Best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, ranked
Love Picard? Then it's time to venture into his past
The new Star Trek: Picard series has been a hit on Amazon Prime. And although the first season is coming to an end, it’s been renewed for a second already. But Jean-Luc Picard (or JL, as Rafi calls him) had a long life of space adventures way before he boarded the La Sirena.
If you’ve enjoyed Star Trek: Picard and want to know what to do to fill the time before the new season comes out, we recommend you go back and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. Considered one of the best science-fiction shows of all-time, it’s this TV series in which Picard was captain of the starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D.
But with seven seasons to choose from, where do you start? Well, all 178 episodes are worth a watch in our opinion (or a re-watch if you saw them the first time round). If you enjoyed the main themes and characters of the Picard series, then there are some key episodes you can’t miss.
We’ve collected together our favourite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, focusing on Picard’s career in Starfleet, his encounters with the Borg, artificial intelligence and more.
This list is a great Picard primer if you haven’t seen the new series yet, or fun further watching if you’re already a huge fan and want to find out more about Jean-Luc’s space-faring days when he was younger.
If you have a favourite Star Trek: The Next Generation episode you don’t see here, you can add it below.
- Get another space fix with our shortlist of the best sci-fi TV shows, ranked
- Or, check out our shortlist of the best Star Trek villains
Best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes
1. The Inner Light (Season 5, episode 25)Stream now on Netflix
This episode is one hell of a science-fiction story all about Jean-Luc Picard, or should we say Kamin. Picard is struck by an energy beam from an alien probe, which then causes him to experience 40 years of a new life as an alien humanoid called Kamin while he’s unconscious.
There’s a twist to why Picard experiences this other life, which we don’t want to give away. But if you’ve ever seen a GIF of Picard playing the flute, The Inner Light explains why. What’s more, the flute that plays the main theme in the Picard series is a subtle nod to the instrument he learns in this episode.
2. The Best of Both Worlds 1 & 2 (Season 3, episode 26 / Season 4, episode 1)Stream now on Netflix
One of the best storylines in the whole of Star Trek (and maybe the whole of science-fiction?), if you were wondering why one of the xB (that’s ex-Borg) called Jean-Luc “Locutus” in Star Trek: Picard, this is why.
Season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation ends with a huge and horrifying episode in which Picard is kidnapped and assimilated by the Borg. We may only have seen their inactive cube-shaped ship (the Artifact) in Picard, but this race of cybernetic humanoid drones pose a massive threat to the crew of The Enterprise during TNG’s run.
If you only watch two episodes from this list, ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ parts 1 and 2 are the most tense (and scary) viewing and set you up to better understand Picard’s past with the Borg.
3. All Good Things 1 & 2 (Season 7, episode 25 and 26)Stream now on Netflix
There are many things to love about the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, including another time-travelling romp which takes us 25 years into the Enterprise crew’s future.
But we’ve included it on this list, though, because of the milestone Picard’s character reaches when he finally learns to let his guard down with the people closest to him. This change is crystallised by his decision to join his senior officers’ weekly poker night. It's a heart-warming moment of togetherness which, judging by the events in Picard, helps to turn stoic starship colleagues into lifelong friends.
4. Family (Season 4, episode 2)Stream now on Netflix
How do you follow a nail-biting two-parter that sees Picard become the cybernetic ambassador of an enemy alien race? With a restful trip back to the Picard family vineyard in rural France.
‘Family’ is an emotional change of pace that follows Jean-Luc as he recovers with family back on Earth. Picard viewers will recognise this as the chateaux from the beginning of the series. Things are fraught with his brother, culminating in a fist fight, which causes Picard to break down and share his guilt over what he did when he was part of the Borg collective.
Although this episode lacked a dramatic sci-fi thread, it was deeply moving in the way it dealt so well with Picard’s trauma – a huge testament to Patrick Stewart’s incredible acting talent.
5. Tapestry (Season 6, episode 15)Stream now on Netflix
Another great Picard-focused episode, this one is orchestrated by Q, Picard’s playful omnipotent nemesis, who sends Picard back in time to a crucial moment during his time as a cadet at the Starfleet Academy. Q offers a chance to undo a past mistake, which Picard regrets. But, as we’ve learned from other time travel episodes, once you start messing with the past things in the future get complicated. Very complicated.
Apart from the joy of another John de Lancie cameo as Q, this episode offers a window into the brash, arrogant young man Jean-Luc was in his youth, offering a deeper insight into the journey his character has taken by the time we rejoin him in Picard.
6. The Measure of a Man (Season 2, episode 9)Stream now on Netflix
Bruce Maddox may be elusive in Star Trek: Picard, but he plays a key role in the series – he created Soji and Dahj. But this isn’t the first time we’ve met the talented cyberneticist.
He first appears in this early TNG episode, in which all kinds of interesting questions about artificial intelligence, ethics and the rights of androids in the Star Trek universe are raised.
In this episode, Bruce Maddox arrives on the Enterprise with a request: to disassemble Data (an android) in order to learn more about his construction. This sounds like a valid request from someone who specialises in cybernetics. But there’s a catch: this would effectively ‘kill’ Data.
Data refuses and a trial follows in which Picard, speaking on Data’s behalf, argues that he’s not property of Starfleet but a self-determining being in his own right. The twist is, Picard’s first officer, William T. Riker, is called upon to argue against his captain on behalf of Maddox.
7. The Pegasus (Season 7, episode 12)Stream now on Netflix
This is the episode that gave us ‘Picard Day’, a children’s celebration on board the family-friendly Enterprise, which is now commemorated every June 16th (in case you’d like to join in). The eagle-eyed among you will recognise the Picard day banner, which is strung up in Jean-Luc’s lock-up first appears in this episode, hanging proudly across the briefing room.
‘Pegasus’ shows us the strength of Picard’s relationship with his first officer, William T. Riker, when one of Will’s previous Captains (whom Lost fans will no doubt recognise) shows up to test his loyalties.
The shady goings on surrounding a lost, experimental ship also exposes a rarely seen conspiratorial aspect to the otherwise squeaky-clean bureaucracy of Starfleet. A theme which is picked back up in the new series.
8. I, Borg (Season 5, episode 23)Stream now on Netflix
Hugh is a key character in the Picard series, heading up the Borg Artifact Research Institute as an xB and clearly knows Picard very well. This episode in which they first meet.
In ‘I, Borg’, the Enterprise picks up on a strange signal from a nearby moon. Thinking it’s a distress call, and being such helpful citizens of space, the crew sends an away team down to the surface to see what’s going on. When they get there they find a number of dead Borg drones, as well as one who is very much alive and, you guessed it, turns out to be Hugh.
9. Data’s Day (Season 4, episode 11)Stream now on Netflix
Episodes in which Data attempts to learn more about what it means to be human, are some of the most interesting and thoughtful of the whole TNG run. That’s why ‘Data’s Day’ is one of our top episodes, in which Data records a day in his life on The Enterprise for Bruce Maddox – who he, rather surprisingly, stays in touch with after Maddox’s threat to disassemble him.
Data narrates this episode, talking Maddox through his day, and it includes the marriage of two of his friends and dealing with the complicated mess of human emotions that accompanies it. This is also the episode which introduces Data’s pet cat – Spot (which makes a surprising return in one of the later episodes of Picard).
10. Descent 1 & 2 (Season 6, episode 26 / Season 7, episode 1)Stream now on Netflix
Another two-parter that bridges the end of season six with the final season of TNG, ‘Descent’ brings together a number of the most exciting threads from the previous six seasons.
Part 1 begins with Data on the holodeck playing poker with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and the real-life Stephen Hawking in a rare sci-fi cameo. Data is called away on a mission to answer a distress call, which sets in motion a series of events that leads the crew of the Enterprise back again to the Borg. But this time things are different. The Borg drones appear to be acting with more independence.
This two-parter sees the return of Data’s devious doppelganger brother Lore, who is in charge of the breakaway Borg community. As well as the return of Hugh, who is leading a small group of rebels against Data’s duplicitious brother.
It also introduces Data’s first experience as an android of human emotions, laying the groundwork for the highly-sophisticated synthetic beings we encounter in Picard.