25 Days of TNG, Day 21: The Bottom 25 Episodes, Part 1
It’s pretty easy to just say “oh, yeah, that episode was terrible”… but why? Why was it a bad episode? How bad was it compared to others? Was it just that opportunities were missed, or was it truly a cluster of massive proportions?
TNG had all of these — in spades — and it was a lot of fun for me to put together a list of the 25 “worst” episodes of the show’s seven-year run. There were some surprises on the list, as well as several you’re probably expecting.
Let’s take a look.
25: Shades of Gray (Season 2 Episode 22)
Riker: My great-grandfather was once bitten by a rattlesnake. After three days of intense pain, the snake died.
The Plot: Commander Riker is infected by a parasite that threatens to kill him. To fight it off, Dr. Pulaski attempts to stimulate the parts of his brain that the parasite is affecting. This triggers his memories, which the audience sees.
Notable Guest Stars: Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski; Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien
Why Did It Suck? I know this episode ends up on a lot of people’s bottom-episode lists, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include it, but I don’t really blame the showrunners. There was a writer’s strike, and a clip show is all they could put together. The actors did the best they could with bad material, and we’re really lucky this episode didn’t spell the end of TNG.
24: Suspicions (Season 6 Episode 22)
Ogawa: Too bad you’re not my boss anymore.
The Plot: For some reason, Dr. Crusher is hosting a scientific conference on the Enterprise so that a Ferengi scientist can show off his new research. The Ferengi is killed, and Beverly needs to prove that it’s murder, risking her career in the process.
Notable Guest Stars: Patti Yasutake as Nurse Ogawa; Tricia O’Neil as Kurak
Why Did It Suck? The whole concept of Dr. Crusher hosting a science-and-engineering conference doesn’t really make sense. Also, if the Ferengi was killed, Worf should have done a much better job figuring out who did it. Beverly, of all people, shouldn’t have had to do it.
23: Ethics (Season 5 Episode 16)
Alexander: This is part of that Klingon stuff, isn’t it? My mother always said Klingons had a lot of dumb ideas about honor.
Deanna: That Klingon stuff is very important to your father.
The Plot: An accident in the cargo bay severs Worf’s spine. Since he can no longer be a warrior, he must commit suicide in a Klingon ritual. Meanwhile, a scientist has developed a way that might save Worf… or kill him. So he has to decide: die by his own hand, or possibly die by hers.
Notable Guest Stars: Brian Bonsall as Alexander
Why Did It Suck? I found this episode to be pretty overrated, and there was really no tension. We knew Worf would survive. We knew he would walk again. We knew Beverly’s moral high ground wouldn’t stand up to the technology. Plus, it led to the whole “Klingons have two of all the important organs”, and you would not believe how that’s used in fanfic. (Actually, you probably would. I have examples, but I won’t link them here because they’re NC-17, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.)
22: Unification (Season 5 Episodes 7 and 8)
Sela: I hate Vulcans. I hate the logic, I hate the arrogance.
The Plot: Picard and Data are sent to Romulus to find Spock, who apparently has defected. Meanwhile, Riker and the crew play a game of “follow the money”. In the end, Picard must decide if he’s going to bring Spock home.
Notable Guest Stars: Leonard Nimoy as Spock; Denise Crosby as Sela; Stephen Root as K’Vada
Why Did It Suck? I realize this is probably going to be an unpopular choice, but I never really liked this episode. The first part was okay, but the second fell very flat. The “follow the money” storyline wasn’t as funny as it was supposed to be; the topic of Romulan reunification is overused to excess in future tie-in novels; Sela should have been executed by now for her failure in Redemption, leading to more ill-use in tie-ins; and I feel Leonard Nimoy was wasted in this comeback. Really the only useful part of the story was to tell us that Sarek had died.
21: The Game (Season 5 Episode 6)
Robin Lefler: Your neutrinos are drifting.
The Plot: Riker brings an addictive game back from Risa and gets everyone playing it. Wesley comes to the Enterprise for a visit, falls in serious like with Ashley Judd, and ends up saving the ship.
Notable Guest Stars: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher; Ashley Judd as Robin Lefler
Why Did It Suck? I was really underwhelmed by this episode. It seemed like a not-so-great vehicle for Wesley’s return, and given that people already didn’t like him because he seemed to always be saving the ship (when he was still a member of the crew), it was kind of silly for him to more-or-less save the ship again. The graphics of the game were terrible at best, and the very concept of it was lame. Plus, the Ktarians? Trying to take over the galaxy using a game that makes you feel like you just had a mini-orgasm? Seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?
20: Hollow Pursuits (Season 3 Episode 21)
Deanna: Muzzle it!
The Plot: A brilliant but introverted engineer, Reg Barclay, is addicted to the holodeck. Also, there’s some sort of science-and-technobabble B-plot that somehow Reg has to help solve.
Notable Guest Stars: Dwight Schultz as Reg Barclay; Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan
Why Did It Suck? As a socially-awkward tween, I really should’ve identified more with Barclay, except that when I escaped, it was into books and online games, not holodecks. But I didn’t care for the episode, I didn’t find the holodeck stuff funny, the constant “broccoli” references got old fast, and the older I’ve gotten the bigger the flaws have become. I imagine the point of this episode was to identify with people like me (of all ages), and maybe it worked for other people… but not for me. I preferred later Barclay episodes to this one.
19: The Masterpiece Society (Season 5 Episode 13)
Deanna: This is wrong.
Conor: Terribly wrong.
The Plot: The Enterprise needs to save a planet from destruction, but they find that the human colony on the planet engaged in genetic engineering — which is EVIL AND WRONG AND EVIL AND WRONG in the Star Trek universe. Then, when the Enterprise’s fix goes horribly wrong, they have to fix the problems they wrought.
Notable Guest Stars: Ron Canada as Martin Benbeck
Why Did It Suck? The science plot was fairly straightforward, but it was mucked up by Star Trek‘s usual morality play about genetic engineering as well as a rather-weak love story for Deanna. Most of the Deanna-centric episodes that had love story subplots featuring guest stars pretty much missed the mark for me.
18: Unnatural Selection (Season 2 Episode 7)
Picard: Doctor, God knows I’m not one to discourage input, but I would appreciate it if you’d let me finish my sentences once in a while.
The Plot: The Enterprise comes across a starship full of people who’ve died of old age. They eventually discover that said starship made a stop at Darwin Station, where genetic engineering experiments were taking place. Too late, Dr. Pulaski is infected, and it becomes a race against time to save Pulaski before she succumbs to the disease.
Notable Guest Stars: Diana Muldaur as Katherine Pulaski
Why Did It Suck? It’s not like Star Trek hasn’t done this before — TOS and TAS both (albeit the latter in reverse). Old-age makeup sucked back then, and it still sucks now. And the use of the transporter to reverse Pulaski’s disease was just ridiculous. The show had several good character-building moments between Data and Pulaski, and those were really the best parts because they helped build the relationship between the two characters. Unfortunately, they were peppered into a bad episode overall.
17: Imaginary Friend (Season 5 Episode 22)
Data: It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive can sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit.
The Plot: While investigating a nebula, one of the ship’s children discovers that her imaginary friend Isabella has become real. However, when Isabella begins threatening the ship, Picard must put on his “dad” hat and use the power of talking-to-kids to make Isabella listen to reason.
Notable Guest Stars: Shay Astar as Isabella; Jeff Allin as Daniel Sutter
Why Did It Suck? This isn’t a bad sci-fi premise, but I always felt that the adult actors acted “down” to the child actors on the show (except on rare occasions). Plus, the ending was really lame — Picard talks to Isabella and Clara and that saves the day? Really? As an almost-14-year-old who wanted cool action and stuff, I found it boring and silly, and nowadays, as a parent, it just seems forced.
16: Homeward (Season 7 Episode 13)
Worf: It is the sign… of La Forge!
The Plot: Worf’s human brother Nikolai has been studying a primitive race of people. It turns out their settlement is going to be destroyed, and Nikolai calls for help. However, by involving himself with the primitive people, Nikolai has broken the Prime Directive and the crew must decide whether to help him or arrest him.
Notable Guest Stars: Paul Sorvino as Nikolai Rozhenko; Penny Johnson as Dobara
Why Did It Suck? As I was making this list, it became clear to me that I had a lot of problems with “planet-of-the-week” episodes. One of the things about Star Trek that bothered me quite a lot, especially with Voyager (who did it out of necessity), was that we never really went back and saw the ramifications of what our heroes had done. Plus, the episode itself didn’t really cover any new ground. I realize that, in the seventh season, there wasn’t much new ground to cover, but this episode just wasn’t that great.
15: The Loss (Season 4 Episode 10)
Deanna: We have to get two-dimensional.
The Plot: The Enterprise gets caught by a two-dimensional cloud of creatures trying to get home to a cosmic phenomenon. As a result, Deanna loses her empathic powers and must deal with the problem.
Notable Guest Stars: Mary Kohnert as Tess Allenby
Why Did It Suck? Oh, great, another Deanna episode. One where she plays completely against type because she’s so upset that she’s lost her empathy. I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate this episode when it aired in 1990, and I think that’s colored my opinion of subsequent viewings. The principle was sound — a person loses one of his/her senses — but, honestly, I’ve seen it done better in fanfic than it was done here. Sirtis overacted (or maybe was directed to overact), the rest of the crew was predictable in their reactions, and at the end the ship continues on with no permanent damage done.
14: Man of the People (Season 6 Episode 3)
Picard: You’re a coward, Alkar. You exploit the innocent because you’re unwilling to shoulder the burdens of… unpleasant emotions. Well, this time you will be held accountable.
The Plot: A mediator trying to stop a war forms a telepathic link with Deanna to pass his negative emotions onto her. These emotions make Deanna age rapidly.
Notable Guest Stars: Chip Luica as Ves Alkar; Lucy Boryer as Ensign Janeway (no relation)
Why Did It Suck? Old-age makeup hadn’t improved between season 2 and season 6. Deanna just looked ridiculous. Also, the whole concept of this episode just didn’t work for me; I didn’t care about Deanna being imperiled, and I didn’t care about Alkar or the people he was trying to help. The Memory Alpha page for this one says the writers had their own issues with the production schedule and the way Frank Abatemarco chose to tie the acts of the script together. All the problems shined through, unfortunately.
13: Angel One (Season 1 Episode 14)
Beverly: It looks horrible, tastes worse, but it’s absolutely guaranteed to make you feel better.
The Plot: While investigating a long-lost freighter, the Enterprise finds a planet where women rule. An away team is sent down to investigate, but are quickly cut off from the ship when a plague somehow transfers from Wesley’s holodeck program to the rest of the ship.
Notable Guest Stars: none in particular
Why Did It Suck? Oh, ha ha, it’s the 80s, let’s turn gender roles on their ear and make men walk around in skimpy outfits. And then let’s make Riker wear one while the other women on the away team are completely covered up. COMMENCE HILARITY! But seriously, this episode doesn’t hold up at all, and the humor is barely passable.
12: Aquiel (Season 6 Episode 13)
Deanna: Concerned? (her only line in the entire episode)
The Plot: While delivering supplies to a station along the Klingon border, the crew finds Aquiel Uhnari, who is soon to be accused of murder. Geordi falls in love with her and would really like to prove her innocence. Turns out the dog did it.
Notable Guest Stars: Renee Jones as Aquiel
Why Did It Suck? Ah, a Geordi love story. Always good for a laugh, right, show-runners? That guy’s always falling for the wrong girl, isn’t he? And hey, let’s use technobabble to make the dog the culprit so that the girl is no longer a murderer; that’ll be awesome. The ending of this episode felt tacked-on, and the murder mystery plot didn’t work too well because we all knew it had to be one of the guest stars and, given the way fiction is written, it’s almost never the first person the heroes think it is. A forgettable episode all around.
11: Code of Honor (Season 1 Episode 4)
Lutan: Then you shall have no treaty, no vaccine, and no Lieutenant Yar!
The Plot: The vaccine for a virulent plague exists on only one planet in the Federation, and the people who run it are a thinly-veiled version of tribal African culture. The leader decides he likes Tasha and steals her away. To escape, Tasha has to fight the leader’s wife… to the death.
Notable Guest Stars: Julian Christopher as Hagon (Christopher was one of the actors who was considered to play Worf)
Why Did It Suck? Even the actors thought it was racist. The original director — who came up with the idea to make the aliens Africans — was fired by Gene Roddenberry before he could finish filming. It just wasn’t a very good episode all around. Unfortunately, there were ten that were worse than this.
So, what could possibly be left? You can probably guess just from what I’ve left out, but if you want hints… clones, mothers, drugs, and comedians all appear in the 10 worst episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Check back tomorrow for the rest of my list, and if you disagree with my opinion on any of these, let me know in the comments (or on our forums).