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Yesterday's Enterprise

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at June 21, 2008 - 3:23 AM GMT

See Also: 'Yesterday's Enterprise' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Just after discovering a temporal rift, the bridge crew spots a ship within it. In that instant, the USS Enterprise enters an alternative timeline where Tasha Yar is alive, the ship has been refitted for battle, and Starfleet has been at war with the Klingons for two decades. The ship from the rift is a previous USS Enterprise - the NCC-1701-C, which was reported destroyed 22 years ago. Picard learns from Captain Rachel Garrett that the ship had responded to a Klingon distress call when it was ambushed by Romulan warbirds, then slipped through the rift. When Guinan tells Picard that the entire universe is wrong - the war shouldn't be happening - Picard concludes that although the temporal phenomenon saved the Enterprise-C from destruction, that change set in motion an alternate timeline in which billions have died. Riker wants to repair the older Enterprise to fight for Starfleet, but Picard and Garrett agree that it must return to its own timeline - even if that means certain destruction - because honorable deaths might have been sufficient reason for the Klingons to avoid war with the Federation. Meanwhile, Yar, who is falling in love with one of the Enterprise-C's officers, learns from Guinan that her death in the peaceful timeline had no purpose. She asks Picard for a transfer to the Enterprise-C so that she can help them complete their mission. Three Klingon Birds of Prey attack the Enterprise-D as the Enterprise-C heads into the rift. Just as the warp core is about to breach, the rift closes and the Enterprise-D resumes its initial timeline, where Picard's crew is on the way to a peaceful meeting with the Klingons. None of them has any memory of the alternate reality except Guinan, who asks LaForge to tell her about Tasha Yar.

Analysis: Unquestionably one of the most memorable episodes from any Star Trek series, "Yesterday's Enterprise" introduces two superb elements: the crew of the Enterprise-C, reported to have died heroically in battle, now unexpectedly returned, and an Enterprise-D designed as a warship, with a battle-hardened crew and a sense of resignation about the possiblity of imminent defeat. The questions with which the characters must grapple are epic: it's like "The City on the Edge of Forever" on a much larger scale, where instead of the certain death of one woman protecting millions of lives, the likely deaths of dozens may save billions. But unlike in "City on the Edge," Picard isn't certain of a fixed future to which he and the others will return. He has only Guinan's intuition to guide him, and she can offer no assurances that the people he knows and trusts will remain his crew. In fact, the only crewmember whose fate she directly announces is that of Yar, Picard's very competent and cool-headed tactical officer, who is supposed to be dead.

There aren't a lot of big, obvious changes on the Enterprise besides the substitution of Yar for Worf at first, which makes for some wonderful contrasts. Wesley is still on the bridge, but he acts more like a junior lieutenant than a kid given an unearned promotion; in this timeline, with so many lost, presumably there are other young people selected to serve and die despite not having finished their schooling. Troi isn't around to smooth the crew's emotional reactions during critical moments, the impact of which is most obvious in Riker; he's more aggressive, angry, bitter, confrontational. In this timeline one suspects that he's chomping at the bit for his own ship and his own battles, but even more, he's desperate for hope, so urgently trying to bring the Enterprise-C into the current fleet, to give Starfleet that tiniest additional help. We rarely see the children on the Enterprise-D so it takes Guinan to point out that they're no longer present, but it's apparently nonetheless that this isn't a happy ship. Ten-Forward is likely necessary to stop the tensions from exploding.

Enter Garrett's crew, all surviving members of which know that their lives are over - either they're going to remain in this new timeline 22 years in the future of their families and loved ones, or they're going to be sent back, in all probability to die. Unsurprisingly, Garrett reports that many of her people prefer the latter option. We meet very few of the Enterprise-C officers, but they're among the most memorable guest characters ever on this series. Janeway may have been the first woman captain to be seen regularly, but Garrett's the prototype, determined, fearless and devoted to her people. The helmsman Castillo is more the strong, silent type, accepting the fate that has befallen his ship and ready to do whatever his captain wants...or would have wanted, after she is killed in the Klingon attack. His respect for Yar is immediately obvious and his attraction to her (the last woman he'll ever kiss) is nicely restrained. In many ways the strength and stoicism of the Enterprise-C officers impresses more than Picard's crew, with the newly tempestuous Riker and an angrily competent Dr. Crusher who can do little more than patch people up so they can head back into battle.

But it's Tasha Yar who's the emotional pivot of the episode. We haven't seen her since her meaningless demise in "Skin of Evil," which the show's writers now seem belatedly to regret; she did meet death with her eyes open, but not in the act of saving a planet or even a person, an omission that can now be rectified. Yar had to do some pretty thankless things during her time on the Enterprise, yet here we see her only at her best, and without Worf lurking behind her as backup. Castillo praises both her knowledge and her ability to convey it to others. Data listens to her suggestions. She seems better prepared to take command than the defiant Riker of the war timeline. It's wonderful to see her and particularly wonderful to see her like this, the Yar I might have wished for all along...or perhaps a Yar who thrives better in a time of conflict than she did on a mission of exploration, where her areas of strength were sometimes labeled aggression and impetuousness.

This is my favorite time-circle episode on Star Trek; the scale of Voyager's "Year of Hell" makes it overwhelming to try to identify with the emotions of any of the characters involved, while the Evil Alien Nazis on Enterprise just seem laughable by comparison. And the performances are all pitch-perfect, the redesigned uniforms and sets subtle and unnerving, the effects superlative...and through it all there's humor, from Guinan's getting Worf to drink prune juice ("a warrior's drink") at the start to Yar's ability to joke with Castillo in the face of near-certain death, reminds us of everything lovable about this crew and its interactions.

I will be out of town for the next five weeks, so this will be my last retro review for a while. I'll be back with "The Outcast" late in the summer!

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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