This is the second entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.
Brief synopsis of this episode is that Worf accidentally travels through a quantum singularity and starts hopping through parallel dimensions that get further and further away from his starting dimension.
I know that Star Trek has done a lot of alternate reality episodes, so why pick this one over “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (which I will be speaking about later)? Honestly, I just like the story structure better.
In “Yesterday’s Enterprise” the writers hit you over the head with the fact that. “Hey! Look! Tasha Yar is alive. Holy crap! We’re not in Kansas anymore!!”
With “Parallels”, the distinction is far more subtle. The first thing that we see change was the flavor of the birthday cake. If you are watching for the first time a lot of these things don’t stand out until they start getting more disparate.
You also aren’t really sure what is going on for a little while. Is Worf going crazy? Is this some elaborate Romulan plot to take over the ship? It takes some time to suss out what is going on and I like the fact that the writers set up a trail of breadcrumbs that stand up on repeated viewings.
Another thing I want to address regarding this episode and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is the use of two underutilized characters: Tasha Yar and Worf.
Denise Crosby left the show in the first season because she didn’t like the direction they had her character going in and honestly, I can’t blame her. In “Encounter at Farpoint” we were promised this badass female security officer. She was being set up to be a similar character to Major Kira and Ensign Ro. So what do they do with her? This:
TNG had a real woman issue its first season. Denise Crosby quit and they fired Gates McFadden. Marinia Sirtis was on the verge of quitting but was talked out of it by panicked producers realizing that all of their female actresses were gone and that they needed to retain at least one piece of eye candy.
Michael Dorn stuck it out through the bad first few years of TNG. His character was poorly written and stereotypical. It was a thankless role that he stuck with for seven long years and I am pleased that they gave him something to do because he is honestly great in this role.
Early in the episode he asks Troi to be Alexander’s godmother, but the title is closer to step-sister in Klingon. Troi reminds him that would make her mother his step-mother. Dorn’s reaction to this is priceless.
I think he was one of the most under-appreciated actors on the show. If you look at the terrible Star Trek: Insurrection the scene where Picard asks Worf if he knows Gilbert and Sullivan and he say, “No Captain, I have not had a chance to meet all the new crew members.” This is a terrible line. It is a terrible joke. I think it is extraordinarily difficult to say something that is supposed to be funny with a straight face and be able to sell it, especially when it is that terrible. In that scene with Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner gleefully singing “A British Tar” the real stand-out in the scene is Worf’s horrified head shaking when ordered to join it. That is the only redeeming part of that whole movie.
It takes a special kind of balance to be able to be constantly cranky without being unlikeable and to work through the make-up. I think if they had given this episode to any of the other characters it would not have been nearly as interesting or well done.
Another thing I didn’t realized while watching the series from start to finish was that they didn’t instantiate the Worf-Troi relationship until this point in the series. It was about halfway through the last season. Why bother??
I know earlier they had Troi helping Worf with Alexander, but they didn’t formalize this relationship until now. It seems like a wasted effort, especially when they move Worf over to DS9 and hook him up with Dax right away. Everyone knew that Riker and Troi were going to be together, so this just seems superfluous.
Seeing how different the universe could be, especially the chilling Enterprise from the Borg-infested parallel dimension, was a nice touch. This let the writers do a sort of AMV Hell of “What-if?” episodes.
Was this the best or more important episode of Star Trek ever? Probably not. It is one that I look forward to seeing more than once, so it earns a spot in my top ten.