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The Most Pause-Worthy Moments In Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" was a series that reignited pop culture's love of science fiction on television, with shows like "Babylon 5" and "Stargate SG-1" arriving in the years following its success. Spawning four feature films and three additional franchise spinoffs, its longevity can be attributed to its high quality and wealth of strong stories. In fact, there were so many great episodes that it would be hard to assemble a concise highlight reel. Full of dramatic moments and unexpected twists, fans have watched and rewatched the series for 30 years and never stopped enjoying it.

But some moments have left viewers new and old looking back, rewinding and freezing the action on-screen to take it all. Moments that inspire, moments that confound, moments that amaze, or moments that make you question everything. Across seven seasons there were many such scenes, but we've narrowed down our most pause-worthy favorites.

Picard squared

The first two seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were a rocky start to the series, but the second in particular had a few standouts — and "Time Squared" is among the best. A mind-bending sci-fi twister, it starts with the Enterprise coming across an errant Starfleet shuttlecraft adrift in space. Bringing the shuttle aboard, Picard sends Dr. Pulaski, Commander Riker, and Lieutenant Worf to the shuttlebay to greet its occupant, but they're shocked upon seeing who the pilot is. Peering in, they find none other a second Captain Picard unconscious behind the controls.

The discovery of a second Captain Picard was a surprising turn of events for viewers, who surely had many questions. Could this really be Captain Picard? If it was, who was on the bridge? No, it had to be an alien imposter, a clone, a parallel universe duplicate, or even one of Q's latest tricks. In the end, it was revealed to be a version of the captain from six hours in the future — but when he was first revealed, it was a perplexing puzzle that had audiences stopping for a second look, unable to believe their eyes.

Borg who?

In one of the most stunning scenes of any episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the Enterprise is brought to its knees by a new adversary called the Borg. After the ship was flung out into a distant star system in "Q Who?" by the immortal trickster Q — who wanted to show Picard that they weren't ready for the dangers that await them in deep space — they came face to face with a Borg cube. Unaware of the dangers, Picard attempted to make first contact, only to be stopped cold when the ship fixed them in place with a tractor beam.

Unable to shake free, the Enterprise remained helpless as the Borg used a devastating cutting beam to slice up the ship and remove several decks from the saucer section. It was a level of cold, dispassionate power we had never seen from a villain on "Star Trek," as the Enterprise could not do anything to stop them. In addition to the unbelievable might of the Borg, viewers who paused the scene were also treated to the intricate model work used on the series as the ship's interior decks were removed from the hull.

Dark Enterprise

"The Next Generation" never did have an episode set in the famed Mirror Universe, but Season 3 story "Yesterday's Enterprise" comes close. When the former ship called Enterprise is pulled forward 22 years into the future, history is altered, and Picard and crew don't even realize it. In this new altered reality, the Federation is at war, and the Enterprise-D itself is its most important warship. When the starship Enterprise-C first arrives and reality ripples with changes to the timeline, viewers were rocked by what they saw next. Everything about this version of the Enterprise was different: the lighting was darker and moodier, and the uniforms — with higher collars and silver belt — seemed more aggressive. But more than that, a former dead crew member, Tasha Yar, was back from the dead and manning the security station.

No, your eyes weren't deceiving you. Tasha Yar, unceremoniously killed in the first season episode "Skin of Evil" after actress Denise Crosby asked to leave the show (via StarTrek.com), was back in uniform and taking orders from Captain Picard. In this alternate timeline, Yar had never died, and by the end of the story she'd play a pivotal role in restoring the timeline. But in that first moment, when she emerged from behind Picard's captain chair, her appearance was cause to slam the pause button in disbelief.

Sela revealed

As the show's fourth season came to a close, viewers would finally learn the identity of the mysterious Romulan agent who was orchestrating Klingon affairs throughout the season. Seen only in silhouette in "The Mind's Eye," she'd step out of the shadows in the final moments of season finale "Redemption, Part I," revealed to be a dead ringer for former Enterprise security chief Tasha Yar. Flabbergasted, fans must have had their minds splintered — how this Romulan mastermind so closely resembled Yar? How she could have been resurrected from the dead — and, if so, wondering what she was doing as an enemy agent? Or perhaps she was something else entirely.

But it's the Romulan's final line that makes the scene so delicious, as it proves a perfect self-referential meta moment that reminded viewers to expect the unexpected. As the young Klingon Toral delights over the Enterprise leaving orbit of Qo'noS, she cautions against celebrating too soon, saying "we should not discount Jean-Luc Picard yet. He is human. And humans have a way of showing up when you least expect them." 

Looking for Ambassader Spock

The final scene of "Unification I," and the much publicized guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, fired up pause buttons across "Trek" fandom. 

As the episode opened, Fleet Admiral Brackett had arrived to inform Captain Picard that one of the Federation's most noted Ambassadors had apparently defected to the Romulans. Sent to the heart of their enemy's territory, Picard and Data went undercover as Romulans themselves to find Spock and bring him back to the Federation, but were captured by a group of dissidents. As the episode ended, Picard announced he was looking for Ambassador Spock, and the Vulcan's distinctive voice rang out from off-screen, saying "Indeed. You have found him, Captain Picard" as Leonard Nimoy stepped into frame. 

The series had featured an appearance from Spock's father Sarek before, but seeing Spock himself cross paths with Captain Picard was a moment fans had to stop and pause to fully absorb.

Beam him up, Geordi

Several cast members of the original series had already made guest appearances on the series, and the crew of the Enterprise-D would get one more in Season 6 episode "Relics." After receiving a distress call from the U.S.S. Jenolan, they'd come across a vast Dyson sphere and find the ship crashed upon its surface. Going aboard they found no signs of life, but Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge did discover the ship's transporter still in operation — locked in a diagnostic mode and still operational — with a person's pattern still stored inside. Firing up the transporter, he beamed aboard the person within to reveal the original Enterprise's chief engineer, Scotty.

It was another celebratory moment for fans to be able to greet an old favorite aboard, and give Scotty one more adventure. The episode wasn't just a sentimental return for the character — it dealt with Scotty getting older and feeling lost in a new century. "Relics" also gave him the opportunity to play hero one more time, using his marvelous engineering knowhow and quick wits to save the day.

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs

Season 5 episode "Cause and Effect" has more than one unexpected moment, but it's the final scene of the story that got fans doing the biggest double take. After the Enterprise is struck by another ship — the U.S.S. Bozeman — as it came hurtling unexpectedly out of a temporal rift in space, the crew is rocked by explosions and the Enterprise is seemingly destroyed. But it wasn't the end, as the disaster threw the crew into a repeating time loop, forcing them to figure a way out and save the ship.

But the surprise reveal came when, after averting disaster in the final loop, Captain Picard hails the Bozeman looking for answers. The commander of the Bozeman announces himself as Captain Morgan Bateson, and claims to be unaware that the Bozeman has been trapped in its own time loop for nearly 70 years. When Batesman popped up on screen though, it forced fans eyes wide open: The captain was played by Kelsey Grammer, who starred as bitter psychiatrist Frasier Crane on the hit sitcom "Cheers." (This episode was broadcast a year before the debut of "Frasier.") It was a blink-and-miss-it cameo, but one that would prove memorable nonetheless.

Timescape attack

In "Timescape," many pause-worthy moments require no pause at all. Picard, Data, Troi, and Geordi come back from a trip to a science conference to discover the Enterprise frozen in time. Trapped in a single moment, the ship appears to be locked in a fierce battle with a Romulan warbird, and Picard must get aboard to discover the cause and set things right. On the bridge, they find the Romulans have boarded the ship. Viewers may have been tempted to stop and playback in every scene as the foursome explored the Enterprise to search for clues. But it's a certain scene in sickbay that would ultimately yield the most pause-worthy moment.

Entering the medical bay, Troi was shocked to discover a Romulan firing his sidearm point blank into Dr. Crusher, in what certainly looked like a fatal shot. With a brutal disrupter blast to the gut that had already burned a whole through her torso, it was as stunning a moment as any on the series, with fans surely wondering how they were going to save the doctor's life.

Second Riker

In "Second Chances," the Enterprise heads to a planet that Riker had visited once before a decade earlier while he was serving on a different ship. When they arrive, they find an abandoned Starfleet research station still harboring signs of life. When a shadowy figure emerges, the crew discovers it's a disheveled duplicate of Riker himself, much to their — and the audience's — surprise. The viewers and the crew wonder if he could be a bio-replicant, an alien being taking Riker's form, or even a regular person surgically altered to mimic the Enterprise's first officer.

Ultimately, it's revealed that both the duplicate and the original are the same person, the split being the result of a freak transporter accident... and neither is truly the "real" Commander Riker. But when we first meet him, it's an eerie scene — two Rikers come face to face, leaving Trekkies scrambling to stop the tape and checking for signs that man they see really is who he appears to be.

All Good Enterprises

In "All Good Things..." — an episode with several pause-worthy moments — there's one that stands out above the rest. Sure, viewers were no doubt awed by the re-emergence of the Enterprise-D when it entered the fray to blow away a Klingon battle cruiser, or happily surprised by the returns of long-departed characters Chief O'Brien and Tasha Yar. But it's the climactic moment in the series finale that makes our list, as three different Enterprise's team up to save humanity.

After working through the paradoxical problem with Q's help, Picard has managed to get the crew of the three different Enterprises in three different time periods to all meet in the Romulan Neutral Zone. There, a massive spatial anomaly threatens to prevent all life on Earth from ever forming. As the three ships each enter the phenomenon, with a plan to seal it shut using a static warp shell (the episode's technobabble deus ex machina), we witness the past, the present, and the future of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" all converge in one triumphant moment that's worth pausing to take it.

Spider Barclay

In "Genesis," one of the rare horror episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Picard and Data return from a brief trip to find the Enterprise dead in space. As they explore the derelict Enterprise, they soon discover that a virus has swept through the ship and "de-evolved" the crew into lower forms of life. When Riker appears to be a primitive cave man, and Troi has grown to resemble an amphibian, it's clear they're in bigger trouble than they thought. But one truly frightening moment of body horror is cause for a pause, when Picard encounters an altered version of Lieutenant Barclay in the ship's engine room.

The jump scare is truly terrifying, as it is more than a startling sudden sight. A genuinely unsettling mutant Barclay, transformed into a spider-like creature, greets us as he jumps forward into the warp core's protective glass. In what looks like a scene out of "The Fly" the multi-eyed creature opens its mouth — in either anguish or anger, we cannot tell — and its brief appearance had us all scurrying to hit the pause button to see who, or what, it really was. 

Battle of Wolf 359

"The Best Of Both Worlds" is perhaps the most celebrated episode of the series, with its most dramatic moment coming in the final scene of its first chapter after Captain Picard is revealed as Borg leader Locutus. But the most pause-worthy moment comes midway through the second chapter: After failing to destroy the Borg ship — with Picard onboard — the Enterprise finally arrives at Wolf 359, the site of a massive battle between the Borg and Federation forces. It's the first time in "Star Trek" history when there's been a military engagement of such scale, and the Enterprise has missed it. Instead, when they arrive, they are greeted to a devastated battlefield of more than a dozen starships burning in space.

It's a somber moment for the crew, and for the audience, who now realize that the Borg more dangerous than they ever imagined. It's made all the more sobering by the fact that the ship Riker was almost given command of earlier in the story is part of the decimated fleet. But what makes the moment even more worth pause-worthy are the many unique ships that get play in the scene, as fans have discovered through years of analysis and dissection. From kit-bashed starships to unused ship designs from abandoned "Trek" projects, it's both an emotionally hard-hitting moment and an easter-egg filled treat.

Goodbye, Yar

Sometimes big dramatic moments and clever easter eggs aren't the only reason to pause an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Sometimes it's a fun behind-the-scenes moment that warrants a brief stop, and such is the case with Season 1 episode "Symbiosis." Towards the end of its first year, actress Denise Crosby asked out of her contract, feeling disappointed that she wasn't being given much to do on the show. While her character would be killed off in the episode "Skin of Evil," the preceding episodes — "Symbiosis" — was filmed later, and marked her final day on the set of the series.

At the end of the episode, as Picard and Dr. Crusher exit the cargo bay, eagle-eyed fans will notice actress Denise Crosby in the background waving goodbye to fans. For those wondering if this was intentional, the actress herself confirmed it on Twitter in 2016.

Data's head

By the end of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Season 5, fans had already been treated to a pair of cliffhangers and a number of episodes with shocking reveals. They were no strangers to bombshell moments, nor seeing duplicates of their favorite characters. Even so, season finale "Time's Arrow, Part I" still managed to include a surprising moment at its start, when a duplicate head of Commander Data is found buried beneath San Francisco. The kicker though is that the archeologist who found it claims it's been there for some 500 years.

The moment is an eye-popping one, and the head has an appropriately aged look that seems to suggest that what the archeologist says is true. But how did Data's head get blown off five centuries ago? How did it end up under ground? The more the viewer stares at the decapitated head of the android commander, the more questions they have.

Poker with Stephen Hawking

In one of the best cameos on the series, famed astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking appeared as himself in the opening scene of Season 6 finale, "Descent." An admitted fan of the show, Hawking had apparently asked for a cameo on the series, and writer Ronald D. Moore (creator of the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot) was thrilled to have a chance to make it happen (via The Wrap). It all happens aboard the holodeck, where Commander Data has summoned three of history's greatest minds to play a game of poker. He reasoned that playing a friendly game of poker with the likes of Hawking, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein would provide a "useful forum for exploring the different facets of humanity." 

We're not sure what Data got out of the encounter, but it was a delightful treat for fans. The scene includes several great gags, including Einstein struggling with basic addition as he calculates his bet, and Isaac Newton being a grumpy and boastful sort. Of course, Hawking gets the best of the scene, telling a physics joke about the "perihelion of Mercury" and winning the game with four sevens and a king.

An onscreen conundrum

The producers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were known to pack background details full of fun easter eggs. Season 5 episode "Conundrum" provides one such moment for fans to pause and read the details on a computer terminal. The episode begins with the crew having their memories wiped and struggling to figure out what's going on. While Geordi is locked out of the computer's biographical files of the crew, he is able to get access the ship's manifest. 

As he scrolls through the list of senior bridge officers, the screen flashes with images of Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, and others. A pause and a closer look reveals that screens actually provide never-before-seen background details on some of the show's most important character — including the years they attended the academy, as well as the names of their parents. Some of this info has never been found elsewhere, making the easter egg the only the source for some of these notable canon details.