18 July 2014

Top Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes - Riker

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 Jonathan Frakes's Riker had some great moments in them, but if I went with those, that would have precluded most of this list. Which brings me to...

Top Five Episodes Starring
Jonathan Frakes
as Cmdr. William T. Riker

"A Matter of Honor"
2/6/1989 | Teleplay by Burton Armus, Story by Wanda M. Haight & Gregory Amos and Burton Armus | Directed by Rob Bowman

It's a simple concept: Riker serves as first officer on a Klingon ship as part of an officer exchange program. It's a whole lot of fun, though, to watch him defend against the machismo of the Klingons. This episode is basically every geek's fantasy of standing up to the jocks, and it's why we love Riker.

"First Contact"
2/18/1991 | Teleplay by Dennis Russell Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller, Story by Marc Scott Zicree | Directed by Cliff Bole

Riker goes undercover to observe an evolving society, but is injured and discovered to be an alien. It's an interesting look at various reactions to the existence of other life - and it's hard to really be interesting about a subject as heavily discussed in the genre as that. There's also the matter of an indigenous woman blackmailing Riker into fulfilling her kinky fantasy of having sex with an alien as the condition for helping him escape. Generally, this is considered something of a lark but it invites a rather serious discussion about sexual negotiations. The episode handled the issue clumsily, I'm sorry to say, but I do appreciate that it's in there to get us thinking and talking.

"Frame of Mind"
5/3/1993 | Written by Brannon Braga | Directed by James L. Conway

"I might be surrounded by insanity, but I am not insane!" This episode is Frakes's shining hour in my book. It's why I was unimpressed by Inception; Christopher Nolan basically took the same concept but spun it as a ho-hum heist instead of the captivating psychological drama that TNG did. (There. I said it.) This episode was very much on my mind in 2011 when I checked into Our Lady of Peace. I was relieved that my experience there was nothing like what Riker endured here. That last scene, of him tearing down the set by himself, is one of the most powerful moments in the entire series, and it's only become more powerful for me in recent years. This episode could have easily been cheesy or outright insulting, but between writer Brannon Braga, director James L. Conway, and Frakes's performance, it's one of the crown jewels of the show.

"Second Chances"
5/24/1993 | Teleplay by René Echevarria, Story by Michael Medlock | Directed by LeVar Burton

Season Six was good to Number One! One of the last episodes of that season brings us this one, in which we discover that a storm caused a transporter glitch eight years ago to create a second William T. Riker who was stranded on a planet that our William T. Riker got to leave. Being marooned is a nightmare, and so is being involuntarily replicated in some way, so combining the two is genuinely disturbing. Today, the episode plays strongly as an allegory for post-traumatic stress disorder. I would imagine this one is extremely powerful for a lot of our military families.

"The Pegasus"
1/10/1994 | Written by Ronald D. Moore | Directed by LeVar Burton

We often point to Data and Worf to trace the growth of TNG, mostly because they had the most conspicuous event episodes, but "The Pegasus" showcases Riker's growth. We're reminded, through his account of his relationship with then-Captain Eric Pressman just how much a stick in the mud he was when we first met him - and then we're asked to imagine that he used to be even worse! But beyond that, this episode has a smorgasbord of great elements: The mystery of what happened on, and to, the U.S.S. Pegasus; the cat and mouse game with the Romulans to find her; the test of character and loyalty; and, of course, that delightful pre-credits teaser featuring Captain Picard Day.

There you have it, Dear Reader: My top 5 Riker episodes. Agree? Disagree? What would you pick?

Picard | Riker | Geordi | Worf