Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered 35 years ago, in a very different pop culture landscape for geeky TV fare. Sure, back in 1987, we had all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy movies on the big screen. But on TV, it was almost a desert, except for kid’s cartoons. So if sci-fi was your jam, chances are you tuned into TNG every week, even in those rougher, early seasons. But what if The Next Generation was airing now, in 2022, in the age of Twitter and Tiktok? These are ten shocking moments from the iconic series that would break the internet if they aired today.
Tasha Yar Dies/”Skin of Evil,” Season One, Episode 23, 1988
In the original Star Trek, being a name in the series’ opening credits meant you were safe from harm. Only nameless “red shirts” got taken out by aliens on an away mission. So when they killed off Chief of Security Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) with the wave of an alien’s goopy hands, in the episode “ Skin of Evil,” fandom gasped.
Most viewers tuning in to that episode had no idea that Crosby was leaving the show, much less that her character Tasha Yar would die in such an unlikely manner. And it signaled that just being in the show’s main cast wasn’t a safety net from potential harm. Space was dangerous for everyone, even main characters.
Whoopi Goldberg Joins the Cast/”The Child,” Season Two, Episode One, 1988
In 1988, Whoopi Goldberg was a huge movie star. She’d made her cinematic debut in the award-winning film The Color Purple, and starred in comedy hits like Jumpin’ Jack Flash. So many viewers were shocked to turn on the second season premiere of TNG and see that Whoopi had joined the cast in a recurring capacity, as the Enterprise‘s new alien bartender named Guinan.
Goldberg was a huge Trekker, and lobbied Gene Roddenberry hard for a role on the show. At first, he didn’t believe she was serious, because she was already a big movie star. Why would she want to be in a syndicated sci-fi show? She convinced him that Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura on the classic series was part of her inspiration for getting into acting. Goldberg’s addition to TNG cast at that point in her career surely shocked many a viewer. If it happened today, folks would be posting like mad “wait, is that really Whoopi serving drinks to Wesley Crusher??
Tasha Yar Returns/”Yesterday’s Enterprise,” TNG Season Three, Episode 15, 1990
A few months into the show’s groundbreaking third season, TNG unleashed another banger episode with “ Yesterday’s Enterprise.” This alt-timeline story saw a cosmic anomaly distort the timeline, resulting in a new reality, one where Tasha Yar never died, and was still the Enterprise security chief. The timeline change happens within the episode’s pre-credits moments, no doubt leaving viewers confused and flabbergasted. This episode also finally gave viewers the history of one of the previous Enterprises between Kirk and Picard’s time, which today would have caused many fan squeals online.
Spock’s Father Appears/”Sarek,” TNG Season Three, Episode 23, 1990
Aside from a cameo from DeForest Kelley in the pilot episode, TNG avoided any characters from the original series. For almost three seasons, TNG kept to that rule, until this episode, which saw a certain Vulcan appear on the bridge. No, not Spock. (That’s later). The shocking first TOS connection on TNG was from Sarek, Spock’s father, once again played by Mark Lenard. Fans were no doubt surprised to see the 200-year-old Vulcan Ambassador, who appeared in two previous Trek films. Today, after so much waiting, we’re sure that first TNG connection to the classic show would have set social media on fire.
“I am Locutus of Borg”/”The Best of Both Worlds,” TNG Season Three, Episode 26, 1990
Many cite this moment as the one where TNG finally broke out of the TOS’ shadow. And it’s hard to argue against that point. In “ The Best of Both Worlds,” the Borg, the deadly cybernetic collective introduced a year earlier, kidnapped and assimilated Captain Picard into their hive mind. Through mind control, he became Locutus of Borg. His one goal was to assimilate the entire Federation.
This was the first season finale cliffhanger ending in Star Trek history, and when the now-Captain William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) said “Mr. Worf….fire!” on the Borg ship, leaving us hanging for months, Trek fandom was beside themselves. Would Riker really kill his beloved commanding officer? If this aired today, the internet reactions would rival Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding. It was that big of a deal at the time.
Worf Kills Duras/”Reunion,” TNG Season Four, Episode Seven, 1990
For three seasons, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn), the Enterprise’s resident Klingon warrior, was always on the verge of unleashing all his ferocity on an enemy and ending them for good. But he always kept to the regulations of conduct as a Starfleet officer. That is, until season four’s “ Reunion”, when the Son of Mogh broke all the rules and killed his rival Duras in ritual combat.
Mind you, Duras stripped Worf of his family honor in the previous season, and in this episode murdered Worf’s love K’Ehleyr in cold blood. Usually, our main characters come back from the brink of actually killing their enemies, but not this time. Luckily, all Worf received was a reprimand on his record. (Basically, Jean-Luc just gave him a slap on the wrist). Even he knew Duras had it coming, but it was a shocking moment in the usually squeaky clean world of TNG.
Tasha Returns Again! Or Not?/”Redemption,” TNG Season Four, Episode 26, 1991
Even though she was only a regular cast member for one season of TNG, it seems Denise Crosby kept popping up for the show’s most buzz-worthy moments. Not bad work if you can get it. After a groundbreaking season three finale, the season four finale had to do something just as jaw-dropping. So in the final moments of “Redemption,” Denise Crosby pops up out of the shadows in full Romulan regalia.
“Tasha Yar is alive again?? And a Romulan? Say what?” That was the reaction of fandom at the time, and something that surely would have made social media pop off today. The next season’s premiere revealed Crosby was playing Sela, not Tasha. She was the daughter of the alt-timeline Tasha from “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and a Romulan (don’t ask). But that cliffhanger ending from season four had everyone talking at the moment. We can imagine all the posts tagged “Spoilers” today.
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Appears/”Unification, Pt. I” TNG Season Five, Episode Seven, 1991
When TNG was announced, most fans didn’t see it as “legit” Star Trek because of the lack of original cast members involved. It took many seasons for some die-hard fans to accept TNG as real Trek. This despite stellar ratings, and the show eventually becoming a critical darling.
But into season five, TNG got the ultimate seal of approval, when Leonard Nimoy appeared as Mr. Spock in a special two-part event episode, “Unification.” This appearance was well publicized, even in pre-internet media. But seeing Spock and Picard interact, as well as Spock and Data, was a moment fans waited years to see. The internet today would have blown up like Kirk’s Enterprise in Star Trek III.
“There. Are. Four. Lights!”/”Chain of Command, Pt II,” TNG Season Six, Episode 11, 1993
“There are four lights!” Even if you’re not a TNG fan, you’ve probably seen the meme of a disheveled Patrick Stewart with those words written on it. Well, those words come from an unusually heavy and serious two-part episode from season six, “ Chain of Command.” This episode saw Picard captured by a cruel Cardassian commander ( David Warner). He physically and psychologically tortures the Captain, nearly breaking him.
It’s a tour de force performance from Sir Patrick, among the best he ever did for this show. Seeing such a harrowing display of cruelty was very uncommon for not just TNG, but TV in general at the time. Had it aired today, fans online would have been in deep shock and demanding an Emmy for both Warner and Stewart.
The Grand Finale/”All Good Things,” TNG Season Seven, Episode 26, 1994
Series finales always get a lot of attention, because we expect them to be a final essay on the series. These days, whenever a show ends, it all boils down to “did it stick the landing or not.” Well, TNG’s finale episode, “All Good Things,” definitely stuck the landing, and writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga crafted an episode that paid homage to the show’s beginnings (hey, there’s Denise Crosby again!), its present, and its future.
The time travel story of “All Good Things” allowed for a look at all our beloved characters’ lives 25 years into the future. It had everyone talking back then, and that would still be what everyone would tweet about had TNG gone off the air in 2022 and not 1994. Interestingly enough, 25 years have now passed in real life, and we will soon see what all the TNG crew is up to in the third season of Star Trek: Picard. We’d bet ten bars of gold pressed latinum the internet will break when we see them all together again.