Apocalyptic Time Travel: “Yesterday’s Enterprise”

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.
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I’ve mentioned in previous posts that TNG finds its footing in season three, ultimately prompting me to rewatch a number of episodes for this season. I found “Deja Q” somewhat underwhelming, and, considering that “Yesterday’s Enterprise” features prominently on the same lists, I was vaguely concerned that I would not like this episode nearly as well as I remembered doing when I first saw it. Nope, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” holds up, even some thirty-odd years later. As far as the plot goes, the episode opens with a wonderful scene between Guinan and Worf in which Guinan introduces Worf to prune juice. Long time Trek fans will remember Worf’s love of prune juice following him all the way to Deep Space Nine. During their conversation, Guinan looks out to see a strange spatial anomaly appear, and just in that moment, the Enterprise-D we know and love changes, leaving Guinan, now wearing a different color, to look around a much busier Ten Forward with a confused expression.

She’s right to be confused because the Enterprise-D we see in this episode is far different from the one we’ve been watching. It’s a warship in the Federation/Klingon war. A ship emerges from the anomaly, and Tasha Yar, whose presence is shocking considering that she died in season one, discovers that the ship is the Enterprise-C, reeling from an attempt to protect a Klingon outpost at Narendra III from three Romulan warbirds. An away team to the E reveals that the ship is much the worse for wear, with most of the bridge crew dead aside from Captain Garrett, ably played by Tricia O’Neil, and Richard Castillo, a lieutenant who manages to duck into some sort of space underneath a console. Guinan, because she’s magical, remains the sole being on the Enterprise-D who knows that something about this timeline is terribly wrong, and she pleads with Picard to send the Enterprise-C back to the fight, regardless of the ship’s inevitable destruction at the hands of the three Warbirds. Captain Picard shouts at her to provide him better information or some sort of proof, but she can only tell him that she knows something is wrong; Picard finds himself making an impossible choice, and he asks Captain Garrett to return to the fight. Garrett and her crew fully understand the consequences of their return, but Picard convinces her that the C’s destruction has the potential to end the war before it begins because the Klingons will find honor in their valiant death in battle protecting a Klingon settlement.

The crew of the C return and head toward the anomaly, which will conveniently deposit them at the exact moment they left. Of course, two Klingon Birds of Prey appear to destroy both the D and the C, and in the initial engagement, Garrett lamentably perishes. Guinan has previously informed Yar that she died a pointless death in the original timeline, and since she has also developed a fondness for Castillo, Yar transfers to the C in order to give her death meaning. Once she transfers, the Klingons resume hostilities. Just as the D is about to be destroyed, the C slips into the anomaly, and everything returns to normal. The episode ends with Guinan sitting with Geordi in Ten Forward in order to ask him about Tasha Yar.

Let’s start with the good. Tricia O’Neil’s Rachel Garrett exudes calm competence, and the episode makes it clear that she is no slouch intellectually. She immediately grasps Picard’s logic and its implications for her own survival, but concludes that she and her crew must return to their own time regardless. She’s a worthy addition to the pantheon of captains, and frankly, after having struggled through some of Voyager’s weaker episodes, I really do wonder what a prequel series with Garrett at the helm would look like. Unfortunately, Garrett has very few scenes and a fate that is unsatisfying for reasons that I will discuss below.

The episode also offers us a different view of the characters that we’ve come to know and love on the Enterprise-D, and the subtle touches provided by the writing and the acting superbly hint at a depth of difference between this timeline and the “right” one. Picard at War is far more ruthless and angrier than his peacetime counterpart, and his authority is absolute. He shuts down a much more combative Riker without demonstrating any of the calm diplomacy that becomes the character’s hallmark. Wes Crusher appears as a full ensign and is strikingly competent, and I’ll leave you, dear readers, to determine whether that competence appears in the prime timeline or not. Troi, having no place on a warship is absent, and Dr. Crusher, unlike her son, just seems to have been ground down by the ongoing slaughter that has been the Federation/Klingon War. Goldberg’s performance is note perfect with her own frustration at her failure to understand exactly what has happened radiating off of her, and even in the face of this new, harder Picard, she remains calm, determined, and ultimately so right that she sways Picard to her way of thinking. The scene between Guinan and Picard serves as the make or break moment for the episode, and in the hands of lesser actors, Picard’s capitulation would never have been believable and the episode therefore relegated to ignominious mediocrity.

The ship herself plays a part in the story. We hear directions and commands over the ship’s PA system that while not necessarily key to the plot serve as reminders that this is not our Enterprise-D. Visually, the battleship’s bridge is darker, painted with a muted palette, and the weapons belt sported by the Starfleet personnel hearken back to the designs from the Mirror Universe, no matter that the belts look absolutely ridiculous over the slightly altered service uniform. Other touches go a bit overboard such as switching out Picard’s “Captain’s log” for “military log” and referring to the Enterprise as a battleship rather than a starship; I feel fairly certain that even battleships have “Captain’s logs,” but as far as story issues goes, that one is minor.

All of this brings me to the episode’s ultimate failure, which is forcing Tasha Yar into a narrative in which she is not necessary. On an intellectual level, I appreciate that the story brings Yar back to emphasize the difference in the two timelines and to bring some sort of pathos to the Enterprise-C’s fate. However, Garrett and Castillo provide the episode with all pathos required as does Picard’s struggle with the request he must make of Garrett. Neither Crosby’s performance nor Yar’s actual presence adds anything to the story, and the script makes no bones about why Yar is there: she’s being given the opportunity to die well. “Skin of Evil” is an absolutely awful episode with a completely unbelievable villain: Armus the murdering oil slick, but the only part of the episode that works is Yar’s death precisely because it’s meaningless. The only impact the story has is that it brings home the lesson that death can be capricious, and shoehorning Yar into what is an otherwise tight storyline via a thin romance plot featuring Castillo detracts from the episode. There’s a great line from Galaxy Quest that seems applicable here: “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship. It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it!” “Skin of Evil” may be stupid, but shortchanging the one good part of the episode seems highly unnecessary.

Rating: The entire pot of Earl Grey Tea and a few tea biscuits besides.

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:

  1. This episode will be the last episode in which the entire original cast will appear. While Yar will return in the “Redemption” episodes from season five, Wil Wheaton does not appear in those or the final episode.
  2. Picard gets another really fantastic line in this. When the Klingons inform him to prepare to be boarded, Picard grits out, “That’ll be the day.” It’s great. I love angry Picard.
  3. Picard refers to Riker as commander on the Dark Enterprise D, never Number One. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that speaks volumes about their relationship.
  4. The loudspeaker pages a Dr. Selar, who featured in the “Schizoid Man” and will be mentioned repeatedly throughout the series though she is never seen again.
  5. In the final scene after the timeline’s restoration, LaForge still sports the alternate uniform.

3 thoughts on “Apocalyptic Time Travel: “Yesterday’s Enterprise””

  1. I don’t agree with the “ultimate failure” since the entire episode was a vehicle for bringing back Denise Crosby, but otherwise it’s a nice write-up for an episode I co-wrote 30 years ago! Live long and prosper!

    1. I’m certainly thrilled you found my blog, and I’m grateful you commented. That said, while I certainly do understand that the episode existed to be a vehicle for Yar and that in such sense it was successful, I just don’t think that story-line to be the episode’s strongest.

      I can promise you that as a nine year old watching the episode for the first time, I was thrilled to see Yar return. However, on rewatch, it didn’t work as well for me.

      Again, so glad you commented!

  2. Hi Marie,

    I respect your POV. I’m just amazed at how well the episode holds up 30 years later! If you’re interested, I have a blog that you can find at BoldlyGoing dot blog. My wife and I are retiring in the May 2020 and moving to France. The blog is my attempt at documenting our adventures as we go!

    Best, Eric

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