Star Trek: The Next Generation is rightly hailed as one of the best and most influential science fiction series of all time. At the height of its popularity, it was garnering the sort of viewing figures and prestige the original series never dreamed of, even nabbing an Emmy nomination for Best Dramatic Series in its final year.
Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a new sort of hero; a deeply empathetic intellectual who exuded class and a bone-deep love of Earl Grey tea. The stories managed to be both sophisticated and viscerally thrilling, and the show’s success spawned several spinoff series and four movies featuring the TNG crew.
But even a show as successful as TNG can’t be perfect. There were more than a few plots that were seeded and then never followed up on, due either to the show’s massive creative turnover between seasons two or three, or by virtue of the writers simply losing interest. Not all of them are particularly egregious, but a few of them are glaring enough to make otherwise Galaxy class episodes seem a little more like Ferengi cargo ships.
These are 15 Unresolved Mysteries And Plot Holes In Star Trek: The Next Generation.
15 Relics: Scotty Thinks Kirk Is Alive
Star Trek: The Next Generation shied away from direct acknowledgement of the original series for its first few seasons in an effort to create its own identity on its own terms. By its later seasons, TNG was just as beloved and iconic as the original series, and the show became much more comfortable honoring the legacy of its forerunners in more overt ways.
One of the most beloved TOS homages was “Relics”, the fifth season episode that improbably brought James Doohan’s Scotty into the 24th century. When informed by Commander Riker that, after spending nearly a century trapped inside a transporter relay, he’d been rescued by the Enterprise, Scotty exclaims that he bets James Kirk brought the old ship back himself.
That’s a problem since, as we’d learn in Star Trek: Generations, Scotty was present at the launch of the Enterprise-B, which is when everyone believed Kirk passed away.
14 What Happened to Sela?
One of TNG’s most celebrated episodes spawned a subplot that promised a major new foe for the show but largely fizzled. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” featured a dark alternate timeline where the Enterprise-C accidentally traveled into the future. By virtue of not sacrificing itself to save a Klingon ship from a Romulan attack, the alternate timeline saw the Federation and Klingon Empire embroiled in a brutal war. The undermanned Enterprise-C crew decides to return to preserve the timeline, and they’re accompanied by Tasha Yar, who is informed by Guinan she pointlessly lost her life in the corrected timeline.
Tasha would survive the Romulan attack and have a child with one of her Romulan captors, who would grow up to be the Romulan Commander Sela.
Sela was billed as a major new antagonist, but only appeared in a pair of two-parters before being forgotten, even in follow-up Romulan stories.
13 The Hugh Borg Faction
In “I, Borg”, the Enterprise rescues an injured Borg drone they intend to seed with a virus to destroy the collective. When the Borg – dubbed “Hugh” by Dr. Crusher and Geordi LaForge – starts showing signs of individuality, they abandon their more lethal plan and allow Hugh to return to the collective, hoping his new benevolent individuality spreads through the collective instead.
It did, causing a significant faction of the Borg finding themselves struggling with their newfound identities in “Descent.” The conclusion of that episode suggests Hugh will be able to guide the Borg into a new evolution, but when they reappear in Star Trek: First Contact, they’re the same old space zombies. There's no mention of Hugh or any of the other individualized Borg, with the exception of the Borg Queen – which we’ll get to shortly.
12 Picard’s Misuse of The Nexus
Star Trek: Generations sees Picard attempting to stop Soran from destroying a solar system to gain entry into the Nexus, essentially a science fiction version of heaven that give a person whatever they want. Picard fails, and ends up sucked into the Nexus with Soran, just as James Kirk was decades earlier. Picard uses the Nexus to go back to moments before Soran was able to complete his plan, defeating him with Kirk’s help.
There are a couple problems here. The Nexus’ ability to drop Picard back at that point in time means he could have just kept trying until he stopped Soran, so the stakes seemed pretty low. Also, Picard picked a really weird time to jump back into. Why not a week earlier, when he could have saved his brother and nephew from a fatal fire as well as stopping Soran with a quick call to Starfleet Command?
11 All Good Things: The Pasteur
The much loved series finale “All Good Things” sees Picard jumping between his past, present, and future courtesy of Q, hoping Picard will be able to solve a sort of temporal poetry exam to prove he has expanded his perception of reality after seven years of exploring the galaxy.
To Q’s delight, Picard figures it out. A universe swallowing anomaly that expands back in time to destroy life on Earth before it begins turns out to be caused by three different versions of the Enterprise performing the same scan in the same part of space in three different time periods.
There’s only one problem – the future scan isn’t being conducted by the Enterprise, but by the USS Pasteur, the medical starship of Captain Beverly Crusher. The writers actually did spot this plot hole before the episode aired, but production was too far along to fix it in time.
10 Data’s Use of Contractions
Alongside Captain Picard himself, Brent Spiner’s Data is TNG’s most iconic character. The pale-skinned, emotionless android was the inverse of Spock. Rather than a Vulcan trying to suppress his latent humanity, Data was a machine endeavoring to find his. Data couldn’t always overcome his built in limitations, but watching him try was one of the great pleasures in the history of science fiction.
He didn’t occasionally overcome them by accident, though. One of the flaws in Data’s programming meant he was unable to use contractions, such a defining character trait that it was used as a genuine plot point more than once. In the series’ earliest days, Spiner slipped more than once, letting out the occasional “can’t” or “don’t.” It’s ironically one of the few limitations of his programming Data would never overcome on purpose.
9 Ambassador Worf
Worf is the only Star Trek character who was a series regular on two different series. After TNG, the surly Klingon joined the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where he played a crucial role in the Dominion War, got a promotion, and even married Jadzia Dax. At the end of DS9, Worf became the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire, a well-earned evolution for the character.
When Star Trek Nemesis rolled around, Worf was once again manning the tactical station aboard the Enterprise-E.
The earlier TNG movies had at least manufactured reasons for Worf to be around despite serving on DS9, but in the post-DS9 Nemesis he’s just kind of there again. It’s a bit like a CEO going back to the fast food job he had as a teenager for no apparent reason.
8 Conspiracy: The Parasite Homing Beacon
Near the end of TNG’s infamously lousy first season, “Conspiracy” featured a plot that seemed to seed future plans for the series. After a group of captains met clandestinely to discuss strange happenings at Starfleet Command, it was revealed that the admiralty had been infiltrated by parasitic creatures which had attached themselves to the brain stems of several of Starfleet’s most decorated officers.
Picard and Riker are able to thwart the invasion by destroying the mother creature housed inside Lieutenant Commander Dexter Remmick, in what is still probably the single most disgusting moment in Star Trek history. At the episode’s end, Data suggests Remmick had been sending a beacon to more of the creatures so that they could find Earth and try another invasion, a dangling mystery that was never addressed again. It's probably for the best.
7 The Schisms Aliens
“Schisms”m one of the most disturbing of TNG, begins with Commander Riker unable to sleep and strangely fixated on everyday objects, like helm console on the bridge. This follows with other crew members – Worf is unsettled by a very confused barber’s scissors – until a handful of crew members realize they’re subconsciously remembering aspects of what is essentially an alien operating table, which they recreate in a chilling sequence on the holodeck.
The crew are being removed from the ship in their sleep and experimented on by a group of interdimensional aliens, who are doing bizarre things like amputating Riker’s arm and reattaching it in a way that makes it almost impossible to detect. The gap between dimensions is eventually closed, but it’s never revealed who the mysterious aliens were or why they were examining members of the crew.
6 The Relationship Between Q and Guinan
Not much scares or intimidates Q. Why would it? Q is, for all intents and purposes, a god; able to manipulate reality and time however he sees fit. Data once compared the relationship between Q and Picard to that of a master and his beloved pet, which is both accurate and hilarious. So why is Q rattled by the Enterprise’s bartender?
True, Guinan isn’t your average bartender. She’s an El-Aurian, which means she lives quite a bit longer than humans, and she possesses some sort of empathic powers at the very least.
There’s nothing that suggests Q should have anything to fear from her.
Still, he’s notably unsettled when the two meet aboard the Enterprise for the first time, when suggests she’s not who or what she claims to be. It’s never followed up on, and is one of several mysteries around Guinan the show never fully answered.
5 Force of Nature: Warp Speed Destroys Subspace?
“Force of Nature” was a controversial episode in TNG’s seventh and final season that posed a strange question. What if exploring the universe was actually destroying it? The episode suggested that use of warp drive was tearing holes in the fabric of subspace, a conclusion it pronounced as fact by episode’s end by limiting all Starfleet vessels to the speed of warp 5 except in cases of emergency.
It was all sort of heavy handed - a mid-90s commentary on global warming.
It barely made sense within the show’s own scientific rules, and the show’s producers unanimously proclaimed the episode a failure that bit off more than it could chew.
The warp speed limit would get lip service a couple more times during TNG, but it was uniformly ignored in Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the TNG movies.
4 Why Did Wesley Crusher Rejoin Starfleet?
Wesley Crusher had departed TNG for Starfleet Academy during the show’s fourth season, but he guest starred a few more times, the last of which was season seven’s “Journey’s End". That polarizing episode saw Wesley quit Starfleet to go on a different sort of journey with the Traveler, the mysterious alien who saw Wesley as something of an intergalactic chosen one. There was also some unfortunate business with Native Americans and vision quests and Cardassians. “Journey’s End” is not exactly prime cut Star Trek, but it sort of made sense as a farewell to Wesley.
Yet at the wedding of Will Riker and Deanna Troi in Star Trek Nemesis, Wesley is back in Starfleet attire. Why would Wesley abandon new planes of existence to be the Junior Science Officer on some non-Enterprise starship? Nemesis was the end of the line for TNG, so we’ll likely never know.
3 The Ramifications of the Pegasus Incident
“The Pegasus” is one of TNG’s best character episodes. A Riker-centric story involving the fate of the titular USS Pegasus, which Riker served on as a young officer, tested the Enterprise first officer’s loyalties. The captain of the Pegasus, now-Admiral Erik Pressman, incited a mutiny due to his development of a Federation cloaking device, which malfunctioned and trapped half the ship – and the mutineers – inside an asteroid.
The cloaking device was a clear violation of the Federation’s peace treaty with the Romulans.
Picard ultimately is forced to use the device and openly admits it to the Romulans in a show of good faith. But the Romulans have shown they have no use for good faith. The use of the illegal device would have been an easy excuse to start the war the Romulans were so eager for over the length of the series.
2 The Borg Queen
There is arguably no greater retcon in Star Trek history than the Borg Queen. From their very first appearance until their very last in TNG, part of the utter terror invoked by the Borg lay in their cold, emotionless collective. There was no smirking villain or personal vendettas fueling the Borg; they were elemental, a biomechanical plague assimilating all in their path.
Yet in Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg were given a face in the guise of the Borg Queen. Instead of Picard’s assimilation into Locutus being a way to learn the Federation’s strategic secrets, it was now an added wrinkle that the Borg Queen – who was always there, apparently – wanted a mate, essentially.
It undid a lot of what made the Borg the franchise’s most terrifying antagonists for no good reason, and it retroactively makes a lot of Borg stories nonsensical.
1 The Neutral Zone: Outpost Attacks
“The Neutral Zone” was the season finale of TNG’s very bumpy first season, and it was an appropriately half-baked affair. While the Enterprise was dealing with a trio of unfrozen 20th century goofballs – a money-obsessed stock broker, a housewife, and a zany country music singer – they were also facing off with the newly unveiled Romulans over a series of destroyed outposts along the neutral zone between the two factions.
Weirdly, the episode forgets to actually explain what happened to the destroyed outposts, and the series never directly addresses it. It was intended that the outposts were going to be taken out by an early iteration of the Borg, but they wouldn’t actually debut until the end of TNG’s second season due to a writers’ strike, and the outpost destructions didn’t really fit the M.O. of those infamous space zombies by the time they were fully formed.
What else did Star Trek: The Next Generation leave hanging? Let us know in the comments.