By Dan Ortiz
Throughout the Final Frontier, actors and actresses of stage and screen brought something special to the beloved franchise. Out of hundreds of episodes and dozens of films, Star Trek’s acting bench has turned in several unforgettable performances. So, today we look at some of the Final Frontier’s most striking and emotional performances.
Selection criteria: Instead of a “best of” list, I focused on a collection of my favorite moments and those that might not make more traditional “best of” lists. My only criteria were moments that stood the test of time, served their ultimate stories and featured great performances by those involved. I’m sure there are great choices out there! Please post yours in the comments!
First Contact: Picard’s Final Line
Setting the scene: As the Enterprise E faces ultimate defeat at the hands of the Borg, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and 21st-century denizen Lily (Alfre Woodard) go head-to-head over the course of action: stay and fight or self-destruct and run to safety?
Why this scene: Woodard and Stewart’s face-off provides one of the best and most emotionally-charged monologue moments of the Final Frontier. Stewart’s Moby Dick monologue in particular is a franchise feat that’s yet to be beat.
Generations: Time Is A Predator
Setting the scene: Faced with the possibility of entering parallel universe “The Nexus,” mad Scientist Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) is attempting to justify to Captain Picard his planet-killing super weapon, which serves as the entry into he Nexus’ heaven-like bliss.
Why this scene: McDowell’s piercing performance underscores the film’s undercurrents of destiny, fate and family.
Wrath of Khan : The Game’s Not Over
Setting the scene: As the crippled USS Reliant faces certain defeat, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montablan) takes his last breaths and attempts to cement his obsessive ambition to see Kirk and crew dead.
Why this scene: Khan’s death rattle is forever seared into my memory for its passion and high drama. Montablan’s inspired and powerful (but never overblown) performance set an impossibly high bar for Star Trek villains. You can practically feel his searing hatred through the screen.
The Original Series : Edith Keeler Must Die
Episode: The City on the Edge of Forever
Season 1, Episode 28
Setting the scene: After the crew of the Enterprise finds itself stuck in the early 20th century (don’t ask), Kirk, Spock and McCoy encounter pacifist social worker Edith Keeler (portrayed masterfully by guest star Joan Collins).
However, upon learning that Keeler’s pacifist actions will irreparably damage the flow of history by affecting the outcome of World War II, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are faced with Star Trek’s primary time traveling maxim - that no action taken in the past can affect the future. So, Spock, McCoy and Kirk inevitably arrive at the conclusion that Edith Keeler must die.
Why this scene: After realizing their grave discovery, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are forced to watch as Keeler is struck by an oncoming car. The scene particularly resonates because most of the acting is a prime example of “Show Don’t Tell” as the action (and more importantly, the acting) plays out on our heroes’ faces.
Another well-known Star Trek law is - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Yet, this scene remains a heartbreaking reminder of the cost of sacrifice for the greater good.
Deep Space Nine : Sisko Goes Beyond The Stars
Episode: Far Beyond The Stars
Season 6, Episode 13
Setting the scene: As the brutal, bloody Dominion war wages on, Captain Sisko suffers the loss of a friend aboard the USS Cortez, ostensibly lost with all hands in a firefight with the Dominion.
In the wake of his loss, Sisko contemplates resigning his post, but not before suffering hallucinations and falling into a fever-like trance as the result of abnormal brain activity. He envisions himself and his crewmates as writers in 1950s New York City, with Sisko appearing as aspiring science fiction writer Benny Russell, who is told that no one will read “stories written by Negros.”
While working on the story of a far-flung space station set amongst the stars, Sisko is persistently harassed, marginalized and ignored while writing the story of his lifetime (almost literally), one in which men and women of all colors will find their place in the stars. However, after ultimately refusing to rewrite the captain character as white, he's told to put the manuscript away for 50 years or “however long it takes for the human race to catch up.”
Why this scene: Benny’s ultimate meltdown upon finding his story has been shelved was a tour de force moment for Avery Brooks, who gives a performance that was equal parts prescient and passionate. It still resonates today, almost 22 years later.
Deep Space Nine : Sisko In The Pale Moonlight
Episode: In The Pale Moonlight
Season 6, Episode 19
Setting the scene: As the Dominion War continues to exert its toll on Captain Sisko and the Federation-Klingon alliance, casualty lists continue to grow, and morale begins to sink. Sisko engages in subterfuge to lure the Romulans into the fight that ultimately blows up in his face - most literally when the Romulan target of the scheme is found dead in an exploded shuttlecraft. Ultimately, the ploy works in the favor of the Alliance but not without a great emotional toll on Sisko.
Why this scene: Avery Brooks delivers a powerful final monologue that lays bare a haunted Sisko’s ambition to win at any cost.
Voyager : Assimilation: Complete
Episode: Dark Frontier, Pt 1
Season 5, Episode 15
Setting the scene: Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) has returned to the Borg Collective - seemingly of her own will. Now back under the heel of the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson taking over Queen duties from First Contact’s Alice Krige), Seven is forced to resume assimilation of a helpless species. Upon seeing the horrors of assimilation again up close, Seven sets some of the captives free, leading to a showdown with the Borg Queen herself.
Why this scene: Jeri Ryan plays off of Thompson’s Queen incredibly well. Their war of words waged in a novel mix of ideology and wry humor.
Voyager : Seven Learns to Trust Again
Episode: The Voyager Conspiracy
Season 6, Episode 9
Setting the scene: Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) suffers a critical error with her regeneration alcove, which accidentally feeds her cybernetic brain a high volume of Voyager’s computer data. Unable to process the sudden influx of information, Seven begins making wild connections and theories, which lead to her lash out against Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and crew.
Why this scene: In the midst of the wild conspiracy theories and accusations, the two women share a tender moment in which Captain Janeway lovingly reminds Seven of her journey. Jeri Ryan applies just the right amount of nuance and vulnerability to this scene to make it truly heartwarming.
Deep Space Nine : Around Every Corner
Season 4, Episode 11
Setting the scene: As Shapeshifters begin encroaching on Earth as a prelude to the Dominion War, Sisko and Starfleet Command become increasingly paranoid of changelings infiltrating the Federation, which leads to this explosive confrontation between father and son.
Why this scene: Brock Peters’ steely performance as Joseph Sisko was always a series highlight, but this one scene really allowed him to plumb into a deep well of emotion while playing off of the always great Avery Brooks. It makes this scene a chilling and thrilling knockout.
All about nerd culture and the show.