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Dangling Threads

This article is designed to list some of the dangling threads we've had in the various Trek episodes. It's nowhere near being an exhaustive list, rather it's just the ones that most intrigued, puzzled or irritated me personally. I'm being deliberately choosy in some ways - it's not my intent to simply come up with a list of "what ever happened to..." type situations, because virtually every episode would fall into that category. I'm deliberately omitting any episode where the episode itself gives us a reasonable idea of what is going to happen in the future. For instance, in "The Apple" we don't know for a fact what happened to the natives after Vaal was destroyed, but the episode does tell us that they can expect Federation help in building a new society for themselves, so we can reasonably project that they had a satisfactory future. I'm thinking more of episodes where there was some hint that there were important things to come but no clear indication of exactly what would happen or how.

Even then, I've no doubt omitted many possible entries. If you want to submit one which meets the above criteria, I'd be more than happy to include it.

Tom Riker :

In "Second Chances", we find that some years ago Riker was duplicated in a transporter accident on Nervala IV. Nobody knew it had happened, so the duplicate was stranded on the planet for all that time. He was finally rescued by the "real" Riker, and the two went their separate ways. In the DS9 episode "Defiant" we discover that Thomas Riker left Starfleet and joined the Maquis. He steals the Defiant and goes into Cardassian space, but eventually agrees to surrender to the Cardassians as part of a deal brokered by Sisko. Kira faithfully promises Thomas that they won't just let him rot in prison.

I said in the introduction that I wasn't really trying to make a list of "whatever happened to..." episodes, because there would be so many of them. Rather, I'm thinking of episodes where they seemed to promise some sort of future resolution, or at least some degree of follow-up. Defiant was very nearly one of the former cases; with Thom Riker captured, it would have been perfectly reasonable to write him off as spending the rest of his life in a Cardassian prison. What puts it onto this list, though, is Kira. As he surrenders himself, she promises Thomas that they'll get him out of prison somehow. Kira, remember, is a woman who has launched covert raids on the Cardassian homeworld to get people out of prison before now. She seems perfectly serious about her promise. Yet she never so much as mentions rescuing Riker after the end of this episode.

With the Dominion war, there would be plenty of chances to do stuff with Riker. He could have been executed by the Dominion. He could have been freed when the allies began to capture Cardassian territory. As usual in these cases, we wouldn't need to have a whole episode devoted to this - even a single line could have resolved it.

Genesis :

In Star Trek II we are introduced to the Genesis device. It is a terraforming technology which has awesome potential; you program the device with a "recipe" and set it off on a planet. In a matter of days it completely dissolves and re-creates the surface of the planet according to the plan you programmed in. Want an ocean over here, a mountain range full of excitingly challenging climbs over there and a nice river here? No problem. Even more amazingly, when used at the end of the film the device actually creates a planet from scratch out of a nebula!

In Star Trek III we learn that David Marcus, one of the scientists who worked on the device, used unstable "protomatter" in its construction. This renders the planet unstable, and it rips itself apart again after a short time.

After this, we never hear of Genesis again. Now there are various arguments you can make about this. Firstly, it is clearly established in ST III that Genesis doesn't work. We might think that the TNG era would have overcome this difficulty in the next century, but this isn't necessarily the case - maybe Genesis can't work, ever. Maybe the whole basis of it is fundamentally flawed. That's a perfectly reasonable conclusion.

But, if Genesis is useless at making planets then it certainly isn't useless as a weapon. Spock makes clear that if Genesis is used on an already inhabited planet, it would "over-write" all life there in favour of the new design. So at the very least, it's a bomb capable of destroying all life on a planet right down to the last virus; and as an extra added bonus, it then makes the planet fall apart!

And it gets better. As the device counts down to detonation the Enterprise flees the scene. On being told that they are now four thousand kilometres away from the device, Kirk looks to David to see if they are far enough to make it, and David silently shakes his head. There's still a minute or two left to detonation at this point. So the Genesis device can, at the very least, destroy an unshielded ship from well over four thousand kilometres away. That implies that the explosion is truly massive - every nuclear weapon ever built detonated all at once wouldn't so much as muss your hair at that distance.

Now you could argue that the Genesis technology was lost - Khan kills most of the staff at the outpost, he steals the Genesis materials and then destroys them when he detonates the device, and David was killed in ST III after all - but this is absurd. Firstly, David wasn't the creator of the device, his mother was; early in the film David makes clear that she is going to be the one remembered for all this ("Don't have kittens mother, Genesis is going to work. They'll remember you in one breath with Newton, Einstein, Surak...") Carol survives ST II and III fine.

More than this, it is make clear that most of the staff are not even on Regula when Kahn attacks it - as David says, "We're all alone here! They waited until everyone was on leave to do this!" So not only is the original creator of the device alive and well, the bulk of the Regula personnel are fine also.

You would also have to assume that the materials Kahn destroyed are the only copies of their kind anywhere in the Federation. That's pretty hard to believe - keeping copies of your data at physically remote sites is standard practice for any scientific research, precisely so that you don't lose it all if your lab burns down or whatever.

So the Genesis data probably continues to exist; the scientist who invented it still lives; the majority of the people who worked on it are alive and well. Why haven't we ever seen this thing used again?

The Warp 5 limitation :

In one of TNG's most annoying episodes, the Enterprise-D encounters a pair of scientists who claim that warp drive is inherently damaging to the fabric of space. Use of warp drive over a long period is destroying the galaxy. To combat this, Starfleet orders all ships to be limited to warp 5 from now on unless otherwise specified.

They actually did follow up on this somewhat; once or twice afterwards, there was mention that the Enterprise-D was authorised to exceed the warp 5 limit for specific missions. But after that, the whole thing was quietly forgotten.

In my humble opinion, the limit was a really, really bad idea. It served no purpose! The only point of introducing something like this is that it gives the characters a limitation to work within - it makes solving the problem of the week that much more difficult, and so increases the tension. All of which is rendered completely moot if you then let the ship violate the limit whenever it's important, and then forget about it altogether!

Imagine if other shows did this. CSI has their characters endlessly preach about how important it is to follow the evidence in order to make a case against the bad guy. Imagine if they started having Grissom get letters saying "because of the importance of this case, normal rules of due process are suspended; make the evidence up as you go along". It would be ridiculous! You don't set up a rule only to then ignore that rule - if the rule is inconvenient enough that you want to ignore it, then you don't establish it in the first place!

When Voyager premiered, the ship was the first ever which features variable geometry nacelles - the nacelles were on pivots and could angle up and down. It was widely rumoured that this was a new development in warp drive which allowed ships to achieve high speeds without damaging space. It was rumoured that the Enterprise-E developed for First Contact would have the same feature. But the idea was dropped for the Enterprise-E (if indeed it was ever really considered in the first place), and nobody has ever once said anything about Voyager's engines not damaging space on screen. In fact, nobody has ever said one word on screen regarding the variable geometry nacelles, period.

Alpha / Gamma :

In the DS9 episode "One Little Ship", the Defiant is captured by Jem'Hadar forces. We learn for the first time that there is a new type of Jem'Hadar, the "Alphas". Alphas are bred specially for combat in the Alpha Quadrant, and are said to be superior to the older type of Jem'Hadar. How they are superior is never really made clear; certainly the ones we see in the episode are not especially intelligent.

The episode seems to be setting up some sort of ongoing story in which the Alpha and Gamma Jem'Hadar are at odds with one another. How far this was going to go I don't know, but there certainly seemed to be something in the offing. Sadly, there is never again any mention of the new breed of Jem'Hadar.

As usual, you wouldn't have needed a whole new episode to go into this. A single line of dialogue about how the Alphas proved incompetent in "One Little Ship" and have been eliminated, or a single line about how most Jem'Hadar are Alphas now, would have done it.

The "Conspiracy" Parasites :

In "Coming of Age", Admiral Quinn subjects the Enterprise-D to an intense investigation at the hands of Commander Dexter Remmick. He reveals that the reason for this ordeal was that Picard is being vetted to assume the position of Commandant of Starfleet Academy. When Picard demurs, Quinn reveals that he wants a man he can trust in the job because he feels that something sinister is going on within the Federation.

This is picked up in "Conspiracy"; some fellow Starship captains warn Picard that there is some sort of plot afoot within the Federation. He uncovers an infiltration effort which has been mounted by small parasitical aliens; these crawl into your mouth and take over your body. Picard and Riker kill Remmick, who is hosting a "mother creature"; this kills the rest, ending the invasion and freeing all the hosts. However, before his death Remmick sends a signal out into the galaxy. The episode concludes with Data informing us that the signal is a homing beacon - the aliens have transmitted the location of Earth back to home base...

The implication of all this was that we would one day see these aliens return, but over the next six years we never saw or heard of them again. In truth, another invasion like the one seen here wouldn't have been much of a threat once Starfleet was looking out for it. The aliens left a clear and easy to spot mark when they infiltrated somebody - a small tail-like organ which stuck out the back of your neck. Those taken over also had problems remembering the things which had happened to their hosts, so it would be fairly straightforward to uncover any future attempts. But so far as we're told, the aliens never even try again.

It might have been interesting to bring the same aliens back but have them use a different strategy. For instance, there could be areas of the galaxy where their invasions did go as planned - how would Starfleet deal with an attack when every enemy ship had a crew who were innocents under alien control? It would be like fighting an enemy that used large numbers of "human shields".

And were these parasites just smart animals, stealing the technology of others, or did they command technology of their own? It might have been interesting to see ships and weapons built directly by the parasites - would they build vast numbers of really small ships? Or would they build ships the size of the Enterprise-D, kind of like having Humans build ships ten miles long?

In the event, the writers decided to go in different directions and gave us the likes of the Romulans, Borg and Cardassians as recurring bad guys instead. Not a bad thing, really, but I kinda liked those little critters and I wouldn't have minded seeing them once or twice more...

The Schisms Aliens :

Geordi builds a new subspace sensor system for a mission. Apparent ally coincidentally, Riker begins to suffer from tiredness and irritability. Troi begins to suspect that something is going on when several of the other crew report similar symptoms. Using the holodeck, they explore half-remembered fragments of their nightmares and manage to recreate an eerie torture chamber setting which feels familiar. An investigation by Beverley reveals that all of them have been subjected to medical experiments. When a subspace effect begins to appear in the cargo bay, Geordi speculates that something from deep within subspace has been attracted by his sensor system. Riker is treated to prevent himself from falling asleep and fitted with a homing beacon; when he is taken that night the Enterprise uses the beacon to locate the alien's realm and so close off the breach between our universe and theirs. However, at the last moment a burst of energy escapes the breach - and flies off into space...

I really liked Schisms, and the alien concept was an interesting one. Not only were these aliens slightly less Humanoid than usual, but their "rapid clicking" method of communication gave them a creepy feel. Their purpose was also left a mystery - were they only trying to understand us, or was there some more sinister motivation? Most importantly, though, there seemed to be little defence against them. The episode put my in mind of Wyndam's novel "The Kraken Wakes" - there aliens who live underwater gradually take control of the world's oceans. The book emphasises just how helpless Humans become even a few feet under the water when faced with a species evolved to live there; similarly, the aliens themselves rarely fare well when they venture onto the land. The subspace aliens could have been developed something like this - we could say that once they knew where to look, they could lock on to any subspace technology and attack from "beneath". As they learned more about us and our universe we might see anything emerging from those breaches... the plot possibilities are endless.

Again, though, these guys turned out to be another one-off. The energy ball / probe / whatever they sent through is never seen or mentioned again, there's no mention of any further attacks and indeed nothing said about establishing any kind of ongoing defence or detection system. Pity...

The Co-axial Warp Core :

In this episode, an alien named Steth appears near Voyager in a ship powered with a "co-axial warp core". This drive system, which Starfleet knows of but never got to work, allows a vessel to jump instantly across large distances. Tom Paris helps Steth to repair his malfunctioning ship, but Steth turns out to have ulterior motives; he is able to switch appearances with others, and has used this ability to leave a trail of swindled people in his wake as he flees across the galaxy. Steth imitates Paris and takes his place on Voyager, having dispatched Paris off in his ship. He builds a new co-axial warp drive for one of Voyager's shuttles. Unfortunately for him, Paris meets up with one of Steth's other victims and they make their way back to Voyager. Steth swaps with Janeway and tries to escape in the co-axial equipped shuttle. Paris is able to disable it, captures Steth, and everybody gets their own face back in the end.

What's remarkable about all this is that the co-axial-equipped shuttle remains with Voyager at the end of the episode. True Paris disables it, but the system he targets is the one he built for Steth in the first place, so there should be no trouble repairing it. Amazingly, though, the co-axial warp drive is never seen, never used, never once so much as mentioned again.

The Voyager crew built the Delta Flyer nine episodes after via-a-vis. In writing terms, the flyer's role is to allow select crewmembers to be separated from the rest of the cast; it's known that the writers considered introducing the Captain's yacht (the large shuttle you can see an outline of on the bottom of the saucer section) to fill the flyer's role. I can't help but wonder if the co-axial shuttle wasn't originally brought in to fill the same function? I can understand that they decided not to go with it - the shuttle is still too small to realistically go off on multi-day missions (where's the loo? Where would people sleep?), or carry more than a couple of people. And on a personal level it was very satisfying to see Voyager's crew building a new ship for themselves; this is something I had long speculated that Starships could and did do, and it gave me a lovely warm feeling to be proven right!

However, it was a mistake to simply stop talking about this drive technology. If they didn't want to let the crew use it, they should have dragged it out one more time and have them find out that it's really unreliable or something. At the very least, have the original shuttle get blown up and say you can't build another without Steth. But don't just leave it dangling!

The Emergent Life Form :

In this episode the Enterprise-D begins to suffer from a bizarre series of malfunctions. The holodecks are malfunctioning (again!), the ship's control systems seem to be doing thing without orders... it soon becomes apparent that the ship itself is responsible. The Enterprise-D's main computer has achieved sentience, and is embarked upon a mission of its own. It is building some kind of strange contraption in one of the cargo bays, something that almost qualifies as a form of life. The crew speculate that the ship is trying to reproduce, and find a way to help it to do so successfully. The emergent life form departs the ship and heads out into space.

I don't tend to mind this dangling thread all that much, partly because it came so near to the end of the series that there was no time to follow up on it - there was only one more episode to go before we reached the final - but also because there doesn't really seem to be anywhere to take the idea. I could see the writers treating the emergent life form rather like the space whale from "Galaxy's Child", a non-sentient animal to be studies. I could maybe see them going the route of the Farpoint shapeshifter aliens, an alien life form which was intelligent but which didn't have much in common with Humans or any real desire to talk to us. But if we've seen those before, why do them again?

Wesley - God or What?

In "Where No One Has Gone Before", the Traveller told Picard that Wesley Crusher was a great genius, like Mozart but an engineer rather than a musician. They touched on this once or twice again, but it came to flower in "Journey's End"; Wesley is visiting the Enterprise-D whilst the ship prepares to transport a group of Indians from their colony against their will as part of a peace treaty with the Cardassians (presumably this was part of the set-up for the Maquis of Deep Space Nine and Voyager). Wesley, who is feeling somewhat lost and alienated, makes friends with one of the locals. He sympathises with them, to the extent that he resigns from Starfleet to side against Picard and the Enterprise-D crew.

At the climax of the episode Wesley finds that he has developed super-powers, and can freeze time. The native reveals himself to be the Traveller, who has arrived to guide Wesley through this transition. The two leave together at the end of the episode.

All well and good. However, in Star Trek : Nemesis, Wesley Crusher is clearly if briefly visible at Riker and Troi's wedding reception on Earth. Not only that, but he's dressed in a Starfleet uniform! What's going on? Has he decided not to play god any more and rejoined? Or is he just back and playing pretend Starfleet officer, like Q likes to do? It's never explained.

Bajor :

The whole point of Deep Space Nine, at least at first, was to show Bajor being rebuilt after the Cardassian occupation. Over and over again we're told the idea is that Bajor will eventually join the Federation. And in "Rapture", Bajoran membership of the Federation is actually granted - only to have Sisko tell the Bajorans that they mustn't join after all, Bajor must stand alone for now. Their application is withdrawn, and it later appears that Sisko was warning them against the upcoming Dominion war.

However... the war ends at the end of Deep Space Nine. Why doesn't Bajor join up then? Okay they were on a tight timeline since the show finished very shortly after the war did - though personally I'd far rather have seen the fate of Bajor wrapped up than having twenty minutes of faffing about in the Fire Caves. But once again nobody even so much as mentions the possibility!

I find it quite incredible that they left this dangling. It would be like finishing off Voyager without having the ship reach Earth. Okay, okay, so Voyager actually didn't quite reach Earth in the final episode, but hell, they were five minutes away and that's good enough to give closure. I'd have no problem if they'd done the same thing with Deep Space Nine - have Admiral Ross at the "End of the War party" so he can say to Kira "by the way, did you hear? The Bajoran government formally renewed their application for Federation membership this morning. The Council debated it for less than thirty minutes. How does next week on the Promenade sound for the admission ceremony?" That way you may not have shown them becoming members, but at least we'd know it was going to happen.

The Vaadwaur :

In "Dragon's Teeth", Voyager discovers a planet which was devastated by an orbital bombardment nearly a thousand years before. In underground chamber they find and revive a large group of aliens called the Vaadwaur. The Vaadwaur turn out to be bad guys - aggressive, territorial invaders who were beaten back by an alliance of their victims and virtually exterminated. The Vaadwaur attempt to steal Voyager, but fail. At the end of the episode a number of them escape in their old ships, heading for parts unknown.

As I say above, it's not my intention here to list every single situation which was never fully resolved. This one is kind of a grey area. The ending doesn't really leave us with the impression that the Vaadwaur are going to be a problem for Voyager specifically... indeed, the dialogue implies that with their antiquated technology they aren't really going to be much of a problem for anybody. It's perfectly possible to project an ending where they end up rather like the Cataati; a pathetic band of wandering nomads dependant on the charity of others for survival. Not much of a dangling thread there.

And yet... the problems of the Cataati were at least as much mental as material. They were not pathetic because they had poor technology and resources - hell, their technology was still far beyond anything we have on Earth today! No, the Cataati were pathetic victims largely because they believed they were. They saw themselves as weak, as put upon, as unfairly disadvantaged. The Vaadwaur, however, came across as being almost absurdly self assured and confident. I can't see them being happy to spend the rest of their lives sitting around watching their ships fall apart while they beg for charity. Instead, I suspect the Vaadwaur would head for the nearest primitive planet, take it over, and put the locals to work building more ships for them. Once they had that base you could expect them to start conquering everything they could lay their hands on in short order. In that respect, they'd end up rather like the Son'a from Star Trek : Insurrection.

We do actually see the Vaadwaur again after "Dragon's Teeth"; there's a Vaadwaur ship in the subspace region that Voyager and others were trapped in during "The Void". I don't really count this as meaningful, because nothing was made of the Vaadwaur being Vaadwaur - it was as if the writers wanted to use a Delta Quadrant species and simply pulled a Vaadwaur head off the shelf.

I must say though, philosophically speaking that void seemed to be right up the Vaadwaur's street. I bet they loved it there.

Assignment : Earth and Gary Seven :

Whilst visiting Earth's mid twentieth century on a historical research mission, the Enterprise intercepts a very long range transporter beam and brings aboard Gary Seven, a Human who has been raised by aliens. He is an undercover agent whose job is to guide Earth through this difficult period. Although suspicious, Kirk eventually decides to trust Gary and the two work together to resolve a crisis involving a nuclear weapon. Kirk leaves Gary on Earth, promising that according to their historical records he has an interesting future ahead.

This is another borderline case. On the one hand, the episode promises that Gary will be involved in various shenanigans on Earth. However, there is no real hint that any of that will involve the Enterprise directly, so we can't really complain that it never came up again. For those who don't know, the idea of this episode was to provide the basis for a spin-off series charting Gary's missions on Earth. The series never materialised.

The Iotians :

Enterprise visits Sigma Iotia II, a planet whose people had been visited by a Starship in the distant past, before the Prime Directive was in force. Thanks to a book "Chicago Mobs of the 30s" which had been left behind, the highly imitative Iotians have patterned their whole society after this time and place. Kirk engages in various adventures, convincing the various mob bosses to get together and form a planetary government. At the end of the Episode McCoy realises that he has left his communicator behind, giving the Iotians access to Federation technology. Kirk wonders how this new contamination will affect the Iotians.

I'm including this one largely because when Deep Space Nine decided to do an episode involving TOS, the Iotians were the original idea which was considered. The plan was to have the Defiant visit the planet only to find that the whole place had remoulded itself as a copy of Kirk and the original series Starfleet - uniforms, technology and all. Eventually DS9 decided to go with time travel and made "Trials and Tribble-ations", one of my favourite episodes, but I always wondered just what become of the Iotians.

The Klingon Homeworld :

This is more an inconsistency than a dangling plot thread, but I thought it fitted well here. In ST VI, we are told that the explosion of Praxis has damaged the ozone layer of the Klingon homeworld, and that their supplies of oxygen are therefore going to run out over the next fifty years. Quite how one of those follows on from the other I don't know, but that is what is said in the episode. Later on, in the Federation President's speech at Khittomer, he says that the evacuation of the Klingon homeworld has been planned to take place over the fifty year period.

So, what about the Klingon homeworld we see so often in the TNG era? Is this the same planet? The Klingon homeworld in ST IV is called Qo'noS (Kronos) at least a couple of times, just like the TNG one. Did the Klingons evacuate to a new planet and name it after the old one? In which case, shouldn't they really have called it New Qo'noS or Qo'noS Nova or something?

Or alternatively, did some technological advance between ST VI and TNG allow the ozone/oxygen problem to be overcome?

It's interesting to see how Enterprise is treating Qo'noS. We've seen the Klingon ruling Council's building a few times, and it's a completely different structure than the one we see in TNG. This is one of the few times that Enterprise actually could have re-used an element from later Treks reasonably, because not only is it perfectly possible to believe that the Great Hall seen in TNG is 225+ years old, it would be right in line with the Klingon obsession with tradition and ritual. Interestingly enough, the climate aroud the city seen in Enterprise is distinctly colder - snow is often to be seen in these shots, something never observed in the TNG version. Of course on a real planet you expect to find a wide range of climates, but in science fiction many planets tend to have mono-climates - so Risa is always nice and sunny, Vulcan is a desert, it always rains on Ferenginar. Given this, you have to wonder if the writers are hinting that the Enterprise Qo'noS is indeed a different planet than the TNG version, or perhaps they are just suggesting that the Praxis explosion altered the climate on Qo'noS.

I really wish they had made some mention of this in TNG or DS9. They needn't have made a big deal of it, but some mention of "the original Qo'noS", or some reference to "he's the scientist who saved Qo'noS from oxygen depletion a century ago" would have dealt with it nicely in a single line.


Yellow text = Canon source Green text = Backstage source Cyan text = Novel White text = DITL speculation


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 5,202 Last updated : 1 Jan 1970