Putting on a TV show is a lot of work. They have to get together as many as 26 episodes, and have them written, filmed, and edited by the time that they’re scheduled to air. There’s no flexibility here. Movie dates get moved back sometimes, but this almost never happens with television (upcoming Syfy miniseries Ascension is a rare example, having been moved back from November to December). What all this really means is that, well, they just don’t have time to make sure every script is perfect before sending it out. Sometimes, the writers just have to accept the fact that this episode is going to be crap and there’s nothing to be done about that. Other times, no one realized how bad this would be on screen until it was already too late, and they can’t just throw the footage away. Everyone just has to make it as best they can and deal with it.
That’s how we ended up with these, four episodes so bad that the creators are more than willing to admit that they screwed up. So let’s honor their honesty by taking a look at what made these episodes worth rejecting.
4. Babylon 5 – Grey 17 is Missing
One of the most incredible things about Babylon 5 is that John Michael Straczynski was almost singlehandedly responsible for it. He wrote most of the season 1 and 2 episodes (where that bear originated), every episode in season 3 and 4, and every episode but one in season 5. This was unprecedented at the time and, to my knowledge, has never since been matched. But the show did take 5 years to tell its story completely, and it’s almost impossible for nothing to go wrong over that amount of time, which is how we ended up with “Grey 17 is Missing.” Being the only regular writer at the time, when JMS put together this episode they had to go with it. Garibaldi investigates a missing worker in the industrial “grey” sector, and learns that one of the floors is missing, apparently having been taken over by a nonsense cult without anyone knowing it. He acts like an idiot, gets drugged up by a creepy puppet, and defeats the monster that’s roaming about in about 30 seconds with the particularly dumb solution of taking the bullets out of his gun and putting them in a pipe so that they can be fired by steam instead of just… you know, firing them the way they’re supposed to be fired. There’s actually a few good scenes in the B plot of the episode, dealing with Marcus and the Rangers, but they’re hardly worth watching the rest of the awfulness to see.
JMS has said that he’s willing to personally apologize about this episode to each and every fan who asks for it, which just goes to show how bad it is. But hey, at least he can admit it, and props for that. Everyone has an off day. It helps that the next several episodes after this are all really good, too.
3. Star Trek Voyager – Threshold
“Threshold” has the dubious distinction of being the only episode of Star Trek to be unofficially written out of canon. How did it manage to acquire that level of suck, you ask? Well, it starts out with all the characters discussing how to create transwarp, that warp 10 is infinite speed, which means you’ll be everywhere in the universe at once and things stop making sense so it’s impossible. Then they turn around and do it anyway. Okay, not the first time Star Trek has done something it claimed was impossible, even if it’s being done by a handful of ordinary people without any of the resources of Starfleet. But soon Tom Paris starts transforming into a lizard thing by being exposed to… everything radiation? I guess you get pretty badly irradiated by being inside a star and a supermassive black hole and the warp reactor simultaneously. Then they jump to extra stupid with the claim that this lizard thing is “the ultimate evolution of humanity” and blah blah, completely misunderstanding evolution on a scale that even Doctor Who‘s Kill the Moon would envy. It finally hits maximum stupidity with Tom hijacking the warp 10 shuttle, kidnapping Janeway so that they both mutate into lizard-things, and then having baby lizard-things that they just leave on the planet. Somehow the Doctor reverses all that and turns them back to humans. Janeway’s not even mad about this (although Kate Mulgrew was creeped out by it). No one cares that they’ve just effectively made it possible to travel to any point in the entire universe instantly, since the mutation is no longer a threat.
Tom later says he’s never been at Transwarp, and the way that Transwarp is depicted in every other instance it shows up is completely unlike what’s seen here, so people take the line as meaning that this episode was retconned out of canon. Brannon Braga, who’s responsible for a lot of really bad episodes of Trek (and to be fair, quite a few good ones, too) has freely admitted that this episode turned out totally awful and he’s sorry they ever made it.
2. Battlestar Galactica – Black Market
Throughout its run, Battlestar Galactica‘s 2000s-era reboot was plagued with one problem: every stand-alone episode they tried to do turned out to be just awful. Because the show was so arc-based, they all just ended up coming across as filler. For example, a season 3 episode called “The Woman King” featured a plot about racism against Sagittarons, but it did so by introducing a horrible racist streak in Tigh and Tyrol that was never seen before or after, which is just one of the many reasons people disliked it. This episode, “Black Market,” is much the same–Lee Adama has a relationship with a mystery woman (read:prostitute) we never see after this, nor heard of beforehand, and feels very guilty about the whole thing (so why do it?). It also throws off the budding romance with Dualla, and results in the discovery of the eponymous Black Market running throughout the fleet, which he discovers and hates and kills the guy running it. Then immediately after killing him, Lee decides the Black Market isn’t so bad after all, even though it traffics in sex slaves and even children. I guess it all worked out since we never hear about any of this ever again. After all, those hardened child-trafficking gangsters were totally capable of reforming their waves just because Lee said so, right?
Ronald D. Moore had a lengthy discussion in his commentary-podcast about why he thought this episode didn’t work and how it turned out so bad, although he didn’t actually write it himself. Still, he was the one in charge and he takes responsibility for it. Reportedly, it was supposed to be a Noir-influenced episode, but it just failed so abysmally that you can barely tell, which is kind of a shame because it sounds like a cool idea. I’m always on board with Noir.
1. Star Trek The Next Generation – Code of Honor
Yes, another Star Trek, but it’s managed the number one spot because unlike “Threshold,” it didn’t have the good fortune of being written out of continuity. In it, the Enterprise finds itself in need of a substance that only occurs on this planet Ligon II, populated entirely by black people in a the vein of Victorian caricatures of “Darkest Africa.” They behave like savages and treat women as property, which ends up bringing Tasha into the mix (is it any wonder Denise Crosby wanted out half-way through the season?) when the chief claims her. She has to fight his other wife to escape and they pull a regular 1960s-style scheme and they finally leave, so that they (and we) can all forget this ever happened. This is the third episode of the show, too, following on after the rehash episode “The Naked Now” and the less-than-stellar pilot. It’s a wonder TNG ever lasted long enough to be good, but this is why I’m always hesitant to dismiss shows in their first seasons. Imagine what we’d have lost if TNG had been unceremoniously cancelled after this.
This episode is just filled to the brim with unfortunate racial implications that literally every member of the cast has come out against over the years. The story, according to Memory Alpha and a few other sources, is that nowhere in the script was it ever stated that the director was being highly racist himself in the casting and towards the actors, and when Gene Roddenberry found out, he came down furious and fired him mid-episode, which is another reason this one manages to beat the others: no one got fired for those episodes. For a bonus, the episode shares a plot with the Stargate SG-1 episode “Emancipation,” which was the fourth episode of that show and written by the same woman, Katharyn Powers. That episode is also frequently seen as being one of the worst episodes of its show, although as far as I can tell Powers has never expressed any remorse over either script. Just the entire cast and most of the crew for both shows.