Star Trek: The Next Generation – Yesterday’s Enterprise [3.15]

When a previous Starship Enterprise comes through a rift from the past into Picard’s time, history is changed so that the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for over 20 years.  Tasha Yar, who is alive in this timeline, falls for one of the older ship’s officers.  Prompted by warnings from Guinan, Picard realizes that sending the other Enterprise back in time, even though it will mean their certain death in terrible battle, is the only way to put history back on track.  Discovering that she will be die an ultimately meaningless death in the proper history, Tasha Yar elects to go back with Enterprise-C a die a death that really means something.  She does so, and history is restored.

Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Richard Manning & Hans Beimler & Ronald D. Moore.  From a story by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell. Directed by David Carson.

Previous Episode: A Matter of PerspectiveNext Episode: The Offspring

Whenever you revisit something you really love, something from days and years gone by, you run the risk of having that memory shattered.  I came into Yesterday’s Enterprise with that uncertainty.  I mean, this was the episode that, seen without preamble or warning back in my Sophomore year at college, ultimately sold me on the show.    I can’t remember when I last watched it, but as I tuned into it this time, I couldn’t help but to wonder…would it hold up, all these years later?

Well, phew.  It did.

Man, what a great episode.  Tight writing, tight direction, no fiddle-faddling around, not a moment lost. There is lots of strong characterization, especially the guest characters of Captain Garrett, Richard Castillo, and, of course, Tasha Yar. Patrick Stewart anchors the regular cast brilliantly, bringing out the differences between this Picard and our regular one very clearly.  This Picard, who carries the Federation’s secret of imminent defeat, is more abrupt, more harsh, and a bit reminiscent of what we thought Picard might have turned out to be like when we first met him.  The only other of the regulars to really adjust his performance in the alternate universe is Jonathan Frakes as Riker.  He has less to do, but does with the tiredness of a lifetime of war.  The other regulars do not really do much to make their alternate characters any different.

The alternate-Federation, wearied by decades of war, is not entirely plausible, but fascinating.  It’s situation gives rise to a terrific sense of drama and tension.  The story takes a fascinating science fiction premise and turns it into something that is very straightforward and clear – history has changed for the worse, and if the Enterprise-C does not return (and her crew almost certainly die) things will not be righted.  But that change of history allows long-term fans of the show the rewarding opportunity to revisit Tasha Yar.  She returns just as she left – abruptly and with little ceremony.  It’s a treat to watch and see how the character might have progressed if she’d stayed on.  Denise Crosby is great in the part, bringing an ease and maturity to the character that was generally lacking in her regular appearances.  The romance between Tasha and Richard Castillo is, frankly, the best and most natural one that we’ve seen in the series so far, and adds a nice emotional layer to everything that is happening.

It’s not an absolutely perfect production, but the flaws are a bit nitpicky.  Of course, it doesn’t really make sense that after 20 years of war the Federation would have invented almost exactly the same ship as they did in “real life”.  Nor is it really believable that after 20 years of war, most of our main crew would still be serving together on this one ship.  And then of course, you have Guinan, who most of the time is fated to be a plot device – something that is certainly true here.  But, it’s a convenient plot device to get Picard wrestling with the genuinely challenging dilemma of whether he can ask all these people to certainly die for the remote possibility of changing history.

I’ve heard other complaints leveled against the episode that I completely disagree with.  Someone has said that it’s a plot hole that they didn’t discuss programming the Enterprise-C to fight the Romulans on autopilot, thus removing the sacrifice element.  This is plainly ridiculous.  They spend a lot of time talking about the need to give this battle the best they can, how precious seconds that the crew could buy may make all the difference, etc.  Plus they go on about the fact that the older ship is falling to bits, barely holding on – easily explaining away any fanciful autopilot notions.  I’ve also heard that the alternate reality should have featured Worf as a enemy Klingon.  This would have been completely distracting from the main story, so I can’t really say strongly enough how glad I am the show avoided such a move.

So at the end of the day, Yesterday’s Enterprise is a powerful piece of standalone storytelling, speaking about the grand themes of sacrifice, courage, and the importance of making every death meaningful.  And yet it’s also about hope and celebrating the value of every life.  I don’t know if it will turn out to be the best episode of the entire series, but it’s certainly a contender.

Shout Out to the Past:
Well, there’s Tasha Yar of course.  That’s probably the main one.

There is also a brief reference to Dr. Selar in the alternate sickbay.

Set up for the future:

Unfortunately, the end of this story is a bit ruined by the time we get to the end of Season 4 and meet Tasha’s half-Romulan daughter.  Ugh.  That story will make direct reference to this one, thanks to all-somewhat knowing Guinan.

Guest Cast:
• Christopher McDonald who plays Richard Castillo, played the young Boss Hogg in a Dukes of Hazard prequel that I’ve never heard of before!  He also featured in the series Family Law and played the voice of Jor-El in a few episodes of the Superman animated series, as well as a two part of episode of Batman Beyond.  He was also Jack Barry in the great movie, Quiz Show.

• This episode introduces Worf’s fondness for Prune Juice, which will go on to be a running bit for the character.

• Earth females are too fragile?  There are times when Worf will not seem all that concerned about this later on.

• Wesley is a full ensign in the alternate universe.  And Wil Wheaton does a good job as a regular crew member, rather than a teenaged whiz kid.

• Tricia O’Neil’s Captain Garrett is a great character who seems to be a bit of a template that Kathryn Janeway was cut from.

• There are details given on the alternative Enterprise: 42 decks, 6000 troop capacity.  Is that the same as the regular ship?

• The briefing scene where Picard announces the need for the “C” to return is very good.  “I think I’m aware of your opinion, Commander.  This is a briefing.  I’m not seeking your consent.”

• It’s nice that, considering their “history”, Tasha and Data have a scene together

• Nice line:  “One more ship will make no difference in the here and now, but 22 years ago, this ship could have stopped this war before it started.”  Actually, there’s a fair bit of good lines.  “It may be a matter of seconds or minutes, but those could be the minutes that change history.”

•  That’s a brutal second Act low point with the death of Captain Garrett

• I only just realized that Counselor Troi is not present in the alternate universe.  That makes good sense.

• At the end, Riker is leaning over really low while he stands a lot at tactical so he’s in shot with Picard.

• There are some strange bits of debris that fly over the ship as things explode – both as Garrett and later Riker are killed.  They look like foam rubber bits.

Dialogue High Point
Picard rallies the troops in the face of the climactic

Let’s make sure history never forgets the name…Enterprise.  Picard out.

Previous Episode: A Matter of PerspectiveNext Episode: The Offspring

One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Yesterday’s Enterprise [3.15]

  1. Such a great episode. I especially love Picard’s line you picked out. One of the most memorable lines of the whole series. I love this episode.

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