In addition to just barely convincing special effects, surprisingly plotted stories, an unshakeable moral compass, and the bravery to talk about real world issues, Star Trek: The Next Generation could also tell a pretty solid love story.
In the late '80s, television sci-fi still meant storylines where men felt most of the conflict, and the women usually just had crazy alien lovers stalking them across space. But in between those lesser instincts, there are several couples that are impressive for the respect they show to both partners’ point of view, and offering a fun twist of futurism.
Star Trek:The Next Generation, and sci-fi in general, offers essential perspective on real-life, present day issues of trying to bridge cultural differences and balancing work and love. This is just as essential as any other commentary the show offers. Everyone is so desperate for relationship advice or validation that they’ll connect to a character going through the ups and downs of romantic intoxication. Even if that character is an alien from a future planet so far away that it probably doesn’t even exist, viewers can see themselves in that character’s position so vividly, and they can imagine how they’d like to be treated in that situation.
Star Trek episodes are no substitute for real relationship experience and wisdom, but they sure are good at filling the hours in between those real romances.
With a heart beating at maximum warp, here are 10 Couples That Hurt The Next Generation, And 10 That Saved It.
20 Hurt - Wesley and Salia
As novel as the idea of a teenager on the bridge crew was, the fans never quite embraced Wesley Crusher. The doctor’s son was a brilliant engineer -- brilliant to the point of being improbable and even irritating.
One reason could be his completely flat approach to romance. This is put on full display as he tries to figure out how to talk to girls, in a second season episode when two dignitaries ask for safe passage aboard the Enterprise.
Salia is a political figure torn between two worlds, trying to act as a token of peace, and Wesley thinks she’s really pretty. His fumbling around around for his own feelings is only redeemed by scenes of the rest of the cast, giving advice while taking pity on his adolescence.
19 Saved - Riker and Soren
As the series progressed, it was known to tackle themes with more maturity. In season five, romance is put to a purpose when Riker falls for Soren, a member of an androgynous species. Naturally the chemistry is mutual, and though Soren’s people have put gender behind them, as they grow closer, Soren reveals to Riker that internally, the desire to be female still persists in her heart and mind.
When their relationship leads to the rest of her people finding out about these desires, consequences unfold and Soren is eventually prosecuted and put into corrective treatment, for a “cure”.
This episode is a great example of internal and external manifestations of gender pressure.
It leaves the matter unresolved, as Soren goes into treatment and Riker is bound by the prime directive.
18 Hurt - Troi and Worf
The season seven bag of tricks included a fresh spin on both Worf and Troi, throwing the two into a glancing romantic entanglement. The sparks between them didn’t last very long, but there was a definite multi-episode fling that just never really caught on.
Audiences see Counselor Troi first cross Worf’s mind in an alternate reality episode, where he’s been taken in by telepathic aliens. A few missions later, the two are put together to investigate a crewman’s mysterious passing.
A scene between Worf and Riker asking if he can have permission to date the Counselor starts this interlude off on an awkward foot.
Then when they actually start seeing each other, it feels merely like an empty wedge between Troi and Riker before Worf is transferred to Deep Space Nine.
17 Saved - Data and Lieutenant Yar
A few episodes after audiences are introduced to Data for the first time, a condition comes over the entire ship which spikes their hormone levels, and the entire crew is driven crazy with affection for each other.
Maybe it's a set-up that rings more of old Trek, but for Data and Lieutenant Tasha Yar, this results in an awkward situation that morphs into a philosophical quandary.
Yar goes on to a short tenure on the show, but the connection between she and Data is one that reverberates throughout their characters and the whole series.
It was an early nod to the audience toward the depth of story they were trying to tell: It’s going to be funny, it’s going to be adventurous, and it’s going to make you think.
16 Hurt - LaForge and Christy Henshaw
With how many episodes as were dedicated higher ranking officers’ love lives, it would be nice to see the romantic life of the engineering crew more. Or at least just Geordi La Forge’s.
His character was never able to find love on the show. He seemed to be too obsessed with machines and how they work together to figure out the mysteries of the heart.
Christy Henshaw is an unfortunate crew member whom Geordi pursues but never seems to be able to connect with.
The extent of their relationship on the show is to reflect La Forge’s romantic progress; they have several scenes where she’s either not interested in his advances, or interested for the wrong reasons. It’s alright that Geordi is unlucky in love, but his flat affect with Christy is a little emotionally out of character for him.
15 Saved - Picard and Dr. Crusher
The one shot episodes of romance offer fresh looks at all the characters, and the multiple episode arcs add a little intrigue, hope, or drama, but the slow-burning romances, the ones that last the entire series, season after season, are the really bright character spots.
The way Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher danced around each other on that ship was emotionally charged the entire time. It was always lurking just beneath the surface.
The two shared a special closeness and respect that bled into other parts of their work lives as well, though they always managed to keep it professional.
In fact, even though the two were thrown together constantly, and their friendship was routinely deepened, the two have never confronted their feelings directly, even though romantic feelings are all but explicitly stated.
14 Hurt - Riker and Etana Jol
Riker, a Risa aficionado, meets a new friend on the planet who takes advantage of him without his knowledge by getting him addicted to a primitive game device that covers the eyes. The addiction is manipulated by the device controlling the wearer’s brain chemistry, all the person has to do is put it on and they’re hooked.
Once Riker returned to the ship, this agonizing addiction spread from crew member to crew member until, in time, the problem solving skills of Starfleet’s finest isolated the cause of all this strange behavior.
The culprit is determined to be Etana, and her motives turn out to be political, acting as a member of the Ktarian expansion project.
13 Saved - Picard and Eline
When the Enterprise answers a distress signal, Picard is hit by a beam which sends him into an episode long trance that convinces him that he’s entered a new life on the planet in distress, Kataan. After a while, Picard sets up a role for himself in this new community, and he even finds out he already has a wife, Eline.
This episode shows that with a little love and kindness, the human spirit is capable of astonishing things.
Picard starts a family of his own on this new planet, and crafts a fulfilling life for himself. The proof is at the end when the audience is sad to see that community was nothing more than a simulation, and Picard’s lifetime with Eline was really only a few minutes of lost consciousness.
12 Hurt - Dr. Crusher and Ronin
TNG's finale season gave Dr. Crusher an absurd romantic journey.
The doctor has returned home for her grandmother’s funeral. Crusher’s grandmother was living on a space colony that was supposed to look like Scotland, so there’s a great backdrop to this episode, but the charm ends there when a mysterious spirit starts making its presence and attraction to Dr. Crusher, known.
After a lot of bumps, jump scares, and creepy walks around a castle, viewers eventually learn that this ghostly entity, Ronin, has been floating around since the 1600s in Scotland, harassing all of the doctor’s female ancestors.
Now it’s Crusher’s turn-- it works for awhile, but eventually it’s too creepy and she modifies a phaser to subdue him.
11 Saved - Worf and K’ehleyr
Like Deep Space Nine would do with Ferengi, and the original series did with Vulcans, this series went all in on developing the Klingon race.
Worf was the viewers' front row seat to this Klingon anthropology course and once he established his cred a little bit, season two found him in an extremely consequential relationship with a visiting Klingon ambassador.
K’ehleyr has known Worf since Starfleet Academy, but her half human heritage didn’t work with his quest for Klingon tradition. Once they met aboard the Enterprise, all of those misgivings boiled away until they intimately crossed paths in the holodeck.
K’ehleyr refused Worf’s ensuing marriage proposal, but the tryst bore him a son and a family name that he spends the rest of his Star Trek run protecting.
10 Hurt - Dr. Crusher and Berlinghoff Rasmussen
Dr. Crusher is once again subjected to the creepy leerings of a one-off character in one fifth season episode that also dabbles in time travel.
Berlinghoff Rasmussen makes his way onto the Enterprise by claiming to be travelling from more than 200 years in the future. He’s obviously not of this period, but he gets a little vague when pressed for details.
The mystery kicks off around the ship, and the traveller’s wanderings eventually lead him to hit on Dr. Crusher. This relationship didn’t get ever get off the ground, but there was a glimmer of mutual attraction.
All of this is shattered once it’s revealed that Rasmussen is, in fact, from the past, instead of the future, and was only trying to steal technology.
9 Saved - LaForge and Leah Brahms’ Hologram
It started off innocently enough between these two. The Enterprise was losing power for some unknown reason; LaForge combed through the computer, and fortunately found a simulation of one of the original engine designers.
Leah Brahms’ scholarship and personality markers combined to make an interactive troubleshooting routine that ended up saving the whole ship. Then Geordi begins an intimate relationship with the hologram.
Holodeck dependency is portrayed beautifully as the flip side to the ever-expanding acceptance of a lifeform like Data.
Lieutenant Barclay and Geordi have had their problems with overuse in the series, and in LaForge’s case it comes to a head when he meets the real woman. Real Brahms isn’t happy at all, and LaForge has to learn to put that piece of himself aside in order to respect and befriend the real person.
8 Hurt - Data and Lieutenant D’Sora
Data is put to his most rigorous romantic examination here, and he doesn’t fare too well, unfortunately.
When crewmate Lieutenant Jenna D’Sora develops an attraction for Data, she tells him so, and he’s delighted at the news because he’s been anxious to learn more about human romance. The two enter into the relationship with an open mind, but it’s quickly obvious that Data struggles to be an emotionally available partner for D’Sora.
Despite his repeated, earnest attempts to have a successful relationship, D’Sora eventually clues him in that his objectives are flawed. He wants merely to conduct a successful experiment; he doesn’t need or yearn for D’Sora’s company.
Finding himself without a heart to give to another, Data’s way of life takes another turn.
7 Saved - Riker and Troi
Another one for the slow-burn category. Een in that first season, caddish, beardless phase of Commander Riker, there was an inkling of chemistry between he and Deanna Troi. Over the seasons, it grew deeper, but it also grew more mature as well. Their relationship was far from all-consuming.
Both Riker and Troi also have several other relationships in the years between spells when they’re together, so the closeness between the two signifies something far more permanent than a passing infatuation.
Riker’s not afraid to talk to Troi about his relationship problems, and vice versa.
The two are always there for each other as friends first, and then when they’re drawn toward each other romantically, they fall in love all over again.
6 Hurt - LaForge and Aquiel Uhnari
Geordi takes another swing at romance, and gets a little closer in this episode, but the confines of the show still force him into rushed relationships. Upon investigation of a distant Starfleet outpost, the Enterprise discovers an officer there has been slain and the lead suspect is the only other person there, a Haliian named Aquiel Uhnari.
The evidence is piling up against her, but as Geordi reads Aquiel’s personal files, he starts to come over to her side. Geordi felt like it would be a good idea to review all of her log document and personal journals, and he really liked what he read.
This is becoming a pattern for LaForge: falling for the idea of women.
When he meets Aquiel in person, they have no problem concluding their romance in one episode.
5 Saved - Chief O’Brien and Keiko
Miles O’Brien and Keiko Ishikawa got married in the middle of season four. He was working in the transporter room, she was an exobotanist doing research, they clicked.
The best part about these two is that they’re not by any means a perfect couple, but they work through it anyway. They have a daughter, Molly, and the whole family gives an essential balance to the main cast of the show.
Show this in the background every once in a while shows that the crew of the Enterprise is really a lot bigger than ten people sitting on the bridge, the ship carries entire households.
O’Brien, Keiko, and Molly were transferred to Deep Space Nine when that station opened. It raised a commotion at the dinner table, but in service of Starfleet, the family relocated.
4 Hurt - Picard and Lieutenant Commander Daren
When Picard's chemistry works, it really works, but just as often, it can backfire-- as it did in the case of Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren.
Daren came on to lead a new science team aboard the Enterprise, hoping for more ambitious, theoretical experiments. Due to her professional reputation and her love of the piano, Picard is drawn to the Lieutenant Commander, but as their relationship progresses, it soon becomes awkward to have the Captain fraternizing with one of his senior officers.
It’s not clear who overstepped the bounds. Maybe there’s some way it could have worked out between the two, but their connection threw the whole ship out of whack.
Even Riker was starting to get a little jealous.
Picard couldn’t let her assignment aboard the ship last longer than one episode before he broke it off.
3 Saved - Picard and Vash
Risa, the planet devoted to all pleasure and desire, has been standby for hijinx since the original series. Captain Picard took a trip there in which he found a glimmer of happiness too, during season three.
Picard bumps into a space archaeologist named Vash while on the planet, and oh so coincidentally, and they find out that they actually have great chemistry together. Picard is discovering a side of himself that he’s never known, until he learns she used him for protection to steal an artifact.
The two parted ways surprisingly amicably and she didn’t vanish from his mind easily.
When Vash came back to the show the next season, as a pawn in a game with Q, Picard revealed a new, endearingly awkward side, proving that enduring romance wasn’t his strong suit.
2 Hurt - Riker and Mistress Beata
In the pre-beard era, Riker was still filling the role of opportunistic male womanizer, while being a respectable officer. In one episode of that first season, the First Officer takes a move right out of the Shatner playbook and barters an unknown crystal for a night with Mistress Beata, the monarch of an all-female planet.
Riker is a cad, but Beata was intrigued by his masculinity, so he felt he should oblige. Meanwhile, some male refugees are shipwrecked on the planet.Beata and the laws of her land have decided they are to be executed, but after much pleading, Riker got her to soften her position slightly. Then the Enterprise flew away into more modern times.
1 Saved - Picard and Lwaxana
Lwaxana Troi makes her debut in season two as Counselor Deanna Troi’s Betazoid mother. Her flamboyant demeanor and empathetic nature makes her hilariously immune to all of life’s insecurities, often to the embarrassment of the Counselor.
Lwaxana frequently chides Captain Picard for his refusal to accept their romantic connection. In fact, she’s so insistent that Picard often turns into a fleeing little schoolboy whenever she’s aboard the ship.
Once, Lwaxana Troi, as Ambassador from Betazed to the Federation, was meeting a Ferengi delegation for trade talks. Picard hosted the whole deal between the three species, who, at the time had an uneasy peace.
An uncomfortable abduction was resolved when Picard demanded Lwaxana’s return from the Ferengi, on account of his love for her. The deceit was a perfect excuse for Patrick Stewart to recite a sonnet or two.
What's your favorite couple from Star Trek: The Next Generation? Sound off in the comments!