No Hugos for Star Trek for over two decades, and then two in three years (and a Saturn). Yep, the early nineties is a real Renaissance for the Trek franchise, and The Next Generation is at the heart of it.
The Next Generation picks up about a century after the original series (so, it should’ve been called “Star Trek: Four or Five Generations Later”) and follows a new Enterprise (version “D”) with a more rationalist and diplomatic Captain than Kirk named Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). There’s also a robot, an empath, a blind engineer, and a Klingon security officer. It’s a nice cast of characters, and it’s much more of an ensemble series than the original. Or, most of the time. Patrick Stewart is the star of the show, however, and he can usually act circles around everyone else on set. As a result, the series really hinges on Picard.
In fact, I’d say the first two seasons suffer by not highlighting Stewart enough. The Hugo voters nominated the pilot and then promptly ignored the show for four years. It’s not too surprising considering the show’s obvious growing pains. This episode, from near the end of the series’ fifth season, is all about Patrick Stewart. Beware, I’m going to spoil this one, though I think it’s fairly obvious where it’s all going.
The Enterprise investigates a strange probe, which promptly puts Picard into a coma. He awakes on an alien world, where everyone insists that he is a man named Kamin, and that he is married. At first, he resists their claims and tries to figure out how to get back to his ship, but years pass, and he settles down. He starts a family with his wife, teaches his daughter science, becomes an upstanding member of the community, and learns to play the flute. He becomes an old man, and his astronomical observations lead him to realize that their planet is dying. Then he wakes up and discovers that whole life had been implanted in his mind as a monument to a dead civilization. What was decades of life for him was mere minutes for the rest of Enterprise crew.
It’s a great science fiction concept that creates a really touching scenario. It’s a quiet episode with no action sequences or alien baddies (take that Abrams!). It’s just scenes from a random guy’s life, but it’s about family, loss, and mortality, and it’s entirely carried by Stewart’s performance, which is amazing. In my opinion, this is Star Trek’s finest hour.