The 12 Best Star Trek Episodes for Celebrating Captain Picard's Return

These episodes sum up the best captain in Starfleet.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
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The return of Jean-Luc Picard to a yet-to-be-named Star Trek show marks the return of a cultural icon. Patrick Stewart's run with the character from 1987 through 1994—and continuing on with films through 2002—solidified Star Trek as transformative piece of sci-fi. While the show's ensemble cast was crucial to its success, the fate of The Next Generation clearly hung on Stewart's portrayal of a tough-minded, fair, and empathic captain who's equal parts Atticus Finch and Captain America.

The bar was set high from the beginning. In the show's first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint," Picard enters an inter-dimensional courtroom where he is put on trial for all of humanity's crimes. By the episode's end, he's given time to prove the worth of our species, using the next seven seasons to make the case.

Although Picard makes nearly every episode of The Next Generation a better one, these twelve help define Picard as The Next Generation of starfleet and the captain for a new generation of Star Trek fans.

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"Allegiance"

Season 3, Episode 8

By TNG's third season, the show was suffering under the Captain's severity. "Allegiance" has a clever solution, one that feels more in tune with The Twilight Zone than the Federation— Picard is kidnapped with 3 strangers trapped in a room by an unknown force. He must step out of his role as a commanding officer to get free.

Meanwhile, a poorly created clone of Picard begins to act on some of the Captain's inner desires—singing, flirting with the ship's doctor, Beverly Crusher. An early attempt to both loosen up the character and show his problem solving abilities that proved mostly successful.

2 of 12
"The Measure of A Man"

Season 2, Episode 9

Many of Picard's best moments were standing up for those under his command. Star Trek loves putting people on trial, and watching Picard defend the android Data, who refuses to be disassembled, showed his ability to grow.

After questioning Data's decision, he listens to the android's reasoning. Would Picard force all humans to wear enhanced visors to improve their vision? He comes to believe that even widespread societal gains cannot come at the expense of another sentient being and makes that case with gusto during the episode's climax.

3 of 12
"Redemption, Part One"

Season 4, episode 26

"Mr. Worf, your discommendation is a facade to protect less honorable men. It is a lie. Lies must be challenged."

Picard refused to look at any two scenarios the same way. While Data needed patience and philosophy to escape Bruce Maddox, with Lieutenant Worf he argued for a more Klingon approach. Walking the line between the feudal dramas of Klingon politics, including the delightfully devilish antagonists Lursa and B'etor, Picard refuses to let Federation principals of non-interventionism be used again him.

4 of 12
"The Drumhead"

Season 4, Episode 21

One of TNG's clearest metaphors, Picard stands against the forces of McCarthyism, the Salem witch hunts, and panics which cause people to throw away their ideals. When a conspiracy is uncovered aboard the Enterprise, it quickly devolves into attacking people with the wrong heritage. Picard issues a stirring defense of civil liberties that is relevant in any century.

5 of 12
"Family"

Season 4, Episode 2

One of The Next Generation's more unusual episodes, "Family," deals with the aftermath of the most vicious assault Picard ever faced—the robotic invasion of his body by the Borg, transformed against his will into killing millions. He goes to his childhood home for the first time in nearly 20 years to meet his brother Robert.

It goes poorly. The two bicker, tensions boil over into a fight within the Picard family's ancestral vineyard. There, covered in mud, Picard is able to admit the pain of the abuse he has suffered under the Borg for the first time as well as his guilt in playing a role in harming so many.

Accused of arrogance early in the episode, Stewart is able to find a vulnerability within Picard that makes for a terrific hour of television.

6 of 12
"Chain of Command, Part II"

Season 6, Episode 11

Picard faces his torturers head on this episode, this time the fascist analogues are Cardassians. Lured in by a false rumors of a bioweapon, Picard finds himself under four hot lights, naked, drugged up, and induced with so much pain he can barely function. All he has to do is tell his captor that five lights hang above his head instead of four.

Something of a response to Orwell's 1984, "Chain of Command" argues that even if a person can be broken, they can hang on to the things that make them human.

7 of 12
"...All Good Things"

Season 7, Episode 25

"The trial never ended, Picard."

For the show's finale, Picard was put through his most rigorous paces: hurtling through different periods of time by the godlike entity Q, Picard is forced to deal with those who he loved believing him to have lost his sanity. Continuous circumstances rapidly change around him, forcing him to evolve humanity forward if he wants to live.

And in the end, he learns to open up and play poker with his friends, which is what searching the galaxy really means in the end.

8 of 12
"The Inner Light"

Season 5, Episode 25

Like other Star Trek episodes, "The Inner Light" has Picard stranded on an unknown planet. But here, he is given the name Kamin, and everyone seems to know him. He's not treated like a prisoner, but cannot find a way to escape. He eventually settles into this new life. He makes friends, learns to play the flute, and even has a family.

What he discovers about the plane—and what happens to him in the process—is among the most stunning turns in any Star Trek script.

9 of 12
"Captain's Holiday"

Season 3, Episode 19

Not all the great Star Trek episodes are weighty, dealing with issues of torture or memory. "Captain's Holiday" is a 3rd season romantic adventure that, like the previous year's Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, was convinced that archaeology was a fun, sexy pursuit entailing seduction and constantly being held at gunpoint.

While Picard had several romantic flings, none quite captured the tension he shared with tomb raider Vash. A lawless rogue, the chemistry between the two was one of the show's most intriguing pairings.

10 of 12
"Starship Mine"

Season 6, Episode 18

Die Hard on the Enterprise. That was the premise writers went into with "Starship Mine," and it works. Picard shows his physical determination in this episode, as well as his weak spot for horseback riding.

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"Darmok"

Season 5, Episode 2

When people ask for an entry point into the expansive world of Star Trek, there are few better starting episode than "Darmok." Picard and his crew find their curiosity in other cultures pushed to the absolute limit by a species known as the Children of Tama, whose language is completely incomprehensible. Despite tons of rising tension, a frustrated Picard refuses to resort to violence.

The Next Generation consistently wanted to tell its viewers that reaching out to other cultures can be a difficult, frustrating process, but one that is ultimately worth the effort. With the cleverness of a riddle, "Darmok" is one of the most effective messages the show ever delivered.

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"Tapestry"

Season 6, Episode 15

The ultimate Picard episode. The Next Generation gave many versions of Jean-Luc, but with none of the failure seen in "Tapestry."

One of only five episodes to lack the show's signature stardate, "Tapestry" deals with Picard's younger life in Starfleet Academy. Given a chance to correct the mistakes of his youth by the omnipotent, Picard finds himself turning into a shell of the man he once knew.

Star Trek is ultimately about humanity's ability to grow beyond its current limits. "Tapestry" displays that drama on a human level, showing how a person's mistakes throughout their lives can make them stronger.

"Tapestry" makes the clearest case of any Star Trek episode that Picard can be a stand-in for humanity, growing from flaws and refusing to bow to fear. Hopefully, we'll see Picard to the same very soon.

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