The latest episode of Wil Wheaton’s Star Trek: Discovery recap show, “The Ready Room,” featured an interview with Jonathan Frakes, who’s best known by Trek fans as Commander William T. Riker. He also happens to be an accomplished director and has directed 22 episodes of Star Trek, including the latest episode of Discovery, “There is a Tide…” The duo chatted about what it was like to work with the Discovery actors on such a pivotal episode and how some of the most emotional scenes came together.
At one point in their discussion, Wheaton and Frakes touched on the Mirror Universe. They both said how much they loved what Discovery had done with the alternate universe. Both Wheaton and Frakes lamented the fact that they never got to explore the Mirror Universe during their time on The Next Generation (TNG), and then Frakes made an interesting and hilarious confession.
TNG’s Alternate Timeline Adventures
Wheaton commented that the closest the TNG crew ever came to portraying a multiverse like the Mirror Universe was in the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” In the 15th episode of the show’s third season, the Enterprise-C went through a time-space rift and traveled to the future, creating a new timeline that replaced the one the Enterprise-D crew was in.
In response, Frakes admitted that he, “never understood” the storyline of the episode.
“We should do an entire ‘Ready Room’ on that!” Frakes continued. “I never understood and still don’t understand that episode… People have explained it to me, off the cuff, I still don’t get it.”
Wheaton laughed and promised to “break it down… with charts and red twine.”
Frakes replied with a quip about how Denise Crosby was the only person who understood the episode. Fans of TNG should know that this was a reference to the fact that Crosby, who had left the show in season one, returned to the bridge of the Enterprise because of the time-space continuum goof that happened in that episode.
Understanding “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
To be fair, the timeline mechanics in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” are quite complicated. However, they can be broken down without charts or red twine. Here’s how it worked:
When Enterprise-C, the Enterprise from the past, traveled through the time-space rift, the event created a new timeline. Because the Enterprise-D, the TNG crew’s ship, was at the rift when the Enterprise-C came through, they were shifted to the new timeline. This created a version of the Enterprise-D that wasn’t supposed to exist.
In this timeline, which was created by Enterprise-C’s presence, the Klingons and the Federation were still at war. The Enterprise-D wasn’t on a mission of exploration, they were a battleship. There were no families or children aboard the ship, just commissioned officers. And Tasha Yar was still alive.
Guinan was the only member of the Enterprise-C crew aware of the timeline shift because her species doesn’t interact with space-time in the same way that most species do. Guinan insisted that the universe they were living in was off in some way, but she couldn’t quite verbalize how. Picard trusted her intuition even though it seemed farfetched, and he began to investigate how they could fix the timeline shift that occurred when Enterprise-C appeared.
The crews of both ships worked together to solve the problem and arrived at the conclusion that the only way to correct the timelines was for Enterprise-C to travel back through the time-space rift to their original timeline. With the Enterprise-C gone, the Enterprise-D’s timeline would return to normal.
However, this solution presented a moral conundrum. If the Enterprise-C was sent back to their timeline, they would almost certainly die in an ongoing battle with the Romulans. Both crews agonized over whether sending the Enterprise-C crew to their deaths was an acceptable price to pay in order to fix the timelines. Like the heroic Starfleet officers they were, the crew of the Enterprise-C said they would go back to make things right.
Now for Tasha Yar. In the Enterprise-D timeline, Tasha had died two years prior to these events. However, she clearly was not dead in the new timeline created by the Enterprise-C’s arrival. Her presence on the Enterprise-D in the shifted timeline caused Guinan visible distress when they met in Ten Forward. Eventually, Tasha confronted Guinan about this and Guinan revealed that Tasha was supposed to be dead. Guinan also told her that her death had been meaningless in the Enterprise-D timeline and that she had a chance to give her death meaning.
With that knowledge, Tasha requested to be transferred to the Enterprise-C. She knew she wouldn’t exist once the Enterprise-D shifted back to the correct timeline, so she saw a chance to die defending a Starfleet ship rather than simply being erased from time.
So, Tasha went back through the time-space rift with the Enterprise-C. When the Enterprise-C returned to it’s correct timeline, the timeline it created by traveling through the rift ceased to exist. The Enterprise-D shifted back to its proper timeline.
Of course, the Enterprise-C’s timeline was permanently altered by Tasha Yar’s presence because she actually did not die in the battle the Enterprise-C returned to. But that’s another story.
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