Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Fitting End To An Already Dead Character: "Yesterday's Enterprise" Is Clever!

The Good: Acting, Interesting plot, Tone, Special effects
The Bad: Occasionally slow pacing, Belaboring the point
The Basics: A fair episode, "Yesterday's Enterprise" puts the Enterprise in an alternate universe where the Klingons and Federation are at war and Tasha Yar lives.

When Tasha Yar was killed in the first season of Star Trek The Next Generation, it had the effect of balancing the cast off. Worf was given a purpose and the resulting shift moved Geordi into the position of Chief Engineer. In the long run, Tasha's death in "Skin Of Evil" (reviewed here!) served the series well. Still, each season, there is the obligatory Tasha Yar reference. In season two, it's "The Measure Of A Man" and "Shades Of Gray." In season three of Star Trek The Next Generation, the Tasha Yar episode is "Yesterday's Enterprise." For a character who was not around for terribly long, Tasha Yar resonated with the fans and the producers of the series.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" finds the Enterprise altered when it encounters a time/space anomaly. Suddenly, Tasha Yar is alive once more and working on the bridge and the Enterprise is a warship and the Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire. The anomaly deposits the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-C from the past. Rumored to be destroyed protecting a Klingon outpost from a Romulan attack, the Enterprise-C is heavily damaged and Captain Rachael Garret is seriously wounded. After discussions with Picard, Garret learns that the war is going badly and the Enterprise C's presence in the war is likely to make little difference. They theorize that had the Enterprise-C been destroyed in the past, the war might have been prevented. The Enterprise-C prepares to go back into the past and certain death when Klingons attack the two ships. Garret is killed and Lieutenant Castillo, a man who has fallen in love with Tasha Yar, is forced to take command. Yar, for her part, has been getting odd looks from Guinan, who understands that the timeline has been altered and reveals to Yar that she ought to be dead.

Often, "Yesterday's Enterprise" rates as one of the best episodes of the series. I believe, honestly, that it is mostly nostalgia over seeing Tasha Yar alive, because while "Yesterday's Enterprise" is not a bad episode, there are many that are better. This episode is an example of not using a good premise to its best ability. And this is an episode that cannot be blamed on Brannon Braga!

That is to say that "Yesterday's Enterprise" has a wonderful idea; the whole war idea, the time travel elements, the relationship Tasha Yar has in this setting. They all are good ideas. The problem is that the story is written to point out the good ideas almost constantly, rather than actually experience them. So, for example, the Tasha Yar plot is explained by Guinan far more than Yar actually DOES anything. Yar mulls her death in the alternate universe far more than she comes alive as a vibrant character. In short, it feels like she is out of place, coming back to a setting rather than like she has been on the Enterprise for years.

The episode belabors Yar's presence, as if to say "Look! It's Tasha Yar! She's back!" It treats Yar like a spectacle to be observed as opposed to a real and vibrant character that has been around, alive and doing things in the alternate timeline. So, while the viewer might feel like Yar's appearance is a novelty, the problem with the episode is that it makes the appearance feel like a novelty, in part by continually pointing Yar out.

Outside the obvious problem of spending more time focusing on the mechanics of the episode as opposed to actually developing the plot and characters naturally, the episode goes overboard in presenting Tasha Yar. The whole idea that Tasha Yar ought to be dead in the "normal" universe is reiterated over and over and over again.

To its credit, the episode is fun to watch. The differences between the Enterprise-D we are accustomed to and the alternate universe Galaxy Class ship are subtle and enjoyable to watch. The space battles are incredible. "Yesterday's Enterprise" employs new sets for the bridge and the special effects in the space battles are suitably impressive even today. This is a well-designed episode in terms of production values.

In addition, the acting is good. Patrick Stewart does an excellent job as Picard, taking the character from determined skepticism to understanding. Stewart evolves his character's understanding slowly and subtly and he slowly softens throughout the episode. And when he has to play commanding, he switches right into that mode, literally leaping over consoles to embody an enraged and defensive Picard.

Whoopi Goldberg gives a great performance as Guinan in her attempts to articulate the differences in the universes. Goldberg must give a simple performance that reiterates the plot and do it with the idea that her character has some perception that transcends normal space-time. As someone who grew up watching Goldberg's comedy routines, it's astonishing to watch her understated performance as Guinan and this episode is one of her better ones.

The real gem of the episode is Denise Crosby. She brings Tasha Yar to life in a way that seems obvious to say in a review. When Tasha Yar was killed in the first season, she had little development and the magnitude of the loss is disproportionate to the references following it. Crosby lends a dignity and force of character to a role that is essentially flat. She makes us believe Yar possesses the strength of character to want to die with dignity doing something big and grand.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" is a great time travel episode that serves to expand the Star Trek Universe, going a long way to filling in the gap between Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation. And while the episode is technically heavy, with a lot of jargon, it is accessible on that level. However, this episode is difficult to watch without understanding who Tasha Yar was and who Guinan is. They are the characters - and actors - on which this episode hinges.

A must for those into Star Trek The Next Generation, as it has repercussions that are later revisited, "Yesterday's Enterprise" revived a dead member of the crew as a result of a time travel accident and offers a lot to come back to again and again.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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