10 Best Star Trek Episodes

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There are many outstanding Trek episodes, but it is my intention to pick just ten favorites from a total of over 800. The only Trek movie that ties with the episodes listed below in my view is "Star Trek: First Contact". And here it goes:

10
ENT: Awakening

"Awakening" is the only Enterprise episode to make my top ten list. Despite its intrinsic disadvantage as the middle part of a trilogy, it is nothing less than an excellent drama with just the right share of action. In a (possibly daring) comparison with "Star Trek III", I think that Archer is more credible as the one who carries Surak's katra than McCoy with Spock's mind. I like the Enterprise-style Surak anyway because he is shown as a gentle and prudent leader, one that would win the hearts of the people and not simply lecture and command them. And Scott Bakula isn't even the greatest actor of the show. That honor falls to Connor Trinneer as Trip once again, whose interaction with Soval is wonderful. In some fashion these two are like the prototypes of Kirk and Spock. Read the full review.

 

9
TNG: Frame of Mind

Characters of the various Star Trek series repeatedly find themselves in situations in which they can't distinguish what is real and what is an illusion or a hallucination. "Frame of Mind" is the most impressive story of its kind. I think this is mainly because we see everything through Riker's eyes. Jonathan Frakes's performance in this episode is outstanding, and I admit I may have underestimated his acting up to this point. While it is clear that the person who increasingly believes that he is insane really is Will Riker, first officer of the Enterprise, and not a maniacal murderer, the viewer is caught in his distorted world just like Riker himself. We see the true Enterprise crew as late as at the very end of the episode. This is thrilling from the first to the last minute and earns this episode its place among my personal top ten. Read the full review.

 

8
TNG: The Best of Both Worlds I/II

No list of favorite Trek episodes ever compiled can do without "The Best of Both Worlds", and here it is. The two-parter is the by far most famous episode of TNG and perhaps of all Star Trek. But what is so special about it? First of all, after the slow start of TNG it brought excitement to the franchise. Secondly, "The Best of Both Worlds" involves the crew very personally, in an existential way and (in hindsight) with long-term consequences, especially for Picard. Thirdly, the character relations are played out very well. Everyone of the crew has a few good scenes, and interacts with everyone else. Fourthly, it is full of memorable moments, including the possibly best cliffhanger in the history of television. The excitement comes from the story, from the actors and from the directing - despite or just because of the simple visual effects of the time. Note the pleasant absence of hectic camera motion and of fast cuts! Read the full review.

 

7
TNG: Cause and Effect

Star Trek has a long history of featuring strange time travel phenomena, very often involving past incursions that the crew has to fix, or other variations of linear time. "Cause and Effect" puts a fresh spin on the idea of time travel with its concept of a time loop. It is arguably one of the most curious episodes ever written, especially keeping in mind that it came out in 1992 even before the famous movie "Groundhog Day" with its similar theme. It is also among the most thrilling stories ever, and a true masterpiece of writer Brannon Braga and director Jonathan Frakes, who had to take care of minutiae that are not important or are not deemed important in a usual episode. For the viewer, this is an episode in which it pays off to pay attention to the smallest details. Read the full review.

 

6
DS9: What You Leave Behind

"What You Leave Behind" is an awesome conclusion to Star Trek's arguably best multi-episode arc and, of course, to the whole series just as well. I absolutely love how the finale takes time to resolve a couple of issues after the rage of the final battle (with the war ending already half-way through the episode). It is an almost perfect mix of action and character development and never appears hasty. Every part of the arc and every character is given a fair share of the screen time. Regarding Sisko's fate, it may not seem entirely satisfying that he has to stay with the Prophets, especially considering that he leaves behind a son and a pregnant wife. But considering how everything began in "Emissary", the cycle is completed when Sisko, after completing his mundane task, joins the Prophets. When Kira and Jake stand behind the window on the promenade deck, this is the final goodbye to the station, although probably no other Trek series would have called so much for a sequel, and if only in a TV movie. Read the full review.

 

5
VOY: Distant Origin

"Distant Origin" is remarkable to start with because it is told from the perspective of the dinosaur-like Voth much of the time; Voyager doesn't even appear until about 15 minutes into the episode. The story of Gegen, who defends his "Distant Origin Theory", strikes me as one of the most intellectual ones in the whole franchise. It addresses various questions of science and politics and doesn't leave us with a ready-made answer for everything. If a proof is necessary that Star Trek has evolved beyond simple plots where the roles of good and evil are clear and the good always wins, I will most likely refer to "Distant Origin". There is no happy ending. Still, there is the spark of hope that some day some other Voth and perhaps some more Voth will insist on the truth and will succeed. The Voth are arguably the most remarkable aliens-of-the-week ever featured. I would have loved to see them again in some fashion. Read the full review.

 

4
VOY: Year of Hell I/II

Even after more than 20 years, "Year of Hell" still blows me away. It deserves a prize for being the perhaps most intelligent and most sophisticated plot ever successfully brought to the small screen. I wonder if anyone is able to understand all the depicted or implied temporal changes after watching the episode only once. Actually, when "Year of Hell" was just released on VHS, I invited a couple of colleagues to watch it. So we spent one and a half hours to watch it, and a few more hours to discuss it. We were young and we still had the time. Also, hardly any episode is so full of tidbits, as special effects, trivia and quotes are concerned. For quite some time after our video showing, "a few more calculations" was a winged word at our university institute. Read the full review.

 

3
DS9: Trials and Tribble-ations

"Trials and Tribble-ations" perfectly blends the good old TOS episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", a known fan favorite, with a new DS9-based background story. The episode benefits greatly from an intelligent script, from accurate timing, from visual effects that are incredible for their time and from actors who visibly have fun in their roles. It is full of memorable quotes without being contrived, and the crew's numerous mistakes about 23rd century technology and habits are hilarious without becoming silly. An equally affectionate homage to The Original Series has never been produced before and will never be made again. Among my all-time favorite episodes this may not be the most exciting one or the most important one as the story arc is concerned, but it will always have a special place. Read the full review.

 

2
TNG: Parallels

"Parallels" doesn't customarily show up on fans' lists of favorite episodes, probably because many feel let down if the events of an episode have no impact on "our" characters and "our" universe. And perhaps because they dislike the idea of a Worf-Troi relationship (just like Jonathan Frakes, who tends to be very vocal in this regard). While I can understand these points, I think the fascinating plot idea, the skillful development of the story, the plethora of details and the almost flawless execution and fine acting make "Parallels" a highlight of TNG and of the whole franchise. I personally prefer the universe with the chocolate cake. Read the full review.

 

1
DS9: The Way of the Warrior I/II

This double feature did not only reinvigorate DS9, it took the storytelling of the whole franchise to a new, still unsurpassed level. It is not just the so far most spectacular space battle in Star Trek's history or the mere fact that Worf, a favorite character from TNG, permanently joins the crew that makes this episode extraordinary. "The Way of the Warrior" draws on the characters and on their relationships, on the realism that lies in the plot and on the overall quality in the screenplay and the directing. Everything is spot-on. If I were to give out an award for the best dramatic presentation in Star Trek, it would go to "The Way of the Warrior". Read the full review.

 

Addendum

Great episodes such as TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever", TNG: "The Inner Light", TNG: "Yesterday's Enterprise", DS9: "Tears of the Prophets", DS9: "Favor the Bold / Sacrifice of Angels", VOY: "Living Witness" or VOY: "Scorpion I/II" narrowly didn't make this list.

 


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