As a good “friend” once told me, “Chris, it’s not so much that you are a nerd; it’s the fact that you glory in it.” So, in unabashed nerd style and in honor of the upcoming premiere of the new “Star Trek: Picard” television series, I’m here to count down the Top Ten Best Jean-Luc Picard Episodes of all time. These are the voyages that captured my adolescent imagination and continue to influence my own storytelling to this day. If you’re a Trekkie yourself, please feel free to chime in below. If you’re not a Trekkie, then you should be, and watching these ten episodes featuring the greatest Star Trek captain ever would be a very good place to start.
10. “The First Duty”: “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth!” In this episode, the captain confronts a young protégé who has strayed from the straight and narrow. The episode also marks the introduction of Boothby, the wise old Academy groundskeeper played by “My Favorite Martian” actor Ray Walston.
9. “Chain of Command, Part II”: “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was always at its best when it handed Sir Patrick (yes, the actor was knighted by the queen) a script and got out of his way. This particular outing is all about putting two marvelous actors (David Warner plays the villain) in a room together and letting them have at it. The result is mesmerizing television.
8. “Who Watches the Watchers?”: TNG didn’t really hit its stride until the third season, and this was perhaps the episode when, as a kid, I noticed there was something palpably different (and better) about the show. Picard grapples with the fallout from a member of a primitive race catching a glimpse of the Enterprise crew and their advanced technology.
7. “The Measure of a Man”: I don’t like courtroom dramas. They almost always strike me as hokey, but Picard’s spirited defense of the beloved android Data is such a wonderful showcase for both the character and the actor who plays him, I’m forced to admit this list wouldn’t be complete without it.
6. “Tapestry”: The captain dies and meets his old nemesis, Q, at the pearly gates. Q offers Picard the chance to go back and change the greatest mistake of his youth, which he does, only to discover that the lessons learned from that event were what shaped him into the man he would ultimately become.
5. “Darmok”: Picard is stranded on a strange world with an alien captain who speaks only in metaphors, and the two of them must learn how to communicate and work together before a mysterious beast kills them both. This poignant, thought-provoking episode represents the best Trek has to offer.
4. “Yesterday’s Enterprise”: OK, so maybe this isn’t a true Picard episode, but I’m including it here because it’s a great time travel story that illustrates more of what makes the captain a hero: His implicit trust in his crew (in this case, Guinan) and his resolve to do the right thing no matter the cost.
3. “The Inner Light”: I might argue this episode is the pinnacle of all things Trek. Captain Picard gets zapped by a probe from an extinct alien civilization, and in a matter of minutes he lives an entire lifetime on that civilization’s home planet. He has a wife and children and gets to experience the family life he never enjoyed otherwise. Why? So the long-dead alien race can be remembered. In the final moments, the captain finds himself back on the Enterprise, alone in his quarters, with the only remnant of his experience: A flute he learned to play in his other life. He puts the flute to his lips and begins to play in a moment that is as haunting as it is beautiful.
2. “Family”: This quiet little episode comes on the heels of one of the most exciting action pieces in franchise history, and so I sometimes think it gets overlooked. Picard returns home to the family vineyard in France after a traumatizing ordeal at the hands of Starfleet’s most lethal enemy and finds a jealous brother – and a charming young nephew who wants nothing more than to grow up to be a starship captain like his uncle. There are, understandably, cracks in the captain’s psyche. For perhaps the first time in the series, Picard is vulnerable, and this is where he begins to heal.
1. “All Good Things …”: Patrick Stewart is in every scene of this two-hour series finale. The episode is a sort of riff on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (fun fact: Sir Patrick used to perform a one-man version of A Christmas Carol on Broadway) with the mischievous Q whisking Picard across past, present, and future to give him an opportunity to save the universe one last time. I’m a sucker for great endings, and it’s the final scene of this one that always gets me. The good captain, finally, after seven years in command of the Enterprise, joins his senior officers for their customary off-duty poker game. “I should have done this a long time ago,” he says as he looks wistfully about the room and then begins to deal. It’s as pitch-perfect a television send-off as you’ll ever see: “So, five-card stud, nothing wild, and the sky’s the limit …”
Can you tell I’m just a wee bit excited to catch up with the captain? You should be too. “Star Trek: Picard” premieres January 23, 2020.