Original air date: February 19, 1990
Guinan is introducing Worf to the wonders of prune juice when the Enterprise comes upon some sort of space-time disturbance. Suddenly, a ship emerges—the damaged USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-C), displaced 22 years in time. And it has survivors.
Panning back to the bridge of the Enterprise-D, things are... different. The lighting is darker, the design a bit more sinister, the uniforms are more militaristic, everyone is armed, Wesley is a full member of Starfleet, and Tasha Yar is standing at the tactical station! Deanna is nowhere to be found, but Worf's absence is easily explained: the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for over 20 years, a war which they are now on the brink of losing. They desperately need any ship they can get, and the Enterprise-C, though badly damaged, looks repairable.
They bring the survivors on board, including the moderately injured Captain Garrett. She tells Picard and Dr. Crusher that they had been responding to a distress call from a Klingon outpost at Narendra III when they were set upon by four Romulan Warbirds and were moments from destruction when they fell into the rift. Picard laments that a Federation rescue of a Klingon base might tipped Federation-Klingon relations toward peace and averted some 20 years of war.
Alone of the crew of the Enterprise, Guinan's Bizarre Alien Senses lead her to pick up on the shift in the timeline, though she cannot fully comprehend it; she just knows that something is off. She talks to Picard about it, but isn't able to give him anything more definite than that this isn't what's supposed to be happening, and she implores him to send the Enterprise-C back through the rift to where it belongs. Picard balks at sending 125 people into certain death based only on a few cryptic remarks. Guinan begs him to think of the stakes: saving the lives of 40 billion casualties of war.
Meanwhile, Tasha has been liaising with the acting second in command of the Enterprise-C, Lieutenant Junior Grade Richard Castillo, trying to get the older vessel combat-ready once more. The pair quickly develop some chemistry, but the disconcerting looks that Guinan keeps throwing at Tasha distract them a bit from their budding romance.
Picard commits to sending sending the Enterprise-C back to the past based on Guinan's intuition. Crusher and Geordi are incredulous that Guinan could know what she claims, but Data suspects that her species has a perception that goes beyond linear time. Riker, meanwhile, questions the logic of such the act, arguing that the Enterprise-C has no possible way of saving Narendra III and the only thing it would really accomplish is sending the crew to their deaths, but Data points out that the Klingons have an awful lot of respect for people who die in battle, and dying in the defense of the Klingon outpost would likely be seen as a very honorable act.
Picard speaks to Captain Garrett about his decision. Garrett would rather fight in the "here and now" than return to a lost cause, but Picard confesses that she'd be facing a losing battle either way: the Federation is mere months from surrender. Just one starship is not going make any impact in the present, but 22 years ago, one ship could stop the war before it starts.
Garrett agrees to return to her own time and begins preparations for a suicidal last stand. But before they can leave, the two ships are suddenly attacked by a passing Klingon Bird-of-Prey on a scouting mission. The Enterprise-C sustains some damage in the fight, resulting in Garrett getting killed by a piece of shrapnel, leaving Castillo in command. Castillo makes preparations to carry out the mission in her stead, and he and Tasha share a tender goodbye. Before the ship can depart, however, Tasha confronts Guinan about the looks, having apparently surmised that her fate in the alternate timeline is a dark one. Guinan admits that in the "correct" timeline, she died horribly and pointlessly. With this news, Tasha decides to transfer to the Enterprise-C and take her chances with the Romulans, where at least her death might make a difference. This couldn't possibly have any consequences down the road at all.
These alternate-timeline Klingons aren't going away, though, and as the Enterprise-C limps back towards the rift, three Birds-of-Prey attack. The Enterprise-D devotes itself wholly to defending its doomed predecessor, suffering major damage. Riker is killed in an explosion, and the Klingons demand the surrender of the ship. "That'll be the day," scoffs Picard, and he leaps into the tactical station to continues fighting to the very last. The Klingon ships batter away at the now-helpless Enterprise-D, and with a warp core breach imminent, it looks like the end for both ships. Just as the Enterprise-D is about to be destroyed, the Enterprise-C makes it into the rift...
...and everything returns to normal. Picard stands on the bridge in the exact spot he was before the change in timeline. He asks for a report. Worf, back once again in his usual spot, reports that his sensor readings fluctuated and what appeared to be a ship has now vanished. Data reports the anomaly is closing in on itself. Just as Picard orders Wesley to plot a new course, Guinan calls up over the intercom and asks if everything is all right. Surprised by her call, Picard answers somewhat bemused that everything is fine on the bridge, and asks her if there is something wrong. Guinan, glancing at a well-lit, happy Ten-Forward, says that nothing is wrong and apologizes if she bothered them. She then sits down to ask Geordi about Tasha Yar.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Ambadassador: The Enterprise-C is Ambassador-class, and she and her crew are willing to give four Romulan warbirds a serious fight, even with it being a Heroic Sacrifice to strengthen the peace between The Federation and the Klingon Empire.
- Anyone Can Die: The best thing about an Alternate Timeline episode. Captain Garrett and Riker are both killed by Exploding Instrumentation, and planned deaths of more of the bridge crew were cut for time.
- Backstory Invader: Lampshaded—all the other crew remember Tasha as having been with them all along, but Guinan, who joined the ship after Tasha died, can't remember her previously existing.
- Bad Present: From the perspective of the main characters. As usual, it's a Bad Future from the POV of the Enterprise-C crew.
- Badass Boast: "Let's make sure history never forgets... the name... Enterprise."
- Call-Back: Worf's spiel about human females being too fragile for "companionship" is a call back to a nearly identical conversation he had back in season one's "Justice", there with Commander Riker, but here with Guinan. It would be playfully revisited again later on in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: Heard when Guinan turns to find that Ten Forward has turned into a soldiers mess.Now hear this. Fleet formation briefing in main war room at fifteen hundred hours. Doctor Joshua Kim, report to Cetacean Ops. Ensign Thomas, please report to the Combat Information Center. Ensign Thomas to the CIC.
- Captain's Log: Picard gives his usual voiceover, but in the alternate timeline he's recording a "military log" and using "combat dates" rather than Stardates.
- Continuity Nod: In the alternate timeline, there's an intercom call for "Dr. Selar," the tall Vulcan last seen in "The Schizoid Man."
- Cool Starship:
- The Ambassador-class Enterprise-C. Notable in that the Ambassador only made three other appearances in the franchise and it remains an extremely popular ship in the fandom.
- The K'vort-class battlecruiser. Basically a classic Bird-of-Prey on steroids, and powerful enough to give two Enterprises some serious trouble.
- Critical Staffing Shortage: Riker points out that if the Enterprise-C goes back, Lt. Castillo will have "limited support from Ops, no Tactical support, reduced staff in Engineering..." before Castillo cuts him off.
- Defiant to the End: Picard, given the offer to surrender to the Klingons, spits out a "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner, vaults over the Tactical rail to man Riker's empty station, and continues attempting to fire the phasers as the bridge catches fire around him.
- Dramatic Irony: In the alternate timeline, Geordi tells Tasha that they have no way of knowing whether any of them are even alive in the original timeline. The audience knows that Tasha is not alive in the original timeline. Geordi's words obviously stick with Tasha and spur her to ask Guinan about her fate.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: The Enterprise-C is destroyed in defense of a Klingon colony, which at that time isn't even an ally of the Federation and so had no formal obligation to help in the first place, and in doing so proves that valor and integrity are core parts of Federation ideals to the Klingons that they and The Federation move to become True Companions, preventing a war and saving 40 billion lives. Never forget the name Enterprise indeed.
- Dynamic Akimbo: Picard puts his hands on his hips on the Bridge. Perhaps he got the habit from Captain Janeway in this timeline?
- Expendable Alternate Universe: Discussed.Guinan: 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: Not good enough, dammit! Not good enough! I will not ask them to die!
Guinan: Forty billion people have already died! This war is not supposed to be happening! You've got to send those people back to correct this!
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: The Enterprise-D is crippled, with no chance of winning the battle. The Klingons offer to let the Enterprise surrender.Captain Picard: That'll be the day.
- Fix Fic: Denise Crosby left the series unexpectedly while the first season was being filmed, which meant Tasha Yar had to be written out. Yar's demise in "Skin of Evil" was intentionally written as abrupt and pointless to highlight life's cruel realities, but it didn't sit well with fans. When Crosby returned for this episode, the writers got a chance to give her a more heroic death.
- For Want of a Nail: The whole premise of the episode; the Enterprise-C turns out to be a very important nail indeed. Without a Heroic Sacrifice on the part of a Federation ship in defense of a Klingon outpost and instead the apparent cowardice of the Enterprise-C in vanishing after approaching the outpost, negotiations between the two sides break down into a 22-year war.
- Heroic Sacrifice:
- The original fate of the Enterprise-C, fighting four Romulan warbirds in defense of a Klingon colony before the Klingons and Federation were allies. Giving their lives in a doomed attempt to answer the colony's distress call was (as Data pointed out) an act of courage and honor so impressive that it made the Klingon Empire reconsider their decades of hostility towards the Federation.
- The fate of the bad future's Enterprise-D. To help the Enterprise-C reach the time portal, she and her crew stand between them and three Klingon battle cruisers.
- Hold the Line: The Enterprise-D has to hold off three Klingon Birds of Prey long enough for the Enterprise-C to re-enter the temporal rift and reset history. Similarly, the Enterprise-C has to last long enough in the Battle of Narendra III to prove to the Klingons that the Federation can become True Companions.
- In Spite of a Nail: Given that the premise involves the prior 20 years of history to be drastically different, with the Federation entangled in a decades-long war, it's highly improbable that any of the original crew would have ended up on the Enterprise-D, and especially unlikely that more than one or at most two would have. Instead, with the exception of Worf's swap with Yar (due to the Klingon war), and Troi, everyone else is not only stationed on the same exact ship, but also in their exact same positions.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Tasha decides that she wants a death that will count for something, it's easy to see it as acknowledging the Fix Fic nature of the scene in giving the character a more heroic exit than the "senseless" death the writers originally gave her.
- Little "No": Guinan says this when the Negative Space Wedgie appears, a few minutes before the timeline is altered.
- Mildly Military: The fact that this trope is averted is one of the earliest indicators to the audience that something is off. All of the crew carry phasers aboard the ship, the lighting is dimmed for a darker mood, the ramp leading to the back of the bridge has been replaced with steps, there are fewer chairs on the Bridge for officers to lounge in (Riker now stands behind the railing instead of sitting at the Captain's side), the replicators produce standardized military rations, the ship doesn't have a counselor on the bridge—Troi doesn't appear in the Bad Future at all—and the Enterprise is even repeatedly referred to as a "battleship" instead of a "starship". The Enterprise-C, meanwhile, is referred to as a cruiser. Even the uniforms are slightly different, now having a closed collar to make the final frontier just that little bit less friendly.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Worf is quite taken by prune juice and proclaims it "a warrior's drink!"
- My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Guinan senses that something's wrong when the Negative Space Wedgie first appears, and it gets worse when the timeline changes. It also flares up whenever she's near Tasha, since she's supposed to be dead.
- The Needs of the Many: The Enterprise-C must return to prevent a war which kills billions. Though they know they will likely die, their deaths will prevent a long and costly war.
- There Are No Therapists: Since the alternate-reality Enterprise-D is a warship above all else, Troi is nowhere to be seen. If she is on the ship, she's apparently not seen as necessary on the bridge and consigned to a less prominent role.
- Negative Space Wedgie: Apparently caused or exacerbated by all the weapons discharges during the Battle of Narendra III.
- No Time to Explain: Riker resorts to this because he doesn't want to mess with the timeline by explaining to Captain Garrett they're from the future. Garrett orders him to explain now.
- Oh, Crap!: La Forge delivers a well-warranted one. Doubly warranted if you consider that the Enterprise's plasma coolant is horrifically corrosive to organic matter.La Forge: Coolant leak! Bridge, we've got a coolant leak in the engine core! I can't shut it down; I estimate two minutes until a warp core breach!
- OOC Is Serious Business: The stress of a twenty-year war is shown in Picard's abrupt manner and his terse interaction with Riker.
- One-Way Trip: After discussing things with Picard, Garret and then Castillo agree to take Enterprise-C back into a confrontation they would likely die in if it means averting a war today.
- Out of Focus: Given that there's not much use for a ship's counsellor on the bridge of a war ship, Troi is completely absent from the bulk of the episode, She's only appears in the two short bridge scenes on the "regular" Enterprise—one before and one after the main plot of the episode—and has no dialogue. Worf makes up for his general absence by getting focus in the first and final scenes.
- Red Alert: Picard orders a "Battle Alert — Condition Yellow" when told there are Klingons in the area, though the trope is played straight when the Klingons arrive.
- Reset Button Suicide Mission: The Enterprise-D sacrifices itself to cover the return of the Enterprise-C back to its original time in order to prevent the alternate timeline it emerged into from occurring.
- Ripple Effect Indicator: Worf arrives on the bridge, and announces something strange on sensors. Time Ripple ensues, and we cut to Tasha Yar (having died previously on the show) on the bridge in Worf's place. Once the timeline is restored, Worf is back where he should be.
- Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Guinan only, and downplayed at that: she doesn't seem to know exactly what's wrong with the timeline ("I know it's the same bridge; I also know it's wrong!"), but she has a good idea of how to fix it.
- Sacrificial Lion: One for each space battle shown: Captain Garrett and Commander Riker.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The Enterprise-C's mission. The crew of the Enterprise-D set forth to help them and protect them until they can go back.
- Trademark Favorite Food: This episode is the origin of Worf's passion for prune juice, which he describes as "a warrior's drink." The trope continues into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Wham Line: Picard's summation of the ongoing war:Picard: The war is going very badly for the Federation; far worse than is generally known. Starfleet Command believes defeat is inevitable. Within six months we may have no choice but to surrender.
- Wham Shot: Tasha Yar? Alive? Okay, something weird is going on here.
- What You Are in the Dark: Inverted. If the Enterprise-D is successful in helping the Enterprise-C return to their time, the crew of the Enterprise-D will have no idea what they did and what it meant for the Federation. They still do it, because it's the right thing to do. Although, back in the fixed timeline, Guinan knows and later tells Picard.
- With All Due Respect: Riker to Picard in regards to sending the Enterprise-C back through time to correct the past that altered the present.Riker: With all due respect, sir, you'd be asking 125 people to die a meaningless death.
- You Are in Command Now: Lt. Castillo, the only remaining bridge officer, takes command of the Enterprise-C after Captain Garrett is killed.
- You Have to Believe Me!: Picard's relationship with Guinan is strong enough for him to listen to what she's saying, but it doesn't help that Guinan only has her Gut Feeling that things are wrong.
- You Shall Not Pass!:
- The Enterprise-D's Heroic Sacrifice to allow the Enterprise-C to get back to her own time.
- And of course, once the timeline is restored, the final fate of the Enterprise-C, destroyed after taking on four Romulan warbirds in defense of a Klingon colony. Never forget the name Enterprise indeed.