Essential Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes to Watch Before Star Trek: Picard

These are the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes that will tell you everything you need to know about Jean-Luc Picard.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Picard

Before Star Trek: Picard launches, it’s perfectly natural to want to remind yourself what Jean-Luc Picard was up to last time we saw him. Sadly, we don’t have anywhere near enough time to binge all 172 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, let alone the four additional movies.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help, with a manageable(ish) list of Picard’s highlights throughout the series, giving you the backstory you need for the plots we think are going to turn up, as well as just the highlights of Jean-Luc Picard himself.

Before we begin, a note on spoilers: We’ve only seen the trailers, so we’re guessing at which of these episodes will turn out to be super important to the new series, but if you want to go into the new series completely clean then proceed with caution.

1. “Encounter at Farpoint” (Season 1, Episode 1)

How essential? 1/5

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Okay, if you’re a completionist, this is the obvious place to start. The very first adventure of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-bloody-D. We’re introduced to the characters, to the concept of Starfleet, to the world of the 24th century. There are plotlines here, from Q, to Picard’s obviously discomfort around children, to Riker and Troi’s romance that will be picked up on throughout the series, the movies and even possibly into Star Trek: Picard itself.

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The only trouble is, it’s not very good. I mean, not just “rough around the edges.” It’s really hard going to watch and it’s nearly two hours long. Just saying, if you skip this, nobody’s going to think less of you.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode The Measure of a Man

2. “The Measure of a Man” (Season 2, Episode 9)

How essential? 3/5

The Federation is the ultimate post-capitalist, post-scarcity, post-exploitation society. It is fair and democratic and offers opportunity for all. So it’s pretty weird that they seem so keen on getting their very own slave race. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Author, Author,” we learn that not only does the sentient, intelligent EMH not have enough legal personhood to own the copyright on his own work, but also that identical, equally sentient copies of him are mining asteroids with pick-axes. In The Next Generation episode “Quality of Life” Data has to argue for the rights of intelligent machines that Starfleet just really wants to exploit.

But it all starts with this episode, where Data is forced to go to court to prove Starfleet doesn’t have the right to dissect him to make more Datas. We can’t say for sure if this issue will rear its ugly head in the new series. But we do know we see a lot of Data (or possibly B-4) parts in a drawer, and a warehouse full of extremely pale figures with very blank expressions…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Q Who

3. “Q Who” (Season 2, Episode 16)

How essential? 3/5

The very first Borg episode! Technically, the Borg arc starts with the Season 1 finale, “The Neutral Zone,” but you can happily skip that one as all they see are some big craters where colonies used to be.

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This is a really strong episode, with some fantastic Q action, and a real feeling that the Star Trek universe is a much bigger and scarier place than we’ve seen until now. It’s also worth watching just to see how different the Borg are from the robo-zombies we see in First Contact and Voyager. These Borg are strange, alien, grow their babies in drawers and are completely uninterested in primitive organics. More than that, no ship in the entire history of Star Trek has ever seemed as outmatched as the Enterprise is here, leaving Picard with no option but to beg for a literal deus ex machina.

But of course, that’s only the beginning of his problems…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Allegiance

4. “Allegiance” (Season 3, Episode 18)

How essential? 2/5

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This episode is basically the 1997 horror movie, Cube, but with Captain Picard and three randomly-selected aliens. Does it have any relevance to any long-term story arcs that might pop up in Picard? Probably not. But it gives us a chance to see Picard with his ship and crew taken away from him, which is a good primer on the character ahead of the series.

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We also get to see Patrick Stewart have tons of fun playing his own alien double, flirting with Crusher and even starting a sing-a-long in Ten Forward!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Captain's Holiday

5. “Captain’s Holiday” (Season 3, Episode 19)

How essential? 2/5

Again, very little in the way of long-term plot here, but we get to see Picard in a completely new environment – on holiday. Aside from Risa being a not-great idea that the franchise then runs into the ground later, and the camera man on this episode enjoying the skimpy outfits way too much, this is a fun episode where Picard gets to pursue his great passion, space archaeology, and also enjoy a rare bit of holiday romance.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode The Best of Both Worlds

6. “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I and II” (Season 3, Episode 26 and Season 4, Episode 1)

How essential? 4/5

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Does this episode need any introduction? The sequel to “Q Who,” where the Borg finally take on the Federation and attempt to assimilate Earth, is pretty legendary and one of the most influential stories in the franchise, with repercussions that are felt throughout nearly every series of Star Trek that follows (including, somehow, Enterprise).

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It’s also a huge life moment in the life of Picard, and so it’s surprising how little he actually features in this two-parter. The first episode seems primarily concerned with why Riker won’t get a new job already, while in the second episode, Picard spends mostly under several layers of cybernetic implants.

Still, it’s worth watching to contextualize everything that comes after, and to see the first time the Federation faces a truly existential threat.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Family

7. “Family” (Season 4, Episode 2)

How essential? 5/5

If you’re really pushed for time and you’ve seen Star Trek: The Next Generation before, you can probably skip all the episodes on this list so far. But this one is absolutely crucial. Aside from the fact that Picard’s family and the vineyard he will one day retire to both see their debut in this episode, it’s also the episode that, more than any other, really digs deep into Picard’s character and the emotional fallout of his time with the Borg. You should definitely try to see this before Picard starts.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Qpid

8. “Qpid” (Season 4, Episode 20)

How essential? 2/5

Not one you really have to watch unless you became really invested in Picard’s romance plot from “Captain’s Holiday.” However, it’s worth watching to see the crew’s reaction to the relationship (finding it hilarious) and of course, Q’s (offering to help while acting the entire time like a spurned lover). With the entire crew transported into Q’s make-believe Robin Hood adventure, it’s clear everyone involved in the making of this episode had an absolute hoot.

Even Worf seems a little bit merry.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Darmok

9. “Darmok” (Season 5, Episode 2)

How essential? 3/5

Another great stand-alone episode, this time with Picard stranded on a planet with an alien captain who can only speak in memes, a concept that probably wasn’t as sharply satirical when it was first broadcast.

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This episode really shows Picard at his very best, doing the thing he’s made for and what Star Trek is all about: encountering and trying to understand new forms of life.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode I, Borg

10. “I, Borg” (Season 5, Episode 23)

How essential? 4/5

Here we get to see Picard continue to deal with the emotional fallout of his time in the Borg collective, but it also gives us a brand new perspective on the Borg by doing the very Star Trek thing of showing us the sympathetic side of the merciless monsters we’ve seen in previous Borg episodes. It’s also an episode that we have reason to believe may have direct consequences for some storylines in Star Trek: Picard.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Inner Light

11. “The Inner Light” (Season 5, Episode 25)

How essential? 5/5

Okay, the odds are we won’t see anything about this episode in Star Trek: Picard, but it’s also arguably hands down the best Picard story ever written. This story, where Picard lives out an entire simulated life after an alien probe blasts him in the brain, shows us Picard doing everything that Picard would never do.

Picard has always been adamant he doesn’t need a family, but in this episode we see him become a father and grandfather. Picard would never abandon his ship, and yet here we see him put his memories of the Enterprise behind him to live a more domestic life. Picard would never give up, even against the most insurmountable odds, and yet here we see him come to accept the approaching deaths of his family and the world he’s learned to call home.

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The only long term consequence of this story plot-wise is that Picard learns to play the flute, but you feel like he’s a changed person at the end of it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Tapestry

12. “Tapestry” (Season 6, Episode 15)

How essential? 5/5

In this Star Trek take on It’s A Wonderful Life, Picard gets to go back to his youth and correct a mistake that ultimately leads to his untimely death. Like “The Inner Light,” we get to see Picard differently to how we ever have before, as a brash young man and as a frustrated junior officer who lived out his life without ever achieving his potential, and in doing so we find out why he is the person he is.

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More importantly, this episode has some Grade A material for Picard/Q shippers.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Starship Mine

13. “Starship Mine” (Season 6, Episode 25)

How essential? 3/5

Die Hard on the Enterprise, with Picard playing Bruce Willis. You don’t really need to say anything more than that, other than that this episode also features Tuvok’s evil twin.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Descent

14. “Descent, Parts I and II” (Season 6, Episode 26 and Season 7, Episode 1)

How essential? 3/5

Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite episodes, and it’s more of a Data story than a Picard one, but it also shows us the consequences of Picard’s decisions in “I, Borg” and what happened to Hugh, which are both things it’ll be useful to know about going into Star Trek: Picard.

Plus it features a cameo by Stephen Hawking.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Gambit

15. “Gambit, Parts I and II” (Season 7, Episode 4 and Season 7, Episode 5)

How essential? 3/5

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This combines a whole bunch of things you want to see before the Picard series. He’s outside of Starfleet, outside of the law, and most importantly, he’s doing space archaeology! Yes, he’s undercover for Starfleet Intelligence, but it’s a lot of fun seeing Picard play a ruthless, amoral badass version of himself.

16. “All Good Things” (Season 7, Episode 25)

How essential? 5/5

You made it! You’ve seen all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation you need to prepare you for Picard, and so you get this as a special treat. A grand tour of Picard’s life from when he first boards the Enterprise before “Encounter at Farpoint” to twenty years into his own future when he’s retired and working on a vineyard (which you might notice is where he starts from at the beginning of Star Trek: Picard.

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More than that, it’s a wonderful meditation on the meaning of Star Trek, and just leaves you feeling really nice afterwards.

Tom Hardy and Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Nemesis

Postscript: The Movies

If you are a completionist you might have noticed that there are four movies between “All Good Things” and Star Trek: Picard. Now, personally, I think that “All Good Things” is the perfect end to The Next Generation, and the perfect jumping on point for the Picard series, but each of The Next Generation movies had something to add to the Picard story that will probably have outcomes in the Picard series.

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Star Trek: Generations tells us what happens to Picard’s brother and nephew who we last saw in “Family.” It delves into Picard’s own feelings about family and having children of his own, shows him meeting Captain Kirk, and destroys the Enterprise D.

Star Trek: First Contact is just a full-on Borg action movie, and probably the best movie of the bunch, even if it does introduce the Borg Queen.

Star Trek: Insurrection shows Picard rebelling against the Federation. Or at least one bad Starfleet admiral. “Insurrection” may be a strong word for it, to be honest.

Star Trek: Nemesis sees Picard face off against his evil clone (a young Tom Hardy, who oddly enough sounds less like Patrick Stewart in this than he does playing Bane and The Dark Knight Rises). It also shows us Troi and Riker’s wedding, kills off Data (while replacing him with a less good clone), and shows us the developing relationship between the Federation and the Romulans, which will likely have consequences in Star Trek: Picard. Nemesis does all this and definitively disproves the “All even numbered Star Trek movies are good” rule.

Honorable Mentions: The cold open to “The Pegasus,” Season 7, Episode 12, introduces us to the concept of Captain Picard Day, the purest holiday of the year. For more of Picard’s grouchy child supervision you can also watch “Disaster,” Season 5, Episode 5, where he’s trapped in a lift with three children in his care.

Star Trek: Picard debuts on January 23rd on CBS All-Access. 

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