Category Archives: First Contact

The best (and worst) of Trek

Our 18-month mission to … tell you about Star Trek’s most pivotal episodes is (maybe?) over. We haven’t decided yet whether we’ll tackle the rebooted movies or the new series. But one thing’s for sure …

We still have a few things to say about Star Trek.

When we started this blog, we didn’t want it to be a site where we just reviewed every episode. Other sites, like Jammers Reviews, do that well enough. But now, as we close this project, we wanted to identify our 10 favorite episodes in all of Trek, including the movies. Some of these appeared in our Tapestry, others didn’t.

First, some honorable mentions: “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Mirror, Mirror”, “The Measure of a Man”“Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “Improbable Cause”/”The Die is Cast”, “The Way of the Warrior”, “Timeless”, “Twilight”, “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”.

Now, here’s our top 10. Note that this includes a couple of multipart stretches.

“One day, I’ll make Voyager even worse…”

10. “Star Trek: First Contact” — Easily the best of the TNG movies. It’s gritty, visceral and still optimistic with a good supporting cast while being the only TNG film that feels all that consequential. The flawed Borg Queen concept is a slight ding — and it paved the way to defanging the Borg on Voyager — but it’s still a great film.

9. “Azati Prime”/ “Damage”/ “The Forgotten” — Enterprise’s peak in arguably the most daring, and probably the most morally questionable, stretch of Trek episodes, which worked well in the years immediately following 9/11. It’s not Roddenberry’s Trek, but it’s good TV and as edgy as anything the franchise did.

9. “The Trouble with Tribbles” — Trek’s best comedy and also an episode that shows why TOS endures: the chemistry among the cast members. Kirk dressing down Scotty and others for getting in a fight with Klingons is still a thing of beauty.

7. “In the Pale Moonlight” — The episode where DS9 decided to not even pretend to be like the rest of Star Trek. It’s controversial as it makes Sisko, in effect, a criminal, which was just incredibly daring for 1998 TV. It might have been higher on the list if the scope issues that DS9 struggled with — i.e., a handful of people on the station can change and have no problem with changing the balance of galactic affairs — had been better handled.

6. “The City on the Edge of Forever” — Many fans’ favorite, but not ours. Arguably, it had been built up too much by the time we saw it and wasn’t as original in the 1990s as it was in the 1960s. Still, a great episode with Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley absolutely bringing it.

"Shall we swipe left or right keptin?"
“Shall we swipe left or right, keptin?”

5. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” — Trek’s best film. Shatner and Nimoy are pitch-perfect and the story is a great mix of action and science fiction. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not really a Trek fan.

4. “The Inner Light” — Simply an amazing episode in which Picard lives an entirely different life as a way for a dying civilization to not be forgotten. The final scene with Picard in his quarters, as he re-acclimates with his real life, is a gut punch in the best way. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t see more consequences in subsequent episodes and that Picard, more or less, is back in regular form the next week.

3.  “The Visitor” — DS9’s finest episode as Sisko is lost and Jake spends the rest of his life trying to find him. We were often critical of Avery Brooks, but he was absolutely great in this episode. As poignant as Trek gets.

2. “Space Seed” — The setup to the second film is incredible to watch. That it was on television in 1967 is amazing, as Khan’s manipulation of Lt. McGivers is very edgy and provocative. Kirk’s decision to let Khan try to build a world rather than putting him in prison is classic TOS, in that it’s morally justifiable and intellectually curious but also a dangerous and questionable call.

Inform Admiral Kanye, this is the best two-parter OF ALL TIME.
“Inform Admiral Kanye, this is the best two-parter OF ALL TIME.”

1. “The Best of Both Worlds” — No surprise here. This two-parter has everything, and set the stage for cliffhangers for the next 25 years. Jonathan Frakes — often marginalized in late TNG — puts in his best performance and the Borg, as an implacable threat, still seem menacing today. Even the scene where Riker chooses his first officer is great. I would go as far as saying it’s a perfect two-parter, except for the somewhat rushed ending. It’s also bolstered by the idea that Picard wasn’t back at his desk the following week. In fact, he struggled with his experiences immediately after he’s rescued and in the following years.

And now, the bottom 10 (after some dishonorable mentions): “The Alternative Factor”, “The Lights of Zetar”, “Haven”, “Dark Page”, “Star Trek: Insurrection”, “Ferengi Love Songs”, “Spirit Folk”, “The Disease”, “Precious Cargo”, “Extinction”.


10. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” — The strangest entry in the film franchise. It’s light and jokey at points and heavy and ponderous at others — but it consistently avoids anything approaching subtlety. Co-written by William Shatner, the movie seems intent on lionizing Kirk while painting Spock as weak and evasive (the scene in the brig being the worst example). Worse, the script humiliates Scotty and Uhura.

9. “Course: Oblivion” — One of a handful of episodes that shows exactly what was wrong with Voyager. Instead of using a strong cast and a great concept to write compelling stuff with the REAL Voyager, the creators used those things with a FAKE Voyager. Worse, the fake Voyager should have easily known that it was a fake Voyager, invalidating the whole premise of the episode. And how did the fake Voyager crew build a fake Voyager and survive for like a year outside of the only environment that could support it?

8. “Code of Honor” — Weirdly racist and definitely uninspired. It feels more like third-season TOS than TNG, which sort of makes sense, as it was just the third TNG episode. Still, it’s hard to understand what the creators were thinking.

These are just clips from other BDSM books I've read?!!!?
“These are just clips from other BDSM books I’ve read?!!!?”

7. “Shades of Gray” — The awful Riker flashback episode partly necessitated by a writers’ strike. Yuck.

6. “Profit and Lace” — The worst of DS9’s awful Ferengi episodes. Quark in drag? What drivel. DS9’s obsession with having two Ferengi-centric episodes a year was just ridiculous.

5. “Fascination” — Lwaxana Troi comes to DS9 and everybody — well, at least the main cast and the regular guest stars, minus Sisko — gets horny. WTF, creators?

4. “Threshold” — The most scientifically awful episode in second-generation Trek. It didn’t make the top spot because there’s SOME good work by Robert Duncan-McNeil and it was an attempt at something new and different.

3. “A Night in Sickbay” — Archer as a total huffy asshole, with moronic aliens and a ceremonial apology involving a chainsaw. Oh, and a totally unnecessary sexual fantasy from Archer about T’Pol. The Archer/T’Pol relationship — at least in the prime reality — was professional and friendly, not romantic. Throwing a sex dream from Archer in there really belittled the show.

And, we have a tie for Trek’s worst episode:


1. “And the Children Shall Lead” — Wow. What an absolute train wreck. The kids are annoying and awful, the villain behind their behavior is horribly acted and conceived and even the editing is bad. While “Spock’s Brain” and “The Way to Eden” are the most infamous episodes of TOS, “And the Children Shall Lead” is BY FAR the worst.

Beverly, you've got nothing on Mrs. Darcy...
“Beverly, you’ve got nothing on Mrs. Darcy…”

1. “Sub Rosa” — Of all the awfulness in TNG’s seventh season — it’s worse than season one, folks, as the creators should have known better after six-plus years of the series — this episode is just cringe-worthy. Crusher was the most neglected of the TNG regulars, and it’s a shame that one of the few episodes to feature her is this hideous mess. She falls in love … with a freaking ghost.

That’s it for Trek Tapestry.

Or is it …


“Star Trek: First Contact”

“Captain, have you been watching ‘Star Wars’? What is up with that vest?”

The Borg are back, but the new Enterprise-E is told to stay out of the fighting, as Starfleet is worried former-Borg Picard could be a liability. Of course, he defies orders, heads to Earth and successfully destroys a cube in Earth’s orbit. Before it explodes, a small sphere emerges and travels back in time — apparently changing history. The Enterprise follows, and determines that the Borg want to stop humanity’s first warp flight by killing its inventor, Zefram Cochrane (see “Metamorphosis”). The Enterprise destroys the sphere, but not before it attacks Cochrane’s facility and beams drones to the Enterprise. Riker and Geordi head to the surface and help Cochrane (James Cromwell) — who’s a drunk and isn’t the paragon of virtue history paints him to be — while Picard must try to save the ship from the Borg. Data is captured by the newly introduced Borg queen (Alice Krige) and Picard sets the ship on autodestruct — to prevent the Borg from taking it over and stopping Cochrane. Before he leaves, Picard tries to save Data, who has apparently switched sides on the Borg queen’s promise of having real skin grafted onto his body (or something) but ends up double-crossing the Borg and allowing Picard to kill the queen. Cochrane’s flight continues (mostly) as planned and a Vulcan ship sees the flight and makes first contact. The Enterprise returns home, with history restored.

The Enterprise-E, ladies and drones.

Why it’s important

This movie, aside from being mostly very good, explains a lot of Trek’s backstory and is a touchstone for “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Humanity joins a larger galactic community after these events, although it really makes its biggest steps about a century later.

This movie also shows more background on the Borg (some of which is dumb) and is consequential in that humanity was saved twice by the Enterprise crew (first in the initial battle and, then, in the 21st century).

Lastly — and maybe most importantly — we see the new Enterprise-E for the first time. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for its predecessor, but the new Enterprise was pretty badass.

“Says here, you two will be the Enterprise’s B team for the rest of the movie franchise.”

What doesn’t hold up

The movie’s biggest conceit is that it totally ignores everything that happened in “Descent”. There’s no mention of the individual Borg seen in that episode or why Picard was allowed to defend the Federation then but not in this movie. Or, why Riker — who saved Earth from assimilation in “The Best of Both Worlds” — is excluded, as well. Basically, the reason for keeping the Enterprise-E out of the fight is dumb. It would have made more sense if the ship had been late to the fight because it was too far away. Of course, the fact that the Enterprise can leave the Neutral Zone and get to Earth in the course of the battle has never made even a bit of sense. Essentially, the battle would have had to last for DAYS for the Enterprise to make it in time.

One also wonders why the entire Enterprise crew (save Worf) is serving on the new Enterprise with the same rank. Seems like any one of them could have gone onto greener pastures, particularly with the natural break after the destruction of the previous Enterprise.

Speaking of Worf, it was fun to get him back into the fold by having him command the Defiant in the Borg attack. By this point in the Trek timeline, he was stationed on DS9. But it’s kind of ridiculous that he’s the only DS9 character on the Defiant during the attack. Even if Sisko and some of the others (Kira and Odo, certainly) stayed on the station, why Dax, O’Brien and Bashir aren’t on the Defiant is never explained. Also, the Defiant survivors got absorbed pretty quickly into the Enterprise crew (or, were assimilated).

There’s also the matter of Cochrane in this movie compared with his first appearance in “Metamorphosis”. Besides the fact that James Cromwell looks NOTHING like Glenn Corbett, the two characters sure don’t act alike. Corbett’s Cochrane talked about decency and was weirded out when he learned the Companion had an intimate relationship with him. Cromwell’s Cochrane is a drunk who built the warp engine to get to an island full of naked women. Hmmm …

Also, it’s odd that the Borg chose to try to stop Cochrane in the days before first contact. Why not go to Earth and kill Cochrane as a child — or destroy Cochrane’s complex weeks or months before first contact? There’s no advantage to them arriving right before the event, other than to allow the Enterprise crew to see and be part of the first warp flight.

There are a few other stray items, like why Picard brought Data down to the planet initially. There’s just no way to justify that, considering it’s a primitive culture in which Data sticks out like a sore thumb. But, basically, this movie sets up the Picard-and-Data shoot-’em up approach we see for the rest of the Trek movies. That’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t play to the characters’ strengths from TNG and it marginalizes nearly all of the other characters. Riker and Geordi essentially become the leaders of the B team starting here. The funniest example comes in “Star Trek: Insurrection” — which we won’t review — when the entire senior staff joins Picard, going against orders. Picard is in civilian clothes (planning to leave the ship) and Data, Worf, Troi and Crusher all arrive in civilian clothes as well. Riker and Geordi, though, are in uniform. At that point, it was unclear whether Picard would allow anyone to join him. But he relents, and asks Riker and Geordi to stay on the ship. It’s almost as if those two — and only those two — knew they’d be left behind and dressed appropriately. Or that Picard picked who would join him based on who had changed into civilian attire.

Back to “First Contact”, it does seem that Picard values Data more than just about anyone else. That’s not necessarily a problem — they are, of course, close — but Picard’s decision to go save Data is over the top. It’s justified by him realizing he’s been callous about his disregard for crewmembers who were assimilated earlier. But it’s awful convenient that he had that realization only in time to save Data.

Final thoughts

This really is a good movie, even if it’s more violent than just about any other Trek film. The first contact stuff works quite well — the reveal that the aliens are Vulcans was nicely done — and the Borg action (particularly the space battles) is great.

But the Borg stuff on the Enterprise is kind of annoying. Why don’t more of the Starfleet officers start using bladed weapons — or even replicating bullets? To go to hand-to-hand combat after the Borg neutralize the phasers was really stupid. Hell, Picard uses a machine gun in the holodeck! Why didn’t he replicate a few dozen of those?

I’m not going to get too deep into the Borg Queen stuff, as I don’t absolutely hate the idea and realize it might have been necessary for exposition. But it does run counter to a lot of what we know AND the forced retcon from “The Best of Both Worlds” really was odd. Why the creators decided to make the queen an active part of Picard’s assimilation way back when never made a ton of sense.

Coming next week …

The Enterprise crew has one last mission before it breaks up — and the music of Irving Berlin plays a big role. Hmmm.