I tried. I can't cut any of these episodes. The list feels incomplete without them.
1. The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and II (TNG)
-- Many people think the first half is better, I don't think it is. There is a palpable disillusionment in the second half. Picard is dead, the weapon doesn't work, and the Enterprise has to repair itself. Where do they go from here? It is a tense episode and the stakes are as high as they can get. The resolution is fantastic--to turn their machine efficiency against them. Sleep. So easy. I love it!
2. The Measure of a Man (TNG)
-- Especially with the new footage, this is much more a character piece about Data, and the implications of the law are clear--slavery. It is a wonderfully written and learned script.
3. The Cage (TOS)
-- It still applies today. How many of us could be farmers today? Robots that control our society--it's here. And in a generation, the Cage may look prophetic. That said, it's wonderful storytelling as well. I actually care about Captain Pike and his speech about how we aren't meant to be in a cage--fantastic. Just masterful science fiction. The best thing Gene Roddenberry ever wrote for Star Trek.
4. Q Who? (TNG)
-- Before DS9 made a whole series about it, this is the pilot of Rick Berman's Star Trek. The change in the Federation--to learn about them before we attack, trying to make peace. This is another learned script.
5. First Contact (TNG)
-- Before the 6th and 7th season, this was a part of Picard's character--to be a diplomat. I like how the show is told from the point-of-view of the planet. I love the debate between the old guard and the new ideas. I love the art of diplomacy shown here in this episode. A personal favorite of mine that I have watched 10 times in the last 2 years.
6. Rocks and Shoals (DS9)
-- In the middle of a war, we find out about the relationship of the Jem'Hadar to the Vorta. We find out about the enemy. And in the middle of this war, Sisko shows humanity to the enemy in ways that isn't very common in DS9. Just a masterful episode.
7. The Search, Part I and II (DS9)
-- Not since the pilot had DS9 gone this big. And they do some fantastic work in this episode. The establishment of the founders and their motivations, the approach of Starfleet to this problem and the effect the Borg had on us, Sisko being successful in the mission leads to a host of new problems. It just does a lot for the series and is great storytelling.
8. Hard Time (DS9)
-- Just masterful Deep Space Nine; to take the downside of Earth's paradise. This is what the show is trying to do, and I cry every time I see Miles with the phaser.
9. In the Pale Moonlight (DS9)
-- This episode is the ultimate moral conundrum. Do we have a quick war or do we have a moral war? Compare this Sisko to the one in Rocks and Shoals and you will see the effect of the war.
10. Errand of Mercy (TOS)
-- Before Deep Space Nine, there was Kor and the brutal Klingon Empire. While I haven't seen it in awhile, it's definitely a high-point in the series, and not only for its historical significance. It talks about the need for war to resolve differences. That blindly wishing peace on everyone doesn't solve any of their differences.
- The Visitor (DS9)
-- Makes me cry everytime I watch it.
- Emissary (DS9)
-- By far, the best pilot that actually served as a pilot. I care for Sisko before it's over.
- Far Beyond the Stars (DS9)
-- In the show about oppression, DS9 tells us why this series is still relevant.
- The Offspring (TNG)
-- This is like "The Measure of a Man II." Wonderful episode, and again, it makes me cry when Lal finally dies.
- Darmok (TNG)
-- The language barrier and the imagination to come up with that story. Just amazing.
- The Changeling (TOS)
-- Kirk is fantastic and at its best staring down this totalitarian machine.