Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Parallels”

Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Robert Wiemer
Season 7, Episode 11
Production episode 40276-263
Original air date: November 29, 1993
Stardate: 47391.2

Captain’s Log: Worf is en route back to the Enterprise via the shuttlecraft Curie from a bat’leth competition, where he achieved championship standing. Riker meets him at the shuttlebay and brings him up to speed—apparently the Argus Array has stopped transmitting data for the third time this year, and Starfleet’s concerned that it’s not just damage—but Worf is distracted, as it’s his birthday and he’s anticipating a surprise party. Riker assures him that he hates surprise parties, and he’d never do that to Worf, even accompanying him into his quarters to assure him that nobody’s planned any such thing.

He leaves, Worf sets down his trophy and bat’leth, and then goes into the other room—

—where Data, Crusher, Troi, La Forge, and a bunch of others are waiting in the dark and yell “SURPRISE!” Riker then reenters, says he loves surprise parties, and puts a party hat on the security chief. Then everyone breaks into a Klingon translation of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (Troi bitching that there’s no Klingon word for jolly). Worf gamely blows out the candles and then Crusher makes the supreme tactical error of handing him a knife. However, Worf does not disembowel everyone, instead cutting the chocolate cake. Riker passes on Picard’s good wishes, but he was needed on the bridge.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Data hands him a present: his expressionist painting of the Battle of HarOs. Worf very obviously hates it and Troi and Riker take great delight in hanging it where he had a shield on the wall. La Forge walks up to Worf and then suddenly Worf gets dizzy. He blames the painting, and then is handed a piece of vanilla cake. Worf is confused, having thought it was chocolate, but then is distracted by Troi—who cared for Alexander while he was at the tournament, and who is now visiting Worf’s parents on Earth—giving him Alexander’s birthday present, a cast of his forehead ridges. Picard then asks how old Worf is—which is another surprise, as Riker had said Picard was on the bridge.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

The Enterprise arrives at the Argus Array, which supposedly went down six days ago. Data reports that it is still transmitting—but the images are being sent to an uninhabited sector. Riker and Data lead an away mission to retrieve the logs, and then Data meets with Picard, La Forge, and Worf in engineering: the array is now observing Deep Space 5, Starbase 47, the Adara colony, and the Utopia Planitia shipyards. There was also a Cardassian ship near the array six days ago, when the Federation stopped receiving images.

La Forge hands Worf a padd, and Worf leans over the engineering workstation to take it—and then gets dizzy again. Suddenly, La Forge and Data have switched places and Picard isn’t there. Worf reports to sickbay, where Crusher thinks it’s a side effect of the concussion—but Worf never had a concussion. Crusher insists that he was injured in the bat’leth tournament in the fight he lost, but Worf is sure he won the tournament. Going to his quarters, he finds that, instead of the championship trophy, he has a ninth place trophy. He plays his personal log, which verifies Crusher’s version of events: a contender used an illegal move and Worf finished ninth.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Worf reports to the bridge, where Data asks for the results a metallurgical scan that Worf has no memory of Data asking him to conduct. Then a Cardassian ship approaches, and the gul verbally fences with Picard. Worf points out that that was the exact same ship that they saw in the imaging logs—but neither Picard nor Riker have any clue what he’s talking about. They never downloaded any logs from the array. Picard gives him the benefit of the doubt and has Data download the images.

Crusher says that Worf is just suffering more aftereffects, but Worf remembers the imaging logs too clearly for it to be just that. As he’s discussing it with Troi, La Forge comes in and reports that the imaging logs show no evidence that the array was reprogrammed—it was just a mechanical malfunction. In mid rant about how that can’t be right, Worf has another dizzy spell—at which point the painting of the Battle of HarOs has moved to a different wall, though Troi insists that the new spot is where she hung it. The painting then changes to that of a Klingon ship in space, and Troi has gone from being in blue civilian clothes to her standard uniform. La Forge moves to put a comforting hand on his shoulder—

—and suddenly Worf finds himself on the bridge, the ship at red alert, a Cardassian ship attacking, and Worf unable to operate the tactical station, as the configuration has changed. Riker takes over, and the Enterprise takes heavy damage—La Forge suffers from severe plasma burns and is taken to sickbay. They get away, but the Cardassians succeed in destroying the Argus Array. Worf asks to be temporarily relieved of duty, which Picard—who has no knowledge of these memory losses Worf is referring to—readily accepts.

He returns to his quarters. The Battle of HarOs painting is still a spacescape, but it’s back on the original spot on the wall. There’s no bat’leth trophy of any kind on the table, but instead a pot of flowers. Checking his personal logs, Worf finds that he did not participate in the tournament due to necessary repairs on the Enterprise deflectors, so he sent his brother Kurn in his place.

Troi then shows up and acts like she lives there and is in a romantic relationship with Worf—because, as it turns out, she lives there and is married to Worf. He is frustrated, because things keep changing and he’s the only one who seems to notice. Troi assures him that she believes him and she’ll help him figure this out.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

In engineering, Data scans for temporal anomalies, and Worf queries him regarding his relationship to Troi. Data and Worf go back over Worf’s recent memories to track the discontinuities, and Worf realizes that La Forge was proximate to Worf every time it happened. They go to sickbay to see if he’s well enough to talk, but Dr. Ogawa (!) sadly reports that La Forge has died from his burns. Data scans his body and finds nothing unusual. Ogawa suggests his VISOR, and Data activates it—

—at which point Worf gets dizzy again. He’s now in a red command uniform, Crusher is the CMO again, and he’s now a full commander and first officer of the ship. He and Troi are, however, still married. Data scans Worf himself, and discovers that Worf’s physical structure down to the subatomic level doesn’t match that of everything else in the universe—which means he’s from a different one.

They backtrack the course that Worf remembers taking the shuttlecraft on. Along the way, the tactical officer, Lieutenant Wesley Crusher, detects a subspace anomaly. Data describes it as a quantum fissure in the space-time continuum, and that a type-6 shuttle did pass through it. He theorizes that the fissure is a fixed point across multiple quantum realities. When Worf’s shuttle came across it, it put Worf in a state of quantum flux that sends him to a different quantum reality every time he encounters La Forge’s VISOR (which emits a subspace pulse). Wes suggests a subspace differential scan to find Worf’s original quantum state.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Troi and Worf return to their quarters (with the expressionist version of the Battle of HarOs back on the original spot on the wall), where Worf discovers that he and Troi have two children, and that Alexander was never born in this timeline.

A Bajoran ship attacks the Enterprise (apparently the Bajorans overthrew the Cardassians), which destabilizes the fissure. Suddenly, hundreds of Enterprises appear, as the barriers between realities have begun to break down. Wes reports 285,000 hails.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Data theorizes that if they can find Worf’s Enterprise and put him in the same shuttle he used to traverse the fissure the first time, he can emit an inverse warp field that will collapse the fissure, and return everything to normal. The Enterprise we’re all familiar with contacts them and says that their Data had the same notion. They send the Curie over and Worf—after a final smooch for Troi (isn’t that kissing another man’s wife?)—boards it and takes off.

But then one of the Enterprises fires on the shuttle. That Enterprise is commanded by a wild-eyed William Riker with a beard halfway to his chest, who screams that they won’t go back. “The Federation’s gone, the Borg is everywhere!” The notion of being returned to their universe is so terrifying that crazy Worf—the only other person on the bridge with crazy Riker—fires on the shuttle with his counterpart on it. Captain Riker reluctantly orders Wes to fire on and disable the ship, but the vessel is too damaged from its encounters with the Borg and is destroyed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Worf goes through the fissure, he engages the pulse, multiple Worfs appear on the shuttle for a second, and then the reset button is hit. He’s back in his right uniform, he has a championship trophy from the tournament, and Picard is in command of the Enterprise.

To Worf’s, er, surprise, there is no surprise party, only Troi, who was feeding Alexander’s hissing beetle. She talked Riker out of throwing the surprise party, and Worf thanks her by inviting her to stay for dinner—which includes champagne.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: In the Star Trek universe, every decision begets another alternate timeline where different things happen. The fissure that Worf encountered was allergic to the shuttle’s warp engines, and put him in a state of quantum flux, pushing him to a different timeline each time he got too close to La Forge’s VISOR.

All matter in the universe resonates with a quantum signature—it’s a universal constant. Worf, however, kept the quantum signature of his universe every time he hopped to a new one, which is how they were able to find the right shuttle for him to fly.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: We get to see Troi wear every outfit she’s worn on the show since the second season started over the course of this episode. (Her two first-season outfits—the miniskirt uniform she wore in “Encounter at Farpoint” and the brown thing she wore for the rest of the season—were left out for some inexplicable reason.) In one of the timelines, she agrees to become Alexander’s Soh-chim, which would make her responsible for Alexander should anything happen to Worf—it makes Troi, in essence, Worf’s step-sister. When Troi points out that that makes Lwaxana Worf’s stepmother, he is taken aback, but then bravely says that it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

The Boy!?: In one of the timelines, Wes is the tactical officer. He even gets to toss around some technobabble for old time’s sake. What’s especially cool is that no big deal is made about it, he’s just there. (This was apparently deliberate on the part of writer Braga.)

If I Only Had a Brain…: In one of the timelines, Data’s eyes are blue. Even more so than Wes’s appearance, this is incredibly awesome because no mention is ever made of it. It’s just a detail that’s different with no comment.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

In the Driver’s Seat: In one of the timelines—one in which Bajor is a major antagonistic power—there’s a Cardassian at conn, the first time we’ve seen a Cardassian in a Starfleet uniform.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: This is the first episode to overtly suggest a relationship between Troi and Worf, though the seeds for such were sown waaaaay back in “New Ground” and “Ethics,” as well as to a lesser degree in “Cost of Living” and “A Fistful of Datas.” After seeing how happy they were in two other timelines, Worf takes tentative steps toward pursuing a relationship with her at the end of this episode.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Amusingly, in one timeline, Worf asked for Riker’s permission to court Troi. In another timeline, they had two kids, and Alexander was never born. (Well, either that, or K’Ehleyr just never told Worf about him…)

I Believe I Said That: “I know Klingons like to be alone on their birthdays. You probably want to meditate or hit yourself with a painstik or something.”

Troi trying to give Worf the best possible birthday present, to wit, leaving him the hell alone.

Welcome Aboard: Wil Wheaton returns for an entertaining cameo as Lieutenant Wesley Crusher, and Patti Yasutake gets to be a doctor instead of a nurse for one of the timelines.

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

Trivial Matters: This storyline takes what was established in “Mirror, Mirror” on the original series and takes it a step further: not just a single alternate timeline, but an infinite number of them.

In the first timeline in which Worf and Troi are married, they chose to pursue a romantic relationship after the events of “Ethics.” In the timeline in which Worf is first officer, Picard was killed during the events of “The Best of Both Worlds,” and Riker became captain.

Worf’s experiences in this episode will serve him well in two pieces of tie-in fiction (both of them, amusingly enough, involving Q): in Q-Squared by Peter David, in which three parallel timelines collide on each other, and in your humble rewatcher’s Q & A, when the events of this episode’s climax repeat themselves.

This episode sets up the 2009 Star Trek, since the timeline created when Nero and Spock go back in time is simply a parallel timeline like the ones Worf visited in this episode. (The film’s co-writer Roberto Orci even cited this episode in an interview with

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

In addition, the notion of infinite parallel timelines was the impetus for the Myriad Universes series of novels, which has included nine short novels published in three trade paperbacks (as well as the IDW comic book miniseries The Last Generation). One of the novels is your humble rewatcher’s A Gutted World in Echoes and Refractions, in which Cardassia never pulled out of Bajor and the Dominion War happened a lot differently.

The original plan was for Tasha Yar to be at tactical in the timeline that had Wes in it, but it was decided that it would be too similar to “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

Several of the bridge modifications will be seen again in the 25-years-in-the-future parts of “All Good Things…” and one of the combadge variations Worf encounters are the same ones from the fake future of “Future Imperfect.”

The Curie is named after Marie Curie, the scientist who discovered radiation.

Originally, the crew was to sing “Happy Birthday” at Worf’s surprise party, but they went with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” instead, as that song is public domain and wouldn’t require the producers to pay a fee to the composers of the former song. (Most people don’t realize that “Happy Birthday” isn’t public domain, and the difficulties of paying a royalty for same was the subject of a particularly hilarious subplot of an episode of Sports Night a decade and a half ago.)

Make it So: “We won’t go back!” I have always loved this episode, and rewatching it now, I love it even more. While it’s ultimately a technobabble episode, the technobabble is, at least, kept to a minimum, and it’s a fairly common concept. Hell, Marvel (What If…?) and DC (Elseworlds) have been doing this sort of thing in comic books for decades.

Everything in this episode works. It starts out as a bit of a mindfrell, as the details that change are minor—but with each of Worf’s dizzy spells, he finds himself in a world that is farther and farther from the one he’s familiar with. Having it center on Worf is as much a masterstroke as having Data be the focus of the day-in-the-life episode, partly because no one does frustrated befuddlement better than Michael Dorn.

And there are so many brilliant touches: Riker’s redecorated ready room with the prominent trombone, Data’s having blue eyes in one timeline, Dr. Ogawa, the Cardassian conn officer, Wes at tactical, La Forge dying, the evil Bajoran Empire, the magical moving painting, the combadge changes, the bridge getting weirder and weirder (and I loved that Worf got shifted far enough away from his own timeline that the console configuration was too different for him to operate), the rearranged engineering, and on and on and on.

I especially like that the climax happens on the Enterprise where Riker is captain and Wes is tactical officer—for that segment, the script acts as if this is a show about Captain Riker and First Officer Worf, and the Enterprise we’re familiar with is just one of 285,000 “other” ships.

But the piece de resistance, the moment that cemented this as one of TNG’s top episodes, was the Enterprise that fired on the shuttle. Nineteen years later, I still remember how haunted I was by that one scene. The disheveled, deranged Riker plaintively screaming, “We won’t go back!” stuck in my head for weeks after I first saw the episode. It’s one of Jonathan Frakes’s best moments—not just as Crazy Beard Riker, but also as Captain Riker, as he very (and uncharacteristically) subtly plays Riker’s anguish, seeing himself in that state, knowing that it could just as easily have been him. (This right after his pained “It’s good to see you again” to Picard over the viewer.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation on Parallels

I’d originally intended to give the episode a 9, with the point being knocked off because this started Worf/Troi going, but having been rewatching the show twice a week for almost two years now*, I’m impressed with how completely natural a progression the relationship actually is. The line from “New Ground” to “Ethics” to here is a pretty straight one, and their pairing up actually works from a story perspective. (Mind you, it’s totally blown out of the water by how perfect Worf and Dax are together, but we’ll get to that when we tackle Deep Space Nine…)

*Yes, it’ll be two years in May. Where the heck does the time go?


Warp factor rating: 10

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of short stories currently available in More Tales of Zorro, Tales from the House Band Volumes 1and 2, Liar Liar, Apocalypse 13, V-Wars, and the new release Defending the Future 5: Best-Laid Plans. He’s also got two short story collections due out this spring:Tales from Dragon Precinct and Ragnarok & Roll: Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet.


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