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The Best Picard Episodes Of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Premiering in 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation revitalized a franchise whose only new big or small screen stories came in the form of films every few years with an aging cast. The success of TNG paved the way for even more spinoffs, like Star Trek: Deep Space NineStar Trek: Voyager, and the retrospective series Star Trek: Enterprise

One of the most important pats of the formula that made TNG a hit was the captain of its new Enterprise — Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Older than William Shatner's Kirk is in the original Star Trek series, he's more hesitant when it comes to starting a fight and he doesn't seek out romance quite as much as his predecessor, but Picard proves no less adventurous. The newer, balder captain brings with him a diverse cast of interesting new characters. 

Throughout TNG's seven seasons, certain episodes focused more on a single character. There were episodes dealing with Data's (Brent Spiner) ongoing quest to grow more human. There were those focusing on the challenges the Klingon officer Worf (Michael Dorn) faced being raised among humans and wanting acceptance from his own people. Some of the best, however, went no further than the captain's chair. From awkward first contacts to unexpected romances and strange visions of the future, many of the most memorable episodes of TNG are Picard episodes.  

Here are our choices for the best Picard episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Starship Mine

The sixth season's 18th episode, "Starship Mine" is pretty much Die Hard on a spaceship — except unlike Die Hard's John McClane, who gets in trouble when he shows up for a party, in "Starship Mine" Picard gets in trouble by trying to avoid a party. 

The Enterprise makes a scheduled maintenance stop at a space station. The maintenance includes bathing the ship with baryon particles which could be deadly to any people exposed to it, so the ship is evacuated for the duration. Picard and the rest of his officers are invited to a gathering with the station's commander, who has a reputation for tedious small talk. When the commander mentions horse trails on the planet below, Picard seizes the opportunity to return to the ship and retrieve his saddle before the baryon sweep begins, but on his way out he discovers a small group of thieves is stealing trilithium resin from the ship's warp core. One by one, Picard takes out the ambitious thieves who he initially believes are terrorists but — just like Die Hard – are really just after making a buck. 

In spite of being pretty derivative, "Starship Mine" makes the list for being a rare chance for Picard to be an action hero in a suspenseful, fun episode. And as a bonus, Tim Russ — better known as Star Trek: Voyager's Vulcan security officer Tuvok — plays the first thief Picard runs into. Fittingly, Picard takes him out with the Vulcan neck pinch. 

The Big Goodbye

TNG's first season isn't without its blemishes, but one of the standouts is "The Big Goodbye," the series' 12th episode. 

Picard is stressed after preparing for his meeting with the Jaradans, a technologically advanced species demanding ridiculously strict protocol for all communications. In order to relax, Picard indulges in his affinity for the stories of Dixon Hill, a fictional private detective based on the novels of noir writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden), Data, and a minor character named Whalen join Picard in his fictional recreation. Things get complicated when an invasive probe by the Jaradans messes with the holodeck so Picard and co. can't find a way out. 

"The Big Goodbye" is not only the first time we learn of Picard's affinity for Dixon Hill, it's also the first of what proves to be a lengthy tradition of holodeck-gone-wrong stories that continue throughout both TNG and most of the TNG-era series. In spite of the first season's imperfections, "The Big Goodbye" remains one of the single funniest episodes of TNG. There's Picard's hilarious delivery of the Jaradans' traditional greeting at the end of the episode, and the way Picard and his companions act in the holodeck. They come off like condescending tourists tickled pink by the 20th century's strangeness. Data and Whalen spout off dumb lines in silly accents. Picard can't stop smiling and complimenting the holodeck characters as he's grilled by an angry cop in an interrogation room.

Q Who

Season 2's "Q Who" is probably best remembered as the episode introducing the Borg, but what's truly memorable about is what unfolds between Picard and Q (John de Lancie). 

Q claims the Q Collective kicked him out and asks to join the Enterprise's crew, saying he's a necessary guide in the new parts of the galaxy Picard is just beginning to explore. When Picard refuses, Q does his thing and sends the ship over 7,000 lightyears into unexplored territory.

"Q Who" exposes some of Picard's unintentional arrogance and naïveté. In spite of asking Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) her advice because her people come from the part of the galaxy in which the ship finds itself, Picard does exactly the opposite of everything she advises. Rewatching the episode is frustrating with Picard and his officers responding to the Borg's multiple attacks by — rather than turning around and heading home as fast as they can — having meetings

There are few Q episodes in which you wind up agreeing more with the trickster than in "Q Who." After Picard finally admits he was unprepared to face the Borg and Q sends the ship back to where it started, Picard criticizes Q for letting 18 of his crew die. Q responds, "If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here." As harsh as he is, it's tough not to agree with him. 

The Drumhead

"The Drumhead" deals with the kind of witch hunt that characterized the infamous era of McCarthyism in which fear of Communism led many innocent people to be branded as traitors. 

Retired admiral and legal expert Norah Satie (Jean Simmons) is sent to figure out if there's a conspiracy on board the Enterprise. A Klingon exchange officer is discovered to have been sneaking secrets off the ship and around the same time there's a mysterious explosion in the warp engine room. Problems arise when, even after Data and Geordi (Levar Burton) discover the explosion was a genuine accident, Satie continues to insist there are traitors aboard the Enterprise and in particular targets a young medical officer when she discovers he's part Romulan. 

Once Picard steps in to protect his crew, Satie targets him, going so far as to imply that Picard's loyalties are with the Borg. When Worf rises to defend his captain, in spite of how closely Satie has been working with the Klingon, she immediately turns on him, calling him "the son of a traitor." Picard calmly recites the words of Satie's own father, the late Aaron Satie, who warned "The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably." Admiral Satie's resulting outburst exposes her fanaticism and ruins her plans to expand her witch hunt. 

"The Drumhead" is the kind of genuinely powerful storytelling that reminds us exactly how the powerful can use fear to justify the strangling of freedom.

Captain's Holiday

It's takes a lot of nudging by the rest of the crew, and even the threat of a return visit form Deanna Troi's (Marina Sirtis) overbearing mother, but in "Captain's Holiday," the obviously overworked Captain Picard agrees to a vacation. We take our first trip to the pleasure planet Risa, where Jean-Luc finds himself neck-deep in an adventure that proves to be exactly what the doctor called for. 

Shortly after arriving on Risa, Picard is greeted with a kiss by the mischievous Vash (Jennifer Hetrick) who claims to have mistaken him for someone else, but in truth is creating a distraction for the Ferengi Sovak (Max Grodénchik). Soon Picard is not only hounded by the jealous Sovak and manipulated by Vash, but he's receiving visits by two aliens claiming to be time travelers. It's all over a relic from the future called the Uthat. Feeling like equal parts heist film and Indiana Jones, "Captain's Holiday" brings Picard adventure, some much-needed romance, and surprising twists.

It also brings us the great Horgon practical joke. Before Picard leaves for Risa, Riker (Jonathan Frakes) asks Picard to pick him up a horgon. After he's approached by multiple women propositioning him, Picard eventually learns that carrying the horgon is the traditional Risa method of signaling that you're looking for sex. Picard quickly hides the horgon once he finds out, and we just wish we could be there in the Ready Room when he confronted Riker about the whole thing. 

Chain of Command, Part 2

The first half of the two-part "Chain of Command" isn't necessarily a Picard-focused episode. Along with Worf and Dr. Crusher, Picard is assigned to locate a deadly Cardassian WMD and neutralize it. By the end of Part 1, we learn the WMD never existed and was a trap designed to capture Picard. The trap works, though Worf and Dr. Crusher manage to escape. 

Part 2 of "Chain of Command" is where Patrick Stewart gets to shine. As a Cardassian prisoner, Picard is subjected to dehumanizing torture, including being stripped naked in front of the Cardassians. His interrogator Gul Madred (David Warner) uses horrific pain, hunger, and lies to bend Picard to his will, including famously flashing four lights in front of Picard and insisting he agree there are five. 

By the end of the episode we're convinced of every ounce of suffering Picard is feeling. Madred eventually promises to free Picard if he will just say there are five lights. Picard looks at the lights and seems to consider, but before he can say anything the news arrives he is to be freed. Picard defiantly and famously yells, "There! Are! Four! Lights!" Yet when he returns to the Enterprise he confides in Counselor Troi that when he considered giving in at the end, it wasn't so much that he was tempted, but that after everything he endured he actually believed he saw five lights. 


"Family" follows the hit two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds," in which Picard is captured and assimilated by the Borg. In the following episode, the captain takes a brief break from the Enterprise to visit his family in France. While he's there, an old friend tries to recruit him away from the Enterprise, and his stubborn older brother proves to be exactly the medicine Picard needs after his experiences with the Borg. 

While Worf and the Crushers have important moments in "Family" as well, it's Picard's confrontation with his brother that give the episode its power. It's the first time in the series we see Picard so utterly vulnerable. After Robert (Jeremy Kemp) provokes Jean-Luc into a short fistfight, the latter breaks into tears recounting the trauma he's experienced. Not only does it show us a side to Picard we've never seen before, it's arguable subsequent Borg episodes and even Star Trek: First Contact wouldn't have been possible without "Family." For those later stories to be told and believed, we needed to see exactly how deeply the Borg cut into Picard. 

We'd also feel remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to explain why you won't find "The Best of Both Worlds" on this list. While a lot of very important things happen to Picard in the two-parter, the story doesn't really focus on him. In fact it's Riker, not Picard, who takes up most of that earlier story's focus.


In "Tapestry," Captain Picard learns how worthless regrets are. 

After an attack during a diplomatic mission, Picard is brought to sick bay in critical condition. He awakens to Q, who tells Picard that he has died and that his artificial heart is largely to blame. His real heart was replaced decades earlier after being stabbed during a brawl. When Picard expresses regret over the recklessness of his youth, Q transports Picard back in time with the chance to change things. 

Back in Starfleet Academy, Picard pursues a romance with one old friend and does everything he can to stop another from getting payback against the Nausicaans who cheated him. Picard succeeds at avoiding the fateful fight, and Q rewards him by sending him back to the changed present. Picard's still aboard the Enterprise, but instead of the captain he's a junior science officer tasked with writing and delivering reports. When he speaks to Riker and Troi about the chances of promotion, they make it clear he's played it too safe during his career to get noticed.  

Picard calls out to Q, saying he would rather die as who he was than live as who he's become. Q sends him back to relive the fight that gave him his artificial heart. In spite of Q's claims about Picard's death, the captain wakes up in sick bay alive and more whole than he was before, accepting his mistakes as part of what makes him who he is.


Star Trek uses a "universal translator" easy button which magically makes it so every race the Enterprise encounters speaks and understands perfect English. TNG's "Darmok" is a wonderful exception, and revolves around a failure to communicate between two groups who are clearly doing their best. 

Meeting with the Tamarians for negotiations, the Enterprise crew are able to understand individual words the aliens are saying, but not their meaning. To help fix this, the Tamarian captain has himself and Picard transported to the planet below and offers Picard a knife and his only explanation: "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." Picard wrongly thinks Dathon is inviting him to a duel and so refuses the knife. We eventually learn Tamarians speak and think in terms of metaphor, using stories from their culture to communicate. For example, if one Tamarian wants to express failure, they say "Shaka, when the walls fell." When Dathon says "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra," he's referencing a story in his culture about two strangers who form a bond fighting a beast and he is inviting Picard to do the same with a dangerous beast living on the planet.

Unfortunately Dathon doesn't survive the conflict with the beast. Because of his sacrifice, humans and Tamarians seem just a little bit closer to understanding one another by the end of "Darmok" and we're left to think about the fascinating possibilities the story brings up in terms of the importance of stories and the possibilities of communication. 

All Good Things...

Opinions will always differ, but there's a strong case to be made for TNG's series finale "All Good Things..." being the single most powerful and satisfying finale in the franchise's long history. And honestly? It might be one of the best TV series finales, period.

"All Good Things..." bounces between the past, present, and future as Q sends Picard back to the events of the first TNG episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," as well as decades into the future when he's an older man suffering from the degenerative illness Irumodic Syndrome. The plot is rich with time travel paradox, as we eventually learn that not only are Picard's time jumps necessary to save humanity, but are simultaneously the reason humanity is in danger. 

In the past we get see Denise Crosby reprise her role as Tasha Yar, and in the future we see what becomes of the members of the Enterprise crewIt's a perfect sendoff that not only celebrates the show's rich history, but does exactly what Star Trek has always done — look to the future. 

One of the best things about the episode is, predictably, the interaction between Picard and the mischievous Q. In Q's final TNG scene, Picard asks Q if he's trying to tell him something. In what is arguably the character's most sincere moment, Q leans over to Picard's ear and seems ready to reveal something desperately important, but pulls away at the last moment with his trademark smirk. 

The Inner Light

Perhaps the best Picard episode of TNG, and without a doubt one of the most emotionally powerful episodes of any Trek series, is the 25th episode of TNG's fifth season, "The Inner Light." 

Moments after the crew discovers an unidentified probe, Picard collapses on the bridge. He wakes up in an unfamiliar home where a woman named Eline claims he's her husband. Initially, Picard thinks the woman is behind something nefarious. His only goal is to find out where he is and how to get back. 

Years later, Picard all but forgets the Enterprise. He learns to play the flute and has two children with Eline. He is an old man when his time on Kataan ends. His daughter brings him out to watch the launch of the same probe Picard's ship encountered so many years ago. As Picard waits to watch the launch, he finally learns what's been happening. The people of Kataan died a millennia ago. Knowing their end was coming, they launched a probe that would keep the memory of their culture alive, and it's that probe that has caused Picard to experience life on Kataan. While Picard has felt the passage of years, less than a half hour has passed on the bridge of the Enterprise.

After the probe frees Picard, it deactivates. The crew retrieves the probe and Riker brings Picard what was found within. You'll know what it is before you see it, and it will break your heart.