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The Lower Decks Connection: Standalone Stories

Sometimes you need a break from those overarching storylines.

A collage of episode screencaps from classic Star Trek shows in circular designs set against a green backdrop.

Welcome back to The Lower Decks Connection, where we curate a watchlist of legacy Star Trek episodes for you based around the latest episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks! This week, we took a break from the U.S.S. Cerritos, and instead followed an unlikely anti-hero through their adventure to find redemption. Yes, you guessed it — it’s a Peanut Hamper episode.

Starfleet’s most unreliable exocomp made her triumphant return to our screens after fleeing the Pakled attack in the Season 1 finale, “No Small Parts.” Outside of a brief glimpse of her floating through space as a post credits scene at the end of that episode, she’s been MIA. But now, she’s making her triumphant return to the screen in “A Mathematically Perfect Redemption.” Will Peanut Hamper find the redemption promised in the title, or will she simply cause more chaos along the way? That question, only Lower Decks can answer.

In the meantime, as we debate the ethics of exocomps, we’ve curated a list of some of the best standalone Star Trek stories. These are episodes that stand apart as contained tales, with a definitive beginning and end. While many of the legacy shows were episodic and have plenty of standalone stories, we’re trying to highlight some of the best out there in our opinion. To do so, we’re defining these episodes as one-offs that are not explored further – either via plot points or character arcs – in the series they appear in. With that in mind, read on!

Kirk and Spock talk to the Guardian of Forever in the episode

One of the most famous Star Trek episodes of the entire franchise, and a classic in every sense of the word, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is one of the quintessential TOS episodes. In it, an ill McCoy jumps through a portal in time and disrupts the timeline, leading to the Federation never being created. It’s up to Kirk and Spock to save the day, which proves difficult when Kirk falls in love with the very woman whose death will insure a brighter future. It’s a powerful meditation on love and the sacrifices we have to make, and showcases Captain Kirk at his most noble… even when it breaks his heart.

Captain Kirk (TOS) is in a pile of tribbles. He looks unhappy.

You might say this is cheating by the standards outlined above, as this episode is directly revisited by the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.” However, as the episode is never revisited within the run of The Original Series, I’m including it out of sheer love for the episode. In another incredibly famous tale, the crew of the Enterprise must handle a Klingon plot as well as an infestation of cuddly, fluffy tribbles that just won’t stop multiplying. It takes all of Kirk’s cunning to find a way to solve both problems, and teaches us all a valuable lesson about making sure that we don’t bring an invasive species into our workplace!

Data, Riker, Worf, and Crusher play poker.

Oh, time loop episodes. A staple of sci-fi shows, a time loop episode is an excellent way to explore characters and their inner lives. This episode opens with perhaps the most shocking opening of a classic Star Trek episode when the Enterprise-D explodes. Slowly, the crew comes to realize that they’re trapped in a time loop (once more, it’s Dr. Crusher who leads the charge to save the day) and they find themselves fighting to save both ship and crew, and free themselves from an endless loop that always ends in tragedy. While success is inevitable – after all, the show wasn’t about to kill off the entire main cast – it’s the journey of how they succeed that makes it a compelling episode.

Twelve year old versions of Keiko, Picard, Ro Laren, and Guinan stand on the transporter pad.

An attempted takeover of the Enterprise-D by villainous Ferengi isn’t the hardest problem the crew has to do deal with in this episode. Instead, they must also contend with Picard, Guinan, Keiko, and Ro Laren turning into 12-year olds due to a transporter error. While the four maintain their adult minds, they find themselves trying to continue their work despite no one being able to take them seriously. The episode’s heart and humor make it stand out, and who can forget how Riker is Picard’s “Number One Dad” in this episode!

Kira Nerys looks at a Cardassian prisoner.

Kira Nerys must face the very real specter of Bajor’s trauma in this outstanding Season 1 episode. When a Cardassian prisoner claims to be Gul Darhe'el, the man who oversaw a labor camp that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Bajorans, Kira’s very real pain over the occupation takes center stage. However, Darhe’el is not all he seems, and the ensuing episode challenges Kira’s beliefs about Cardassians to the core. It's a powerhouse episode that helped Deep Space Nine find its voice in season one.

Captain Sisko embraces his son, Jake.

This tear-jerking episodes highlights the bond between father and son. When Sisko is trapped inside subspace, he only appears at a few scattered moments throughout the life of his son Jake, who is aging without him. Jake is determined to find his father and save him, even going as far as to give up his writing in favor of joining Starfleet to find some cure. If you’re looking for a powerful episode featuring standout performances from Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton, and guest star Tony Todd as the older Jake, you can’t go wrong with this one. Just make sure you’ve got tissues at hand.

A combination of Tuvok and Neelix, named Tuvix, waits for Janeway's decision.

A transporter accident leads to one of Star Trek’s greatest moral quandaries in this episode. When Tuvok and Neelix are fused into a different sentient being, named Tuvix, Janeway must decide whether to allow Tuvix to continue to live and condemn both Tuvok and Neelix to death, or to kill Tuvix to allow Tuvok and Neelix to re-emerge. This episode had sparked debate across the fandom and in academic studies of Star Trek as Janeway grappled with the morality of her decision. I’m not going to pass judgement either way, so I invite newcomers to watch the episode and make the choice for themselves. Either way, it stands alone as one of Voyager’s most controversial episodic storylines that serves to illustrate Star Trek’s commitment to telling fascinating and challenging stories.

Janeway and Tom Paris appear as salamanders on Star Trek: Voyager's Threshold

“Threshold” is… well, infamous to put it mildly. Tom Paris and Captain Janeway break the transwarp barrier which leads to them evolving into salamander creatures. They have salamander babies, and then, when rescued and turned back into humans, they leave said babies behind. It’s the definition of a standalone (no one even references this event again until Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2), and if you’re looking for a break after the heavier episodes on this list – and you want to celebrate Threshold Day next year – then check this out for a sillier adventure.

T'Pol holds her grandmother T'Mir's purse after telling her story.

What if Vulcans were on Earth long before First Contact? T’Pol tells the story of her great-grandmother, T’Mir, and how she and the crew of a Vulcan science vessel crashed near Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania, in 1957. T’Mir and her two surviving crewmates discover the oddities that make up Earth, with varying degrees of shock and affection. Archer and Trip don’t necessarily believe T’Pol’s tale, but the ending shows that indeed, T’Mir made First Contact with Earth all those years before. It’s a sweet story that showcases the good in humanity that is so key to Star Trek’s success.

Did one of your favorite episodes make the cut? Are you furious that “Threshold” made this list? Let us know on social!