There are times when we feel down. When hope is elusive. During those times, it helps to have something to turn to—something that will bolster your morale with its message, along with the knowledge that others cared enough about the same thing to write about it. That’s the very spirit in which most of the Star Trek franchise was written.
So, as a soul-booster, I’ve gone through all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s the most hopeful of the Trek series, in my opinion. The original series provides some real competition, but its run was sadly short. I’ve put together a list of episodes (in no particular order) with a lot of heart and the kind of hope that great science fiction can provide.
1. The Chase
Different species must work together to solve an ancient puzzle. This story is a lovely reminder that in spite of many differences in lifestyle and belief, people are not so different, and perhaps in time they can honor the similarities over the differences.
A Tamarian kidnaps Picard, risking both their lives to try to find a way to communicate. One of Star Trek: TNG’s best episodes because of how much heart it has. Dathon, the Tamarian, gives his life to begin a relationship between his people at the Federation.
3. The Offspring
Data creates a child, who he names Lal. Through her, he re-experiences his own difficulties assimilating to human life. She develops the ability to feel emotion, and the cascade failure leads to her death.
This episode hits on a lot of heart-points. First we have Data, who somehow manages to regret his daughter’s difficulties in spite of his lack of emotion. And likewise, he must mourn her death without the ability to feel sorrow. Of course we as the audience feel all of it for him.
Meanwhile, we see Picard, who at first discounts the idea of an android having a child, later evolve in his thinking. He advocates passionately for Data when Starfleet wants to take Lal away from him. Picard puts himself between his government and someone who is both subordinate officer and friend.
4. Lower Decks
An interesting episode in which most of what we see comes through the eyes of junior officers. We see uncertainty, confusion, and a little resentment—all common among youth trying to find their way in the universe. But Ensign Sito learns to stand up for herself, and even stand up for someone she’s always thought of as her enemy—a Cardassian. Except this Cardassian is working with the Federation. As such, both Sito and the Cardassian put aside their personal feelings and work toward a common good. She dies in the process, and we all get a look at bravery and the sacrifices it takes to create peace.
5. Home Soil
In this episode, a group of Terraformers has ignored some erroneous details, and in the process begun murdering a species unlike anything they’ve ever seen. That species takes revenge, and it’s up to the Enterprise to figure out what’s happening.
This alien species (which looks like tiny grains of sand that glow like stars) goes on to call humans “ugly bags of mostly water,” which is an unexpected delight in its odd accuracy. Deanna engages in a conversation to tell them that the Federation finds them beautiful, and appreciates all life. It’s a lovely message about appreciating differences and learning to respect them.
6. Measure of a Man
Picard must fight for Data’s sovereignty over himself. A Starfleet scientist decides that, as a machine, Data has no right of self-determination and that he should be forced to submit to experiments and study that will likely cause his death. Starfleet seems to agree, unless Picard can prove that Data is a person, not just a machine.
This episode requires the viewer to ignore the fact that a machine wouldn’t have been allowed to be a student at Starfleet Academy, or achieve a commissioned rank. But never mind that. It sets up the opportunity for Picard to make an impassioned defense of a person who, in spite of great differences compared to other humanoids, is in fact a person who deserves the same rights as everyone else. What we call “humanity” isn’t something that humans can claim to exclusion.
7. Pen Pals
Data bends the Prime Directive in order to help an alien girl living on a dying planet. This story is lovely because, if Data hadn’t engaged in a subspace friendship with the girl, her planet would have been left alone to die, along with its inhabitants. Because of Data’s fondness for the girl, her plight becomes real to him, as well as the Enterprise crew, rather than remaining a theoretical moral issue.
This episode has a lot to say about humanizing statistics, and that people we don’t know are just as deserving of help as the ones we do know.
8. Yesterday’s Enterprise
Oh, this episode. A space-time oddity causes the Enterprise-C to shift into the Enterprise-D timeline. Picard faces the conundrum of sending them back to certain death, which would save the Federation from decades of war and conflict with the Klingons. Sacrifice a few for the many? It’s hard to do when the few are right there in your face.
Plus, Tasha Yar makes a comeback. We viewers get to see her resurrected in a new timeline, only to see her willingly take on a suicide mission. She knows she’s dead in the other timeline anyway, and she wants her death to count for something. Oof.
So Tasha Yar gets the heroic death she always deserved, along with the entire Enterprise-C crew’s willingness to sacrifice themselves to prevent a war.
9. Remember Me
Beverly battles a mysterious force that makes her crewmates disappear, though she’s the only one aware of it. She makes impassioned pleas for the ones forgotten, as well as promises not to forget them. It ends up that she’s existing inside a reality of her own creation, and takes of leap of faith, based on her own deductions, to get out of it.
This is a great story of trusting yourself, and working through a problem one step at a time. Beverly says, “If there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe there’s something wrong with the universe.” Now that’s some self-confidence.
It also says a lot about appreciating what you have while you have it, and making your time with loved ones count.
So there you go. Nine amazing episodes that show us how much we have to offer as humans. The love, the hope, the preservation, the heroism. All things that are worth striving for, and remembering that we’re capable of. If your spirit needs a recharge, give one or more of these episodes a rewatch.