Star Trek: The Next Generation Essential Viewing (sort of)

Which episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are necessary for the story to make sense?

A while ago, I saw a blog post in which someone listed all the episodes of the original series of Star Trek which were “rendered canonical” by the later movies…in other words, which ones contained elements (aside from the regular characters or the Enterprise) which later featured in the theatrical films.

I found this exercise to be a bit arbitrary, but of course still fun in a time-killing bloggy sort of way, and it put me in mind of the question I’m tackling here.  Namely, starting with the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (ie. the conclusion of the story) which episodes do we have to include in order to tell a cohesive overall story…at least, as cohesive as the show ever got?  I resolved to find out.

Star Trek TNG 2

Incidentally, our approach here is sort of middle-of-the-road:  we’re not trying either to include or exclude everything we can, but rather just take on board whatever seems like reasonably necessity to do so.  So, we don’t just include every Lwaxana Troi episode just because we have to include one.  But we don’t put up a fight to exclude anything either.

So, as I said we will take the series’ finale as our starting point.  This is where the story ends, and so we have to make sense of everything that leads up to this point.

All Good Things (Episode 7.25)

Now, of course if we have that, we’re going to have to include the show’s first episode.

Encounter at Farpoint  (Episode 1.1)

Not just because it’s first, but because All Good Things actually flashes back into the middle of the first episode, and includes numerous references to its plot, particularly the trial that Q puts humanity on.  Amongst the other things we see in that flashback are Tasha Yar, which means we’re going to have explain what happened to this character and why she’s no longer on board.

Skin of Evil  (Episode 1.22) – the episode which features Tasha’s death.

All Good Things also includes a bit with Worf and Troi nearly kissing, as part of a brief arc of them having a romance.  So that means we’re going to have to explain where that came from.  So far we can avoid the terrible Eye of the Beholder, but not the episode where the idea was really introduced:

Parallels  (Episode 7.11)

Now, this is significant because even though he doesn’t appear, Parallels makes prominent references to Alexander, Worf’s son.  That means we have to explain who he is, which means we’re going to have to explain who K’ehleyr was, and that means we’ve go to know who Duras was, and that means we’ve got to have the whole Klingon Civil War!

A Matter of Honor  (Episode 2.8) – Riker’s visit to a Klingon ship gets referenced a bunch in Sins of the Father, later on this list
The Emissary  (Episode 2.20) – K’ehleyr is introduced and Alexander conceived
Sins of the Father  (Episode 3.17) – Duras, K’mpec and Kurn are all introduced, and Worf is discommended
Reunion (Episode 4.7) – Duras, K’mpec and K’ehleyr are all killed, and Alexander’s existence is revealed.  Alexander goes to live with his human grandparents.
Redemption  (Episode 4.26) – The Klingon Civil War, Worf’s honor is restored, Duras’ family introduced
Redemption, part II  (Episode 5.1) – The Klingon Civil War concludes
New Ground  (Episode 5.10) – Alexander returns to live with his father on board the Enterprise

Parallels also makes reference to Worf’s accident where he was temporarily crippled, so…

Ethics  (Episode 5.16)

Ethics refers to Marla Aster as someone that Riker and Worf know who has died.  I think we should explain who that is to give the moment more resonance.

The Bonding  (Episodes 3.5)

Now, Redemption, especially Part II, features Sela as a villain – the half Romulan / half human daughter of Tasha Yar.  This only makes sense if you know how an alternate version of Tasha Yar once went back into time in the midst of a battle with the Romulans on board another ship, so we need an episode of the show which many (including myself) consider to be one of the best:

Yesterday’s Enterprise  (Episode 3.15)

Also, New Ground includes an appearance by Worf’s foster mother, Helena Rozhenko, who is also referred to in Reunion.  I think it makes sense at this point to include Helena’s other on-screen appearance.

Family  (Episode 4.2)

And that’s big because that necessitates that we bring in the “main” Borg episodes, given that Picard is recovering from his trauma with the Borg in Family.  (The Borg stuff is also necessary because of Parallels, really).

Q Who  (Episode 2.16) – Q introduces the Enterprise to the Borg
The Best of Both Worlds   (Episode 3.26) – The big Borg battle which Picard was recovering from
The Best of Both Worlds part 2  (Episode 4.1) – More of the same

Plus, Q Who makes direct reference to destruction that Borg presumably caused earlier in the series, back at the end of season 1.

The Neutral Zone  (Episode 1.25) – Also re-introduces the Romulans to the Star Trek world

Now, what else?  Well, in All Good Things there’s an indication of the romantic attraction between Picard and Dr. Crusher, so we’ve got to include the one story that actually dealt with that.

Attached  (Episode 7.8)

Speaking of Dr. Crusher, there’s a bunch of stuff with her and her son that we have to deal with.  The episodes we’ve selected so far include stories where we’ve seen Wesley as a kid on the ship, Wesley as an acting ensign, Wesley as a full ensign, and the time when Dr. Crusher was gone from the ship, so we’ve got to explain all of that.

Where No One Has Gone Before  (Season 1.5) – Wesley is promoted to Acting Ensign
The Child  (Episode 2.1) – Dr. Crusher is revealed to have transferred to Starfleet Medical, Dr. Pulaski introduced
Evolution  (Episode 3.1) – Dr. Crusher returns to the Enterprise
Ménage à Troi  (Episode 3.24) – Wesley is promoted to full ensign
Final Mission  (Episode 4.9) – Wesley finally goes to the Academy

Also, Final Mission makes a direct reference to the other time Picard and Wesley flew around in a shuttle together…

Samaritan Square  (Episode 2.17)

That brings us up to 26 episodes, which is a lot, but still only a drop in the bucket for the overall 176!  (A lot of people say 178, but I actually count the two double-length episodes as just one episode each, so 176).

But, we’re not done yet!

All Good Things features a brief appearance by Tomalak, the Romulan commander, so I think it’s fair enough to say we have to introduce the character:

The Enemy  (Episode 3.7)

Also, All Good Things features Alyssa Ogawa, Dr. Crusher’s nurse, who is in a relationship with Lt. Andrew Powell and pregnant at the time.  She is also clearly Dr. Crusher’s friend, so I think some background on the character is worthwhile.  (She already appears on our list in Parallels, but that’s in an alternate universe).

Lower Decks  (Episode 7.15) – A lot of focus on Ogawa, including her engagement to Andrew Powell
Genesis  (Episode 7.19) – Ogawa announces she is pregnant!

And if we have Lower Decks, we’re going to need to explain Ensign Sito’s backstory.

The First Duty  (Episode 5.19) – This episode also shows us Boothby, whom Picard talks about in Samaritan Snare, as well as of course showing us what happens with Wesley Crusher after he leaves for the Academy

Lower Decks also references Ambassador Spock!  That opens a bit of a door:

Sarek  (Episode 3.23) – Sarek (Spock’s father) and his wife are major guest stars
Unification I  (Episode 5.7) – Sarek dies of the disease he was seen to have in the above episode, and of course all sorts of stuff about Spock and Romulus
Unification II  (Episode 5.8) – More about Spock and Romulus, and also Sela shows up for the last time

Genesis, as poor an episode it is, brings Lt. Barclay into our mind-canon, so I think it’s reasonable that we fill in a little about him.

Hollow Pursuits  (Episode 3.21) – Barclay’s first appearance
The Nth Degree  (Episode 4.19) – Barclay’s second appearance, which I think is probably just as important in introducing who the character is

This episode makes a direct reference to Geordi’s experiences on the holodeck from another (and so, in fact, did Sarek)

Booby Trap  (Episode 3.6)

Now, Booby Trap introduces us to holographic Leah Brahms, and in All Good Things we find out that Geordi is married to someone named Leah.  I think we ought to include the only other episode to include Leah Brahms, since it shows Geordi actually meeting her in person:

Galaxy’s Child  (Episode 4.16)

Genesis also shows Troi commanding the bridge, highlighting her promotion.

Disaster  (Episode 5.5 – Troi is forced to take command of the bridge when things go wrong)
Thine Own Self  (Episode 7.16) – Troi references Disaster as part of her motivation for taking her exam to become a commander.

Now, of course, Disaster features, amongst other things, the birth of Keiko O’Brien’s baby.  Miles O’Brien has already appeared on this list, and the guy appeared in so many Next Generation episodes, it’s not like we can call them all “essential”.  But I think we can include the one that introduced Keiko and their marriage.

Data’s Day  (Episode 4.11)

Disaster also has Ensign Ro in it, which means we should give some explanation for her:

Ensign Ro  (Episode 5.3)

Speaking of recurring characters, we’ve never mentioned that Lwaxana Troi showed up in Ménage à Troi, (and she’s referenced in Parallels as well), which means I think we need to include her introduction as well.

Haven  (Episode 1.10)

In Data’s Day, Data is sending a letter to Bruce Maddox, the guy who tried to claim Data was just property.

The Measure of a Man  (Episode 2.9)

And that episode refers to the relationship between Data and Tasha Yar way back when they were both space-drunk.

The Naked Now  (Episode 1.2)

In A Matter of Honor, there is a reference to Mordock, the guy who beat Wesley into the Academy back in Season 1.

Coming of Age  (Episode 1.18)

And that one sets up a major (though short-lived) plotline that plays out later in the year, when alien parasites invade the Federation.

Conspiracy  (Episode 1.24)

Coming of Age also makes references to a few different early episodes as Captain Picard is being investigated.

Justice  (Episode 1.7)
The Battle  (Episode 1.8)
Angel One (Episode 1.13)

Q Who, by the way, makes a direct reference to when Q showed up to invite Commander Riker to join their Continuum.

Hide and Q  (Episode 1.9)

Now, we might actually be getting to a standstill with things.  But there are still some other points.

A major one is Guinan, the character played by Whoopi Goldberg, who has shown up lot on this list.  I think it’s fair to include the episode that gave the most explanation of her backstory and her mysterious connection to Captain Picard.

Time’s Arrow  (Episode 5.26)
Time’s Arrow, part II  (Episode 6.1)

Another element is the Ferengi, who on our list show up only in Ménage à Troi.  They are still new to Federation dealings at that point, so it’s worth including the first time they show up in the series.

The Last Outpost  (Episode 1.4)

And the Cardassians, too, have played a role in a few episodes on our list, but have never been properly introduced.

The Wounded  (Episode 4.12)

That episode also gives a nice look-in at O’Brien and his wife.

So we’re really almost at the end now, but there are still a few more points.  They may not strictly speaking be necessary, but I think that the overall story is more connected and cohesive if we include them, so we will.

One is that we have some major points of the show’s “Romulan” story arc (The Neutral Zone, Redemption, Unification) but we’re missing some key moments of development within it.  To fill those in, we’re going to add a couple more stories:

The Drumhead – The threat of the Romulans is very real, as they attempt to destabilize relationships between the Federation and the Klingons.  And it’s effective enough to get the Federation acting a bit out of control.  The Drumhead also references a bunch of previous episodes, but they’re all already on our list.

The Mind’s Eye – This episode actually introduces Sela (in shadows), and really does the work of setting up all the Romulan stuff that happens in the Redemption two-parter.

Another episode that fits in really well with what we’ve already talked about is the one that follows up on the story that Picard tells Wesley in Samaritan Snare, about how he gained his artificial heart.

Tapestry – Thanks to Q, we actually get to see what that was all about.

And finally, I think, there is the fact that we see Data at the beginning with Encounter at Farpoint, and we see Data as he is at the end of the TV series, with All Good Things.  But with all the episodes that we’ve had on this list, we don’t really get to see the development of Data from one to the other.  There are many episodes that we could choose from to try demonstrate this, but there is one which I think is the most critical, and which should be included as a bare minimum:

Brothers – Data meets his creator, and discovers the existence of an emotion chip, which is subsequently stolen by his evil twin, Lore.

And naturally, if we include that, than we’ve also got to have a couple of others:

Datalore – The story that introduced Lore, and as a concept, Dr. Soong
Descent – Lore returns, leading a contingent of Borg
Descent, part II – The conclusion of the above, and the end of the Lore story

And of course, that last story involves Hugh.

I, Borg – The story that introduces Hugh

And while we’re at it, let’s explain whatever happened to that Crystalline Entity from Datalore.

Silicon Avatar – The destruction of the Crystalline Entity, just when we were starting to be friends!

Phew!  And that, I think, is that!  If we count it up, we see that we have included 63 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or just about 35.8% of the series. Of course, that’s leaving out some things that you might argue should be included, like explaining the experimental metaphasic shields that show up Descent part 2 (from Suspicions) or even all the follow-up stuff with Wesley and the Traveler after Where No One Has Gone Before (but I don’t feel like you’d really miss it if you never went there).  But then there are things that I did include which might be a bit borderline, so I think it evens out in the end.

By doing this exercise, what do we end up leaving out of the series?  Well, there’s no Moriarity, no Vash, no Scotty, no Thomas Riker, no Lal, no hints of the Maquis, no Warp Speed limit, and a lot less Q and Lwaxana Troi.  We also lose great episodes like Frame of Mind, Darmok, and The Inner Light, and there are no “four lights” of Chain of Command. On the other hand, we managed to include some great stuff, like Measure of a Man,  Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Best of Both Worlds, Family, Tapestry, Q Who, Sarek, Reunion and All Good Things. 

Unfortunately, we also had to include weaker episodes, like The Last Outpost, The Battle, Time’s Arrow, Unification, and Genesis.  Even Justice somehow got in the door. But we were able to leave behind stinkers like Sub Rosa, Masks, Too Short a Season, and Shades of Gray.  Season One is the most strongly represented, with 14 episodes, while Season Six is the least strongly represented, with only three episodes.

Finally, if you are interested, here is a chronological list of the includes episodes:

Season One
Encounter at Farpoint
The Naked Now
The Last Outpost
Where No One Has Gone Before
The Battle
Hide and Q
Angel One
Coming of Age
Skin of Evil
The Neutral Zone

Season Two
The Child
A Matter of Honor
The Measure of a Man
Q Who
Samaritan Square
The Emissary

Season Three
The Bonding
Booby Trap
The Enemy
Yesterday’s Enterprise
Sins of the Father
Hollow Pursuits
Ménage à Troi
The Best of Both Worlds

Season Four
The Best of Both Worlds part two
Final Mission
Data’s Day
The Wounded
Galaxy’s Child
The Nth Degree
The Drumhead
The Mind’s Eye

Season Five
Redemption part two
Ensign Ro
Silicon Avatar
Unification I
Unification II
New Ground
The First Duty
I, Borg
Time’s Arrow

Season Six
Time’s Arrow, part II

Season Seven
Descent, part II
Lower Decks
Thine Own Self
All Good Things…

Overall, I have to say that I think if this is all you watched, you’d get a pretty good run of the series.

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