On Thursday, Star Trek: Picard launches and we can’t wait. The show brings back one of the most popular Star Trek characters of all time along with other popular characters from across the franchise. Picard picks up 20 years after the events of the feature film Star Trek: Nemesis.
As we patiently wait for the show, we thought it a good idea to revisit the top 10 best episodes featuring Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard. There are many great Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes to pick from, so narrowing down to 10 was a struggle. Not all of these are necessarily the best episodes of TNG (although most are), but these are the best Picard episodes in our opinion.
1. ENCOUNTER AT FARPOINT (Season 1, Eps. 1-2)
The crew of the Enterprise-D is sent to Farpoint Station to investigate the new station and the strange goings-on around it. En route, they are waylaid by an omnipotent being called Q of the Q Continuum, who plans to serve as judge and executioner for the human race. Q tests Picard and crew with the mystery of Farpoint Station, which Picard solves—discovering the station is actually a giant space jellyfish that can transform. The Enterprise crew frees the being which flies off with its mate. Q informs Picard they passed the test, but there are more to come.
To get a good measure of the man, we needed to start with “Encounter at Farpoint.” The episode originally ran as a 90-minute episode, but was later split into two episodes. This is by far not the best episode, yet we learn everything we need to know about Captain Picard’s character, wits, and dedication to his crew. We’re also introduced to Patrick Stewart’s talented acting.
2. Q WHO (Season 2, Ep. 16)
Q once again pops in to harass the crew, but mainly to bully Picard into letting him join his crew. Q warns Picard that the Federation is not ready to face what lies beyond known space. Picard tells Q that he’ll keep his own counsel, so Q tosses the Enterprise thousands of light years into the unknown. They encounter the Borg, who puts the fear into the crew, so much so that Picard must beg Q to return them to Federation space.
This is one of those episodes that is both a great TNG and Picard (and Q) episode. Building on Farpoint, Q is clearly introduced as Picard’s nemesis. Picard rises to the challenge of dealing with Q. And for all his faults, Q brings the best out of Picard throughout the rest of the series. We also meet the Borg, a truly terrifying enemy.
3. YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE (Season 3, Ep. 15)
The Enterprise-D encounters a rift in spacetime where a battle-damaged Enterprise-C emerges despite being destroyed two decades earlier. The timeline suddenly shifts and the Enterprise goes from a ship of exploration to a battleship with the Federation fighting a protracted war with the Klingon Empire. Oh, and Tasha Yar is back and Worf and Troi are gone. The Enterprise-C eventually returns back to the rift setting the timeline, with only Guinan being the wiser.
This is another best-in-class episode. Normally, I’m not a fan of time travel because it’s a lazy plot device, but the time travel element works for this episode. What this episode does best is showcase Picard’s resolve and dedication to doing what’s right even if it means the destruction of the Enterprise and all his crew for the greater good.
4. BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (Season 3, Ep. 26 / Season 4, Ep. 1)
The Borg are back on a mission to assimilate Earth. Starfleet fights back against the invasion with little success. The Borg board the Enterprise and abduct Captain Picard. An away team boards the Borg cube to discover Picard’s uniform and communicator. Picard is then revealed as the assimilated Locutus of Borg. The Enterprise crew abducts “Locutus” themselves, and Dr. Crusher and Data devise a way to access the Borg’s systems through Picard and blow up the cube. The Borg tech is removed from Picard, but not the devastating experience.
The two-episode arc is better than some of the Star Trek films. There’s action, suspense, and a mind-blowing season-ending cliffhanger. Patrick Stewart gets to show a broad range of his acting ability as a determined Captain, emotionless Borg, and a survivor with a clear case of PTSD.
5. FAMILY (Season 4, Ep. 2)
The Enterprise is in for repairs after the Battle of Sector 001. The crew is recovering in their own ways by doing what people typically do after a crisis—visit with their families. Lt. Worf connects with his adoptive parents, Wesley watches a holo-recording of his dead father, and Picard goes back to the family estate in France. There Picard reconnects with his older brother, and his sister-in-law, and their son. Picard is considering leaving Starfleet. The brothers quarrel throughout the episode until they end up in a muddy brawl in the vineyard. Picard breaks down and confesses how the Borg assimilation affected him. He resolves to deal with the painful memories and return to Starfleet.
“Family” was not a popular episode when it aired. It had the lowest viewership of the fourth season. Even Gene Roddenberry hated the script, but Producer Michael Pillar pushed it through. And good thing he did. “Family” acts as a catharsis for Picard to deal with his Borg ordeal. Without this episode, the Borg attack would not have had the same impact on Picard as well as the series. Also, Patrick Stewart delivers one of his strongest performances of TNG.
6. INNER LIGHT (Season 5, Ep. 25)
The episode is off to a quick start as an alien probe shoots a beam at Picard and he collapses on the bridge of the Enterprise. Picard wakes up from his strange dream to his life as Kamin on the planet of Kataan. He lives the next 40 years or so as Kamin—marrying, having children, and learning to play a flute really well. He also experiences the final years of the planet before being consumed in a supernova. Picard wakes up on the Enterprise after only 20 minutes of being connected to the probe, which contains the flute from his life on Kataan. The purpose of the probe was simply to share the experiences of the people of Kataan.
“Inner Light” is considered one of the best TNG episodes for good reason. It was science-fiction at its best as it used a futuristic situation to deal with the human condition. It won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It was another of Patrick Stewart’s best performances.
7. TAPESTRY (Season 6, Ep. 15)
Picard is killed on an away mission. Q shows up for Picard’s very own episode of “This Is Your Life.” Q allows Picard to travel back in time and change an event he greatly regrets. Picard returns to the present day as a lowly science officer. He discovers the event he regrets actually served as an important pivot in his life. Now, having played it safe in the past, he is reduced to a life of menial obscurity. Picard tells Q to send him back to reset his timeline because he would rather die having lived a meaningful life than continue with a life without risk. Q sends him back to be stabbed through the heart by the Nausicaan’s knife. Picard awakens in sickbay as a captain with his mechanical heart working again.
This is a critical episode for Picard as he learns that a life well lived must involve some risk. The mistakes of his youth made him the individual he is now. The episode also marks somewhat of turning point in the relationship between Q and Picard, as the omnipotent being actually gave Picard the chance to learn something important about himself.
8. STARSHIP MINE (Season 6, Ep. 18)
The Enterprise is docked at a station to get decontaminated. Because the baryon sweep is deadly to organics, the crew must deplane to the station until the decontamination is over. Picard decides to retrieve his saddle so he can go horseback riding, but discovers a technician where there shouldn’t be one and gets tangled up in a cat-and-mouse game with a gang of trilithium thieves. Picard must battle the gang while constantly moving forward from the approaching baryon sweep. Picard and crew defeat the thieves, of course.
“Starship Mine” is an action-packed episode with Picard as the action hero. It gives Picard the chance to be both a man of intelligence and action. While the episode’s plot is fairly simple, it’s fun to watch Picard kicking ass.
9. ALL GOOD THINGS (Season 7, Eps. 25-26)
Picard is once again tested by Q who makes him jump between three points in his life: past, present, and future. He must solve the riddle of a space anomaly that will destroy the human race in the distant past. Picard enlists Data and Geordi to help him find a way to neutralize the space anomaly. The solution is to fly the Enterprise from each time period into the anomaly and create warp shells—leading to the destruction of each Enterprise. Picard awakens in Q’s courtroom, where he is informed by Q that he passed the test and the Q Continuum now believes the human race has promise. Q exits telling Picard “See you out there.” The series ends with Picard joining the staff poker game, regretting that he hadn’t done it sooner.
This is a strong send off for the dedicated captain of the Enterprise-D. The two-episode arc gave Picard/Stewart the opportunity to shine. The series ending also showcased the strong bonds between Picard and his crew, while presenting a glimmer of hope for the future of the human race.
10. STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002 feature film)
Number 10 is not actually an episode. Nemesis is the tenth Star Trek film and the fourth (and final) TNG film. A coup d’état in the Romulan Empire draws the Enterprise crew into a confrontation that threatens the future of the Federation. Picard is sent by Starfleet to be the envoy for the Federation as requested by the new Romulan leader, Shinzon. Picard finds himself face-to-face with a younger version of himself – a clone created by the Romulans to replace Picard, but the plan was abandoned.
Without providing additional spoilers, this film is probably the most important thing to watch before Picard drops as there appears to be plot points connected to this movie. Also, check out the Star Trek: Short Trek “Children of Mars” which introduces some new plot points that feature large in the new Picard series.
Star Trek: Picard premieres January 23 on CBS All Access for North America, and the next day on Amazon Prime for 200 countries and territories outside North America.