Star Trek Picard: 10 Next Generation Episodes That Are Essential Jean-Luc Picard Viewing
There's a general rule of thumb that's followed Star Trek shows ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation; the first and second seasons are usually the weakest. This is the time when the writers and actors are fleshing out the characters. But there is a reward to this slow start; by Season 3 or 4 the show can explore and innovate, since all the mundane stuff is out of the way.
There are 178 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which can all be streamed on Netflix. But if you're thinking about bingeing seven seasons before Star Trek: Picard, you will find your experience to be inconsistent. Great episodes exist side-by-side with mediocre ones. And with such a massive cast, not every episode will be relevant to the new show.
To prepare you for Star Trek Picard, which debuts in early 2020, we did a little curating. Here are 10 essential Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes featuring Captain Jean-Luc Picard that you must watch. And if you liked this gallery, you might also enjoy reading our gallery of Picard's badass moments, our Borg explainer, and our roundup of Star Trek: Picard theories.
Disclosure: CBS is GameSpot's parent company.
1. "Q Who"
Episode: Season 2, Episode 16
The second Trek episode co-starring John de Lancie as Q, "Q Who" addresses Picard's hubris and teaches him that there are things in the galaxy that he is not prepared to tackle. It also provides our first look at the Borg, who will be playing an important role in the brand new series.
2. "Yesterday's Enterprise"
Episode: Season 3, Episode 15
In this classic time travel episode, widely considered to be one of the best of the series, Picard and the Enterprise find themselves in an alternate timeline, in which the Federation is at war with the Klingons and are on the verge of losing. This episode does an excellent job of showing Picard's character; he realizes that he may have to sacrifice his and his crew's lives to preserve the more peaceful timeline.
3. "The Best of Both Worlds"
Episode: Season 3 & 4, Episodes 26 & 1
One of the greatest cliffhangers in sci-fi history came at the end of Season 3, when Picard was captured by the Borg, assimilated, and renamed Locutus. This was Star Trek at its most exciting. Riker rose to the challenge of being Captain, and he not only saved Earth, he managed to save Picard's life as well. Expect "The Best of Both Worlds" to get explicitly referenced in Star Trek: Picard. The events of these two episodes traumatized Picard for years to come.
Episode: Season 4, Episode 2
A slower episode, this one is important for its character development, and it's a rare look at Picard away from his captain's role. Picard deals with the trauma and fallout of being assimilated by the Borg; he visits the Picard family's vineyard in France, where he argues with, punches, and ultimately reconciles with his brother Robert. The vineyard will be a setting on the new show, but our return there will be tinged with tragedy--it was revealed that most of Picard's family was killed in a fire in Star Trek: Generations, making Jean-Luc the last to carry on his family's name.
5. "The Drumhead"
Episode: Season 4, Episode 21
This episode summarizes, better than most, the sturdy moral principles that Picard lives by. When a former admiral accuses the Enterprise crew of treason, based upon her own prejudices and biases, the crew seems alternatingly dismissive and fearful of her. Worf even agrees with her until she turns on him. But Picard is the one with the guts to call her out during a hearing, and he stakes his career to protect his crew against her fanaticism.
6. "I Borg"
Episode: Season 5, Episode 23
In another Borg episode, the Enterprise crew discovers a drone that was left behind by the Collective. Over time, the drone befriends Geordi La Forge and even takes on a personal name, Hugh, as part of its progression towards individuality. Picard has to decide how to deal with the drone--whether to use it as a weapon against the Collective that traumatized him and whether to send it home.
7. "The Inner Light"
Episode: Season 5, Episode 25
Picard never married or had a family. But in "The Inner Light," a probe's beam strikes Picard unconscious, and he lives 40 years in the life of an alien man with a wife and children. He later learns that he was only unconscious for 25 minutes. The trailer for the new show implies that Picard is lonely; aside from his dog, he appears to be living by himself. "The Inner Light" poses an excellent "what if?" scenario and reminds the viewer of what Picard sacrificed by dedicating himself to his job. And it provided great fodder for the Rick and Morty gag about the video game "Roy," in which players live an entire virtual life in a span of minutes.
8. "Chain of Command"
Episode: Season 6, Episodes 10 & 11
Picard is captured, interrogated, and tortured by the Cardassians. In a very 1984-esque sequence, the interrogator repeatedly asks Picard how many lights there are in the room; there are four, but the interrogator continually insists there are five. In one final act of defiance, after he is already freed from captivity, Picard insists on the truth: "There are four lights!" he yells in a choked voice. The duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth; this episode exemplifies Picard's commitment to it.
Episode: Season 6, Episode 15
In "Tapestry," Picard gets (and takes) the opportunity to redo a key moment in his life: When he was a student at Starfleet Academy, he was stabbed in the heart after getting in a fight. But when he travels to his new future, he learns that his mistake had actually led to his greatness--greatness that he is now lacking. It is a poignant lesson in accepting one's failures as part and parcel to the bigger scheme.
10. "All Good Things…"
Episode: Season 7, Episodes 25 & 26
The series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation shows Picard switching between the past, present, and future; he needs to do the right thing in all three roles to save humanity. Both a love letter to the fans and incredible piece of sci-fi on its own merits, the series finale demonstrates the respect and love that Picard has for his crew. Let's hope that in Star Trek: Picard, the senior staff has a rosier future than the one predicted in "All Good Things…"
11. Star Trek: Nemesis
And lastly, although it's not a television episode, it'll do you some good to watch the movie Star Trek Nemesis. It's the last time we saw Picard in a Starfleet uniform, and it covers the assassination of the Romulan Senate (which may play a part in the new show) as well as the destruction of Data, who also appears to be in the new show.