47988. That is the stardate at which this episode begins. That is the only stardate I know by heart. And "All Good Things" is the finale by which I have judged every other final episode of every show I have ever watched in the intervening two decades since it first aired.
Last time, when we talked about Star Trek pilots, I reminisced over how I watched "Encounter At Farpoint" with the wonder of a child. By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation ended, the show had seen me grow from an excitable grade school yutz to jaded adolescence. Breaking through the dense, self-obsessed fog of the teenaged mind is no easy feat, but I sat there the night "All Good Things" went out, attention fully rapt.
"All Good Things" is the perfect ending for Star Trek: The Next Generation -- you get some theoretical science, you get exploration of the nature of human existence, you get the Neutral Zone, spatial anomalies, Q, heck even Tasha Yar comes back. Tasha Yar, y'all. I'm not saying Star Trek: The Next Generation had a lot of wrapping up to do, but they basically covered everything there was to cover.
In a final season that was, let's be really real now, mostly garbage (Picard's fake son, Data wearing some masks, Geordi's ghost mom), "All Good Things" came out of nowhere. And it was an afterthought! Of all the amazing things about TNG's finale is the fact that the writers were so busy fretting over the first TNG movie, Star Trek: Generations, that they basically farted this script out over a weekend. Sometimes divine inspiration comes when you gotta hit that deadline.
"All Good Things" is sort of like A Christmas Carol, but without the Christmas part -- Picard learns an important lesson about life by looking at his past, present, and potential future. It's actually a really great structure for a TV finale because it gives the show a chance to look back on where it came from and imagine what might be while reveling in all the best of what it is now.
It's great to see the evolution between Picard and Q. By coming full circle, we're again seeing Q cast judgment on all of humanity (savage, child race), only now Picard and Q are...well, they're friends in a way. For all his bluster, Picard embraces the opportunity to prove why humanity is worthwhile and, deep down, Q wants to see Picard overcome adversity. Unlike "Encounter at Farpoint" this is no longer a god vs. man story, it's about two beings teaching other other. It's about relationships.
And that's what the whole episode is about -- the bonds formed over seven years. We can see firsthand how far Data has come in his quest for humanity, how Worf went from lonely outsider to beloved father and confidant. We get to see how friends deal with change, whether it's the death of a friend, the loss of intimacy, mental illness, and just the inevitable way that time can pull even the closest people away from each other.
But then everything circles back. It's not just that Q's trial never ends, it's that, even under remarkably difficult circumstances, the Enterprise crew will still come through for Picard, even if he might just be crazy.
Yes, Q says he was trying to teach Picard how to see the world from a different angle, showing him how to spot paradoxes and look outside humanity's narrow, linear existence, but what he really taught Picard was how important it is to rely on the people around him. It's only because Data, Riker, Beverly, Worf, and Troi all work together that the puzzle of the anti-time anomaly gets solved.
And, in the end, "All Good Things" pulls out the card you didn't expect -- the poker game. From Season 2 onward, poker was a regular fixture on the show. Sometimes, a round of poker could set up the plot, but mostly it was how the crew would unwind together. Except Picard never played with them, which makes sense because Picard is the biggest outsider of them all -- always hiding behind a shield of authority and duty.
So, when Picard walks through those doors and sits at that table for the first time, you know it's right, but you're not ready. "I should've done this a long time ago." "You were always welcome". I'm crying just typing it.
It is the perfect ending. It is such a perfect ending, in fact, that I don't even count the TNG movies. This is how I'll always remember the crew of the Enterprise D -- five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit.