There are many, MANY lists of the greatest Star Trek episodes, from the greatest of each series to the best of the Borg. As a veteran Trekkie who has been watching since I was seven, I have had over twenty years to form opinions on these matters. I'm going to spotlight my favorite episodes from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager that are among my personal favorites, those that might not agree with all the best-of lists, but are still stellar episodes that might inspire you to pull out your DVDs or fire up Netflix and have a little re-watch party. This post focuses on the unsung TNG favorites of my youth that I can watch again and again:
Thine Own Self: Now, this is not a commonly known episode so I'm gonna summarize a bit: Data loses his memory while surveying a pre-industrial world and wanders into a town carrying radioactive metal canisters. He, of course, doesn't get sick but tries to find out why the townspeople are. He befriends and stays with a local man and his young daughter, but the rest of the town begin to mistrust him since his arrival coincided with their illness. Scared when an assault exposes his android conponents, they eventually bury him and the metal outside of town, and he's rescued by the Enterprise crew. When he's reactivated, his usual memories are intact but he doesn't recall anything that happened on the planet.
This episode just completely showcases excellent dramatic work from Brent Spiner, and I enjoyed watching Data, who usually knows everything, work through the 'mystery' of the illness. Spiner's praises are sung often, but rarely is this episode cited. Data's connection with the little girl also reconnects Data with the more child-like aspects of his characters we remember from earlier seasons and those special moments of innocence he has throughout the series.
Genesis: Picard and Data arrive back on the Enterprise after an away mission to find the crew is devolving into primitive humans and animals, and must save the day. Creeping around the Enterprise while mutated crew members jump out at you! Plus, it's a race against the clock to find and distribute a cure without primordial Worf coming in to eat your face off. And Barclay as the spider? Scares the crap out of me every time. Also, the science behind this episode is very straight-forward. Everyone can grasp the transmission of disease and why, when protected by the micro-environment inside Spot's uterus, her kittens come out unharmed by the virus. This episode also allowed Patrick Stewart to be a bit vulnerable, as he partially succumbed to some of the traits of the monkey he was devolving into (skittish, jumpy, hankering for bananas...jk about that last one). Also, apparently Spot is a girl kitty suddenly, as she was previously a he! I love little trivia like that.
Starship Mine: we call this the "Die Hard: Picard" episode! He tries to stop a team of terrorists from taking over the Enterprise while racing against a deadly particle sweep of the ship – the rest of the crew is on starbase while the sweep is being performed. There is much Picard gallavanting about the ship, disrupting the terrorists' nefarious plans while wearing a hilarious green blouse and wielding a crossbow and a saddle (!!!). In addition to Picard's many moments of action heroism, there is a wonderfully-paced subplot on the starbase where the senior staff is also in jeopardy. I enjoy the suspense of this episode immensely.
Hollow Pursuits: Lt. Barclay in the holodeck, with the swashbuckling, and Deanna scantily dressed as the goddess of his mind. This hilarious romp spotlighting a wonderful supporting character gave the rest of the crew a chance to play a little bit, with Riker, Picard and Geordi as the Three Musketeers, and Crusher and Troi in ridiculous period dresses. Barclay was the hero of the story, but only in his own mind. This story resonates with the socially awkward part of all of us, and I can't help but laugh when I think of how indignant the real Deanna was when she saw herself all tarted up in the holodeck. Priceless!
Shades of Gray: I love Riker and Deanna, and this episode was one of the first to really openly discuss their relationship. Essentially, Riker is in peril from an organism invading his body (he got a nasty cut on an away mission), and a cure must be found. The cure lies in his emotions as spurred on by his memories, and we flashback to a lot of the positive and negative things that have happened to him in his Starfleet career. Deanna spends much time wringing her hands and fretting while the wretched Dr. Pulaski hops about looking for a cure, but we get good insight into Riker's character beyond the rascally playboy persona or the duty-bound first officer. It's not an amazing feat of writing by any means, but I have always enjoyed it.
Bonus content: No one usually seems to love the film Star Trek: Insurrection, but there is a charming sequence at the beginning where Worf and Picard must capture a malfunctioning Data, and they do it by singing "A British Tar," since Data was rehearsing a production of HMS Pinafore before his away mission. It is a scene I just adore. View it here!