Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.
Today I thought that we could have a little bit of (mostly) tongue-in-cheek fun at Star Trek’s expense! See, if a franchise has been running for more than five decades and has broadcast well over 800 episodes and 13 films… there’s bound to be a few crap ones in the mix. I’m not one of those Trekkies who says that “Star Trek is always flawless,” and if you’ve read some of my episode reviews here on the website, you’ll know that!
That being said, this list is intended to be taken in the spirit of light-hearted summertime fun. Even Star Trek at its worst is better than no Star Trek at all, and even in episodes and films that I generally didn’t enjoy, there are almost always fun and engaging elements. And it should go without saying that I’m a huge Star Trek fan – the franchise has too many enjoyable episodes and stories to count.
A few caveats before we go any further: firstly, all of this is, of course, entirely subjective! I’m not trying to claim that these episodes should be considered awful by everyone, simply that I don’t personally enjoy them or find them particularly entertaining. Secondly, this article isn’t meant to be an attack on any actor, director, writer, or anyone else involved in the creative process. I’m an independent critic, so criticism is the name of the game – but it’s never okay to get personal! Finally, if you hate everything I have to say today – or I exclude an episode that you think seems patently obvious for a list like this – that’s totally okay! There should be enough maturity in the Star Trek fan community for a bit of polite disagreement and gentle poking of fun.
All that being said, if you don’t want to read critical (and occasionally downright scathing) opinions about Star Trek, now’s your last chance to nope out!
So without any further ado, let’s jump into the list – which is in no particular order!
Shades of Gray
The Next Generation Season 2
A couple of years ago I jokingly said that Shades of Gray was the best, most underrated episode of The Next Generation – but that was just an April Fool’s Day gag here on the website! Star Trek’s first (and thankfully only) clip show is a bit of a mess, and a disappointing way to end The Next Generation’s otherwise strong second season. It was also the final appearance of Dr Pulaski – who didn’t get any kind of send-off before being dumped from the series.
Television production has changed a lot over the past thirty-five years, but in 1989, The Next Generation was obligated to produce 22 episodes on a fixed budget. A couple of episodes earlier in the season had been more expensive and taken longer to produce than expected – most notably Q Who, which introduced the Borg for the first time – so cuts had to be made. A clip show was a relatively inexpensive way to produce an episode, so Shades of Gray was born. It has to be one of the worst pieces of television in the entire franchise – and a comparatively weak premise/frame narrative couldn’t hold it together. Luckily, clip shows are now a thing of the past – so we’re not going to see another Star Trek episode like this!
The Red Angel
Discovery Season 2
For me, The Red Angel was a total misfire toward the end of Discovery’s second season. Season 2 had been an improvement on Season 1 – thanks in no small part to the inclusions of Captain Pike and Spock – but The Red Angel knocks it down a rung or two. In short, it suffers from two major problems: the mischaracterisation of Georgiou, who began behaving like her Prime Timeline counterpart out of the blue, and its convoluted time travel story.
Time travel is very difficult to get right in fiction, and The Red Angel presents one of the worst and most irritating time travel tropes: the paradox. It made no sense for the rest of the crew to let Burnham know what their plan was, as they were operating under the assumption that the titular Red Angel was Burnham from the future. It was just a disappointment all around – albeit one that led to better things in the remaining part of the season.
These Are The Voyages…
Enterprise Season 4
Enterprise’s finale, regrettably, has to be one of the weakest endings to a series in the franchise. And I think it’s this episode’s status as a finale that compounds the disappointment – though it wouldn’t have been a great offering on its own merit, admittedly. To make matters worse, These Are The Voyages was conceived as an attempt to really celebrate all things Star Trek and to bring together two different, disconnected parts of the franchise. It’s such a shame that it wasn’t a stronger story.
By 2004, Enterprise’s cancellation was clearly imminent. And to its credit, These Are The Voyages jumps forward in time to wrap up Enterprise’s story of Captain Archer and the crew and the role they played in the creation of the United Federation of Planets. But the decision to use a frame narrative set during The Next Generation, reducing all of Enterprise’s main stars to holograms, wasn’t great for a series finale. There were also issues with the visual presentation of The Next Generation sequences – issues that, for the most part, were unavoidable. Had the same concept been applied to a mid-season episode, it might’ve worked better.
Lower Decks Season 1
My criticism of Envoys largely focuses on one sequence – but it’s a sequence so bad and so antithetical to everything that Star Trek stands for that I feel it warrants a place on this list. Where Lower Decks has succeeded is in finding ways to make the wacky goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed, in my view, was in its early attempts to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez – something that’s on full display in the opening sequence of Envoys.
In this sequence, Mariner captures (or kidnaps) a sentient energy-based life form because she thinks it’ll be funny, and then forces the creature to grant her a wish. I know that this is a comedy series and the sequence is meant to be a gag – partly, at least, at Mariner’s expense. But I can’t forgive how selfish and inherently un-Starfleet she acts. Lower Decks has told some incredible stories across its first three seasons, but this sequence at the beginning of Envoys is not among them.
Move Along Home
Deep Space Nine Season 1
I adore Deep Space Nine on the whole… but Move Along Home might just be its worst individual episode. The premise is utterly ridiculous, as Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Dr Bashir are transported into an alien board game. Star Trek has had lots of fun with similarly wacky story concepts over the years, but Move Along Home is poorly executed, and the rug-pull at the end – that there was never any real danger – just adds to the disappointment.
The set design used for parts of Move Along Home is pretty poor, leading to an underwhelming visual presentation. Star Trek in the ’90s often reused sets and props to save money, but in Move Along Home it just doesn’t feel as if much effort was put into the episode’s visual style. There’s a reason why the alien race featured in this episode, the Wadi, haven’t been revisited!
Picard Season 2
We could’ve made up nine-tenths of this list with Picard Season 2 episodes, but if I had to pick one out of that thoroughly disappointing season that encapsulates its issues, it would have to be Monsters. This navel-gazing story abandoned most of the season’s semi-interesting plotlines, including Q, Picard’s ancestor Renée, and the Borg in order to stage a ridiculous coma-dream populated by the most uninspired and amateurish B-movie monsters that I’ve seen in the franchise this side of The Original Series.
Moreover, Monsters is a waste of time. It fails to move the story along at a reasonable pace, and that led to serious problems in the remaining part of the season. Despite learning a theoretically interesting fact about Jean-Luc Picard’s early life, the revelation isn’t as big as the story wishes it to be – and it does nothing to reframe Picard’s characterisation, personality, or outlook on life, nor show them in a new light.
Voyager Season 5
Seven of Nine was a fascinating addition to Voyager when she joined the crew – though I confess that I was sad at the time to lose Kes. But as I’ve said before here on the website, I never felt that the writers of Voyager did justice to Seven of Nine, and Infinite Regress is just one example among many of samey, repetitive, and just plain boring over-uses of this character.
Seven’s appearance in Infinite Regress is a riff on the same idea used in Season 4’s The Raven, to such an extent that I sometimes get the two stories muddled up. It was one of the first solid indications that Seven’s original premise was played out, and things only went downhill from here. Seven was thrust into the spotlight often across the back half of Voyager’s run – and that wasn’t always to the show’s benefit. There are some decent stories in the mix, sure, but there are also more than a few repetitive and uninspired ones. It wasn’t until Seven re-emerged in Picard that she was given the chance to develop and grow as a character – and I can’t tell you how cathartic that process has been to see!
The Original Series Season 3
No list of bad Star Trek episodes would be complete without Spock’s Brain! Widely considered to be the worst that The Original Series has to offer, this ridiculous story was a pretty poor start to the show’s third and final season. The Original Series Season 3 was greenlit after a letter-writing campaign from fans, but television network NBC only agreed to renew the show in exchange for cuts to its budget. Episodes like Spock’s Brain were the result of trying to keep costs down.
There’s a certain charm to Spock’s Brain in some ways… but in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way rather than for anything the story does on its own merit! A combination of the utterly bonkers premise and some less-than-stellar special effects make this a no-brainer for this list – pun very much intended!
Code of Honor
The Next Generation Season 1
Code of Honor is incredibly outdated and racist in its depiction of Africans – and it boggles my mind that it was ever made, let alone that it was made for The Next Generation as late as 1987! Surely someone must’ve realised, while the episode was in production, that a story about a black planetary leader (with a noticeable accent) kidnapping a white female crew member would be problematic.
Unlike other episodes on this list, it’s hard to find any redeeming features in Code of Honor, and it’s one that I have to say I can’t enjoy in any way. It was a mistake to make it and to bring it to screen – but it serves as a reminder that Star Trek, despite its lofty ambitions and attempts to depict a better, more enlightened future, can still get it wrong.
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1
Picard Season 1
After the preceding eight episodes had slowly built up an intriguing mystery, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 derailed Picard’s first season. The episode tried to dump whole new factions, characters, and storylines into the season but didn’t have anywhere near enough time to do justice to any of them. The truly disappointing thing isn’t that these ideas were bad, but that the poorly-paced episode and season ran out of road, making the entire season feel worse in retrospect.
Some scenes in Et in Arcadia Ego are so short that they’re barely even clips, with characters seeming to speak to no one. Special effects weren’t great, either, with a copy-and-paste Romulan fleet comprised of identical starships. And that gold makeup used for the Coppelius synths is just awful. Despite a solid performance across the rest of the season as Soji, Isa Briones was unconvincing as the rogue synth leader Sutra, too. All in all, a misfire – and one that, sadly, damages the integrity of the entire ten-episode story.
So that’s it!
I hope your favourite episode wasn’t on the list! But if it was, please try to keep in mind that we don’t all like the same things, and even as Trekkies there are going to be disagreements about which stories work and which don’t within the Star Trek franchise. This was meant to be a bit of fun, not something to be taken too seriously or to get worked up over!
Although there are a handful of Star Trek episodes that I generally don’t enjoy, every series, and practically every season of every series, has wonderful moments of action, adventure, sci-fi, and more. I’m a huge Star Trek fan – even if I don’t enjoy everything that the franchise has put out over the last fifty-six years!
You’ll note that Prodigy and Strange New Worlds didn’t feature on the list above – and that’s because the first seasons of both shows were pretty darn good. I couldn’t pick a single episode from either show that I could genuinely say I disliked, and I think that’s testament to the quality of modern Star Trek. Picard’s third season was good, too, and though Discovery has made mistakes, Season 4 was a vast improvement and ended in spectacular fashion. So there are plenty of reasons to be positive as we look ahead to upcoming productions!
So I hope you enjoyed this look at a few of Star Trek’s less-than-great stories. I actually had fun revisiting some of these episodes, several of which I hadn’t watched in years. Although the stories themselves aren’t great, it’s still nice to go back and watch them sometimes!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series, films, and episodes mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.