With the explosion of high-quality science fiction brought on by streaming video, it is tempting to condense iconic characters into catchphrases. There are just so many to know. But the trio of “Make it so,” “Engage,” and “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” fail to capture the dimensions of Captain Picard quotes even as they pinpoint the character.
What Makes Captain Picard Quotes Stand Out?
The convergence of Star Trek's fondness for morality tales, Patrick Stewart's Shakespearean acting chops, and TNG's path from small-budget syndication to major-budget feature films gave us an indelible character. Picard is the yang to Kirk's swashbuckling yin. He is equally powerful, though he often achieves poetically what Kirk did with brute force (verbally or with fisticuffs). The result is countless memorable lines.
Narrowing the List
But volume is the antithesis of brevity. The show ran 178 episodes over its seven seasons. Add in the four films and 10 television episodes from the recent Picard series, and to say we are awash in the memorable and pithy is an understatement. To narrow our list of favorite Captain Picard quotes, we needed a way to eliminate some favorites.
Letting Go of Context
A solution presented itself when we were debating one of our favorites. The repeated line “There are four lights!” serves as the dramatic crux of all six acts of the two-part episode “Chain of Command” (Season 6; Episodes 10-11). Additionally, it is arguably one of the most emotionally-intense lines that Stewart delivers in the entire series.
However, without seeing it in context, “there are four lights!” just doesn't make sense. The line cannot stand on its own. With this realization, we established the guiding principle for our list: each of our Captain Picard quotes had to be strong on its own, even if you have not seen the episode in which it was spoken. With this as our guideline, we submit:
The Top 10 (Standalone) Captain Picard Quotes
10. Episode: “Justice” (Season 1; Episode 8)
“There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”
Picard says this while arguing that Wesley Crusher's life be spared after Crusher is sentenced to death for unknowingly breaking an alien civilization's laws.
9. "When the Bough Breaks" (Season 1; Episode 17)
“Things are only impossible until they're not!”
Very human aliens from a dying civilization kidnap several children from the U.S.S. Enterprise in hopes of rebuilding their population. Picard says this during his efforts to negotiate for the children's' return.
8. "The Schizoid Man" (Season 2; Episode 6)
“No being is so important that he can usurp the rights of another.”
In a recurring theme of arguing for android Commander Data's status as an individual, Picard argues this against a terminally-ill scientist's efforts to prolong his existence by transferring his consciousness into Data's positronic brain.
7. "Peak Performance" (Season 2; Episode 21)
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
The U.S.S. Enterprise is preparing for the (as yet, unknown) Borg threat by participating in a wargame scenario with another vessel. In this episode pretty much themed on “unwinnable situations”, Picard delivers this bit of advice to android Commander Data, who is questioning his programming when faced with a no-win scenario.
6. "The Hunted" (Episode 3; Episode 11)
“'A matter of internal security.' The age-old cry of the oppressor.”
While the U.S.S. Enterprise is getting to know the leadership of a planet that is applying to join the Federation, they join the effort to recapture an escaped prison inmate. This is Picard's reaction when the crew learns from their involvement with the prisoner that there is a darker side to the planet's society.
5. “In Theory” (Season 4: Episode 5)
“I'd be delighted to offer any advice I have on understanding women. When I have some, I'll let you know.”
Android Commander Data, in his continual efforts to be more human, is exploring a romantic relationship. This is Picard's avoidant response when Data (in android-like desperation) asks for advice on understanding women.
4. "The Drumhead" (Season 4; Episode 21)
“The road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.”
Picard says this in defense of a likely innocent crew member who has been accused of espionage. An investigator famous for exposing conspiracies had accused the Klingon crew member after being brought in to determine the cause of an explosion aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.
3. "The Drumhead" (Season 4; Episode 21)
“Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustache are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.”
The one instance where two of our top quotes come from the same episode. Picard is counseling Security Officer Worf, who had believed the investigator's accusations against the innocent crew member and is confused at being duped into what was essentially a witch hunt.
2."Attached" (Season 7; Episode 8)
“There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle; it's just a matter of finding it.”
Picard and ship's doctor Beverly Crusher escape a planet's prison, only to discover that their minds have been linked so that they can hear each other's thoughts. Their navigation of the planet's surface becomes as much navigating each other's thinking as a physical route. This is how Picard explains part of his attitude toward leadership.
1. Star Trek Generations (Motion Picture)
“What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.”
Picard is musing to his second-in-command about his renewed take on life. This is after being pulled into a time nexus where he and (still alive, despite his assumed death) Captain Kirk join forces to stop a mad scientist (Dr. Soren). Soren was attempting to destroy a star in hopes that the resultant gravity well would help him re-enter the nexus and live forever himself. Kirk is killed (we assume for real) in hand-to-hand combat with Soren.
Honorable Mention: A Standoff
This last Picard quote put our office into a major debate standoff. The first camp argued that it is a great stand-alone quote. It's just fun to declare any time it fits, even if it is out of context. The second camp said, although that is true, the standalone version loses its real meaning. So we offer this one both inside and outside the spirit of our list:
Honorable Mention: "Sins of the Father" (Season 3; Episode 17)
"You may test that assumption at your convenience."
In this episode, the Enterprise's Klingon Chief of Security, Lt. Worf, challenges the Klingon High Council's accusation that his father was a traitor. Through a series of events (and more than a few suspicious discoveries), Picard ends up as Worf's defense counsel during the trial. Picard's statement is delivered with all the bravado required in a Klingon negotiation.
Any List Is Only a Beginning
That's the list of best standalone Captain Picard quotes we compiled. However, as Star Trek lovers ourselves, we know how passionate (and opinionated) true fans are. We also know there are no absolutes. Everything can be endlessly debated. We'd even be up for a list of Picard quotes you only understand if you've seen the episodes. Or, how about dueling Picard vs. Kirk quotes? We would love to know your thoughts. Let us know in the comments section below!