Ron Moore and Brannon Braga wrote this final episode of The Next Generation. They had become fairly integral to the show by this point, and I think their aesthetics added a lot to the show – it became less episodic, more serious and just a tinge darker under their watch.
Like, “Inner Light,” this is a fine example of what Star Trek: The Next Generation does well, and, again, it focuses on Patrick Stewart, by far the show’s strongest actor and biggest presence. It’s also an amazing model for how to do a series’ finale: it looks back to the show’s beginning and looks forward to see where the characters might go without losing sight of the present. The godlike entity Q (John DeLance) causes Picard to skip back and forth, Slaughterhouse-Five-style, through three periods in time – the show’s present, seven years earlier when the Enterpise-D launched (the show’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” which was nominated for a Hugo), and twenty-five years into the future. In all three time periods, Picard must investigate a cosmic MacGuffin – these leads to doubts from his fledgling crew in the past, and, in the future, Picard has to “get the band back together” while his old crew suspects that he is suffering the effects of a degenerative brain disease. The MacGuffin is rather pointless and nonsensical, but the writing and acting are excellent, and it’s a brilliant way to send off the show.
Star Trek has yet to pick up another Hugo, though there is some good material out there after this – at some point maybe I’ll take an opportunity to say a bit more about DS9. There’s also a lot of really bad Trek after this as well, including a few awful Next Generation films, including Generations, written by the same Braga-Moore team and filming almost immediately after this episode. You can’t win them all.
I wonder how many more Hugos TNG would have won if they had separated the dramatic presentation categories as they do now. There wasn’t much competition; I think The Next Generation prompted a lot of the sf shows that appeared in the 90s. These two Picard episodes are very deserving, especially “The Inner Light,” but it would have been nice for some of the Klingon episodes to get more attention – the show builds a fairly rich culture for these aliens that were just swarthy moustache-twirlers in the Original Series. “Sins of the Father” and “Reunion” are very good. The alternate timeline action episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is also worthy of attention, as are some of the Asimovian robot stories about Data, like “Measure of a Man.” Then there’s the more action-oriented battle with the Borg in “Best of Both Worlds.” I’m sure the show was bad as often as it was great, but those great episodes really are some of the finest science fiction television of all time.