Plot Synopsis: On his way to Starfleet Academy, Wesley Crusher must care for an injured Captain Picard after their shuttle crashes on a desert moon. Meanwhile the Enterprise needs to tow some garbage.
Plot A and B Analysis: The trailer gives us everything we need to know and provides a good intro to the episode: Wesley has been accepted to Starfleet Academy, and Picard is taking him on one final mission to settle a dispute between some miners. The Enterprise receives a hail from a world in distress: evidently a spacecraft entered orbit and is dosing the population with radiation. Picard asks Riker to investigate while he and Wes take a shuttle piloted by captain Dirgo, a native of the region. The teaser closes with one of the shuttle’s thrusters blowing out and the three careening toward a desert moon. Plot A is about Picard, Wes and the reckless Dirgo surviving in the desert, plot B is about Riker and the Enterprise dealing with the alien space barge. Plot A is the meat and potatoes, plot B is just filler–literally about the ship towing radioactive trash–that provides a reason for the Enterprise not to come to the rescue of the desert trio in plot A. Picard gets taken out of the action relatively early on, leaving an unaided Wes to rein in Dirgo and try to get the water that is tantalizingly out of reach. He fails at one and succeeds at another, saving Picard’s life in the process. Plot B gets resolved too, but the audience doesn’t really feel any of the tension that was intended to be invoked.
Favorite Scenes: One of my favorite scenes as a kid was watching Wes jump to Picard’s defense in the 13th minute when Dirgo pushes back against Picard’s directions for survival. There’s a principle of leadership taught here when Picard welcomes input from Dirgo and asks his opinion. This calms him down and he agrees with the course of action. I used this years ago when I was a supervisor in a bookstore, and I use variations of it now in my professional practice.
The heart of this episode is the relationship between Picard and Wesley, which has been evolving since the inception of the series. Wesley sums up his feelings in this episode: “All of the things that I’ve worked for…school, my science projects, getting in to the academy. I’ve done it all because I want you to be proud of me.” Picard reciprocates later: “You remember: I was always proud of you.” Most of their dialogue in the case is great stuff.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard acts as authoritative as we’d expect, doing well, but the twist that this episode needed was for him to be taken out of the equation so Wes can stand on his own two feet. Patrick’s emotional delivery of a couple of lines is memorable, however. Riker, Data, Geordi, Beverly and Worf are all active in plot B, but there’s no character development here for any of them. Troi has the fewest lines in the episode, getting even less. This is Wesley’s episode, and we get to see him in action one final time before Wil leaves the show. He doesn’t save the ship but he does have his toughest test yet: surviving a crash, crossing a desert, dealing with Dirgo and having to access life-saving water while his captain is unable to help. His confession of how much Picard means to him is a touching scene, and overdue. Nick Tate plays Dirgo, and does so convincingly. Dirgo isn’t really a despicable person, he’s just not a noble one–if you try to give him a fair shake you can understand his motivations, if not his recklessness.
Blu Ray Version: There are two deleted scenes included on the Blu Ray version. The first is an extension of the scene where Picard says he’d appreciate it if Dirgo didn’t bury him before he’s gone and Dirgo leaves. He mentions Jack Crusher, Wes’s dad. It’s not much, just a few lines. The second scene occurs later on the Bridge and just informs us that the Away Team had to shuttle down instead of transport to the planet.
The monitor Wes is looking at in the shuttle looks a lot better in the brief shots we have of it, and the image has been replaced with an actual shot of the moon itself. Nice. Things are clear enough now that if you look at the desert just after the 14th minute, you’ll see the tire tracks made by the trucks hauling the shuttle mock-up and crew out to the location. The shot of Wes firing his phaser right before the 41st minute was deliberately made darker–probably to disguise the fact that it’s clearly not Wil Wheaton in HD.
Nitpicks: One moment that still makes me smile is around 14:08 when we see the arrow pointing toward the mountains, and the trio not walking in that direction! I also think it was a bit too quick of a transition for them to traverse a huge distance of desert, where the mountains were just a tiny shape on the horizon at the outset. It’s not a huge gripe though. We also didn’t learn anything about that life form on the planet, if that’s what it even was. When Beverly is waking up Wes, why is she just squatting from a distance leaning in? If that was my son I’d have my arm around him trying to rouse him. Plot B was weak, and just seemed like the Enterprise crew were taking a whole lot of risk that they didn’t need.
Overall Impression: This is a really good episode, and a great send-off for Wesley Crusher. It provides with him a final test: a command situation where he is working without a safety net. It also gives Picard and Wes an opportunity to share some wonderful moments, over three years in the making. My feelings about Wil leaving the show are summed up by Picard when he says, “you will be missed.” This is one of my favorite episodes from season four, and I get that nostalgic/sentimental feeling every time I watch it. I really enjoy all of the scenes that take place in the desert and in the caves, particularly between Picard and Wes, and I think this is a great way for him to go. But I still selfishly wish he hadn’t left. The idea of having a kid or a teen on a ship hasn’t really been done much since DS9. It added another dimension of realism and humanity that I would like to see in other sci-fi shows. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Let me get the standard stuff out of the way first. Want to know where the desert scenes were shot? Down on the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in San Bernardino county, east of LA. Wesley’s mention of the shuttlecraft trip to Starbase 515 is, of course, a reference to Samaritan Snare. Remember the name of Boothby, as we’ll be meeting him next season in The First Duty–he even shows up in two Voyager episodes. The shuttlecraft Nenebeck was a reference to Larry Nemecek, the guy who wrote the Star Trek Companion, among other things.
Most of the first 9 episodes of season four have been about family, and this is the last one–where we lose one of the Enterprise family. Thank goodness the producers learned from the terrible sendoff Tasha Yar received, which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Wil does come back and guest-star in four episodes in the following three seasons. Corey Allen (who directed Farpoint) also directed this episode–I think it’s a nice bookend for Wil, who really liked him. For those interested in a direct account about how leaving affected his relationship with the cast over the years, here’s a brief clip of his feelings in front of the entire cast, it really is worth the watch. In retrospect I can’t blame him for leaving. The producers (especially Rick Berman) treated him like crap, and the writers were half-afraid to use him in seasons 2-4. It was only season one where he was a prominent cast member, and back then the fans hated him for saving the ship. There’s a whole story about what got Wil started talking to the cast again and got him close to them again, and that was doing a two-day wedding shoot on Nemesis, which only came about because of LeVar Burton. To watch the clip where he tells the story, either find a clip of the 2012 Phoenix Comicon or click here.
Wil has been pretty open about admiring Patrick Stewart about as much as Wesley did Picard: “I always looked forward to episodes where I would work a lot with Patrick. I knew that I was gonna learn a lot as an actor. I knew I would grow and develop as an actor when I had a lot of scenes with him. I knew when I had a lot of scenes with Brent [Spiner] that I was going to laugh myself sick, you know. I knew that when I had a lot of scenes with Jonathan, I was gonna laugh…I always knew when I was gonna work with Patrick that we were going to–it was going to be like going to school… Patrick never treated me like I was a kid. We had directors that did… None of the cast members ever did, and Patrick especially. I’ve always compared acting in a scene with Patrick to playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky. I know that I’m working with one of the best ever… I wanted to impress Patrick the way Wesley wanted to impress Picard.”
Patrick also discussed his memories of working with Wil: “I had such respect for Wil as an actor, from day one, right on the series–and a little bit like Picard, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having a child in the series. But he was so thoughtful and talented and so eager to try to learn to become a better actor. I never felt that I was working with a child actor. I was just working with another actor. I’ve worked with many actors much older, who didn’t have either his dedication or professionalism. I missed him when he left.”
Missable/Unmissable? Unmissable without a doubt. End of an era. The next episode, however, is one big donkey punch.