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Very Important Binge: The best TNG episodes to watch before Star Trek: Picard
Welcome to Very Important Binge (VIB), where SYFY FANGRRLS tells you how to navigate your favorite TV shows.
When Star Trek: Picard premiered on CBS All Access earlier this year (and honestly, even THAT feels like seven years ago at this point), it was a storytelling balm we didn't know we needed, the return of one of our favorite starship captains to our screens. Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard is arguably one of the defining characters of science fiction — not just television or film but the genre as a whole, and his reprising the role was a surprise for many reasons, especially because the actor had once famously said he would never return to the world of Star Trek after the release of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002.
But for fans who aren't completionists in the slightest and feel like jumping right in with Picard itself? It might be a little tough to explain some of the first season's biggest story arcs unless you do some prior research — and if you don't want to do that by watching the entirety of every Trek series that has ever come before, we're here to give you a crash course in Picard through the series that introduced the character to the world: Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Season 1, Episode 13: 'Datalore'
The friendship between Picard and the android Data (played by Brent Spiner) is one of the cornerstones of the new Picard series. With that in mind, "Datalore" is an important early episode of TNG to check out given that it really serves as the first time in the show that Data's origins were ever explored. We learn that he was first built by the robotics designer Dr. Noonien Soong (also Spiner), and that he wasn't the only android crafted — as the crew soon discovers when they reassemble and activate Data's "brother" Lore (also Spiner), who essentially becomes the Trek embodiment of the evil twin trope (with all the danger and deception that entails).
Season 2, Episode 9: 'The Measure of a Man'
Another crucial Data-centric episode, but also legitimately one of the best episodes of TNG, period, "The Measure of a Man" poses the question of what it means to be human. When Starfleet Commander Bruce Maddox (a name that pops up later in Picard) crosses paths with the Enterprise, he divulges that his intentions are to disassemble Data in order to study his memory in the hopes of replicating the technology that created him in the first place. This kickstarts a debate — and ensuing trial — over whether or not Data is actually Starfleet property or a sentient individual with the right to make his own decisions.
Season 3, Episode 10: 'The Defector'
The Romulans are a species that, throughout the entirety of Star Trek, have had a rather contentious relationship with the rest of the Federation — and certain members play a particularly antagonistic role in the first season of Picard. "The Defector" is an episode that nails home the fact that, like any species, there are both trustworthy and deceitful Romulans. But when tensions are high, it might not be clear who is being honest about their intentions and who is attempting to manipulate the situation to their own benefit.
Season 3, Episode 26 and Season 4, Episode 1: 'The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2'
The collective entity known as the Borg has a significant role to play in Picard — but what we see specifically playing out is how Picard himself still remains affected by the trauma he experienced during the time that he was captured and assimilated over the course of these two episodes. Technically, this is a two-parter, but it should really be watched in tandem with the following episode for reasons that will become clear.
Season 4, Episode 2: 'Family'
At the start of Picard, we pick up with Jean-Luc overseeing the business of his family's vineyard — but it's here, in this episode of TNG, that we first have a chance to see Picard's connection to La Barre, France, as well as his dynamic with his brother Robert. Picard is still recovering from his assimilation by the Borg, but it's clear even from this episode that the vineyard serves as a place of comfort and retreat for him, even if he has to navigate some complicated family relationships too.
Season 5, Episode 23: 'I, Borg'
Many familiar faces returned to the Star Trek universe on Picard, including Hugh (played by Jonathan del Arco), a former Borg (or "xB") who has been de-assimilated and now works to help rehabilitate others like him. In this Season 5 episode of TNG, we get to meet Hugh — or Third of Five — for the first time after the crew of the Enterprise discovers him injured among the wreckage of a scout ship. When "Hugh" — a name given to him by Enterprise chief engineer Geordi La Forge — begins to show signs of independence and free will, the crew questions whether they should use him to infiltrate the Borg or let him return to the Collective.
Season 6, Episode 26 and Season 7, Episode 1: 'Descent, Parts 1 and 2'
A full season later, however, it appears that after being sent back to Borg, Hugh's understanding of his own individual identity has started to spread throughout the Collective. The Enterprise encounters Borg ships that are starting to demonstrate unusual behavior. Not only that, but it appears that an old enemy — one with particularly close ties to Lieutenant Data — may be puppeteering the system from behind the scenes.
Season 7, Episodes 25 and 26: 'All Good Things..., Parts 1 and 2'
The two-part conclusion to The Next Generation plays with the notion of time, when Picard finds his mind inexplicably jumping between three different points in his life — right before the events of the first TNG episode and 25 years in his own future when he's retired to work on his family's vineyard. (Sound familiar?) Of course, a time anomaly and the involvement of the Q Continuum is partially to blame, but the episode also serves as a nice coda on watching the series as well as something to keep in the back of your mind when you tune in for that first season of Picard.
Bonus: Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek (2009)
Technically, these are movies, but they all provide more important context for several story components on the Picard series — namely, the continuing presence of the Borg, as well as the circumstances that lead to Data's tragic death (pour out one Earl Grey tea, hot).
And before you ask why that last film is included, well, let's just say that a certain incident with the Romulans may officially cross over into Picard continuity and you might want to have that knowledge in your back pocket. Just sayin'.