Welcome to the 24th Century: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1

Right! So, we’ve been rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation because one of my nesting partners has seen barely any of it, and despite having seen every episode multiple times both myself and my other nesting partner are more than happy to fix that. We made it all the way through the first two seasons before I realized, “Hey wait, this can probably be #Content,” partially because I didn’t really have a catchall blog when we started.

The Star Trek franchise had a profound impact on me as a child, and is still probably my favorite media franchise. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was one of the few VHSs we owned when I was very little, and I watched it over and over. Many trips to video rental stores resulted in me coming home with either a Star Trek movie or some episodes of TOS, and I was just starting to be old enough to form my own television-watching habits when TNG was really hitting its stride.

Thanks to syndication I eventually saw every single episode of TNG in a rather hodgepodge order, but it wasn’t until the early 2010s that I sat down and intentionally watched every single episode in order. And I was pretty astonished by how much of a difference it made. While one of the things that makes the show so enduring and forgiving to new viewers is that for the most part you can jump in in any episode and understand what’s going on, it was hella rewarding seeing the characters blossom as the writers figured out how to write them and the actors grew into their roles.

But make no mistake, season 1 is dire. It has some of the worst episodes of the series, and it’s the only season where if you pick an episode at random you’re more likely to get a bad one than a good one. But knowing what the show would eventually become, it’s still worthwhile to see how it gets there.

For all its failings, I wouldn’t even call season 1 an inauspicious start. After all, a lot of the key elements that tie the show together are already there. The ship is gorgeous, the sets are a clear leap ahead from TOS and the TOS movies while still being very recognizably part of the same universe. The uniforms… well, actually, even those needed some work. But the basic idea of them is fine, even if the second version is a drastic improvement.

S-Rank: 0
A-Rank: 3
B-Rank: 5
C-Rank: 11
D-Rank: 6
Average: 2.2/5 (C-Rank)

1×01/1×02 “Encounter at Farpoint”

Not one of my favorite episodes by any stretch, but it does a pretty solid job of introducing all the characters and setting expectations. And having Picard’s first showdown with Q is a good way to get things rolling.

Unsurprisingly there’s some pilot awkwardness on order. Most of what jumps out to me in this context, unsurprisingly, is the character stuff. The thing that makes or breaks a Star Trek series is almost always its characters. You can keep people coming back despite painfully uneven writing if you have a diverse cast of likable characters (hi Voyager), or fail to capture their attention in the first place despite frequently telling great stories if you have a crew of interchangeable boring white guys (hi Enterprise). TNG has, in my opinion, probably the best cast of characters, but it takes the show a good long while to figure that out. I’m not going to go through all of them, but I will get into a few who are featured pretty prominently in this pilot.

Captain Picard is initially miscast as a grumpy and stern commanding officer, and I think this might be at its most glaring in his first few interactions with Commander Riker here. Still, we do get to see more positive aspects of his character even from the get-go. In his war of words with Q we see how fiercely protective he is of his crewmembers, as well as his strong senses of both ethics and optimism in his spirited defense of humanity.

The frontloading of Commander Riker and Counselor Troi’s history is arguably a bit heavy-handed, but I think it helps to be super explicit about it here so that it can be integrated more organically later in the show. Deanna herself will go through quite a few growing pains as the writers figure out how exactly to employ her empathic abilities. Will on the other hand immediately establishes himself as the resident Extremely Good Boy himbo and Jonathan Frakes’ performance makes him immediately one of the MVPs of the show. But even he has an exceedingly awkward interaction with Commander Data that I really kind of hate.

Oh, and don’t get too used to that whole saucer separation thing. They make it seem like it’s gonna be a really big deal here, and then use it sporadically throughout season 1, and then it barely ever happens even when it would make a lot of sense.

(C-Rank)

1×03 “The Naked Now”

This is an exceedingly strange episode to have this early in the show. It feels like it would have been more interesting when we knew these characters better. Basically, everyone gets Space Drunk and/or Space Horny. Tasha Yar has dubcon sex with Data, which I am extremely not fond of for several reasons. Crusher comes on to Picard pretty hard, which I probably loved when I shipped those two, but it’s really frustrating when you consider that the writing doesn’t really give her many defining characteristics in this season besides being Wesley’s mother.

It’s at least not boring? And far from the worst episode of season 1. Season 1 gets pretty dire, guys.

(C-Rank)

1×04 “Code of Honor”

One of the most racist episodes in the entire series. On a planet of black people, Tasha is the victim of an “honor kidnapping.” The less we talk about this one, the better.

(D-Rank)

1×05 “The Last Outpost”

Remember when the Ferengi were supposed to be the big bads? It’s pretty clear that the creative team were in a big hurry to give the show major, recurring antagonists to replace the Klingons (and sometimes Romulans) of TOS. The end result is that it really feels like they had no concrete idea of what they wanted out of the Ferengi and just hoped they could figure it out along the way. It’s honestly a bit odd that they were in such a rush because the Klingons only showed up in TOS but so often, and didn’t make their debut until episode 26.

Those energy whips are pretty hot, tho.

(D-Rank)

1×06 “Where No One Has Gone Before”

Conceptually one of the better episodes of the first season, but hampered by a somewhat plodding pace. I could see this one being a lot better later in the season when the writers had a better handle on the characters, but as it stands this at least has flashes of brilliance.

One part I thoroughly loved as a kid is this is the episode where Wesley was made an acting ensign. I know it’s popular to hate on Wesley, but I’ve always been a fan.

(C-Rank)

1×07 “Lonely Among Us”

I would rate this lower if I was taking it entirely seriously. A noncorporeal alien entity hops from crew member to crew member and the performances of whoever happens to be possessed at any given time (and the obliviousness of everyone who interacts with them) make this episode pretty unintentionally hilarious. Riker, Troi, and Crusher hand-wringing about whether to relieve the obviously-possessed Picard of his command would be frustrating as heck if I were taking it seriously, but again it’s something that if you roll with it makes the episode entertaining in a way that probably wasn’t intended. (And, after all that, Crusher’s unsuccessful attempt to relieve Picard of command is kinda badass. I really liked her line and how she read it.)

But by far this episode’s biggest saving grace is that it’s the beginning of Data’s infatuation with the character of Sherlock Holmes. It’s such a great fit for him.

Oh and the two groups of delegates who want to vore each other is uh lowkey kinda hot. Especially since one of the two species are reptile people who at one point catch Riker with some kind of neon lasso around his neck and upon noticing who he is say, “Sorry. Wrong species.” Mmm.

(C-Rank)

1×08 “Justice”

There’s still plenty of camp to be had in the idyllic culture that runs around half-naked all the time and is canonically always horny. I also love Worf turning down their advances because he’s worried about breaking them. Call me?

Unfortunately the actual, uh, story is kind of a dud and I just hate how Picard is written for most of it.

(D-Rank)

1×09 “The Battle”

It’s nice to see Picard’s former ship and get to see some connection with prior eras of Star Trek given that the ship model and its bridge set are very reminiscent of the TOS movie era. The show still doesn’t have a clue what to do with the Ferengi, but as season 1 episodes go, this is pretty dang watchable.

(C-Rank)

1×10 “Hide and Q”

Q offers Riker the powers of a Q, several contrived moral quandaries ensue. This kind of moralizing just ain’t it. Also, Picard has a thoroughly awkward scene with Tasha where it is heavily implied that Tasha would be hot for him if he weren’t the captain, which is at least the second time this show has asked me to believe that she isn’t a lesbian and I’m just not buying it, TNG.

(D-Rank)

1×11 “Haven”

Thank the gods Lwaxana Troi is here to make things less boring.

I don’t love the overall idea of this episode, in which Troi is meant to consummate a marriage that was arranged for her as a child. But the interactions between Deanna and her intended are actually surprisingly great? She really gets a chance to show a lot more personality than she has so far this season.

Everything is spoiled when a Tarellian (not to be confused with Talarian, Terrelian, Terrellian, or Terrellian, YES REALLY, and yes even though the last two are spelled the same they’re definitely totally different) plague ship shows up. The literal girl of Troi’s betrothed’s dreams is on the ship, and since he’s a doctor he goes off to hopefully cure the plague.

(C-Rank)

1×12 “The Big Goodbye”

The first of many Killer Holodeck episodes, this one introduces Captain Picard’s hard boiled detective alter ego Dixon Hill and is easily one of the best episodes of the first season. I have virtually no complaints.

(A-Rank)

1×13 “Datalore”

This is the episode that gave us, “Shut up, Wesley!” which even as a Wesley fan I have to admit is pretty hilarious out of context. In context, on the other hand, it was part of an extremely heavy-handed Ageism Is Bad Yo angle and I just found the whole thing kinda laughable.

Lore has never been my favorite antagonist, and the Crystaline Entity is just silly, but this is still a pretty watchable episode. No matter how much it makes me roll my eyes at times, it’s far from boring. And Brent Spiner clearly enjoys getting to DQ Something Different as Lore. Honestly, the scenery chewing he gets to do as Lore does make up for the fact that I’ve never really loved the way he’s written. And Data trying to learn how to sneeze at the beginning of the episode is adorable.

(C-Rank)

1×14 “Angel One”

An exceedingly immature take on a matriarchal society but even if the execution sucked I still love the idea. And I especially love that Extremely Good Boy Himbo Will Riker is completely willing to be objectified for diplomatic reasons, and even asks “What is this attitude?” when Tasha and Deanna object. Seriously, I love you, Will.

I hate this episode’s politics, and if I were to take it completely seriously I probably wouldn’t be able to get over it, but Himbo Will Riker being the best boy covers a lot of sins.

(C-Rank)

1×15 “11001001”

The Enterprise puts into spacedock to have their main computer upgraded, and the technicians doing the upgrade steal the ship because their homeworld desperately needs help. On the holodeck, Riker meets Minuet, a holographic character that is given quite a bit more personality than your average hologram. This is also the first instance we see of the Enterprise-D’s self-destruct sequence being initiated.

(A-Rank)

1×16 “Too Short a Season”

This is probably the worst episode of TNG. Not season 1, the show as a whole. It… might be the worst episode of any Star Trek series.

It’s just genuinely unpleasant to watch on every level.

(D-Rank)

1×17 “When the Bough Breaks”

A highly technologically advanced planet’s population has been rendered sterile so they want the Enterprise to agree to trade their children for access to better medical technology and the like. When their request is refused, they kidnap the children. It takes a lot of shenanigans, including the leadership of a certain kidnapped acting ensign, to get them back.

I don’t love the concept of this one but the execution makes it much better than it could’ve been, and there are a lot of extremely good moments with the children. This could’ve been pretty awful, but they pulled it off in a way that thoroughly wasn’t.

(C-Rank)

1×18 “Home Soil”

This feels like it could be a season 2 episode. The Enterprise drops in on a terraforming mission and receives a less than warm welcome, and soon becomes embroiled in what initially seems like it could be an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery but ends up developing into a conflict with a form of life never before encountered.

Incredibly solid episode. Honestly, while it doesn’t get all the way there until the following season, from this point on you can really tell the show is starting to find itself and it’s so rewarding to see it all start to come together.

(B-Rank)

1×19 “Coming of Age”

The A plot and B plot are both so strong in this one I’m not even entirely sure which is which. In one of them, Wesley takes his Starfleet Academy entrance exam. He gets quite a few opportunities to shine, and also learns quite a bit that will inform his character growth going forward. In the other, at the behest of an admiral who is an old friend of Captain Picard’s, the crew of the Enterprise is grilled by an officer from the Inspector General’s office. Said officer fails to uncover anything untoward, and in a surprisingly touching ending tells Picard that when his current tour is over he’d like to be assigned to the Enterprise. And the admiral fills Picard in on a conspiracy that will be picked up on towards the end of the season.

While the payoff later on is ultimately a bit disappointing (though still makes for a pretty good episode on its own), the setup here is exemplary. Easily one of the best episodes of the season.

(A-Rank)

1×20 “Heart of Glory”

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Talarian (not to be confused with Tarellian, Terrelian, Terrellian, or Terrellian) freighter to find it badly damaged. The beginning of the episode just bludgeons you over the head over and over with the fact that Geordi wears a visor. Did you know Geordi wears a visor, guys??? This is sort of an extension of the whole weird season 1 obsession with having Geordi like… walk to a window and look at whatever is outside.

The idea is that they link Geordi’s visor to the viewscreen so the bridge crew can see what’s going on on the away mission, which is just an extremely odd choice. I know we’re talking about the late 80s where streaming video wasn’t really a thing yet, but live television was? So it just seems odd to me that we couldn’t conceive of another way for the ship to stay in visual contact with the away team if that was something we wanted to do for whatever reason. And apparently it’s not, because it literally never happens again.

Captain Picard in particular just does not come off well here. He’s constantly bothering Geordi with intrusive questions about his visor and just generally getting in the way. I know I haven’t gone into this much detail about individual segments of the episodes, but this one really stuck out like a sore thumb.

Things improve considerably when the away team discovers that the survivors are Klingon. Unsurprisingly, from that point on this is a Worf episode, and it’s honestly one of the first times his character really starts to be fleshed out.

(B-Rank)

1×21 “The Arsenal of Freedom”

The most interesting part of this episode is Geordi being given temporary command of the Enterprise. An engineering officer who technically outranks him tries to pull rank on him and Geordi keeps shutting him down, including telling him he’s giving him command … of the saucer section!! Seriously, that part was awesome. Meanwhile Deanna pulls Geordi into the ready room and gives him some advice about leadership, which is a nice little moment. Superficially it can seem like this experience with command is a bit of a loose thread since Geordi never takes command of the Enterprise again, but another way to look at it is that this prepares him for his promotion to chief engineer in season 2.

In the A plot, there’s some automated weapons systems left over from a war and the away team is trying to disable them. Picard and Crusher fall into some kind of pitfall trap and Crusher is injured, leading to some good interactions when Crusher needs to instruct Picard how to treat her injuries.

(C-Rank)

1×22 “Symbiosis”

This is a quintessential bad Prime Directive episode plus extremely naive 1988 anti-drug propaganda played completely straight. I did not have a good time.

The overall idea of the Prime Directive is a good one. The idea is that the Federation does not want to interfere with the development of other cultures, or impose its values on others, no matter how well-intentioned their interference might be. Where it frequently falls short, especially early on in TNG, is that it’s presented as a one-size-fits-all absolute that doesn’t take the actual needs of the people it’s supposedly protecting into account. There will be other examples to talk about in future episodes, but here I think it’s abundantly clear that not telling the Ornarans that they’re being taken advantage of by the Brekkians doesn’t protect them in any way, shape or form, and in fact actively harms them.

On the anti-drug aspect, the episode is riddled with examples of characters reacting unsympathetically or judgmentally to the idea of drug addiction, and the eventual solution finds Picard just cutting off the Ornarans’ supply without explanation, leaving the entire planet’s population to suffer withdrawal and even worse believing that they’re literally dying because they still don’t know they don’t actually need the drugs.

Less perniciously, there’s a pretty unintentionally hilarious scene on the bridge where Wesley asks some naive questions about drugs and Tasha turns into a human Just Say No sketch. It was so heavy-handed, it literally felt like there was just an anti-drug infomercial in the middle of the episode.

(D-Rank)

1×23 “Skin of Evil”

Denise Crosby was understandably upset that her character, security chief Tasha Yar, was given virtually nothing to do in the first season. They just didn’t write for her at all, and the rare times they did it was confusing or insulting or both. It’s so frustrating because Tasha clearly could’ve been one of the highlights of the crew if they let her be. Crosby was given nothing to work with but “soft butch security chief,” and she still brought the character to life in a way that made her far more than she was on the script pages.

Ironically in death, Tasha’s character arguably was finally given the importance she should’ve had all along. All of the characters reacted strongly, and they were still talking about her seasons later. It’s frustrating that this is what it took for such a potentially amazing character to become a vital part of the series, but at least appreciate that they didn’t just quietly shuffle her off the show and act like it wasn’t a big deal.

While this isn’t his moment, Worf’s elevation to security chief really does do wonders for his character and is a super natural fit. I just wish it hadn’t been at Tasha’s expense.

(C-Rank)

1×24 “We’ll Always Have Paris”

Patrick Stewart really shines here playing his character going through emotionally difficult circumstances. The exchange where Jenice asks why he didn’t meet her to say goodbye is one of the best conversations in the whole show? He starts to answer truthfully, she says, “Oh, I didn’t want [the truth],” and then they engage in some actually pretty warm banter before getting into the more difficult conversation. It’s a nice little moment of nuance that it’s difficult to imagine happening earlier in the season.

I really appreciate the way this is written, performed, everything. This is another one that really doesn’t feel like a season 1 episode. It has a confidence and maturity to it that really sets it apart.

(B-Rank)

1×25 “Conspiracy”

While this is one of the better episodes of the season it is still very season 1 flavored. As the title suggests, this picks up on the conspiracy plotline that was introduced in “Coming of Age.” That plotline was meant to introduce a major new threat that eventually ended up being the Borg, but by the time the creative team figured out what that antagonist was going to look like the conspiracy plotline didn’t really fit them anymore. So instead we got an explosive payoff here. Though there is actually a sequel hook at the end of the episode that thus far hasn’t been revisited. Maybe Lower Decks can take a crack at it? It’s not like it would even be the strangest pull they’ve made.

(B-Rank)

1×26 “The Neutral Zone”

The scene where the Enterprise first encounters a Romulan Warbird is arguably the best scene of the entire damn season. “Matters more urgent caused our absence. Now, witness the result. Outposts destroyed, expansion of the Federation everywhere. Yes, we have indeed been negligent, Captain. But no more. […] Do you understand my meaning, Captain? We… are back.” Legit goosebumps.

And that’s not all. The thing that brings the Romulans to the forefront is that the Enterprise is investigating the destruction of several Federation outposts along the neutral zone. It’s initially feared that the Romulans are responsible–this is basically a headfake at the iconic TOS episode “Balance of Terror”–but it turns out the Romulans are investigating the same thing… on their side of the neutral zone. Someone else (this will later turn out to be the Borg) is taking potshots at both major powers. And the way they’re doing it is truly chilling. Worf reports, “The outpost was not just destroyed, it’s as though some great force just scooped it off the face of the planet.”

This all sounds amazing, and it is… but it isn’t even the main plot of the episode? It takes up barely any screentime because the A plot is that a group of cryogenically frozen people from the 20th century are discovered and thawed out, and they do a whole fish out of water thing with them which honestly could’ve been a lot worse? It’s genuinely one of the better examples of this kind of plot that I’ve ever seen. But it just felt so weird that they decided to pair these two stories up and take so much attention away from what could’ve been the plot of an S-Rank episode if it were given time to breathe.

Still, there’s no question the show was in a much better state at the end of the season than it was in the beginning. It wasn’t all the way there yet. There are still definitely some bumpy spots towards the beginning of season 2. But growth isn’t always a straight line, especially in art.

It might be hard to get through its inaugural season, but remember: fate protects fools, little children, and shows called Star Trek.

(B-Rank)

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