The Best Star Trek TNG Episode Has A Massive Plot Hole

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Recently, I discovered that Star Trek: The Next Generation star Jonathan Frakes always had trouble understanding the plot of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” widely considered one of the best episodes in the series. What could be confusing about this story of our intrepid Enterprise-D crew restoring reality by sending the Enterprise-C back in time? Abruptly, I realized Frakes was right because of a massive plot hole: this episode was all about restoring a reality that was never really in danger.

Don’t Think Too Hard About Yesterday’s Enterprise

To properly unpack this plot hole, we will need to quickly review the plot of “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” When the Enterprise-C comes through a temporal rift into the present day, it changes reality for the crew of the Enterprise-D, who is now part of a losing Starfleet war with the Klingons. Captain Picard learns that the Enterprise-C was destroyed by Romulans while trying to save a Klingon colony, and (after some soul-searching) he restores reality by sending the older ship back into the past and to certain doom.

Different From Other Time Travel Stories

star trek: first contact

At first, the plot of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” sounds like what you’d expect from Star Trek. After all, using time-travel to make things right has been a Starfleet strategy in movies like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: First Contact as well as classic Original Series episodes like “City On the Edge of Forever.” What makes this particular episode so different, and what is the massive plot hole hiding at the center of it?

Reality Shifted Around The Crew

Think about it: while “Yesterday’s Enterprise” showed reality changing around the Enterprise-D crew in the third year of its continuing mission, the actual change, in reality, occurred in the distant past when the Enterprise-C came through that rift. To audiences, the shift in reality was immediate and noticeable. In the world of the show, however, reality has been different for over two decades, which is why nobody but Guinan can detect that anything has changed.

Hollow Victory

The end of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is presented as a triumphant moment: Picard hops up to tactical to replace the dead Commander Riker and helps hold off three attacking Klingon battle cruisers while the Enterprise-C goes back through the rift. As soon as he does so, audiences see reality shift back to the way things were before the Enterprise-C arrived in the future. But here’s the thing: anyone who watched so much as a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before this should have already known Picard would be successful.

Always Going To End Successfully

If Picard had never sent the Enterprise-C back into the past, then the entire series would have been set in this militarized universe from the beginning. In traditionally confusing fashion, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” shows a climactic moment that had already happened. Because all of the series before this had taken place in the familiar Trek universe we know and love, then Picard was always destined to be successful.


yesterday's enterprise

Speaking of destiny, the plot of this episode implicitly asks us to believe that our characters’ actions were already predetermined. The Enterprise-C was always meant to travel to the future and then be sent back to the past. For audiences who stop to think about it, this robs the episode climax of its drama because we’re watching Picard go through the motions of something we already knew was going to work.

The only other possibility is that we are dealing with even more timelines than we thought: there could be, for example, a timeline where the Romulans never accidentally opened the temporal rift in the first place, or maybe a reality where the Enterprise-C came into the future and never returned to the past. That would actually make the ending of the episode much darker: rather than changing their own reality for the better, Picard and his crew potentially sacrificed their lives to simply create a different reality.

Still One Of The Best Episodes In The Franchise

All of this won’t keep me from enjoying “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” but I’m left sharing Jonathan Frakes’ confusion over this episode. It’s basically a “rule of cool” Trek episode where you’re meant to sit back and enjoy the ride rather than overthink everything. Fortunately, I’m left with the comforting idea that somewhere out there, there is an alternate universe where the plot of this beloved episode actually makes sense.