I decided it was high time to run down my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, by character. These lists are presented in chronological air date order, rather than any kind of ranking. I arbitrarily restricted each list to five episodes - four and a quarter hours of viewing sans commercials.
Because each list is limited to just five episodes, I excluded two-parters. So do me a favor and don't complain that this list is invalid because it doesn't include "The Best of Both Worlds" and/or "Chain of Command". Yes, both are brilliant and Patrick Stewart gave two of his finest performances in them, but if I went with those, that would have precluded most of this list. Which brings me to the first in this series..
Top Five Episodes Starring
as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
"The Measure of a Man"
2/13/1989 | Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass | Directed by Robert Scheerer
Most people would call this a Data (Brent Spiner) episode, because it's about an effort made to classify Data as Starfleet property on the basis that he was found by a Starfleet away team and that artificial intelligence is not recognized as true sentience. For me, though, the thing is that Data is really the passive object of the plot; not its chief actor, who is Picard. From a dramatic storytelling perspective, "The Measure of a Man" is really more about how Picard handles the situation, fighting every step of the way for his second officer's rights - but also for his own values.
10/1/1990 | Written by Ronald D. Moore | Directed by Cliff Bole
The aftermath of "The Best of Both Worlds". Picard confronts his personal trauma and his bullying big brother, Robert. It's a deceptively simple look at coping mechanisms and brotherhood. If made today, this theme would have dominated the entire fourth season of the show instead of being wrapped up tidily in a single episode, but that's how shows were still produced in those days.
9/30/1991 | Teleplay by Joe Menosky, Story by Philip LaZebnik and Joe Menosky | Directed by Winrich Kolbe
My personal favorite episode of the entire series. Picard is on a planet with Dathon (Paul Winfield), whose entire language is built on metaphor. They're isolated from their respective ships, and together they have to overcome their language barrier. Admittedly, the setup is contrived but the heart of the episode is spectacular. I've always found linguistics fascinating anyway, and it's always nice when science-fiction can be bothered to step away from the convenience of having all these different species speak in English. Bonus: This episode introduces Picard's spiffy suede jacket.
"The Inner Light"
6/1/1992 | Teleplay by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields; Story by Morgan Gendel | Directed by Peter Lauritson
Because of my no-two-parters clause, this Picard list is missing "The Best of Both Worlds" and "Chain of Command", but "The Inner Light" is pretty much obligatory. Zapped by an alien probe, Picard goes into a sort of forced dream state in which he relives the life of someone else. There are lots of reasons people love this episode, but mine has always been just the fact that it's an acknowledgment that ordinary lives are important, too. Plus, there's Jay Chattaway's lovely theme.
2/15/1993 | Written by Ronald D. Moore | Directed by Les Landau
When Picard's artificial heart fails and he dies, Q intercepts him and gives him the Christmas Carol/It's a Wonderful Life treatment by showing him how differently his life would have been had his foolhardiness not earned him that fake ticker in the first place. I'm a sucker for the concept anyway, but even beyond that, it's a compelling commentary about how we grow as people in unexpected ways. Thematically, the episode would have worked built around any of the show's characters, but it really needed to be someone with some mileage. Because it's Picard, the wistfulness of the introspection feels more authentic than I think it would have had the story been about one of the others.
So, how about it? Are any of these your favorites? What would you have picked - and what would you have removed from my list to make room for it?