After the debacle that was Season Two (and the writer’s strike), it really amazed me just how strong TNG came back with the third season. Despite a somewhat-iffy premiere (the baseball references did nothing at all for me), the next ten or so episodes reminded us how good Star Trek can be. Though Five is probably my favorite season, Three is a close runner-up.
Best Episode: Season Three was one of the best in the entire run of the show, but it’s really hard to pick any single episode better than “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (3.15). For two-and-a-half years we’ve been hearing about how the Khitomer Accords led to peace between the Klingons and the Federation, but now we get to see the other side of things — what would’ve happened if peace hadn’t been declared? Apparently the answer is “the Klingons win”. Alternate universe episodes are often very strong, and this one was one of the strongest across any incarnation of Trek. Plus, it led to a good (but sadly-overused) villain. Overall one of the best TNG episodes and probably one of the best Trek episodes in any incarnation. Honorable mentions: Who Watches the Watchers (3.04), Allegiance (3.18), The Best of Both Worlds (3.26)
Worst Episode: Easily “Hollow Pursuits” (3.21). Though it gave us Reg Barclay, who was used in a limited fashion throughout the rest of the series and again in Voyager, there was just so much wrong with this episode that I have to put it at the bottom. The whole concept of Barclay making holographic versions of the main crew was not only silly, it was dumb. I mean, he doesn’t have a ton of interaction with them on a regular basis. It would be like an accountant making holographic versions of the Directors and VPs that are way above him, instead of the other people in the accounting division — why wouldn’t Barclay use the people he works with on a regular basis? Also, I seem to remember the B-plot (the Enterprise being destroyed or some such thing) not being very interesting and only existing as a way to redeem Barclay. Honorable mentions: The Price (3.08), Menage a Troi (3.24), Transfigurations (3.25)
Most Underrated: Maybe it’s because I like Warehouse 13 so much, or maybe it’s because it’s the jumping off point for the best Buffy/TNG crossover fanfic ever written*, but as time passes I’ve found myself enjoying “The Most Toys” more and more. It showcases Data, it lets the characters grieve for him, and it gives Worf a chance to play a bit against type as the new ops officer. I wonder why he accepted the position, anyway; yeah, it’s a promotion, but it’s really not his thing. Anyway, the ending, where Data shoots Fajo (but the transporter stops the blast) is a true growth point for the character because he chooses to do the wrong thing for what he believes are the right reasons. Honorable mentions: The Ensigns of Command (3.02), The Enemy (3.07), Allegiance (3.18)
Most Overrated: This was a really tough choice, and in the end I have to declare a tie between “Tin Man” (3.20) and “Sarek” (3.23). Honorable mentions: The Defector (3.10), The Hunted (3.11), The Offspring (3.16)
So, “Tin Man”. I am so sick of seeing this episode. Despite the appearance of the Mayor of Sunnydale** as Troi’s old friend/protege/patient in an well-acted role, the episode as a whole just did not do it for me — not in the 1990s, and not in the 2010s. Perhaps I had a bad taste in my mouth from “Booby Trap”, which was another episode I really didn’t care for; perhaps I don’t like Troi episodes; perhaps I didn’t like the resolution. Whatever it was that makes people like this episode, I just don’t share their feelings.
As for “Sarek” — while Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart turned in amazing performances and this story did give us deep insight into the Sarek/Spock relationship (that would later be paid off in “Unification”), I didn’t think the episode itself was all that great. In fact, it was mostly an average Trek story made better by the actors. It also seems to pop up a lot on “best-of” lists, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s overrated, on my personal list I think it is. Mostly because I’m tired of it.
Best Guest Star: I know a lot of people are going to say Mark Lenard as Sarek was unbeatable this season, but I think that’s too easy — and, really, his work in “Unification” was far better. Instead, I’m going to give it to Ray Wise as Liko in “Who Watches the Watchers”. Liko was the “respected everyman” character in the Mintakan village, and as his beliefs continued to be challenged, he responded the only way he knew how. Plus, he got to shoot Captain Picard with an arrow. He really turned in a great performance that made a great episode better for having been in it. Honorable Mentions: John Anderson and Anne Haney as the Uxbridges; Jennifer Hetrick as Vash; Mark Lenard as Sarek
Worst Missed Opportunity: I got the feeling the producers were trying to draw parallels to current events — “The High Ground”, “The Defector”, “The Hunted” — but as a young fan those episodes didn’t work for me and as an adult they seem hopelessly dated (despite the fact that the issues are still important). As with TOS‘s allusions to race issues and Vietnam, so too TNG‘s will have to stand alone on the merit of the episode itself without having the issues of the day as a backdrop. When my grandchildren inject memory engrams of TNG and experience these episodes, they won’t have any frame of reference as to why they were done the way they were, and without the issues, the episodes themselves are sometimes too mediocre to be memorable. The issue-based episodes simply needed to be better.
Strangest Thing: This isn’t negative, per se, but it was amazing to me how many not-so-good episodes there were in one of my favorite seasons. “Booby Trap”, “Hollow Pursuits”, “Transfigurations”, “The Hunted”, “The High Ground”… maybe they weren’t bad episodes, but I didn’t like them. I guess when you have to fill 26 episodes with stuff that can only tangentially call back to other story arcs, you get stuck putting out stories that people don’t like. Also, I’m kind of impressed the networks even bothered to bring TNG back after the fiasco that was Season Two. I’m glad they did, though.
* Laugh if you want, but if you like TNG and Buffy, you want to read this story. It’s so good. Also, drink.
** Harry Groener, who was also on Las Vegas as Gunther the chef. Also, drink.