Nothing helps make a story more compelling than a good old fashioned plot twist. Sometimes these come near the end of the story, sometimes not. Quite often it is unexpected and blindsides us. These story telling devices can be used to completely change the direction of the story or to reveal great mysteries that has kept the audience guessing up until the big reveal. When done right, it can make the episode one of the best. When handled poorly, it can turn the audience off. Star Trek has had its fair share of great plot twists, and I would like to highlight ten of the best ones in the different series. These are in no particular order. Oh, and case it hasn’t been obvious to you yet, major spoiler alerts ahead.
1. Bashir the Changeling – In season 5 there was a great two-part episode arc (“In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light”) that saw Worf and Garak captured by the Domonion. In addition to the revelation that General Martok was still alive (albeit minus an eye), they are shocked to discover that Doctor Bashir has been a prisoner of the Dominion for at least a month prior. Among the many implications, this means that the Changeling infiltrator had both delivered the O’Briens baby boy and performed surgery on Captain Sisko to have him lose his visions. It is a bit odd that he did not try to heal the baby changeling that Odo had found in “The Begotten”. The scene where Julian emerges from solitary confinement is a great “Wha-a-a-a-t?” moment that probably caused many of us watching this for the first time to drop whatever it was we may have been holding.
2. Sela, daughter of Tasha Yar – The Next Generation episode “The Mind’s Eye” had Geordi LaForge captured by the Romulans. While he is being brainwashed, a mysterious female figure stands in the shadows, overseeing the procedure. We never see more than an outline, and we hear her voice which is surprisingly familiar. Later that season, in the finale “Redemption” we again meet this stranger. At the end of the episode, in the big reveal, we see Denise Crosby, in full Romulan make up and uniform, emerge from the shadows, giving us the line “Humans have a way of turning up when you least expect them”. In a throwback to the classic “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, we have to wait until the start of the next season to learn that this blond Romulan is Sela, the daughter if Tasha Yar. This led to a great character that provided a continuation of Tasha’s story. I only wish that we had more of Sela and her story. Sadly, aside from the well-received “Unification”, Sela was never seen again. So while the follow up dropped the ball, the twist that was the revelation of Sela was excellent.
3. Momma Horta – In the classic episode “The Devil in the Dark”, the Enterprise is investigating the series of murders among miners on the planet Janus VI. When the culprit is discovered, we think this is going to become the typical “fight the monster of the week” episode. Ultimately, however, it is discovered that not only is the monster intelligent, it is a mother protecting its offspring. When Spock mindmelds with the Horta, we learn that anguish and sorrow is not limited to humanoid life forms. The crew then turn their attention to seeking a peaceful resolution, in typical Trek form. The twist put the crew on a different approach to solving the issue that brought Kirk and company to Janus IV.
4. Seska – Voyager had many crewmen that could have been well fleshed out throughout the series. While I feel that the potential was largely wasted, one notable exception is Seska. Introduced as a Bajoran member of the Maquis, she is a key member of Chakotay’s group. She was a friend to Torres and a lover to Chakotay. She had distanced herself from the crew and had been involved in several attempts to steal alien technology, eventually aligning herself with the Kazon. All of that was intriguing enough, and nothing else seemed out of place. Then, when her secretive dealings were eventually uncovered, she is revealed to have been a Cardassian operative from the beginning. This provided the Voyager crew with one of their own as an adversary that would torment them again and again for the rest of the season (and then some).
5. The Real Chief O’Brien,– O’Brien gets tortured at least once a season. I think that is in the DS9 Bible or something. In the episode “Whispers” this takes on a whole new life. O’Brien is finding life on the station to be mysteriously strange. People he once thought of as friends and family are suddenly acting very suspiciously around him. As his paranoia grows and those he thought were allies appear to turn on him, he takes it upon himself to figure out what is going on. He soon finds himself being pursued by his crewmates and heading to an alien world, where upon reaching the source of his suspicions, he is mortally wounded. As he lays there, dying, he sees Chief O’Brien in the very room he was trying to enter. It turns out that the Miles O’Brien we had been watching the entire hour was a programmed replicant, likely one designed to assassinate someone in the upcoming peace talks. We, the audience, felt very much like the replicant O’Brien had felt, wondering what the heck was going on. I am not sure if anybody figured out this mystery until the big reveal at the very end.
6. The Imagined T’Pol – In the third season of Enterprise, we had a great episode called “Doctor’s Orders”. The entire crew has to be put into comas as the ship goes into a region that is deadly to humans. Phlox, being Denobulan, has to look after the ship during the four days it will take the ship to pass through the radiation cloud. During this time, he has several conversations with T’Pol, who, being the only other non-human crew member, seems to be the only one awake. During this time, Phlox begins to have hallucinations about the crew and the Xindi. At the end of the episode, Phlox escorts T’Pol to her room, only discover that T’Pol has been in a coma with the rest of the crew the whole time. Phlox had been talking to a figment of his imagination the whole time. It was very “The Sixth Sense” like.
7. Species 8472 – When Species 8472 broke onto the scene, it looked as if the Borg had met their match. Within minutes of the episode “Scorpion”, we see a fleet of cube vessels decimated by this unseen force. While this arrival of a new threat forced the Voyager crew to start working together with the Borg (and in the meantime introduce us to Seven of Nine), the real surprise came when we learn that their arrival was caused by the Borg attempting to invade their fluidic space to assimilate a highly evolved species. Instead of assimilating Species 8472, they let a force loose on the quadrant that is determined to purge the galaxy of imperfection.
8. Enter Locutus of Borg – For this, I am referring to the scene in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” when the rescue team sent to recover Captain Picard encounter him on the Borg vessel. They find him as Locutus (although his name was not given at this point). It was an iconic scene complete with music that literally struck a chord of intensity that we had never before seen in Star Trek. The image of Picard, completely integrated and assimilated by the Borg, sent chills down my spine (and it still does, almost 30 years later). This, for many fans, was a defining moment in Star Trek, not only capping off a strong third season but establishing a season finale trend of cliffhangers that, sadly, has never been matched.
9. The Cardassians Join the Dominion – I earlier referenced the DS9 two episode arc beginning with In Purgatory’s Shadow. In the second episode of this story, “By Inferno’s Light”, we begin with a major twist right out of the gate. Before the opening credits begin, we learn that Dukat had been secretly negotiating with the Dominion to have the Cardassian Empire join them. We had just gotten used to the crew working with Dukat, and were even starting to like him, but when he flies his ship to join the emerging Dominion fleet, we were as shocked as Sisko and Kira were. This is the moment when the whole Federation vs the Dominion really takes turn, and the tone for the rest of the series is set. As far as the overall story that was Deep Space Nine, this was the major game-changer.
10. Captain Edison – In the latest film, Star Trek: Beyond, we are introduced to the deadly and ruthless Krall, an alien who is hell-bent on destroying the Federation. He destroys the Enterprise, captures most of the surviving crew members, and launches a devastating attack on Yorkton. While this may have seemed like a typical power-hungry bad guy intent on wreaking havoc as a bloody conqueror, we eventually discover that Krall is actually a former human Starfleet Captain named Balthazar Edison. He was a decorated war hero of the Romulan and Xindi wars who resented the peace made with his former enemies. When he discovered the energy transference technology on the planet Altamid, it mutated his body into the frightening creature that became Krall. It may not be often that a Starfleet Captain goes rogue, but when Edison does, he does so in spectacular fashion.
So, did I miss your favorite plot twist? Feel free to mention it in the comments.