“If you want to change the world, change yourself.”: Redemption II

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Last time on Star Trek: The Next Generation...
“The point of convergence where it all leads back to. Perhaps not the greatest moment, but the defining one. In the end, it all comes back to redemption. We will redeem. We will be redeemed...”  
“The first image that strikes me is, as is always the case with Star Trek: The Next Generation, that of a starship. It's the image that defines “Redemption” for me: That of the Enterprise being escorted by the Bortas, the first, and archetypal, Klingon Attack Cruiser...” 
“The Klingon Civil War is something I remember much more vividly than it actually plays out onscreen. My memory is that of a breathtaking spectacle of cunning military strategy and dramatic shootouts in the depths of space. In practice, we get a couple old Bird-of-Prey models flitting around Gowron's Attack Cruiser interspersed with stock footage from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 'Yesterday's Enterprise'. Today I sort of laugh at the slight bombast and pretension of the whole thing, but it's ever so fun to watch again. It's the Klingon characters themselves who I think really make it work: The way Robert O'Reilly, Michael Dorn and Tony Todd play their parts they totally sell the gravity of the situation, implied silliness and all. It's the first and last time the Klingons can really work this way, before they fully devolve into irrelevant, if occasionally adorable, self-parody. 
This is also of course a Ron Moore script, Moore now firmly established as the go-to Klingon and Romulan guy. Thankfully, we get him in 'world building mode' instead of 'angrily slagging off the Enterprise crew mode' or 'being misogynistic mode'...” 
“And as if to reassure us that the show is in fact aware of what this moment signifies and the responsibilities it now has to take on, its final scene cuts to Denise Crosby stepping out of the shadows, and then the fade out.
Tasha Yar is back.”
And now, the conclusion...

So to start off, can we just talk about the new intro credits for a bit? I've already mentioned they're very possibly my favourite memory of the show, so I tend to notice when they change, even if only slightly. That microsecond stutter in the starfield where Wil Wheaton's portion of the credits were hastily cut out following his departure in “Final Mission” that used to happen in the latter half of last year seems to have been fixed over the break, so it flows more seamlessly now. But more importantly, the logo now materializes through a video tunnel effect instead of swooping in from opposite ends of the screen. This somehow manages to accomplish what many had deemed impossible-Making the show look *even more* 80s than it already did. I love it, but not as much as I love the swooping. No explanation seems to have ever been given for the change, which only lasts for the duration of this season, before the intro sequence settles on its final form in Season 6: A hybrid using the cleaner editing of this sequence with the logo from seasons 1-4. Therefore, I posit that it was a special one-time change to celebrate Star Trek's 25th Anniversary, of which Star Trek: The Next Generation will be the master of ceremonies.


Right then, Commander Sela.

She is, quite naturally, the main attraction here. Also apparently something of a deeply baffling character for a lot of people: Of “Yesterday's Enterprise”, the episode which lays the groundwork for Denise Crosby's triumphant face-heel turn here, Jonathan Frakes memorably says “To this day I do not understand 'Yesterday's Enterprise'. I do not know what the fuck happened in that episode”. Meanwhile Michael Dorn, ostensibly the star of tonight's episode in question, said this on the recent Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5 Blu-ray box set: “I don't understand the Sela thing, I don't understand 'Yesterday's Enterprise'...I don't understand any of it.”

And truth be known Commander Sela cannot be called Star Trek: The Next Generation's most elegant bit of narrative, brilliant though she may be, and she walks a somewhat strangled path to the screen. For those of you reading who might be as confused about this admittedly messy bit of time travel chicanery as Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn above, here's basically what the show says happened to get us to where we are now. In the episode “Yesterday's Enterprise” from the third season, the immediate predecessor to Captain Picard's ship travelled 24 years into the future through a temporal rift. Because this Enterprise, officially the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C, was supposed to have been destroyed protecting a Klingon outpost in the Narendra system from a Romulan attack fleet, its failure to do so causes an alternate timeline to be created where the Klingons declared war on the Federation, feeling that they had been betrayed and left to die.

In this alternate timeline, Tasha Yar did not die at Vagra II and continued to serve as the tactical officer of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, which in this version of events is a front-line battlecruiser. Although Alternate!Picard wants to keep the old Enterprise to help turn the tide of the war, Guinan, who because of her special powers is uniquely sensitive to timespace and is aware the current timeline is improper, convinces him to send it back to fulfill its destiny and restore the timeline. Alternate!Tasha, having learned from Guinan that she is dead in the “correct” timeline and that she died an empty, meaningless death, elects to go back in time with the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C to give it the best possible chance of success an the chance to die a hero's death. Also, because she had fallen in love with one of the ship's officers, one Lieutenant Castillo, who unfortunately bears no relation to Edward James Olmos' character on Miami Vice.

“Yesterday's Enterprise” came about in part because Denise Crosby was looking for some way to come back to Star Trek: The Next Generation as she missed working with her best friends and had been impressed with the new direction the show had been taking under its subsequent creative teams. After it aired and reflecting on how enjoyable it had been to work on, she began thinking about ways for her to come back again somehow, and maybe to become an annually reoccurring guest star like John de Lancie, Majel Barrett and Dwight Schultz. What Crosby eventually came up with was the idea that Tasha and Castillo had a daughter who had been raised completely Romulan, and that this character, named Commander Sela, would come back to challenge Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D in the restored timeline. She actually drafted up a spec script and pitched the idea to Ron Moore, who promptly, in his own words “rolled [his] eyes” and sat on it for the majority of the fourth season.

So yes, this means the B-plot to “Redemption II”, and a large portion of the backstory for all the overblown Klingon Civil War nonsense we've been dealing with for almost two years now, was actually written by Denise Crosby. At least the central idea was hers.

Moore changed his mind when drafting up this two-parter and the episodes leading up to it, as he knew he needed the Romulans to have some actual investment in the plot instead of just dispensing programmatic shiftiness on demand, so he dug up Denise Crosby's old pitch, punched it up and wrote it into “Redemption II”. One thing Moore did change from Crosby's original pitch was making Sela half-Romulan, the product of a forced marriage between Alternate!Tasha and a lecherous Romulan general, to which she agreed in exchange for the lives of survivors from the destruction of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C. Logistically, Moore claims, it wouldn't make sense that Tasha and Castillo would have had time to conceive Sela. You may or may not find this worth taking note of depending on your personal feelings regarding the Duras Sisters and Jenna D'Sora.

So there's quite a lot to discuss here. The first of which is, Holy Shit is Commander Sela ever goddamn amazing. Seriously. She's always been one of my absolute favourite characters since I first began watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, even from before I started projecting onto Tasha Yar. And every time I get up to “Redemption II” I worry I'm going to be disappointed, because I'm always at least a little disappointed seeing Denise Crosby play Tasha, even in “Yesterday's Enterprise”. But the gulf between Crosby as Tasha and Crosby as Sela is like night and day: As Tasha, you always get the sense she's uncomfortable with her material and how to approach it because she was so badly miscast while at the same time immediately aware from the outset of the magnitude of her responsibility as a role model (though I do seem to recall her finally nailing it in “All Good Things...”).


But with Sela, a character of her own creation, Denise Crosby really comes into her own: She's an absolutely imperious presence, easily standing toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard. We've gotten hints that Stewart and Crosby have good chemistry together before, but this is really the first opportunity we get to see how strong that chemistry really is and how well Crosby could have acquitted herself to the cast dynamic had she been given a chance. Furthermore, the effort she put into creating Sela is plainly on display, as it's very easy to see how she's a person Denise Crosby has really taken the time to get inside the mindset of and has zealously taken to inhabiting. The result is the first proper “antagonist” Star Trek: The Next Generation has probably ever had, in the sense of a fully realised and sympathetic character who can stand on equal footing with the protagonists. And “Redemption II” gives Sela plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this: My favourite parts of this episode are the back-and-forth strategizing between Captain Picard and Commander Riker and Sela and her first officer, particularly when Sela correctly guesses Picard's feint and responds with one of her own.


Another reason Sela is such a strong character is her backstory and motivation. The time travel nonsense handily obfuscates the true reason she offers such a serious challenge to the material existence of this version of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is that she understands the show's nature as performative philosophical fiction. This is something that only Q, Guinan and the bridge crew (especially Captain Picard) have ever shown to be capable of before, and even Q and Guinan haven't been doing a whole lot of that in the years since “Q Who”. But here, just like them, Sela understands the relationships between the various roles in the text and metatext and can manipulate them to shake up the status quo.

The in-universe explanation for Sela as “the half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar from a negated alternate timeline” may well be completely ludicrous, but it still links her in some way to the counterfactual and Tasha Yar. There are other ways history could have gone, and Sela is here to remind us of this fact once again. From her very first appearance she invokes Tasha, and thus she stands in for her in the metafictional artifice: This isn't some petty Romulan higher-up fucking around with the Klingon Empire and the Enterprise for shits and giggles, this is a battle-hardened Tasha Yar furious at her betrayal by the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series roaring back from the narrative ether to take her revenge by showing us just how much we lost by cutting her out of our lives.


Before Sela beams aboard the Enterprise, Guinan joins Captain Picard in the observation lounge and begins to explain to him, and the audience, what happened in “Yesterday's Enterprise”, but doesn't seem to really want to commit to the story. She tells Jean-Luc that “everything that's happened is [his] fault”, which diegetically makes no sense because if it's anybody's “fault” it's the fault of the alternate Captain Picard from the timeline that no longer exists, or the alternate Tasha, or even Guinan herself since she's the one who convinced the Captain to send them all back in the first place. (Ron Moore is, it should be said, profoundly disinterested in keeping the technical details of his sci-fi narrative straight here: He waffles a lot on how much Guinan should remember from the alternate timeline and just generally seems to want to pretend this part of the story doesn't exist, to its detriment).


And yet the fact that it is Guinan delivering these lines should give us a clue as to what's truly going on here, because it was Guinan's actions that signaled to us in “Q Who” that a bottom-up narrative restructuring was happening and that we should read it as a performance about the show's material and ethical struggles. And between her and Sela, it doesn't take Captain Picard long to recognise that he's in “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Q Who” mode again, and immediately knows what's happening. And ever the honourable and selfless performance artist, he takes the fall yet again. Just as Worf willingly became the scapegoat for the High Council in order to protect the Empire, so does Captain Picard once more take responsibility for the failures and misdeeds of Star Trek by facing the wrath of Commander Sela himself.

The rest of “Redemption II” sadly is nowhere near as interesting to talk about. The Klingons are now completely and utterly laughable Space Viking stereotypes or Tolkien Dwarves (they even knock their heads together) and are pretty much ruined as a culture, although it is worth pointing out that we do get to see the first light-skinned Klingon here in Kurn's rival. The Duras Sisters are unwatchably bad, even worse then they were in Part 1. Any scene with them in it is basically pantomime. Data's story in the C-plot is quite good, but there's not a whole lot to comment on there apart from it being a good character study of who he is and his style of command (namely, carefully observing a situation and responding with an emulation of a command style he think his crew will respect).


What is worth remarking on is the entire body of the work in toto: It's frequently commented on that “Redemption II” could have easily been three different episodes, and while that's true, what's really fascinating is that it doesn't feel busy or confused at all as a result of this. It's actually a really strong testament to how professional and workmanlike this team has gotten and how well they finally seem to understand Star Trek: The Next Generation's style of narrative. The fact that each one of these plots could have merited episodes unto themselves but *didn't* is crucial-We're expected to be able to recognise how this series operates as naturally and instinctively as the crew do so we can read the plots basically through shorthand.

If I were to nitpick I would say that sadly it's the Sela plot that suffers the most from this approach, which is unfortunate, though understandable, given Ron Moore's reticence towards and lack of comfort with it. Moore never does quite manage to make the link to “Yesterday's Enterprise” effectively, and there's one particularly baffling scene near the climax: In what would have otherwise been the only highlight of that excruciating seduction scene with Worf, Sela videophones the Duras Sisters and orders them to withdraw and leave the rest to her, barking “Face it Lursa! You've failed!”. Thing is, Worf was in the room the whole time and can plainly see what's going on, and he's given absolutely nothing to do but stand around staring dumbly at the monitor! Now bear in mind Worf had never seen Commander Sela before so you'd think he'd have at least a *little* reaction to seeing that the Romulan mastermind behind the Klingon Civil War looks uncannily like his former comrade, but no. Even Michael Dorn can't seem to be bothered to play off of Denise Crosby.

But that is, as I said, nitpicking of an episode I otherwise absolutely adore. Is it silly? Oh my yes-Ron Moore has now cemented himself as the purveyor of silly, self-indulgent realpolitiking things, and this is certainly up there. But it's a lot more than that thanks to Denise Crosby-We redeem ourselves in the eyes of others by striving to change and improve ourselves, and to make up for our past transgressions. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought Tasha Yar back, and even though she's not exactly in the same form we remember, that still speaks volumes. This episode lives up to its name by telling a story about Star Trek's own redemption, which of course can only be attained by bringing back Tasha and reaffirming its commitment to utopian conflict resolution. And more than that this is just fun: I had a blast here, which is a damn sight more than I can say about the last three seasons of this show.

We've finally arrived in full now. All eyes will be on Star Trek: The Next Generation this year, and at no other point in its history has it ever deserved it more.

Comments

Glenn 2 years, 3 months ago

It makes sense that the cast members would be unclear about the plot mechanics that Sela emerged from, since they were often too busy making the show to actually watch it. See also LeVar Burton's appearance on the Nerdist podcast, when one of the hosts desperately tried to get him to remember "Timescape."

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Froborr 2 years, 3 months ago

"This isn't some petty Romulan higher-up fucking around with the Klingon Empire and the Enterprise for shits and giggles, this is a battle-hardened Tasha Yar furious at her betrayal by the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series roaring back from the narrative ether to take her revenge by showing us just how much we lost by cutting her out of our lives."

YES

This was the highlight of a stellar post. Sela is one of my favorites, too, and in particular she is almost without question the best thing about Star Trek Online, which as near as I can tell is doing a retelling of King Lear with Sela in the title role.

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K. Jones 2 years, 3 months ago

Crosby kills it as a second coming of the Romulan Commander archetrope.

I've got my issues with Sela's secret origin, as it is, because I understand time travel and alt-timeline shenanigans very well (I read DC Comics, everything's that all the time) but it's so inelegant and unwieldy that I just glaze over and pretend Sela is an unreliable narrator. I so much just want her to be Tasha Yar, "killed by Armus" but hey, she was secretly a Romulan so she I dunno, got the Search for Spock treatment. (If she was Tasha, it would paint her capture of Geordi in a new light, at least.)

But one thing I do like about it is that Sela was essentially created by Guinan's subtle space witchcraft, as she nudged the strands of fate, repairing the timeline but also creating an enemy for the Enterprise. It again calls Guinan's role into a bit of nefarious suspicion and proves Q's point.

As is often the case on the TNG missed opportunity train, Sela won't really get an episode worthy of her concept. But Denise Crosby is a riot to watch as a villainous parallel to a Starfleet Officer. Her body language especially appeals to me.

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K. Jones 2 years, 3 months ago

Thus did the traveling Norn witch, look into her cauldron of possibilities, the well of fate, the Urðarbrunnr, and craft a story from those interweaving potential destinies, a story where Tasha was reborn in a fairy tale and plucked from that fairy tale backwards to be transformed into the Fey Queen of the Dark Elves, creeping from the sky offering the invisibility of their Fairy-Shadows to the Valkyrie-ships of fair green Kronos, to cast a shadow over the realms of the warring Nord-Dwarf Clans. But, twas a ruse to distract the enterprising Aesir of unified Midgard-Asgard from the true apple of the Queen's eye; the bright, burning, moonless realm of the Light Elves, their sundered kin.

And though the heroic Captain had wisdom of Odin, and had been warned continuously by Loki, his all-seeing eye was still blind to the mischief of the Norn as she disguised her dips into the fountain of destiny as schlepping cosmic cocktails from the bow of his great flying longship. Because if she was doomed to wander the cosmos eternally as Odin's "guide", she was going to guide him someplace worthy of story, damn it! And play actual Continuity Tricks, not the little Hypothetical Games that LoQi plays!

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

Bang on, with you there Froborr. This moment in the essay had me cheering inside.

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

Brilliant and true telling of the saga K/

(cheering around the campfire)

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Daru 2 years, 2 months ago

"The Klingons are now completely and utterly laughable Space Viking stereotypes or Tolkien Dwarves (they even knock their heads together) and are pretty much ruined as a culture"

Absolutely, from here (and maybe before) the Klingons became a one-note race and became really very uninteresting to me.

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