Monday, December 14, 2015

Newsweek's Favorite Episodes

Newsweek has a 50th anniversary special available.  Included are its picks for the best episodes from each series.  And here they are, with a few thoughts:

The Original Series
  • "The Doomsday Machine"
  • "Space Seed"
  • "Mirror, Mirror"
  • "The Trouble With Tribbles"
  • "The Enterprise Incident"
  • "Journey to Babel"
  • "Balance of Terror"
  • "Arena"
  • "Amok Time"
  • "The City on the Edge of Forever"
These are all standard picks for favorites from the originals, so I don't have much to say here.


The Next Generation
  • "The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Chain of Command, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Most Toys"
  • "The Inner Light"
  • "Yesterday's Enterprise"
  • "Darmok"
  • "Remember Me"
  • "All Good Things..., Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Defector"
  • "Tapestry"
Like the originals, some of these are standards, but there are a few surprises, like "The Most Toys," which has in the past been among my own favorites, and "Remember Me" (which has the dubious but well-earned distinction of being the best Dr. Crusher episode).  "The Defector" might be considered another surprise, but it's long been well-received by fans.


Deep Space Nine
  • "In the Pale Moonlight"
  • "Duet"
  • "Our Man Bashir"
  • "Once More Unto the Breach"
  • "Inquisition"
  • "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light"
  • "Call to Arms"
  • "Far Beyond the Stars"
  • "The Visitor"
  • "Trials and Tribble-ations"
Newsweek's biggest surprise is naming "In the Pale Moonlight" as the best episode of the entire franchise.  Quite a leap!  There's long been a push to acknowledge, at the very least, the cult-within-the-cult of fans who favor this series over the rest of Star Trek, and critics who have tended to go along with this view.  But this puts the phenomenon to new levels.  There are more whimsical picks for the series otherwise, on the whole, sometimes coming off as somewhat random: "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light" is an important two-part episode, but I'm not sure if it's really a good pick.  But "Our Man Bashir" and "Inquisition" are certainly interesting selections.  "Duet," "Far Beyond the Stars," "The Visitor," and "Trials and Tribble-ations," meanwhile, are routinely considered highlights, for those uninitiated.  "Call to Arms" ushers in the long-running Dominion War arc.  For what it's worth, if "Pale Moonlight" weren't the best episode of the franchise, it would probably be "The Visitor."  So Newsweek definitely picked the right series for that distinction.


  • "Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Equinox, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Deadlock"
  • "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"
  • "Endgame, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Hope and Fear"
  • "Worst Case Scenario"
  • "Living Witness"
  • "Scorpion, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Blink of an Eye"
The picks are perhaps most interesting for this series.  I think few fans would quibble with "Year of Hell" (the closest Star Trek ever came to the Battlestar Galactica reboot, in the series most relevant to such a comparison).  "Equinox" bares the distinction of being roundly despised by fans, at least the last time I checked, though I always liked it.  "Deadlock" is pretty random, though I'll get back to why it's still probably a good pick later.  "Tinker Tenor" (read a blogger buddy's recent thoughts on this one here) is certainly memorable, but my favorite Doctor episode will always be "Latent Image."  "Author, Author" would also be acceptable.  Newsweek calls "Endgame" the most rewarding finale of a Star Trek after "All Good Things..." (being grossly unfair to Deep Space Nine's "What You Leave Behind," mind you).  "Hope and Fear" is an excellent choice, and so are "Worst Case Scenario," "Living Witness," and "Blink of an Eye."  Finally, the Borg epic "Scorpion" might be starting to gain levels of respect usually reserved for other Borg appearances ("The Best of Both Worlds," anyone?).


  • "In a Mirror Darkly, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Impulse"
  • "Similitude"
  • "Cogenitor"
  • "Carbon Creek"
  • "Dear Doctor"
  • "Broken Bow, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Andorian Incident"
  • "Zero Hour"
  • "The Expanse"
The Mirror Universe (as debuted in "Mirror, Mirror") was clearly Newsweek's favorite return engagement from the series' fourth season tribute episodes ("In a Mirror Darkly").  The magazine suggests that fans are finally starting to appreciate the series in general.  "Cogenitor" is the most-often praised episode from the run, and so it's not surprising to find it here.  It's great to see "Similitude" and "Dear Doctor" in the mix.  I also like that "Carbon Creek" is there.  Aside from featuring a look at Vulcans in 1950s America, it also features a unique moment for the series: the main characters sitting down and telling each other stories (which continues in "First Flight," by the way).  "Broken Bow," by the way, is the premiere episode.  Newsweek touts it as the start of the franchise-wide Klingon feud.  "The Andorian Incident" and "The Expanse" are important series moment.  "Zero Hour" concludes the third season's Xindi arc.

All in all, the selections provide a broad spectrum of the fifty-year TV legacy in its many forms.  Reading through them, I was reminded of something pretty shocking for a long-time fan: how we watch it has evolved over the years.  As someone who has been thinking about why it became so unpopular a decade ago, this introduced a new idea as to why that happened.  Simply put, Star Trek has been many things, and while it evolved over the years in its storytelling, it never lost one of the defining aspects of its origins: an interest in classic sci-fi concepts.  The original series was certainly, in part, creator Gene Roddenberry's hopeful message for the future, but it was also a platform to explore the wildest ideas its many writers could imagine.  Over the years, fans began expecting different things.  By Deep Space Nine, the dawn of the modern era of serialized drama had begun, and anything that drastically deviated from it was soundly rejected.  Voyager and Enterprise struggled because they stood as challenges to this trend, and continued insisting that older sci-fi models were still viable, not just Star Trek's, but as readers had been experiencing it for a hundred years, dating back to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Many of Newsweek's picks for standout episodes reflect this.  Fans sometimes think Star Trek is at its most pure when it presents moral allegories, but this has always been just one aspect in the greater storytelling landscape.  You'll note that only a few of the magazine's selections even reflect it (assuming you know your Trek).  There's a greater preponderance for episodes that reflect the strange new worlds edict in the famous mission statement, and then the continuity elements that helped enrich everything.  Really makes you think.  Next time you hear someone complain that the new movies aren't reflecting the franchise accurately, maybe you'll have a better retort...


  1. The Inner light is such a powerful, emotionally mind twisting episode - I think Picard got more than he bargained for with the Kamin backstory which was surreal brilliance until the end, Merry Christmas Trekinator.

    1. Its real power is in its deceptive simplicity. In many ways, the perfect Next Generation episode.


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