Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, turns her critical eye to the classic ST:TNG Episode YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE.
I’m sending over my thoughts on The Next Generation’s Yesterday’s Enterprise. The episode contains many of the great staples of science fiction, including time travel, altered history, and some thrilling space battles. Yet, it still manages to maintain humanity and great character drama amidst all of the action and spectacle, a feat that I think is its greatest accomplishment.
I do have one main criticism of the Yesterday’s Enterprise and that is, ironically enough, the role of Tasha Yar. While I do understand and appreciate the attempt to give her a more respectable send-off, to be honest, I personally wasn’t particularly thrilled with the decision. While I did not like The Skin of Evil, the death of Yar was incredibly shocking and impactful just because of how sudden and unglamorous it was. It subverted audience expectations; it was very realistic in the sense that in real life, people don’t often get to have meaningful, heroic deaths. I do feel a bit disappointed that Yesterday’s Enterprise goes to such lengths to retcon what had happened and give Yar a more clichéd death. The way that it was carried out, first with Guinan somehow knowing that Yar died meaninglessly in the original timeline, and then with the convenient fridging of Garrett, feels a bit manipulative and forced into the story. And even though I do appreciate seeing Yar back, she proved to be one of the weaker characters featured in the episode. I don’t know if it is Denise Crosby’s performance or the script, or both, but I just found her to be a little stiff and one-note. I really much preferred Tricia O’Neil’s Captain Garrett, and I wish that she hadn’t been needlessly killed off in order to provide Yar with her moment.
Even though Worf, for obvious reasons, had only a limited amount of screen time in the story, I quite enjoyed the opening scene of his conversation with Guinan. The cultural differences between humans and other races is always interesting and entertaining to explore. What is considered a laxative for older people to us is apparently a “warrior’s drink” to the Klingons. I also liked the rapport that Guinan had with Worf, with the latter teasing the former by telling him that some women may find him too tame. It is nice to see Worf being given more personality, being able to partake in some more humorous scenes.
Alternate timelines are always a fun subject to explore. One of my favourite episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the 3rd Season’s The Wish, in which Cordelia accidentally changes the timeline to some catastrophic effects. Yesterday’s Enterprise is similar in its presentation of a much darker, dystopian timeline where the Federation is on the brink of losing its war against the Klingons. It is fun noting all of the differences: the absence of both Worf and Troi; Picard’s considerably more authoritarian style of command and his strained relationship with Riker; the captain’s log being now changed to a military log. One decision that I appreciated about the episode however, is that it’s not made immediately apparent to the audience of what had actually happened. Guinan was the only character who realised something was amiss, but even her knowledge of the two timelines was muddled. The episode carried a bit of mystery in its first half: it took time both for me and the characters to deduce the meaning of the appearance of Enterprise-C and its role in the changing of the timelines. And when the truth is eventually unveiled, the crew find themselves facing a very difficult moral choice: should they attempt to right the timeline in spite of not knowing for certain what the outcome will be? Should they send the crew of Enterprise-C back to their certain destruction? Should Picard allow Yar to go to, possibly, a needless death? Even though as an audience member I have the advantage of knowing the answers, I thought the episode did a fine job of presenting the dilemma from the perspective of the characters, for whom things are murky and uncertain.
The new characters that were brought on from Enterprise-C were quite strong. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed Tricia O’Neil as Captain Garrett; I thought that she had a strong presence and power that made her memorable in spite of the limited amount of screen time she was allotted. When she delivered the line: “The Romulans will get a good fight. We’ll make it one for the history books”, she had me roused; hence was my disappointment when she was taken out in order to make way for Yar. I also appreciated Christopher McDonald’s Castillo. He possessed a winning charisma, and in spite of my annoyance towards the incredibly fast romance between him and Yar, I thought that he manages to carry the scenes and steer the relationship away from being too sappy.
Of course, being in an alternate timeline, particularly a more dystopian one, does provide a certain amount of freedom to the story. As with the aforementioned episode of Buffy, Yesterday’s Enterprise comes to quite a cataclysmic battle at its climax. Although we don’t get to see nearly as many casualties as we did in Buffy, there is still an intense moment where Riker is suddenly and abruptly killed. I got quite a kick out of seeing Picard leaping to the back of the bridge to man the tactical station with a “screw you” to the Klingons, remaining defiant and carrying on the fight even in the face of certain destruction. It was quite an epic moment; even though I knew that the crew were going to succeed – there are, after all, another four seasons of The Next Generation lying ahead – I was still holding my breath watching Enterprise-C slowly entering the rift.
In spite of my issues with Yar’s role, I nevertheless loved the final line in Yesterday’s Enterprise when Guinan, speaking to La Forge, says: “Geordi, tell me about Tasha Yar.” It was an effectively poignant and bittersweet moment: only Guinan knows the truth of what had happened, and is now compelled to learn more about the person that she was never meant to meet. The line made me think of the power of our storytelling. It is through the stories that La Forge and others tell that Yar is able to persist and be introduced to others long after her death. It is through storytelling that we are able to carry on the legacies of those that have come before us, that they can live on through our collective memory.
Live long and prosper,