Star Trek: The 10 Best Episodes Of TNG (And 10 Worst), Officially Ranked
The original Star Trek was something of a revolution. Despite its heavy science fiction elements (or perhaps because of them), the show was able to garner an enormous fan base, quickly becoming the envy of other programs of that era. Despite its ups and downs, the original Star Trek remains a tried and true classic, but some might argue that Star Trek didn’t really come into its own until the advent of its sequel series, The Next Generation.
Kicking off an entire era of Star Trek programming, The Next Generation was exactly that: a gateway into the universe of Trek for a new generation of fans, along with the old. The iconic aesthetic of its ships and uniforms have more-or-less become the standard when people think of Trek, and the series’ new cast of characters were able to make a lasting impact that rivaled even that of the original.
Also, while there are still dedicated fans of the original series, along with most of The Next Generation’s follow-ups, you’ll find a sizeable portion of people who believe that The Next Generation is not only the peak of the franchise, but possibly the finest science fiction to ever grace television. Despite that praise, though, TNG is also guilty of some abjectly awful lows, and that brings us to today’s list. With our list, we’re aiming to define the highest of the highs when it comes to The Next Generation, but also the worst missteps the show ever took over its seven seasons.
Here are The 10 Best Star Trek: TNG Episodes (And 10 Worst), Officially Ranked.
20 Best: Lower Decks (S7E15)
In this seventh season episode, there’s no major cosmic threat or temporal disturbance. In fact, there’s really not even much of plot, and yet, “Lower Decks” is still one of the finest episodes in the entire series.
Following the exploits of junior officers on the Enterprise, we get to see the main cast from a new perspective, and really get to absorb (and enjoy) what life on the Enterprise might be like. Serving a perfect way to take a break from the norm and refresh jaded viewers, “Lower Decks” is a genuine classic. It’s a bold, intimate episode, and it easily found its way into not just the hearts of fans, but this official ranking, as well.
19 Worst: The Naked Now (S1E3)
The first season of The Next Generation is… a bumpy ride, if we were to put it as delicately as humanly possible. For people hoping to get into the series for the first time, it’s usually a common practice to suggest that they skip the first season entirely, and it’s not very hard to see why. Awkward writing, cringetastic, manufactured emotions and a general feeling of “we have no idea what we’re doing” leads to many awkward episodes, and “The Naked Now” is definitely one of them.
Following the pitiful premiere, “The Naked Now” likely shaved off chunks of skeptical viewers, failing in every way to prove that TNG had potential. In short, the episode features Wesley at his worst, weird space viruses, and Data performing… “extracurricular activity” with Tasha, and it’s all terrible.
18 Best: Deja Q (S3E13)
The character of Q was more-or-less an instant classic, and quickly helped define The Next Generation. Even though the two-part premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, was pretty awful, Q’s very presence helped elevate its schlockiest moments and show that yes, TNG might actually be good.
Season 3’s “Deja Q” gave us a very interesting look into the life character, but with something of a twist: he lost his omnipotence after being thrown out of Continuum. He takes up residence on the Enterprise as a mere human, and attempts to reconcile his newfound mortality. The episode is particularly hilarious, but also emotionally solid with a powerful, heart-warming ending, sealing the deal and making this episode an all-time classic.
17 Worst: Journey's End (S7E20)
Star Trek, in almost all of its incarnations, is fond of carrying on the science-fiction tradition of tackling real life issues through the lens of its fiction. There are many incredible examples of this throughout the multiple series, but “Journey’s End” is one of the times that the show not only tripped over its feet, but fell flat on its face.
The episode’s fault doesn’t lie in its message, but rather how it all just painfully wreaks of the utter bottom of the barrel, with the moral lesson about the wrongs of Colonialism being so heavy-handed and obvious that they might as well have just lectured us on the topic for forty minutes rather than produce a show. To top it all off, it ends with a mind-boggling deus ex machina that almost physically hurts due to its stupidity.
16 Best: The Measure Of A Man (S2E9)
“The Measure of a Man” is an example of Star Trek tackling a complex issue incredibly well, while also producing an immensely entertaining piece of television, something that the aforementioned “Journey’s End” failed to do on every level. Focusing on the ethical issues such as sentience and the rights that sentient beings have (or should have), along with a myriad of other, borderline spiritual questions, “Measure of a Man” is a classic dose of old-fashioned sci-fi honed to perfection.
Data, everyone’s favorite android, unwittingly finds himself the subject of a courtroom debate thanks to a doctor who wishes to dissemble him in the name of attempting to create duplicates. We’re treated to intense courtroom spectacle and debates regarding heavy topics, and it’s all absolutely wonderful.
15 Worst: Sub Rosa (S7E14)
For the uninitiated simply judging by a plot summary, it might seem like “Sub Rosa” is an episode stemming from The Next Generation’s rough first season but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, this embarrassingly stinky turd somehow made its way into the world during the seventh and final season, baffling one and all.
Bringing back awful memories of “The Naked Now”, “Sub Rosa” infamously features Dr. Crusher fornicating with... a ghost, or some kind of spirit. It really doesn’t make too much sense, and we don’t want to strain our brains to piece it together. If that wasn’t awkward enough, the episode “features” (a term used very lightly) rather intimate conversations regarding Beverly’s personal and familial life and it’s all just so uncomfortably bizarre.
14 Best: Yesterday's Enterprise (S3E15)
This is another example of Star Trek: The Next Generation doing a hard sci-fi story that not only makes much of the series green with envy, but also causes many of its peers in the entirety of the genre to blush at their inadequacies while failing to hide their jealousy. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” takes the rather common trope of time travel causing innumerable changes to a reality, but injects it with a sense or originality and character that only Star Trek can.
Due to a trick of time, we see the return of the Enterprise C, a living Tasha Yar, and a whole slew of far-reaching alterations, including war with the Klingons. In the end, extremely difficult decisions need to be made in order to restore the order that was lost, and it leaves a powerful impression in its wake.
13 Worst: Skin Of Evil (S1E23)
Another gem from The Next Generation’s first season, this infamous episode did the unthinkable deed of permanently offing a main character. Alas, if only we had known Tasha Yar longer than 22 episodes, maybe we could have found the courage in our souls to actually care.
Making matters worse, Tasha is terminated by what is, at best, Melt Man from Action League NOW! or, at worst, a living trash bag. It’s an awful alien design, and one that proves the creative team didn’t learn a darn thing after the gigantic jellyfish debacle from the premiere. Despite a sweet farewell message at the end of the episode, there’s nothing that could save this garbage pile from whence Armus came.
12 Best: I, Borg (S5E23)
The Borg’s introduction into the Star Trek mythos was nothing short of frightening. Nothing like them had been seen in the franchise before, and nothing since has really measured up to them (aside from the Dominion.) Long before the days of a Borg joining the crew of the Voyager, The Next Generation painted a grim picture of these heartless, unstoppable machines… except for season 5’s “I, Borg”.
After capturing a lone Borg, later called “Hugh,” Geordi spends time getting to know him, and eventually causes it to show evidence of the ability to function as an individual, far from the collective mind of its race. The two share a touching a relationship, but the moral dilemma about whether or not to weaponize Hugh in order to devastate the Collective is where this episode truly shines.
11 Worst: Angel One (S1E14)
In yet another season 1 failure, “Angel One” attempts to tackle an important social issue, but does so in a way that is excruciatingly heavy-handed, artificial, embarrassing, and downright stupid.
After encountering a planet called “Angel One,” the crew finds a species of dominant women who force their men to remain subservient. Riker then tries to warn them that subjugation will lead to revolution. The episode seeks to make a statement about our modern society and how women still don’t have fully equal rights or autonomy.
While that is certainly an honorable case to make, we’re once again inclined to believe that instead of trying to educate their viewers on the topic through a sloppily executed episode, they probably should’ve just put on a low-budget presentation.
10 Best: Darmok (S5E2)
At its core, Star Trek aims to be high science fiction. Yes, the characters are wonderful, and the fictional universe they inhabit, along with the technology they use, is utterly fascinating, but it’s really the science fiction stories that cement the franchise as such an immovable classic.
Season 5’s “Darmok” is exactly this type of pure science fiction, and it’s a marvelous episode that manages to use the show’s fantastic characters while also presenting a captivating situation that only this genre can provide. In short, “Darmok” involves Picard’s desperate attempts to communicate with the enigmatic Tamarian, Dathon, as the two work together, battling for their lives on a hostile world. Dealing with concepts such as language, meaning, and the genuine kinship that can still exist despite communication hurdles, “Darmok” is an episode not soon forgotten.
9 Worst: Night Terrors (S4E17)
Sometimes, Star Trek: The Next Generation is intelligent, thought-provoking, and generally very heady. Other times, it’s the stupidest thing you can possibly imagine, and “Night Terrors” proves that point to an almost violently effective degree.
Despite dealing with such utterly stirring and emotionally impactful concepts like a lack of sleep, the ability to dream, and hostile hallucinations, most people will remember this episode for one thing, and one thing only: Troi, glowing green, floating around and screaming out “where are you?” repeatedly. You can’t even begin to imagine what the writers were thinking when wrote it. There were no lofty, but poorly handled, morals here. Instead, there was only a terrible concept that ended up even worse in execution.
8 Best: Best Of Both Worlds (S3E4, S4E1)
Ever since the bone-chilling reveal of the Borg, it was made very clear that this powerful, autonomous, hive-minded race was not to trifled with. Then the finale of season 3 premiered, and hit that point home harder and more piercingly than anyone thought possible.
Forced to engage the overwhelming might of a Borg Cube, the Enterprise finds itself in a battle that it cannot win, and Captain Picard, the beloved fixture of the entire series, finds himself assimilated into the Collective, becoming the cruel Locutus. Hitting the audience with another haymaker in the form of a cliffhanger, gobsmacked fans had to wait until the premiere of the next season to see how it all worked out, and they would not be disappointed. This episode proved once and for all the power of the cast, and the storytellers behind them.
7 Worst: Up The Long Ladder (S2E18)
Commander Riker is a pretty cool dude with his trombone skills, devilish grin, and macho beard, but he’s still kind of a cringeworthy and cheesy character on occasion, particularly when the writers try to sell him as a believable romantic genius. Any (and every) time the writers tried to take a walk down that path, it would backfire spectacularly, but that’s only part of the problem with “Up The Long Ladder”.
Featuring a group that the epitome of atrociously offensive stereotypes, Riker finds himself “involved” with one named Brenna in what is easily the most awkward romantic sequences in a series notorious for them. Sure, there’s more to the plot, but it really can’t do much to elevate how far down into the schlock this episode haphazardly ventured.
6 Best: Chain Of Command (S6E10,11)
One of the reasons why “Best of Both Worlds” made such a powerful impact was due to the surprising sight of Captain Picard succumbing to the malevolent Borg and becoming a merciless villain. Seeing this man, who had been the voice of reason, empathy, and sound judgment throughout the entire series become such a twisted and broken force of evil was soul-shattering… and it would be done again in season 6’s “Chain of Command”.
Picard finds himself captured by the dreaded Cardassians and is forced to endure the a brutal interrogation at their hands, and we’re with the Captain every step of the way. From its darkest moments to its heart-wrenching conclusion, “Chain of Command” is easily one of the finest moments for both Picard and the series.
5 Worst: Shades Of Grey (S2E22)
“The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” was a jaw-dropping finale, and certainly one of the finest examples of closing out a season with a bang. In fact, it sets such a high bar that we have difficulty thinking of other season finales that come even remotely close to matching its drama.
On the flipside, though, it’s a simple matter pinpoint a whole collection of disappointing season finales, and The Next Generation’s pitiful “Shades of Grey” is sitting on the gilded throne of disappointing season finales. Nothing more than a glorified clipshow due to a writer’s strike, this poorly-executed season finale is so awful that it’s almost intolerable to think that the staff had the gall to end and entire seasons with this, and yet they did.
4 Best: The Inner Light (S5E25)
Deep Space Nine’s “The Visitor” and TNG’s “The Inner Light” have a few things in common: both are Hugo Award material, and both deal with a beloved character finding themselves living an alternate life. While “The Visitor” is absolutely stellar, “The Inner Light” edges it out due to its complete divorce from the series’ plot as a whole, making this a standalone episode that feels more like a short film than a television show.
After a mysterious probe knocks Picard unconscious, we see him live through a long, full life on a distant world before he finally realizes that it was all nothing more than an illusion brought on by the probe. It’s wonderfully emotional and intriguing, and an all-around fantastic example of excellent sci-fi.
3 Worst: The Outrageous Okona (S2E4)
The Next Generation’s first season was unquestionably rough, and the show really didn’t find its footing until the third season, leaving the second out in the cold, with “The Outrageous Okona” being one of the worst moments in the entirety of the series.
Not only do we get an awful subplot of Data trying to learn the basics of comedy (spoiler: he doesn’t, and it’s suppose to play off as humorous, but it’s exponentially embarrassing instead), we’re also treated to Han Solo-wannabe Okona, who Wesley basically slobbers over (because of course he does.) All in all, this is one of the cringiest episodes of early TNG, if not the cringiest, and it’s best to never watch again (or ever, if you haven’t yet suffered through it.)
2 Best: All Good Things... (S7E25,26)
We’ll be upfront with you: some of the episodes on this list, specifically “The Inner Light”, might actually be superior to “All Good Things…”, but the reason we’re tipping the hat to this particular masterpiece is because of how exquisitely it’s able to tell its incredible story, all while bringing the entire series to a supremely satisfying conclusion, tying everything together in with a neat bow.
It’s no small feat to be a piece of fantastic science-fiction television, but to be able to achieve that while also bearing the burden of concluding an increasingly legendary series with a beloved cast that made waves throughout an enormous fandom is even more profound. “All Good Things…” successfully displays everything that was wonderful about TNG, Star Trek as a whole, and the genre of science fiction, and it makes sure you know it.
1 Worst: Code Of Honor (S1E4)
We’re not going to beat around the bush: “Code of Honor” is insanely racist to such an absurd degree that you might think it was made as a satire. Alas, it’s somehow an installment in a series that is known for progressive and inclusive ideals, portraying an idyllic future where such “isms” no longer exist.
So what went wrong here? Frankly, we can’t even imagine the creative process that somehow led to this script being written, then accepted, then produced, and then aired, with seemingly no one at any point saying “hey, you know what? This seems kind of offensive, stereotypical, and racist.” Not only is the episode’s content absurdly offensive, but the episode itself is awful, which means that there are exactly zero redeeming qualities, no matter how meager, with this total failure.
What is your favorite Star Trek: TNG episode? Sound off in the comments!