Plot Synopsis: When an experimental engine modification throws the Enterprise to the edge of the known universe, the crew must rely on a mysterious alien to guide the ship home.
Plot A and B Analysis: In the teaser we learn that a consulting engineer is beaming over to run some tests on the Enterprise engines to improve efficiency, but Riker has concerns, and calls the specs they sent over “gibberish.” We meet the engineer and he’s about as arrogant and self-important as they come, but his assistant is a total mystery to counselor Troi, who can’t even sense his presence. Plot A deals with the Traveler and the ship’s crazy sleigh ride through the universe, there is no plot B. The episode gets off to an interesting start, with Stanley Kamel playing Kosinski just going to town. It’s obvious he’s really getting into character as the overconfident and later in-over-his-head propulsion expert, and even though he’s a jerk you can’t help but smile watching him. He spars a bit with chief Argyle and Riker, and while he is we get to see some dialogue between the Traveler and Wes. These are actually good little scenes, where you can see the Traveler’s increasing interest in Wes’s gifts, and young Crusher doesn’t come off as annoying at all. The shot where it looks like the Enterprise is going to warp while it’s already in warp simply kicks ass. It’s beautiful, and you get a sense that something awesome is happening. Sure enough, it is, we’re out in the middle of the unknown and it looks so pretty! After they get settled Picard invites comment from his officers and this time the brief scene actually works: he listens to everyone, makes his decision and we feel like it’s the right one. Down in engineering Wesley tries and tries to get Riker’s attention but he ignores him. This time you actually want Wes to be heard so of course he isn’t. Hmm. This time this ship goes so much faster it is literally beyond what we would think possible, to a place where thought can become reality. This is done mostly pretty well, but it still has a little of the feel of the original series in it for some reason. They figure out the Traveler is responsible but of course he’s unconscious in a really dimly lit sick bay. We finally get some answers and it’s a good scene. The interplay between the Traveler and Picard is compelling and Wes is only slightly annoying. The talk regarding Wes that follows is what sets up his arc and the episode resolves itself in a satisfying fashion.
Favorite Scenes: When the Enterprise kicks it into super-high gear, which it does several times during the episode. So yeah, this time I like the special effects particularly. I also like the initial scene between Wes and the Traveler, it just seems interesting and does a great job of giving a glimpse of what’s really going on in the episode. Most of the scenes featuring Kosinski in the first 20 minutes are just fun, he’s such a blowhard. Let’s see, I also like Picard’s interaction with his mother, his acting here shows in a subtle way how shaken he was by the experience, and Riker does exactly what he should as first officer: offer to do whatever he can do assist his captain. I like quite a few scenes in this one.
Use of Cast/Characters: This episode features the second in a line of chief engineers, namely chief Argyle. Poor sucker doesn’t even get a first name. Eh that’s ok, he’s mostly forgettable anyway. Picard is seen as fully in command throughout this episode and it’s nice to see. He has trouble with how to relate to Wes, alternating between being gruff and gentle which is just fine with me. Wes of course gets some character development too, where we learn more of his potential as well as the field promotion to acting Ensign. Tasha Yar gets some screen time, hers is my second favorite of the fantasy sequences and gives us insight into the failed colony on which she was raised. Riker is given time but he still seems stiff and a little cocky/haughty. Troi gets to be helpful too. Geordi does nothing and Beverly Crusher does nothing but fail to help the Traveler; in fact she hasn’t really had anything significant since the first episode.
Blu Ray Version: The effects for the first destination they arrive at were touched up and look better than ever. Everything else is beautiful and clear, you can clearly see the strands of fabric in Wheaton’s sweater even.
Nitpicks: The dimly-lit sick bay might have seemed like a good idea dramatically, but it just makes little sense realistically–a doctor needs the lights on. And really? We have to see a dude wearing the mini-skirt uniform now? For those with a morbid sense of curiosity, here is what it looks like.
Overall Impression: This is a pretty tight, well-paced episode, and the first one that really works. You don’t get bored, and in fact get the impression you really are participating in a great adventure. Acting is pretty solid all around and this is the first episode since the pilot that feels like there is a competent, confident director at the helm. It’s not perfect, as it is still somewhat reminiscent of the original series, but it’s the strongest entry into the canon so far. I even like the soundtrack. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Rob Bowman, who directed this episode, had directed some episodes of the A-Team but was really a fledgling director. He went on to direct several TNG episodes, then moved on to direct and produce the X-files and Castle. Poor Jonathan Frakes had so much trouble getting out the line, “It wasn’t Kosinski, it never was. It was his assistant,” that they had to stop filming for a bit because the cast and crew were laughing their heads off. The story is still told at conventions by the cast. Speaking of Kosinski, take a close look at his rank insignia. It’s totally unique in TNG, no explanation has been given regarding it.
Oh, and if you’re trying to place Stanley Kamel, who played Kosinski, he would be best known for his recurring role on the TV show Monk. He died in 2008, at the age of 65. This episode was also nominated for an Emmy in Sound Mixing. This is the first in a long line of nominations that are good, but will never relate to acting, drama, or directing. Such is the burden of sci-fi. One funny anecdote comes from Wil Wheaton: according to what he’d heard, Biff Yeager (the actor playing Argyle) really wanted to be the new permanent Chief Engineer on the show. Evidently he–or someone acting on his behalf–urged the fans to start a letter-writing campaign to keep him on the show. It became obvious that something was funny when they started receiving letters before the show had even aired. Whoops! And other than one other episode, that’s all she wrote for Argyle. The ballerina in this episode, Victoria Dillard, will go on to star on Spin City with Michael J. Fox. Recognize her? Thanks to Blue Towel Productions for this catch.
A nice story comes from the visual effects supervisor for season one, Robert Legato, who would go on to win an Oscar for Titanic, Apollo 13, etc. The special effects description for my title image of this episode read: “A concept so bizarre it can’t be described because it can’t be understood.” They asked him how much that would cost and he responded, “I don’t know, I can’t understand even what the sentence was!” Here’s how he solved it: “I saw a pattern of like, aluminum foil with light hitting it, bouncing on the wall and it looked kind of nebulous to me, so I actually shot it in my basement…and it was all tinted blue. We sort of had an adage of, ‘If you can’t make it good, make it blue.’ And that usually worked pretty well.”
Missable/Unmissable? This episode is unmissable for three reasons. First it’s a strong, good first season episode which is probably what you are watching the first season for in the first place. Second, the nature of Wes’s character is spelled out and he is promoted to acting ensign, which helps explain some of the changes that occur later in this season and throughout the series. Third, this episode begins an arc with the Traveler which will make little sense later if you don’t see this one now. Unfortunately we will have to wait a while before another good episode presents itself; the next one is no picnic.