the story: Q offers Picard a chance in the past, present, and future to prove that humanity has evolved.
what it's all about: It's hard to conceive of a better way to end Next Generation than with Q, returning to the same trial begun in the very first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," and exploring three separate timelines along the way.
This was a series that had a rough start. Providing new material set in the tumultuous first season is kind of the best gift "All Good Things..." could've given fans. I mean, you could interpret the title of the episode a number of ways because of it: 1) as the incomplete phrase that concludes "must come to an end," and 2) this is the best version of the series, as in, all the good things about it. (Heh.)
Those who later thought the four movies that followed misrepresented the series will no doubt agree, even though there has been plenty of debate over the years about the science of the way the spatial phenomenon works backwards through time (the argument being, if it starts in the past, the future characters should always have seen it, for instance). Putting that aside, because if you worry about such things in fictional storytelling you have too much time on your hand, it's kind of hard to view the final episode as anything but what it is, which is the most satisfying and accessible final episode of the franchise. (You really have to be a Deep Space Nine fans to appreciate "What You Leave Behind.")
The camaraderie of this crew, whether the timelines agree as to how it functions, if it functions, is in full effect, right down to the classic final scene, in which Picard finally sits down at the poker table with his senior staff. There's classic Data ("to ignite the midnight petroleum"), the Riker/Troi/Worf triangle, and old friends popping up (Yar, O'Brien).
Oh, and Q! Since he didn't appear in the movies, there are conceivably fans who have no idea what this character is all about. In truth, sometimes he could be too silly for his own good, and there might be an argument that he was hard to take seriously as a result. But the cleverness of his role in "All Good Things..." proves beyond all doubt that Q was always more than he seemed.
The point of putting humanity on trial for being too barbaric is a clever way of suggesting that the work of reaching its full potential doesn't end by perfecting life on Earth, that in fact the whole idea behind Star Trek was to push our definition of the possible to its limits ("to seek out new life" and all that). Too often the franchise, and its fans, lose sight of that goal. To have a character like Q embody this challenge, in the first and last episodes of the series, is a way of keeping everyone honest.
So in some ways, how you regard "All Good Things...," and its science, is a kind of litmus test for how you view Star Trek in general.
- franchise - Good for this.
- series - Good for this.
- character - Good for this.
- essential - Yeah, four for four.
John de Lancie (Q)
Denise Crosby (Yar)
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)
Andreas Katsulas (Tomalak)