out.

Other examples of what I'm looking for would be the DS9 episode where they go back to the past (our future) and unemployed people live in fenced-off ghettos, which lead to riots, or the TNG finale, or the one where Riker's old commander comes back in an attempt to cover up the existence of a Federation cloaking device, or the one where they discover Scotty trapped in a transporter. Also, my favorite movie is First Contact, just because it was dramatic and well-acted.

I'm not necessarily looking for episodes that are crucial to the overarching story; don't recommend me an episode just because it was the one where the Borg were introduced, or because it was the one that established the Dominion War or something, recommend me those episodes if they are good, and could almost stand on their own and still be compelling.

And I'm definitely not looking for episodes where Quark becomes a woman, or the Doctor on Voyager sings a lot, or Data's emotion chip goes haywire, or whatever. Basically, I'm looking for the handful of episodes through all five series that I wouldn't be embarrassed to watch with my friends.

posted by malapropist to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
The Visitor was a great episode, I agree. Probably my favorite episode on my favorite Star Trek franchise.

I also really enjoyed Darmok on TNG. The interaction between Picard and Dathon (who he is explained in the wiki link) has stuck with me since I first saw it, as well as the general conceit.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:46 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best of Both Worlds. . .both parts. . . a season finale for TNG.

Good acting, great plot, etc.
posted by Danf at 12:47 PM on May 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

In the Pale Moonlight.

The DS9 episode where the Romulans are brought into the war. Lots of moral grey plus lots of Garak = great episode. I don't think you need to know a lot about the ongoing plotline but you could just give a one line intro to your friends:

The Federation is getting its ass kicked in a war against the Dominion and they're trying to get their old enemies the Romulans to make common cause against them.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 12:48 PM on May 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

The TNG episode "The Inner Light" was always one of my favorites.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:49 PM on May 7, 2010 [13 favorites]

This list is a great starting point. The #1 episode is "Darmok," which DrGirlfriend already mentioned.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:50 PM on May 7, 2010

Like you, I'm not a tremendous Trekkie; DS9 was the only series I really went out of my way to watch regularly. That said, the two episodes that have never really left me are "I, Borg" from TNG (wounded singular Borg is taken in, given a sense of his own identity, and sent back) and "Invasive Procedures" from DS9 (an unjoined Trill tries to steal Dax's symbiont).

I think the latter may have struck a particularly resonant emotional chord with me at the time I saw it because I was trying to end a relationship with someone I still loved, and the emptiness that Dax felt upon the loss of her symbiont was only too familiar and painful. "I, Borg," though, proved to be a valuable metaphor years later when I was writing a sermon on how folks from liberal religions could deal with fundamentalists. Probably the best sermon I ever wrote, too.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:51 PM on May 7, 2010

DS9, In The Pale Moonlight.

Great story, good acting, and loathed in some quarters because it challenges the basic Star Trek mythology that the Federation is always on the side of everything that is right and good and true.
posted by googly at 12:51 PM on May 7, 2010

I came in to say, regarding TNG: "The Inner Light" and "A Matter of Honor"
posted by 256 at 12:52 PM on May 7, 2010

In the original series, Turnabout Intruder is really well-acted. William Shatner doesn't get nearly enough credit for his talent.
posted by rhartong at 12:52 PM on May 7, 2010

"I, Borg" is one of my all time favorites.

Picard, pretending to invoke his authority as the Borg figurehead Locutus, attempts to confirm this lone drone as just another infectious threat, not worthy of consideration as a sapient individual:

Hugh: "Must Geordi be assimilated?"
Picard: "Yes."
H: "He does not wish it. He would rather die than be assimilated."
P: "Then he will die."
H: "No. Geordi must not die. Geordi is a friend."
P: "You will assist us to assimilate this vessel. You are Borg. You will assist us."
H: "I will not."
P: "What did you say?"
H: "I will not assist you."
P: "I?!"
H: "Geordi must not be assimilated."
P: "But you are Borg."
H: "No. I am Hugh."

Picard's terrible psychic wound from his assimilation and the atrocity he was forced to commit are there behind his words. The Best of Both Worlds (1 & 2) is, in my mind, the most important episode of TNG, because of the depth it added to Captain Picard's character.

"Course: Oblivion" is a fantastic episode of Voyager, with a sort of ship-wide Phillip K. Dick mindfuck going on.
posted by General Tonic at 12:56 PM on May 7, 2010

Love the episodes mentioned above! On the lighter side, I have always loved the DS9 episode "In the Cards" where Jake and Nog try and get a baseball card for Captain Sisko. It's not as deep or dramatic as the other episodes mentioned, but it had wonderful writing and was an extremely personal and character driven episode.
posted by Kimberly at 12:57 PM on May 7, 2010

Another one I liked was a 2-parter: Homefront and Paradise Lost, where Sisko is sent to Starfleet HQ to implement genetic testing on humans in order to weed out possible changelings, and the paranoia that ensues from the fear that changelings have infiltrated Earth.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2010

"The Wounded" from TNG Season 4 (or 3?) is a bit of an underappreciated classic in my opinion. It's the episode that introduced the Cardassians, gave Chief O'Brien some backstory, and is something of a precursor to DS9. Colm Meaney, always watchable, gets an opportunity to really give his character some depth, and dang it if it doesn't make my eyes a little misty at the end.
posted by seldomfun at 1:05 PM on May 7, 2010

I was surprised to see Chain of Command at only number 17 on the list that The Winsome Parker Lewis linked to.
posted by mhum at 1:07 PM on May 7, 2010

I felt In The Cards was a great DS9 episode. Basically Jake Sisko feels sorry for his stressed out father, and tries to cheer him up by buying a baseball card in an Auction at Quark's. But he loses the bid, and spends the rest of the episode obsessively trying to obtain it from the buyer. It's kind of a feel-good episode.
posted by Vorteks at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2010

Seconding "Tapestry". Definitely one of my favorite TNG episodes.
posted by Jinkeez at 1:18 PM on May 7, 2010

Must-see, IMO:
Balance of Terror (TOS)
Space Seed (TOS) ...obvious one: it's the Khan episode
Mirror, Mirror (TOS)
The Inner Light (TNG)
Chain of Command I & II (TNG)
In the Pale Moonlight (DS9)

Some other good ones:
The City on the Edge of Forever (TOS)
All Our Yesterdays (TOS)
Trials and Tribble-ations (DS9) but only if you appreciate/tolerate the original series :)
Take Me Out to the Holosuite (DS9) but only if you love baseball.

I actually can't think of a single Voyager episode that I can guarantee you "wouldn't be embarrassed" to watch with friends. Not to say I hate the show. It's just... yeah.
posted by AugieAugustus at 1:25 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a huge TOS fan and I think AugieAugustus has a good list, two more I would ad would be, "Galileo 7" about when the crew except for kirk get stranded on a shuttle on the surface of a planet populated by savage giants. And while the giants and their huge rubber spears are laughable, Spock's first attempt at command along with him questioning if logic is enough is a great episode. The other one I would ad is Amok Time another great Spock episode where Spock is going through Pon Far or the blood fever and must return to his planet or he will die to mate. OOOOH, wait another one, The Menagerie, Spock (can you tell I like Spock?) diverts the enterprise to save his former commander and return him to a forbidden planet, the only planet in the system for which the death penalty still exists!!!!! OOOOOOh, wait one, more, The Naked Time, a "space disease" attacks the crew and they basically become "drunk" was redone in the Naked Now? in TNG. There's a great scene where Spock's all drunkey and mopey and he says, "Jim, when I call you friend I feel ashamed." ZOMG mefite asker person, NOOOOOW I'm gonna end up at home tonight watching all the tos episodes.

TOS is soooooo underrated, you should really try out some episodes they are all online free at CBS.com.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 1:38 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

TNG: Tapestry. Probably my favourite TNG episode. Every moment is wonderful and it features Q (always a bonus).

TNG: All Good Things... (the two-parter finale)
posted by cranberrymonger at 2:09 PM on May 7, 2010

Oh, and if you haven't already seen DS9: Far Beyond the Stars, you definitely should watch it. It's similar to DS9: The Visitor, in some ways.
posted by cranberrymonger at 2:12 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was speculation of Metafilter recently about the merits of I, Borg. It was always a favorite of mine and one that I actually owned on VHS back in the day.
posted by yeti at 2:17 PM on May 7, 2010

Voyager lover here (Grrr Augie:). I can't always recall names of episodes, but try "Work force" (2 parter) "Future's end" (another 2 parter and guest starring Sarah Silverman!)
posted by hollyanderbody at 2:28 PM on May 7, 2010

The Devil in the Dark -- the Shat's favourite episode. For once he was right: this one should be in any top-10 list of Star Trek episodes.
posted by mcwetboy at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2010

I actually can't watch "Darmok" any more, after working at a company named after a reference on the show. (Oh god, the nerdiness the first dot-com bubble had...)

And I have an oh-so-wrong fondness for Voyager's "The Chute", which you should not watch for quality, but, instead, for the sheer comic value. (It could be a drunk party double bill with "Threshold".)

But, oh man, "Far Beyond The Stars". Everything about it is perfect. The first time I saw it, I hadn't been watching Deep Space Nine for years - completely lost track of it while I was at college. But I turned it on one day, and this episode, this utterly perfect beautiful episode was on.

Because it gets into the amazing things that you forget about while you're buried in the Dominion War and Changelings and Quark becoming a woman and all that malarkey. There is a strong black man in charge of a space station. He has a woman as his second-in-command and another woman as his chief science officer.

When you remember that, and you see what heart-breakingly happens with Benny Russell, you're amazed that we've managed to come this far in so little time.

To me, it's one of the finest pieces of science fiction ever shown on television.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:13 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

TNG might have been the better series, but I only really care about TOS. In addition to AugieAugustus's list, see "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "Naked Time" and teh 2-part episode, "The Menagerie".
posted by DarkForest at 3:16 PM on May 7, 2010

Any of the two-parter cliffhangers would be worth looking at. My memory is hazy on episode titles, but I suspect that a few of them have been mentioned, based on the descriptions. This thread is making me want to watch the whole series over from the beginning.
posted by jquinby at 3:28 PM on May 7, 2010

Seriously, "Chain of Command" (TNG). I still get chills thinking of the ending.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:32 PM on May 7, 2010

I agree with most of what's been said here, and I'll add The Emissary just because I like Worf's girlfriend (the actress was later cast as Q's girlfriend IIRC, and I liked her then too), and The Perfect Mate, not only because it introduced me to Famke Janssen, but because it grazed up against some interesting existential questions.

From Enterprise, A Mirror Darkly, set in the "mirror mirror" universe. They even re-did the credits to make it seem like the episode was produced in the mirror mirror universe. Love it. Enterprise was interesting as a series: initially they tried to make it appealing to non-fans, but after that didn't pay off, seasons 3 and 4 were baldly designed to please old-time fans (like me).
posted by adamrice at 3:33 PM on May 7, 2010

My favourites are already listed above: I Borg, Darmok, The Inner Light
posted by kch at 3:42 PM on May 7, 2010

I wasn't even a big fan of the series, but definitely, Chain of Command is a fantastic episode. Patrick Stewart"s acting is absolutely stunning, and definitely worth watching.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to remember a TNG episode that I really liked. All I can remember about it is that it featured Dr. Crusher and maybe had some sort of spacetime distortions (like time travel or parallel universes or something). Anyone know this one?
posted by neuron at 3:57 PM on May 7, 2010

I tend to like DS9 because of the gritty realism. That said, I'd recommend The Seige of AR-558 because of the moving scenes with Armin Shimerman and Aron Eisenberg. The Ferengi become more than just jokes and the scene where Quark talks to Nog about how dangerous humans can be is great. I also like Waltz because of Marc Alaimo's fantastic acting. He's crazy without being over the top.
posted by blueskiesinside at 4:04 PM on May 7, 2010

They've been mentioned already, but I have to add my shout out for "The Inner Light" and "Darmok".

"The Inner Light" is the only time I actually wept at a Star Trek episode.
posted by darkstar at 4:14 PM on May 7, 2010

Neuron: You're almost certainly thinking of Remember Me.
posted by Mwongozi at 4:22 PM on May 7, 2010

Nthing "In the Pale Moonlight" and "Far Beyond the Stars." DS9 had by far the most episodes that were not just "good for a Star Trek episode," but legitimately good television... and while Voyager was amusing in a way, it probably didn't have *any* in that category.
posted by andrewpendleton at 4:33 PM on May 7, 2010

Since there's little love for Voyager, I'll add in my favorite: Year Of Hell.

DS9 I thought was pretty damn well written from Season 4-6. Season 7 was flat and unsatisfyingly paced.

Heh. I referred to Darmok just this week in a class on web development I've been teaching. About how we look at development logic like flowcharts and then can see, in our heads, metaphors for each of them based on our experience. That is, "validate form" to web devs means something in our heads -- in particular, JavaScript form validation code. But more than that, if you see the metaphor, you can then apply it to ANY code, so long as you know how the language is spoken. So "call the database and send it a SQL statement" may be phrased differently in PHP vs Python, but the principle is the same.

It was completely lost on the class. But it made perfect sense to me.
posted by dw at 4:38 PM on May 7, 2010

Favourite episode above all: Far Beyond The Stars. But that one is better if you and your friends have already watched a bunch so you can appreciate the cast without the usual garb and makeup. Really got to me.

Second: In the Pale Moonlight.

Third: The Inner Light.

Now if you like The Inner Light, you might find this followup cheesy or you might find it touching, but I loved that Picard played his "Ressik flute" -- with (romantic) accompaniment this time -- in Lessons.

I happen to think the linked episodes in the Dominion War sequence hold up very well, and aren't going to embarrass anyone, if your friends aren't into the touchy-feely stuff. As a result, I rather like the six-episode arc that begins season six of DS9.

And if you're a Colm Meaney fan, you might enjoy Honor Among Thieves -- your basic organized crime/undercover episode, done sci-fi. Not bad at all.

For horror value (rare in ST), I'll recommend Schisms. It's pretty freaky by Star Trek standards, and is a good stand-alone.

I'll also recommend Clues -- like In The Pale Moonlight (though nowhere near as cool), I like the theme of Starfleet officers hiding things or possessing knowledge that never makes it into official record.

Finally, my controversial pick -- I think some people will wince at this but I sure liked it -- is Frame of Mind -- a 6th season ST:TNG episode where Riker, prepping to play a character in a mental asylum in a theatrical production, seems to be actually losing his mind.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:47 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend "The City on the Edge of Forever" (TOS), written by famous curmudgeon Harlan Ellison. Kirk goes back in time to 1930's Earth, where he meets and falls in love with a community organizer / peace activist (played by Joan Collins) -- who must die to prevent her influence from delaying the American entry into WWII, which would have let the Nazi's win. Is one woman's life worth history as he knows it? Basically, he comes to grips with Spock's "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one" maxim, which is referenced in many forms throughout many of the best episodes of Star Trek.


In the episode, Kirk must let her be hit by a truck while crossing the street, without running to save her. But in the original version of Ellison's script, Kirk actually has to push her into its path. Or so I've heard.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:58 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Surprised no one's mentioned Duet, which is the first inkling that DS9 is going to live way more in the gray areas than any other Trek.

Also worth mentioning is Space Seed for Ricardo Montalban's performance as Khan.

I'll also second In the Pale Moonlight, Far Beyond the Stars, Waltz, The Inner Light, Tapestry (very underrated because most of the episodes with Q are just funny, and this one was actually way more than that), and City on the Edge of Forever
posted by hobgadling at 5:15 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions! I think andrewpendelton nails what I'm trying to find; not just "good for a Star Trek episode" but legitimately good television, and yes I agree that after seeing a lot of it, Voyager probably has no episodes of that kind. (Year of Hell is "okay for a Star Trek episode," and that's it.)

Seems like a shame. I've always had some kind of attraction to Star Trek just because the franchise has spanned so many different series and situations, it seems like a really good opportunity to create a fully fleshed-out universe with many interconnections, but in practice most of it is just shlock. Still, when it's good, it's good. Thanks all!
posted by malapropist at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2010

Well, I guess people have already covered "The Inner Light" from TNG. It was an amazing episode.

I'm also fond of "Disaster", another great TNG episode. It's a character development piece, but I thought it was rather well done.

I also really liked "The Lower Decks", which basically was an episode of TNG seen through the eyes of a group of junior officers, instead of from the POV of the bridge crew as usual.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:58 PM on May 7, 2010

Oh, also, "Tapestry" was another really good TNG one. "Q" episodes usually are a bit tiresome, but I liked this one.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:59 PM on May 7, 2010

In the Pale Moonlight...Lots of moral grey plus lots of Garak = great episode.

For reals, yo.

I’m going to second DS9’s Duet, though. Harris Yulin’s portrayal of Marrizta is just awesome.
posted by Garak at 6:25 PM on May 7, 2010

I'm surprised not to see DS9's Rules of Engagement yet. Watching Avery Brooks square off against Ron Canada in the courtroom is a delight.
From Enterprise, see Strange New World. The first part is a joyous look at how things could be when we finally get out of our own solar system; the second part is excellent drama.
posted by bryon at 6:46 PM on May 7, 2010

I think about "Darmok" and "The Inner Light" pretty regularly, haven't seen an episode in years, but both stuck with me as they obviously have for others.
posted by togdon at 8:26 PM on May 7, 2010

If good acting, good writing, and universal subject matter is what you're looking for, City on the Edge of Forever (TOS) is excellent.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:46 PM on May 7, 2010

Throw in another vote for City on the Edge of Forever. It sticks out in my mind as being more thrilling and suspenseful than I'd expected.

Also, and I don't know if this recommendation counts, because I can't remember the whole episode - but one of my favorite things in any ST series was right in the first episode of Deep Space 9. Sisko must explain linear time and our fascination with the unknown to omniscient aliens, which he does with the example of a baseball game. I found it fascinating and well written, and one of the few times that the show really rose above the average and sold me on the excitement and limitless possibilities of the exploring our final frontier.
posted by Monster_Zero at 11:23 PM on May 7, 2010

"The Chase" from TNG.
posted by spaltavian at 8:19 AM on May 8, 2010

Good on you for liking "The Visitor," which is my favorite episode of any TV series, ever.

Plenty of people have covered TOS, TNG, and DS9 here pretty well; I won't repeat those recommendations except for seconding the mention of DS9's "Duet."

I agree that after seeing a lot of it, Voyager probably has no episodes of that kind.

I'd wager you haven't seen Real Life.

Also, there seems to be a shortage of Enterprise recommendations in this thread, so I'll suggest Dear Doctor, Carbon Creek, and Observer Effect.

From your question, I'm guessing you're not so much looking for an extended arc over a number of episodes, but if you are, I can't recommend the Enterprise second season finale (The Expanse) plus the entire third season of Enterprise. While Enterprise isn't my favorite series overall, the third season of Enterprise is by far my favorite single season of any Star Trek series. The writers and actors do an outstanding job of telling a single compelling story. (One side note: at the end of season three, just when the main conflict seems resolved, they throw in a cliffhanger not much related to the main plot of season three and spend the first two episodes of season four resolving it. It's safe to skip those and jump to Home, the third episode of season four, which provides a proper denouement to the events of season three, and should have followed it directly.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:49 PM on May 9, 2010

OK, another. I'm going to recommend the Voyager episode The Thaw. It was a totally psycho episode with Michael McKean as guest star.
posted by adamrice at 12:50 PM on May 10, 2010

I always liked the TNG episode 'Conspiracy' simply because it threw a curveball - an alien parasite that was smart enough to go directly for controlling the bodies of upper officers in Starfleet. Too bad they never revisited the plotline; they left it wide open with the 'signal beamed to a distant quadrant' at the end, but never followed it up.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:11 PM on May 12, 2010

« Older FurnitureFilter: Please help us find a stylish...   |   How do I get this off of my concrete floor? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.