With over 50 years of spacefaring adventure in the Star Trek franchise, the crews of the various starships Enterprise and their colleagues having similar voyages of discovery in deep space have run into some trouble. Usually, our heroes escape unscathed (minus a Red Shirt or two), and the laws of episodic television reset everything to the way it was when the hour started.
But sometimes, Trek writers come up with ways to really hurt their characters in ways that may not always stick in the next episode or movie, but are nonetheless devastating. We aren't just talking about scrapes and cuts -- these are deep traumas that you can't just walk off. Some of them even stay with their sufferers for years afterward, which is a level of continuity that we appreciate, but has been a bit lacking in the franchise as a whole.
We don't necessarily demand endless callbacks or a layered narrative flow from our Star Trek, but it's great when they happen. And in the case of some of the events we're about to discuss, having them get mentions later on just makes them all the more withering. To be clear, we aren't counting deadly injuries for consideration here; we don't want to be here all day.
Here are 15 of the most brutal injuries in all of Star Trek. Be sure to let us know your "favorites" in the comments.
15 Ceti eels in the ear
Having an alien eel baby all up in your skull is really more of a condition than an injury, but we don’t want it.
The Wrath of Khan’s titular villain and his followers are almost the only life forms to survive when the planet next to theirs explodes and pushes them slightly closer to their sun. The climate change devastates the world and kills almost everything.
All that remains, Khan says, is the Ceti eel, a creature that starts its life by burrowing into a host animal’s ear and “wraps itself around the cerebral cortex.” That sounds cozy enough for the creature, but not much fun for the owner of that cortex.
Having a slug in your head makes you easy to control, and Khan uses that to get Pavel Chekov and his new captain, Terrell, to try and kill Kirk for leaving him to die in an eel desert. It almost works, but Terrell vaporizes himself, and Chekov’s stowaway just kind of leaves for unknown reasons. But it looks really painful.
14 Data's head blows off
Next Generation episode “Time’s Arrow” starts with a mystery: how did android Commander Data’s head end up buried in a cave under San Francisco for 500 years?
The answers are so complicated that it takes two episodes full of time travel and palling around with Mark Twain to sort out. But the short version is that era-hopping aliens are using an 1893 cholera outbreak to cover up their activities: harvesting human brain energy for food.
Data ends up in the past, where his efforts to close the temporal buffet lead to an explosion that knocks his head off. His crewmates take his body back to the future, leaving the cranium behind. Back on the Enterprise, they attach the head they found in the cave to restore him.
That means that from this episode to the time Data dies at the end of Nemesis 10 years later, his head is 500 years older than the rest of him. So that’s weird.
13 An unfortunate bridge officer sets a record
Space battles in Star Trek usually involve the main cast rocking back and forth in unison to simulate the impacts of phasers and photon torpedoes. But the Next Generation crew’s first cinematic outing contains a moment as brutal as it is unfortunately awesome.
At the end of Generations, rogue Klingons discover how to fire through the Enterprise’s shields, which is the only way their aged ship stands a chance in a fight. Eventually, the villains start targeting the bridge, and that’s when things get really crazy.
One shot causes an aft station to explode, sending the officer who had been working there flying into the air. He lands on the Captain’s Chair. That’s how much he blows up: he went over the thing. We don’t know the proper name for that arch that contains the tactical station. We just call it “the thing,” and he exploded right over it.
He probably survived. We hope he did so he can tell everyone later about how he cleared the thing.
12 Vidians steal Neelix's lungs
Voyager doesn’t waste any time inflicting severe physical and psychological damage upon its crew. The series starts with the deaths of several important staff members and the ship ending up a 70-year trip from Earth. And it only gets worse from there.
In the fifth episode, “Phage,” a species called the Vidiians transports the lungs right out of ship cook Neelix’s chest. They need the breathers because their entire species is suffering from a degenerative disease, and they harvest organs from other beings to replace their own as they wear out.
Neelix doesn’t die, because Voyager’s chief medical officer projects a holographic set of lungs into his chest. So he lives, but he can’t move because they have to remain perfectly lined up. It sounds awful. In the end, the Vidiians show the doctor how to perform an interspecies transplant, so Neelix doesn’t have to spend the entire show’s run lying in bed. And that's great news, because Voyager was already dull enough.
11 Spock watches Vulcan die
Not all of our entries describe physical injuries; emotional wounds can be just as devastating. And that’s exactly what happens to not one, but two Spocks in director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie reboot.
Among that film’s drastic changes to the timeline — which include James Kirk's father dying prematurely, the Federation building its starships on the ground, and the presence of a massive canyon in the middle of Iowa — is the destruction of Vulcan. The villainous Nero obliterates it with an artificial black hole to avenge himself on Spock, who failed to rescue the Romulan homeworld in the baddie's own time period.
Not only that, but Nero drops Spock on a nearby moon so that he can have the best seat in the universe to watch his home crumble. It’s pretty harsh.
10 Nog loses a leg
Deep Space Nine starts out as a blend of political intrigue, mysticism, and the classic ‘80s sitcom Cheers. But in the later seasons, the huge Dominion War breaks out and becomes the main storyline. It’s a massive conflict that occupies the last two years of the show and has massive repercussions for the entire Star Trek universe. And we don’t just mean that different people run planets.
Nog, the first Ferengi in Starfleet, takes a phaser blast to the leg during a mission to destroy an enemy communications array. He loses the limb, which sends him into a deep depression. And his mind and body aren’t the only casualties here, because he can only break his funk with help from Vic Fontaine, one of the most pointless Star Trek characters ever.
He is a holographic lounge singer who dispenses advice and crooning in equal measure, and Nog avoids his trauma by working in Fontaine’s club … which is also holographic. It is not our favorite subplot ever.
9 Worf's paralysis
If you’re a Klingon, paralysis is one of the worst things that can happen to you outside of dropping your bat’leth in the middle of a fight. They’re a pretty ableist species, and they believe that a warrior who is incapable of ripping their enemy’s heart out and eating it is better off dead. So in the Next Generation episode “Ethics,” when an accident leaves Worf without the use of his legs, he takes it pretty hard.
His only option for a full recovery is a risky surgery that involves cloning his own spinal cord to replace the broken one. He eventually picks the operation, mostly because he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to convince his very young son to help him kill himself in accordance with Klingon custom.
Worf dies during the surgery, but never-before-mentioned redundancies in his physiology bring him back. We don’t know why those backups didn’t fix his spine to begin with, but we didn’t write the episode.
8 Trip Tucker's clone coma
Speaking of cloning …
Enterprise’s Charles “Trip” Tucker once injured himself trying to make the ship’s warp core more efficient, and he went into a coma. His brain injuries were so severe that the only way to revive him was — and we are not making this up — to inject his DNA into an alien caterpillar in order to make a perfect copy of Tucker, from which Dr. Phlox could harvest the necessary neural tissue to heal the original.
This episode was silly, even by Enterprise standards.
But it does present a solid moral quandary: Is it ethical to create a life only to sacrifice it for another one? The fact that the copy of Trip contains all of his memories complicates things for a little while, but the answer turns out to be “Yes." And it was such a hard call that we’re pretty sure nobody ever mentions these events again.
7 Jadzia Dax loses her symbiont
The Trill are a species in which certain chosen people get a huge, grotesque slug implanted in their stomachs. And unlike that business with the Ceti Eel, this is a great honor and doesn’t kill the recipient.
Symbionts retain all of the memories and experiences of their previous hosts, which leads to some confusion for those who meet them in different forms. Once joined, it’s incredibly dangerous to separate the worm from its wormhole, which is exactly what happens in the Deep Space Nine episode “Invasive Procedures.”
Verad, a bitter Trill who didn’t make it through the stringent application process for his own tummy bug, shows up and forces Dr. Bashir to give him the one in science officer Jadzia Dax. It’s a good deal for Verad, but Jadzia spends most of the episode dying. But she lives … until she for-real dies four seasons later, and then someone else gets the symbiont, anyway. But they go through proper channels.
6 Picard's heartbreaking bar fight
Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise-D wasn’t always the serious, stern taskmaster he is by the time he takes command of the Federation’s flagship. He was once a brash young man who gambled, picked fights, and got a knife through the chest for his trouble. The injury gets him a mechanical heart to replace the one with the hole in it, and he regrets that he was ever that stupid.
In the sixth-season episode “Tapestry,” the omnipotent being Q gives Picard a chance to do it all over, and the captain uses his future knowledge to prevent the stabbing from happening. He then flashes back to an alternate future in which he is the most boring person alive, and his former crewmates tell him to his face that they won’t give him more responsibilities because he’s such a dull loser.
Picard decides he’d rather live with a fake heart and some shame, so he begs Q to change it back.
5 Klingon sex
Star Trek’s Klingons are a warrior race whose expressions of physical love always earn them a trip to the infirmary with concussions, bruised ribs, and broken bones. It’s kind of a running joke in the franchise, and it reaches its pinnacle in the unfortunately named Deep Space Nine episode “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places.”
That story has Ferengi bartender Quark courting a Klingon woman named Grilka, and hijinks ensue. Worf helps the hapless suitor, even going so far as to link their brains together so that Quark can fight Grilka’s bodyguard without suffering immediate murder.
Worf is also interested in Grilka, but at the end of the episode, he forgets about all of that when Jadzia Dax makes her own feelings known. The four of them end up in the infirmary after their separate dalliances, and Dr. Bashir suffers some mental wounds of his own from unwittingly having to imagine his friends rolling around, sexily assaulting each other.
4 Aliens raid Spock's skull
We realize that an inordinate number of our entries here are about characters losing parts of their bodies, but “Spock’s Brain” is the original Star Trek organ theft.
Aliens steal Spock’s brain so that it can run a machine that regulates their entire planet. Luckily, Vulcans have Klingon-style, plot-convenient biological mechanisms that let his body survive for several hours without anything controlling it, because sure, why not.
Dr. McCoy attaches a device to Spock’s empty head that lets them control him like a service robot, and it’s probably the most embarrassing thing in the whole original series. And we’re including both the time a gang of Space Hippies manages to take over the ship and the final episode, which has a lady swapping her own consciousness with Kirk’s, and we see how William Shatner believes women act.
3 Khan believes in Harvey Dent
The Star Trek franchise doesn’t include a ton of graphic violence, but every once in a while, the makeup people crack open their special cases and whip up something gruesome. That’s what happens at the end of The Wrath of Khan, which is one of the rare times that those combat-related bridge explosions actually has an effect on someone.
During the climactic fight inside the Mutara Nebula, the Enterprise crew uses the Starfleet access codes on Khan’s stolen ship to force its shields down, and then they unload on it. Everything explodes, and almost everyone dies. But Khan lives - albeit with a face that looks like an undercheesed pizza - thanks to magical survival powers based on both his genetic superiority and his status as the villain of the story. And he survives long enough to fail to murder Captain Kirk for the fourth time that day.
It’s not quite clear whether Khan dies of these injuries or the huge explosion he sets off, but this is a nasty enough image that we had to include it.
2 Picard's assimilation
The Borg are a species of biomechanical monsters that travel the universe scooping up outposts and assimilating other species into their hive mind. Their goal is to expand their own knowledge, but their methods are David Cronenberg levels of not right.
Next Generation’s amazing two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds” has Captain Picard himself captured and converted into Locutus, the face and voice of the Borg’s invasion of Earth. It’s one of the most haunting scenes in the series, and the captain never really gets over it.
His captors use his knowledge of Federation starships to take out 39 of the 40 vessels that arrive to stop them, killing over 11,000 people. And Picard carries those memories even after his crew returns him to normal. He even goes full-on Ahab in the film First Contact and hates the Borg so much that he doesn’t even mind murdering his own crew members before they get fitted with their own eye-lasers.
1 The dreaded flashback coma
This is the second coma we’re bringing up, but it’s so much worse than the other one.
Next Generation’s second-season finale, “Shades of Gray,” is a money-saving clip episode. The framing device is that an alien vine infects Commander Riker with a virus that forces him to dream about scenes from the show’s first two years. And given this series’ fairly uneven start, that’s a pretty rough state to be in.
The virus is slowly making its way to Riker’s brain, and its progress depends on the tone of the memories he’s having. That’s not at all how viruses work, but bad science is the least of this story’s problems. Eventually, Dr. Pulaski realizes that if they trick Riker into recalling times he almost died, his body will fight off the infection. Luckily, he survives, avoiding Pulaski’s fate of having “Shades of Gray” be his final appearance on Star Trek.
What other brutal injuries have the deep space adventuring crews of Star Trek endured? Let us know in the comments.