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Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Must-Watch Episodes

Brew some tea (Earl Grey or otherwise) and spend a while with this lot.
Brew some tea (Earl Grey or otherwise) and spend a while with this lot.
Image: CBS

Star Trek is one of the most beloved bits of sci-fi TV around, but perhaps most beloved of all is its sophomore entry into the franchise: The Next Generation, the apex of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future writ large. Want to dive into this classic series but don’t know where to start beyond “Maybe all of it if I have the time?” We’re here to help.

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As part of our ongoing efforts to give you things to distract yourself in the moment of history in which we live, io9 is going to be offering up weekly guides to the very best that each Star Trek show has to offer, from the original all the way up to Star Trek: Discovery. So if you’re about to follow our advice and help yourself to all the Star Trek, here are at least some highlights you can look forward to as you boldly go absolutely nowhere outside.

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Pew pew, number one.
Pew pew, number one.
Image: CBS

Season 1

Encounter at Farpoint (Episodes 1 and 2)—Where it all begins. The Enterprise-D has a new Captain, just in time for an omnipotent jerk named Q to show up.

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Where No One Has Gone Before (Episode 6)—Wesley Crusher, who barely anyone on the ship actually likes at this point, gets something to do when he’s approved as an acting Ensign.

The Battle (Episode 9)—Picard flashes back to a fight with the Ferengi (remember when the Ferengi were Trek’s attempt at a new baddie?) during an early command, bagging himself a fancy ship maneuver in the process.

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The Big Goodbye (Episode 12)—Holodeck madness gone wrong! Picard, Data, and Doctor Crusher find themselves stuck inside Jean-Luc’s detective noir story.

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Datalore (Episode 13)—Data’s asshole brother, Lore, is reawakened from android slumber, and Data quickly learns why he was put on ice by their maker in the first place.

Coming of Age (Episode 19)—Wesley takes a big step on his journey when he undergoes the Starfleet Academy entrance exam.

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Heart of Glory (Episode 20)—When some shifty-acting Klingons are brought aboard the Enterprise, Worf finds himself at a crossroads between his people and his life as a Starfleet officer.

Skin of Evil (Episode 23)—Tasha Yar, the Enterprise’s infamously short-lived security chief, becomes, uh, short-lived.

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Conspiracy (Episode 25)—That One Where Picard and Riker Completely Phaser a Man’s Damn Head Off. Oh, and also they investigate Starfleet being infiltrated by creepy alien bugs.


Our man’s about to get his damn speech on.
Our man’s about to get his damn speech on.
Image: CBS
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Season 2

Elementary, Dear Data (Episode 3)—One of TNG’s best recurring Holodeck programs kicks off here, as Geordi and Data engage in a bit of Sherlock Holmes fun only to find that Moriarty’s gone and discovered he’s a hologram.

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The Schizoid Man (Episode 6)—Data’s creator hatches a bizarre plan to take over his creation’s body.

A Matter of Honor (Episode 8)—As part of a cultural exchange, Riker volunteers to serve aboard a Klingon ship, only to find himself caught up in a conspiracy to put the Enterprise at odds with the Klingons.

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The Measure of a Man (Episode 9)—A jerk from Starfleet wants to take Data apart and study him, so Picard gets his speech on and defends his officer’s rights to exist. Also: this is where you start realizing this show might be onto something.

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Pen Pals (Episode 15)—Data strikes up a long-distance friendship with a young girl on a doomed world.

Q Who (Episode 16)—Q returns, and he’s still a jerk, but he’s more of a lovable jerk. Oh, and some cybernetic baddies named the Borg appear for the first time? They seem important.

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Manhunt (Episode 19)—A very goofy romp, as Troi’s mother Lwaxana comes aboard the Enterprise horny as hell...with her eyes on Captain Picard.

The Emissary (Episode 20)—Worf once again finds himself in his Klingon Feelings when an old paramour checks in on him.

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Well, that can’t be good.
Well, that can’t be good.
Image: CBS
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Season 3

The Ensigns of Command (Episode 2)—Data learns the rigors of command when he finds himself trying to help evacuate colonists that do not want to listen to him.

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Booby Trap (Episode 6)—Geordi makes a hologram of a famous doctor to help him solve an engineering problem...only to create romantic drama when he starts falling in love with her.

The Enemy (Episode 7)—Geordi and Worf find themselves on conflicting sides when it comes to the Romulans.

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The Defector (Episode 10)—The Enterprise finds itself on a mission of rare opportunity when Starfleet learns of a potential defector from the Romulan Star Empire.

The High Ground (Episode 12)—Doctor Crusher takes the spotlight when she finds herself captured by terrorists.

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Deja Q (Episode 13)—Another fun Q romp, when Q comes to the Enterprise with a shocking request: He wants to live as a human among them after being cast out by Q society.

Yesterday’s Enterprise (Episode 15)—A temporal rift sends the Enterprise into a reality where the Federation and the Klingons are still at war, and the Enterprise itself is a very different vessel. A much better exit for Tasha Yar than her actual one.

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The Offspring (Episode 16)—Data learns a lot about humanity when he makes his own android daughter, Lal. Be prepared for heartbreak.

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Captain’s Holiday (Episode 19)—Cheer yourself up with this chaser though, when Picard takes a much-needed vacation on Risa, only to find himself on a romantic adventure.

Hollow Pursuits (Episode 21)—Lieutenant Barclay makes his first appearance as we learn of his addiction to the Holodeck.

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Sarek (Episode 23)—The Enterprise has a guest of honor: legendary Vulcan diplomat and father of Spock, Sarek, on one last mission.

Ménage à Troi (Episode 24)—Another goofy Lwaxana/Picard episode, when the Enterprise has to come to her aid being kidnapped by a Ferengi. The birthplace of a meme.

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The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1 (Episode 25)—The Borg march on Earth, and Picard makes a valiant sacrifice. One of the best cliffhangers in TV history.


Turns out the Picard brothers don’t get on!
Turns out the Picard brothers don’t get on!
Image: CBS
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Season 4

The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2 (Episode 1)—The conclusion of That Cliffhanger, as the Enterprise continues its costly battle with the Borg.

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Family (Episode 2)—Recovering from recent events, Picard comes home to his family estate in France, to find himself a man changed.

Brothers (Episode 3)—Data comes face to face with his maker: Doctor Noonien Soong.

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Remember Me (Episode 6)—The Enterprise crew is slowly vanishing, and only Doctor Crusher notices.

Reunion (Episode 7)—The Klingon Chancellor is dying, and appoints Picard with finding his successor before he promptly snuffs it.

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Future Imperfect (Episode 8)—Riker wakes up to find he’s somehow missed 16 years of his life and has to navigate a strange new normal.

Final Mission (Episode 9)—Picard and Wesley try to make the most of their dwindling time together before the young boy ventures off to Starfleet Academy.

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Data’s Day (Episode 11)—Data chronicles an ordinary day aboard the Enterprise.

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The Wounded (Episode 12)—The Cardassians make their first appearance, as a rogue Starfleet officer attempts to spark war between the Federation and their Empire.

Galaxy’s Child (Episode 16)—Remember that hologram of a doctor LaForge fell in love with? The real one comes aboard the Enterprise. Uh oh.

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Qpid (Episode 20)—A familiar flame returns to Picard’s life, as does Q, who wants to fan those flames for him. Also: there are some Merry Men.

The Drumhead (Episode 21)—A Starfleet Admiral comes aboard to investigate a case of sabotage aboard the Enterprise. Picard delivers an all-time great speech.

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The Mind’s Eye (Episode 24)—Geordi finds himself a tool of the Romulans, as a strange new character with a familiar face tries to stoke conflict between the Federation and Klingons.

Redemption, Part 1 (Episode 26)—A new Klingon Chancellor enters office, and Worf sees an opportunity to bring his House to glory.

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An old friend meets a new one.
An old friend meets a new one.
Image: CBS
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Season 5

Redemption, Part 2 (Episode 1)—The Klingon Civil War continues, as Picard uncovers the real threat pulling the strings on Qo’nos.

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Darmok (Episode 2)—Darmok. And Jalad. At Tanagra. One of the best episodes of TNG ever.

Ensign Ro (Episode 3)—The Enterprise welcomes aboard a feisty new Ensign, the Bajoran Ro Laren. The Bajorans and their relationship with the Cardassians begins to be sown here.

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Disaster (Episode 5)—The Enterprise has a major systems failure, leaving its officers in unlikely positions when they’re trapped in different bits of the ship.

Unification, Parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 7 and 8)—Picard and Data head to the Romulan homeworld on a mission vital to the Federation: Ambassador Spock has gone to his sister-species’ home in an attempt to reunite the Romulans and Vulcans once and for all.

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Ethics (Episode 16)—When Worf finds himself paralyzed, Doctor Crusher faces a profound medical dilemma.

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Cause and Effect (Episode 18)—The Enterprise is trapped in a loop that ends with its total destruction.

The First Duty (Episode 19)—Picard ventures to Starfleet Academy when a member of Wesley’s class is killed in a training accident.

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I, Borg (Episode 23)—The Enterprise recovers a lone Borg, and tries to use it to fight the collective, only for there to be unexpected circumstances on both sides.

The Inner Light (Episode 25)—Picard wakes up to find he’s actually a man named Kamin, and...lives a life. Just incredible television.

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Count the lights.
Count the lights.
Image: CBS
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Season 6

Relics (Episode 4)—The Enterprise ventures to a Dyson Sphere on a rescue mission to recover Starfleet legend Montgomery Scott.

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True Q (Episode 6)—Picard encounters a young Enterprise officer shook by the revelation that her human life has been a lie: She’s actually part of the Q Continuum.

A Fistful of Datas (Episode 8)—The Holodeck goes wrong (again) for our benefit, when Worf, Troi, and Worf’s son are in the middle of a Wild West program.

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Chain of Command, Parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 10 and 11)—Are there four lights above that Cardassian’s head, or is a captured Jean-Luc Picard seeing things differently?

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Ship in a Bottle (Episode 12)—Poor Barclay accidentally reactivates the aware holographic Moriarty, who promptly tries to take the Enterprise hostage.

Face of the Enemy (Episode 14)—Troi is roped into the machinations of the Romulan Secret Police when she wakes up to find herself looking awfully Romulan all of a sudden.

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Starship Mine (Episode 18)—Data and Picard work to liberate the ship from terrorists who capture it during a maintenance break.

Second Chances (Episode 24)—A second Riker created eight years prior in a transporter accident returns to Will’s life, serving as a reminder of just how much better he got since he grew that beard.

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Descent, Part 1 (Episode 26)—When the Enterprise finds itself reunited with semi-liberated Borg Hugh, Data’s asshole brother hatches a sinister plot. Also, Stephen Hawking is here!


Patrick Stewart with the only hair on his head that could ever suit him.
Patrick Stewart with the only hair on his head that could ever suit him.
Image: CBS
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Season 7

Descent, Part 2 (Episode 1)—As everything goes wrong for Data, the crew finds themselves captured by the Borg and desperate to help their android friend.

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Attached (Episode 8)—Picard and Crusher are captured and implanted with devices that connect their brains together. Enough moments to spark a million Picard/Crusher fics.

Inheritance (Episode 10)—Data meets his kinda-sorta mom, as the history of Soong’s androids gets a deep dive.

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Parallels (Episode 11)—Worf finds himself on a trippy adventure through alternate realities.

The Pegasus (Episode 12)—Riker works with his former captain to recover their old ship, and a sinister secret, before the Romulans can. Happy Captain Picard Day!

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Homeward (Episode 13)—Worf’s foster brother finds himself in hot water when he, uh, violates the Prime Directive.

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Lower Decks (Episode 15)—Discover what the lower-ranked officers and workers aboard the Enterprise get up to in an episode so good, it literally inspired a new spinoff animated show.

Journey’s End (Episode 20)—While on a mission to return a colony to the Cardassians, Wesley finds himself a new path.

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Bloodlines (Episode 22)—A very old Ferengi foe returns on a mission of vengeance: He’s going to kill Picard’s son! Wait, what?

Preemptive Strike (Episode 24)—Ro Laren goes on an undercover mission to infiltrate the Maquis terrorist group as the complications between Federation colonists and the Cardassian Empire continue to deteriorate.

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All Good Things..., Parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 25 and 26)—...Must Come to an End.


Star Trek is available to stream, currently for free, on CBS All Access.


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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

alexcranz
Alex Cranz

I scrolled all the way through looking for ghost sex and I see no ghost sex.

So here we are James.

Here. We. Are.