Secrecy about the upcoming film, Star Trek Into Darkness, is at a crazy level. With the film now released in some parts of the world, a few spoilers about major plot developments are already out there in the blogosphere, but only a few months ago you’d have had to forcefully mind-meld with Orci, Kurtzman, Lindelof, or J.J. Abrams to get ANYTHING out of them.
Other than boldly going where no people/aliens/plot points have gone before, Star Trek does like to surprise us. Here are seven times when the final frontier pulled the space rug out from under us.
Tons of spoilers for all of Star Trek!
Oh Shit! (Star Trek: Generations)
Though it was fairly common knowledge in 1994 that the first feature film with the Next Generation gang would feature some kind of passing of the torch, there was another big event we didn’t really see coming. Sure, James T. Kirk got buried underneath some rubble and gazed lovingly into Picard’s eyes as he died, but not before Picard’s Enterprise-D blew up and crashed into a planet! Notably, Star Trek was still using mostly models for the visual spaceship effects, meaning the giant saucer section crash of the Enterprise-D was very clearly a model screaming through a fake landscape. Glass shatters, beige furniture tumbles, and Riker looks like he’s going to cry. As Data says right before the ship hits the atmosphere: Oh shit!
Turning Death Into a Fighting Chance to Live (Star Trek III : The Search For Spock)
In so many ways, The Wrath of Khan totally revitalized the Star Trek brand, even to the point of reversing Leonard Nimoy’s one-foot-out-the-door stance to making him centrally involved in the series again. Famously, Nimoy directed and helped write this Star Trek film, and in many ways figured out how to top the shocking end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We all know it was a pretty big deal when Spock died there, but this film casually kills off Kirk’s son David, and then has the man himself blow up his own ship! The crew is on the run, fugitives of the Federation, and though Spock’s soul is reunited with his body, we’re not really sure if he’s totally okay. The image of Kirk and his buddies standing on the Genesis planet watching the Enterprise burn up in the atmosphere remains one of the most dramatic, and unexpected, Trek moments ever. (Or it was if you weren’t spoiled by the previews for the movie beforehand.)
It’s a Fake! (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, “In the Pale Moonlight”)
In a rare first-person address to the camera, Captain Sisko narrates a complicated plot in which he attempts to manufacture evidence that will convince the Romulans that they have to join with the Federation in the war against the Dominion. Deliciously, Sisko enlists the help of ex-super spy Garak to figure out how they’re going to fool the Romulans, ignoring his scruples and years of television that have taught us that in this era humanity is better than that.
Nevertheless, Sisko goes forward with the forgery, a complicated fake holographic record which “proves” that the Dominion is making plans to assault the Romulan Empire. Despite the fact that the character is committing an egregious act, you as the viewer want him to succeed, and we’re accustomed to seeing the DS9 crew pull out of tight situations over and over again. So it comes as a shock two-thirds of the way through the episode when the Romulan senator angrily declares, to Sisko’s face, that the evidence is fake.
With three simple words, Star Trek entered new territory. Thanks to the framing device in the episode, you know Sisko lives to tell this tale, but at this point you genuinely don’t know how the situation resolves itself. Will Sisko accept the consequences of his actions or will he sacrifice his scruples entirely in order to complete his plan? In either case, Deep Space Nine will never be the same.
Voyager Crew is Stranded (Star Trek: Voyager, “Basics Part I”)
Since the essential premise of this show is that they’re stranded already, this might seem a little redundant. It all begins when former spy Seska calls up Voyager and is like “Hey, I had Chakotay’s baby, and now the Kazon are kicking me out!” It all turns out to be a pretty obvious lie to lure Voyager into a trap. Probably numbering among the silliest, worst antagonists in Trek’s history, the Kazon weren’t exactly cool but it is fairly shocking that they manage to steal Voyager and kick everyone else out, leaving them on a planet where the natives are not happy to see them. This was the second season’s finale and a moment when Voyager said to the audience: Care about us! We’ve been double-stranded!
The Planet Vulcan Goes Boom (Star Trek, 2009)
The amount of risk involved with rebooting the entire Star Trek universe for a new audience was high, but as Kirk said in the Original Series: “Risk is our business!” Abrams and company must have taken this to heart, because not only does the 2009 movie ask us to accept an entirely new cast playing these beloved characters, but they ask the audience to really double down on this commitment by imploding Vulcan! And Spock’s mom, too! It’s a brave, emotional gambit from a writing perspective. Could we accept the Federation, could we accept Star Trek, as existing without Vulcan? It had been an untouchable aspect of the series for decades, and now it was gone. Further, its destruction changes the new Spock profoundly, in a way we never got to see in the classic series and films. When he declares himself part of “an endangered species,” it’s chilling.
You Killed Who? What? (Star Trek: Enterprise, “These Are the Voyages…”
We all love hating on the series finale of Enterprise, and with pretty good reason. Why is Riker suddenly watching, like, a holodeck TV show version of a TV show we’re already watching? How come this episode is set way past the previous (and awesome) episodes aired just weeks before? Has the NX-01 really been on a 10-year mission now? Way to trivialize Kirk’s five year mission!
But the real zinger is the random death of one of Enterprise’s best characters: Charles “Trip” Tucker. Serving as a kind of mashup between Scotty and Bones, Trip was a good guy and his romance with T’Pol in the latter seasons is sweet and fun to watch. Why he was killed in this last episode is confounding. Sure, maybe this is just what happens in the holodeck-Riker version of events, but still, it was a pretty big surprise. For those of us still watching Enteprise, despite this being a series finale, at this point we didn’t expect a well-liked main character to die!
Mr. Worf... Fire! (Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”)
If you like Star Trek at all, you knew this moment had to be on the list of surprises. Star Trek: The Next Generation was always centrally-focused on Captain Picard, and here we were given a situation in which the captain of the Enterprise might really, really be brainwashed. Even more shocking are the final moments of the episode, where Riker seemingly turns on his captain, accepts Picard as lost even though he’s staring right at him, and orders the Enterprise to fire.
Then we had to live with that decision, one that Star Trek had never dared make, for an entire summer before finding out what happened.
I’ve left off some famous and not-so famous Trek zingers. Which one was your favorite? Will Star Trek Into Darkness shock us? Will Star Trek never be the same? Comment below!
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and is constantly shocked that Star Trek is supposedly not real.