While we all should be dusting off our hoppers by this time of year, it’s another rainy week in the Driftless that puts our plans on hold. On days like these the Netflix & Chill goes into full effect. It also happens to be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Netflix has all of the series episodes to run your own weekend marathon, but the difficulty is knowing which episodes are worth reclining into your own “Captain’s Chair” for. I’m not a hardcore Trekkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I’ve watched most of the episodes from the original series to (shudder) Enterprise. These may not be the best episodes ever, but these are the ones I enjoy watching the most, in no particular order…
“Broken Bow”, Enterprise: This is going to be the only time an episode from Enterprise makes this list. It could easily be argued that this prequel series does not have a single episode worth putting in any Top 50 Trek list. However, “Broken Bow” offers a great perspective on the early years of human spaceflight within the Trek-verse, and does a nice job of showing the relationships between some of the Trek’s most famous alien species that presage the founding of the Federation. If you ignore the Suliban-time-travel-y subplot, it makes for a decent 2-hour TV movie that is still better than Insurrection.
“Timeless”, Voyager: Another series that gets a bad wrap, and for legitimate reasons—poor characterization, too many cheesy plots and subplots, turning Captain Janeway (briefly) into a space salamander—but Voyager does have more than a handful of extremely watchable episodes. You’ll begin to note here that I’m a sucker for alternate history/future plotlines and special guest cameos that link the Trek series together. “Timeless” has both, as Future Harry Kim and Future Chakotay attempt to avert a disaster that destroyed USS Voyager two decades earlier and left them as the only two survivors. Bonus points for having a cameo by Future Georgi LaForge as the captain of his own Galaxy-class starship, on a mission to stop Kim and Chakotay from changing the past.
“Author, Author”, Voyager: Like I said, not a great series overall, but Voyager produced plenty of watchable episodes. Take TNG’s “Measure of a Man” (see below) and add a Holodeck, and this pretty much sums up the episode. The Hologram Doctor writes a holonovel about his experiences aboard the Voyager, and his perspective is more than a bit skewed, painting each of Voyager’s crewmembers as holo-racists in order to comment on the rights of sentient holographic programs. Writing it out, it sounds kinda stupid—and it kinda is—but the fun comes from how the episode focuses on the Doctor’s warped sense of self-importance as his novel is experienced by the rest of the crew.
“Our Man Bashir”, Deep Space Nine: Here’s another episode that doesn’t advance the overall plot or characterization of the series, but is just damned fun. A malfunction with the station’s transporters lands our heroes—Sisko, Kira, Worf, O’Brien, and Dax—as “neural patterns” within a holographic program being run by Doctor Bashir. The program is a spoof on 60s spy-fi, and our heroes are being stored as major characters in the holoprogram’s plot. Bashir cannot end the story until the crew can be rescued, and of course the holodeck safeties are mysteriously shut off, making the situation all the more dangerous. Meanwhile, former spy/assassin/overall badass Garak barges into the program to help Bashir/point out the absurdities in Bashir’s fantasy spy world. One of the few “Holodeck episodes” that is actually enjoyable to watch.
“Yesteryear”, The Animated Series: It’s debatable whether the animated series is considered an “official” part of the Trek-verse, but the fact is that many elements of the show eventually worked their way into Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, the remastered Original series, and even the JJ Abrams-verse. “Yesteryear” is the only episode, however, that Gene Roddenberry considered canon, and it’s well worth watching. History is altered when a Federation experiment with the Guardian of Forever (from “City on the Edge of Forever” fame) erases Spock from existence. Spock then has to travel back to his childhood to save his younger self from an accident, and then helps the young Spock make the first important step toward accepting his Vulcan heritage. Written by D.C. Fontana and featuring the voices of the original cast, including Mark Lenard, “Yesteryear” more than cements The Animated Series as an official part of Trek in my mind.
“Amok Time”, Original Series: Alongside “Journey to Babel”, “Amok Time” is the only episode that ventures into the psyche and culture of the Vulcans, and does it through the lens of the most Trekkian fight sequence ever filmed. Spock has to return to his homeworld to participate in a betrothal ceremony known as pon farr. Kirk inadvertantly gets caught up in the ceremony when Spock’s betrothed challenges the Vulcan and his captain in a duel to the death as part of the festivities. Features the only time we see the planet Vulcan during the Original series, as well as a shirtless Kirk for the umpteenth time.
“In the Pale Moonlight”, Deep Space Nine: The use of the larger Dominion story arc within DS9 can sometimes make series’ episodes difficult to pick up in media res, but the plot here is straightforward: in the middle of a war in which the Federation is losing, Sisko has to make some hard choices to try and change the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant. This episode is great for showing how Federation ideals often contrast with political and military realities, and the slow ethical descent Sisko takes in order to accomplish his goals. Of course the episode couldn’t be complete without Sisko enlisting the help of Garak, who relishes the moral turn of the Federation’s finest as he demonstrates how the ends sometimes justify the means. Also notable for the meme-worthy line, “It’s a FaaaaaAAAAKE!”
“Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Next Generation: The USS Enterprise-D comes across a temporal anomaly, only to find the long-destroyed Enterprise-C emerge from it, creating an alternate future where the Federation is losing a war to the Klingon Empire. The only choice in restoring the timeline is to the send the Enterprise-C back through the anomaly and certain death. The episode is interesting for showing the subtle differences on an Enterprise-D designed for military duty (Picard scoffs at the idea that the Enterprise would harbor entire families onboard) and for giving some insights into the timeframe between the Original and TNG series. The Enterprise-C may be the best looking ship since the original, too. Finally, it sets up a minor-major villain later on down the road in the half human, half Romulan commander Sela.
“The Doomsday Machine”, Original Series: I love Trek episode that give us glimpses of an universe that is much older, larger, and more complex than just “Federation versus Klingons and Romulans.” An ancient, planet-destroying weapon has appeared in Federation space en route to the most populous part of the galaxy, and the Enterprise must find a way to destroy this nigh-indestructible Doomsday Machine. Who built it? Why? What happened to them? While these questions never receive definitive answers, it speaks to the ancient history of the galaxy in which the Federation is still in its infancy. Also gotta give props to William
Holden Windom for playing the Ahab-esque Commodore Decker, whose sole focus is destroying the Machine that killed his crew and crippled his starship (and was father to Will Decker, of The Motion Picture infamy).
“Measure of a Man”, The Next Generation: At it’s heart Trek has always been about discussing social and political issues through the mask of science fiction, and this episode is a textbook How-To Trek. The Federation has decided that the android Data should be deactivated in order to study how he functions—that is, he should be killed and experimented upon. Data obviously is not down with this, but the otherwise-idyllic Federation says tough beans, because you’re not a sentient being. Enter the lawyers. Trek has had its fair share of “courtroom drama” episodes, but “Measure of a Man” is certainly the best as it explores what it is to be human. The connected subplot involves Riker’s difficulty in carrying out his duties as the assigned prosecutor to the case, forcing himself to argue against his fellow crewman and friend in Data. For an episode that isn’t much about space or trekking, it is quintessential Star Trek.