Monday, January 21, 2013

Star Trek: TNG - Essential Episodes List: Season 4

This is part of a continuing series on what I consider the essential episodes of Star Trek: TNG. To view previous entries, click the Essential Episodes tag at the bottom of this post.

Star Trek: TNG - Essential Episodes List: Season 4

 Recently I was asked by a friend to compile a list of TNG episodes worth watching for someone who doesn't want to go through the entire series. Personally, I think it's worth watching every episode once, but I know that for someone's first time through the show, picking and choosing the good ones is smarter. There are a lot of bad episodes in the first two seasons and in the seventh, so there's nothing wrong with skipping big chunks to get to the good stuff, since there's so little essential plot continuity, and going back to them later if you end up liking the rest of the show.

I'm compiling lists, by season, of which episodes are worth watching for someone new to the show. Some of these are legit great episodes, some are important to the show as a whole whether they're strong episodes or not, and some are worth watching because of how goofy they are. Feel free to debate if your favorite episode doesn't make the list, these lists aren't concrete and can be swayed by a good argument! Summaries copied from Wikipedia.

This is the first season of TNG that I think is almost entirely good. There are still a couple of really bad ones (Devil's Due, Suddenly Human), but for the most part this is a great season of TV.

The Best of Both Worlds: Part II - "Picard is rescued from the Borg as the Enterprise races to save Earth. A great number of Starfleet ships are destroyed by the lone Borg ship, although an away team finally rescues Picard. Data interfaces with the half-Borg Picard and finds a way to shut down the Borg ship. Guest star Elizabeth Dennehy as Starfleet Commander Shelby."

The conclusion of one of the series' best cliffhangers. I think Part II is a lot weaker than Part I, but obviously if you're going to watch that one you'll have to watch this one.

Family - "While the Enterprise is going under repairs at Earth, Captain Picard visits his brother's family in France, Lt. Worf's adoptive human parents come to see him aboard the ship and Dr. Crusher gives her son Wesley a personal holo-recording left by his late father shortly after the boy's birth."

Should have been called The Best of Both World Part III. A direct continuation dealing with the fallout of the events of the previous two episodes. One of the best character driven episodes of the series, almost entirely free of technobabble. Each of the family stories in this episode is a good one, important to its characters.

Brothers - "Data is summoned by his creator Noonien Soong who is still alive, and they are joined by Lore."

One of many Data Gets Possessed episodes. I don't think this one's particularly good, especially coming off of Family, but it's important backstory for Data and continues the Lore plot line.

Remember Me - "After an apparent failure of a warp-field experiment, people begin to disappear from the Enterprise with only Dr. Crusher remembering that they ever existed."

Another one where I think the conclusion is pretty weak, but this is one of the few episodes that Dr. Crusher really gets to shine on her own. Gates plays the whole "Am I losing my mind?" question quite well here, and there's some genuinely creepy stuff.

Reunion - "Worf's ex-girlfriend returns, and along with Picard, the two mediate a Klingon power dispute and Worf discovers more family."

Kehleyr returns, Worf meets his son, and a major shift of power in the Klingon Empire occurs. Hugely important to both Picard and Worf, as well as the Trek universe at large. It's a shame that Worf's relationship with his son is so poorly handled in future episodes. He's not a very good dad.

Final Mission - "Wesley sets off on his final mission with the Enterprise accompanied by Picard, but they become stranded on a desert planet."

Wesley's best episode, one where he solves a problem based on his Starfleet skills instead of being a genius/Chosen One. His last episode as a regular.

Data's Day - "Data gets dancing lessons from Dr. Crusher in preparation of Chief O'Brien's wedding as the Enterprise brings Ambassador T'Pel to the Romulans for negotiations."

I love this one. One of the better lighthearted episodes of the series. The first one to give O'Brien major screentime. The Romulan subplot is weak, an attempt to give unnecessary, serious sci-fi drama to an otherwise comedic episode. Mostly ignore it and focus on the good stuff.

The Wounded - "A rogue Starfleet Captain jeopardizes the Cardassian peace treaty."

The first episode featuring Cardassians. Marc Alaimo plays the Cardassian commander here years before he'd go on to play Gul Dukat on DS9. Another good O'Brien episode, whose plot plays into his character on DS9.

Galaxy's Child - "The Enterprise accidentally kills a space creature, and the crew rush to save its unborn offspring. Meanwhile, Geordi meets the engineer he fell in love with and finds to his shock, she's nothing like the woman he encountered on the holodeck. Guest star Susan Gibney as Dr. Leah Brahms."

A good followup to Season 3's Booby Trap. Geordi's gooniness hits an all time high and he learns how to be a less creepy guy. It's fun seeing Leah Brahms played by the same actress again in such a totally different style.

The Nth Degree - "After an encounter with an alien probe Barclay experiences great leaps in confidence and intelligence."

I just really like Barclay episodes. It's fun seeing him become superhuman while still being a total nerd. If you didn't like him in Hollow Pursuits, skip this one. If you did, watch it.

The Drumhead - "A witchhunt ensues for suspected Romulan spies aboard the Enterprise. Guest star Jean Simmons as Rear Admiral Norah Satie."

One of the rules of Trek, across all series, is that if an episode features a trial as a major setting, it's probably a good one. Picard gets some fantastic material here, and it's always fascinating to see the darker elements of the Federation bubble up.

In Theory - "Data participates in a romantic relationship with a fellow crew member."

Another good Data episode, this one focusing on his interest in romance in a much more interesting way than the terrible The Naked Now from Season 1. This one's intentionally awkward, whereas that one was awkward through its horrible writing. There's a b-plot about the Enterprise avoiding deadly Space Pockets. Once again, a character driven episode interrupted by an unnecessary technobabble plot. The first episode directed by Patrick Stewart.

Redemption Part I - "Worf leaves the Enterprise to fight on behalf of Gowron in a Klingon civil war."

Continues both the Gowron plot begun in Reunion and the ongoing plot about Worf's family honor. It's a solid story about war and honor, unfortunately inhabited by some weak villains. I never really liked the Duras sisters, and Sela is unquestionably terrible. In spite of all that, this is still a good story.


  1. I just watched "Where No Man Has Gone Before" from the Originals, and I have to say the Barclay incarnation of this story is much better, and not just because there's less casual sexism. But fun to watch in a pair. MILLION DOLLAR NERD IDEA, ABRAMS: what if Cumberbatch is playing Super Barclay instead of Gary Mitchell?! It's not too late.

    1. I honestly do hope Barclay eventually gets to travel between time and dimensions, he deserves it.

      My favorite bit is that the alien who gives him his power is a big, jovial floating head.