By: Jesse Ulrich
Maybe something is wrong with me. A few weeks ago, I was watching the Superbowl, and sadly, Pete “The Cheat” Carrol was winning. During one of the commercial breaks, a commercial came on that did not sit well with me. It was the multicultural Coca-Cola commercial where different people were singing "America the Beautiful" in multiple languages.
To be clear, the reason I didn’t like it IS NOT because I believe only white English-speaking Americans should be the only people allowed to sing this particular song. I didn’t like this commercial because I don’t like when multi-billion dollar corporations try to pull on my heart strings.
It took me awhile to realize that the fact that this commercial even exists is a good sign for America. Coca-Cola wants to make money, and if they can make more money appealing to all of the wonderful and unique cultures that make up this America the Beautiful, that is fantastic news. But this got me thinking about other things I hate that other people seem to love.
I love Star Trek, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. But there are two episodes that always appear in top 10 lists for these shows, sometimes as the number 1 episode, that I despise. I’m looking at you TNG's “The Inner Light” and DS9's “The Visitor.”
Let’s take these episodes one blog post at a time.
“The Inner Light”
Original Air Date June 1,1992
So where does this episode rank amongst the people who like it?
Both Whatculture and Entertainment Weekly, have it as the 3rd best TNG episode, while Techrepublic has it number 2. It was included in the viewers choice marathon that aired after the show ended. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1993. This love and adoration is not as offensive to me as it for “The Visitor,” but it bothers me a such a deep level I should be worried about why I still care/hate so much..... but I don’t because I NEED MY PAIN!
To the Episode itself!
If you want or need a long summary, go here:
My summary of the episode is as follows: the Enterprise runs into an old looking probe, probe shots energy beam at Captain Picard, Captain Picard lives a full adult life on a planet that died a long time ago. Now, I am not a heartless bastard, it is a fine episode. Oh, I forgot, Captain Picard also learns how to play a space piccolo. God forbid we EVER forget that he can play a musical instrument now.
As I researched how many times this episode shows up in top 10 lists, I found an interesting quote from Ronald D. Moore (executive producer of TNG as well as DS9 and was a major player in the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, so this man understands what I like) who explained that this episode had a huge effect on Captain Picard in a way the writers did not anticipate as they were writing it. That is true, this episode humanized and certainly added a deepness of emotion that affected Captain Picard for the rest of the series. But, this episode is at the end of season 5. Captain Picard had already been turned into a Borg and back, he had already given Vash “the business” and he is the Captain Picard. If this episode had happened in Season 1 or 2 or 3, maybe you could justify saying this, but he is who he is by the 5th season of the show.
As Top Ten lists, as well as what is great about these shows, can be subjective, arguing and slamming this episode seems like a waste of everyone’s time, especially mine. Unlike “The Visitor” which I will get to later, this is a good episode, I just don’t believe it to be a great one. I can’t deny that people love this episode nor can I win in argument with whomever awards the Hugo awards, but what I can do is explain what the Star Trek I love and obsessed over as a child (ok..still) consists of by making my own top 10 list. What the internet was made for!
So get ready to either agree with me a 100% of the time or disagree with me 100% of the time….. or you know something in the middle.
10. The Battle
(Season 1: Episode 9, Airdate 11/16/1987)
As will become apparent when I begin speaking about DS9, I love me some Ferengi. Picard's history with that race and what happened to his last command, the Stargazer (got to love the design of that ship) as well as a father's revenge all get wrapped up in this great episode. We move past the weird, electric whip equipped Ferengi from earlier in the show and turn them into the universe's great profiteers (or you know...racist Space Jews, it is ok internet, as a Member of the Tribe, I am allowed to make this joke)
9. "All Good Things"
(Season 7:Episode 26&27) Airdate: 5/23/1994
I am naturally very sympathetic to series finale, it is always an impossible task. I am still defending the Seinfeld finale. The only show whose finale I hate is the Lost finale. Why? Because it is terrible, it makes me feel like the writers took a crap on my lawn. Anyway, in this great series finale, we get one final Q test, some more timey-wimey time issues, old Picard, young Picard, different Enterprises and the always flexible deflector dish saving the day. Was there anyway else for the show to end other than Picard joining the rest of the senior staff for Poker? Great finale, I used to watch it on VHS all the time back in the day.
(Season 6:Episode 4) Airdate: 10/26/1992
Am I sucker for Scotty? Do I love him getting drunk on the holodeck, sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise from the Original series? Do I love his advice to Geordi on how to make yourself look like a miracle worker? The answer to all these questions is yes. In addition we get the great Dyson sphere. This episode not only has nostalgia, but also does what Star Trek does best, original and awesome science fiction. Also, Scotty saves the day.
7. "The Best of Both Worlds"
(Season 3:Episode 26, Season 4:Episode 1)
Airdates: 6/18/1990 and 9/24/1990
This is the two parter to end all two parters, I was old enough to be a fan of the show when this aired and I remember being shocked and scared about what was going to happen with Picard and the Enterprise. That was a rough summer for 8 year old Jesse.
Re-watching it recently, when it was released in theaters, demonstrates how this two parter is indeed an action movie of high esteem. It has an epic Borg smackdown at Wolf 359 (I don't know where they came up with this name but it very easy to remember, so well done there writers,) it has Riker taking charge, and it has real, palpable drama and tension. Let us not forget that it is also the quasi origin story for Commander Benjamin Sisko (WE CAN'T JUST LEAVE HER HERE!)
P.s. Also the Deflector Dish, it is the Sonic Screwdriver of the TNG universe.
6. "Time's Arrow"
(Season 5: Episode 26, Season 6: Episode 1)
Airdate: 6/15/1992 and 9/21/1992
Personally I believe that being a fan of Sci-Fi and being a fan of Star Trek requires an interest in time travel, there are so many ways you can use it to tell a great story and it is always fascinating to see how a TV show, a movie, or a book explains how time travel is possible. In the Time's Arrow two parter, we also meet Mark Twain (SOLD!). We also get a fun timey-wimey explanation for the deep friendship between Picard and Guinan (which to be honest, I was actually curious about). I also always enjoy when TNG has Data hold his own head in front of his head, it gets me every time.
5. "Yesterday's Enterprise"
Season 3: Episode 15
Again, I am not breaking new ground here, everyone loves this episode and for good reason. When the Enterprise C gets taken out of time, the future completely changes and the Federation is still at war with the Klingon Empire, and losing. We get to see the Star Trek 6 uniforms (my personal favorite) we get to learn about an older Enterprise, and we see the terrible decision Picard has to make to save billions of lives. A fantastic episode end to end.
4. "Sins Of The Father"
Season 3: Episode 17
This is probably my father's favorite Next Generation episode. It is definitely one of the best episodes of the earlier seasons. We learn so much new information in this episode, we learn Worf has a brother, we learn about his birth father, and we learn about the inner workings of the Klingon High Council. We get Picard being a badass and the depth of Worf's love for his own people and how truly honorable he is. My father always raves about the end of the episode, where all of the council has to turn their back on Worf, it is a wonderful and poignant scene. For all of the issues with Worf in TNG, it is this episode that cemented him as a deep and rich character.
Season 6: Episode 15
I don't have to do much justifying of this episode. Adding to the eternal debate about whether Q was villain or more of a stern parent; this episode gives Picard a chance to relive a turning point of his life and Q allows him to see what happens when you pull a thread out of your life and how that can change your life entirely. It's a fascinating episode that also gives us a lot of Picard's backstory. This is the episode that should get all the praise instead of "Inner Light."
Also, we get a delivery for John Luke Pickerd:
Season 4: Episode 26, Season 5: Episode 1
Airdates: 6/27/1991 and 9/23/1991
So why is a story that involves mostly Klingons and the bizarrely explained half Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar my second favorite episode? Because it shows the universe outside of Starfleet and outside of the Enterprise, and it was one of the few times in TNG we get to see multiple ships in action. Also, we should not forget the Klingon Civil War, Civil War PEOPLE! How awesome is that? The Federation outsmarting the Romulans is always entertaining and deeply satisfying. This two parter allowed the show to have the Enterprise and her crew as a smaller part of a much larger mosaic, instead of the other way around.
Also, Data as a Captain.
Enjoy this cheesy 90s trailer.
1. Chain of Command
Season 6: Episode 10 & 11
Airdates: 12/14/1992 and 12/21/1992
Oh, Chain of Command. I have to admit something, I have a thing for interrogation stories and episodes. The interrogation of Winston Smith by O'Brien in '1984’ is one of my favorite literary moments, the episode of ‘Babylon 5’ where Sheridan is tortured and interrogated by evil Earth government officials is one of my favorite B5 episodes (It is a very modern take on the scene from 1984), and that is why Chain of Command is my favorite TNG episode.
Why? Because stories like these not only test the characters involved, but the audience. As we watch Picard, or Sheridan or Smith, succeed in keeping themselves together, to not give in, we as an audience are strengthened and tested. When we see Winston Smith try and fail to hold on in ‘1984’, it is crushing. It tests us, how would we hold up? How much could we endure? In Chain of Command, not only do we see how Picard handles being tested mentally and physically, we get to see how much he really means to the rest of the crew and how that love and loyalty help lead to his release.
Also, we get this:
This list doesn't even include the Unification two parter (where they are on Romulus with Spock), any of the Lore episodes, or the second Moriarty episode (“Ship in a Bottle”.) Or the two parter where Picard goes undercover as a mercenary (Gambit Part 1 and 2), or Defector (where Picard gets to be a badass against the Romulans.) All of these are better than Inner Light. Of course these lists are subjective, but of all of these episodes that I mention, it is only Inner Light that could have taken place on any other sci fi show and would not have changed that much. So if you are a defender of Inner Light, let me hear your thoughts.