“Yesterday’s Enterprise” is famous for Tasha Yar. As we trek this path to Picard it seems fair to take a look at the captain even when he isn’t the main focus.
As soon as the Enterprise-C emerges, we know that we are in for something different. Uniforms, lighting, even little Miss Tasha Yar is back. It’s one of the most memorable openers in the whole series.
While the focus is mostly on Tasha and her burgeoning romance with the guy from Happy Gilmore, there are some differences that show themselves that aren’t just visual, but in character as well. Namely, Picard.
Who is this guy?
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As the episode begins we see some notable differences in Picard. First of all, not only has a ship emerged suddenly from a spacial anomaly, not only is this ship from the past, but it’s the Enterprise-C. Picard, however, is much more concerned with some Klingon ships roaming the sector. Okay, fine, the Federation is and has been at war for decades, but a blast from the past has been blasted from the past and is playing temporal peek a boo, and all Picard can worry about is enemy ships.
Already, that inquisitive nature we could always expect is gone. Years of war have eroded any sense of wonder that may have driven him instead, and it’s all been replaced with cold, calculating practicality. He even suggests scuttling the other Enterprise if it can’t be repaired. War changes people.
A glimmer of Picard
Once Picard begins his talk with Guinan we see a bit more of this man we thought we knew. While Guinan and Picard seem to share a special relationship in this reality just like they do in the other, we can see even that is strained when Guinan expresses how wrong everything feels to her. While Picard scoffing at the lack on families on board is almost humorous considering his distaste for children, in this case it only proves how living in a constant state of war has changed him.
Only after realizing that the Enterprise-C was somehow ejected from its own time while defending a Klingon outpost from Romulans does Picard begin to realize where Guinan could be coming from. Upon meeting again, and with Guinan suggesting that they send back the other ship, finally some semblance of our Picard begins to show.
What about their lives, he argues. To send them back would be suicide, or even murderous. Suddenly there’s a turn. Even though we know Guinan is right, her solution seems harsh. Picard’s defense of their lives almost makes us wonder if there is somehow a solution to change time that could save everyone.
This is a Picard that is more familiar. It’s just too bad he is, unfortunately, wrong.
Picard in despair.
Once Captain Garrett has returned to her Enterprise, Picard chats her up, too. Seriously, so much chatting in this episode, but it is all perfect. So she’s talking as if she and her crew had better get ready to fight in a new war in their future. It seems that’s what everyone, even the audience, is expecting, but then Picard gets serious for a moment.
It’s not often that Picard shows much vulnerability. It’s even less often, if he has ever done so at this point in the series, that we see him dismayed to the point of total despair. Even the image, a despairing Picard, just doesn’t compute. He is always able to find a way, but not this time.
Picard confesses to his temporally displaced colleague that the Federation isn’t exactly doing well. In fact, they’re losing so badly that surrender to the Klingons is imminent in a matter of months. An outdated, undermanned starship is nowhere near capable of turning such a dire tide.
It’s enough to convince Garrett to go back, just as Guinan suggested.
And this is the point that really got me. Picard, all this time, knew that the Federation was essentially doomed. All this time. And it’s only when he realizes that Garrett and her crew are doomed either which way they go, that maybe they should go out with some meaning.
This is dark Star Trek. Poignant, but dark, and it’s not often that the stakes are not only so high, but that neither solution is bloodless. Modern television has moments such as this all over the place, but in 1990 and in Star Trek, this wasn’t common.
“Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.”
So Picard realizes that his objective now is to protect the Enterprise-C. Its captain is dead after an ambush. His tactical officer, Tasha Yar, transfers to the other ill-fated crew, thus setting up all kinds of fun plot lines featuring everyone’s favorite blonde Romulan.
As Picard and his crew fend off three Klingon warbirds, things are starting to look pretty grim. His own ship is barely holding together. Geordie is screaming about all kinds of containment issues in engineering. Data is basically live-tweeting the shields’ collapse, and Riker unceremoniously dies.
Klingons are now requesting the Enterprise to surrender.
“That will be the day,” Picard growls and he literally jumps into action. He fires phasers, presses button on LCARS like mad as fires burn before him. Finally, after our doubts and worries that Picard had been irrevocably changed by war, we see the man who is willing to fight and die for what’s right, no matter the cost. Heroic.
The practical captain who had survived the Klingon War until now may have lost this battle, but in doing so he didn’t win the war, he prevented it from happening in the first place.
And then as we know, everything goes back to normal. For the most part.
Oh hai, Sela…
Picard’s arc and the future…
Picard has always been a character to get to the crux of a situation. While it’s easy to get mired in the emotional and superficial aspects of any argument, it takes some grit to expose the core issue. Even Picard in this episode gets caught up in that stuff, worrying about sending the Enterprise-C to its doom, even though it would save the future.
He finally burns away all the superficialities, and makes the hardest choice of all: doom both Enterprises so that the greater good can be preserved, and then this dark, war torn timeline can be prevented.
So now as we look forward to the new Star Trek: Picard series, what kind of struggles have scarred him and have possibly changed him? I would hope that we don’t get the same Picard just as we remember him. I hope that, like in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” what we know of him is challenged. Will he become that Picard we once knew in the old series in a way that allows him to rise to the occasion, or are we going to have to accept a new Picard who doesn’t get to rely on time travel to make things right?