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The Trek Nation - Final Mission

Final Mission

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 2, 2009 - 11:10 PM GMT

See Also: 'Final Mission' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Just after Picard tells Wesley Crusher that the ensign has been accepted to Starfleet Academy, the Enterprise receives a distress call from a planet being slowly poisoned by a garbage scow. While Riker takes the ship to tow the lethal barge away, Picard asks Wesley to come with him to mediate a dispute on a mining planet, to which the captain is escorted via an aging shuttle by a transport captain named Dirgo. Interference sends the shuttle spinning out of control, forcing it to crash in a desert on a nearby moon thought to be uninhabited. Picard insists that he, Wesley and Dirgo must try to reach the mountains to find shelter and water, though Dirgo is reluctant to follow his orders and tries to conceal alcohol from the Starfleet officers. The three reach a cave in the mountains where they find a fresh water spring, but a force field surrounds the fountain. Dirgo fires a phaser at the force field and triggers a defensive sentry that causes a rock slide, seriously wounding Picard. Under pressure from Dirgo, Wesley agrees to a risky plan to try to distract the sentry, but the plan backfires and Dirgo is killed. Meanwhile the Enterprise learns that the shuttle never reached its destination, but Riker cannot divert from the dangerous attempt to tow the radioactive barge into a nearby star. Wesley tries to keep Picard awake by talking to him about his ambitions and devises a risky plan to get to the water. He passes out after stopping Picard from becoming dehydrated. Once the Enterprise determines where the shuttle crashed, an away team rescues the captain and Wesley.


Analysis: "Final Mission" is meant to be a tribute to and sendoff for Wesley Crusher, but it comes across too after-school special-ish to be truly heartwarming, whether you're a fan who loves Wesley and thinks he deserves a proper farewell or you're someone for whom Wesley's departure could not have come soon enough. Ostensibly it has an A and B plot, but the B plot is really just manufactured technobabble to explain why the ship can't rescue Picard and Wesley; I searched three web sites to find out how to spell the name of Gamelan 5, the planet being threatened by the radioactive garbage scow (a plot that will be borrowed by Voyager to better effect) and couldn't find it anywhere, which I think is pretty representative of how little we're supposed to care about the people there. Nor are we given any reason to care if or when Picard arrives to mediate the mining dispute, because we learn nothing about it, nor anything about the people involved except the cynical, self-interested Dirgo. (For me, the biggest pleasure of this episode is getting to see Nick Tate - Space: 1999's heroic Alan Carter - as a cranky, barely-competent would-be-alcoholic.)

What's left is what should be a touching storyline about Wesley, Jean-Luc and how much they've learned from each other in their time together...except writers Kasey Arnold-Ince and Jeri Taylor don't seem to know what that might be, save for the extremely obvious. That Wesley wants Picard to be proud of him, and Picard has always been impressed by Beverly and Jack's son, should be the beginning of the conversation, not its big revelation: it's perfectly obvious in the very first scene, when Picard tells Wesley that Starfleet Academy is holding a spot for him. When Star Trek: The Next Generation fails, it's usually not in its sci-fi but in its good old storytelling, and this is a perfect example: whether the writers think that somehow the audience just doesn't get it or whether they're not willing to dig deeper, the result is clumsy and not nearly as moving as such a situation should be.

What's Dirgo doing there? In a first-rate story, he might be comic relief. He's perfectly positioned for it, the crusty "captain" who's unimpressed by Picard's big shiny ship and would rather get drunk on his moonshine than use it to keep them all alive. Or he might be written as a real threat to the Starfleet officers, flat-out refusing to go along with them and putting them in grave danger much sooner in the story. At the very least, he should in some way be a proper foil for Picard, making viewers notice all the reasons Wesley really looks up to his own captain and really scorns this newcomer. But Wesley acts like a little brat before he even meets Dirgo, mocking both his ship and the fact that Dirgo calls himself a captain; it's no fair making the poor guy and his shuttle live down to everyone's worst expectations. Picard makes only the most obvious recommendations - keep cool! find water! get out of the sun! leave a signal! - that any boy or girl scout could have provided, not to mention Wesley himself. It wouldn't have been all that amazing had Wesley been the one giving the instructions, but at least then we'd see how much he's grown beyond his eggheaded early days on the Enterprise, and Picard could have beamed proudly and made Dirgo follow the whelp.

Since Wesley has to have some use, and Dirgo has to be disposed of without murder, we get a lot more arbitrary, unexplained plot points. Obviously a very sophisticated culture must have colonized this supposedly uninhabited moon, leaving not only an obvious water supply but a high-tech sentry to defend it against intruders. Presumably there must be enemies all around...not only the sentry designers, but whoever those designers wanted to keep out of their fountain so badly that they'd trigger a cave-in, potentially cutting off the water from themselves as well as the intruders. Yet we never see anything but the fountain itself, and Picard gets knocked out too quickly for the kind of investigative work that makes the archaeology episodes really fun. We're given the vilification and execution of Dirgo, then Wesley's discovery that Dirgo was essentially right in his plan, he just didn't know enough to modulate his frequencies, the greedy bum.

None of the plot weaknesses would really matter if the emotional core of the story came together. But Wesley's big speech just isn't big enough. "If there is one thing I have learned from you it's that you don't quit. And I'm not going to quit now," he tells Picard - well, duh, he learned that from Picard the first time he got in trouble on the Enterprise! Picard's half of the conversation is a bit more rewarding, but only in hindsight; hearing him tell Wesley to seek out Boothby the gardener sounds a bit precious here, whereas once Boothby appears - in an episode in which Wesley demonstrates that he's capable of screwing up royally while trying to impress people - it's a lot more interesting to know that he was Picard's mentor. Of course we already know that Wes considers Picard a replacement for the father he never knew, and of course we already know that Picard considers Wesley the son he never had, but the real problem is that they both know it. There should be more conversation about the fact that they have trouble having this conversation, how Picard feels about having had to keep a certain distance, with fewer earnest proclamations of pride.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.