First, let’s be clear: Ranking the best “Star Trek” episodes is a silly thing to do. To date, the longest-running American TV franchise has aired a gargantuan 890 episodes and counting, starting with the original series in 1966. Since then, at least one “Star Trek” TV show has aired (or streamed) every decade, totaling 11 so far (with more on the way). Choosing the best episodes within such a boundless, occasionally contradictory storytelling galaxy seems about as wise as cheating when playing poker with a Klingon.
On the other hand, there may be no more time-honored tradition among “Star Trek” fans than a vigorous debate over what constitutes the best of the franchise. (Best series? Best captains? Best starships? Best aliens? Best uniforms? They’ve all been ranked multiple times!)
In that spirit — and to commemorate the 57th anniversary of “Star Trek” on Sept. 8 — Variety’s resident “Trek” geeks have ranked the top 57 episodes of all time, across the franchise.
Creating our list required some deep-dish nerdiness in its own right: We compiled a long list of episodes from each series that we felt deserved to be on the final ranking. Then we created our own individual rankings — and promptly realized our taste was quite divergent. To reconcile our lists, we adopted the approach of the great movie ranking podcast, Screen Drafts: We took alternating turns placing a pick from 57 to 1, and we each had two opportunities to veto the other’s pick (which in every case was to ensure it was placed higher on the list).
Other than the short-lived “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (1973-1974), this list reflects every other iteration of “Trek” on TV: “Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-1969); “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994); “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999); “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001); “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005); “Star Trek: Discovery” (2017-2024); “Star Trek: Picard” (2020-2023); “Star Trek: Prodigy” (2021-2022); and the ongoing “Star Trek: Lower Decks” (2020-present) and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (2022-present).
The Way to Eden
“The Original Series” — Season 3, Episode 20
Look, this episode gets a lot of hate. But the fact is “TOS” is known (by today’s standards) for being very campy, and there is no episode campier than this one. A group of space hippies board the Enterprise on their journey to a mythical planet called Eden, where they can live happily forever. The episode memorably features Charles Napier (who would go on to a long career playing tough guys, villains, cops and the like) breaking out into song a bunch of times, including a jam session with Spock (Leonard Nimoy). —Joe Otterson
Original airdate: Feb. 21, 1969
“Enterprise” — Season 4, Episode 21
More than any other episode of “Enterprise,” “Terra Prime” made the most of the show’s mission to dramatize the beginnings of Starfleet, 100 years before the events of “TOS.” Just as a newfound coalition of planets begins to form on Earth (a precursor to the Federation), Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew must stop a xenophobic terrorist (played to the hilt by future “Star Trek Into Darkness” villain Peter Weller) bent on forcing all aliens to leave Earth. Subtle, it ain’t, but the story feels more relevant today than it did 20 years ago, and everyone in the cast gets a moment to shine. Alas, it came too late: “Enterprise” had been canceled before this episode even went into production. —Adam B. Vary
Original airdate: May 13, 2005
“Prodigy” — Season 1, Episode 6
The animated “Prodigy” was the first “Star Trek” series geared toward kids, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t things for older “Trek” fans to enjoy. In particular, “Kobayashi” perfectly embodies what makes this show a worthy entry in “Trek” canon. Dal (Brett Gray) and Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas) discover the holodeck aboard the Protostar, where they decide to go through the Kobayashi Maru, a.k.a. the “no-win scenario” that Capt. Kirk successfully beat during his time at the Academy. He gets help along the way from legendary characters like Spock, Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Odo (René Auberjonois). —J.O.
Original airdate: Jan. 6, 2022
“Discovery” — Season 4, Episode 6
On a mission to discover the origins of a cataclysmic gravitational anomaly, the U.S.S. Discovery enters a subspace rift and finds itself trapped inside a lethal black void that threatens to collapse in on the ship. The result is a classic race-against-time thriller (directed by “Trek” mainstay Jonathan Frakes), but what makes “Stormy Weather” stand out amid the heavily serialized episodes of “Discovery” is its emotionally resonant use of the ship’s sentient A.I. computer, Zora (Annabelle Wallis), who has to learn how to calm her mind from overwhelming stimuli in order to guide the ship out of danger. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Dec. 23, 2021
“Picard” — Season 3, Episode 3
“Picard” didn’t find itself until Season 3, which reunited the core cast of “The Next Generation” — and it was really Episode 3 that sealed the deal. Riker (Frakes) is forced to take command of the Titan as Vadic (Amanda Plummer) and the Shrike hunt them. Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Dr. Crusher get an all-time great scene together as she reveals why she never told him about their son, Jack (Ed Speleers). Worf (Michael Dorn) makes his big return. We learn the Changelings are still intent on attacking the Federation. Riker and Picard end up at odds in a way we’ve never seen before. In short, epic. —J.O.
Original airdate: March 2, 2023
The Enemy Within
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 5
The transporter — the cause of, and solution to, so many “Star Trek” problems — accidentally splits Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) into two people: Good Kirk, who is wracked with indecision, and evil Kirk, who is a histrionic asshole. Come for a meditation on the darkness that lies tucked inside everyone’s psyche, stay for some of William Shatner’s most deliciously hammy acting — and this was just the fifth episode of the series! —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Oct. 6, 1966
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 3, Episode 23
The Ferengi episodes of “DS9” are always great comic relief, with this episode giving fans their first view of the home planet of Ferenginar and Ferengi culture in general. Quark (Armin Shimerman) and Rom (Max Grodénchik) must return home when their mother, Ishka (Andrea Martin), is accused of acquiring profit (gasp!), something Ferengi females are forbidden to do. Shimerman and Martin shine as they play out Quark and Ishka’s relationship, while Grodénchik really gets to put his comedic chops on display. This episode is also notable as the first appearance of Brunt (Jeffrey Combs) from the Ferengi Commerce Authority, as well as Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson Jerald), frequent love interest of Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks). —J.O.
Original airdate: May 15, 1995
Blink of an Eye
“Voyager” — Season 6, Episode 12
The Voyager gets stuck in orbit around a planet where time passes far more rapidly than in the rest of space, as the episode alternates between the bemused curiosity of Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew and the awestruck preoccupation of the expeditiously progressing populace on the planet below, for whom Voyager is a sparkling, fixed constant in the night sky. At one point, the Doctor (Robert Picard) beams down to the planet to investigate, and a delay of only a few minutes on Voyager means he spends three years on its surface. He even adopts a son! One of the great, wild what if? episodes of “Star Trek.” —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Jan. 19, 2000
“The Next Generation” — Season 3, Episode 23
Mark Lenard absolutely crushed the role of Spock’s father, Sarek, in multiple episodes across multiple “Star Trek” series and movies, but this episode is perhaps his finest performance as the character. Sarek comes to the Enterprise-D on what is meant to be his final mission, only for the crew to learn he is suffering from Bendii Syndrome. The condition leaves him prone to uncharacteristic emotional outbursts while also causing him to telepathically influence the emotions of those around him. Picard saves the day by mind melding with Sarek, allowing him to finish his mission with dignity — and provide Stewart with the chance for some powerhouse acting as he channels Sarek’s volcanic emotions. —J.O.
Original airdate: May 14, 1990
“Enterprise” — Season 3, Episode 10
“Trek” loves a moral dilemma, and this one’s a doozy: After Cmdr. Tucker (Connor Trinneer) is critically injured while the Enterprise is on a deep space mission, Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) suggests growing a “mimetic symbiote” of Trip — effectively, a clone with a built-in two-week lifespan — in order to create the brain tissue needed to save Trip’s life. But that means the Enterprise crew must endure watching Trip’s clone rapidly age from a precocious kid to an adult man (played by Trinneer with eerie self-possession), who then pleads for his own right to live. Creepy and heartbreaking in equal measure. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Nov. 19, 2003
Trials and Tribble-ations
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 5, Episode 6
This episode is a love letter to the original series, with the Defiant’s crew transported back in time to the events of “The Trouble With Tribbles.” A Klingon agent is planning to use a booby-trapped tribble to assassinate James T. Kirk. Thanks to digital editing, the crew is able to interact with the original Enterprise crew and keep the timeline intact. —J.O.
Original airdate: Nov. 4, 1996
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 2, Episode 23
Mirror universe episodes of “Star Trek” are (almost) always fun, if ultimately a little silly. But this one — in which Kira (Nana Visitor) and Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) find themselves in an alternate reality in which Bajor, Cardassians and Klingons subjugate humans as slaves — comes closest to matching the spark of discovery in the original “TOS” episode. It’s especially fun to watch Visitor devour the role of Kira’s deliciously wicked mirror counterpart, the Intendant. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: May 16, 1994
“Strange New Worlds” — Season 1, Episode 4
This episode proved “Strange New Worlds” — the newest “Star Trek” series — could be as action-packed as the very best of “Star Trek.” The Enterprise crew find themselves on the run from the Gorn, a savage enemy (first introduced on “TOS” and largely ignored in “Trek” canon) about which they know virtually nothing. They are forced to use every resource at their disposal to outwit and outrun the Gorn, including tapping into the subconscious of La’an (Christina Chong), the only crew member who has encountered the aliens and survived. —J.O.
Original airdate: May 26, 2022
“Voyager” — Season 5, Episode 10
The main story is a tense, WWII allegory: Capt. Janeway and her crew hide telepathic refugees while passing through the space of the Devore, who have outlawed telepaths. But the real story is the relationship Janeway forms with the lead Devore inspector, Kashyk (Mark Harelik), who suddenly shows up alone and announces he’s defecting. As Kashyk aids Janeway in finding safe harbor for the refugees, she realizes how much he’s her intellectual equal, and she finds herself drawn to him — in spite of (or perhaps spurred on by) her continued suspicion of his motives. A great, subtle performance by Mulgrew captures both Janeway’s steely wits and her private yearning. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Dec. 16, 1998
“The Next Generation” — Season 4, Episode 21
“Star Trek” has done a number of courtroom episodes, and this is one of the best. Rear admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons) is sent to investigate suspected sabotage aboard the Enterprise. The investigation quickly spirals into paranoia and accusations of treachery against a crew member who is revealed to have Romulan lineage. It is an excellent reminder of what can happen when persecution is dressed up as an attempt at greater security, with Picard using Satie’s father’s teachings to bring about her downfall. —J.O.
Original airdate: April 29, 1991
“The Next Generation” — Season 7, Episode 8
More thwarted romance! The seasons-long will-they/won’t-they between Picard and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) gets its best showcase, when the pair are captured by isolationist aliens and given implants that allow them to read each other’s thoughts. You get the feeling Stewart and especially McFadden had been dying to play out this dynamic on the show, so they both bring years of sublimated longing to the episode. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Nov. 8, 1993
In the Hands of the Prophets
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 1, Episode 20
Louise Fletcher’s performance as Vedek Winn (later Kai Winn) ranks among the best “Star Trek” villains of all time. Deeply religious to the point of fanaticism, Winn protests Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) teaching children on Deep Space Nine that the wormhole aliens are not deities, as many Bajorans believe. Winn’s words whip Bajorans on the station into a frenzy; Keiko’s school is bombed. But what Winn really desires is power, to the point she tries to get one of her followers to kill a fellow Vedek she sees as a threat. The episode sets up Winn’s role as a major antagonist throughout the series to great effect. —J.O.
Original airdate: June 21, 1993
The Trouble With Tribbles
“The Original Series” — Season 2, Episode 15
If you’ve seen any episode of “TOS,” chances are it’s this one. While on shore leave at a space station, the Enterprise comes upon an adorably furry alien creature called a tribble, which are born pregnant, multiply exponentially, consume enormous quantities of food and react with alarm when in the presence of a Klingon. Fizzy and funny and, to this day, one of the best-known episodes of “Trek” ever. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Dec. 29, 1967
Balance of Terror
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 14
Introducing the Romulans alone makes this episode worthy of being on the list. But it’s also an epic cat-and-mouse game between Kirk and a Romulan commander played by none other than Mark Lenard, who would go on to play Sarek starting in Season 2. Kirk successfully lures the Romulan ship into a trap, leading to Lenard delivering the iconic line, “You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.” —J.O.
Original airdate: Dec. 15, 1966
“The Next Generation” — Season 4, Episode 20
John de Lancie never disappoints when he plays Q, but this episode offered a wonderful twist on his usual appearances. Following the events of “Deja Q,” Q returns to the Enterprise saying he owes Picard a debt. Picard repeatedly tells Q he wants nothing from him, but Q notices Picard has eyes for Vash (Jennifer Hetrick), the mercenary archeologist Picard first met on Risa. Being Q, he naturally transports Picard, Vash, and the bridge crew to a Robin Hood fantasy in which Picard must rescue Vash from the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Clive Frevill). Added bonus: Worf, in scarlet tights, exclaiming in protest, “I am not a merry man!” —J.O.
Original airdate: April 22, 1991
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 18
The classic “trial by combat” episode that pitted Kirk against a Gorn captain on a barren, rocky planet (i.e. the storied filming location Vasquez Rocks). Few images from “Star Trek” have become more iconic than the original Gorn costume, which was essentially an actor dressed as a large lizard. The ending is also an all-timer, with Kirk choosing to spare the Gorn, proving to the all-powerful Metrons that set up the trial by combat that humans are capable of more than just random violence. —J.O.
Original airdate: Jan. 19, 1967
A Mathematically Perfect Redemption
“Lower Decks” — Season 3, Episode 7
“Star Trek’s” first pure comedy (and second animated series) often plays as a twisted love letter to the entire “Trek” franchise — like when Peanut Hamper (Kether Donohue), one of the sentient Exocomp robots first introduced on “The Next Generation,” abandons the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos in a time of need. This episode tracks Peanut Hamper’s journey to redemption afterwards, which involves her encountering a seemingly primitive species called the Areore. To say anything more would spoil the fun; suffice it to say, “Trek” has rarely provoked gasps of deep laughter like this episode does. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Oct. 6, 2022
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 4, Episode 15
What better episode of “Star Trek” to talk about after Hollywood’s hot labor summer? Fed up with the unfair conditions at Quark’s bar, Rom talks the other workers into forming a union and going on strike. Max Grodénchik truly shines in this episode as the would-be union leader. Once Rom successfully gets Quark to agree to all the workers’ demands, he outright quits and goes to work as a repair technician for the station, setting up some of Rom’s best moments in the episodes to come. —J.O.
Original airdate: Feb. 19, 1996
“Voyager” — Season 5, Episode 26 & Season 6, Episode 1
The Voyager swoops to the rescue of the Equinox, another Federation starship stranded in the Gamma Quadrant — only this one, led by Capt. Ransom (John Savage), is a smaller ship not meant for deep space travel. With their crew whittled down to just 12 people, Ransom has resorted to murdering alien creatures to use their bio-matter to boost the Equinox’s engines — a horrific violation of everything Starfleet stands for. The discovery pushes Janeway to her own limits, as she obsessively pursues the Equinox despite the cost to her own crew and her morality. The two-parter is one of the darkest episodes of “Star Trek,” a chilling reminder of how easily good people can find themselves slipping into disgrace. —A.B.V.
Original airdates: May 26, 1999 & Sept. 22, 1999
Who Mourns for Morn?
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 6, Episode 12
Morn (Mark Allen Shepherd) was a “Deep Space Nine” fixture, always at Quark’s bar, but never actually speaking onscreen. But in this episode, with Morn apparently dead in an accident, everyone reveals the offscreen times they spent with him, including the revelation that he “never shuts up.” Quark inherits all of Morn’s property, which Odo relishes revealing is ultimately nothing. But as it turns out, Morn had a much more adventurous life before his time on “DS9” than anyone knew, leading his former comrades to seek him out to get a hold of the money they believed he still possessed. —J.O.
Original airdate: Feb. 4, 1998
“Discovery” — Season 4, Episode 12
Other than the Gorn, almost all of the aliens on “Star Trek” are, essentially, humans with slightly different forehead ridges. But in its most recent season, “Discovery” embraced “Trek’s” prime directive (seeking out new life, bolding going where no one’s gone, etc.) by crafting a species that is truly alien: the Ten-C. Throughout the season, the Ten-C are presented as both a total mystery and an existential threat; when Capt. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the crew of the Discovery finally reach them — outside the barrier of the Milky Way galaxy — they are unlike anything the show has ever encountered. Rarely has “Trek” applied more intellectual and emotional rigor to what it might actually be like to attempt first contact with extra-terrestrials, and rarely has it been this compelling. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: March 10, 2022
A Man Alone
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 1, Episode 4
Odo is one of the best characters in “DS9” — and in the “Star Trek” universe — in general, and this is the first episode to really establish him as a standout . A known criminal returns to the station only to die shortly after, and Odo is accused of his murder. Odo’s status as an outsider, but ultimately someone to be respected, is made crystal clear in this episode, with even his archenemy Quark acknowledging that Odo is not the type to murder someone in cold blood. —J.O.
Original airdate: Jan. 17, 1993
“The Original Series” — Season 2, Episode 4
The transporter strikes again, this time accidentally zapping Kirk, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Scotty (James Doohan) and Bones (DeForest Kelley) from their reality into a parallel universe in which the benevolent Federation has been replaced by the bloodthirsty Terran Empire, governed by brute force and fascistic exploitation — and Spock has a goatee! More silly than serious (and no less fun for it), the episode effectively spawned an entire sub-genre of parallel universe episodes of TV (from “Supernatural” to “Friends”) and gave generations of actors a chance to play wildly against type. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Oct. 6, 1967
“The Next Generation” — Season 4, Episode 2
People rave about “The Best of Both Worlds” and Picard’s assimilation by the Borg, but fewer remember this incredible follow-up episode. Picard returns to his family vineyard to put the Borg incident behind him, even briefly thinking that he will leave Starfleet. Jeremy Kemp crushes it as Picard’s brother Robert, with the two sharing a memorable (and muddy) scene in which Picard breaks down and admits how much his assimilation has shaken him. The episode is also memorable for the appearance of Worf’s adoptive parents, who come to the Enterprise to be with him following his discommendation. —J.O.
Original airdate: Oct. 1, 1990
“Voyager” — Season 4, Episode 23
For several minutes, “Living Witness” seems like a mirror universe episode, as a ruthless Janeway, captain of the “warship” Voyager, agrees to aid the Vaskans against the insurgent Kyrians by unleashing a biological weapon upon millions and executing the Kyrian leader. But then we realize that we’ve just witnessed a recreation at a Kyrian museum 700 years in the future, at which point a copy of the Doctor enters the story and learns, to his horror, how much the Kyrians have gotten wrong. What could have been a Rashomon-style caper instead becomes fascinating meditation on how the telling of history can be weaponized, even inadvertently, to maintain old wounds rather than heal them. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: April 29, 1998
“The Next Generation” — Season 5, Episode 7 & 8
Spock appeared on “The Next Generation” a month before the release of 1991’s “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — but this time, at least, crass cross-promotion prompted some sublimely entertaining TV, as Picard and Data (Brent Spiner) aid Spock in his effort to reunify the Romulan and Vulcan peoples. [Stefon voice]: This two-parter has everything: Klingon warbirds, rude Ferengis, Tasha’s evil Romulan daughter Sela (Denise Crosby), Data and Spock philosophizing on their twin pursuits of logic and emotion, the death of Sarek, Work singing Klingon opera with a four-armed bar pianist, and Picard and Spock mind-melding! —A.B.V.
Original airdates: Nov. 4 & 11, 1991
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 7, Episode 9
Gul Dukat is the best villain in “Star Trek.” Yes, you read that right. The writers and actor Marc Alaimo created an incredibly nuanced character that goes through a remarkable arc over the course of the series. This episode, near the end of “DS9’s” run, reminds fans that Dukat sees himself as a savior, but is ultimately a force for evil. He establishes a cult dedicated to the Pah wraiths on Empok Nor, luring a number of Bajorans to his side. But of course, he also sleeps with his female followers and tries to trick them into a mass suicide. Amazing stuff. —J.O.
Original airdate: Nov. 23, 1998
The Last Generation
“Picard” — Season 3, Episode 10
The cast of “TNG” infamously never got their swan song, after 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” bombed in theaters, so this series finale serves as a gift both to them and to “TNG” fans. Every character gets their spotlight, including the resurrected Enterprise-D, as Picard, Riker, Dr. Crusher, Data, Worf, LaForge (LeVar Burton) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) all help to take down the Borg once and for all. The final scene — everyone sitting around a poker table, laughing and reminiscing — is as pure and satisfying an expression of fan service as anything “Trek” has ever done. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: April 20, 2023
“The Next Generation” — Season 3, Episode 13
Until this episode, Q was an enjoyably malevolent force within “TNG,” an omnipotent being who’d gleefully pop up now and again to play with the lives of the Enterprise-D crew. But here, when Q suddenly appears on the bridge, he’s been stripped of all his powers (and all of his clothes) and begs Picard for safe harbor. At first, no one believes him — even after Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) stabs him with a fork — which only fuels John de Lancie’s sparkling performance, as Q confronts life as (shudder) a mortal human. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Feb. 3, 1990
An Embarrassment of Dooplers
“Lower Decks” — Season 2, Episode 5
The title refers to an alien called a Doopler, who duplicate themselves whenever they get embarrassed — which, naturally, becomes an issue the moment one steps foot on the Cerritos. But really, this episode is one of those deeply enjoyable “Trek” episodes that is less about story than it is about the vibes, as the characters spend their downtime winningly contending with the central premise of the show: The bittersweet contentment of life at the bottom of the ladder. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Sept. 9, 2021
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 2, Episode 19
The lives of the past hosts of the Dax symbiont are a recurring plot device on “DS9,” and no episode does it better than this one. A group of Klingons who knew Curzon Dax arrive at the station and enlist Jadzia’s (Terry Ferrell) help in killing their sworn enemy, a criminal known as The Albino who killed the three Klingons’ first-born sons. Jadzia ultimately honors the blood oath, as the episode explores the meaning of honor and solidarity. —J.O.
Original airdate: March 28, 1994
Where No Man Has Gone Before
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 3
The famed second pilot episode of “Star Trek” (which introduced William Shatner as Capt. Kirk) is a strange artifact today: Bones and Uhura aren’t aboard yet, Sulu (George Takei) isn’t at the helm, the Enterprise has a psychiatrist (played by Sally Kellerman), and the uniforms and sets look a bit off. But the central story — Kirk’s best friend, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood), is zapped by an energy blast at the edge of the galaxy, and begins to exhibit extraordinary psychokinetic powers — is vintage “Trek”: Brainy, brawny, and just the right side of uncanny. And it’s fascinating now to see how well-established Kirk and Spock’s dynamic of emotion vs. logic was from the very start. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Sept. 22, 1966
The Measure of a Man
“The Next Generation” — Season 2, Episode 9
Data’s quest for humanity is at the very core of “TNG,” and this stirring episode literally puts that quest on trial — and establishes the show’s voice for the rest of its run. A Starfleet scientist wants to dismantle Data in order to create more androids, but Data refuses, setting up an intense courtroom drama — is Data merely a machine and the property of Starfleet? — with Picard representing Data while Riker is forced to represent the scientist. —J.O.
Original airdate: Feb. 13, 1989
“The Next Generation” — Season 4, Episode 26 & Season 5, Episode 1
The Klingons started on “Trek” as a not-that-thinly-veiled metaphor for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, but over the decades, they’ve developed their own richly detailed mythology. This two-parter (which aired just before the fall of the USSR) depicts a civil war within the Klingon Empire that leads to Worf’s decision to leave the Enterprise and join the fight. For a series that was episodic by design, this is the closest “TNG” ever got to serialized storytelling, incorporating events from several previous episodes — including the shocking introduction of Tasha’s Romulan daughter, Sela. —A.B.V.
Original airdates: June 17, 1991 & Sept. 23, 1991
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 1, Episode 11
It is endlessly entertaining to see Quark get what he wants as he then learns that it’s way more trouble than he realized. This episode sums that idea up nicely, while also featuring the first of many wonderful appearances by Wallace Shawn as Ferengi leader Grand Nagus Zek. Zek unexpectedly names Quark his successor, only for Zek to die shortly after. Quark is thrilled at first, before he realizes being the Nagus puts a massive target on his back. This episode also helps build the friendship between Nog (Aron Eisenbeg) and Jake (Cirroc Lofton), with Jake secretly teaching Nog how to read. —J.O.
Original airdate: March 22, 1993
Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy
“Voyager” — Season 6, Episode 4
Yearning to grow past his programming, the Doctor allows himself the ability to daydream, in one of the flat-out funniest episodes of “Trek” ever. It opens with Robert Picardo singing opera as Tuvok (Tim Russ) undergoes pon farr (i.e. the madness to mate that consumes Vulcan males) and just gets wilder from there, up to the moment when the Doctor, who’d fantasized about taking over command of Voyager in an emergency, does it for real. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Oct. 13, 1999
“The Original Series” — Season 2, Episode 1
Speaking of pon farr, this is the “TOS” episode that first establishes it — as well as the planet Vulcan, several Vulcan customs and traditions, and the now legendary Vulcan salute (honorable mention: Spock actually smiles!). Wracked with pon farr, Spock asks for leave back on his home planet, and eventually reveals that he must meet his betrothed, T’Pring (Arlene Martel). Naturally, Kirk and Spock end up in a fight to the death in one of the most iconic battles in “Star Trek” history. —J.O.
Original airdate: Sept. 15, 1967
Year of Hell
“Voyager” — Season 4, Episode 8 & 9
The most lasting criticism of “Voyager” is that every week, no matter what happened in the previous episode, the ship and crew emerged unscathed and ready for a new adventure. As if in response, this two-parter tracks a year in which the Voyager is ravaged to the point of near ruin by repeated encounters with an aggressive alien species called the Krenim. Unbeknownst to the crew, they’re actually the victims of a Krenim scientist, Annorax (Kurtwood Smith), who developed a technology to alter the fabric of time by erasing entire species from ever existing. This is as harrowing and merciless as “Trek’s” ever been, but it’s not quite the best episode of “Voyager” due to the irony of its ending: Janeway crashes the husk of the Voyager into Annorax’s timeship — which resets the timeline completely, as if nothing that we’d seen had ever happened. —A.B.V.
Original airdates: Nov. 5 & 12, 1997
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 3, Episodes 11 & 12
“Star Trek” often addresses timely societal issues, but this episode put them firmly in a 21st century context. Sisko, Bashir, and Dax accidentally wind up in San Francisco circa 2024, where poverty and oppression of the disadvantaged are running rampant (crazy how that remains timely, huh?). When a man meant to serve an important purpose in an historic riot is accidentally killed too soon, Sisko is forced to take his place. —J.O.
Original airdate: Jan. 2, 1995 & Jan. 9, 1995
Those Old Scientists
“Strange New Worlds” — Season 2, Episode 7
In one of the rare “Trek” crossover episodes, Ens. Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Ens. Mariner (Tawny Newsome) from “Lower Decks” find themselves zapped back to the era when Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) captained the Enterprise. Marshalled by Jonathan Frakes’ steady hand as a director, the disparate tones of “Lower Decks” and “Strange New World” somehow mesh perfectly, and hilariously, together. Packed with guffaw-worthy laughs, “Those Old Scientists” also becomes a deeply poignant expression of the impact “Trek” has had on generations of fans. Maybe it’s controversial to place one of the most recent “Trek” episodes so high on this list, but this one more than earns its spot. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: July 22, 2023
The Best of Both Worlds
“The Next Generation” — Season 3, Episode 26 & Season 4, Episode 1
This two-parter is frequently cited as the best “Next Generation” storyline of all time, mostly because it features one of the most iconic cliffhangers in all of television. The Borg attack the Federation, leading to a showdown with the Enterprise. Picard is captured and assimilated, revealing himself to his crew as Locutus of Borg. If we’re splitting Borg nano-probes, the second half doesn’t quite live up to the first, which is why, for us, it doesn’t quite rank into the Top 10. Special shoutout to this episode for setting up the incredible “Star Trek” film “First Contact.” —J.O.
Original airdate: June 18, 1990 & Sept. 24, 1990
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 1, Episode 19
When a Cardassian named Marritza (Harris Yulin) arrives on Deep Space Nine, Kira realizes he must have worked at one of the most notorious labor camps during Cardassia’s occupation of Bajor, and she arrests him as a war criminal. What follows is effectively a two-hander, as Kira’s interrogation of Marritza leads to a series of revelations that unmoor her hard-won fury at the atrocities inflicted upon her people. The conventional wisdom is that “DS9” didn’t get cooking until the Dominion War, but this early episode proves that this show was providing great, searing drama from the start. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: June 14, 1993
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 22
Ricardo Montalbán makes his debut as Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically superior dictator from Earth’s Eugenics Wars. Khan and his people have been in suspended animation for 200 years and are looking to dominate humanity once again. Naturally, Kirk is able to beat Khan in a riveting confrontation, but rather than send him and his people to a penal colony, he agrees to let them settle on the wild planet, Ceti Alpha V. The episode proved to be so good, it led to the 1982 film “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan,” arguably the best “Trek” movie of all time. —J.O.
Original airdate: Feb. 16, 1967
“Voyager” — Season 5, Episode 6
There’s something about time travel — and the twisty narrative paradoxes it can cause — that has engendered some of the best episodes of “Trek” ever made. That certainly includes this stunning “Voyager” episode, which opens with Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran), 15 years in the future, discovering the frozen husk of the Voyager buried inside a glacier on a barren ice planet. It turns out Kim made a critical mistake that caused the catastrophic accident, from which only he and Chakotay survived. Their unyielding fixation to right that wrong — and erase the previous 15 years from history — makes for a gripping nail-biter about regret and devotion. Not only did LeVar Burton direct, but he cameos as Capt. Geordi La Forge! —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Nov. 18, 1998
“The Next Generation” — Season 3, Episode 10
Did a Romulan admiral really defect to the Federation, or are the Romulans perpetrating an elaborate hoax on Picard and the Enterprise crew? This wonderful episode sees the admiral in question (played by James Sloyan) claiming the Romulans are building a secret base within the Neutral Zone, forcing Picard to consider whether or not he should investigate and thus risk starting a war. It also features the excellent opening in which Picard tries to teach Data about humanity by having him act out scenes from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” —J.O.
Original airdate: Jan. 1, 1990
Chain of Command
“The Next Generation” — Season 6, Episode 10 & 11
Lured into Cardassian territory under false pretenses, Picard is captured and systematically tortured by a ruthless interrogator, Gul Madred, in a chilling performance by David Warner. Their disturbing tête-à-tête — Picard is stripped naked and nearly broken by the end — would be enough for one of the all-time best “Trek” episodes. But this two-parter also boasts Ronny Cox as Capt. Jellico, Picard’s replacement on the Enterprise, whose prickly and demanding leadership style creates all kinds of thrilling friction among the crew. —A.B.V.
Original airdates: Dec. 14 & 21, 1992
In the Pale Moonlight
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 6, Episode 19
In this fantastic episode, Sisko grapples with the ethics of doing whatever it takes to get the Romulans to join the Dominion War on the Federation-Klingon side. This includes falsifying evidence and freeing a known criminal from Klingon prison with the help of master spy Garak (played by the always wonderful Andrew Robinson). Sisko (while recording a personal log) delivers a series of powerful monologues direct to camera about why he did what he did, ultimately deciding it was worth it in the end. —J.O.
Original airdate: April 13, 1998
The City on the Edge of Forever
“The Original Series” — Season 1, Episode 28
Accidentally hopped up on stimulants, a crazed Bones leaps through a time portal on an alien planet and winds up changing history so drastically that the Enterprise disappears. Kirk and Spock travel back to stop him, and land in New York City during the Great Depression, where they learn that Bones saved the life of Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), a pacifist whose message resonates so strongly that the U.S. stays out of WWII, allowing the Nazis to conquer Europe. Alas, Kirk falls deeply in love with Keeler, establishing a classic “Trek” moral dilemma: How does one suppress their most profound personal feelings for the greater good? An all-timer that still resonates today. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: April 6, 1967
Far Beyond the Stars
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 6, Episode 13
In this Avery Brooks-directed episode, Sisko envisions himself as a Black science fiction writer in 1950s New York named Benny Russell. Russell dreams up a story about the crew of a space station led by a Black captain, but his publisher refuses to run it. This episode is memorable for many reasons, the biggest of which being its handling of racism, but it also allows the show’s main cast gets to appear without any prosthetics or makeup, as completely different characters, to great effect. —J.O.
Original airdate: Feb. 9, 1998
“The Next Generation” — Season 3, Episode 15
The Enterprise-C, believed to have been destroyed over 20 years earlier, emerges from a temporal anomaly and resets history into a decades-long war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Tasha — killed off in Season 1 (after Denise Crosby wanted to leave the show) — is brought back to life, and falls for the Enterprise-C’s helmsman (Christopher McDonald), while Guinan implores Picard that something is desperately wrong with history and he must send the Enterprise-C back to certain doom. Somehow, this episode crams a movie’s worth of story into a nimble and rousing 44 minutes. Not a second is wasted. Outrageously great. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: Feb. 19, 1990
The Inner Light
“The Next Generation” — Season 5, Episode 25
When the Enterprise comes upon a mysterious probe, Picard is suddenly hit with a signal that plunges him into a different man’s life on a dying planet. There, Picard experiences half a lifetime, with a wife, children and grandchildren, all in the space of 25 minutes. When Picard realizes this was all meant as a time capsule — a way to preserve the stories of the people of the planet, which was destroyed 1,000 years earlier by an exploding star — the revelation that he lived the life he’d long forsaken as a Starfleet captain, only to have it ripped away, is almost more than he can bear. But hoo boy, does it make for stunning, deeply moving television. In fact, almost no episode of “Trek” is better. Almost. —A.B.V.
Original airdate: June 1, 1992
“Deep Space Nine” — Season 4, Episode 2
Don’t watch this one without tissues handy. This emotionally devastating episode gets right to the heart of what made “DS9” so special — the relationship between Sisko and his son, Jake. Told in flashbacks by an elderly Jake (Tony Todd), the episode recounts how Sisko became unstuck in time, briefly revisiting Jake over the course of his life, and how Jake is determined to bring him back. In brief, fleeting moments, Sisko tells Jake not to worry about him and to live his life to the fullest. But Jake cannot bear the thought of losing his father forever, ultimately sacrificing his own life to restore the normal flow of time. —J.O.
Original airdate: Oct. 9, 1995