10 episodes of The Next Generation to watch before Star Trek: Picard
Ivan Radford | On 26, Jan 2020
With Star Trek: Picard now on our screens, Patrick Stewart is back in the uniform of Jean-Luc Picard for the first time in 18 years. Well, almost: when we catch up with the retired Starfleet legend, he’s retired and living as a recluse at Chateau Picard, his vineyard in La Barre, France. Star Trek: Picard explores what happened to this man to turn him from the forthright, engaged captain of the USS Enterprise to an older man full of regrets – and drops in some old friends, including Data, Will Riker and Hugh the Borg, to help piece together the puzzle.
But what if you don’t know who this Jean-Luc fella is? What if you can’t remember who these other characters are and what they all went through?
Luckily, Star Trek: The Next Generation is easily accessible on Netflix UK to fill in the blanks. And, even luckier than that, we’ve binged through it to bring you the essential episodes you need to get to know Captain Picard, so you don’t need to move at warp speed to work your way through all seven seasons.
Here are 10 episodes (including some two-parters) of The Next Generation to watch before Star Trek: Picard:
Encounter at Farpoint (Season 1, Episode 1/2)
What better way to get to know Jean-Luc Picard than his maiden voyage on the new USS Enterprise? The first season of Star Trek’s follow-up to Shatner’s original series isn’t exactly peak Trek, but despite the odd bit of ropey dialogue, the series sets its stall out early with a double-bill that sees the crew threatened by Q, a God-like being who puts them on trial for all of humanity’s crimes. Along the way, we get to meet not only John de Lancie as Q but also Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and get a taste of the ambition the show has for their future outings.
Datalore (Season 1, Episode 12)
“How many more Datas are there?” “It looks like just these two.” The backbone of The Next Generation has always been the bond between Picard and chief operations officer Lieutenant Commander Data, played with a near-human humanity by seemingly ageless Brent Spiner. Season 1 makes it clear how important, and interesting, his character will be with the introduction of Lore, his manipulative brother, who tries to supplant Data on the Enterprise and wreak havoc. The result is a tale of positronic brains and programmed emotions, and a reminder that they can be trumped by an in-built moral decency and a strong drive for loyalty. Spiner’s fantastic, while Stewart captures Picard’s growing awareness that something’s not quite right about the imposter pretending to be Data – the starting point for a friendship that would grow deeper and deeper.
The Measure of a Man (Season 2, Episode 9)
Fast forward to Season 2 and you can see how far their friendship has already come, as Starfleet question “The Measure of a Man” and, more specifically, his rights, as Starfleet want to experiment on Data. If a man is an android, can he ever really be sentient? Feel emotions? Be trusted? And if Data’s on trial for his life, how do we even count him as “being alive” at all, if he’s technically Starfleet property? With nods to robot guru Bruce Maddox (mentioned in Star Trek: Picard) and a stirring speech from Jean-Luc in Data’s defence, the result is a understated study of AI and ethics – Data, tellingly, goes on to forgive his prosecutors – and a showcase for both Stewart and Spiner.
The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and II (Season 3, Episode 26 + Season 4, Episode 1)
There are cliffhangers and there are cliffhangers – and then there’s the end of The Next Generation Season 3. The Best of Both Worlds brings the Enterprise into contact with the Borg, the properly creepy cybernetic race that want to assimilate everything they meet into their hive mind, called The Collective. Season 3’s finale sees them not only kidnap Jean-Luc but assimilate him, which means they know all of his tricks and tactics and can use him to lead a Borg army in a battle against the Federation. Stewart is brilliant as the single-teared victim of an unwanted transformation – his Borg incarnation is known as “Locutus” – while Frakes is fantastic as Riker is forced to fire on his former captain and friend. Jean-Luc is restored to himself again, but not only did Star Trek dare to leave his conversion as a cliffhanger between seasons, it also used that incident as the seed for complex psychological trauma and resentment that repeatedly crops up through the series – and the movies – and even in Star Trek: Picard decades later.
Family (Season 4, Episode 2)
How do you follow one of the biggest storylines of a TV show? With one of its smallest, as The Next Generation continues its fourth run with a small-scale family drama grounded on Earth. We jet to La Barre, France, to the vineyard where we find Jean-Luc retired in Star Trek: Picard. Here, he tries to recuperate but instead just falls out with his brother, Robert (Jeremy Kemp), including a brief bout of fisticuffs in the mud. The result is a wonderful reminder that Jean-Luc is as human and vulnerable as the rest of us.
I, Borg (Season 5, Episode 23)
The Borg mythology expands into even more complex territory with the discovery of a lone Borg abandoned by the hive – prompting the Enterprise crew to programme him as a weapon to then infiltrate the Borg with. Over time, though, they grow to like him, even calling him “Hugh”, as he begins to be introduced to concepts such as feelings and free will. Jonathan Del Arco is superb as the synthetic learning to listen to his own mind, while Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg as the friendly listening ear Guinan sink their teeth into the question of whether Picard can ever feel forgiveness, sympathy or empathy for this lone Borg – and whether him returning to the pack will influence them with the notion of choosing things for oneself.
The Inner Light (Season 5, Episode 25)
Another near-solo outing for Jean-Luc Picard, this is a classic storyline seemingly designed as a platform for Patrick Stewart to dazzle upon. He plays Kamin, an iron monger who has been suffering delusions of being a Starfleet captain – but which is his real life? The result is a gentle story of love and loss, and includes a bout of Patrick playing the nose lute.
Chain of Command, Part I and II (Season 6, Episode 10 + Episode 11)
Another iconic two-parter from the Star Trek vaults, this outing sees Picard once again captured, but this time, it’s Gul (David Warner) behind the abduction. Sitting in a weapons facility and being told to count the number of lights shining in his face, it’s an ambitious number that sees Jean-Luc almost broken entirely – another brief display of vulnerability that makes him all the more likeable.
Descent, Part I and II (Season 6, Episode 26 + Season 7, Episode 1)
Jonathan Del Arco returns to reprise his role as Hugh the Borg – and, if that wasn’t enough, Brent Spiner’s Lore also comes back, as Data’s twin hatches yet another plan. The result is a gripping conflict between the synthetic organisms that play a central part in the show’s legacy, another chance to remember Jonathan Del Arco’s excellent work before he pops up in Star Trek: Picard.
All 4… Season 7, Episode 25 + Episode 26
If you started with the first ever episode, you’ve got to make sure you end with the final ever episode, one that brings back Q (remember him?) and the question of humanity being put on trial. But things aren’t as simple as they were at the beginning of The Next Generation – remember that ambition we spoke about? – and we watch as Picard jumps back and forth through his own timeline, to a future where he has Irumodic Syndrome and the Enterprise grew have all aged to him in his younger, present-day form, where he’s trying to work out what’s going on – and how to bring about a chronological convergence. Throughout, the constant is Jean-Luc’s sense of righteous determination, a through-line that defines the character’s appeal and charm, right up to Star Trek: Picard.