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The Saddest Star Trek Episodes Ever

Star Trek episodes — particularly ones from the older, more episodic series — tend to end on an up note. That makes sense, considering Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision for the future. Most stories end with the heroes reaching a deeper level of understanding and communication with a new alien race, a mystery solved, the Federation saved, and/or with the status quo restored so whichever ship can keep on trekkin' — or, in the case of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), so everything on the station promenade can go back to normal. 

But there are some noteworthy exceptions to Star Trek's happy endings. Some episodes end with everything back the way it should be, but with the salvation of the galaxy coming at a terrible cost. Some stories, such as we sadly experience in real life, succeed in affirming Roddenberry's vision while at the same time depicting heartbreaking loss. And a few, here and there, are just straight-up downers. In spite of the Federation's eradication of hunger, poverty, and countless other injustices on Earth, sometimes the merciless void of space proves just as cruel as it sounds.

Are you a Trekkie who wants to see if our picks line up with yours? Or do you just want some shows that can help you squeeze out a few tears? Either way, here are our nominations for the saddest episodes of Star Trek ever.

"The Sound of Her Voice"

After a long and stressful mission, the crew of the Defiant receives a distress call from a Starfleet captain shipwrecked on an inhospitable planet. At first, the crew can only hear the transmissions from Captain Lisa Cusack (Debra Wilson), but can't respond. Eventually, Chief O'Brien's (Colm Meaney) tinkering establishes two-way communication. With the Defiant still days away and Cusack having nothing to do but slowly suffocate, Sisko establishes shifts for his officers, including himself, to sit by the communicator and keep their stranded colleague company. 

Captain Cusack proves to be a gift to her would-be rescuers. With the crew struggling under the weight of the Dominion War, Cusack happily gives a sympathetic ear to their problems. She helps O'Brien see he's keeping his friends at arm's length because he's afraid of growing too close to people the war may take from him and lets Sisko see why having Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson) aboard the Defiant bothers him so much. 

When the Defiant finally reaches its destination, the crew is shocked to discover Captain Cusack has been dead for three years. An energy barrier surrounding the planet somehow allowed for the Defiant's transmissions to reach her in the past, and hers to connect with them in the future. They bring Cusack back to DS9 for an Irish wake where the crew gathers to honor her and to share the lessons their friend taught them.

"The Offspring"

At first, Star Trek: The Next Generation's (TNG) "The Offspring" seems like it will be another exploration of the rights of synthetic life. After Data surprises his friends with the reveal that he's created a new android named Lal, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is extremely concerned about the ramifications. His fears are realized when a Starfleet Admiral demands Lal be taken off the Enterprise to be placed under supervision of Starfleet scientists. It feels like another legal battle like the one we see in "The Measure of a Man" is coming, but unfortunately Data's daughter doesn't survive long enough for that to happen. 

Hallie Todd's portrayal as Data's android daughter Lal is sweet, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking. Like her father, Lal is confused by human behavior but does her best to learn, doing things like grabbing Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) without warning for a kiss or telling Data that she believes she has mastered the art of humor because so many children laugh at her. 

Lal grows beyond Data and develops the ability to feel emotions. Unfortunately she can't survive them. After being overcome with fear at the prospect of separation from Data, her systems experience a cascade failure. In her final moments she thanks Data for her life and tells him she loves him. When he tells her he wishes he could feel the same for her, she says she will love enough for them both.

"Hard Time"

With holodecks, telepathic aliens, and omnipotent space gods, Star Trek has lots of ways of forcing illusions on its characters. When it comes to these illusions, perhaps no other Trek story proves as harmful to one of its heroes than DS9's "Hard Time." Showing the dark descent of one of its regular characters, "Hard Time" is genuinely tough to watch.

While visiting the Agrathi, Chief O'Brien is wrongly convicted of espionage. Rather than maintaining physical prisons, the Agrathi punish criminals by implanting memories of incarceration including hunger, isolation, and torture. When Kira (Nana Visitor) arrives to pick up Miles, he's only been in their custody for a few hours but he has memories of twenty years worth of prison.

 The Miles O'Brien who returns to DS9 is a changed man. He prefers to be alone, he's angry, he refuses to see his therapist, and he threatens his best friend Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig). He eventually gets violent, assaulting Quark (Armin Shimerman) for taking too long to serve him a drink and even coming close to hitting his daughter. It's revealed that during most of his time in the virtual prison, Miles has a kind, patient cellmate named Ee'char (Craig Wasson). After 20 years in the cell with him, wrongly believing his friend is hiding food from him, Miles murders Ee'char. Hallucinations of Ee'char appear to O'Brien on DS9, only disappearing when — on the brink of suicide — O'Brien finally accepts help from Bashir. 

"The City on the Edge of Forever"

Written by late author Harlan Ellison, Star Trek: The Original Series' (TOS) "The City on the Edge of Forever" is a time travel episode that forces Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into an impossible decision.

A temporarily insane Bones (DeForest Kelley) flees into a sentient time portal calling itself the Guardian of Forever. Shortly after he enters, the timeline is altered so Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) follow through the portal into New York City during the Great Depression. Believing they're homeless, the kind and forward-thinking Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) helps the pair, and she and Kirk fall in love. Spock discovers that Keeler is the subject of the timeline shift. Keeler is supposed to be killed in a car accident. If she survives, she will help spread a message of pacifism that keeps America out of World War II, which in turn leads to Germany's victory. 

When the moment comes for Kirk to decide, it's fast and brutal. When Kirk and Spock find Bones, Edith crosses the street to join them without paying attention to traffic. When the car destined to kill Edith approaches, Kirk not only stops himself from helping, but holds on to Bones and stops him from interfering as well. 

When the trio returns to their crew, Kirk has no comforting words for his friends and ignores the Guardian of Forever's invitations for other journeys through time. The last line is Kirk's resigned sigh of "Let's get the hell out of here." 

"The Outcast"

One of Trek's first attempts to explore the plight of LGBTQ+ people was in TNG's 1992 episode "The Outcast." The Enterprise encounters the androgynous race the J'naii who need help finding a lost shuttle and its crew. The Enterprise crew determines the shuttle is in a pocket of what they call "Null Space." Riker partners with a J'naii named Soren (Melinda Culea) to find a way to get into the Null Space to rescue the missing crew.

The attraction between Riker and Soren is noticed by Riker's friends and the other J'naii. Soren confides in Riker not only that she's attracted to him, but that she identifies as female. For a J'naii to identify as either male or female is forbidden, and others like Soren are treated as outcasts and — if discovered — are subjected to something called "psychotectic" treatment. Riker and Soren's relationship is discovered before it gets very far. Soren makes a passionate speech in front of the other J'naii and Riker tries to intervene. He takes responsibility for everything and offers to take Soren with him. The J'naii refuse.

Ignoring Picard's warnings, Riker and Worf (Michael Dorn) attempt to break Soren free. They easily overpower the J'naii guards but once Riker is alone with Soren, she's a different person. The psychotectic treatments are complete, and Soren believes she had been ill and is now well. Riker desperately professes his love for her, but Soren simply answers "I'm sorry" and walks away.

"The Visitor"

Tony Todd has made a number of memorable appearances as different Trek characters, including the older Jake Sisko (usually played by Cirroc Lofton) in DS9's bittersweet "The Visitor." 

Ben Sisko is believed killed when struck by a bolt of energy during an accident on the Defiant. Months and eventually years after the accident, Ben continues to briefly appear before his son only to eventually fade away, like a ghost, into subspace. After returning to Earth, Jake marries and finally publishes his novel Anslem to wide acclaim. But after he becomes obsessed with saving his father, Jake abandons writing to pursue scientific study and his marriage falls apart. 

Jake determines his father keeps appearing when and where he does because the accident connected him to Jake, and that the only way to save him is for Jake to die during his father's next appearance. As an elderly man, Jake awakens to his father smiling at him and Jake reveals his plan. Ben is crushed, but it's too late — Jake has already taken the drugs that will kill him. As he dies, Jake tells his father he's doing it not just for Ben but for "the boy that I was. He needs you, more than you know."

As the elderly Jake dies, Ben appears years earlier during the accident on the Defiant, and ducks the bolt of energy just in time. If you aren't already tearing up, Ben embracing his young son while crying grateful tears should push you over the edge.

"Course: Oblivion"

Most sad Trek episodes still give you some tiny sliver of hope, but Star Trek: Voyager's "Course: Oblivion" unfolds as if the writers had a meeting that started with someone saying, "People are too happy. Let's change that."

The episode opens with the marriage of Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), but they don't get to enjoy their honeymoon. The molecular cohesion of Voyager is deteriorating, and not just the ship itself but the crew members. B'Elanna is the first to die. 

The crew discovers something shocking. In the previous season episode "Demon," Voyager lands on a planet that creates a complete duplicate of the ship and all her crew out of biomimetic fluid. Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) determine their ship is the duplicate and they're now all dying because of exposure to radiation from their enhanced warp core. 

Everything the duplicate crew tries ends in failure. When they try to find solace on a planet that supports biomimetic life, they're chased off by aliens. The ship and crew deteriorate too fast for them to make it back to their homeworld, and even an attempt to launch a capsule with all of their logs fails. Few of the crew are left by the time they detect the original Voyager appears on their sensors. They try hailing the ship and the original Voyager responds, but by the time they get there all that's left of the duplicate ship and crew is formless biomimetic fluid floating in space. 

"Project Daedalus"

Throughout the first and most of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, fans were curious about the cybernetic Airiam (played by Sara Mitich in Season 1 and Hannah Cheesman in Season 2) — a woman who appears often on Discovery but without often taking center stage. 

Sadly, we learn the most about Airiam in "Project Daedalus," the episode in which she dies. It had been clear for a number of episodes that something was taking over Airiam and forcing her to act against her will. "Project Daedalus" opens with Airiam reviewing her memories and deleting many of them — including of her getting engaged to a man hours before a shuttle accident that kills her fiancee and injures her enough that she needs cybernetic enhancements to survive. 

The Discovery crew finally figures out Airiam is being manipulated by Control — Section 31's threat assessment A.I. — but only after Airiam is alone with Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) on the ransacked Section 31 HQ. Airiam nearly kills her colleagues, but regains enough control to insist Michael kill her by opening an airlock while she's in it. Michael refuses, insisting Airiam can fight Control, but Nhan takes the choice out of Michael's hands and opens the airlock. 

Airiam is shot into space and dies, but before she succumbs Tily (Mary Wiseman) uploads the memory of her on the beach with her fiancee so she can see it one more time. 

"Terra Prime"

For Star Trek: Enterprise fans, its penultimate episode "Terra Prime" was already sad as it brought the series that much closer to the end. But the events of the episode made it even more upsetting with a cruel blow to its characters — the death of a baby. 

"Terra Prime" mainly deals with the Enterprise's conflict with the group of the same name. Led by John Frederick Paxton (played by RoboCop himself, Peter Weller), Terra Prime is a xenophobic extremist group dedicated to removing all aliens and alien influence from Earth. Among his crueler tactics, Paxton takes DNA from T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) and Trip (Connor Trinneer) and uses it to create a half-human half-Vulcan clone infant. He displays it as a propaganda tool, calling it an "abomination," and uses it as leverage after he takes T'Pol and Trip hostage. 

Terra Prime is defeated, but the baby — who T'Pol names Elizabeth after Trip's sister — doesn't survive the episode. Phlox (John Billingsley) initially believes the baby's illness and resulting death is due to the inherent incompatibility of human and Vulcan DNA. But in the final scene a devastated Trip tells T'Pol that the doctor discovered there was a flaw in the technique used to create Elizabeth, and that a human/Vulcan child might survive. T'Pol reaches out and grabs Trips hand in support — a powerful gesture considering her species and its philosophies towards emotion.

"The Inner Light"

How do you memorialize a dying planet? On Kataan, they have an emotionally powerful answer — and Jean-Luc Picard winds up living an entire lifetime in less than a half hour as a result. 

Shortly after the Enterprise encounters a probe, Picard collapses on the bridge and wakes up to a woman named Eline (Margot Rose) who claims she's his wife and tells him his name is Kamin. Understandably, Picard is convinced something deceptive is going on, initially believing he's on a holodeck. After five years of no rescue from or contact with the Enterprise, Picard accepts his new life, including falling in love with Eline and regularly trying and failing to master the Kataanian flute. The scenes occasionally cut back to the Enterprise where only minutes have passed, and whenever we return to Kataan years have gone by for Picard and his new family. Finally, an elderly Picard attends a celebration with his children and grandchildren, which turns out to be the launching of the same probe that the Enterprise encounters. The truth is finally revealed — that the probe has given Picard this vision of a lifetime so someone will remember Kataan and its people. 

After the probe deactivates and Picard wakes up — about 25 minutes after it begins transmitting — the crew retrieves it and Riker brings the package it contains to his captain. Inside the box is the flute, and as soon as you know what it is your heart will absolutely shatter. 


Acclaimed satirist Joseph Heller wrote in his novel Catch-22, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." It's probably a piece of wisdom Miles O'Brien — or the guy who thought he was O'Brien — could've used in "Whispers." 

After returning from a mission where he went over security procedures for upcoming peace talks on DS9, O'Brien notices everyone is acting strange. Keiko (Rosalind Chao) is doing everything she can to keep their daughter away from him. Sisko is giving his engineers orders without talking to him first, Bashir is hounding him about getting a physical, and all it it takes is a 30-second conversation with Jake Sisko for Kira to jump in and tell Jake to go see his father. It gets to the point where O'Brien worries Keiko's trying to poison him. 

O'Brien uses his engineering know-how to escape DS9 in a runabout and rush to the Paradan system to warn them and see if he can get to the bottom of things. He reaches the hideout of the Paradan rebels, and the truth is revealed: The real O'Brien was imprisoned and a "replicant" copy was made of him and sent back to DS9 in his stead. The Paradan rebels discovered the plan, rescued the real O'Brien, and informed DS9 of the plot. 

The replicant O'Brien knows none of this. Critically injured by one of the rebels, the replicant dies calling out Keiko's name and begging the real O'Brien to tell Keiko he loves her.