Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5 review

5×01 “Redemption, Part 2”

This is where the real meat of this two-parter is. The Klingon Civil War just absolutely explodes, and Worf is in the thick of it. Meanwhile Captain Picard assembles a fleet to blockade the Romulan/Klingon border and faces off with Commander Sela.

The A plot has Worf grappling with his place in his native culture and realizing that while he values that culture more than maybe any other Klingon we’ve ever met, he holds some principles that are in opposition to the vast majority of his fellow Klingons and that’s okay. He’s tried so hard for so long to be the perfect Klingon, whatever that is, but at the end of the day all he really needs to be is Lieutenant Worf. One of the bravest, most honorable characters I’ve ever seen in any medium.

The A plot also features Worf being kidnapped by the Duras sisters who then attempt to seduce him over to their side and um yeah I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this enough but I really am going to need them to step on me please thank you.

Over in the B plot, Captain Picard solves the dearth of experienced captains by assigning members of his senior officers command of some of the ships to fill those gaps. One of these newly-minted acting captains is Lt. Commander Data, who ends up with a prejudiced first officer and puts him in his place repeatedly. It’s really quite cathartic. And also the space racism here is just so provably dumb. Like, he says he doesn’t think a Klingon would make a good ship’s counselor. And honestly? I think Worf would make a fucking amazing ship’s counselor, given proper training and experience. It’s not something he’s likely to ever pursue, but… I can still totally see it. There’s also a fun easter egg here for fans of the expanded universe as Commander Riker is given temporary command of the U.S.S. Excalibur, the Ambassador-class hero ship of the popular Star Trek: New Frontier novel series.

All in all, this episode just thoroughly kicks so much ass. It’s always been one of my favorites, I look forward to it every time I’m rewatching the series. I just love Worf episodes so much.

(S-Rank)

5×02 “Darmok”

I know I’m probably committing sacrilege by “only” giving this a B, and I know it’s the episode a lot of people point to as exemplifying a lot of the best qualities of TNG. I get it. I really do. And I’m not denying for a single moment that this episode is incredibly well-written and well-performed. It just doesn’t get me as excited as it gets most people. I’m 100% aware of the fact that this is a me thing, but I just don’t look forward to it and go out of my way to watch it like I do with a lot of other episodes.

Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic, and I admire it quite a lot. I just don’t think “admire” always has to translate to “love,” and for me this doesn’t quite hit me in the right spot for the latter.

(B-Rank)

5×03 “Ensign Ro”

I love Ensign Ro and I love the story they told here and how she persevered, and I love Captain Picard for overcoming his initial skepticism of her to forge the start of a very rewarding relationship for both of them.

With all due respect to Kira Nerys, I really wish Michelle Forbes had been willing to make a long-term commitment to DS9. I love Kira, but I think I love Ro just ever so slightly more. It would’ve been so great to see her rise up in the ranks like that.

(A-Rank)

5×04 “Silicon Avatar”

Data is pretty great in this episode, but some of that old lady’s interactions with him get suuuuuuper creepy once she stops being a space racist and starts awkwardly projecting her feelings for her dead son onto him.

I love, love, loved Riker’s fling with civilian engineer Carmen Davila at the beginning of the episode, she felt like such a fully realized character in so little screen time, and that really made her abrupt death hit harder. It also helped emphasize how genuinely frightening the rather disarmingly-beautiful Crystaline Entity really can be.

I do have some nitpicky frustration with the idea that a civilian scientist can gain exclusive control of any function of the Enterprise, no matter how seemingly trivial. But the death of the Crystaline Entity really did feel appropriately tragic, and Captain Picard and the rest of the crew’s anger really helped express how absolutely sacred the Federation considers all life, so I’m willing to grant some dramatic license there.

(B-Rank)

5×05 “Disaster”

I kind of always somehow sleep on this episode, but it really is just fantastic.

The Enterprise is damaged and loses main power. And we’re not talking someone says “emergency power” and they activate mood lighting and keep trucking along. The lights are out. Like, out out. And most of the ship’s primary functions just aren’t available. Shit is dire, yo!

This also lets them do the classic TV thing and split up the crew into little separate areas dealing with an assortment of emergencies cut off from everyone else. We see all of them working at similar problems and having to make assumptions about what everyone else is doing.

I love what a lot of the individual groups are doing. Captain Picard is trapped in a turbolift with a group of children, and due to an injury has to talk them through how to deal with the situation. This entire subplot is honestly super sweet, and another example of how Captain Picard is deeply uncomfortable with children but literally every time he has to interact with them in any meaningful way, he just does a fantastic job. Him handing out his pips (two for the oldest, as his Number One, and one for the other two) and giving them each little responsibilities was super heartwarming.

Elsewhere, most of the ship’s most useful officers (Commander Riker, Lt. Commander Data, and Lt. Worf) are trapped in Ten Forward and initially not able to do much other than gather the injured and assess the situation. You really do see that all of them are highly trained to deal with this sort of thing, and it’s honestly pretty terrific to see that in action. Eventually Riker and Data split off to try to get to engineering, while Worf stays behind to help the wounded–annnnd Keiko O’Brien, who has suddenly gone into labor. Worf is super good at all of this. He’s very reassuring, but in a way that feels authentic to him. If he tried to be like Dr. Crusher or something it would come off as very inauthentic. I really liked getting a chance to see this side of him.

Speaking of Dr. Crusher, though, her and Geordi end up trapped in a cargo bay and the emergency that unfolds there and how they have to deal with it is pretty great but there isn’t really a lot of character stuff happening for them? It’s another example of the crew’s professionalism and problem-solving skills, but that’s kind of it. It just feels like it’s missing a dimension that some of the other scenarios bring to the table. And I guess that’s okay, but I also feel like Dr. Crusher in particular is often pretty underdeveloped, so this does end up feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Finally, a combination of circumstances ends up leaving Counselor Troi in command of the bridge during the disaster, and she has to make several command decisions and defend them while Ensign Ro occasionally tries to steamroll her and Chief O’Brien does his best to offer advice without stepping on either officer’s toes. Honestly, everyone ends up looking pretty great here, even Ro.

This really is a pretty great episode. It isn’t an episode I often hear people talking about when they talk about great TNG episodes, but it really does a lot.

(A-Rank)

5×06 “The Game”

This episode is super fun and Robin Lefler is a super great character and I’m genuinely sad that we don’t get to see any more of her. Her and Wesley are super cute together, even. Like, it’s cool that she gets to be a huge part of the Star Trek: New Frontier novels, but it’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of her on screen.

Oh and of course if an Enterprise crewmember ends up falling under the spell of a hypnodomme and spreading that danger around to the rest of the crew it would be Will Riker. Who the hell else could it possibly have been?

(A-Rank)

5×07 “Unification, Part 1”

The main attraction for the audience (Spock’s presence) is certainly more pronounced in Part 2 given that all we get in Part 1 is his dramatic entrance and immediately throw to one of the show’s most dramatic “To Be Continued”s. In retrospect it’s kind of amazing that this two-parter didn’t straddle the end of one season and the beginning of another. But Part 1 does have a lot more going for it than it might initially seem.

Captain Picard’s scene with Sarek is difficult–it’s hard to see Sarek in so much turmoil and pain–but it’s also full of super touching moments. Despite his compromised state and the state of his relationship with his estranged son, Sarek immediately declares, “Never!” when Picard informs him that many within Starfleet worry Spock has defected. When Picard says that thanks to their mind meld he knows their relationship is difficult but he also knows Sarek loves Spock very much, Sarek pleads, “Tell him.” But maybe the most touching moment of the whole scene comes when Sarek is struggling to give Picard the Vulcan salute, and the Captain gently helps the Ambassador’s fingers into the correct position.

In order to journey to Romulus to see what’s become of Ambassador Spock, Picard is going to need a cloaked ship. The scene where he speaks with a junior Klingon diplomat because Gowron and the rest of the High Council are ducking him and Picard tactfully eviscerates Gowron in absentia is one of my favorite scenes in the entire damn show, it’s just so damn good.

With Captain Picard and Data finally underway to Romulus, we get a B-plot where Commander Riker and the Enterprise are trying to unravel the mystery of some parts from scuttled Vulcan ships ending up in Ferengi hands. Their investigation takes them to a space junkyard where Riker and Troi have to deal with a guy with a serious case of Big Fish, Small Pond syndrome, and watching them maneuver their way through this is honestly delightful. It’s definitely one of the more inconsequential parts of the episode, but it adds a needed element of fun to counterbalance all the heavy stuff going on.

And apart from that we get the first real appearance of Romulus in the franchise (unless you count the holodeck scene in “The Defector”) and Ambassador Spock’s aforementioned dramatic entrance, which is more than enough to round this out into one of the best episodes of the series.

(S-Rank)

5×08 “Unification, Part 2”

The first scene with Captain Picard and Ambassador Spock is just a pretty straightforward conversation, but by the end of it I was just like… yeah. This episode is exactly as good as I remember it being. Patrick Stewart and Leonardo Nimoy are just absolute legends, and seeing them play off of each other while Stewart is at the height of his powers and Nimoy might be a bit past that but definitely has still got it was just all kinds of breathtaking.

This is one of those episodes that’s just jam-packed with amazing stuff from start to finish. There isn’t a single bad scene in the entire episode. It’s all Romulan scheming and Riker visiting a fucking awesome alien bar and wholesomely hitting on a four-armed piano player who plays Klingon opera for Worf later and Data and Spock bonding and Spock passing the torch to Picard and Picard comforting Spock over his father’s death and Sela being a super effective villain and omfg this episode is just so freaking good, you guys. Easily in the conversation as one of the best episodes in Star Trek history.

(S-Rank)

5×09 “A Matter of Time”

A time-traveling con man from the past poses as a history professor from the future. Hijinks ensue. Meanwhile, the Enterprise saves a planet from ecological disaster. Classic Starfleet stuff ensues.

Nothing much to write home about, but pretty solid and fun.

(B-Rank)

5×10 “New Ground”

TROI ACTUALLY GETS TO DO SOME AWESOME THERAPIST STUFF IN HERE, WHAT THE HECK. Her session with Worf is maybe the best work we’ve seen her do… ever? Like, ever ever??? Why don’t we get to see her do this kind of stuff all the time???

Worf being a bad father at first was uncomfortable and difficult to get through considering *gestures vaguely at my entire life*, but it’s pretty realistic and seeing him improve so quickly thanks to some good guidance combined with his heart having been in the right place the whole time is such a profound relief.

My only real complaint here is I could’ve used some Riker/Worf interactions. Even if you’re not a weird Riker/Worf shipper like me, Worf goes to Riker for advice so often it felt like a kind of weird omission.

(A-Rank)

5×11 “Hero Worship”

The kid trying to be an android was cute, and the scene on the bridge where he helps Data figure out how to save the Enterprise from destruction is pretty cool and dramatic. I just always find these “kid who lost his parents and is now bonding with a random crewmember” episodes super heavy. Usually whatever crewmember is being focused on smooths over some of that uncomfortable emotional space with their warmth and compassion, and while Data is totally doing that in his own way, this still feels like a profoundly lonely episode to me? And that doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean it’s just never gonna hit my list of favorite episodes.

(C-Rank)

5×12 “Violations”

It’s a 90s show doing an episode about rape. It could’ve been a lot worse, but yeah, it sure wasn’t good.

(C-Rank)

5×13 “The Masterpiece Society”

The stellar fragment and how they figured out how to divert it was pretty cool, especially with Geordi explicitly pointing out the irony of how they arrived at the solution considering the A plot.

Having Deanna in a torid romantic subplot that she feels conflicted about literally right after the episode where she’s sexually assaulted is… not great? Like, this show doesn’t do continuity enough with that kind of thing for them to make, you know, a whole Thing about it, so it’s really just something that they should’ve waited at least a few episodes on.

I also just think it’s an awkward look to like… waffle at all about eugenics? I know it’s made clear that most of the Enterprise’s crew “don’t agree with” the colonists, and that’s good. I just would’ve preferred if something like this was treated like as much of a black and white issue as it truly is. 

Still, the thing about mid-to-late seasons TNG is it kind of hits a similar spot to a cozy mystery etc where even when an episode has stuff you don’t really like in it, it’s still really pleasant and easy to watch? And weirdly comforting? It kind of has to deviate from that quite a bit to really sink too far rating-wise, imo, and this one didn’t.

(B-Rank)

5×14 “Conundrum”

I fucking love the concept of this episode, and it’s executed extremely well! The Enterprise’s crew has their memories temporarily erased by an alien species that is hoping to manipulate them into fighting a war for them. What I really love about this is the characters still act like themselves, sort of? But in a way that’s believable if they’re operating off of basically the “core software” of their personalities plus their skills, minus any memories or knowledge of who they are and what their mission is.

The characters that get to shine the most in these unique circumstances are Captain Picard, Lieutenant Worf, and Ensign Ro. Picard immediately jumps into a facilitation/leadership role but also doesn’t prioritize figuring out who’s in charge (even though it clearly should be him). When Worf assumes a leadership role instead (which makes sense for him also), Picard gracefully reassures him

(A-Rank)

5×15 “Power Play”

This has always been a favorite of mine. Troi, Data, and Barclay are possessed by incorporeal aliens and try to take over the Enterprise. They end up taking everyone in Ten Forward hostage, and Picard offers himself as a hostage in exchange for them releasing all the hostages who need medical attention. Everyone who’s possessed really gets to ham it up, but I especially love Marina Sirtis’s performance as their leader. She kicks ass as a baddie.

(A-Rank)

5×16 “Ethics”

I always dread this episode because of how heavy the subject matter is, and I always end up enjoying watching it way better than I’m bracing myself for. It’s just a super good episode, and it does that extremely TNG thing of handling difficult subject matter in a way that still feels approachable and comfortable.

Obviously this is a very Worf-heavy episode, but I think Dr. Crusher and Commander Riker get just as much to do. This is one of those times that you really get to see Beverly’s commitment to medicine, which is pretty much always a good look for her. In Riker’s case, we get to see just how deep his friendship with Worf goes. (My headcanon is still that it’s more than friendship, but y’know.)

It’s always fun to see Star Trek play around in other genres. Star Trek courtroom drama, Star Trek mysteries, etc. So it was nice to see the show take a stab at medical drama while maintaining its focus on characters and relationships.

(A-Rank)

5×17 “The Outcast”

Yeah, I have kind of a lot to say about this one.

So, if you’re watching this for the first time sometime in the 2020s, you’re probably thinking something like, “Um, wow? This is shockingly good trans representation for something that was made 30 years ago? Like, yeah, there’s some rather irritating gender essentialism on display, and it’s kind of ironic that the bad guys are basically enbies before it was widely understood that enbies were a thing, but still!” And you would be right if this was supposed to be about transgender people, but actually what actually happened is much sadder and much more hilarious.

You know that thing where misogyny was so ingrained into every aspect of Victorian society that men and women were kind of forced into almost exclusively homosocial friendships, and consequently a lot of Victorian literature now accidentally reads as hella gay? This is like that, but it’s so homophobic it accidentally reads as a shockingly modern depiction of a transgender character.

I’m gonna get into all the reasons why this sucks, and it really does suck, but I do want to pause for a second and enjoy the fact that bigotry is so unnatural and so governed by context that it can literally have trouble surviving in static artifacts of media because society is evolving around it. I know there’s plenty of counterexamples, but I just want to enjoy this one for a second.

So, yeah. What actually happened here is TNG was trying to finally make good on Gene Roddenberry’s broken promise to feature gay characters and stories on the show. Apparently they had been receiving fanmail pretty regularly about how awkwardly obvious this omission was by this point in the franchise’s history. If you’ve read my post about Blood and Fire, the fact that they didn’t just… straightforwardly present a character as gay probably comes as no surprise. But what they ended up doing instead was having a planet where everyone is functionally nonbinary and asexual (though, again, those being legitimate identities people can have wasn’t really a well-understood fact at the time, and I find it almost impossible that anyone in the writers room was approaching it that way) and, omg, what if heterosexual people with binary gender were the ones being discriminated against???

Star Trek can be really infuriatingly gutless and liberal sometimes, guys.

There is one good guy in this situation, though, and that’s Jonathan Frakes. Apparently he strongly lobbied behind the scenes for them to at least have his romantic interest in the episode be played by a man instead of a woman, but Rick Berman was having none of it. And to Frakes’ further credit, he also went public with his criticisms, saying, “I didn’t think they were gutsy enough to take it where they should have. Soren should have been more obviously male. We’ve gotten a lot of mail on this episode, but I’m not sure it was as good as it could have been – if they were trying to do what they call a gay episode.”

Riker is increasingly becoming one of my favorite Star Trek characters thanks to how awesome Jonathan Frakes is, y’all. This is just the year of me finally realizing that Riker is the fucking best.

Anyway, the episode is about Commander Riker falling in love with a member of an androgynoous species called the J’naii. Aside from my aforementioned frustrations, I find it really frustrating that stories like this often locate other forms of gender expression within an individual species where that’s just kind of… their entire deal? Like, basically every species should have whatever kind of dominant gender narrative they have, and then all kinds of variations on that gender narrative. That’s really something that not even nuTrek is really living up to in my opinion, and it’s probably the biggest thing I’d like to see change going forward.

The reason I still have this episode ranked so highly in spite of my obvious frustrations is that it’s actually just a damn good tragic love story? I usually cry when I watch it, but this time I rather intentionally distracted myself at key moments to try to keep myself emotionally insulated from it, and it did actually work unlike when we watched “The Offspring.” But, yeah. There’s also a ton of nice little touches like Riker seeking Counselor Troi’s blessing to embark on the relationship, and Worf barging into Riker’s rescue mission and demanding to help. Everything really does frame this as a very important relationship for Riker, and it would’ve been honestly terrific if they had just had it be an actual gay relationship instead of this weird tangled allegorical web. Even Captain Picard, who initially warns Riker that he can only protect him so far, is a consummate bro at the end of the episode when he asks Riker if their business with the J’naii is concluded before proceeding on their next mission.

So, yeah, I have some pretty profound frustrations with this episode but it’s still kind of impossible to say that it isn’t a good episode. It’s not one I’m necessarily going to go to bat for if I see people (understandably) hating on it, but on the whole I actually do think it’s a pretty good episode in spite of all the things working against it.

(B-Rank)

5×18 “Cause and Effect”

This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. It starts out with a truly terrifying cold open where the Enterprise is in the process of being destroyed. It’s probably one of the shortest cold opens of the entire series, but it’s so effective and just leaves you like “… whoa, okay” before the throw to credits. One thing you’re immediately aware of from just that cold open is that they’re throwing a ton of production budget at this one. We get one of the most best-looking ship explosions of the entire show, and we’re actually going to get it multiple times and you can kind of tell it’s actually a different model being exploded each time! Because each one explodes ever so slightly differently. We also get a ton of sets for what, from what was written in the script, easily could’ve just been a bottle episode. Instead, we get a ton of effort and money thrown at it, and every bit of that shows up on the screen, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.

This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Wait, hang on, have I already reviewed this episode? Let me check. Hmmm. Doesn’t look like it, must just be deja vu. Anyway, the writing on this episode is just terrific. I know the time loop thing might seem derivative at first blush, but they really Star Trek it up. One of my favorite little tricks here is that after the cold open it isn’t necessarily immediately obvious that they’re going through a time loop! It could just be a simpler nonlinear storytelling format where you see the dramatic, action-packed conclusion and then wrap back around to the beginning to show how we got there, and with some added context we find out the ship didn’t really blow up, or there was a copy of the ship, or etc etc, and that kind of storytelling method would definitely not be out of place in Star Trek! That kind of subtlety is characteristic of a very clever script in general, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.

This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Hang on, we’ve definitely done this review before? Maybe we should just turn around? Actually, wait, maybe not reviewing this episode is how we keep ending up reviewing this episode. We can’t afford to second-guess ourselves, let’s just proceed with the review until we see a reason not to. So obviously the plotting of this episode is super clever and I really like how they learn more each time through the loop as everyone’s deja vu grows more pronounced and genuinely creepy. We also get some just absolutely aces character moments including everyone at each iteration of the successively creepier poker game, a few interactions between Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard that show how warm the two of them are and how increasingly unnerved Beverly is, and there’s also several staff meetings that happen at basically the same time in the plot but each of them have drastically different tones. It’s pretty impressive to have us watch like five versions of the same scenes but keep them entertaining each time, but the one scene that doesn’t really change at all in any version is the scene where the Enterprise and Bozeman collide. So that scene needs to be tight and interesting enough to watch a bunch of times with no substantive changes to the dialogue. One of my favorite little moments in that scene is when Counselor Troi tells Captain Picard, “We have to get out of here,” and she is just blatantly terrified and it makes it a genuinely chilling moment. There’s just a bunch of interesting little moments like this, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.

This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Hang on, no, I’ve definitely already reviewed this episode! What the hell is going on here? It appears we’re caught in some sort of temporal loop. The really scary thing is it’s almost impossible to say how many times we’ve been through the loop. It could have been minutes, hours, days… okay, we need to break this cycle. What we’ve got to do is send a message to the next review to make sure we close the loop. So let’s just keep our eyes open. I didn’t notice before watching this that it was a Jonathan Frakes-directed episode, and to be honest I don’t usually pay as close of attention to creative credits unless the director is a regular cast member. But there was a specific shot late in the episode that just screamed his name, and I looked it up and sure enough it was Frakes, and that just made all the sense in the world. He loves shooting the familiar sets of the Enterprise from unique angles, so this is just completely in his wheelhouse. He shoots like four or five versions of the same few scenes over and over, and he doesn’t shoot any of them the same way twice. I bet he loved playing around with that. Hey, wait, that’s it! Jonathan Frakes! He’s the missing piece! Alright, we’re probably about to reset again so just think really hard about Jonathan Frakes! Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes did a fantastic job directing this episode, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.

This is one of my favorite TNG episodes.

(S-Rank)

5×19 “The First Duty”

Wes, Definitely Not Tom Paris, Sito Jaxa, and Random Brunette #9000 do a shuttlecraft whoopsie uh-oh that kills their teammate, and Definitely Not Tom Paris uses his position as commander of their team to try to convince everyone to lie to the Academy’s investigation into the incident. It’s pretty cool to get some lore expansion around Starfleet Academy, and to see Wesley back on the show. And this is that kind of narrative that shows you what someone is made of by having them initially fall short of what you’ve come to expect of them only to have them find their way back.

In professional wrestling there’s what’s known as a “visual pinfall” or “visual win” where you see someone pin someone for what would be a three-count or see their opponent tap out, but the referee (who are notoriously made of glass) is knocked out so they don’t actually get the win. It’s a way of building drama and making the wrestler (who often goes on to lose the match) look strong in defeat. We get basically that here, with the admiral who’s presiding over the investigation actually banging her gavel and saying that the investigation will be closed, but Wesley finally stands up and reverse Columbos himself. (“Just one more thing…”)

This is a pretty fantastic episode in a lot of facets. And what’s extra cool is that Sito Jaxa actually comes back in a later episode, which is not something you usually expect from a character in her position. And the episode where she comes back doesn’t shy away from the blemish on her record, it actually makes it a major plot point of that episode. So we have that to look forward to!

(A-Rank)

5×20 “Cost of Living”

Like, a lot of the hate this episode gets is pretty exaggerated, but it’s certainly not good. I kind of find myself wanting to go to bat for it because the amount of hate it gets for just being a pretty mediocre TNG episode is kind of wild. Like, if it weren’t for Alexander’s inclusion it really would feel more like a season 1 or 2 episode than a season 5 episode, I get it. But come on, guys, it’s not that bad.

It’s bad. I get it. But it doesn’t bore me to tears or make me experience secondhand embarrassment for everyone involved in the way that some of the truly awful episodes do.

(C-Rank)

5×21 “The Perfect Mate”

You guys, Famke Janssen is so good that I made it all the way through the episode thinking that this was anything, and just… NO!!!! Wow, I am SO embarrassed that I, for a single godsdamned second, thought this was anything. This is NOTHING!!!

This is human trafficking apologism!!! No one comes out of this looking good. Even Dr. Crusher, the only person who raises a token objection, ends up looking weak and uncommitted! And she fucking frames her problem with it as “prostitution,” which hey fuck you, sex work is work!!!

This is watchable. Everyone says and does Star Trek things. But it’s so unbelievably morally rotten at its very core. What a waste of an episode.

(C-Rank)

5×22 “Imaginary Friend”

Let’s start with a couple incredibly nerdy Star Trek notes. The guy who plays Clara’s father plays the POV protagonist’s father in the Star Trek: Borg FMV game, and honestly I get it? He totally has nonthreatening dad energy. Also the nebula they’re in is blatantly a recolor of the Mutara Nebula from Wrath of Khan, which I suppose is a step up from “The Best of Both Worlds” just literally reusing the same nebula. Also like, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t actually a criticism? I know it probably sounds like one, but it’s honestly just a super nerdy thing that only like four people are gonna notice, and it actually makes me feel quite a bit of joy.

I feel like this is an episode a lot of people hate on, and its premise definitely sounds like it could potentially be a trashfire, but I actually like this episode quite a bit! When Captain Picard tells “Isabella” that she’s seeing the ship from the perspective of a child, he’s honestly kind of talking about the perspective of the episode as a whole. And I just think it’s super neat every time the show goes out of its way to show us a different perspective than we usually get! Like, I wouldn’t want every episode to deviate to this degree, but it’s a really refreshing change of pace.

Clara and Isabella do interact with a rather improbable number of main cast members, but I think every single crew member they interact with knocks it out of the park in terms of how they treat Clara. Worf infuses his lecture about them being in a restricted area with more warmth than he normally would and conspiratorially tells them they should return to their quarters and “we will forget this incident.” Deanna does some fucking fantastic therapy stuff and gives consistently great advice to Clara’s father. Guinan probably fares the best of anyone, but that’s going to be true in most of the episodes she appears in, she’s just the best.

Captain Picard, for all his protestations of being terrible with children, also just does a fantastic job in this episode. I love his little speech to Isabella about the importance of children, I love how calmly yet firmly he negotiates with her, and I love how warm and encouraging he is towards Clara in his brief interaction with her!

If they had tried to do something like this episode in season 1 it probably would’ve just been the fucking worst, but this is some quality TNG!

(B-Rank)

5×23 “I, Borg”

I don’t like how long this episode has everyone (especially Picard) carry the idiot/genocide ball. Guinan is literally the only one written particularly well in this context (and has a lot more trauma informing her initial stance), though I also did appreciate Beverly and Geordi’s part in it. I would have liked to have heard from Data more in an episode like this, but I get that you’re not always going to be able to hear from everyone.

And once Picard was confronted with the ethics of the situation in the form of Hugh, he did dutifully about-face and start stridently defending his rights, just like he literally always does when he starts out on the wrong side of an issue like this. Like I’ve said in other, similar episodes, I get that this is the best way to dramatize this kind of ethical conflict to force the viewer to grapple with it along with the characters, it’s just still really hard to have characters you genuinely respect approaching this like, “Gosh, I don’t know about this whole ‘not doing a genocide’ idea.” Obviously it isn’t enough to sink the episode, mostly because wow Hugh is such a good boy, but it still wasn’t my favorite approach.

(A-Rank)

5×24 “The Next Phase”

Geordi and Ro are ghosts! Except they’re not actually ghosts! They’re out of phase with normal matter and energy. They need to get their crewmates to notice they aren’t actually dead, all while a Romulan ship plans to destroy the Enterprise and they know about it but have no way of telling the rest of the crew.

Seriously, this episode rocks. It’s super fun and I always look forward to it.

(A-Rank)

5×25 “The Inner Light”

I’m at the landmark episode. I’m at the emotional terrorism. I’m at the combination landmark episode and emotional terrorism.

This is maybe one of the most famous episodes of TNG among fans. In this episode Captain Picard’s brain gets zapped by a probe and in a period of about 20 minutes he lives an entire lifetime in the waning years of a doomed planet. He has a wife who loves him very much and who he comes to love, even though he’s initially reluctant to engage with “his” life on this other world. He has a dear friend who passes away. He eventually has children and grandchildren. He grows old through the magic of hair extensions and bad makeup.

I joke, but this is a genuinely fantastic episode. It’s such a profoundly important event in Captain Picard’s life, and one that to some degree remains a constant presence for him going forward. Mostly this is just the fact that you occasionally see him practicing his flute, but there’s actually an episode next season where he explains what the flute means to him to a character he has a brief but intense romance with. Also one of the flute songs heard in this episode provides the basis for the melody of the Star Trek: Picard opening theme, so that’s pretty awesome.

This isn’t an episode I come back to very often, because it’s very effective at making you feel all of the feelings and that can be a lot, but it’s nevertheless unquestionably one of the best TNG episodes.

(S-Rank)

5×26 “Time’s Arrow, Part 1”

This is pretty easily the most underwhelming season finale since the first season’s, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable episode. Time travel stuff is always fun, and I really like this two-parter’s take on Mark Twain even though I have no earthly idea how accurate it is. Data as a fish out of water in 19th century San Francisco is delightful, and Guinan having a large role is pretty much always going to be welcome.

This isn’t “The Best of Both Worlds,” or even “Redemption,” but it’s still not half-bad. And it rounds out what’s probably TNG’s best season.

(B-Rank)

S-Rank: 5
A-Rank: 10
B-Rank: 7
C-Rank: 4
D-Rank: 0
Average: 3.62 (B-Rank)

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