Lurking around Star Trek discussion boards was one of the first things I did when my family got the internet so I thought I’d write up a Watch 5 of my favourite overlooked episodes for this month’s 5ive. I didn’t want to make a best of list because it’s always just a slight variation of the same handful of episodes: Best of Both Worlds, The Measure of a Man and so forth. People have been arguing and dissecting those for 30+ years and I have nothing new or novel to add to that conversation.
Here are my five favourite overlooked episodes, in order of appearance:
Season 2, Episode 21 Peak Performance
Most of this episodes plotline revolves around the crew of the Enterprise preparing for a David and Goliath-like battle simulation where Riker commands an 80-year-old ship with a crew of Worf, Geordi, Wesley and 37 extras. There’s an arrogant alien named Kolrami who’s been sent by Starfleet to observe things and he beats Data at a strategy game which causes Data to spend the episode questioning his abilities.
While the earlier seasons of TNG are an acquired taste there’s a lot about Power Play to like. The episode provides a nice contrast in the different leadership styles and personalities of Riker and Picard. It gives Worf and Geordi some cool McGyver moments and manages to involve wunderkind Wesley in a relevant way. But watching Data cope with failure at something he’s supposed to be good at is my favourite part of this episode. Throughout TNG we see Data grapple with all kinds of plot lines and human situations we know his positronic brain wasn’t meant to handle, but this is the first and maybe only time he fails at a task that’s within his design specifications and his mini existential crisis is so real that even Dr Pulanski ends up on Team Data.
Season 4, Episode 5 Remember Me
Wesley’s experiment goes wrong and he accidentally traps his Mother in one of those static warp bubbles from all the way back in Season 1. We spend the episode watching Dr Crusher try to figure out what’s happening around her and watching Wesley try to figure out how to save her.
By Season 4 TNG was running on all cylinder’s, mixing serialized storylines about the Klingon politics with family-themed episodes that flushed out all the main characters. But as a girl growing up watching the show every week it was hard not to notice how underused both of the Crusher characters were, and that was frustrating because they are my two favourite characters. Dr Beveral Crusher was an intelligent, ambitious woman with a solid value system and a good sense of humour, but almost every Beverly-centred episode was about her romantic relationships (The Host, Attached, the terrible Sub Rosa) so Remember Me has always been a favourite because Dr Crusher gets to do something different. Also, like many kids, I liked Wesley Crusher. He got to explore the galaxy as an equal to grown-ups. He was super smart and attractive, but not full of himself which made him the perfect non-threating boy crush for 11-year-old me. While Remember Me is another ‘Wesley saves the day’ episode, he saves his Mom from a scenario he created so his emotional investment in being the hero actually makes sense this time around.
Season 4, Episode 11 Data’s Day
Data’s Day is basically the diary entry of a robot and details all the little minutiae of starship life that you’d expect from a diary entry. We learn that Data commands the night’s shift (makes sense) and that Chief O’Brien is getting married, or not getting married, as Keiko has cold feet. We learn that Dr Crusher can tap dance, we meet Mot the barber and see the arboretum and where the Enterprise replicates things. There’s a much more serious plotline involving a Vulcan ambassador and Romulans but we see that kind of stuff in every episode so who cares?
Season 4 is one of the strongest seasons so I couldn’t limit myself to just one episode. Data’s Day is a great slice of life episode that gives fans of the show a sense of what an average day on board the ship would be like. How much you’ll like it probably depends on how invested in the Star Trek universe and characters you already are and for that reason, it’s usually left off the best of lists for episodes that are more plot driven.
Season 5, Episode 15 Face of the Enemy
Troi is kidnapped, surgically altered to look like a Romulan, and basically forced to take part in a Resistance plot to smuggle a high ranking Romulan official and his aides into Federation territory so they can defect.
This is one of the few Troi-centric episodes where she’s not someone’s daughter or love interest. The other cool one is Fistful of Data’s but this episode is all Troi and it’s fun watching the empathic Counsellor force herself to be more assertive. We learned a lot about Klingons from Worf’s ongoing family saga, and the Borg are an ongoing concern through all 7 seasons of ST:TNG and into the films. DS9 goes deep into Bjorians, Cardassians and the Dominion and Voyager was basically an alien a week situation. Some aliens, like whatever Guinan is supposed to be, are purposefully mysterious but I feel like the Romulans and Vulcans got overlooked. The Spock re-unification storyline went unresolved and in the reboot, Vulcans are so expendable their world gets destroyed, so that’s never going to get revisited.
Season 7, Episode 15 Lower Decks
Lower Decks follows four ensigns and a Ten Forward server named Ben during crew evaluation season. After two television series and several movies spent killing off the junior officers we finally get a glimpse of what an ensigns starship life and duties consist of beyond being killed or horribly injured. There’s colour: they have roommates, their own poker game and a different take on Riker’s personality. We learn more about Nurse Ogawa and we catch up with one of Nova Squadron’s disgraced cadets, Sito Jax, (from First Duty) as she prepares for a top secret mission to help a Cardassian informant.
The most interesting part about seeing the Enterprise from it’s most junior staffs perspective is how in the dark they are about important issues. Nobody tells ensigns anything, if they do see something it’s only a fragment of what’s going on and they’re ordered to keep it secret. Where the senior officers bond over shared triumphs and tragedies, junior staff relationships become strained because of secrets and competing ambitions.
Honourable Mentions: Cause and Effect deserves a mention for being Groundhog Day before Groundhog Day. Also, Fistful of Datas a fun holodeck episode directed by Patrick Stewart.