Regularly listed among the best of TNG, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is an hour of TV that feels very cinematic, with a tightly-plotted, high-stakes, action-packed story and strong characterization for both old and new characters.
It also features a top-notch musical score, pitch-perfect dialogue and a long list of set, costume and lighting changes that help make the Enterprise-D feel more dark and militaristic.
When I put together my top 10 list of feminist TNG episodes, I listed “Yesterday’s Enterprise” at the top. Here are the main reasons why:
1. Captain Rachel Garrett – Garrett is the first woman we see assigned Captain of an Enterprise. A combination of exceptional writing and a stellar performance from Tricia O’Neil imbue Garrett with the dignity, intelligence, ethics and commanding presence necessary for that role. We get to see her grappling with tough decisions, giving orders, and always putting her crew’s welfare and interests above her own. Even though we’ve just met her, it’s not hard to imagne her as an able Captain in the same league as legends like Kirk and Picard, and I definitely feel the loss when Garrett dies.
2. Tasha Yar gets a sendoff more befitting her character – When Yar died in Season 1, many fans – women in particular – expressed disappointment and even outrage that such a cutting-edge woman character was gone. How she died, so quickly and meaninglessly, added insult to injury.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” shows us what Yar could’ve been if the writers had cared more to prioritize her development. She is diligent, competent, tough, but also approachable – someone you’d want to be friends with.
She even gets a whirlwind relationship with Castillo, the Enterprise-C Lieutenant who is also written exceptionally well for a one-off character. Later, when Denise Crosby pitched her return as Sela, she suggested Sela be the child of Yar and Castillo, kidnapped and turned against the Federation by the Romulans (which would’ve been so much better than the story they went with).
When Yar died in Season 1, she gave a holographic eulogy at her funeral, people cried and then mostly moved on.
Guinan explicitly acknowledges the problems with the way Yar was written out in Season 1: “I know it was an empty death; a death without purpose.”
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” gives her an heroic death with gravity and feeling – an intentional self-sacrifice for the sake of her friends and the Federation. The last scene, where Guinan asks: “Geordi, tell me about Tasha Yar,” always chokes me up.
3. Guinan’s importance – Guinan is the linchpin of this episode, and her decision carries enormous weight. Michael Piller said of this episode:
“I don’t know that there was a better episode third season. Hell, Picard sends 500 [sic] people back to their death on the word of the bartender. Come on, that’s hard.”
In our culture, generally speaking, logic and science have been associated with masculinity, while intuition and emotion have been seen as feminine, and dismissed as less valid. Star Trek often challenges both the dichotomy (most often by showing women in science fields) and the dismissal of emotional intelligence (as in several Troi examples). But this is perhaps the most key example. This episode shows the rational Captain Picard, and even the emotionless Data, accepting, and making a significant decision based on the value of a woman’s intuition.
Geordi: How could Guinan know that history has been altered if she’s been altered along with the rest of us?
Data: Perhaps her species has a perception that goes beyond linear time.
Picard: There are many things about her species we can’t easily explained. Yet it is very possible she is correct. A ship from the past has travelled through time. How can we know what effect those events will have on the present. Indeed, we shall never know for certain, if Guinan is correct. But I have decided the consequences of that possibility are too grave to ignore.
Of course, Whoopi Goldberg’s gravitas in her performance is what sells it.
4. Bonus: Good Crusher scenes – Though not the focus, Doctor Crusher is also used well in this episode. She has two Sickbay scenes treating Garrett, including this memorable exchange:
Crusher: Captain, you need at least another twenty four hours.
Garrett: Nonsense. Doctors always over-protect their patients.
Crusher: And captains always push themselves too hard.
Garrett: Doctor, my ship and crew need me now. Twenty four hours might as well be twenty four years.
She also gets to question Picard’s decision to act based solely on Guinan’s intuition, which is an important part of that scene, and fits with Crusher’s scientific, skeptical approach.
So there you have it – the reasons I rank this the top feminist TNG episode. What are your thoughts on this episode?
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Crusher speaks to Garrett about her injuries. Guinan speaks to Yar about the situation and alternate Yar’s death.