“Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future… A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “A Matter of Time”
Whether it was Zoobilee Zoo as a child, Saved by the Bell as an adolescent, or the X-Files as a teenager, and shows like Dead Like Me and Being Human as an adult, I have fallen in love with multiple television shows during my four decades on this planet. While essential viewing, those shows are just a small batch of television shows that have brought me incredible joy for various reasons. Still, one show has impacted me and stayed with me probably the longest or positions itself as a close second to Dead Like Me. Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I refer to as Star Trek: TNG or simply TNG in this post, is that show. Let’s boldly explore, with a personal story, “strange new worlds…new civilizations.” On this journey to the “final frontier,” I will discuss Star Trek: TNG and its impact on me as a kid and how, as an adult, I always think back to those episodes and Star Trek conventions that taught me valuable human lessons.
When I was younger, and still today, the television shows I enjoyed the most had consistent plots and storyline methods producing endings that often left me inspired. The show taught me lessons of right, wrong, and the importance of justice for all through the mixture of art and entertainment. Star Trek: TNG succeeded excelled at this. I am not sure when I first watched TNG, or any Star Trek show or film, for that matter. I remember sitting in front of the television, amazed by the stories unfolding on TNG and moved by the ideal the characters aspired to.
My Aunt Sybil inspired me most in my journey to becoming a Trekkie. She watched it regularly, went to conventions, collected the toys, and assisted my mom purchasing the newest and best action figures for me as holiday or birthday gifts. From cardboard, I even built a transporter to dive into that world with my toys, partaking and escaping into imaginative adventures. When watching TNG today, I think back to young me, at that time, voyaging alongside all the characters and exploring the unknown depths, not of space, but my fears and insecurities. This love for creativity developed around traveling into my imagination with those toys, especially Star Trek toys since I could indeed go “boldly,” like in the show, “where no one had gone before.” That most identifiable phrase from all Star Trek shows, and mediums, is the blueprint for us to be imaginative, dream, and trust your capabilities. Star Trek taught me that my geek status, excitement about Star Trek, or comic/Sci-Fi conventions, as a kid, while ridiculed, today are met with a community of support.
I am not sure of the exact years, but I went to a total of two Star Trek conventions with my mom and Aunt Sybil. The first convention was on Cape Cod in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The second was in Providence, Rhode Island, where I met George Takei, took a picture, and received an autograph. I remember both events well. I had never been to an event like this, other than a baseball card show. It was exciting, and there were so many people, all dressed up, and hundreds of booths with merchandise, all dedicated to Star Trek. It was a sight to behold, and although I wanted everything, I was thrilled when my mom bought me a badge pin, the emblem/communicator worn by the crew/cast on TNG. I immediately pinned it on my shirt and walked around the convention space, taking in the excitement. This particular convention was in Hyannis, and the primary guest was Brent Spiner, Data from TNG. This convention may have been around the time Star Trek: Generations premiered in theaters since I remember there being excitement about the movie’s release.
With my mom and die-hard Trekkie aunt, we watched Brent Spiner walk into loud applause. He chatted with the audience, answered questions, and we had the opportunity to meet him and get his autograph, which meant so much. It was indeed a magical Star Trek moment in Hyannis, and one I never forgot. I still have the signature, the pin, and a photo of me sitting in the captain’s chair used on the TNG television show. What a thrill! The one thing I don’t have from that day was the Star Trek: Generations commemorative t-shirt my mom bought me with Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Captain James T. Kirk on it. I don’t have it for a couple of reasons. First, I doubt it would still fit, and second, that shirt taught me a lesson about bullies.
The Monday after the convention was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and I was excited to wear my new Star Trek shirt to school. That was the kind of kid I was, a little pomp, but with an emotional excitement that did not lend itself to thick skin. I liked what I liked and was a happy kid whose mother took him to a Star Trek convention, when, with four children, probably had other things she could have done. Instead, she indulged in my excitement and supported my curiosity and imagination.
I wore my Star Trek shirt proudly, but kids can be mean, and they laughed at me unmercifully that school day. Boys, girls, friend and foe alike, it didn’t matter; no one said they liked the shirt. If I wore that shirt today at the mall, I would get at least one compliment. There are Star Trek t-shirt monthly subscription services, of which I may or may not be a proud paying member. But kids can be cruel. Laughs, jokes, and unwanted attention forced me to rethink wearing that t-shirt to school again. Not because what they said mattered, the opposite. But a young kid’s skin is not thick, and I was a shy kid, and the attention was too much. So, I wore it at home, I wore it at my friend’s house, and I wore it when I watched Star Trek on television. Thinking back, I wish I didn’t let those bullies get the best of me. I am happy that being into Star Trek is hip today, although it never really wasn’t!
I know this post is about Star Trek, and I am going on about being bullied, but I guess I see a connection between those points. You see, Star Trek offered me immense comfort, and that day, being bullied, I felt like my comfort zone was under attack, the neutral zone invaded. So, instead of letting them win completely, I dove deeper into that world for inspiration. As I got older, I never lost sight of that connection, continuing to watch the series until it ended, watching those movies with the TNG crew, and then turning on other Star Trek series, yet never feeling they lived up to TNG. When they announced the semi-return of TNG with Star Trek: Picard, I was over the moon. When it aired, I bought CBS All Access and tuned in every week, eager, excited, and slightly nervous at what might happen to the storyline. Who from TNG would appear, and would it, or could it, live up to everything I imagined? The short answer is; yes. The long answer, well, let’s dive into that. I want to explore my favorite episodes, movies, characters, villains, and quotes as I explore TNG and my disbelief at its semi-return with Picard.
Overall Thoughts about Star Trek: TNG
TNG has always been my go-to show from the Star Trek universe. I watched the original Star Trek series as it aired in syndication and watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. I never watched Enterprise and have yet to watch Discovery, which is a mistake, but I plan on a massive Discovery binge this winter. Hey, I live in New England, it gets cold and snowy, and I need something to watch in bulk!
Although I do not pretend to be an expert, I watched TNG with awe and an eye towards its creativity. The action, storylines, the villains, the drama, and of course, the human lessons taught through sci-fi fantasy were magnificent. I am not sure another show hit so many diverse concepts within one overarching genre. There were standalone episodes and incredible cliffhangers, and core themes found their way to each season’s forefront. Whether it was the concept of time and space, Data’s quest to be human, and Picard’s endeavor to respect the rule of law but challenge authority when the rights of the many were infringed upon by the power of the minority, the show repeatedly took on essential topics. TNG discussed LGBTQ+ rights, liberty of the accused, individuality, guilt and trauma, what it means to be human, bravery mixed with stupidity, and discussions of prejudice and the power of memory.
It was a show that went on for 176 episodes in seven seasons, running from 1987-1994, which produced around twenty-four episodes per season. Each season centered around a villain, a singular storyline, even as each episode, as I said above, stood on its own and took pains to focus on each main character. The characters are grounded, yet their depths were explored tightly, with very few exceptions. Interestingly, as you will read, my favorite episodes are often, not always, those that stood alone, rather than acting in conjunction with a “To Be Continued” or multi-episode/season arc. Those same episodes had depth, incredible duality, and rarely included action scenes or space scenes, for that matter. I gravitated towards character development, emotional drama, and a beautifully orchestrated performance. With that said, let’s explore some of my favorite episodes, to bring home the type of Star Trek I seek out, which is why I felt Picard was ultimately successful for me as a viewer.
Favorite Episode and some Honorable Mentions
Unlike my TBS American Dad blog posts, American Dad Rewind – Part ONE & American Dad Rewind – Part TWO, I will not give a detailed rundown of all of my favorite episodes with extensive summaries. Instead, I will provide my top two, with an overview and quotes from both, with preference given to my number one, which is probably a top choice for most Star Trek: TNG fans. I will also provide five “Honorable Mention” episodes, with my favorite quote from each one.
Top Two Star Trek: TNG Episodes:
Two – “The Drumhead” (Season 4, Episode 21)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is not unlike a… a drumhead trial… 500 years ago, military officers would upend a drum on the battlefield. They’d sit at it and dispense summary justice. Decisions were quick, punishments severe; appeals denied. Those who came to a drumhead were doomed.”– Michael Dorn (Worf) & Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Drumhead”
Here is a summary of the episode from fandom.com. “J’Dan, a Klingon exchange officer, is suspected to have caused an explosion” on the Enterprise. “Retired Admiral Norah Satie comes aboard the ship to lead the investigation” and while J’Dan was committing espionage, he had “nothing to do with the explosion. Even as it is found to have been an accident, Satie keeps seeking out possible traitors. Her main suspect is the young Crewman Tarses, who is of partially Romulan origin and lied about it when he joined Starfleet. She even targets Picard when he doesn’t want to take part in her witch hunt any longer.”
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Drumhead”
This episode, in my opinion, has a lot to admire. For a historian, it makes impressive, if slightly subtle, references to the witch trials in America and Europe, the Inquisition, and Joseph McCarthy hearings (McCarthyism) from the 1950s. It is a beautiful, gripping, and tragically realistic episode that exposes deep-seated prejudices that still exist, even in a society believing itself moralistically enlightened and having an “evolved sensibility.” It’s an episode that reminds me of “He’s Alive,” “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” and “The Shelter” from Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. Those episodes, and this Star Trek episode, cut straight at the heart of hate and paranoia. In each case, the enemy constructed, the hearing a “kangaroo court,” and the accused a pawn of a society or people seeking answers they do not have and unable to provide evidence that simply does not exist.
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: A trial based on insinuation and innuendo. Nothing substantive offered against Mister Tarses, much less proven. Mister Tarses’ grandfather is Romulan, and for that reason his career now stands in ruins. Have we become so fearful? Have we become so cowardly that we must extinguish a man because he carries the blood of a current enemy? Admiral, let us not condemn Simon Tarses, or anyone else, because of their bloodlines, or investigate others for their innocent associations. I implore you, do not continue with this proceeding. End it now.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Drumhead”
“The Drumhead” is a masterful episode full of court drama, suspense, and some of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s most terrific monologues. Picard is always the hero, and this is no different here. He sees the hearing spiraling out of control and recognizes the false accusations gaining power. Honestly, the episode is a master class in examining the politics of fear, scapegoating, and rampant paranoia, which has been powerfully exhibited throughout American history.
One – “The Inner Light” (Season 5, Episode 25)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Seize the time, Meribor. Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Inner Light”
This episode is my absolute favorite from TNG. Here is a summary from fandom.com: “A seemingly harmless space probe taps into Picard’s mind and renders him unconscious…Picard finds himself in the role of the iron weaver Kamin, who lives in the town of Ressik on the planet of Kataan. He is married to a woman called Eline and has a friend, Batai. After years have passed, Picard has finally accepted his new life that gave him two children, but a continuing drought is threatening the planet. Many years later Picard/Kamin is an old man, his children are grown up, and Eline and Batai have died, while the planet keeps drying up. The sun is going nova, and the limited technology of Kataan allows nothing more than to launch a space probe to preserve the memory of its inhabitants. Kamin’s life was selected to be told to a future historian, who happens to be Picard. When Picard awakens on the bridge, only some 25 minutes have passed, during which he lived half a life on the planet of Kataan. Inside the probe the flute that Kamin/Picard used to play is found.”
“The Inner Light” is an episode that could just as easily be on a non-sci-fi show. That’s not negative, not at all. Instead, it shows Star Trek’s versatility when the show’s best episode does not deal with the Borg, Q, a battle here and there, or the Federation and its prime directives. I love all of those things, but “The Inner Light” possesses an evident emotional power. The probe, which at first appears to attack Picard, is discovered to be a non-violent “memory sphere,” launched thousands of years before, as a dying society’s final effort to be remembered. This society sought infinity by preserving who they were and their memories within this “object.” Having it “attach” itself to Picard, and forcing him to live out a lifetime on that long-dead planet, was a way to assure that preservation. As a historian dedicated to research on historical memory, this episode gained extra points!
This episode, it seems, supports what Carl Sagan said about the launch of Voyager 1 in 1977, “The spacecraft will be encountered, and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space, but the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” What if, hypothetically, society, and the dying world had one opportunity to launch a probe; what would it say? What would it preserve? Voyager 1 includes “Golden Records,” which are two phonograph records and “contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.” Those records tell our story, as human beings, for those who might find it.
“Batai: We hoped our probe would encounter someone in the future. Someone who could be a teacher. Someone who could tell the others about us. / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh… Oh, it’s me… Isn’t it? I’m the someone. I’m the one it finds. That’s what this launching is. A probe that finds me, in the future.”– Richard Riehle (Batai) & Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Inner Light”
Yet, the episode’s impact is in those somber moments when Picard, living this alternative reality, comes to terms with his circumstances, flute playing, and a life he never had above the clouds and among the stars. This realization is a significant theme of Picard’s story arc. What could, or might have been, had he not joined Starfleet? He never had a family of his own, and episodes from TNG, the film Star Trek: Generations, and the new series Picard all position this plot front and center. In its way, the probe, by using Picard as this conduit to cerebral preservation, has given Picard a glimpse, a passing feeling, and an understanding of the life he never lived.
His flute is the representative of that newfound fact. Once Picard awakens from the probe’s hold, he’s gifted the flute. The sound, when Picard plays it, is moving. Beautiful, endearing, with Patrick Stewart, once again, owning each scene as Picard. Truly, TNG thrived when Stewart was allowed to take the reigns with fantastic dialogue and a dramatic storyline. That is why “The Inner Light,” with all its metaphors about life, death, and change, is still the most touching TNG episode. It always makes me cry, and I am wicked amazed by how flawlessly Star Trek mixed drama and sci-fi. With a mesmerizing musical score and all of the above, “The Inner Light” has easily preserved its essence and longevity.
“Eline: The rest of us have been gone a thousand years. If you remember what we were, and how we lived, then we’ll have found life again. / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Eline… / [the probe is launched] / Eline: Now we live in you. Tell them of us… my darling.– Margot Rose (Eline) & Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Inner Light”
Five Honorable Mentions:
One – “Measure of a Man” (Season 2, Episode 9)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Your honor, a courtroom is a crucible. In it we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product – the truth, for all time.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “Measure of a Man”
Two – “The Best of Both Worlds” (Season 3, Episode 26)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Mister Worf, dispatch a subspace message to Admiral Hanson. We have engaged the Borg.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from Part One of “The Best of Both Worlds”
Three – “Family” (Season 4, Episode 2)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: You don’t know, Robert. You don’t know… They took everything I was. They used me to kill and to destroy and I couldn’t stop them. [sobs]… I should have been able to stop them. I tried… I tried so hard. But I wasn’t strong enough! I wasn’t good enough! I should have been able to stop them, I should’ve, I should…! / Robert Picard: So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now: live with it below the sea with Louis – or above the clouds with the Enterprise.– Patrick Stewart (Picard) & Jeremy Kemp (Robert) from “Family”
Four – “Tapestry” (Season 6, Episode 15)
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Q, even if you have been able to bring me back in time somehow, surely you must realize that any alteration in this timeline will have a profound impact on the future. / Q: Please, spare me your egotistical musings on your pivotal role in history. Nothing you do here will cause the Federation to collapse or galaxies to explode. To be blunt, you’re not that important.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) & John de Lancie (Q) from “Tapestry”
Five – “All Good Things…” (Season 7, Episode 25)
“Q: Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I’m gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end.”– John de Lancie (Q) from “All Good Things…”
Best Character/ Greatest Villian
I feel as though all TNG characters developed brilliantly as the seasons/series went on. I love everyone from the main cast, whether LaVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi, Brent Spinner as Data, Michael Dorn as Worf, Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher, and Johnathan Frakes as Will Riker. I especially enjoyed Whoopi Goldberg, as Guinan, when included as part of the storyline, but even so, Stewart as Picard was the best character. Through a little research, I learned that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not want Patrick Stewart for this role, but thank goodness he was wrong. A significant portion of those episodes I love seemingly focus on Jean-Luc Picard going through some personal turmoil, learning a lesson, or defending all living things. He is a true hero. He is flawed and imperfect, yet continuously seeking to better himself and learn from those around him. Patrick Stewart was brilliant in his performance as this character. You believe he is that person. You accept him for his flaws and praise him for his passion. Picard was the clear choice to build a new series off, as most will argue that Jean-Luc Picard, and no one else, won Star Trek: TNG, and maybe all of Star Trek.
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “The Drumhead”
When it comes to villains, this is where it gets a little tricky. Sure, I could select the Borg, as a collective, who appear in several significant episodes and one film, or David Warner as the Cardassian captain who tortured Picard in “Chain of Command,” or maybe even Jean Simmons as Admiral Satie from “The Drumhead” for her support of McCarthyism style conspiracy theory politics. As the quote directly above this paragraph states, villains are not always obvious to point out, so I feel John de Lancie, as Q, is the greatest and most impressive TNG villain.
The character of Q is intense and exciting. In many ways, he is not a typical enemy or villain, like the Borg, who so quickly and proudly wear that title. Instead, Q is a trickster, a deceiver, a being with both an incredible lack of empathy and an ego that knows no bounds. He likes Picard, seemingly like a pet, but always seeks to test him, prod his capabilities, with both the enjoyment of a torturer, as well as someone who wants to witness Picard’s achievements. He sees Picard’s growth as a mentor, even gifting him opportunities to undo past wrong deeds, but allowing Picard to learn and grow. Q is a villain, that much is clear, but not a typical villain. He does not want to destroy the Enterprise D or kill Picard, but he doesn’t make what they do effortless. He was a great constant throughout the series, and whenever he appeared, you knew you were in for a show and were eager to see what Q had in store for Picard.
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here. / Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind to new horizons. And for one brief moment, you did. / Picard: When I realized the paradox. / Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. ‘That’ is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”– John de Lancie (Q) & Patrick Steward (Picard) from “All Good Things…”
Top TNG Focused Feature Film
Sure, I thought Star Trek: Generations was great as the first feature film with the TNG crew. A sort of “passing of the torch” from the original cast to the Star Trek franchise’s not-so-new heirs. I thought the storyline was solid, with a great villain in Malcolm McDowell and the excellent addition of Whoopi Goldberg. Of course, Patrick Stewart stole the show with his acting and dialogue, which always turned into a monologue, which I eagerly wait for each time I rewatch the film. But, while I enjoyed this film far more than Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis, I feel, for the TNG crew, it is merely a distant second to what I consider their top franchise film. With a perfect enemy/villain, time travel to “past” earth, the addition of Alfre Woodard, and Patrick Stewart quoting Moby-Dick, Star Trek: First Contact is my favorite, by far, TNG centered Star Trek film.
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I don’t have time for this. / Lily Sloane: Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your little quest. Captain Ahab has to go hunt his whale! / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: What? / Lily Sloane: You do have books in the 24th century. / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is not about revenge. / Lily Sloane: LIAR! / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: This is about saving the future of humanity! / Lily Sloane: Jean-Luc, blow up the damn ship! / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: No! Noooooooooo! / [Smashes glass and model ships with his phaser] / Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done!”– Alfre Woodard (Lily) & Patrick Stewart (Picard) from Star Trek: First Contact
I see this film as a re-imagined version of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Picard as futuristic Ahab. Although Picard is a morally decent and inspired human being, he has one albatross; the Borg. On multiple occasions, they harmed him during the series, assimilated him into their collective being, and forced him to commit unspeakable acts of terror against the Federation. In several episodes of the series, his pain is examined, showcased, and illustrated as he confronts the Borg. Each time he sees them, he wants to destroy them and will stop at nothing. Therefore, he pursues a course of self-destruction. Picard is Ahab, maybe absent the terror Ahab inflicted on those aboard the Pequod, but willing to sacrifice himself, the Enterprise, his crew, for one opportunity to stab at the belly of the beast. Thankfully, in First Contact, Picard recognizes his quest for revenge has gone too far. If only Ahab had done the same.
“Captain Jean-Luc Picard: [Quoting “Moby Dick”] ‘And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.’”– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from Star Trek: First Contact
First Contact, directed by Jonathan Frakes, is a mix of everything great about Star Trek, with its excellent dialogue and score, and an imaginative plot centered around the concepts of heroism, sacrifice, and hope. It is a story that parallels American literary concepts, which include revenge against an enemy that seems unstoppable—a genuinely perfect Star Trek film. Is there a better Star Trek film? Possibly, I have always been a fan of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I feel is underrated. Whether it’s The Wrath of Khan, with the impressive Ricardo Montalban, or The Undiscovered Country, with Oscar winner Christopher Plummer, these two movies have two of the best villains of any Star Trek film. Still, I rank First Contact and those films as my top Star Trek films.
I was thrilled when I heard that Patrick Stewart would reprise Picard in a new Star Trek series on CBS All Access. To hear that Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in any form, would once again be back was like being told a part of my childhood would get a sequel. The emotions I felt were unique and exciting. That the show Star Trek: Picard would resemble the film Logan, with its dark undertones, was even more exciting. As I said earlier, while I love sci-fi, especially those space battles that make Star Trek fun, I seek out the mixture of drama and science fiction, seen in “The Inner Light” and “The Drumhead.”
The show did not disappoint. I enjoyed Picard’s character arc, some 20 years after the last film. His pain, trauma, growth, or lack thereof, was on full display, and the character’s turmoil matched the actor’s performance. I enjoyed the appearance of several TNG crew members. Those reunions were emotional, necessary, and leave me eager for the second season of Picard. Star Trek: TNG has always been a very inspiring show. Picard helps to remember and relive those past seasons while seeing the story extended. Who knows how long it will go on, but like TNG, no matter how long it lasts, I will enjoy the ride!