Jordan Hoffman is my hero. He ranked and summarized every Star Trek episode (TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and Enterprise).
Not to diminish his fantastic effort, but I READ every one of his ranked and summarized Star Trek episodes. Three hours on a Saturday morning.
It wasn’t difficult, mind you. I laughed a lot. I shed a few tears at the memories he invoked with his eloquence (Chaka, when the walls fell! … There are four lights! … I-Chaya, come back!). And, oh, I spit curses at his idiocy. I saw he has many biases, and I realized with delight that have none.
Kira Nerys is the Best Franchise Character!
Hoffman doesn’t really like Chakotay (okay, I’ll give him that one). He loves The Doctor (Voyager) and Shran (Enterprise), For the record, the best characters are Janeway, McCoy, The Doctor, Gul Dukat, Garak, Spock, Jadzia Dax, Seven of Nine, Troi, Picard, Weyoun, and T’Pol.
But by far, Kira Nerys is the best character from the franchise: she’s the most complex and convincingly combines elements of all the others, which tend to be archetypes or foils to drive plot and theme. Kira is a warrior like Worf, empathic like Troi, irrational and loyal like McCoy. Her own internal conflicts with personal desires vs duty and faith vs science leave her stories always in doubt.
Hoffman, like too many who discovered Star Trek as boys, probably masturbated imagining he was the Son of Mogh! Worf is satire. Sweet Jesus, but Worf is such a meathead who brought every episode’s IQ down fifty points. His appearance posed questions that the episode writer had to answer, only they were dumb questions we already knew the answers to. His simplistic Klingon philosophy received correction in every episode, only to be forgotten the next time there was “honor” to be served. And Jadzia married him? Fuck that. She should have married Lenara. (Still waiting for any damn canon Star Trek to have out lesbians. We saw them in the background , didn’t we?)
Now, Hoffman saw things more clearly when it came to DS9. He may not agree it was the best of the franchise (though it was, hands, down), but he recognizes the brilliant complexity — realism, if you will — presented by DS9 that was lacking from every other incarnation. The Dominion War arc. That is all.
What fun! Thanks Mr. Hoffman. You reminded me why I find Star Wars insipid and how much my intellectual and creative life has been informed by Gene Roddenberry’s optimism. And that I want to forget the movies ever happened.
Here are a few of Hoffman’s rankings and his top ten with video clips.
678) “The Empath,” The Original Series, Season 3
Aghhh! Trapped in space with a mime. Horrible.
447) “Things Past,” Deep Space Nine, Season 5
Odo shows how things were on Terok Nor. It’s a little uncomfortable to see Kira as a terrorist.
401) “The Changeling,” The Original Series, Season 2
Lookout — here comes NOMAD. It may look like restaurant grade espresso machine, but it’s actually a very dangerous probe. Many Redshirts go down on this one, and Uhura gets her entire memory wiped. But she takes a week off and is back at her post soon enough.
400) “The Omega Glory,” The Original Series, Season 2
You didn’t hallucinate this. One night you were up late and caught an old episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk reads a beat-up copy of the Constitution.
369) “Stigma,” Enterprise, Season 2
T’Pol and Dr. Phlox must keep her post-mind meld disease a secret. Also, one of Phlox’s wives wants to get busy with Trip, with everyone’s consent. Social contrast!
363) “Tin Man,” The Next Generation, Season 3
A giant sentient spaceship needs our help. Why do the Troi episodes have to be so earnest? This is a fan favorite but sometimes the fans are wrong.
355) “The Terratin Incident,” The Animated Series, Season 1
A beam of some sort makes everyone shrink. The crew uses their marbles to figure out how to run the ship when they’re the size of cheetos.
353) “Cardassians,” Deep Space Nine, Season 2
DS9 is all about realistic repercussions of sweeping political actions. So if the Cardassians are exiting Bajor, what about the children left behind? Shades of gray, I tell you!
351) “Harbinger,” Enterprise, Season 3
Reed and the MACOs nip at each other in a power struggle. That’s the A-story. But really, this is all about Trip and T’Pol getting NAKED NUDE NAKED JOLENE BLALOCK NUDE JPGS BENGHAZI NUDE BLALOCK NAKED together.
313) “Impulse,” Enterprise, Season 3
There were hints that the phase-shifting phenomena of the Delphic Expanse could make you loopy, and now we see it. You want Zombie Vulcans, you got Zombie Vulcans. Too much fun to wave off.
290) “Mudd’s Passion,” The Animated Series, Season 1
Because every Saturday morning kids’ show needs a jovial pimp.
255) “Hippocratic Oath,” Deep Space Nine, Season 4
Packing in as many shades of gray — that’s the Deep Space Nine way! So, those mustache-twirling villains the Jem’Hadar? Turns out they are just exploited pawns, and the Founders and Vorta keep them killing due to an addiction to Ketracel-White. Is there no one we can just openly hate?!
192) “Disaster,” The Next Generation, Season 5
The most sitcom-y episode of all. A power breakdown means everyone is stuck where they are. Ensign Ro and Counselor Troi nearly claw at one another and Worf has to deliver Keiko O’Brien’s baby in Ten-Forward. Who’m I kidding, I love this episode!
183) “Through the Looking Glass,” Deep Space Nine, Season 3
TOS created the Mirror Universe, but DS9 ran with it. Its second visit there offers pirates, freedom fighters and more of the libertine Intendant Kira Nerys!
179) “Bounty,” Enterprise, Season 2
At the tail end of the second season, the core audience got what it wanted all along: T’Pol in Pon Faar. And she’s begging the schlubbiest member of the crew (Dr. Phlox) to give her some lovin’. Also, the return of the nasty Tellarites. If you are gonna service the fans, give ‘em the whole show.
174) “Spock’s Brain,” The Original Series, Season 3
Okay. Listen. Yes, this is bad. Ridiculous. But funny! Gorgeous space women are hot for Spock’s brain. And they steal it. But Bones talks to it via radio. This is the best Star Trek episode to watch while drunk.
168) “Justice,” The Next Generation, Season 1
Too silly to hate. Wesley walks on flowers, pisses off sex-joggers. Season one, man.
156) “Damage,” Enterprise, Season 3
Archer must attack an innocent ship to get the parts he needs to complete his mission (of, you know, saving Earth.) T’Pol admits she’s a full-blown Trellium junkie and the Xindi council is now in disarray thanks to a schism led by the Trans-Dimensional Sphere Builders. It was at this precise moment that Enterprise shook off all its growing pains and hummed along with absolute awesomeness.
118) “The Gift,” Voyager, Season 4
Hey, Kes, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And, if you wouldn’t mind, use your evolving Ocampan self to scootch us a little closer to the Alpha Quadrant. While you’re doing that, we’re going to fix up a costume and much more interesting character arc for your buxom replacement.
91) “Unification,” The Next Generation, Season 5
OhmyGod it’s SPOCK on TNG!!!! After breathing into a paper bag to stop hyperventilating, let’s be honest about this. The second half of this two-parter is weak. The Spock-Data scene should have been better. But leaving Spock working with the Romulan underground was a nice place for J.J. Abrams to pick him up years later. Spock on TNG!
33) “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” The Original Series, Season 1
The first episode for mass consumption, and it changed our world forever. Stuff like the uniforms (and Spock’s eyebrows) are a little different, but from the very first moments (“ah, yes, one of your Earth emotions!”) everything’s cruising at warp speed. I think I’ve watched this three hundred thousand times.
32) “Duet,” Deep Space Nine, Season 1
The Eichmann trial in outer space. Season 1 of DS9 was good, but this episode toward the end was an indicator that greatness was to come. Major Kira’s freedom fighter/terrorist character would be a tough sell today.
29) “The Die is Cast,” Deep Space Nine, Season 3
The Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar join forces for a preemptive strike on the Jem’Hadar. Odo is being held because that mushy shapeshifter knows something. And maybe he does! Who do we trust in this complex war? How was it that this late ’90s show could predict all the troubles of our current foreign policy?
19) “The Visitor,” Deep Space Nine, Season 4
A marvelous study on the acceptance of grief. Old Jake saying good-bye to his father is just as touching as Kirk and Spock’s farewell in Wrath of Khan. This is classic science fiction, taking a universal theme and dressing it in some nerdy clothing. Excuse me, I’m getting verklempt …
17) “Yesteryear,” The Animated Series, Season 1
I need a handkerchief to even begin to discuss this one. Spock revisits his youth and his kahs-wan ritual. During his test of maturity, he must, among other things, say goodbye to I-Chaya, his loyal pet sehlat. There are broader implications with the timeline, too, but really it’s all about noble I-Chaya. Brave I-Chaya. Come back, I-Chaya, come back! Sob sob sob!
13) “Trials and Tribble-ations,” Deep Space Nine, Season 5
Star Trek‘s big fat love letter to itself. Stupendous.
Hoffman’s Top Ten
10) “Amok Time,” The Original Series, Season 2
Kroika! Spock vs. Kirk to the Death! And that music! Don’t interrupt me with Plomeek Soup while I’m watching this — I’ll hurl it across the room.
9) “Chain of Command,” The Next Generation, Season 6
“There Are Four Lights!”
8) “The Best of Both Worlds,” The Next Generation, Season 3-4
The most dramatic cliffhanger ever (those trumpets!) made all the more exciting because no one knew if Patrick Stewart was on board for season four. Unfortunately, the second half of the episode didn’t have quite the oomph of the first, which glides along at absolute perfection. Discovering the secrets of the Borg, who just let you wander around, and Picard’s violent transformation into Locutus is such a marvelous juxtaposition. The Riker/Shelby stuff is terrific, too, and in a parallel universe their show ran for four more seasons.
7) “By Inferno’s Light,” Deep Space Nine, Season 5
What separated DS9 from the rest was the serialized arc of the Dominion War, and this episode represents its apex. It’s when the rumblings of espionage and police action finally erupted into a full-out conflagration, and each of our beloved characters is put to the test. Garak is now friend to the Federation, but turns out this seemingly unflappable Cardassian suffers from crippling claustrophobia. Still, he’s got to get our team off a space rock of a prison, and as he works the Mighty Worf is issuing daily beatdowns to Jem’Hadar in the ring. I wish I could get that memory implant that Chief O’Brien got so I could make this episode last for days.
6) “Arena,” The Original Series, Season 1
Kirk against the Gorn. Iconic, legendary stuff. But this episode has a lot more. The destruction of Cestus III. The Metrons. The chase to that godforsaken rock where Kirk has to assemble a homemade canon. Kirk’s last minute blast of pacifism is the perfect ending to a perfect episode.
5) “Darmok,” The Next Generation, Season 5
A great episode to lure in people who wouldn’t ordinarily watch Star Trek. Fun and exciting but also deeply philosophical and smart. It’s a good story because it is loosely based on Gilgamesh which is, of course, the first story! So it’s vetted. Chaka, when the walls fell!
4) “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” The Next Generation, Season 3
TNG‘s spiritual response to “Mirror, Mirror,” an alternate timeline in which our heroes are at constant war. Lt. Yar is back and the Enterprise-C has a woman captain. Plus Guinan kinda saves the day. The moment when the bridge darkens is the most badass lighting cue in television.
3) “Mirror, Mirror,” The Original Series, Season 2
I still remember seeing this at the age of 10. The ion storm near the Halkanian planet caused the ship to flip-flap back and forth for a moment and then — whammo — we’re somewhere else and Spock had a goatee. And instantly, somehow, I knew how the whole episode would play out. A bizarro world where the good guys are bad and ohmygod did I mention that Spock had a goatee. It’s so clever and so much fun and I went around saying “your agonizer, please” for years. I love Star Trek so much.
2) “The Inner Light,” The Next Generation, Season 5
Great men are adaptable, so when Picard just can’t get back to his ship he creates another life for himself. But is it reality? This episode is a hundred times better and more insightful than The Matrix and the tones of a Ressikan Flute always make me cry. We love seeing our characters in places outside of where we expect them to be, and this is the humdinger of them all.
1) “The City on the Edge of Forever,” The Original Series, Season 1
Yeah, I know, everyone always picks this one, but I watched again to make sure and, yes, it really is the best. It just hums. Joan Collins’ Edith Keeler is a fascinating figure — someone so kind who, if left alone to promote pacifism at a key point in history, could potentially ruin the world. The ending just destroys me. Our three main characters, our eternal archetypes, are there. Kirk is clutching Bones after blocking him in his tracks. He’s holding on for dear life with his eyes shut. “I could have saved her!” Bones cries, as Edith now lies dead in the middle of the road. “He knows, doctor. He knows,” Spock replies, and even though the Vulcan is cold and logical, he’s hurting, too. Once they pop back through the Guardian and return to the planet, Shatner delivers the best line reading of his career. A simple “let’s get the hell out of here.” It’s a throwaway line, but the spin he puts on it is absolutely heartbreaking. This is science fiction at its absolute finest, using a way out and fantastical concept to address universal themes like loss and fate. It is, unquestionably, the greatest Star Trek episode of all time.