The premiere of Discovery isn’t the only major Star Trek event this week. It’s also the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series that marked a brave new future for the franchise on TV. Like the original Trek, TNG saw its Enterprise crew go on daring, thought-provoking adventures... but it also went on some ridiculous ones, too. With love for its 30th birthday, here are 15 of the strangest.
You should never meet your heroes, and you should definitely never meet them after you’ve made a holographic version of them and fallen in love with them. That’s the lesson Geordi LaForge learned in “Galaxy’s Child,” in which he met the real Leah Brahms, the designer of the Enterprise’s engine system, several months after he’d fallen in love with a holographic version of her that he used to help save the Enterprise. Unfortunately for the poor engineer, the real Leah was both married and very much not pleased to discover Geordi’s holo-recreation of her.
Oh, also a giant space creature mistook the Enterprise for its mom. Lot of stuff going on this episode.
Star Trek loves itself a planet of stereotypes, some more... questionable than others (as we’ll see below). “Up the Long Ladder” sees the crew called to assist the colony of Bringloid V, which turns out is populated entirely by old-timey stereotypes of the Irish.
Okay, so the real reason is that they’re descendants of a 22nd-century Irish philosopher who advocated turning one’s back on advanced technology to live a peaceful rural life, but still, it all ends with the Enterprise offering to merge the space-Irish with a nearby colony that was dying out after cloning its original five surviving colonists for generations. Yes, in this case, the Enterprise’s version of saving two cultures was telling them to have sex with each other.
Time travel sucks for any Starfleet officer, despite the fact they do it an awful lot. But “Cause and Effect” is probably one of the grimmest bits of time-anomaly weirdness on a Trek show, mainly because it features the entire crew dying an explosive death repeatedly when the Enterprise crashes into another Federation starship.
The strangeness of the event is only revealed after the crew eventually saves itself after multiple completions of the loop—which concludes with the aforementioned explosive death—and realizes they’ve been stuck in it for 17 days, reliving the horror over and over again. It’s even worse for the ship on the other end of the crash, the USS Bozeman, captained by Frasier himself, which had been stuck in the temporal anomaly causing the loop for nearly a century.
Did you know in the TNG era of Trek the Klingon Empire is ruled by a dim clone of its most legendary warrior, Kahless? Well, surprise! it is—and Worf helped put the clone on the throne (rhyming unintentional) during “Rightful Heir,” after a crisis of faith where Worf saw a vision of Kahless.
Turns out the vision was actually of a clone made from Kahless’ blood by some extremely weird Klingon priests, who programmed it with Kahless’ teachings and... little else, making him slightly less legendary. Worf still somehow goes along with letting the clone be his people’s spiritual leader, though.
One of the big things that made TNG’s Enterprise stand out was that it was a generational ship—there wasn’t just crew on board, but also their non-Starfleet family, including kids. A few episodes involved putting those kids in jeopardy, but the weirdest one, “When the Bough Breaks,” sees them kidnapped by the inhabitants of a planet who are hoping to re-ignite their dying population. While Picard and the Bridge Crew attempt to rescue them, the kids are taught the methods of passive resistance against their captors by none other than Wesley Crusher. It’s a wonder they made it out alive, honestly.
Any episode featuring the outrageous campy delight that is Counselor Deanna Troi’s mom, Lwaxana (played by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, wife of Gene), could count as a weird adventure for the Enterprise crew, but the funniest of them all has to be “Menage á Troi,” truly one of the best Trek episode titles of all time. Riker, Deanna, and her visiting mother get captured by the Ferengi, the ringleader of whom gets seduced by Lwaxana during their escape attempt. When Riker and Deanna elude their captors and return to the Enterprise, Picard gets recruited into a grand deception as Lwaxana’s real lover trying to win her back, which involves him reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and then threatening to blow the Ferengi to pieces if his true love is not returned to him.
Ah, Thomas Riker. He’d later go on to show up in DS9 as a member of the fringe terrorist group the Maquis, but when we meet him in “Second Chances,” he’s just a slightly more asshole-ish version of Will created in a transporter malfunction while Will Riker was still a lieutenant commander. Riker prides himself on his uniqueness, so finding a clone of himself with a divergent personality is deeply infuriating enough as it is. But when the Enterprise attempts to integrate Riker 2: The Rikening into the crew, it gets even more humiliating for Will when his own ideas start getting vetoed in favor of the clone’s. That’s gotta hurt.
Jean-Luc Picard loves himself a courtroom setting, whether it’s fighting for Data’s rights as a sentient being, or, in this case, trying to fight a legal battle with the devil. Or at least a being called Ardra with vast, godlike powers, who’s been terrorizing a planet that she allegedly signed a deal with thousands of years ago.
Picard’s hunch is eventually proven right when the crew discovers Ardra is a con artist using a hidden ship to create the effect of her powers, but for a brief while Picard has to contend with trying to settle a legal dispute over the planet’s rights with someone who could literally be the the devil. Also, Data’s the judge because androids are logical and won’t show favoritism. And, yes, the con woman picked a judge she could not con.
Next Generation’s first season is rough. Rough. But one of its roughest is only the third-ever episode, “The Naked Now,” a sequel to the original series episode “The Naked Time.” Like that episode, the Enterprise crew is infected by a strange disease that lowers their inhibitions, but instead of being quaintly crazy like the afflicted officers were in “The Naked Time,” TNG’s version features Data attempting to bone Tasha Yar and Wesley helping to stop the ship from blowing up after being the person who almost caused it to blow up in the first place. Yup.
Transporter malfunctions are a dime a dozen on Trek, but one of the goofiest ever—Voyager’s Tuvix aside—occurs in “Rascals,” in which Picard, Guinan, Keiko O’Brien, and Ensign Ro Laren get de-aged into kid versions of themselves. It’s hilarious watching the kid versions of these characters re-integrate into the ship’s crew despite being 12-year-olds, but it gets even zanier when some Ferengi pirates attempt to steal the Enterprise, leading to the kids teaming up with Riker to overthrow the Ferengi in a series of what can only be called “hijinks.”
Remember when I mentioned earlier that Star Trek loves itself a planet filled with stereotypes? Well, “Code of Honor” sees the crew visit a place that is not just weird, but uncomfortably housed in tropes surrounding portrayals of Africa. In this case, the population of Ligon II are basically just kitschy portrayals of low-tech African tribesmen who have access to a vaccine Starfleet needs to contain a viral outbreak.
There’s a lot of questionable imagery in this episode, which sees Tasha Yar caught up in a tribal fight-to-the-death when the Ligonian leader starts getting the hots for her, to the point that several of the cast members sought to stop the episode from ever being broadcast again. If only they’d been able to stop it from being made.
Ah, “The Game.” In our world, video games were still in their relatively infancy when this episode aired in 1991, but even then, the thought of the entire crew of the Enterprise being hooked on this bizarre, crappy augmented reality game stretched the limits of anyone’s ability to suspend disbelief. The game itself turns out to be a plot by a race called the Ktarians to take over the Enterprise, slowly rendering the crew open to any suggestion. Still, even with the conceit of it secretly being a mind control program, you’d think an era with holodeck technology could come up with a more convincing video game.
“Sub Rosa” feels less like an episode of Star Trek and more like a particularly trashy romance novel that just happens to star Beverly Crusher and... a space ghost? After attending her Grandma’s funeral, Crusher decides to stay in her grandmother’s house only to find it’s haunted by the ghost named Ronin—later revealed as a non-corporeal alien being—who not only was romanced by Grandma Crusher, but seduces Beverly into falling in love with him, too. And that’s before we get to the bit where said space-ghost-alien possess the corpse of Grandma Crusher to try and stop Geordi and Data from saving Beverly.
Unlike many of the episodes on this list, “Conspiracy” is actually a great episode of TNG, if only because it’s batshit insane in how far it pushes Star Trek, from the idea of Starfleet Command being infiltrated by a race of alien parasites trying to sneakily overthrow the Federation, to the infamously gruesome death scene of Lieutenant Commander Remmick, who gets phasered so hard HIS HEAD LITERALLY POPS.
The weirdest thing about it is this: the fact that the Federation was deeply compromised by tiny little body slugs is never mentioned again. Like, ever. Everyone just happens to brush aside the time the most advanced utopian society in the quadrant was nearly annihilated by some slugs. That, and the fact that phasers can make your head pop somewhere in between the levels of “stun” and “disintegrate.”
A lot of this list comes from episodes before TNG really found its footing—before Riker grew the beard, if you will. But it’s not just early TNG that was capable of delivering some sketchy weirdness. Enter “Genesis,” the season seven episode which sees Picard and Data return from an away mission only to find the crew transforming into various horrifying creatures—or, really, actually devolving.
Barclay, the first victim, becomes a weird spider-monster. Riker becomes a caveman. A nurse gets turned into a background extra from a Planet of the Apes movie. Most oddly, though, Worf’s devolution sees him basically turn into a super Klingon that starts going around the ship hunting Picard and Data while they try to save the crew like a Star Trek take on Alien.