Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Star Trek: TNG - Essential Episodes List: Season 5

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 5  

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 my favorite season of Next Gen. It's impossible for me to narrow it down too much, so you're going to get a pretty long list for this one! Unification I and II are important if you really care about Romulan/Vulcan politics by this point, and it's always good to see Spock, but I honestly don't think they're very exciting episodes and would have worked better as a single, hour-long show. Again, Sela is intolerable. Same goes for Time's Arrow, the two-parter that bridges Season 5 and 6. It's not a terrible episode, and has some very good scenes, but it easily could have been a single episode. Both Unification and Time's Arrow drag more than they should.

This season's dishonorable mention goes to The Cost of Living, a truly terrible episode in which Troi's mom teaches Worf's son how to laugh. It's ghastly in every sense of the word.

Redemption Part II - "A fleet of 23 Federation ships blockades Romulan support to the Duras family, resulting in Gowron's installation as Chancellor."

The conclusion of the Klingon civil war plot. This honestly should have run longer than two episodes, but TNG wasn't the kind of show to have large arcs, which were pretty uncommon on TV at the time anyway. Gowron is my favorite non-Worf Klingon; he's astonishingly campy at all times and works perfectly as an overblown political manipulator.

Darmok - "Picard must learn to communicate with an alien captain who speaks in metaphors before a dangerous beast kills them both. Guest star Paul Winfield as Dathon."

A great episode about communicating across a language barrier. The language used by the Tamarians is totally silly in concept, but it works very well for the purpose of the episode. Gave birth to a lot of Star Trek catchphrases.

Ensign Ro - "After an attack on a Federation outpost, Picard is sent to locate a Bajoran terrorist, with the help of Ensign Ro Laren."

Introduces my favorite minor recurring character after O'Brien. Ro gets some good screentime this season, and this is where it all begins. It's a shame she didn't become a primary cast member, because she's honestly fantastic. She mostly disappears in the seventh season of the show before getting one strong sendoff episode.

Silicon Avatar - "The crew, with the help of a scientist whose son lived on Data's home world, attempt to communicate with the Crystalline Entity."

Gives us some good Data backstory and concludes the Crystalline Entity plotline. I really love that there's no villain here, just a good person pushed to the brink of desperation who makes some hard choices.

Disaster - "The Enterprise is without power, trapping Picard in a turbolift with three children and trapping others in various locations. Command of the bridge falls to Counselor Troi, who feels ill-prepared."

Strong plotlines for several characters. Picard learns to trust children, Worf helps Keiko deliver her baby, Ro, Troi, and O'Brien have a tense situation on the bridge. The Crusher/Geordi plot is the weak link here, but the rest is perfect.

Hero Worship - "Data saves the life of an orphaned boy, who begins to emulate him."

This episode works well, and Data somehow serves as a solid surrogate father figure. There's some funny stuff, some sad stuff, and overall a good story about dealing with trauma.

Conundrum - "The crew's memory is erased, and they discover they are being manipulated into being the key part of a war."

A fun episode that plays with everyone's identities. It's interesting looking at our heroes through a different lens, even if the mindwipe really probably shouldn't have affected Data.

Ethics - "Worf becomes paralyzed—and suicidal—and Dr. Crusher consults a risk-taking researcher to save his life."

This one feels like a good MASH episode. Deals heavily with both Worf's pride and the question of how far doctors should go to save someone's life when that person has given up. There aren't a ton of episodes where Crusher is this crucial to the story, so it's good to see her shine in a purely medical/ethical situation.

The Outcast- "Riker falls in love with an androgynous person after rescuing some others trapped in "null space.""

One of the few episodes of Trek to even consider talking about non-heteronormative relationships. Riker's story here is a strong one, and the ending is incredibly sad.

Cause and Effect - "The Enterprise becomes stuck in a causality loop, but the crew retain some memory of previous instances. Guest star Kelsey Grammer as Morgan Bateson."

A time loop episode that repeats the same events over and over yet somehow remains fascinating the entire time. I love watching the minor changes the crew begins to notice; it's a slightly creepy, anxious episode with some good character moments. Poker scenes on TNG are generally fun, and this is an important one.

The First Duty - "Wesley is questioned over a Starfleet Academy flight-training accident. Guest star Ray Walston as Boothby."

Wesley returns for one episode, and it's a good one. He's so much more likeable when acting like a normal, morally conflicted human than he is in the early seasons where he's a wonder child who can outsmart all the adults for no real reason. This episode introduces Nick Locarno, who would be renamed Tom Paris for Voyager, and Sito Jaxa, who would return in the fantastic Season 7 episode The Lower Decks.

I, Borg - "The Enterprise rescues a Borg survivor, and Picard plans to use him as a weapon against his nemesis by exposing him to a computer virus."

Another good episode about identity; there's a lot of that this season. I honestly think the Borg episodes go downhill from here, but this one's still really strong.

The Next Phase - "A transporter accident traps Geordi and Ensign Ro out of phase; while the others plan their funeral they must find a way to reverse the process and save the Enterprise from destruction."

A good episode that's actually about coming to terms with death, in spite of the plot about Space Not-Ghosts. The Romulan subplot here is kind of dumb, but there's a lot of good material for both Geordi and Ro.

The Inner Light - "A space probe creates a telepathic tether and causes Picard to experience, in twenty-five minutes, a lifetime as a married man."

One of the true high points of all of Trek. The cuts back to the present day are unnecessary; Patrick Stewart carries the episode on his own quite well, even without the rest of the crew present in his scenes.

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