Choosing even 50 episodes of an iconic show like Star Trekis a monumentally difficult task. Since its launch in 1966, the Star TrekTVuniversehas spanned 726 episodes across six different series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Star Trek has meant so much to so many. It has imagined a better future where humanity — not to mention a fair few alien races — have come together to explore the universe in peace. Sure, peace doesn’t always go as planned, but, in the world of Star Trek, it is something our protagonists actively strive for. Star Trek has come to define the best in science fiction storytelling, and was experimenting with what the TV form is possible of long before Golden Age serials like The Sopranosor Breaking Badcame on the scene.
With Star Trek about to begin a new era with Star Trek: Discovery, here are 50 examples of the very best storytelling this fictional universe defined by optimism, cooperation, and exploration has to offer…
Star Trek: The Original Series
“Charlie X” (1×02)
Written by D.C. Fontana / Directed by Lawrence Dobkin
The second Star Trek episode ever telecast (on September 15, 1966), “Charlie X” guest stars Robert Walker Jr. as Charles Evans, a 17-year-old boy who has somehow survived alone on the planet Thasus for 14 years after the ship he was traveling in crashed there.
Awkward, lonely, and emotionally underdeveloped, Charlie soon exhibits vast powers that allow him to transform or destroy matter and make objects — and people — disappear. His wanton, childish use of his powers — especially related to his crush on Yeoman Rand — threatens the entire crew of the Enterprise until Charlie’s fate is decided in one last, haunting confrontation.
Certain aspects of this story haven’t aged well, but Walker is excellent as the mercurial and impulsive Charlie, whose interactions with Kirk, Rand and others turn from endearing to annoying to frightening. Like all great science fiction, “Charlie X” examines a subject relevant to the present — in this case, a rebellious teenager flexing his muscles and seeing what he can get away with — through the enhanced prism of the genre.
— Don Kaye
“The Corbomite Maneuver” (1×10)
Written by Jerry Sohl / Directed by Joseph Sargent
“The Corbomite Maneuver” is a first in many ways for Star Trek. It was the first episode shot once regular production began (not including the two series pilots) — although it ended up airing 10th in the first season. As a result, it also marked the first time DeForest Kelley (McCoy), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand) set foot on the Star Trek sets. And, in many ways, this tale of first contact with the odd representative of an unknown alien race set the tone for many episodes to follow.
After being attacked by an automated space buoy in an uncharted region of space, the Enterprise is approached by a massive alien vessel whose captain — a goblin-like creature named Balok — says he will destroy the Enterprise for trespassing into “First Federation” territory. What happens next is essentially a game of chicken between Kirk and Balok, with the former gambling on a high-stakes bluff in order to prevent the annihilation of his ship.
The final scenes take an unexpected turn as Kirk reaches out to Balok in a gesture of peace — and the alien’s true nature is revealed. Cerebral yet still thrilling, and packed with lots of nice character touches, “The Corbomite Maneuver” remains one of the most thoughtful episodes of the entire franchise.
— Don Kaye
“Balance of Terror” (1×14)
Written by Paul Schneider / Directed by Vincent McEveety
“Balance of Terror” was one of the most suspenseful episodes of the original series. Captain Kirk and a Romulan commander (Mark Lenard) play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in space.
“Balance of Terror” was based on the 1957 war movie classic The Enemy Below, which was based on a novel by British naval officer Denys Rayner. The source material adds to the realism and to the danger. The movie told about a battle of strategy between the captain of an American destroyer vessel and the commander of a German U-boat during World War II. In the film, the damaged ship has to mimic the movements of the damaged submarine in order to register on the sonar as an echo.
The season one episode supplements the original story into space technology. The Romulan Bird of Prey has a cloaking device, which renders it invisible unless engaged in battle, but also obscures visibility while in stealth mode. In both stories, skippers give commands to jettison dead bodies along with trash in order to appear disabled.
This episode introduced the concept of the Neutral Zone and explored racial prejudice. Romulans and Vulcans look alike — so alike, in fact, that the vessel’s commander could almost pass for Spock’s father. This causes a distinct paranoia on board. The captains in all versions leave with a deep respect for their opponents. The episode is completely satisfying on multiple levels.
— Tony Sokol
Written by Gene L. Coon from a story by Fredric Brown / Directed by Joseph Pevney
“Arena” has it all: An action-packed plot, two new alien species to contend with — one savage, the other advanced — and a larger cosmic theme behind it all.
The Enterprise pays a routine visit to an outpost on Cestus Three only to find it obliterated, with the ship itself coming under attack from the same alien vessel. The Enterprise gives pursuit, following the alien into unexplored space, and both soon find themselves at the mercy of a far superior race called the Metrons whose territory they have intruded on.
The Metrons take Kirk and the captain of the alien ship — a reptilian race called the Gorn — and pit them against each other on a rocky planet, claiming that the winner’s ship will go free while the loser’s craft will be destroyed.
According to various sources, Coon wrote his script without realizing that the great sci-fi writer Fredric Brown had penned a story with very similar ideas years earlier. Rather than risk legal action — even though, by all accounts, Coon was unaware of Brown’s tale — the show purchased Brown’s story and gave him credit.
The “two opposing forces meet in an arena” idea has been used many times in sci-fi — Star Trek itself would adapt it for several more TOS episodes like “The Gamesters of Triskelion” and “The Savage Curtain” — but “Arena” arguably did it best (if you can overlook the fact that the Gorn is a man in a very stiff rubber costume). Still scared the heck out of me as a kid…
— Don Kaye
“The Devil in the Dark” (1×25)
Written by Gene L. Coon / Directed by Joseph Pevney
The Enterprise is sent to investigate a series of mysterious deaths at a mining colony deep under the surface of Janus VI, where miners are being found charred to a crisp with no explanation.
The culprit turns out to be a creature unlike any form of life the Enterprise has ever encountered, in that it is based on silicon, not carbon, and uses acid as both a way to tunnel through the interior of the planet and as a defensive weapon. After it is wounded, Spock mind-melds with it and learns that it is the last member of a race called the Horta, charged with protecting the eggs that will renew the species — eggs that the miners have been inadvertently destroying.
William Shatner has called “The Devil in the Dark” his favorite TOS episode, and it’s easy to see why: Coon’s script is nearly perfect and the story encapsulates everything that is best about Star Trek — i.e. what initially seems to be a menace turns out to be something that leads us to a higher understanding of life in the universe.
Spock’s anguished mind-meld with the imaginatively designed Horta is a showstopper, and the episode also contains the first time Dr. McCoy ever utters his trademark “I’m a doctor not a ——-“ (in this case he’s not a bricklayer).
— Don Kaye
“The City on the Edge of Forever” (1×28)
Written by Harlan Ellison / Directed by Joseph Pevney
Still The Original Series episode to beat, this tragic tale sends Kirk and Spock back in time to Depression-era New York, where they must track down Dr. McCoy after an accidental drug overdose has made him crazy enough to jump through an ancient time portal and alter all of history.
In the past, Kirk meets and falls deeply in love with an angelic woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) — only to learn that McCoy stopping her from dying in a car accident is the catalyst for history being changed. “Jim,” Spock intones gravely, “Edith Keeler must die.”
Gene Roddenberry rewrote sci-fi legend Ellison’s original teleplay — much to Ellison’s fury — but this is still an elegant, beautifully-crafted hour of television, with Shatner and Nimoy at their best and Collins radiant as the doomed Edith.
Winner of both a Hugo Award and a Writer’s Guild Award, this is sweeping science fiction that presents Jim Kirk with perhaps the most difficult and painful decision of his life, and its etched all over Shatner’s face in the closing scenes. “Do you know what you just did?” “He knows, doctor. He knows.”
— Don Kaye
“Amok Time” (2×01)
Written by Theodore Sturgeon / Directed by Joseph Pevney
If you ask fans of The Original Serieswhat made the show so special, many will point to the relationship between Kirk and Spock — and this is one of the best, early examples of just how much the rogue captain cared about his stoic bestie.
When Spock begins to act strangely and requests time off (the strangest behavior of all), Kirk and McCoy are immediately concerned. It eventually comes out that Spock is in the midst of pon farr, a condition that hits adult male Vulcans every seven years. If he doesn’t mate within a week, he will die.
The ship reroutes to Vulcan (against Starfleet orders) to make it to Spock’s wedding (yeah, Spock’s been playing a lot of things characteristically close to the chest). T’Pring, Spock’s intended, manipulates the koon-ut-kahlifee ceremony so that Spock — incoherent, at this point, in the grips of blood fever — and Kirk must fight to the death. I won’t spoil the ending, if you haven’t seen it, though I will say it involves Spock actually smiling…
This is a great episode, and the perfect installment for the season two premiere. It’s fun to watch fan-favorite Spock slowly lose it, literally throwing Nurse Chapel’s proffered bowl of plomeek soup against the wall. It’s the first time we see Vulcan, a world that has remained one of the most important planets in the Star Trek universe. It also exemplifies just how far Kirk will go to save his friend (and how often it is McCoy’s exasperated help that will actually save them).
Perhaps most importantly, though? This is the first time we ever see the Vulcan salute and hear the now-iconic “live long and prosper” that traditionally accompanies it. For that alone, this episode holds a special spot in Star Trekhistory.
— Kayti Burt
“Mirror, Mirror” (2×04)
Written by Jerome Bixby / Directed by Marc Daniels
One of the best remembered episodes of TOS finds Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura caught in a dimensional shift caused by an ion storm while beaming up from a diplomatic mission.
They materialize on an alternate universe Enterprise that is now part of a brutal empire quite unlike the Federation. Their mission is one of conquest, not peace, and officers on the ship get ahead through murder and sabotage. Most shockingly, the ship’s bearded Spock is a man of ruthless calculation and power — but still logical enough to deduce that something is very off about his returned captain (whose barbaric counterpart is quickly thrown in the brig by “our” Spock in “our” universe).
The fun of this episode, of course, is watching mirror versions of Chekov, Sulu, and other crew members plot, conspire, and essentially act like space pirates, while the foursome from “our” universe — now known as Prime, I guess — do their best to fit in.
“Mirror, Mirror” is a true ensemble piece. Everyone has something to do, and its simple-yet-clear premise is delivered with maximum suspense and thrills. The show boasts yet another brilliant Nimoy performance and a stirring final speech from “our” Kirk as he tries to convince the mirror Spock to make some changes.
The mirror universe was such a fan favorite that Deep Space Nine returned to it years later in five episodes, Enterprise visited it in a two-parter in “In A Mirror, Darkly,” and Voyagerplayed with its qualities in “Living Witness.” Its legacy continues on long past The Original Series.
— Don Kaye
“The Doomsday Machine” (2×06)
Written by Norman Spinrad / Directed by Marc Daniels
The Enterprise receives a distress call from the U.S.S. Constellation and discovers the ship, wrecked and abandoned, adrift in the rubble of a destroyed solar system. Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and a boarding party beam over and discover one survivor — Commodore Matt Decker (William Windom), the ship’s captain, who informs them that the ship was attacked by a giant weapon that smashes planets and ingests them as fuel.
Decker and McCoy beam back to the Enterprise as the thing — an automated robot that has wandered into our galaxy from parts unknown — reappears and heads for the next solar system in its path. An obsessed Decker seizes control of the Enterprise from Spock in a futile effort to destroy the weapon as Kirk watches helplessly from the other ship.
“The Doomsday Machine” is heavily inspired by Moby Dick, with Decker (a great, hammy performance from the terrific character actor Windom) as Ahab. There is a nice subtext about what happens when weapons of great power — the kind that are never meant to actually be used — are misplaced or lost.
Marc Daniels directs for maximum tension, both in the personal conflict between Decker and Spock and in the climactic countdown as Kirk literally rides a nuclear bomb down the thing’s throat. The episode also boasts one of the series’ best scores (by Sol Kaplan).
— Don Kaye
“Journey to Babel” (2×10)
Written by D.C. Fontana / Directed by Joseph Pevney
“Journey to Babel” is one of three outstanding TOS episodes — along with the aforementioned “Amok Time” and “This Side of Paradise” — to delve deeply into the psyche and personal history of Mr. Spock.
This perfectly written and executed story explores the relationship between Spock and his parents: the Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) and his human wife Amanda (Jane Wyatt). Spock and Sarek are estranged, not speaking for years since Spock gave up his studies at the Vulcan Science Academy to join Starfleet, while Amanda tries desperately to reconcile them.
As the Enterprise shuttles a group of planetary delegates to a crucial peace summit, Sarek becomes suspected of murdering another ambassador and falls ill. Meanwhile, an attempt is made on Kirk’s life and a mysterious ship shadows the Enterprise. Does Spock provide his father with the transfusion he needs to survive or stay at his post on the bridge and allow Sarek to die?
The story’s multiple, criss-crossing plotlines and the emotional drama between Spock and his parents (this may be Nimoy’s all-time best performance on the show) make this journey riveting from start to finish.
— Don Kaye
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Written by D.C. Fontana / Directed by Hal Sutherland
Star Trek: The Animated Series isn’t exactly the most fondly remembered of the six Star Trekseries, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its moments. Most impressively, this early episode — a direct sequel to The Original Series’“City on the Edge of Forever” — that let us explore Vulcan and hang out with Spock’s family in a way we had previously never been able to do. Ah, the power of animation.
In “Yesteryear,” Spock has been accidentally erased from the timeline and must go back to his childhood to save a younger version of himself from death by poisonous desert creature. Adult Spock poses as Selek, a distant cousin of Sarek. In the process, we get to meet young, unsure, bullied Spock (and this feels a lot like the beginning of the Star Trekreboot film) who is pretty adorable, spend some time with Spock’s parents, and learn a bit more about Vulcan culture.
Added bonus? We get to see Adult Spock assure Young Spock that he will eventually find his place in the world. It’s heartwarming.
— Kayti Burt
Star Trek: The Next Generation
“The Measure of a Man” (2×09)
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass / Directed by Robert Scheerer
Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t have the strongest first couple seasons — though its second is (bearded) heads and shoulders above the first. Season two was when it really started to find its footing, as best exemplified by “The Measure of a Man,” in which Captain Picard has to argue on Data’s behalf that the android is, in fact, a sentient being with the right to determine his own fate and what can and cannot be done with his own body.
Is there any more stirring, eloquent Picard line than the following, which he delivers in his rousing closing argument: “Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits, waiting.” I think not. Picard out.
— Kayti Burt
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” (3×15)
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, from a story by Trent Christopher Ganino and Eric A. Stillwell / Directed by David Carson
It took seven writers to make this episode work, but the results were well worth it. After two shaky initial seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation found its footing in season three and, in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” produced an episode that stands tall not only with the best of TNG, but with the best of the entire Star Trek franchise.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise”‘s smart time travel premise involves the arrival of the previously destroyed Enterprise-C in the time of the Enterprise-D through a space anomaly. This changes history, making the Enterprise-D into a battleship in a Federation war with the Klingons. Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) knows that something isn’t right…
The story also features the reappearance of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), killed pointlessly in season one, but still alive in this altered timeline. Her quest for a meaningful death is both noble and poignant, as is the ultimate sacrifice made by the crew of the Enterprise-C that condemns them to certain death, but saves untold billions from perishing in a war that was never supposed to happen.
The ideal of serving the greater good — such an important part of the Star Trek philosophy — was brilliantly rendered in this unforgettable episode.
— Don Kaye
“The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2” (3×26, 4×01)
Written by Michael Piller / Directed by Cliff Bole
Although we had been introduced to the malevolent hive species known as the Borg in season two’s “Q Who,” this classic two-parter established them as one of the greatest threats in the history of the Federation.
As a Borg ship races toward Earth, assimilating every living thing in its path, Picard and the Enterprise crew must find a way to stop them. What happens makes for one of the most electrifying storylines in all of Star Trek, as Picard is abducted and assimilated, with Riker left in charge at the end of Part 1 to make a decision that could stop the Borg — but also kill his captain.
What makes “The Best of Both Worlds” work so well is not just the Borg, but the personal conflicts within the story. Michael Piller called this a Riker story, and it is, as Picard’s Number One is also in the midst of deciding whether he wants to command his own ship or not. He’s not helped by the presence of the ambitious Lt. Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy), who wants his job at Picard’s side.
The interpersonal drama and sci-fi action all build to one of the greatest cliffhangers in TV history at the end of Part 1 — and, when the agonizing wait for season four ended with the premiere of Part 2 — there was a little bit of a letdown in how the story played out. But it was still great television, great Star Trek, and left permanent changes in Picard that would continue to haunt his character moving forward.
— Don Kaye
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore, Story by Ron Jarvis and Philip A. Scorza / Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generationas a kid, which means the episodes that featured kid characters totally won me over. (The one where Picard, Ro, Guiynan, and Keiko get reverted into kid form? Genius.) However, “Disaster” — the episode that sees Picard trapped in a turbo lift with a bunch of panicking kids and Troi left on the bridge to take control of the ship — totally holds up to re-watch as an adult.
Star Trekisn’t only about dramatic spaceship standoffs between alien races or philosophical ponderings about the purpose of humanity. Sometimes, it’s just about good, old-fashioned, um, disaster. The kind that you know everyone will get out of by the end of the hour, but is still teaches us something about these characters. (Extra points if it involves Patrick Stewart singing “Frere Jacques.”)
This fun episode isn’t without its thematic fascinations. It asks the question: What does teamwork look like when the team is mostly split up and communication is mostly impossible? On the Enterprise, it still looks pretty shiny. On a narrative level, the nature of this story also allows us some character dynamics we don’t often get to see: Keiko and Worf, Geordi and Dr. Crusher, Riker and Data, O’Brien and Troi. Because TNGis such a well-developed ensemble show, they all work. This is also a big episode for Troi, who doesn’t always get meaty storylines that don’t involve her mother or some sort of weird alien energy entering her body.
The real winner of this episode, however, is Picard (if you hadn’t already guessed that from my random asides). As is established from the very beginning of this show, Picard does not like children. (Shut up, Wesley!) In “Disaster,” Picard is forced to face the three adorably nerdy children he gets stuck with as what they are: people. And he can handle people — actually, it’s kind of his job. The episode ends with Picard’s new mini-Starfleet officers giving Picard a handmade plaque — and it’s charming, yet not in a cloying way. Kind of this episode’s specialty.
(Fun fact: Footage of the turbo lift from this episode was later used in the Voyagertwo-parter “Year of Hell,” which also happens to be on this list.)
— Kayti Burt
“Cause and Effect” (5×18)
Written by Brannon Braga / Directed by Jonathan Frakes
The “let’s blow up the Enterprise in the cold open” episode, “Cause and Effect” isn’t just an opening gimick. (Though, you have to admit, as far as opening gimmicks go, it’s a pretty good one.) It’s an example of how a simple premise can be elevated by good writing and, perhaps even more importantly, excellent direction.
“Cause and Effect,” your classic stuck-in-a-time-loop episode, could have been a snoozer — if not for that facts that it a) allows the team (rather than just one character) to work together to find the clues and solve the mystery of the time loop and b) Jonathan Frakes’ (aka Riker) top-notch direction. Rather than relying on the same shots to save time, Frakes worked to make each trip through the time loop feel distinct, using tools like shot length. This makes what could have been a redundant hour of television into a thoroughly entertaining hour spent with these characters we love.
I’m a big fan of episodes that give Dr. Crusher something to do, as well as episodes that feature the famous poker games between the Enterprise’s senior officers. Throw in a guest appearance from Kelsey Grammer as the captain of a ship that has been stuck in the time loop for 90 years, and you’ve got yourself a TNGclassic!
— Kayti Burt
“The First Duty” (5×19)
Written by Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar / Directed by Paul Lynch
The one where Picard yells at Wesley — no, really yells at him. And for a good reason.
When an academy training accident involving cadet Wesley Crusher ends with a fellow student dead, Picard orders his crew to investigate the incident. It soon becomes clear that the squadron was attempting a dangerous, banned flight maneuver that resulted in the death of their friend. When Picard confronts Wesley about it, he refuses to incriminate himself and his team.
Torn between his Enterprise family and his academy friends, Wesley must decide whether to betray his squadron’s silency pact and tell the truth — which could spell the end of his nascent Starfleet career — or to betray Picard’s faith in him. I’m a sucker for the Picard/Wesley relationship, and this uncomfortable challenge of Wesley’s character is one of the most mature looks at its complexities.
(Side note: It is super distracting watching this after Star Trek: Voyagercame out because Wesley’s dickish squadron leader is playing by Robert Duncan McNeill, aka Voyager‘s Tom Paris. Actually, this is all kind of one, long audition for the Tom Paris role…)
— Kayti Burt
“The Inner Light” (5×25)
Written by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields / Directed by Peter Lauritson
Star Trek: The Next Generation hit its stride in seasons three, four and five, capping that run with one of the most powerful and moving episodes in the series’ history.
The Enterprise encounters an unidentified probe that sends a beam into Picard’s head, rendering him unconscious. When he awakens, he finds himself living on a planet called Kataan, where everyone refers to him as Kamin. While his shipmates attempt fruitlessly to revive him, they discover that the probe originated in a solar system whose star went nova 1,000 years ago.
Meanwhile, Picard lives (to his reckoning) 40 years as Kamin — getting married, having children and grandchildren, learning to play the flute, and eventually facing the end of his civilization as their sun goes nova. The probe, it turns out, contains memories of Kamin and his people, with Picard selected as the one who will retain them.
Patrick Stewart has cited this as his favorite TNG episode, and fans rate it as one of the five best of the series. It also won the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The last time a TV show had won was 25 years earlier, in 1968, when TOS won for “The City on the Edge of Forever.” With their twin themes of loss and memory, the two stories share some DNA, but “The Inner Light” is the more profoundly moving of the two, and Picard’s final scene as he grasps the flute — all that is left of Kamin and his race — is perhaps Stewart’s single best moment in the series.
Star Trek, in all its incarnations, was occasionally capable of great beauty, even poetry. This episode was one of those times.
— Don Kaye
“Chain of Command, Parts 1 and 2” (6×10, 6×11)
Part 1: Story by Frank Abatemarco, Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore / Directed by Robert Scheerer, Part 2: Written by Frank Abatemarco / Directed by Les Landau
There. Are. Four. Lights.
In large thanks to 24,a majority of torture depicted on TV tends to be effective in securing useful information — something that has been proven a misnomer in real life. Torture doesn’t get people to tell the truth so much as get people to say what their torturer wants them to hear.
There’s a lot going on in “Chain of Command,” a two-part epic in which Picard is captured and tortured by Cardassians, but one of the major themes that is explored through Patrick Stewart’s phenomenal turn as an almost-broken Picard is that even the most honorable men will do what they have to do to avoid torture. At a certain point, inflicting pain is the only point.
Elsewhere in this episode, Riker’s pompous rogueishness is put to good use when the sometimes-incomptent Captain Jellico takes over command of the Enterprise. I would have liked to see this storyline pushed just a little bit further — the big climax comes in Jellico visiting a petulant Riker in his quarters to ask him to pilot an important mission — but there’s something admirable about a “villainous” force who isn’t actually villainous.
Jellico isn’t a bad guy; he’s just kind of bad at his job. He micromanages and is a poor communicator and likes to be in control, even if it means leading his crew into disaster. Ultimately, Jellico manages to save the day (with Riker’s help), but — more than anything — his turn as ship’s captain makes us appreciate Captain Picard that much more.
— Kayti Burt
Written by Ronald D. Moore / Directed by Les Landau
Any episode that gives Patrick Stewart an intriguing premise and lets him run with it tends to be on the better side of the TNGepisode ranking, but add Q and a clever, It’s a Wonderful Life-like premise that allows Picard to go back to his Starfleet days to right a perceived wrong, and you’ve got yourself a Next Generationclassic.
The episode has one of the best intros in TNGhistory, throwing us into the aftermath of a random energy blast that leaves Picard dying on one of Dr. Crusher’s sickbay tables, his artificial heart seeming unable to handle the trauma. Enter Q, who gives Picard the chance to go back to the Starfleet-era fight with some Nausicaans that led to his needing an artificial heart in the first place.
What follows is a somewhat unpredictable musing on what part risk-taking and regret can play in our lives, and to what extent our fates are changeable. The banter between Picard and Q is, as always, hilarious and full of energy, and, though the structure may be somewhat formulaic, the twists are not. In the words of Picard: “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads, untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads, it unraveled the tapestry of my life.”
— Kayti Burt
“Starship Mine” (6×18)
Written by Morgan Gendel / Directed by Cliff Bole
Sometimes, a man just needs his saddle. And, sometimes, that saddle-fetching leads to Die Hardin space. Such is the lot of Captain Jean-Luc Picard who get trapped with some thieves on an nearly abandoned Enterprise while a fatal-to-humans baryon sweep makes it way across the ship in this action-packed hour of The Next Generation. Meanwhile, on the array the Enterprise is docked at, the rest of the crew is taken hostage during a boring cocktail reception.
“Starship Mine” is competency porn at its most addictive, an homage to the 80s action film genre (complete with requisite humor) that casts Patrick Stewart — who we are more used to seeing delivering Shakespearean speeches or staring down an alien spaceship on the bridge than using crossbows to take out bag guys — as Bruce Willis. Part of the dedication to this homage means that this episode of TNGis a bit stupider than the average installment, but “Starship Mine” makes up for it with action adventure fun.
Extra points for Data’s determination to get small talk right, going to the lengths of creating a subroutine. Riker comments to Troi: “I have to admit that it has a sort of strange fascination — how long can two people talk about nothing?'”
— Kayti Burt
“Lower Decks” (7×15)
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria, Story by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias / Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
On other shows, this series regular-lite episode would be a throwaway episode that no one would ever remember. Not on TNG,where the installment is used to look at what life is like for a group of junior officiers and friends serving on the Enterprise’s “lower decks.”
Though we see several of the main cast members through their occasional interaction with Sam, Sito, Ogawa, and Taurik, the story centers around the young crew members and climaxes in a tragic conclusion that not only hammers home the, at times, high stakes of Starfleet, but also he fact that — though we stay close to the command characters we know and love — there are hundreds of crew members who work, live, and die on the Enterprise.
This episode has been cited by Doctor Whoshowrunner Russell T. Davies as an inspiration for the Doctor-lite episode “Love and Monsters,” which also (somewhat controversially) also holds a special place in my TV-loving heart.
— Kayti Burt
“All Good Things” (7×25, 7×26)
Written by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore / Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Ending a TV series is no easy task, as you probably have already noticed from all of the terrible series finales out there in the world. Endings are difficult, even moreso on television dramas that tend to have longevity and some sort of formula built into their very DNA.
And this is without taking into account the fact that TV shows tend to end when they are past their narrative prime. In other words, series finales are hard — which is why “All Good Things,” the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation,is such a miracle.
In “All Good Things,” Picard finds himself jumping to three different points in time: the series’ present, just prior to the Enterprise’s first mission in the series premiere, and 25 years into the future where an older Picard is retired and living on his family’s vineyard. The whole exercise is an exercise staged by the Q continuum, of course, in their efforts to test humanity’s potential to evolve. (No pressure.)
Ultimately, the episode is the perfect bookend to “Encounter at Farpoint,” the series premiere, and an impressive cap to a seven-season show that was many different things throughout its run. The show ends in the only way it could have: with faith in the future of humanity and with Picard finally joining the senior officers’ poker game.
“So, five-card stud, nothing wild… and the sky’s the limit.” I’m not crying. You’re crying.
— Kayti Burt
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Teleplay by Peter Allan Fields, Story by Lisa Rich and Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci / Directed by James L. Conway
Though Deep Space Nineintrigued through its first season, it arguably didn’t hit its stride until “Duet,” a deeply personal, complicated, and tragic look at the lingering effects of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.
Loosely based on a dramatization of the Nuremberg Trials, “Duet” sees a sick Cardassian seek treatment on Deep Space Nine. Kira’s first-hand knowledge of the Cardassian occupation leads her to believe that Marritza, the Cardassian in question, was present at one of the most brutal labor camps on Bajor — and therefore a war criminal who must stand trial for his crimes.
The following hour is a fascinating, deeply-affecting unraveling of truth, lies, guilt, and consequence that was an early indication of just how good Deep Space Ninewould become. We learn a great deal about Kira in this episode (“Enough good people have already died. I won’t help kill another”), as well as the fragile relationships between the Bajorans, the Cardassians, and the Federation. The final scene remains one of the most-affecting in Star Trekhistory.
“Duet” is a testament to what can be done in a self-contained episodic story (though the themes of this story would be present in much of DS9‘sstorytelling) — the kind that is becoming increasingly less valued in a golden age that does highly-serialized storytelling so well. And, though much remains morally murky in this episode’s conclusion, the episode remains adamant in its statement that no one remains unscathed by the atrocities of war — neither victim, nor victor.
— Kayti Burt
“Necessary Evil” (2×08)
Written by Peter Allan Fields / Directed by James L. Conway
When Quark is left critically wounded in an attack, Odo is thrown back into investigating the unsolved murder case that first drew him into station security five years prior. Watching Deep Space Nine,I was always fascinated into any peeks we got into what life on the space station was like in the time before the Federation gained control, when it was still under Cardassian occupation. Season two’s “Necessary Evil,” gives us just that.
There is a larger, stirring frame tale about Bajoran collaborators, but the best part of this episode comes with the greater insight into Odo’s character. He started as a station security officer not because he felt any particular calling, but because he was a neutral party who Gal Dukat requested. As an outsider, his ability to read people was honed over years surviving at the mercy of others. Deep Space Nine, even under Cardassian rule, gave him a chance to put that skill to good use.
The story is told via noir-like voiceover from Odo, who is begrudgingly filing his Starfleet log. The structure is both humorous and effective, and the murder mystery is diverting, but “Necessary Evil” really pulls on the heartstrings with its development of the Odo/Kira dynamic. During the course of Odo’s flashback murder investigation, we get to see how Kira and Odo met five years prior, when Kira was questioned for the case. On present-day Deep Space Nine, we see how close the two have become in that time, most specifically in the last, quiety heartwarming scene.
In the words of Odo: “Everything’s under control. End log entry.”
— Kayti Burt
“The Wire” (2×22)
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe / Directed by Kim Friedman
Garek was one of the most fascinating characters on Deep Space Nine— a Cardassian exiled from his home world for mysterious reasons. Tinker? Tailor? Soldier? Spy? “The Wire” was the first DS9episode to really dig into Garek’s past…
When Garek collapses during one of Garek and Dr. Bashir’s lunch dates, but refuses to seek treatment, Bashir goes to great lengths to find out what’s wrong with his friend. It’s not a pretty process…
This is an important hour not only for Garek, but for Bashir, as we learn the lengths he will go to help a patient — the lengths he will go to help a friend. The breakdown scene that sees an tormented Garek berating Bashir for his pathetic human ways (when, really, he is berating himself) as Bashir passively takes it — and the subsequent scene in which Garek asks for his blanket forgiveness — are two of my favorite in all of DS9.
Exploding a transport ship with dozens of people on board, letting Bajoran children escape during an interrogation, framing his best friend for his own “cowardly” actions. Pick your poison — or should I say mind-altering drug? What’s true? “My dead doctor, they’re all true.” “Even the lies?” “Especially the lies.” A fascinatingly enigmatic episode for a fascinating enigmatic character.
— Kayti Burt
“The Search, Parts 1 and 2” (3×01, 3×02)
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore, Story by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe / Directed by Kim Friedman; Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, Story by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe / Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Deep Space Nineis often talked about as the first Star Trekseries that embraced the long story arc. Though this was best exemplified in later seasons (especially the sixth), it was in the show’s DNA since day one. “The Search” is a great example. The episode picks up roughly where the season two finale ended, with Sisko and co. trying to decide what to do about the looming and mysterious Founder threat…
Sisko is not one to sit around and wait for the problem to come to him. With the show’s shiny new Defiant warship, Sisko puts together a trusted group (plus Quark) and heads through the wormhole. His mission? To find the Founders and convince them that the Federation isn’t a threat. Things get dicey rather quickly, with Part 1 ending with Dax and O’Brien left behind on a random relay station, the Defiant thoroughly defeated, and Sisko & co. in the hands of the Jem’Hadar.
What does Odo choose to do in this situation? Nab an unconscious Kira and head to the Omarian Nebula… because he had this feeling like he was meant to go there. Yep, it turns out the Omarian Neblua is home to Odo’s, well, home. The Founders are his Changeling brethren and they’re kind of dicks. (What kind of monster race launches infants off into the cold, cruel embrace of the universe?)
Ultimately, The Founders let Odo and his friends go, but with the implication that the Federation is not safe from the chaos-hating band of Changeling overlords. “The Search” isn’t DS9‘sbest two-parter, but it is an epic statement about what kind of show DS9would be from here on out… and it’s a whole lot of fun.
— Kayti Burt
Written By David S. Cohen & Martin A. Winer / Directed By Les Landau
When Cardassian scientists arrive at the station to set up a communications relay on the other side of the wormhole, a Bajoran Vedek warns they have fulfilled a prophecy foretelling great destruction. Since the wormhole aliens live outside of linear time, Sisko can’t completely dismiss him, but he can’t justify scrapping the mission over some ancient texts either. The episode takes place shortly after a peace treaty between Cardassia and Bajor is signed.
Rather than a clumsy way to foreshadow or instigate events, prophecy in “Destiny” is a destabilizing factor making our heroes question their every move. Confirmation bias encourages them to correlate every new development with a line from scripture. Trinities abound: The “three vipers” of the prophecy, three Cardassian scientists, Kira and Dax alternately pulling Sisko toward religion or proven science — to name just, well, three.
The Prophets’ status as non-corporeal, non-temporal beings forces a legitimate debate over just how seriously to take their words, how to interpret their poetic language, and how to act when you think you might know the future. “Destiny” also serves as a crucial step toward Sisko accepting his role as Emissary. He’s developing, not a blind faith, but true belief based on his experiences.
— John Andrews
“The Way of the Warrior” (4×01)
Written by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe / Directed by James L. Conway
Much like season 3’s “The Search,” “The Way of the Warrior” is an intensely entertaining statement about the narrative thrust of the coming season. In this case, it is all about the Klingons… And not only because Worf joins the cast.
Just when Sisko and the Federation think they have their focus on their looming enemy — the Dominion — a new one makes itself known: the Klingon Empire. Understandably (but inconveniently) paranoid that a Changeling is behind the recent coup on the Cardassian homeworld, the Klingons decide to invade Cardassia. Because, at their hearts, Klingons care about conquering first and empire-maintainene way later. Apparently.
The Klingons might not be as scary as the Dominion — led by the could-be-hiding-anywhere shapeshifters — but they’re not something to thumb one’s nose at, either — especially when they have a couple dozen birds-of-prey to back up their latest harebrained attempt at empire-building.
“The Way of the Warrior” is a slow, steady story that doesn’t disappoint in its climax, which sees Sisko and a battle-ready Deep Space Nine defending itself against a chunk of the Klingon Empire. The stakes here feel very high — even if they aren’t the stakes we thought we would have to worry about going in.
— Kayti Burt
“The Visitor” (4×02)
Written by Michael Taylor / Directed by David Livingston
The relationship between Benjamin and Jake Sisko is one of the most understated, yet moving on the show. Deep Space Ninebegins as a story about a father and a son still trying to move past the loss of their family’s third member. When Sisko becomes unstuck in time and thought dead by the crew of Deep Space Nine in “The Visitor,” his friends and crewmates do their best to move on — but Jake has an understandably difficult time doing so.
A year after the incident, Sisko reappears to Jake, and the crew learns the truth of his predicament — but Sisko disappears again after a few minutes, pleading with Jake: “I need to know that you’re going to be alright.” The entire story is told from the perspective of Old Jake, many years after the inciting incident. After a lifetime without his father, he is waiting to see him (and try to save him) one last time.
I don’t want to spoil all of the seriously affecting beats (so many tears) of this story because “The Visitor” is worth watching (or re-watching) without too much prior knowledge — though, even with knowledge of how it all ends, I don’t think it is possible to “spoil” this episode.
“The Visitor”‘s premise could be emotionally-manipulative, but it’s not. The story doesn’t sensationalize or trick. It relies on the honest, understated love between a parent and a child and understands that there’s no need to sensationalize the hardest realities of life. They are already filled with such tragic, life-affirming depth.
— Kayti Burt
“Trials and Tribble-ations” (5×06)
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore and Rene Echevarria, Story by Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimier, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe / Directed by Jonathan West
What an absolute joy of an episode! If “The Visitor” is a look at one of the hardest realities of life, then “Trial and Tribble-ations” is a testament to its delights — in particular, the joys of being a nerd. When a Klingon spy goes back in time to try to kill Captain Kirk (with a booby-trapped Tribble, no less!), the crew of Deep Space Nine follow to stop the history-changing assassination. What follows is an hour of Star Trek inside jokes, bright colors, and non-stop fun.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in this episode. Is it Worf’s attempt to explain why Original Series-era Klingons look nothing like later-series Klingons? Or is it when O’Brien confidently mis-identifies Kirk? Or, perhaps, it is the exasperated beauracracy of the Temporal Agents who everyone seems to want to avoid?
I love all of those moments, but I might have to give it to the scene that sees Sisko shamelessly introducing himself to Captain Kirk on the bridge of the original Enterprise. “Trials and Tribble-ations” actually uses footage from The Original Seriesto make it look like the Deep Space Ninecast members are there, and it is an amazing effect — yet another great example of how well Star Trekwas rocking the shared fictional universe model long before the MCU came on the scene.
— Kayti Burt
“Sacrifice of Angels” (6×06)
Written By Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler / Directed By Allan Kroeker
You like space battles? This one has space battles.
As the conclusion to the six-episode Dominion invasion arc that launched DS9’s season six, “Sacrifice of Angels” has a lot riding on it. The station has been occupied since last season’s finale, open interstellar war has been raging for months, and the only thing standing between massive enemy reinforcements and Federation defeat is a single minefield in front of the wormhole.
Sisko leads the largest fleet of starships we’ve ever seen to retake Deep Space 9, but the combined Dominion and Cardassian forces are more than a match for them. If ever a deus ex machina were necessary, it was here. The ending could have easily felt like a copout, but Sisko’s impromptu appeal to the Prophets is thoroughly earned and convincingly argued. It’s ultimately far more satisfying than a purely military victory ever could have been.
The drama taking place on the station, meanwhile, is classic tragedy and epic heroism. Quark is a good guy, Odo realizes he’s been a bad guy, and we once again can’t help but empathize with Gul Dukat.
— John Andrews
“Far Beyond the Stars” (6×13)
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimier, Story by Marc Scott Zicree / Directed by Avery Brooks
“You are the dreamer. And the dream.”
When Sisko starts doubting his role in Starfleet, the Prophets decide to remind him why he is committed to the cause — through a series of visions that take Sisko back to 1950s New York City where he is living life as Benny Russell, a struggling science fiction writer dealing with the dehumanizing effects of institutionalized racism. His life there is populated by human versions of his DS9 crewmates, and it’s fun — but really weird — to see the DS9regulars out of their alien makeup.
Watching this episode now, it is still extremely powerful, as so many of the issues are, sadly, still very relevant. There is a police brutality through-line, in particular, that strikes particularly hard given America’s current national discourse.
But “Far Beyond the Stars” isn’t all depressing. It’s also incredibly inspirational, as Benny refuses to give up on his dream of publishing a story about a black starship captain named Benjamin Sisko. Avery Brooks beautifully directed the episode and turns in a powerful performance that, if there were any justice in the world, should have won an Emmy.
“Far Beyond the Stars” is an impressive example of just how flexible the Star Treknarrative formula has always been. This episode works great as a standalone story for someone who has never even seen Star Trek,while also including so many treats for loyal fans. It is a joyful tribute to the science fiction writers of the 1950s, while, plot-wise, works to reaffirm Sisko’s commitment to Starfleet and the Dominion War.
— Kayti Burt
“In the Pale Moonlight” (6×19)
Teleplay by Michael Taylor, Story by Peter Allan Fields / Directed by Victor Lobi
I legitimately want to see “In the Pale Moonlight” on stage as a one-act morality play. That’s how powerful and perfect this episode of Deep Space Nineis.
It would have been easy to show this turning point in the Dominion War as a more typical, plot-focused episode of Deep Space Nine.Instead, the Star Trekseries chose to make it into a character-driven exploration of morality and what is an acceptable evil when you are talking about the fate of an entire war, an entire Federation.
“In the Pale Moonlight” is told in retrospect via a fourth wall-breaking monologue from Sisko, as he recounts it to the only “person” he can — the computer, via a captain’s log. During the course of the hour, we learn how Sisko tricks the Romulans — with the blessing of the Federation authority — into joining the Dominion War. It is a dirty business, where one bad decision quickly snowballs into more bad decisions and ends with Sisko complicit in forgery, bribery, and murder. As Quark tells Sisko, “Every man has a price.”
“In the Pale Moonlight” is so powerful because it directly challenges the inherent optimism of the Star Trekuniverse. This is a franchise built upon the belief that there is a future where teamwork, unity, and steadfast good-guy-ism will always solve the problem in the end. This episode — or at least Sisko’s character — muses that this isn’t always the case. Or, if it is, there will inevitably be terrible, bloody choices that you will have to live with. That you can live with.
In “In the Pale Moonlight,” Deep Space Ninewonder if, sometimes, the ends do justify the means — even if the means are horrible. And it dares not to give us a clear answer. It lets us struggle uncomfortably with the question of what we would be capable of in the right, dire circumstance.
— Kayti Burt
The Siege of AR-558 (7×08)
Written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimier / Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Deep Space Nineis often singled out within the Star Trekuniverse for how dark it is willing to go — and “The Siege of AR-558” is, perhaps, the best example. This episode hurts, but it also feels necessary. Because DS9 is telling a war story — and war is hell.
When Sisko, Worf, Dax, Bashir, Nog, Quark, and Rom bring supplies to the embattled, weary Starfleet officers holding planet AR-558 from the Jem’Hadar, we get to see, first-hand, the effects of the Dominion War on those on the front lines — and it’s not pretty. As Quark phrases it to Nog:
Let me tell you something about humans, nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people—as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time, and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon.
Ultimately, our friends get pulled into the fight. Non-series regulars die. Nog loses a leg. At the end of “The Siege of AR-558,” Worf tells Sisko that the battle was a great victory worthy of songs. A tiny consolation.
— Kayti Burt
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” (7×10)
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore, Story by David Mack and John J. Ordover / Directed by Anson Williams
The siege of AR-558 may be over, but Nog is still recovering from the experience. The most tangible effect of the battle on Nog is the loss of his leg, but he is also severely depressed. Still on medical leave and unable to confide with any of his loved ones on the station, Nog retreats into the holosuite and shacks up with Vic Fontaine. Through his friendship with the hologram, Nog learns to face reality again. Ironic, right?
As heartwrenching as Nog’s storyline in this episode is, Vic gives it a run for its money. His admission that he will never get to have a life like Nog does is the push that gets Nog to finally leave the holosuite and live again. Even if Quark is keeping Vic’s program running, it’s not exactly the same thing, is it? As Vic puts it: “Look, kid, I don’t know what’s going to happen to you out there. All I can tell you is that you’ve got to play the cards life deals you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at least you’re in the game.”
Both Aron Eisenberg and James Darren are great in this episode, which also features a haunting rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” that will stay in your head long after this powerful hour of TV has passed…
— Kayti Burt
Star Trek: Voyager
“Caretaker, Parts 1 and 2” (1×01, 1×02)
Teleplay by Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor, Story by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor / Directed by Winrich Kolbe
In this epic, series-launching episode, we meet Voyager — one of the most advanced and maneuverable ships in Starfleet — just as it is transported to the other side of the galaxy in pursuit of a vessel of the rebel Maquis. The ship suffers damage from its too-swift journey to Delta Quadrant, and several of her crew are dead. A Star Trekseries-opener has never felt quite so dire, so quickly. It’s an auspicious start.
Captain Janeway immediately begins trying to restore order, but after repairs are started and the sick bay is organized, the crew disappears from Voyager. They are taken to what looks like an Earth farm, but is in reality a technologically advanced array, where they — along with the Maquis crew — are forced to submit to medical testing in a creepy, creepy sequence. When they are returned to Voyager, Janeway discovers her operations officer is missing, while the Maquis Captain, Chakotay, is missing his chief engineer.
The two crews unite in figuring out where their people have gone. Eventually, after rescuing the missing, Janeway pieces together the full story: The Caretaker on the array is dying, and is trying to find a way to keep the Ocampa people safe before he does. It’s a strong episode that sets the ethical tone for the rest of the series: How does the Prime Directive apply when the crew is so far from home?
Janeway, unwilling to let the Ocampa die to save herself and her crew, gets directly involved in the conflicts of Delta Quadrant, destroys the array, and blends her crew with the Maquis, creating a diverse group with many different motives and backgrounds. This is a landmark episode not only for its introduction of a female captain series lead, but for the way it expands the mission to go where no one has gone before.
— Alana Joli Abbott
“Scorpion” (3×26, 4×01)
Written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky / Directed by David Livingston and Winrich Kolbe
Seven of Nine’s addition to the cast improved Voyagerimmensely, but this two-parter is great for more than just her introduction. It’s notable for Janeway flipping the script on what we can expect from a Starfleet captain and forging an alliance with the Borg. Because this lady will do anything to ensure that her crew makes it home to Earth.
It isn’t just Janeway’s choice that is so notable about this episode. It’s the cause for the necessity of that choice: Species 8472. The episode ends with Voyager living to see another day, but with a tenuous alliance with the Borg and a mysterious new crew member — a pretty great start to the fourth season.
— Kayti Burt
“Year of Hell, Parts 1 and 2” (4×08, 4×09)
Written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky / Directed by Allan Kroeker, Mike Vejar
In re-watching many of these Voyagerepisodes in preparation for contributing to this feature, I watched “Year of Hell” first. This was a mistake because — from where I’m standing — this two-parter is Voyager at its absolute height. Nothing that came before or that would come after would top this exploration of just how dark things could get on the otherside of the galaxy or just how determined Janeway could be in her pledge to get her crew home.
First, the premise: With the help of a new astrometrics lab, the crew of Voyager have found a new path home that cuts five years off their journey. Unfortunately, it brings them into Krenim space where a grief-driven Krenim temporal scientist works to change history to create his desired timeline.
The result is a year of Janeway and co. facing off against Kreim warships in an increasingly desperate struggle that sees Voyager’s slow, devastating destruction. The starship loses her outer hull, many decks, countless crew members, and the replicator system. Eventually, Janeway launches all but the senior crew in escape pods. Frankly, stakes for a Star Trekcrew and ship have rarely been this effectively escalated.
Kate Mulgrew is phenomenal in this episode as we watch Janeway become so consumed by her responsibility to her crew that she literally throws herself into a fire to save the ship, suffering third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Part 1 ends with a particularly unsettling, well-acted scene that sees Janeway ordering her crew to leave the ship:
Each of you has done your best, but determination alone isn’t going to hold this ship together. It’s time we faced reality. We’ve lost nine decks, more than half this ship has been destroyed. Life support is nearly gone; Voyagercan no longer sustain its crew. I promised myself that I would never give this order, that I would never break up this family; but asking you to stay… would be asking you to die.
The premise ultimately has to rely on a reset ending that negates a bit of the effect of the two-parter, but this remains a powerfully-dark two-parter. Word on the street is that Bragga and Menosky wanted to make this story an entire season, but the network wouldn’t let them.
Ronald D. Moore, who served as an executive producer on Voyager and who would go on to create Battlestar Galactica— has said that he wished all of Voyager had this type of tone. In re-watching the “Year of Hell” arc, it’s not hard to see the parallels between this darker depiction of the Voyagerstory and Battlestar Galactica. Or to imagine the dramatic heights Voyagercould have reached if it were allowed to explore this tone over more than just two episodes.
— Kayti Burt
“Living Witness” (4×23)
Written by Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga, and Joe Menosky / Directed by Tim Russ
There’s something deeply depressing about the Doctor’s dilemma in this episode. Seven hundred years in the future, on an alien planet, The Doctor’s back-up version is discovered and activated. What was seconds for him, has been centuries for everyone he knew and loved. He has no idea what happened to the crew of Voyager, and if they ever made it home. Their voyage is literally history.
But The Doctor has other fish to fry in this ep. His program is now part of an exhibit about Voyager’s supposed war crimes centuries prior. Desperate to set the record straight on what really happened, The Doctor struggles to bring long-dead history into the present and convince the alien society that Janeway’s motto wasn’t really: “When diplomacy fails, there’s only one alternative: violence.”
By the time Voyagerrolled around in the Star Trekuniverse, so many science fiction ideas and structures had already been explored. But “Living Witness” manages to present a story in a way no prior Star Trekinstallation had explored. The fact that it’s centered around Robert Picard’s Doctor, who was one of the consistently most delightful aspects of Voyager,only helps the situation. Also: the evil gloves help. So many evil gloves.
— Kayti Burt
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky, Story by Bryan Fuller & Harry Doc Kloor / Directed by Les Landau
A transporter mishap results in Seven’s Borg nanoprobes assimilating the Doctor’s mobile holographic emitter. The extracted DNA of a hapless ensign (he’s fine, just knocked unconscious) is the final ingredient in a new drone. It replicates a maturation chamber for itself and grows to adulthood almost overnight — and, because the mobile emitter is from the Starfleet of the 29th century, the drone is effectively 500 years more advanced than any other.
It’s a complicated setup for a very simple story: Seven adopts a kid. The kid is taller than her and poses an existential threat to Voyager, but he’s new life and it’s her job to bring him up right. He chooses the name One and adopts a goofy eagerness to learn everything he possibly can.
Though there are elements of TNG‘s “I Borg” and “The Child” in this plot, “Drone” is so superbly acted that it transcends them both. The bond between Jeri Ryan’s Seven and J. Paul Boehmer’s One is palpable — painfully so at times. Much like both Hugh and Ian Andrew Troi, One becomes aware of how dangerous he is to his new family. Go ahead and call his actions cliché… if you can avoid crying.
— John Andrews
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller, Nick Sagan, and Michael Taylor; Story by Nick Sagan / Directed by Allan Eastman
Star Trekis known for its time travel storylines — and for good reason. This fictional universe never met a timestream it didn’t want to mess with for narrative value. In “Relativity,” Seven of Nine is recruited by a timeship called Relativity to locate a time paradox-creating bomb located on Voyager.
In her quest to find and destroy the bomb, Seven travels back to various points in Voyager’s mission — including Voyager in drydock and its early battles with the Kazon — to avert the disaster. It’s a fun conceit, made even kind of poignant for the fact that Seven is able to, in some way, be part of Voyager’s pre-“Scorpion” missions.
Ultimately, “Relativity” is a response to so many of the time travel-centric plots — from the good to the nonsensical — that the Star Trekuniverse had previously embraced. At one point, Janeway — who eventually gets clued into the time travel conceit — asks someone to stop with the time travel technobabble. It’s moments like this that make me confident Janeway is greatly undervalued as a Star Trekcaptain.
— Kayti Burt
“Equinox, Parts 1 and 2” (5×26, 6×01)
Teleplay by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, Story by Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Joe Menosky / Directed by David Livingston
If you’re a fan of the “Pegasus” arc in Battlestar Galactica,then you probably love “Equinox.” Much the former, the latter sees the Voyager encountering another ship from their home (in this case, the Federation), the Equinox, after years by themselves in the cold, dark abyss of space. Also, like “Pegasus,” things don’t end up working out as swimmingly as either crew probably would have hoped.
At first, Voyager is more than happy to offer the Equinox protection from the alien onslaught that has cost them many of their crew members. But as the relationship between the two crews progresses, it becomes clear that the Equinox is hiding a terrible secret — and that they only see Voyager as something to be harvested for their own survival.
Like “Year of Hell,” “Equinox” feels like an episode that demonstrates what Voyagercould have been, if it were allowed (or, perhaps, had the inclination to) embrace the darker storytelling that its premise called for. A truly great Star Trektwo-parter.
— Kayti Burt
“Blink of an Eye” (6×12)
Teleplay by Scott Miller and Joe Menosky, Story by Michael Taylor / Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
An homage to The Original Seriesepisode, “Wink of an Eye,” “Blink of an Eye” tells the story of the Voyager’s interactions with a planet where time moves much faster than in space. Because of this discrepancy in temporal experience, Voyager is able to not only play witness to — but play a mythological role in — almost the entire history of the planet (or, as Naomi originally calls it: The Weird Planet Where Time Moved Very Fast and So Did the People Who Lived There).
Voyagerwas arguable the Star Trekshow most interested in challenging The Prime Directive. After all, what does The Prime Directive mean when you are on the other side of the galaxy, incredibly far from the Federation, trying to make your way home? “Blink of an Eye” was just a continuation of this exploration — and one that ultimately argues that the guideline was made to be broken.
— Kayti Burt
Star Trek: Enterprise
“Broken Bow, Parts 1 and 2” (1×01, 1×02)
Written by Rick Berman and Brandon Braga / Dircted by James Conway
In another strong series-opener, humanity is on the cusp of true space exploration, with the help (and hindrance) of the Vulcans, who have been overseeing their progress for a century, in the two-part Enterprisepremiere.
Earth’s first Warp Five engine-powered starship, the Enterprise, is about to go on her maiden voyage when a Klingon, pursued by aliens of unknown race, is shot by a farmer in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. The Vulcan ambassadors think Enterprise should delay, but Captain Jonathan Archer persuades his superiors that returning the Klingon, alive (rather than as a corpse as the Vulcans suggest), is a perfect first mission. He quickly assembles what remains of his team — including Vulcan observer T’Pol as a science officer, much to the disgruntlement of both Archer and T’Pol.
As they transport the Klingon, Klaang, they are attacked by Suliban, who kidnap Klaang and vanish, leaving one of their own behind, dead. T’Pol recommends abandoning the mission, but Archer is determined to get Klaang back, leading to the crew uncovering a Temporal Cold War. Lives are saved (and the saved return the favor), the teleporter is finally used, and the first mission succeeds not only in its goal, but in establishing the potential for the original crew of the Enterprise.
The episode manages to feel vintage and futuristic in the same moment, presenting technology that convincingly anticipates the gear from The Original Series, showing interactions between species that have grown and shifted and been turned on their heads in a way that calls to the imagination. How did they get from here to The Original Series? The winning cast, the willingness of the characters to admit to their own flaws and work toward fixing them, and the sheer gumption of humanity makes this a worthy pilot for the prequel series.
— Alana Joli Abbott
“Carbon Creek” (2×02)
Teleplay by Chris Black, Story by Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Dan O’Shannon / Directed by James A Contner
On any other Star TrekTV show, “Carbon Creek” would not make the top-episodes list. When it comes to Enterprise,however, this episode was a delightful foray into what this TV series was so interested in doing: exploring that early the beginnings of the Vulcan/human relationship.
During dinner one night, T’Pol tells the story of her great-grandmother, T’Mir, and the first contact between humans and Vulcans — in small town 1957 Pennsylvania. (Side note: one of my favorite conceits of the EnterpriseTV show were the dinners Archer, Trip, and T’Pol often had together. What I wouldn’t have given for a similar habit between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on The Original Series.)
The story is a little hokey, but its charm and humor offset said hokiness in delightful ways. Ultimately, this episode isn’t very important in the larger arc of the show, but it is an entertaining hour of TV — not to mention one that gives T’Pol and Jolene Blalock a lot to do… OK, I need to go now. I Love Lucy is on the night.
— Kayti Burt
“Dead Stop” (2×04)
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong / Directed by Roxann Dawson
Enterprise is directed (lured?) to an automated repair station after hitting a Romulan mine. It’s a stroke of incredible luck, which of course turns out to be too good to be true. They’ll get the ship fixed, but the cost is much higher than the warp plasma they agree to pay.
Much of the creepy tone can be credited to Roxann Dawson, Voyager‘s very own B’Elanna Torres. She not only directed the episode, but also voiced the station’s stubborn and deceptively simplistic computer interface. Archer’s frustrated “I need to talk to a person” is a clear riff on customer service phone menus, and might be funny if his angry request weren’t due to a crewmember apparently dying.
With humanoid villains, “Dead Stop” might be fairly unremarkable. The crew accepts help and gets more than they bargained for, ho hum. But the automated station manages to be more sinister and alien than any guest star, with its clean and bright interiors.
Of course the transforming station that welcomes Enterprise by expanding a drydock and remixing its atmosphere for humans is more than meets the eye. We’re just never quite sure how. Even the conclusion offers no pat explanation, and the story is never followed up — and that’s okay, because sometimes weird things just happen… Especially in the Star Trekuniverse.
— John Andrews
Written by Michael Sussman / Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
These season three episode, which sees Archer developing a condition that makes him unable to form long-term memory (think 50 First Dates) is a quiet episode, but manages to raise the stakes in some terrifying ways — as in: Earth is destroyed and there are only 6,000 humans left in the universe. Yeah, that probably got your attention.
The amnesiac Archer is our POV character, here, and we — like him — are blindsided by the devestation of the human race, the dismantling of much of the Enterprise’s crew, and (yes) T’Pol and Archer’s new relationship.
Ultimately, Enterprisehits the reset button on this one, but “Twilight” remains a jarring exercise of just how bad things could get at the dawn of humanity’s interaction with alien species — and a depressing parallel for real-world conditions like dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. It also features some pretty great performances from Jolene Blalock and Scott Bakula.
— Kayti Burt
Written by Manny Coto / Directed by LeVar Burton
Damn, this episode is depressing. Many science fiction TV shows, novels, and movies have dared to introduce the “clone is creating for medical reasons” storyline (my favorite of which is the novel Never Let Me Go), and it gets me nearly every time. However, “Similitude” — which sees the Phlox create Sim, a symbiote of the comatose Trip — is a particularly graceful and affecting depiction of this morally-complex plot.
When Tucker is injured during an engine explosion, the Enterprise is left engineer-less. Archer gives Phlox the go-ahead to effectively create and raise a clone for the slaughter, to be used to save Trip. Surprise! The kid grows up, gets to know the crew members, and tries to escape because he understandably wants to live.
Enterprisetakes a bit of the ethically easy way out by arguing that Trip is instrumental to Enterprise’s success — and, therefore, instrumental for the future of Earth — but it’s thin reasoning. Frankly, the Enterprise should be able to move forward without one of its crew members — even someone as charming and mechanically-savvy as Trip.
Ultimately, however, Sim makes the ultimate sacrifice, and — guys — it’s really, really sad.
— Kayti Burt
“In a Mirror, Darkly” (4×18, 4×19)
Written by Michael Sussman; Teleplay by Michael Sussman, Story by Manny Coto / Dircted by James L. Conway and Marvin V. Rush
Every post-The Original Series Star Trek series has tried to recreate the magic of “Mirror, Mirror.”. Surprisingly, none of them have been as successful as Enterprise. (Yay, Enterprise! You finally won one.)
The “In a Mirror, Darkly” two-parter follows the militaristic adventures of evil Commander Archer and his band of evil, mirror-universe crew members who serve the evil Terran Empire. (Have you cottoned on to the theme yet?) Tholian v. Terran war plot aside, this episode is a lot of fun for the opportunity to watch these cast member ham it up as evil versions of itself.
Ultimately, though, the reason the mirror universe has always worked so well because it reminds us of the inherent optimism and emphasis on exploration and discovery that have always been at the center of the Star Trekmythos. To see that same challenge — and eventual reaffirmation — applied to Enterpriseis particularly stirring because of the show’s situation at the beginning of the Federation.
Humanity’s (fictional) entrance onto the galaxy-wide stage could have been different — it could have been one defined by fear and militarism rather than hope and curiosity. Watching “In a Mirror, Darkly,” we’re reminded why it’s so important that it was the latter.
The best part, though? The altered, mirror-universe opening sequence.
— Kayti Burt