We had seven years to get to know Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and what a seven years they were. While Kirk will probably always be “Star Trek’s” most recognizable captain, Picard really showed us what a Starfleet captain could and should be. He’s a diplomat, he’s a warrior and he even makes for a damn fine Robin Hood. Picard wore many hats and all with aplomb. However, he wasn’t just a triumphant commander. We also got to see the man behind the captain plenty of times, all of them just as affecting as when he’s in full duty mode.
If “Star Trek” is meant to be an example of the heights humanity can achieve, Picard is the living embodiment of that philosophy. It’s high time someone made him a(nother) tribute list.
15. YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE
This episode makes the list because, despite his obvious tactical abilities, due to the relative peacetime the Federation experiences during the run of “TNG,” we don’t get to see Picard lay down the badass very often. Not so in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the episode that taught us all to handle the timeline with care. Due to an unfortunate mishap with the Enterprise-C and some sort of space-time rip, everything goes all timey-wimey and in the blink of an eye, we’re in an alternate timeline in which the Federation is in a losing war with the Klingon Empire. Whoops!
While everything is 100% terrible in this version of history (except for Tasha Yar’s brief return), it is a magnificent look into the darker, but still noble side of Picard. He’s a hardened battle commander and it’s obvious why he’s still the commander of the Federation flagship in a time of war. He struggles with Guinan’s insistence that things are just wrong here, but his faith in a better future for his people shines through. He makes the tough call and sacrifices his ship to make sure the Enterprise-C “completes its mission.” During his final scenes, Captain Jean-Luc Picard remains on the bridge till his last moments, defending the Enterprise-C while it makes its way through a rift in time back to where (and when) it came from. It’s truly epic.
14. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
During the first three seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” audiences watched Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision for humanity come back to life. Then they watched as the Borg threatened to shake that idealism to its very core. While it was never very likely that the Borg would ultimately claim victory, they got closer than any enemy had ever gotten and they even stooped so low as to wear Picard’s face while they were doing it.
“The Best of Both Worlds” allows us to watch as the Borg threaten to erase humanity from the universe, while simultaneously showing us what that would look like at the human level. Picard is the embodiment of the best of humanity, and we watch as it’s slowly stripped away from him, piece by piece. And just when it looked like Picard might not be consciously aware of what was happening to him, the camera zooms in and catches a single tear escape from his eye. It’s beautifully chilling and truly terrifying.
13. ALL GOOD THINGS
“All Good Things” is widely regarded to be one of the best series finales in television history. It beautifully wrapped up (in the Trekkiest of ways) the story of the Enterprise crew and, most notably, Picard’s. Challenged by Q to solve a paradox that would serve as yet another test of humanity’s worthiness to stay in existence, the captain finds himself travelling back and forth through the past, present and future to ensure humanity’s survival. Watching him work through the puzzle alongside the Enterprise crew from the very beginning is like watching a victorious runner cross the finish line in slow motion.
The entire episode is an episode of self-discovery for the captain. It’s a quest for higher-meaning and a higher state of being. Picard’s struggle toward the next stage of enlightenment and reaching it successfully represented the very soul of “Star Trek” – humanity’s journey to better itself and the belief that we can and will succeed.
12. CHAIN OF COMMAND
At times, “Chain of Command” almost seems like torture porn, but that’s less to do with what’s being done and more who’s it being done to. During this two-part episode, Picard is kidnapped by the Cardassians and is viciously held captive by the sadistic Gul Madred (David Warner). Instead of trying to get real information from the captain, the Gul is far more interested in breaking the man, and we watch it happen step by horrifying step. Watching Picard forced to submit to such treatment was different than watching him coldly assimilated by the Borg because it was the first time we saw our unflappable captain suffer real agony and humiliation. One of Madred’s tactics is the ultimate gaslight: he shows Picard four lights, asks how many there are after saying there actually five, and then essentially electrocutes the Starfleet Captain any time he says there are four instead of five.
Despite this, as far down as Picard goes, he never fully gives in. He still manages to hold onto enough of himself to nail Madred for the weak bully the Cardassian really is. At that point, nothing Madred does matters — Picard’s won the real battle. Watching him insist that there are four lights instead of five over and over again until it’s the only thing he has left is heartbreaking, but triumphant.
Picard’s longstanding discomfort around children was one of the characters defining characteristics since “Encounter at Farpoint.” He balked at the idea of children on a military vessel (fair), and for a long time, it was hard to imagine that the captain didn’t spring from the womb a full-fledged, bald adult man. For the first few seasons, this aversion to young people (aside from Wesley) made him seem gruff and humorless, but eventually the awkwardness became endearing. That’s what made “Rascals” so much frigging fun.
Through the seeming never-ending magic of transporter accidents, Picard, Ensign Ro, Guinan and Keiko O’Brien are transformed into adolescent versions of themselves. Then four Ferengi manage to take over the ship and it’s left to those crazy kids to take back the Enterprise. The premise is goofy AF, to be sure, but it’s never not delightful to watch Picard struggle with his newfound state and eventually embrace it so hard he throws an actual tantrum.
This episode is fairly legendary among “TNG” fans for its recognition of the actual distance between alien humanoids without the aid of universal translators. Picard is stranded on a planet with an alien with whom he’s completely unable to communicate. Dathon, a Tamarian, speaks a language so complex that the universal translator only produces incomprehensible metaphors. For a while, it seems almost impossible that they’ll reach a common ground. But after a lot of frustration and fear, the two come to a mutual trust. We can barely understand what’s going on for most of the episode, but when Picard and Dathon become besties, it’s amazing.
Picard’s always been committed to his role as diplomat as captain of the Federation flagship. Most of the time, first contact with new species was cushioned by the technological (and narrative) advantages of the show. In “Darmok,” Picard reminds us all that without the aid of Starfleet’s infamous technology, the human spirit can prevail to make inroads with nothing about us but our wits. Picard serves as a reminder that “Star Trek” is built on more than just tech.
9. INNER LIGHT
For anyone who’s a fan of “TNG” and, particularly of Picard, “The Inner Light” is a classically beautiful and resonant episode. For most of the series, the captain seems at peace with his decision to put his career ahead of starting a traditional family. Occasionally, we get glimpses that he yearns for something more, but in the end, he always seems to embrace his choices with few regrets. This episode brings all of that to a tragic, screeching halt.
After getting scanned by an alien probe, Picard is forced to live out the life of a man named Kamin on the dying planet, Kataan. Picard embraces his new life and family, eventually having a grandchild. As Kamin’s life comes to a close, the Kataanians reveal the purpose of the probe was to impart the memory of their society to anyone who came into contact with the probe, so that the planet might not be forgotten. At the end of the episode, the camera pans out on Picard playing a replica of Kamin’s flute in his quarters, sadly accepting his role as the only being alive with real memories of the Kataan society.
8. FIRST CONTACT
In the second “TNG” movie, Picard and the Enterprise crew encounter their old nemeses, the Borg, once more. The Borg attempt to defeat the Federation by going back in time and stopping First Contact between the Vulcans and Earth. The act will supposedly prevent the Federation from ever being created, so the Enterprise crew follows the Borg to stop them.
Unfortunately, the Borg manage to set up shop on the Enterprise-E and begin assimilating the ship deck by deck. It becomes pretty clear to literally everyone but Picard that the ship is lost and they should just destroy it and settle on Old Earth. He refuses to accept defeat and not even Worf can talk sense into him. But Alfre Woodard’s Lily Sloane, a native of that time period, says what the rest of the crew are afraid to and points out that he’s confused his hatred of the Borg with responsibility to his crew. Picard is eventually forced to come to the conclusion that he cannot stop them and save the ship at the same time and lets go of his vendetta against them. It’s a wonderful moment in which you can see just how deeply the trauma he experienced in “Best Of Both Worlds” still goes.
7. UNIFICATION PT. I
This episode was the first of a legendary two-parter in which Picard went on a secret mission to locate a Vulcan suspected of defecting to the Romulan Empire, Ambassador Spock. This monumental meeting garnered “TNG” the kind of attention it hadn’t seen since “The Best of Both Worlds.” But what was really thrilling about the infamous meeting between Spock and Picard was the organic nature of it. Ultimately, that’s what makes it not only one of the memorable episodes of “Star Trek” ever produced, but also one of the most memorable Picard episodes.
Spock’s father, Sarek, dies before Picard arrives on Romulus. So in addition to finding the legendary Vulcan, Picard is also now faced with the responsibility of telling Spock his father has died. Also, Picard and Sarek shared a mind-meld, so although Picard and Spock have never met, Picard kind of knows Sarek better than Spock ever would. Throughout the entire episode, Picard wrestles with this incredibly delicate situation with equal parts respect, sadness and determination, so when the two meet, it’s almost like they’re family.
6. STARSHIP MINE
This episode is a great example of a fairly contrived plot that is miraculously saved by the presence of Jean-Luc Picard putting on his Captain Badass pants. The Enterprise is docked at a space station to undergo some routine maintenance, part of which includes this super intense scan that is so severe, it would kill any humans that came into contact with it. It’d be like if you stuck around while someone sprayed your apartment for bugs, but instead of spray, they used some kind of laser bleach.
Ever the captain, Picard’s the last to leave the ship, but unfortunately he winds up trapped there with a bunch of thieves bent on stealing deuterium from the Enterprise. Over the course of an hour, he manages to outwit and outplay these dopes all by himself and escapes the scan at the last second by hiding out in Ten Forward. It’s basically the “Star Trek” version of “Die Hard” and all that’s missing is him making all the computer screens read, “Yippee ki-ay, motherf*cker” as he picks off those tricks one by one.
Or “The One Where Picard Gets Stabbed in the Heart – Twice.” The episode opens on Picard in emergency surgery. As Team Crusher races to save him, we cut to Picard, supposedly in heaven, visited by Q who tells him that he’s dead. Q tosses the captain an artificial heart and tells him that’s what killed him. We flash back to Picard’s junior officer career, specifically when he’s a newly graduated Ensign, and revisit the days before he lost his real heart in a bar fight with a Nausicaan. Apparently, in his youth, Picard was quite the hothead, and eventually, in the long run, it got him killed.
Q gives the captain the opportunity to change the course of his life by avoiding the fight and being less of a douche, but like so many have discovered before him, you mess with history at your peril. In this new timeline, by playing it safe his entire career, Q reveals that Picard wound up becoming some sort of lame lower-management officer who is still only a Junior Lieutenant (meaning he’s literally only been promoted once in the several decades he’s been in Starfleet). Jean-Luc literally would rather die than face that kind of life, so he opts to not change his past, and undergoes the stabbing once again, laughing as the knife pierces his chest. TAKE THAT, CAUTION!
4. THE BIG GOODBYE
Ah, Dixon Hill. Of all the alter-egos Picard assumed during the run of “TNG,” the disheveled noir detective was one of our favorites. Of course, what’s a good holodeck fantasy without at least one capsule episode in which someone gets trapped in said holodeck fantasy and is forced to play history for a day? This is exactly what happens in “The Big Goodbye,” when Picard invites Data and a smokin’ Dr. Crusher to join him for an afternoon of fun. They wind up getting trapped and having to actually play out the noir fantasy with the safeties off until the crew can help them escape.
Picard, proving that he is truly a man for all seasons, pulls off Dixon Hill’s persona with aplomb and glee, offering audiences the chance to experience a genius (and super sexy) version of the normally serious captain. Gates McFadden’s daffy excitement notwithstanding, Picard undergoing his police interrogation with glee was one of the character’s early high points.
This list would be woefully incomplete if it didn’t include the “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “TNG” mash-up that was “Q-Pid.” One of the only things better than watching our favorite crew explore new life and new civilizations was watching them forced into ridiculous fish-out-of-water scenarios by Q. Why Robin Hood? Who knows? Who cares? Who wouldn’t want to see the “Star Trek” version of Nottingham? People who hate fun, that’s who.
The Enterprise is on one of its many “routine diplomatic missions” during which Picard is visited by his old flame, Vash. Oh, and Q. So, yeah, hijinks ensue. Q gets fascinated by the concept of love, so he transports the crew to a Robin Hood fantasy just to see how far Picard will go in playing along to save his lady (not that she needs much saving). Not only is it great to see Picard and Vash strike up their Indiana Jones/Marian banter once more, but also by the end of the episode, Picard has totally embraced the role of Robin Hood and swashbuckles his way to victory the way that only a classically-trained British actor could. This episode is Picard at his lightest, and, at times, most human. It’s a treat to watch from start to finish.
In “Allegiance,” Picard is trapped in a cell with three other people: a Bolian ensign, a pacifist Mizarian and an anarchic Chalnoth. With no contact from their captors, the prisoners are forced to reason out why they’ve been locked up and how to escape. Picard leads the charge, reasoning out why they all might have been taken prisoner, all the while keeping peace between conflicting personalities. Eventually, he’s the one who figures out that the Ensign was the culprit, and she’s only masquerading as a Bolian so her species may observe others in captivity. Who knew? (Picard. Picard knew.)
One of the best things “TNG” ever did was make Picard as cerebral as he was fierce. Watching him puzzle out his situation with aplomb, while simultaneously managing the dopes he’s stuck with so they don’t kill each other is delightful. The second reason is that the aliens replace Picard with a double that’s so uncomfortably different than Picard in all the right ways that it’s hypnotic. Their approximation of Picard is shady AF, singing bar songs and going full creeper on Crusher. He’s basically Picard’s evil twin, and it’s hilarious watching the crew slowly try to deal with it.
1. THE DRUMHEAD
If there is an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” more reflective of the socio-political climate right now, then we don’t know what it is. In “The Drumhead,” a Klingon exchange officer is found guilty of spying on the ship for the Romulans. When other evidence of sabotage is found, an independent investigation is launched to determine if the operation is a conspiracy. Enter retired Admiral Norah Satie a.k.a. Piece of Work. She’s an admiral known for her investigatory skills, but she gets… overzealous.
After she gets a full confession from the Klingon, J’Dan, she’s unconvinced he didn’t have help, so she starts a full-on witch hunt that goes all the way to Picard himself. After watching members of his crew repeatedly be humiliated, Picard gets on the “stand” and calls Satie out for what she is — McCarthy in a dress. He makes a beautifully understated, but venomous speech about the dangers of curtailing the freedoms of others under the cloak of “safety,” and calls it out for the dangerous paranoia it is. Satie is shamed back into retirement (like, immediately – the speech is that powerful), and Picard ends the episode vowing to stay vigilant against her kind of evil.
What do you feel is the most iconic Jean-Luc Picard movie or episode? Sound off in the comments section!