Plot Synopsis: A time portal opens and the Enterprise-C emerges, changing the timeline into a reality where the Federation is in a bitter war with the Klingon Empire.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is great. Worf gets introduced to prune juice by Guinan while hanging out in Ten Forward, and then a disturbance forms in space. From the bridge we see another starship emerge from it and everything changes. Picard turns to ask Tasha Yar what name of the ship is, and she replies it’s the Enterprise-C! Plot A concerns the two Enterprises, and it’s fantastic, there is no plot B. The C is asking for help following a deadly battle and an away team beams over and brings back survivors, who it turns out are from the past. Shortly thereafter Guinan comes onto the bridge and tells Picard that everything is ‘wrong’ and the C needs to go back to certain death. Put yourself in his place and try to compute that. What follows is 45 minutes of awesomeness as tension and drama ramp up and up until the climax. This is an extremely tightly told story that is riveting, well-paced, and still holds up 24 years later.
Favorite Scenes: “Let’s make sure history never forgets the name…Enterprise.” The climax when the Enterprise is single-handedly trying to fight off three Klingon warbirds. Hell, this entire episode is one big favorite scene. This is a film-quality episode, pure and simple. One of my very favorite scenes occurs about 20 minutes in, when Picard has realized the death sentence of sending the C back to the past and calls Guinan in to talk. This excerpt is a little bit long but it is the pivotal, turning point of the entire episode:
Picard: I need more.
Guinan: There is no more. I wish there were. I wish I could prove it, but I can’t.
Picard: Then I can’t ask them to go back.
Guinan: You’ve got to.
Picard *his controlled veneer starting to crack*: Guinan they will die moments after they return. How can I ask them to sacrifice themselves based solely on your intuition?
Guinan: I don’t know. But I do know that this is a mistake. Every fiber in my being says “this is a mistake.” I can’t explain it to myself, so I can’t explain it to you. I only know that I’m right.
Picard: Who is to say that this history is any less proper than the other?
Guinan: I suppose I am.
Picard *yelling*: Not good enough, damn it! Not good enough! I will not ask them to die.
Guinan: Forty billion people have already died, this war’s not supposed to be happening! You’ve got to send those people back to correct this.
Picard: And what is to guarantee that if they go back they will succeed? Every instinct is telling me this is wrong, it is dangerous, it is futile!
Guinan *gathers herself*: We’ve known each other a long time. You have never known me to impose myself on anyone, or take a stance based on trivial or whimsical perceptions. This time line must not be allowed to continue. Now, I’ve told you what you must do. You have only your trust in me to help you decide to do it.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is a frickin’ stallion in this episode. Try watching this episode and putting yourself in his place, imagine the enormous weight of command he must feel and it only gets heavier as things progress. In this episode he makes impossible decisions based almost exclusively upon the advice of Guinan, a woman he has a mysterious relationship with who gives him almost nothing to go on. And we buy it! Riker doesn’t do a lot in this episode, but the feedback he gives the captain acts as our voice of objection to the very idea of sending those people back where they came from. Data doesn’t do a lot but he is a fairly active part of the episode, same with Geordi. Worf gets some nice development in the early part of the episode but he’s gone for most of it. Doctor Crusher does some decent work here, being an active part of the plot, if not an extremely important part of it. Wes has a few lines but doesn’t do much except man the Conn. Troi gets less than anyone, ever…she’s technically in the episode at the very beginning and the end, but does not have a single line.
Guinan is the single most pivotal element in the episode; we see just how strong her bond with Picard is and how implicitly he trusts her, which is saying a helluva lot. It’s great to see that, I love it. Denise is back as Tasha Yar! She is better in this single episode than in the entire first season, she has great screen time and is important to the plot as well. Christopher McDonald and Tricia O’Neil, who play Lieutenant Castillo and Captain Garrett respectively, are pitch perfect. Garrett is every inch a captain and Castillo has the zeal of a young officer and has great chemistry with Denise as well. Couldn’t ask for better from everyone involved here.
Blu Ray Version: The Blu Ray version has two different commentaries for this episode, if you are interested. The details in the dark sets and the phaser blasts are clear and vibrant, it’s reference quality for me.
Nitpicks: I wish they had a bigger budget, I wanted to see more starship combat! In a rare mistake, the final scene with Geordi and Guinan sees Geordi still wearing the alternate-universe uniform.
Overall Impression: This is one of those lightning-in-a-bottle episodes where everything just comes together brilliantly. Yesterday’s Enterprise is a candidate for finest episode of the series, it’s that good. The fact that this isn’t the only episode that is such a candidate speaks to the strength of this season. Every scene here is needed and advances either the plot or the characters, and we get to see the Federation, the characters and the Enterprise in a very different light throughout. In fact, if we added another 45 minutes somehow, this could be a TNG movie. The overall impression is you wish every episode could be this good. I rate this episode 5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: There’s a lot here so strap yourself in. Evidently the idea for the ending of the episode came from Ira Behr, who took it from the World War II movie Bataan, where everyone dies at the end and the last shot is the gritty sergeant of the platoon behind a machine gun as the enemy is overrunning their position, and he gets gradually obscured by smoke. According to Denise, “Rick Berman called me at home and said, ‘we have an episode which brings you back.'” Rick did not know and maybe Denise had forgotten that she had spoken to Eric Stillwell at a Star Trek convention, asking him to think of a way for her to come back and have an episode on the show. She read the script and said “I’m in, this is great.” Because of this episode, Denise came up with the idea of Tasha being captured and having a daughter. Rick Berman’s favorite episode for quite a while was Yesterday’s Enterprise, and it evidently supplanted his previous favorite, Measure of a Man. Chris McDonald made Denise laugh so hard she even interrupted Patrick’s whispered speech to the captain of the Enterprise-C and they had to do another take. Evidently between takes during the scene where he asks Tasha to call her Richard instead of Castillo, he said to her, “but you can call me…Dick.” Denise laughed so hard she told him not to look her in the eyes when they had any scenes together for the rest of the week, because she couldn’t stop cracking up.
This episode made Entertainment Weekly’s top 10 list of TNG. They ran out of time and money or more people would have died in that final battle, including Wesley being decapitated and Data being electrocuted. The original airing of this episode scored over 13 million viewers, the third highest of the entire series. The book Star Trek 101 listed this episode as one of the 10 Essential Episodes from TNG. Here’s a great quote from Frakes: “To this day I do not understand Yesterday’s Enterprise. I do not know what the f*** happened in that episode. I’m still trying to understand it–but I liked the look.”
Roberto Orci, who wrote the 2009 Star Trek movie, cited this episode as his primary inspiration. This episode won an Emmy for outstanding sound editing and was nominated for sound mixing and music composition–robbed from any major Emmy awards again. This episode was voted the most popular single episode of the series on six separate occasions! And you’d better recognize Chris McDonald as Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore. A final tidbit for you anime fans: the bit of ‘shrapnel’ that killed Captain Garrett is actually a wing from a VF1-Valkyrie from the series Super Dimension Fortress Macross.
Missable/Unmissable? One of the finest episodes of the series. Unmissable. The next one is too.