Let me start by saying that Star Trek: The Next Generation was a great series. Episodes like The Big Goodbye, The Measure of a Man, and The Inner Light were dramatic, brilliant morality tales. Mind-bending episodes like Parallels, Future Imperfect, and Frame of Mind added cool twists to the science fiction genre. The show lasted seven seasons, launched four films, and won 19 Emmys, among other awards.
But... there were also some episodes that were just plain terrible. Either the premise just didn't work, or characters acted inconsistently, or there was no sense of danger. While I celebrate TNG as a landmark in sci-fi storytelling, it's worth remembering that the show wasn't always traveling at warp speed. Here are the worst of the best.
Code of Honor
Encounter at Farpoint was the series pilot. Next came The Naked Now, a retelling of the Original Series episode The Naked Time. Then came this atrocity. It takes place on a planet whose people live by a strict code of honor, similar (we are told) to tribal Africa on Earth. And wouldn't you know it, every character on this planet is played by an African-American. Worse, the alien leader dismisses his female life mate in favor of Tasha Yar, who is of course played by a white woman.
Adding to these awful racial stereotypes was the conclusion, which involved a duel between the leader's mate and Tasha, a clunky plot device used a lot on TOS. For a show that was so progressive, it was an odd, tone-deaf step backwards. These days, it's often left out of syndicated reruns because it's so distasteful. As far as I know, No Trek series ever again featured a planet peopled by actors of a single race.
The "terrors" in this episode aren't ghosts or monsters—they're poor sleep habits! The Enterprise gets stuck in a spatial anomaly that prevents the crew from dreaming. This causes them to become irritable, confused, forgetful, which are real symptoms known by doctors today. But it makes for incredibly boring viewing to see Picard and La Forge stammer and pause and.
Another bad choice involves Troi, the only character who can dream because of her Betazoid psychic abilities, but who experiences a recurring nightmare that involves flying through a storm in an entirely unconvincing way. Producer Rick Berman said of the episode, "[T]here wasn't anything very terrifying in it." Jonathan Frakes later remarked, "It was below our standard."
Force of Nature
This strange episode gives almost equal time to two very different storylines: The idea that warp travel is harming space... and Data's problem training his cat. In the first case, the idea is sound, and provides a proxy for our culture's own environmental threats. But the scientists who make the discovery are dour, and constantly doubted, and their struggle becomes annoying—and it puts our noble crew on the wrong side of the issue.
As for the plot about Data's cat, Spot, well, let's just say I'm a cat owner and cat lover and this was still too much cat. The conversation Data and La Forge have about the problem, while crawling through Jeffries tubes, feels like a parody—it's so boring and so silly that you wait for a punchline that never comes. The warp issue, which should have been a big deal, would come up several more times on TNG but was then quietly forgotten.
You know you're in trouble when characters start wearing masks. And the masks control their minds. And the Enterprise turns into an ancient temple. This convoluted, out-there episode is only entertaining due to Brent Spiner's portrayal of four distinct characters, but he claimed he didn't have enough time to prepare (something like 12 hours after the previous episode) and wasn't satisfied with his work.
Producer Ronald D. Moore recalled looking at the script and thinking, "Jesus, what is this?" Spiner claimed, "We were laughing at each other's faces at the acting we were doing." Empire magazine named this the worst episode of the entire series, a (dis)honor usually reserved for Code of Honor.
I started this list with a racist episode, so let's end with a sexist one. The Enterprise crew journeys to the planet Angel I in search of survivors of a freighter disaster. The planet is ruled by women, with men in subservient and sexualized roles. Their leader falls for Riker, of course, makes him wear a chest-bearing outfit and giant ear cuff, and easily seduces him. When the survivors are found, the leader wants to execute them for "heretical teachings"—that is, advocating gender equality.
Riker saves the day by convincing her that equality is inevitable, though he and others keep referring to it as "evolution." The term makes the process sound slow, random, and outside our control; perhaps not the best endorsement of women's rights. And if all the men on the planet are short and slender and "feminine," why is the leader so attracted to masculine Riker? Producer Maurice Hurley flatly called Angel One "Terrible. Just terrible. One of the ones you'd just as soon erase."
What's your least favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Beam your thoughts to the comments.