Obviously this list, as well as any other list, is subjective. There are episodes I like that others don't and vice versa. I did look at around a dozen similar lists to see how close to the mean I was, but ultimately considered none of them in making my choices.
Star Trek is a tough animal to tame because there are so many different genres within each of the five series. You can find drama, comedy, crime scene investigations, action, adventure, treasure hunting, and tragedy, often all in just one season. So I tried to keep in mind that a particular episode can still be one of the best ever despite having little significance within a series, or to Star Trek as a whole.
I didn't try to favor any one series over another, nor did I try to include equal numbers from each of them. When in doubt, I came back to the same question, which episodes would I want to watch over and over? Without further ado, let's get to the honorable mentions.
Series: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 18
The Enterprise is attacked by an unknown enemy ship while Captain Kirk is planet-side visiting an outpost. While the crew tackles the Enemy vessel, Kirk is left to fend for himself down on the planet with the Gorn Commander. A game of cat and mouse (or human and lizard) ensues and ends with Kirk creating a primitive gunpowder weapon to win the fight.
Arena is classic sci-fi and probably one of TOS's most memorable episodes. Even non Star Trek fans can conjure images of William Shatner fighting an actor in a tremendously awful lizard suit. At times The Original Series suffered from being the prototype, I think, and thus a lot of the good episodes don't stand up to those in later series. This was one of them.
Series: Voyager, Season 2, Episode 18
The crew stumbles upon a mysterious asteroid. When they beam its innards aboard for study, they're surprised to find an imprisoned member of the Q continuum. When the Q we all know and love appears, he reveals that the offender was banished for thoughts detrimental to the continuum, namely that immortality is boring, and not worth enduring.
This was probably the hardest episode to leave off as Q2's thoughts mirror the main theme in my novel Arnett Tanner Wants to Die, in that life without a conclusion is no gift. The ethical dilemmas are one of the great things about Star Trek, and the not-so-subtle comparisons to the euthanasia debate make this episode one of the heaviest, not to mention the fantastic portrayal of the continuum as a desolate country road.
Series: Voyager, Season 5, Episode 11
As The Doctor goes about his day, he discovers numerous inconsistencies in what he knows, and what his medical logs show. Eventually he comes to discover that a portion of his memory has been erased. Captain Janeway reveals that the Doctor's subroutines started to degrade after he handled an ethical dilemma that violated the Hippocratic Oath portion of his programming. When given the choice of saving Harry Kim or an unnamed crewman, the Doctor chose his friend. Afterwards, he began to feel guilty that his personal feelings influenced his decision. Rather than erase the Doctor's memory, Captain Janeway leaves him to face the issue on his own as another step on his path to complete sentience.
There is little dichotomy in Star Trek like Robert Picardo. The man turned in some of the greatest performances in some of the greatest episodes, and also was a feature in some of the worst (which was really anything involving him singing). This is the point where I release my lump generalization for leaving the Honorable Mentions off the list: I simply liked other episodes better, but they were too good to not be mentioned.
Series: Enterprise, Season 3, Episode 8
While pursuing the Xindi, Archer suffers an injury to the portion of his brain that is responsible for short term memory. In a 50 First Dates type of situation, he has to be reminded of where he is and what has happened every single day. In the end, Doctor Phlox is able to remove the particles, which were laced with a quantum signature that eventually set the timeline right again.
I understand some of the criticisms of Scott Bakula and while he is undoubtedly the worst Star Trek Captain, that doesn't necessarily make him a bad Star Trek Captain. Watching the proud Captain Archer turn into a beaten man who is the prisoner of his own mind is nothing short of heartrending, as is T'Pol's utter devotion to the man that saved her life.
The Trouble With Tribbles
Series: The Original Series, Season 2, Episode 15
Captain Kirk is tasked to protect some grain on a station bordering Klingon Space. They come to find that there is a merchant on the station selling little warbling furballs called Tribbles that reproduce at an astronomical rate. Soon the station is overrun with the creatures and they start turning up dead. Kirk and his crew realize that the grain is poisoned and that there is a traitor on board the station. The traitor ends up being a Klingon disguised as a human (not so difficult in those days) who is caught by one of the Klingon-fearing Tribbles.
What's not to like about Scotty defending his ship like a slut-shamed girlfriend?
Series: Enterprise, Season 3, Episode 19
A badly damaged Enterprise is limping around the Delphic Expanse in search of materials with which to repair its warp drive. They encounter another ship, also stuck in the expanse, but are unable to obtain the necessary warp coil from their new allies. Meanwhile, T'Pol grows increasingly agitated, symptoms of withdrawal from her addiction to Trellium D that has caused her to lose control of her emotions. With the safety of Earth at stake in their quest for the Xindi doomsday weapon, Archer orders the Enterprise to attack and raid the friendly ship.
I think I just like all the Trek Episodes where something awful happens, or someone has to do something awful. Another commentary on this episode talks about the difference between saints, who are flawless, and heroes, who are sometimes deeply flawed, which I think is a recurring theme in Star Trek. I like that Archer knew what he was doing was wrong...and yet did it anyway out of necessity, a hero, but no saint.
Series: Enterprise, Season 4, Episode 11
Something isn't right with Ensign Mayweather and Lieutenant Reed. They're controlled by alien beings called Organians and they're watching the Enterprise crew stumble onto a plague that will eventually kill them, to see how they react and if they're worthy of being considered superior beings like the Organians.
The cold disturbing callousness that Dominic Keating and Anthony Montgomery display encompasses two of the most underrated performances in all of Star Trek.
On to the Main Event
#25 - Where No Man Has Gone Before
Series: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 3
While attempting to leave the galaxy, two Enterprise crewman become psionically enhanced and dangerous to the crew.
Billed as the third Episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before is the second pilot, and the reason we have any Star Trek at all. The lone sentimental entry on this list, it isn't a particularly good episode because of its plot, but for what came after.
#24 - Deja Q
Series: The Next Generation, Season 3, Episode 13
Q appears naked on the bridge of the Enterprise, much to Picard's chagrin. He reveals that he has lost his powers and been booted from the continuum for generally being an asshole. Defenseless, Q is attacked by a group of aliens that have an old score to settle. Not wanting to have the Enterprise destroyed because of him, he flees, showing the continuum that he is worthy of being readmitted.
I'm not sure there is anything more satisfying than seeing someone that thinks they are above consequences, meet said consequences. John de Lancie is one of the few people that can make playing an insufferable bastard a joy to watch, so much so that one wonders if he is a similar good-natured thorn to Patrick Stewart as his character is to Picard.
#23 - Blink of an Eye
Series: Voyager, Season 6, Episode 12
Voyager stumbles across a planet caught in a tachyon field that causes time to move exponentially faster. One Voyager second is roughly equivalent to one planet day. Unfortunately, Voyager becomes stuck in that tachyon field and begins causing earthquakes on the planet. Below the humanoids develop rapidly, transitioning from an agrarian to an industrial, to a space faring society over a matter of hours. After they contact Voyager, Janesway elects to send the Doctor down as he would have no need to adjust to the time dilation. Some transfer malfunctions cause him to be stuck for several minutes, or around three years on the planet's time. Eventually the ship is freed when the planet develops space-faring vessels to assist Voyager.
Time phenomena is classic sci-fi, and stumbling upon a unique planet is even more so. Sometimes even the most overdone cliches can still be beautiful.
#22 - The Scientific Method
Series: Voyager, Season 4, Episode 7
The crew starts acting strangely, with several members falling ill to rare genetic illnesses. As the Doctor investigates, he finds artificial changes to some of crew's DNA. He secretly contacts Seven of Nine and modifies her Borg eye so she can scan for intruders on board. She ends up noticing several pieces of normally invisible medical equipment attached to various members of the crew along with members of an alien race tending to them. She is able to make one of the aliens visible with a modified phaser, drawing the ire of an artificially overstressed Captain Janeway. When the aliens refuse to stop the experiments, Janeway decides to fly the ship between two binary stars because she's Captain Goddamn Janeway and she doesn't take anyone's shit. Faced with probable death, the aliens disembark, detaching their ships from Voyager's hull. Voyager survives, and everyone learns not to piss Janeway off. Also, Tom ad B'elanna decide to start regularly banging.
It creeped the hell out of me. The wavy sepia of Seven's Borg eye gave one of Star Trek's most truly disturbing visuals, and the thought that someone could be injecting invisible pins into my head makes me shudder.
#21 - A Taste of Armageddon
Series: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 24
The Enterprise goes to check on two planets that have been at war with each other for centuries, but find no violence. Instead the entire war is run by computer simulation with the dead stepping into termination booths to die as their computer simulated selves do. The computers eventually decide that the Enterprise itself is a casually and it is ordered destroyed. Captain Kirk breaks free from the planet's inhabitants and destroys the war computers, urging the planets to settle their differences once and for all.
With the impersonalization of war in tactical strikes and predator drones, this Episode was 40 years ahead of its time. Amazing.
#20 - Deadlock
Series: Voyager, Season 2, Episode 21
Voyager encounters a subspace anomaly that splits the ship into two Voyagers, existing in different quantum states, one on top of the other. As the two Captain Janeways race to understand this and eventually converse, they come to the conclusion that one of the Voyagers must be destroyed.
I love moral dilemmas and tragedy, and seeing one of Voyager crews resigned to death was remarkable. Of course, the performance by probably the second best Star Trek Captain actor (behind Patrick Stewart) Kate Mulgrew is nothing short of breathtaking (twice).
#19 - The Wire
Series: Deep Space 9, Season 2, Episode 22
Garak begins to have severe headaches, eventually revealing that he'd been given an implant designed to help him resist torture. Instead, however, he'd been using the implant constantly to cope with being banished from Cardassia. Garak spits out a stream of lies with only one constant, his former mentor Enabran Tain. Left with no other choice, Doctor Bashir sets out in search of Tain, the former head of the Cardassian Obsidian order. He finds that a scandal had broke in the Cardassian government and that Tain had won the race with Garak to frame the other, leading to his banishment. He suggests Bashir let Garak die, but gives him the information he needs. In the end Bashir is left to wonder which of Garak's stories were true, to which Garak responds, "they were all true, especially the lies."
Oh come on, how can you not love a line like that? Garak, the simple tailor, was one of the most fascinating characters in all of Star Trek, and for what we didn't know about him. The more we learned, the more interesting (and despicably likable...or likably despicable) he became.
#18 - Who Mourns for Morn
Series: Deep Space 9, Season 6, Episode 12
Morn, Quark's talkative, yet long silent patron has died, leaving his entire estate to Quark. Quark sets off to collect on the estate, which includes a substantial amount of latinum of unknown origin. Along the way he meets several characters from Morn's past, all with a different story as to how Morn acquired the latinum, and why he owes a portion of it to them. Quark discovers that the four, along with Morn, had robbed a bank on Lissepia together, but Morn ran off with the money. With the statute of limitations on the crime expired, they'd come looking for Morn. Odo apprehends the thieves after the latinum they find is revealed to be drained of all value. Returning to the bar, Quark discovers Morn alive and well, and happy that Quark has gotten his former conspirators out of the way.
Quark was always great in small doses, and annoying in large ones. While Deep Space Nine did have a few too many Ferengi episodes, the wild goose chase of Who Mourns for Morn was easily it's most enjoyable, and one of the better comedic Trek episodes.
#17 - Mirror, Mirror
Series: The Original Series, Season 2, Episode 4
Due to a transporter malfunction, Kirk, McCoy, Scott, and Uhura are sent to a 'mirror' Enterprise in an alternate universe ruled by the bloodthirsty Terran Empire. Eventually they find their way back, but not before convincing Evil Spock that the Terran Empire is illogical and unsustainable.
Because Spock in a goatee and Uhura baring her midriff.
#16 - Proving Ground
Series: Enterprise, Season 3, Episode 13
|Well, well, well pink-skin...|
The Enterprise is rescued from a vicious anomaly in the Delphic Expanse by the Andorians, whose Commander Shran says he personally led an expedition into the expanse because the fate of Earth will have an impact on the other Alpha Quadrant species. While this is later revealed to be a lie, Shran confesses that Archer is one of the few aliens he trusts. Together they set out to find the Xindi proving grounds and capture their test weapon for study. They are successful, but Shran attempts to steal the weapon, leaving Archer no choice but to destroy it. Fleeing the expanse, Shran sends Archer a parting gift, a secret package of all the data they downloaded from the weapon.
Whether he was Weyoun, Liquidator Brunt, or Commander Shran, Jeffrey Combs was a joy to watch. What I liked about Shran was that he was mostly likable, and acted on noble intentions, unlike Combs's other Trek characters. Knowing the history of Star Trek, and seeing relations between the Vulcans, Andorians, Tellarites, and Humans develop was one of the best things about Enterprise.
#15 - Similitude
Series: Enterprise, Season 3, Episode 10
An accident puts Commander Tucker into a coma in sickbay, where Phlox determines the only course of action is to craft a clone of Trip and then harvest him for the necessary parts. As the clone rapidly develops and endears himself to the crew, possessing much of Tucker's knowledge and expertise, Archer and Phlox are left with a dilemma, which Trip gets to live? Eventually 'Sim' determines that his purpose is to save the real Trip and volunteers himself for the procedure.
The ethics implications aside, one of the things I liked about this episode was how Sim's cavalier attitude helped drive the budding romance between Trip and T'Pol, another of the high points of the series. I went into the series expecting Jolene Blalock to be Seven of Nine II, but her acting ability and her intelligence (in interviews) blew me away. It is difficult to play a Vulcan without being wooden (Tuvok), and while plot devices helped allow Blalock to express T'Pol's emotions, Blalock's remarkable subtlety in playing a stoic Vulcan cannot be understated.
#14 - Rejoined
Series: Deep Space Nine, Season 4, Episode 6
A group of Trill scientists come aboard the station to study the Defiant, one being the former wife of Torias Dax, one of the Dax symbiont's previous hosts. As it is outlawed in Trill society to liaise with a lover of a former host, Jadzia struggles with her attraction to the female Lenara, culminating in one of the first same sex kisses on television. Jadzia realizes she still loves Lenara, going so far as to risk her own life to rescue her from an accident aboard the Defiant. Unfortunately her feelings are unrequited and Lenara leaves.
It's pretty obvious. But what makes it special is how the kiss, and the relationship was handled. In a world where the dominant focus of many LGBT relationships is the fact that the partners are of the same sex, that component of Dax's and Lenara's relationship was largely ignored in favor of the more pressing issues. It's one thing to highlight same sex relationships, but I think Deep Space Nine took it a step further in treating it like no big deal. (Because, you know, it really isn't.)
#13 - Favor the Bold / Sacrifice of Angels
Series: Deep Space Nine, Season 6, Episodes 5-6
While the Dominion, in control of Deep Space Nine, is attempting to de-mine the wormhole, Sisko stages an assault on the station. Ultimately both succeed as Sisko retakes the station and the Dominion destroys the mines. Appealing to the Bajoran Prophets, Sisko is able to have the incoming Dominion fleet destroyed. As the Cardassians flee the station, Damar kills Gul Dukat's daughter Ziyal.
Deep Space Nine was a difficult animal as many of the episodes ran into each other. As the Dominion War is probably the most compelling arc in any Star Trek series, it needed to be represented. Unlike in other Trek series, it felt like anything could happen in Deep Space Nine, giving unprecedented drama as the two factions raced against one another. Plus seeing a massive fleet of Star Trek ships ready to wage war is the epitome of awesome.
#12 - Endgame
Series: Voyager, Series Finale (Season 7, Episodes 25-26)
Voyager passes by a nebula containing numerous Borg ships because, fuck that. Meanwhile a future Janeway hijacks the Delta Flyer and a device that allows her to travel back in time to meet Voyager just after it passes the nebula. She tries to convince her past counterpart to accept future technology to use the Borg's transwarp hub in the nebula to return home instantly because Seven of Nine will die, Chakotay will succumb to depression, and Tuvok will go crazy. Future Janeway, frustrated with her self's stubbornness travels to the hub to make a deal with the Borg Queen. The Queen refuses and assimilates Future Janeway who it turns out had infected herself with a Borg-killing disease. As the Queen begins to fall apart (literally), Voyager makes a break for the hub and returns home.
I'm biased with Voyager as it was the series I grew up on. Seeing them return home was nothing short of emotional for me, and I think Endgame remains one of the most entertaining Star Trek episodes. I'd originally considered it for the top five, but the justifications Future Janeway uses would have been interesting issues to delve more into in the seventh season of Voyager. Ultimately cramming them into the final episode instead of leading up to them over the course of several, took away from it.
#11 - The Measure of a Man
Series: The Next Generation, Season 2, Episode 9
Data learns he is to be dismantled by a researcher and studied because he is not a real boy. Picard challenges the decision and chooses to defend Data, with Federation Law mandating that Riker argue the case of the researcher. In the end, Data is determined to be a sentient being.
Many cite this as the best episode of The Next Generation. I obviously disagree. While it features some of the best dialogue in the entire series, I ultimately felt there were episodes that were more interesting, more emotional, and more culturally relevant.
The Top Ten
Are these the best ten Star Trek Episodes of all time? I don't know. There have 703 Episodes and my initial list included about 140 of them. There are so many great (not just good, but great) episodes that paring them down in any sense is all but impossible. However, this is the best I could do.
#10 - Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy
Series: Voyager, Season 6, Episode 4
The Doctor alters his programming, allowing him to daydream, but makes a mistake and begins to have trouble separating the daydreams from reality. Consulting the Captain for help, the crew gets an uncomfortable look into the Doctor's fantasies. Meanwhile The Heirarchy is monitoring The Doctor and thinks the daydreams are real. The Doctor is forced to assume the role of the Emergency Command Hologram to bluff his way out of a confrontation with The Heirarchy. Once successful, Janeway decides his idea for an ECH may have some merit.
Originally this was supposed to be a Neelix Episode, but was rewritten. No offense to Ethan Phillips, but ugh...thank God. While this was undoubtedly Picardo's best performance on the show, the merits of the episode can be summed up in one image.
#9 - Stigma
Series: Enterprise, Season 2, Episode 14
The Pa'nar Syndrome that T'Pol contracted when she was mind-raped is getting worse, prompting Phlox to want to consult with Vulcan physicians. However the disease is taboo and having it is seen as a grave transgression and would have T'Pol removed from her position. Phlox tries to go through unofficial channels, but is eventually discovered by Vulcan physicians. T'Pol refuses to confess that the mind meld was not consensual, stating that such an admission will only serve to justify the bigotry towards others that have Pa'nar Syndrome.
Sometimes, approaching an ethical dilemma is treated without the slightest thought to subtelty in Star Trek. And sometimes the episode was so well done, it doesn't matter. This was one of those times. Jolene Blalock (along with Connor Trinneer as Trip Tucker) was the star of Enterprise, and her performance in this episode is nothing short of amazing. As a member of a community on which AIDS has such a major impact, and is often used as a justification for awful abuse and denial of rights, watching this episode was very uplifting.
#8 - Duet
Series: Deep Space Nine, Season 1, Episode 19
Major Kira discovers a Cardassian aboard who was a former prison overseer and was responsible for the torture and death of several Bajorans. As she struggles to handle her feelings towards the former Gul, Sisko has her removed from the situation. Upon talking to him personally, she begins to notice inconsistencies in his story. Further research reveals that he is not the former prison overseer, and was instead a record keeper. He feels guilty about the crimes of the occupation and his inability to stop it and wants to be punished fin place of the Cardassian monster he is impersonating. Kira refuses to allow that, but he is murdered by a rogue Bajoran.
I think this was the point when Deep Space Nine decided it was going to grow up, and not everything was going to be tied up nice and tight in the last ten minutes of the episode as had been the norm for previous Star Treks. Deep Space Nine was darker and more controversial than any of its predecessors, which is what makes it stand out as the best Trek series.
#7 - The Inner Light
Series: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 25
The Enterprise encounters a probe which directs an energy beam at Picard. He wakes up as an alien named Kamin on another planet. He initially tries to escape, but his efforts eventually prove fruitless and he settles into a life on the planet with a wife and children. Over the course of his life, the planet succumbs to drought while a helpless and ignored Picard looks on. As the planet dies, Picard watches the civilization launch a something into space. On the Enterprise, Picard wakes up from his coma, only a half hour having passed, and realizes that he was meant to find the probe as a means of remembering the extinct civilization. He tracks the probe to a long-dead planet, and upon recovering it finds the real Kamin's flute inside.
Every once in a while when you're watching sports, one individual just takes over, and everyone around them becomes invisible. That was Patrick Stewart in this episode. Hell, you can make a case for that being Patrick Stewart for the entirety of The Next Generation. With the possible exception of Kate Mulgrew, no other Trek actor was on his level.
#6 - Scorpion
Series: Voyager, Seasons 3-4, Episodes 26-1
The inevitable happens as Voyager comes across Borg space. When they find the Borg under siege by Species 8472, Janeway sees a way through, a deal with the Borg. The Borg ultimately agree, sending Seven of Nine to help Voyager develop a weapon to defeat Species 8472. While Chakotay warns Janeway that the uneasy alliance is a bad idea given the nature of the Borg, she presses ahead. The ship is successful in driving Species 8472 back to their fluidic space, and Seven of Nine attempts to take over the ship. Prepared for this, Janeway and Chakotay sever her from the collective and continue on towards home.
The first of many resounding Janeway victories over her nemesis, the Borg Queen. For three seasons, we were treated to Voyager not losing, simply surviving in their quest towards home. Scorpion and passing through Borg space felt like their first victory, and that for the first time, getting home was a possibility. Of course it doesn't hurt that it brought us the delectable Jeri Ryan.
#5 - The City on the Edge of Forever
Series: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 28
The Enterprise detects a temporal disturbance from a nearby planet and moves to investigate. A medically deranged McCoy manages to escape from the ship and beam down, encountering a strange arch that shows scenes from the past, and escapes through it. The arch reveals it is The Guardian of Forever, a portal to the past. Left with no other option, Kirk and Spock go after him to stop him from altering history. There Kirk falls in love with a woman, who turns out to be the key to McCoy's alterations. Kirk is forced to watch her die, (while preventing McCoy from saving her) to restore the timeline.
Time travel is awesome, and so too are episodes when the correct action is the least pleasant. Plus the name The Guardian of Forever is impossibly cool. Unsurprisingly, this episode won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Science Fiction.
#4 - The Best of Both Worlds
Series: The Next Generation, Seasons 3-4, Episodes 26-1
The Borg attack earth and Picard is assimilated. Riker is faced with the dilemma of destroying Locutus, or attempting to save the Captain and friend that may still be alive somewhere within the drone. Riker disobeys orders and chooses the latter, risking Earth to save Picard.
The ultimate episode of The Next Generation and the harbinger of the best Star Trek Movie, First Contact. The Best of Both Worlds manages to be extremely important to the series, emotional, important to Star Trek as a whole, and superbly entertaining. Watching Riker, Commander Shelby, and Locutus play off one another as they vie for control is a true joy.
#3 - In a Mirror, Darkly
Series: Enterprise, Season 4, Episodes 18-19
Enterprise breaks from it's arc to show the characters' counterparts in the Mirror Universe, and how the Terran Empire rises to power. It features a half naked T'Pol, a badly disfigured Trip, a disturbingly evil Doctor Phlox, and a deliciously cunning (and also half naked) Hoshi Sato.
Don't let the fact that the best Enterprise episode exists outside its story arc take away from the fact that Enterprise had many great episodes. In the end, it was too different from what people thought Star Trek should be, and suffered from being the straw that broke the over-saturated camel's back. Nevertheless, In a Mirror, Darkly is pure, unhindered fun. You can tell right from the beginning that the actors delighted in playing evil versions of themselves. Evil Hoshi, Evil Phlox and Evil Reed are real treats. If only we got to see Evil Shran.
#2 - Year of Hell
Series: Voyager, Season 4, Episodes 8-9
Voyager has to cross Kremin space, but things are not as they seem. Over the course of a few months, Voyager is attacked by numerous Kremin warships of various sizes from various Kremin races. A former Kremin Commander Annorax (a Jeffrey Combs-rivaling performance by Jurtwood Smith) controls a ship capable of altering time for the purposes of making history benefit the Kremin Imperium. One of his first manipulations of the timeline resulted in the death of his wife and children, a mistake he seeks to rectify at all costs. However one of the things he failed to account for is the presence of Voyager. Seeking to understand how the ship seems to evade his time manipulations, he kidnaps Paris and Chakotay. Meanwhile, a badly damaged Voyager hides from the Kremin in a nearby nebula and attempts to make allies for a siege on the time ship. Their attack initially unsuccessful, Janeway realizes if the timeship is destroyed, the timeline will be repaired and orders Voyager to ram it.
There's just something about that glint a Captain gets in his or her eye when they're losing and they defiantly decide that the only course of action is to use their vessel as a giant battering ram for the greater good. Kurtwood Smith as Annorax is fantastic, and Kate Mulgrew is even better as Janeway struggles to keep morale high while this ship falls apart around them. The bleaker than bleak Year of Hell ties as my personal favorite Trek episode of all time.
#1 - In the Pale Moonlight
Series: Deep Space Nine, Season 6, Episode 19
With the Dominion War going badly for the Federation, Sisko realizes their only hope is to pull the Romulans into the war on their side. He realizes that the only reason for the Romulans to get involved would be if they think the Dominion is going to attack them. Lacking evidence, he enlists Garak for help. Together contact a criminal and old friend of Garak's, Tolar, to forge data to present to the a Romulan Senator that shows one of the Dominion leaders outlining a plan to invade Romulus. The Romulan senator recognizes the recording as a forgery and leaves, only to have his ship destroyed by a bomb planted by Garak. Sisko is furious, but Garak points out that evidence that the recording is a forgery will instead be attributed to damage sustained in the explosion, and the Romulans will assume the Dominion sabotaged the Romulan ship to keep the recording from getting back to Romulus. Garak also reveals that he had Tolar killed to keep the recording's origin a secret. Sisko threatens him with charges, but Garak points out that the cost of the salvation of the Federation was "a Romulan Senator, a criminal, and the integrity of one Starfleet officer, a bargain if you ask me."
The best Star Trek Episodes aren't when someone has to choose between right and wrong, they're when someone has to choose between wrong and wrong. Or when someone has to choose wrong in favor of a future right. It all comes back to the difference in saints and heroes. Benjamin Sisko and Elim Garak are heroes, but they are most certainly not saints. Watching the episode a second time, you realize that Garak reaches the inevitable conclusion of what must be done at the beginning, and Andrew J. Robinson works that into his performance. Watching Sisko struggle to exist in an environment in which Garak thrives is also enjoyable, a strong performance by Avery Brooks. In the end you're left knowing the right thing happened, but feeling dirty about it. I love that feeling, and that's why I named In the Pale Moonlight as the best Star Trek Episode of all time.