In the Futurama episode Where No Fan Has Gone Before, the wisecracking robot Bender describes Star Trek as having “79 episodes — about 30 good ones.” And, if we’re being honest, Bender’s not wrong. Across the franchise, there are now roughly 900 canonical installments, and out of a field that large, there are naturally dozens, even hundreds of entries that you can simply disregard. Of course, like any fanbase, Trekkies contain multitudes, and we don’t all agree on which episodes deserve the scrap heap.
- 10. The Time Trap (TAS season 1, episode 12)
- 9. Monsters (Picard season 2, episode 7)
- 8. The Galileo Seven (TOS season 1, episode 17)
- 7. Move Along Home (DS9 season 1, episode 10)
- 6. Remember (Star Trek: Voyager, season 3, episode 6)
- 5. Peak Performance (TNG season 2, episode 21)
- 4. Conundrum (TNG season 5, episode 14)
- 3. … But to Connect (Star Trek: Discovery season 4, episode 7)
- 2. Children of Time (DS9 season 5, episode 22)
- 1. Calypso (Short Treks season 1, episode 2)
One fan’s space junk is another fan’s latinum, and there’s no accounting for taste. We’ve selected ten episodes from across the history of the franchise that some fans might tell you to skip, but that we think deserve your attention. Is one of your dark horse faves on our list? Have we gone to bat for an episode you wish would be erased from the space-time continuum? Follow us to the salvage yard and find out…
Star Trek: The Animated Series, which ran for 22 episodes in the early 1970s, is unquestionably the weirdest corner of the Star Trek canon. The aim of the show was to continue the voyages of the USS Enterprise without the production constraints of live-action television. The writers — many of whom had worked on The Original Series — could let their imaginations run wild and introduce more otherworldly aliens, settings, and situations.
This new series would even reunite most of the original cast, essentially allowing it to serve as a fourth season of Star Trek. That may sound like a great idea, but the result was a cheap-looking, weirdly paced, and stiffly acted cartoon that was too heady for a young audience and too sloppy for adults. Naturally, the show has its defenders, but most Trekies will tell you that only one episode is worthy of your attention, and that’s Yesteryear. But, if you were looking to try a second TAS episode on for size, we’d recommend The Time Trap.
To call The Time Trap a hidden gem is probably an exaggeration, but it’s a charming adventure story that demonstrates the ambition and scale of The Animated Series. In this episode, the Enterprise gets lost in the galactic equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, a strange pocket of space from which there is apparently no escape. There, they find the survivors of countless other ships that have gone missing there, representing over a hundred other worlds, and must work together in order to break free. The Time Trap illustrates (literally!) the lush diversity of the galaxy and, in true Star Trek fashion, teaches that we are all at our best when we combine our unique talents to face challenges as one.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the second season of Picard is top-shelf Star Trek. The 10-part time travel story is spread much too thin, and none of the show’s younger cast is served particularly well. The season does, at least, contain some interesting exploration of its title character, digging into the origins of his commitment issues and some repressed childhood trauma. The climax of this arc comes in Monsters, when a comatose Picard (Patrick Stewart) hallucinates an intense therapy session with an unnamed counselor (guest star James Callis). Their scenes together make for a terrific bit of stage play, and they only become more interesting on a second viewing, with the awareness of the counselor’s true meaning and identity.
The rest of the episode might not be as interesting, as it follows the rest of the underdeveloped cast and their respective subplots, but in the midst of a dismal season, Monsters is a reminder of why we watch Star Trek: Picard in the first place — to watch Patrick Stewart freaking act. Here, opposite a terrific scene partner, we get to see Sir Patrick do what he does best, plumbing into the depths of a character that he’s spent decades getting to know.
It might be a stretch to declare any episode from the celebrated first season of Star Trek to be “underrated.” Seven of our top 10 TOS episodes come from Trek’s inaugural year, after all, but The Galileo Seven was never a serious contender, and in hindsight, that’s a shame. In this episode, a science team led by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is stranded on a hostile planet with little hope of rescue. The seven survivors must find a way to repair their ship while also fending off attacks from the planet’s inhabitants — eight-foot-tall cave people armed with spears and shields. As the danger grows and people start dying, tempers are running hot — except for Spock’s of course, and that’s only making matters worse. Spock wants to get his crew home safely as much as anyone, but his calm and mechanical decision-making is easily mistaken for apathy.
The Galileo Seven makes for an interesting study of conflicting value systems and modes of expression. It’s also a case of addition by means of subtraction — In most Star Trek episodes, it’s up to Kirk to make the big decisions, based largely on the input of Spock’s logical mind and McCoy’s bleeding heart. Take Kirk out of the equation, and Spock and McCoy find their differences much harder to reconcile. If you’ve ever watched classic Trek and asked “Why isn’t Spock the captain?” The Galileo Seven has your answer, all without cutting the character’s legs out from under him.
There’s a subset of Star Trek fans that tends to conflate silliness with stupidity, that rejects episodes with low stakes and goofy conceits as “skippable.” While there’s no accounting for taste, we think these galactic grumps are doing themselves a disservice, especially when it comes to Deep Space Nine. On the whole, DS9 is one of the darkest, heaviest series in the franchise, but that heft is counterbalanced by at least a handful of wacky comic adventures per season. They’re not all gems, but they’re often a breath of fresh air that evokes the color and camp of The Original Series. Move Along Home is among the first of DS9’s comedic interludes, and is frequently cited as one of if not the single worst episode of the show. Nonsense! Sure, it’s no In the Pale Moonlight, but it’s a perfectly entertaining romp.
In this episode, a delegation from the far-off Gamma Quadrant arrives at the station, but rather than talk trade deals or cultural exchanges, they’re only interested in gambling at Quark’s casino. But when Quark, predictably, cheats them out of their winnings, the visitors challenge him to a game of their own, one in which Sisko, Dax, Bashir, and Kira are the playable characters — whether they like it or not! Doesn’t that sound like a good premise for a Lower Decks episode? We hope you’ll give it a shot. Roll those dice.
We covered many of our favorite underrated episodes in our rather unconventional list of the top 10 Voyager episodes, but we have one more dark horse pick we thought was worth mentioning here. In Remember, Voyager takes on passengers from the planet Enaran Prime, an apparently friendly people with telepathic abilities. When chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) starts having vivid dreams about witnessing genocide on an alien planet, she deduces that these visions are actually the memories of one of their guests. But whose memories are they, and why is she receiving them? B’Elanna is determined to see how the story ends, even as the strain from receiving these transmissions becomes more than her body can bear.
Remember is, transparently, a Holocaust allegory, but the veil of science fiction allows the audience to examine such a tragedy from angles they might not have considered. Rather than center the story solely on the victims of genocide (as we rightly tend to do when talking about real history), Remember interrogates the experience of being a bystander to unspeakable crimes. How does one turn a blind eye to racism or xenophobia? How does one justify their inaction? When the hideous truth becomes impossible to deny, how do they live with themselves? Remember meditates on these questions while also offering a complicated role to one of Voyager’s most underserved characters.
The first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are infamously rough, and Trekkies will often advise curious new viewers to watch only a few essential episodes before jumping aboard with season 3. Peak Performance isn’t “essential” by any means, but it’s a fun, light-hearted episode that’s not quite like any other hour in the franchise. Here, Picard’s crew is challenged to participate in a war game exercise — against each other! Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) hand-picks a team to repair a derelict Starfleet ship that is theoretically no match for the state-of-the-art Enterprise and tries to defeat it in simulated combat. It’s essentially the Star Trek equivalent of one of those X-Men issues in which the Mutants play baseball, and who doesn’t love those?
While it’s not exactly the deepest or most cerebral TNG episode, it’s great fun to see our Starfleet heroes let their hair down within the context of a space adventure, as opposed to in some genre-mashing holodeck fantasy. There’s a sense of warm camaraderie throughout, not only within each team but between opponents, as they test their skills against each other in friendly competition. And though the story itself may not be profound, it does include Jean-Luc Picard’s single greatest nugget of wisdom: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness — That is life.”
The Next Generation excels at “bottle shows,” episodes in which the characters don’t visit any new locations and meet a bare minimum of guest stars. While they’re usually created to help a production save money for use in more ambitious episodes, bottle shows can make the most out of these budget constraints and focus on character over spectacle. In Conundrum, the entire population of the Enterprise has their memories selectively altered, suppressing their identities and personal experiences but leaving their skills intact. Confused about who they are and how they got there, Picard and company learn that the Federation is at war and its survival depends on the Enterprise destroying an enemy base. With their memories faulty and their computers erased, the crew has no choice but to follow orders, but can they really trust what they’ve been told?
Conundrum is an intriguing thought experiment that cuts to the core of each member of the Enterprise crew. Who is a person without their memories? Which parts of oneself are immutable, and which are the result of lived experience? The episode explores this question from multiple angles, but the most eye-opening is the case of Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), an acerbic Bajoran officer embittered by a youth spent suffering under Cardassian rule. Who might Ro have been, had she not become so hardened to the world? Is she, perhaps, more fond of people — Will Riker in particular — than she lets on? Conundrum’s memory gimmick shuffles up all of the character relationships and creates new dynamics to explore, along with a mystery to solve.
Star Trek: Discovery is, for the most part, properly rated as “mid,” and it’s hard to isolate individual episodes from the season-long arcs in which they’re nested. Now and then, however, one chapter will stand out as an example of what Discovery — or Star Trek as a whole — does best. Positioned in the middle of the 10-part “Dark Matter Anomaly” arc, …But to Connect divides its attention between a pair of debates, one with galactic stakes and one that’s much smaller but no less important.
At Federation HQ, Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) attempts to convince the assembled leaders to attempt peaceful contact with the extragalactic aliens whose gauge mining has laid waste to several star systems. There’s good drama here, with Burnham and her boyfriend Book on opposite sides of a difficult debate, but the more interesting conversation is happening aboard Discovery, where Federation scientist Dr. Kovich (guest star David Cronenberg) presides over what is essentially an HR dispute between Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and the ship’s sentient AI, Zora (voice of Annabelle Wallis).
You read that right — The HR dispute is the story we’re here to talk about. The issue on the table is that Zora, Discovery’s main computer, has become self-aware enough to experience emotions and refuse orders. Stamets is nonplussed about the idea of a sapient being with access to the sum of all knowledge and to every sensor on the ship and suggests that Zora should be altered into something less threatening. At first glance, this seems like a fair position, but as the episode unfolds and the debate gets deeper and more existential, it becomes less about the dangers of AI and more about the rights of any individual to be their complete self, in public. If one person finds another’s behavior or lifestyle uncomfortable, which party should have to make adjustments? Without putting too fine a point on it, … But to Connect becomes an argument for tolerance across divisions like sexuality and gender performance, and one of the streaming era’s best “message episodes.”
Deep Space Nine is known for boldly going to dark places where other Star Trek series would not. Dilemmas don’t always have a clear solution, protagonists aren’t always on their best behavior, and sometimes they flat-out lose. Children of Time is a time travel story with an intriguing setup: The Defiant crew encounters a planet populated by their own descendants. According to the locals, the Defiant is destined to crash-land there, two centuries in the past. Though they’ll be trapped on the planet, they will go on to lead full lives and build a lasting community. With foreknowledge of this accident, it should be possible for Sisko and company to avoid it and leave the planet safely, but doing so will mean that the entire colony, their own great-grandchildren, will never exist.
Children of Time presents the crew of the Defiant with an impossible choice and makes that choice as complicated for the audience as it is for the characters. The planet Gaia is a wonderful place, a monument to the unity and perseverance of its founders, and so much more. A new culture has been created, one in which the show’s main characters are ancient folk heroes. But, in order for that culture to exist, Deep Space Nine, the show, has to end, and we know that’s not happening. So, how are our heroes/the writers going to get out of this jam? We’re not expected to believe that they’re really going to erase all these nice people from time, right? …right? Children of Time is a top-tier Star Trek episode, and it’s a testament to DS9‘s overall quality that this one doesn’t pop up on more Best Of lists.
Between the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, CBS Studios launched Short Treks, which is exactly what it sounds like: A series of short films set in the Star Trek universe. The first patch of Short Treks mostly tied directly into Star Trek: Discovery, following up on threads from the first season or setting up a few for the second. One of the shorts, however, is a standalone story written by novelist Michael Chabon, set hundreds of years after the known Star Trek canon, A lonely traveler calling himself Craft (Black Adam‘s Aldis Hodge) stumbles across the derelict USS Discovery, whose only surviving resident is its AI, Zora. Alone together in the vastness of space, Craft and Zora develop a rapport that blossoms into a romance, but Craft has places to be, and Zora can’t go anywhere.
Calypso is a warm, emotional short film that works just as much on its own as it does as an episode of Star Trek, and is far and away the best work to emerge from the brief Short Treks experiment and one of the best Treks of the 21st century. Though generally enjoyed by fans, Calypso’s residence in an obscure corner of the Trek library means that casual viewers are likely to miss it while they binge through Paramount+. We think that’s a shame, and while we’re not itching for a direct sequel, we’d love for Short Treks to return with more sweet standalone experiments like this one.
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