Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Parallels"

***1/2

Air date: 11/29/1993
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After returning in a shuttlecraft from a bat'leth competition where he won first place, Worf arrives on the Enterprise to a surprise birthday party that mostly makes him cringe. (It's always fun watching the curmudgeonly Worf suffer through the social kindness of his shipmates, and Riker sets him up perfectly with a misdirection of denial.) But Worf experiences dizziness and disorientation and a shifting of details at the party. (A yellow cake becomes chocolate, and the captain, initially unable to attend, is suddenly present.) Is Worf hallucinating, or experiencing some other strange sci-fi episode? This is Star Trek: TNG, so what do you think?

"Parallels" is unadulterated Brannon Braga in the vein of "Cause and Effect," "Frame of Mind," and "Timescape," where strange sci-fi mysteries are afoot and the storytelling's effectiveness lies in its examination of details. These sort of stories are not particularly deep in their meaning or plausible in the strict (or, I suppose, any) sense of the word, but damn if they aren't entertaining in their exploration of shifting realities. It's not immediately clear to Worf (or us) exactly what's happening or why, but slowly we learn that Worf is shifting between numerous versions of an infinite number of possible realities. The theory goes that all things that are possible are actually happening in an infinite number of parallel universes, and "our" version of Worf is moving between them while maintaining all of his original memories.

This puts Worf in various universes where (1) he placed ninth in the bat'leth tournament instead of first; (2) he causes a tactical delay at a key moment that leads to an attack on the Enterprise; (3) he discovers that the Cardassians have reprogrammed a sensor array to spy on the Federation; (4) he is married to Troi; (5) he does not have a son named Alexander; (6) he is first officer on an Enterprise where Riker has been captain since Picard was killed in the Borg incident; (7) Geordi is dead; (8) Wesley Crusher is the tactical officer; (9) the Bajorans are powerful enemies; and (10) in perhaps the most subtle detail, Data has blue eyes. (I love how this detail goes completely without comment; it's a visual clue that demonstrates the infinite possibilities theory without underlining it.) Okay, sure, there should technically be versions of the universe that look nothing like the familiar surroundings anchored to a life on the Enterprise, but to that I say: Who cares?

A story like this can either be incomprehensible chaos or organized chaos. "Parallels" is a workable example of the latter. The story never becomes so zany as to be unworkable but instead slows down long enough to show that these various possibilities are real enough to mean something to the people involved. In particular, Worf's relationship with Troi makes him consider a possibility that he had never pondered, while at the same time he must confront a reality where his son never existed.

"Parallels" has a rather brilliant ending that is great in its audacity, where the quantum barriers between all these universes break down, leading space to fill up with thousands of Enterprises from other realities. (At one point, Wesley says he is receiving hails from 285,000 different Enterprises, clearly all confused.) In an inspired notion, one Enterprise is captained by a desperate and crazed Riker from a universe where the Borg have destroyed nearly the entire Federation; Riker has to open fire on this ship when it attacks. And there's something odd about one Enterprise having a viewscreen conversation with another. (And just who is the Worf on that Enterprise if "our" Worf is on this alternate Enterprise? Did they swap places?)

By sending Worf back to his correct Enterprise, the barriers will be sealed and everyone will be returned to their proper realities — though I was confused at why Troi was so saddened to "lose" Worf when he left; wouldn't "her" Worf be returned to her by this repair of the breakdown of reality? Or are there a finite number of quantum Worfs, and hers was somehow erased?

No matter — "Parallels" is great a high-concept story executed with high entertainment value and the right modulated tone. For those reluctant about the possibility of a Worf/Troi relationship being spawned from this — what can I say? In a universe where anything is possible, much stranger things have happened.

Previous episode: Inheritance
Next episode: The Pegasus

Season Index

38 comments on this review

Paul - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:46am (USA Central)
Great episode, even if it was the start of the Worf/Troi nonsense. In this episode, it somewhat works.

Oh, and Jammer -- no love for the Cardassian helmsman at the end? One of my favorite touches.
Latex Zebra - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 2:48am (USA Central)
The scene with the Borg beaten Enterprise is pretty chilling with Riker yelling 'We don't want to go back!'

Sent a shiver up my spine.
Tim - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:46pm (USA Central)
Very enjoyable episode, I too liked the ending.
alex - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
I concur with "These sort of stories are not particularly deep in their meaning or plausible in the strict (or, I suppose, any) sense of the word, but damn if they aren't entertaining in their exploration of shifting realities."


What does bother me about this episode is the idea that everything is possible therefore nothing matters.
Freddy - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 9:38am (USA Central)
Easily one of season 7's greatest and well remembered episodes.
By the way it was nice finally seeing Deanna in that nice blue dress again the first time since season 4 ;-)
Patrick - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 10:38am (USA Central)
This is a fun episode. However, it seems to have been made on the cheap. Every little parallel universe 'quirk' looks to have been recycled from previous episodes. In contrast, "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Future Imperfect" seem to have a much bigger budget and the 'quirks' were made from scratch.

In fact, TNG season 7 overall has a pretty chintzy look to it compared to its previous seasons. DS9 season 2 (which ran alongside TNG season 7) on the other hand, looks movie quality from beginning to end.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
I love this episode! Along with, as Jammer noted, the great line about "We are receiving 285,000 hails," which always makes me laugh, it has the great follow up line "The Bajorans are disengaging."

I like the Worf/Troi pairing much better than the Riker/Troi pairing that the movies pursued--it always angered me they went in that direction after setting up Worf and Deanna so carefully. Their romance at the end of this season is carefully developed with both big and small moments--and I'd love it if only for the fun of Worf's "devolved" form beating the crap out of the ship to get at his mate.

I've never understood the objection to this episode that, as alex said, if "everything is possible" then "nothing matters." Just because infinite universes of grumpy_otters go running around doing things THIS otter never dreamed of, that doesn't change my individual life. They have their own lives--I have mine. We can't normally communicate and their actions don't affect me. I might feel sad if I saw one eaten by a squid, or jealous if one scored some massive clams, but in general it's just like most of the quantum world--unnoticeable to us. If I die, I am not comforted that "I" will live on--THIS me will be dead and therefore irrelevant at that point.

Multiple universes doesn't diminish individuality because it exists in each one's brain. Voyager did one like that where one ship died so the other could live--it was cool they saved the baby, but still, a whole crew of individuals had to die. The moment they had separated, they were their own people, and separate lives.

And since I have to trash Beverly at least once every review cycle--little bitch. Acting all surprised, "DOCTOR Ogawa? How could my little assistant possibly be a doctor in another universe? I'm the only doctor on the Enterprise because I am super perfect." Snob.

Deanna is sad, Jammer, because she notes that they have told her it is possible that her Worf won't return.

This is up there with "Inner Light" for me.
Grumpy - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 1:13pm (USA Central)
"...I was confused at why Troi was so saddened to 'lose' Worf when he left..."

That's because Braga never bothered (or, under pressure to write weekly TV, didn't have time) to understand the premises of his own stories.
Brendan - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 7:17pm (USA Central)
Having watched TNG as a kid mostly via re-runs out of order, this was I believe the very last episode I ever saw, probably a good 10 years after it aired, and I have to say it's one of my favourites.
Nick P. - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
Absolutely delightful episode! I guess I had forgotten that 2 of the 3 best episodes of season 7 were one after the other (pegasus being the other one, and the Finale being the 3rd).

I agree, I loved the nice little touches like datas eyes. My favourite moment was actually that little one near the end when the Riker who hasn't seen Picard for 3 years, sees Picard on "our" enterprise and says "It's good to see you again, captain. It's been a long time." It was a touching little moment. I also loved seeing a cardassian in a starfleet uniform.

I do however, agree with patrick that this felt way cheaper than "Yesterdays Enterprise". And of course the music sucked. And of course you can cound me as a hater of the Worf/Troi crappy romance.

I gotta say though, without this episode and Pegasus, this season really would be a complete abortion.
Sxottlan - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 2:44am (USA Central)
Great premise. Great episode. I especially liked how it put Worf in the center of a very un-Worf-like episode (nothing much on combat and honor etc.).

I have never thought of the episode as cheap looking. I would say TNG was not going for spectacle in its final season. It seemed they were going for quieter character episodes. It must have worked because it netted them a Best Drama Emmy nod (I wonder what episodes were submitted to the academy?). They had started to work CGI into the show in its final season, but it seems they never felt the need to really go nuts. Yet the Maquis attack on the Cardassian ship in the penultimate episode was well done and of course AGT looked fantastic.
Jhoh - Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
This was one of those ridiculous but fun episodes.

The premise was perfectly exploited.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - 3:53am (USA Central)
Did anyone else crack up when Worf states in his personal log that 'Several contestants were maimed.' ?
karatasiospa - Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - 7:08am (USA Central)
For me parallels is an example of pure and mind-blowing science fiction! no social allegories here. Just an opening to other possibilities of existence!
John the younger - Tue, Dec 18, 2012 - 2:52am (USA Central)
I concur: Silly but fun. Probably 3rd or 4th best episode of the season.
Sanagi - Sun, Dec 30, 2012 - 4:57pm (USA Central)
Worf isn't usually picked to star in weird concept episodes, but this one makes you wonder why. His outsider nature, his confusion and injured pride all make him the perfect hero for Parallels. And he's really funny, too.

(And I don't see how Worf/Troi is any more forced or problematic than Worf/Dax or Riker/Troi...)

In a way, this episode is my favorite appearance of Wesley Crusher, too, just because he's there and nothing big is made of it. The plot doesn't bend to make him the hero, he doesn't say anything silly... I do appreciate that they went a more daring direction with the character in-continuity, but I really like his understated appearance here.
Qermaq - Sat, Jan 5, 2013 - 11:44pm (USA Central)
Best part for me was the moment where Troi realized that while Worf did not know their own children, he had a son who, in her universe, never existed. I mean, he could have just stayed put and done OK but that was the moment when it was clear he had to go "home".

Actually, the best part was the famous "peeking Worf" but that was superfluous to the storyline.
Paul - Wed, Jun 5, 2013 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
2 things

1. Worf missed a trick after learning Troi was his wife. If that was me....

2. No sighting of the Bajoran ship at all & it attacks & disengages for no reason- only to damage the quantum fissure because it had to be damaged somehow right?

J - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
I do like this episode, but I think I enjoyed it more when I watched during it's original run and was too young to really think hard about it. Now, watching it, the fact that there's a Worf in the background of the "correct" Enterprise (which I'm glad Jammer didn't overlook) and that one of the Worf's may be lost (the one in the universe where the "correct" Worf tries to go home from) raises so many questions in my mind that I have a hard time appreciating the rest of this episode. I would have dropped a half a star or even a full one just because of those two things, which were quick and relatively unimportant, but to me extremely significant to my comprehension of this story.
J - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 1:17pm (USA Central)
Adding to what I said above, since there was a Worf on the "correct" Enterprise and the Data on the "correct" Enterprise agreed with Captain Riker's decision, this says to me that at least some, if not the majority, of the Enterprises knew something was going on with Worf and were discussing and attempting to solve the matter (hence a lot of the comm traffic, guess). But it seems like there would have been thousands of other Enterprises, then, who were making similar decisions and broadcasting quantum states looking for Worf's Enterprise. I would have expected to see a lot more shuttle crafts flying around, or at least some other Enterprises "competing" to get a response from the correct one.

I don't know. The more I think about this episode, the less I like it. This seems to be an episode that should just be enjoyed for its alternate reality fun, and not really thought about.
Ray - Sat, Aug 3, 2013 - 5:05am (USA Central)
Bioshock Infinite anyone?
Edward - Wed, Aug 7, 2013 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
"Or are there a finite number of quantum Worfs?"

Starts like the premise of a kick-ass exam for admission into sci-fi.
navamske - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 9:57pm (USA Central)
The main thing I didn't get about this episode was this: When Worf is moving from parallel universe to parallel universe, where were the Worfs who are actually indigenous to those universes? Like when they're in the chocolate-cake universe, where's the Worf who really belonged there?

I also thought that Parallel Universe Troi, who knows only that she loves Worf and is married to him and is the mother of his children (i.e., she doesn't contemplate a hypothetical parallel reality where all this isn't the case), should have been all irate and challenging when she learned that Real Universe Worf has a son named Alexander, as in, "Who's Alexander's mother?"
mephyve - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 3:44pm (USA Central)
Nothing like an old fashioned multiverse saga to get those sci-fi juices flowing again. Great episode! I'd give it 4 stars if it didn't spark that unholy alliance. That definitely costs it a .5.
Eleven episodes into season seven and for me at least, there have only been two dogs, Interface and Dark Page. Everything else has been at least a three, and now another 3.5. Some people would take season one over this. I'm certainly not among that group.
As to the other Worfs, it seems a safe bet to me that Worfs were simply changing places. The story did not say that but it's only logical. I didn't understand why the possibility was even raised that an existing Worf wouldn't return to his rightful universe.
As an aside I just noticed that when I google stng jammer, one of the results is 'The Next Generation Jammer Program', an electronic airborne warfare system.
Smith - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
Terrific episode! Originally it was supposed to be Picard...but Worf was a better choice.

Only qualm was with Troi/Worf. That should have been comedy only...and not a setup for things to come up.
John G - Fri, May 23, 2014 - 3:04pm (USA Central)
@Paul: The Bajorans obviously disengaged because all of a sudden they had 285,000 Enterprises in front of them to make it the most lopsided (and weird) space battle in all of sci-fi.

One thing that often occurred to me about this episode in hindsight: Presumably there must have been Borg-assimilated Enterprises amongst them, as well as Mirror Universe ones, and maybe even one with a 300-year-old Captain Archer at the helm.* If we were to carry this through to its logical extreme, which is probably not a bright idea. *hic*

* - OK, so I’m trolling a little there.
Peremensoe - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
The other Worfs weren't just swapping places with ours, they (or at least some of them) were sliding through various successive realities as well. With so many possibilities, surely some were having similar troubles. On the other hand, there's no reason to think they'd snap back perfectly to their originals. Something must go wrong with a few of them. Not all the *ships* survived, why should the Worfs fare better?
Min - Sat, Aug 2, 2014 - 3:35am (USA Central)
I thought it was a continuity error that it turned out that Worf had already shifted into another universe when his birthday party took place. Where was Geordi at that point? He had not met him if only Troi was there.

That said, I think it is a great episode, although the Worf/Troi romance did not make much sense to me (either Worf in those universes had mellowed or Troi was much tougher than we think...).

It reminded me of the old 'Sliders' series. I was not surprised Troi was sad because they really did not know if her Worf would come back at that point, since they did not know at what time the universes would be merged. Since time did not change in the end we can assume he did come back, but Data mentioned that they could have merged three days later. If Worf died in another universe during that time, he would have been lost.
not-dead-yet-jim - Sat, Aug 23, 2014 - 10:21am (USA Central)
The one thing that always stuck with me about this episode is the desperate Riker, coming onto the view screen - beard unkempt, uniform dirty, explosions in the background. that borg reality where they are one of the last ships left as the borg are everywhere must truly be hell and did lead me as a kid to have some truly terrifying borg nightmares.
Dave in NC - Sat, Aug 23, 2014 - 11:12am (USA Central)
This is another one of those episodes that hearken back to Season 3/4: great performances (even by Troi), interesting alternate realities (I loved the post-BOBW Captain Riker(s)), and a genuinely fascinating concept. Even the musical score has some high points, VERY rare for a later episode.

My only nitpicks:

#1. No one mourns Geordi other than Dr. Ogawa (good acting on her part). Granted, in this alternate reality, he may just have transferred aboard ship or something, but still, no one seems that shook up.

#2. How is it that in some of the slips, no one has previous knowledge of Mr. Worf's slipping between realities, but in others, the crew is fully aware of his problem, even though he just popped into their reality? A good example is dead Geordi . . . he should have been alive and kicking the second Worf slipped sideways.

#3. I wish they'd gone with the idea to also have Tasha there in the final alternate reality. It would have been nice to see.

*** ½ stars
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 3:52pm (USA Central)

This reminds me a lot of Timescape and Cause and Effect (like Jammer already mentioned). Mostly meaningless fluff, but it's a great high concept episode that is executed almost flawlessly, and thus a mostly entertaining affair. But everyone pretty much knows that already. Thinking about the whole situation, I'm not sure why it had to be this specific Worf that had to go back through the fissure. Sure, some of the Worfs didn't go to the tournament, and thus couldn't hit the rift, but could others have gone through? Or was the rift only initially in our universe? And why would other Enterprises be visiting this area of space and thus go through the rift (particularly the Borg Enterprise)? Or did the fissure just happen to pull them out from wherever they were in space? And for that matter, out of an infinite number of Enterprises, what are the odds that the one they needed would show up so quickly?

So it doesn't make much sense, but oh well. Another oddity: what defines what universes Worf travels to? One idea I heard a while back was that with each transfer, the universe diverged with his even further back in time. For example, his first shift may have been into a universe that diverged only a day or so before hitting the rift, hence why the only changes in the universe was the cake's flavor and Picard's presence at the party. The last two universes would be from 2-4 years ago. While that would be a reasonable theory, Dr. Ogawa's presence kinda hurts that idea (when would she have decided to become a doctor, and still managed to become CMO in such a short time?) Likewise, the Bajoran/Cardassian switcheroo is tough to swallow as having happened within the last four years.

Not that it takes too much away from the story, because it doesn't matter much, but it is curious to see how this all works.

John G: interesting idea, having a Borgified Enterprise appear. I guess seeing the desperate Enterprise instead offered more pathos, but how fun would it have been to have a Borg Enterprise appear, try to give the whole "We are the Borg" speech, and then get promptly smashed by 100 Enterprises... Also, I wonder if the Mirror Universe showed up?
Peremensoe - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 9:34pm (USA Central)
Dave in NC, to your #2, obviously in some 'verses people have noticed what's happening, had a chance to talk to Worf or each other about it. Others not. The various shifting Worfs must themselves have figured it out at different points too.
Dave in NC - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 2:02pm (USA Central)
@ Peremensoe

If that's the case, wouldn't they have only known something was wrong once our Worf replaced theirs?
Peremensoe - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 5:25pm (USA Central)
My interpretation was that there was a wave of different Worfs sliding or fluctuating across many iterations of reality. Maybe some sets of his comrades have seen a succession of different Worfs pass through before ours gets there.
Dave in NC - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
@ Peremensoe

That's a good idea: every Worf would indeed displace the previous Worf. Unfortunately, the dialogue made a point to say that there was a real possibility that Alt-Troi (Counselor Mogh haha) may never have gotten "her Worf" back.

Eh, the reasoning confuses me, but who cares, it's a fun episode.
Peremensoe - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 9:00am (USA Central)
Again, an all-time classic Trek. This episode here is one of the dozen or so that keep me loving ST.

Check this out: We know some of the universe-slippages are subtle, not necessarily evident at the moment, or for some moments after. Maybe the first one is just as he enters his quarters at the beginning? (Maybe even as he adjusts his trophy display, noting a *slightly-off* perception...) Maybe it wasn't a set-up by Riker! There was no waiting surprise party... there!
Dave in NC - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 2:24pm (USA Central)
@ Permensoe

What a clever idea!

They should have had Geordi walk by in the background of the first Word/Riker scene.
Kahryl - Fri, Sep 12, 2014 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
"The Bajorans are disengaging." - one of the funniest lines in TNG

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