Happy new year, everyone!
Written by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell and Ira Steven Behr & Richard Manning & Hans Beimler & Ronald D. Moore
Directed by David Carson
Season 3, Episode 15
Production episode 40273-163
Original air date: February 19, 1990
Captain’s Log: Worf is drinking in Ten-Forward with Guinan when a strange phenomenon appears near the ship. Worf reports to the bridge as the Enterprise examines what appears to be a rift in space. A ship comes through the rift—
—and everything changes. The bridge becomes darker, the crew wearing much more militaristic uniforms with sidearms and sashes. The command center has only one chair, with the first officer’s position next to tactical behind the captain, and there are additional consoles all over the bridge. We also see that Ten-Forward is changed: brighter, everyone in uniform (nobody in civvies), and way more crowded. Captain’s logs and stardates are now military logs and combat dates. And instead of Worf at tactical, the station is staffed by none other than Tasha Yar. That last bit makes sense when it’s revealed that the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for two decades.
However, nobody notices that anything’s amiss—nobody, that is, except for Guinan.
Yar identifies the ship that came through the rift as NCC-1701-C, the previous starship to be called Enterprise, but it was believed lost with all hands twenty-two years before. Captain Rachel Garrett sends a distress call, and so, despite the risks to the timeline, Picard agrees to send a team over. He instructs Riker to avoid any mention of when and where they are.
Apparently, Riker forgot to share this with the rest of the team, since Crusher examines Garrett and immediately says she needs to get her back to the Enterprise, which rather confuses Garrett. However, once she’s in sickbay, Garrett—not being stupid—realizes that the uniforms are different, and sickbay is far more advanced. Picard goes ahead and tells her that she’s 22 years in the future, and that history has no record of their battle with the Romulans to save the Klingon outpost at Narendra III.
The only other survivor of the bridge crew is the helmsman, Lieutenant Richard Castillo. He works with Yar to get the Enterprise-C up and running. They only have nine hours to do so before Klingon battle cruisers arrive—if they can’t, the ship will have to be scuttled.
Guinan is convinced that everything is wrong, that the Federation shouldn’t be at war, that there should be children on the Enterprise-D, that the Enterprise-C shouldn’t be there and should go back. But if they do go back, they’ll be destroyed instantly by the four Romulan warbirds they were fighting.
Picard decides that it’s worth the risk and explains it to the bridge crew. They mostly all object, with Riker saying that Picard is condemning 125 people to a needless death. Data points out that it may not be meaningless, as the Klingons would consider the sacrifice of a Federation starship to be a significant act.
The final shoe drops when Picard quietly explains to Garrett that the war is going very badly, worse than is generally known. Starfleet Command predicts that they’ll have to surrender in six months. Garrett has a revelation of her own: a lot of her crew still wants to go back, even knowing the risks. And if they do go back, it might make a difference, for the reasons Data states; if they stay, they just face being one more ship in a losing cause.
Shortly after Garrett officially gives the order to return, a Klingon bird-of-prey attacks. The two ships drive it off, but Garrett is killed during the firefight. Castillo insists on returning to the past even without the captain—and Yar requests a transfer to go with them after Guinan reveals to Yar that she died a senseless death in the proper timeline. She wants her death to count for something.
This being television, the Klingons attack as the Enterprise-C is going into the rift. The Enterprise-D gets the crap pounded out of it, though they do destroy one of the three Klingon ships attacking them. But they’re hamstrung by their need to protect the Enterprise-C. Several bridge officers, including Riker, are killed, but when the Klingons demand the Enterprise-D surrender, Picard mutters, “That’ll be the day,” and operates the tactical console while the Enterprise-C goes through the rift —
— and everything changes back. Picard asks Worf for a report. He says there was a sign of a ship, but then it disappeared, and the rift is now collapsing. The Enterprise-D moves on to its next assignment, after Guinan confuses everyone by calling the bridge to ask if all is well.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The rift that sends the Enterprise-C forward does not have a noticeable mass or event horizon, and may or may not be a wormhole. After the ship comes through, Data theorizes that it’s a Kerr loop formed of superstring material.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s entire function in this episode is to sit in her chair during the opening and closing. Personally, I think they missed a bet—a battleship that had been fighting a twenty-year war would absolutely need a counselor. But she also wouldn’t have a bridge position, as she’d likely be booked solid with sessions all the live-long day.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is also only in the beginning and the end, but his bit in the teaser is simply brilliant. Guinan introduces him to prune juice, which he proudly and without (deliberate) irony proclaims to be “a warrior’s drink.” Worf’s love for prune juice would remain a running theme throughout not only TNG, but Deep Space Nine (there’s a scene in “The Way of the Warrior,” Worf’s first appearance on DS9, where Worf orders a prune juice, and Quark laughs hysterically, cutting it off when he sees the yes-I’m-serious-don’t-make-me-have-to-kill-you look on Worf’s face). Guinan also criticizes him for always drinking alone, and he repeats his comment, made to Riker on Edo, that humans are too fragile. Guinan respectfully disagrees, pointing out that you never know until you try, and Worf smiles and says, “Then I will never know.” It’s a great scene, beautifully played by Michael Dorn and Whoopi Goldberg, and is perhaps most notable for being the first time we see Worf laugh.
If I Only Had a Brain…: The script originally called for Data to be electrocuted during the climactic battle, but it was cut for time and budget.
The Boy!?: Surprisingly, Wes is part of the crew in the altered timeline—but he’s a full ensign in a red uniform (and in which he looked so good, they put him in one at the end of the season). The script also called for him to be decapitated during the battle, but it, too, was cut for time and budget.
Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan is the only one who notices that the timeline has been altered, and she has impressions from the original timeline—to the point that she knows that Yar died and that it was “a meaningless death.” And she notices when it’s been changed back, after which she asks La Forge to tell her about Yar.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Yar and Castillo hit it off immediately, making it all the way to first base before they go through the rift. After a day, and Yar calls him “Lieutenant” again, he asks to drop the ranks—”I won’t salute if you won’t.” He says that his friends call him “Castillo” and his mother calls him “Richard.” Yar calls him “Castillo,” and then he decides that he’d rather she called him Richard, which is probably not creepy.
I Believe I Said That: “Captain, if you want my opinion—”
“I believe I’m aware of your opinion, Commander. This is a briefing, I’m not seeking your consent.”
Riker raising an objection, and Picard slapping him down, making it abundantly clear that this is not the happy-shiny Enterprise we’re used to.
Welcome Aboard: The biggest guest is supposed to be the return of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar, but mostly this episode serves to remind us how little she’s been missed. The excellent character actor Christopher McDonald does a much better job as Castillo.
And Tricia O’Neil is superb as Captain Garrett. She only has a few scenes, but firmly establishes Garrett as a worthy addition to the pantheon of Enterprise captains. O’Neil will return as a Klingon scientist named Kurak in “Suspicions” and on DS9 as a Cardassian Obsidian Order agent named Korinas in “Defiant.”
Trivial Matters: This is the last episode that features all of the original cast. While Crosby will return in “Redemption,” “Unification,” and “All Good Things…” Wil Wheaton was not in any of those episodes.
The episode was scripted over Thanksgiving weekend, based on a fusion of two different story pitches by Ganino and Stillwell. Each of the three sets of writers (Behr, Manning & Beimler, Moore) took a different plot thread. Michael Piller did an uncredited polish on the final draft.
Dr. Selar from “The Schizoid Man” is one of the people paged to sickbay.
Some details of the Enterprise-C’s return to Narendra III will be revealed in “Redemption Part 2” at the top of the fifth season, including the fact that Yar survived the attack, was taken prisoner, and had a daughter by a Romulan soldier, who would grow up to be a commander named Sela.
Garrett reappears several times in tie-in fiction. Her first mission as captain of the Enterprise-C is chronicled in “Hour of Fire” by Robert Greenberger in Enterprise Logs (an anthology of stories about captains of ships called Enterprise from the Revolutionary War all the way to Picard). The Lost Era novel Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick focuses on Garrett and the Enterprise-C. She also appears as a commander in the Stargazer novel Progenitor by Michael Jan Friedman. The battle at Narendra III and its aftermath is shown from different angles in the novels Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz and your humble rewatcher’s own The Art of the Impossible. (The latter also features Garrett as first officer of the U.S.S. Carthage before taking on the captaincy of the Enterprise-C.)
The novel The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett establishes that Guinan’s ability to perceive time with more complexity is related to her experience in the Nexus, chronicled in Star Trek Generations.
Another version of this timeline appears in Q-Squared by Peter David, though it has several significant differences, not least being that Picard and Riker do not have the contentious relationship they have in this episode.
The sash/belt look on the altered timeline uniforms is very similar to the Mirror Universe Starfleet uniforms seen in “Mirror, Mirror” on the original series (and later in “In a Mirror, Darkly” on Enterprise).
Make it So: “Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.” This episode has consistently been at the top of people’s lists of best episodes of TNG and best episodes of Star Trek in general as a franchise and it totally deserves it. It’s a wonderful look at the crew by putting them in an unfamiliar setting. This Picard is harder, nastier, and has an adversarial relationship with his first officer (at no point in the alternate timeline is Riker ever referred to as “Number One”). Crusher comes across as almost permanently fatigued and frustrated, while Wes is hyper-competent, a highly efficient officer.
In addition, we get a great look at the history between the shows, as it were, as we see the ship that preceded the one we follow every week, and a fine captain in Garrett. When I first watched the episode twenty years ago, I remember being thrilled that they established a woman Enterprise captain, and being devastated by her death. She’s a wonderful character, and it’s frustrating that she’s taken off the playing field just to give Yar a TV death.
Which brings us nicely to the episode’s primary flaw, made all the more annoying by the fact that it’s in many ways the episode’s purpose: it brings Yar back to give her a TV death. A clichéd-up-the-kazoo, tiresome, predictable, manipulative TV death. She gets to fall in love, she gets to help save the ship, and she steps in valiantly when Garrett is killed. It is, in short, a scripted death, and you can see the marionette strings.
As I said when we did “Skin of Evil,” Yar’s death was effective because it was pointless and sudden and frustrating and capricious. This just felt constructed, and it took away from what was otherwise a brilliant episode.
(The punchline, of course, is that after going to all the trouble to give her a TV death, they took it away by establishing in “Redemption” that she survived the battle at Narendra III long enough to sire a daughter. But we’ll get to that in due course.)
On top of that, all bringing Yar back does is show up how mediocre Denise Crosby is. Her line readings are stilted, her emotions unconvincing. Worf provides more depth of character in a single conversation with Guinan in the teaser than Yar can manage in the entire rest of the episode, making it abundantly clear that the show was better off with the direction it took.
Luckily, the rest of the cast takes up the slack. Whoopi Goldberg is magnificent here, as Guinan knows something is wrong and is frustrated by her inability to be more specific to Picard. Sir Patrick Stewart’s Picard is at once exactly the same and completely different (thanks to circumstance) than the Picard we know. And I can’t praise O’Neil’s turn as Garrett enough.
Despite its flaws, and a script that occasionally shows signs of being written over a long weekend, it’s one of the finest episodes of the entire franchise.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido set up the entire political backstory of the Klingons and Federation in The Art of the Impossible so that the Klingons and the Federation are indeed on the brink of what could be war if not for the Enterprise-C’s sacrifice. He also enjoyed writing Garrett, who remains a favorite character of his. Go to his web site for links to his blog, his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, not to mention ways in which you can buy his incredibly awesome books like the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct.