Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Yesterday’s Enterprise”

yent111“Yesterday’s Enterprise”
Written by Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, & Ronald D. Moore (story by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell)
Directed by David Carson

Season 3, Episode 15
Original air date: February 19, 1990
Star date: 43625.2

Mission summary

The Enterprise-D runs across an anomaly that may or may not be there. While they try to sort through their confusing, contradictory sensor readings, something emerges… As another ship crosses the threshold, everything and everyone shifts on the Enterprise-D: Their uniforms now have high collars, belts with phasers, and black cuffs. Nothing gets by Guinan; in the suddenly bustling Ten Forward, the wise and cryptic bartender notes, “This isn’t right. It’s changed.” The mystery deepens: On the now thematically darker Bridge, Worf has been replaced at tactical by an old face, Lt. Tasha Yar, who reports that the other vessel is a Federation starship, registry NCC-1701… C: U.S.S. Enterprise.

Picard’s “military log” for “combat date” 43625.2, in which he refers to the Enterprise-D as a battleship, helps paint an even bleaker picture of the situation. Their records indicate that their predecessor disappeared–presumed destroyed–22 years earlier near a Klingon outpost, Narendra III, which suggests the Enterprise-C has traveled through a temporal rift to its future. A distress signal fills in some of the details: They were attacked by Romulans. Riker leads an away team to the crippled ship to recover its crew, render assistance, and get it battle ready.

Guinan makes a rare appearance on the Bridge and tells the captain that things aren’t “right.” She remembers things differently; there should be children on the ship, and its mission is meant to be peaceful, not waging a war against the Klingons. “That ship from the past is not supposed to be here,” she says. “It’s got to go back.” Picard is incredulous; if this information had come from anyone but Guinan, he would have discounted it entirely.

Dr. Crusher patches up Captain Rachel Garrett and her crew from the Enterprise-C. Picard finally admits to Garrett that she’s now in the future, and she explains that they were attempting to help the Klingon outpost, which was under attack by four Romulan warbirds. Picard gives her some bad news:

The Narendra Three outpost was destroyed. It is regrettable that you did not succeed. A Federation starship rescuing a Klingon outpost might have averted twenty years of war.

Why, things might have turned out so differently! While Yar liaisons with a senior officer from the Enterprise-C (nudge nudge, wink wink), Lt. Richard Castillo, Picard begins entertaining the notion that they should send them back to put right what once went wrong. Data confirms that it is possible–and that it would be a suicide mission. The captain tries to get more information from Guinan.

GUINAN: There is no more. I wish there were. I wish I could prove it. But I can’t.
PICARD: Then I can’t ask them to go back.
GUINAN: You’ve got to.
PICARD: Guinan, they will die moments after they return. How can I ask them to sacrifice themselves based solely on your intuition?
GUINAN: I don’t know. But I do know that this is a mistake. Every fiber in my being says this is a mistake. I can’t explain it to myself so I can’t explain it to you. I only know that I’m right.
PICARD: Who is to say that this history is any less proper than the other?
GUINAN: I suppose I am.
PICARD: Not good enough, damn it. Not good enough. I will not ask them to die.
GUINAN: Forty billion people have already died. This war’s not supposed to be happening. You’ve got to send those people back to correct this.
PICARD: And what is to guarantee that if they go back they will succeed? Every instinct tells me this is wrong, it is dangerous, it is futile.
GUINAN: We’ve known each other a long time. You have never known me to impose myself on anyone or take a stance based on trivial or whimsical perceptions. This time line must not be allowed to continue. Now, I’ve told you what you must do. You have only your trust in me to help you decide to do it.

Picard calls a meeting, but he’s already made up his mind: He’s listening to Guinan. It turns out the Federation is on the verge of losing the war, and this is their last, best hope for peace–by preventing the war from happening in the first place.

Garrett’s game, but she’s soon killed in a surprise attack by the Klingons, leaving Castillo in command to carry out their final mission. Yar sends him off with a passionate kiss, then seeks out Guinan to question her about the odd looks she’s been giving her. Yar pressures her to share her fate in the alternate timeline; all Guinan knows is that she was killed stupidly.

To avoid this unappealing fate, Yar convinces Picard to let her transfer to the Enterprise-C, helping to even the balance of Garrett’s loss and give herself a meaningful death she can, uh, live with.

Klingon ships attack as the Enterprise-C limps back toward the temporal rift. Enterprise-D takes a heavy beating while holding them off. The Galaxy-class battleship begins falling apart under the superior assault: shields are failing, a warp core breach is imminent, and the Bridge is burning. Commander Riker is killed in an explosion. Picard leaps into action to take down as many Klingons as he can before the ship is lost, and Enterprise-C crosses back into the rift…

And things change back to normal. In the restored timeline, the anomalous sensor reading vanish as abruptly as they appeared. The Enterprise crew prepares to resume a course to Archer IV, none the wiser that anything strange ever happened. Guinan calls the Bridge to check up on stuff, and reassured that reality is as it should be, she asks Geordi to tell her about Tasha Yar.

yent153

Analysis

I’m sure no one is surprised to learn that this is one of my favorite episodes of TNG, and that hasn’t changed in the slightest. This is simply among the best episodes ever done, and it seems that many other fans and production staff agree with me; it’s made a number of “best of” lists, and most notably was featured in the viewer’s choice marathon that coincided with the final episode in 1994.

Okay, I’ll admit that there’s a lot of hand-holding in the script, as they painstakingly connect the dots so viewers would know what the heck was going on. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen it so many times before, or because I’m such a nerd about parallel universes, but I had no trouble following along–almost to the point of impatience. But hey, this was a pretty bold story, one that was quite literally darker than most we’d seen up to that point. I should be annoyed that Guinan’s strange intuition is never really explained in the series continuity, ever, or that we never find out what past she and Picard share. And to be honest, when I first saw TNG, I had never heard of the whole “magical negro” trope…

But I tell you, this episode is exciting, not least because it fills in some of the time between Kirk’s era and the TNG years, with the introduction of the Enterprise-C. (It hits some of the same buttons for me that “Babylon Squared” on Babylon 5 does, my favorite episode of the first season in which the Babylon 4 station reappears due to a temporal anomaly…) And I love this vessel, a beautiful melding of the best features of the Constitution-class and Galaxy-class designs. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” also has high stakes, gruesome deaths, and it looks and sounds more cinematic than anything on the show previously. I’m also a sucker for stories in which one ship or one person makes a huge impact for others–even in failure; we always root for the Enterprise to survive, but the idea that one crew’s sacrifice could still be a victory of sorts is gratifying.

The episode title even hearkens back to some of the original series-style episode titles, and this was the closest TNG ever got to giving us a “mirror universe” episode. There is so much attention to detail, with many subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the sets, costumes, sounds, even makeup to illustrate the differences in the timeline; it’s easy to miss some of them. (In fact, even the production crew missed one. The Nitpicker’s Guide by Phil Farrand first made me aware that Geordi’s uniform in the last scene still has black cuffs from the alternate timeline, and now I can’t unsee it!) It feels like a lot of work and money went into redesigning the Bridge for a one-off appearance, but I think it pays off.

If anything, all this loving attention might highlight the fact that perhaps more things should be different. Picard scoffs at the idea of children on Enterprise, but there’s one sitting right there on his bridge: Wesley Crusher, in uniform for the first time with the full rank of Ensign. I guess they promote people young during the war, or they made an exception for Dr. Crusher. But part of the charm is extrapolating what else might be different in this timeline. I was at first surprised that Picard would still be as just and moral as the captain we know, weighing the lives of the Enterprise-C’s crew. But then I realized the timeline had changed only 22 years before, when he was already an adult with his values in place. So really, Wesley should have been different, since he grew up knowing only war.

This episode also gives us our first woman captain, of the Starfleet flagship no less, though she isn’t long for the world. And it was unexpectedly great to see Tasha again, Denise Crosby’s best acting to date. And it’s pretty amazing that Guinan basically preserves the timeline, right?

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

yent192Thread Alert: I’ve always liked the red Starfleet uniform jackets introduced in Star Trek II and used for the rest of the original series films. It’s neat when they turn up on TNG, mostly in time travel episodes to the recent past, but somehow the missing turtleneck really throws the whole look off. I recall reading (or maybe one of the commenters here mentioned?) that those collars were supplied by only one source and were impossible to replace. Otherwise, I really like the alternate, militaristic TNG uniforms used throughout, with their higher collars, Sam Browne belts, and black cuffs.

Best Line: Picard: “Let’s make sure that history never forgets… the name… Enterprise.”

Trivia/Other Notes: The origin of this episode lies in two separate scripts, one from Ganino in which a past Enterprise returns with no alteration to the timeline, and one where a Vulcan science team messing with Harlan Ellison’s™ Guardian of Forever accidentally kills their philosophical leader Surak, and Ambassador Sarek must travel back in time to replace him. (Now that sounds a bit like “Babylon Squared” and “War Without End,” doesn’t it?) Either way, Tasha Yar would have returned to face a better death.

The episode was rushed into production to meet Denise Crosby’s and Whoopi Goldberg’s schedules, requiring the script to be written in a few days over the Thanksgiving holiday by four writers. Michael Piller did a final polish, but went uncredited because of Writer’s Guild regulations.

If the budget and time had allowed, Wesley would have been decapitated onscreen and Data would have been electrocuted. Now there’s an alternate timeline I’d like to visit.

Christopher McDonald (Castillo) had auditioned for the role of Commander Riker. He was also raised in Romulus, New York.

Tricia O’Neil (Garrett) returned to Star Trek as a Klingon in the sixth season of TNG and a Cardassian on DS9.

The consequences of this episode are seen in the two-part episode “Redemption,” in which Denise Crosby returns to play Yar’s daughter, Sela.

The discovery of planet Archer IV is seen on Enterprise (“Strange New World”). The planet is named after Captain Jonathan Archer, the first captain of a starship named Enterprise.

Roberto Orci cites this episode as the main inspiration for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, though that film abandons the concept of a single alterable timeline.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 14 – “A Matter of Perspective.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 16 – “The Offspring.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.