Star Trek: The Next Generation – Final Mission [4.9]
Before Wesley finally joins Starfleet academy, he accompanies Picard on a shuttlecraft mission that goes awry, leaving them stranded on a desert planet. Tensions flare between the officers and the shuttle’s pilot, Captain Dirgo. An attempt to gain access to a guarded water supply leaves Picard seriously injured and eventually, Dirgo dead. It falls to Wesley to save his Captain’s life until they can be rescued by the Enterprise.
Teleplay by Kacey Arnold-Ince and Jeri Taylor. Story by Kacey Arnold-Ince. Directed by Corey Allen.
So, we come to Final Mission – something I knew was in the cards for this season but I didn’t realize would be upon us so quickly. This episode is remembered for one thing, basically, and that’s that it writes out of the series Wesley Crusher, at least as a regular. After several false starts, Wesley finally joins the Academy. This is, typically, made out to be a fantastic opportunity, even though Wesley is already studying Academy-type classes and getting amazing experience in the field. But oh well, I guess going to the Academy is a really big deal.
Unfortunately, Final Mission is not remembered as a particularly enjoyable story. It’s got some decent character drama going for it, with some touching speeches between Picard and Wesley, but it really lacks in being lively or fun or just plain entertaining. Part of the problem is that the story seems a bit routine – Picard and Wesley are trapped and trying to stay alive, which is not a particularly original premise. Meanwhile, Riker and the crew are kept busy with bit of space-duty which really seems like should be easier to pull off (preventing a space garbage truck from pouring radiation all over a planet). Neither storyline allows the characters – and especially Wesley, for whom you’d think this would be very important – a chance to really shine. I mean, he gets to solve the problem in the end, but he doesn’t really get to drive the story forward, or really bring out any fresh aspects of his character. He talks about his hero worship of Picard, but that’s something that we all knew already.
Then there are lots of logical problems with the plot. Why are Picard and Wesley riding with this guy Dirgo and his disaster of a shuttle craft when there are lots of perfectly good shuttles on the Enterprise? Why on earth is there a fountain in a cave that is guarded by a force field and killer ball of light? Why doesn’t it occur to Riker to try flying around the asteroid belt – you know, over it or under it? Why doesn’t the Enterprise just pull the garbage ship away from the planet, and then go look for Picard, rather than spend all that time dragging it through the asteroids and into the sun? They could always have come back to deal with it permanently later. And does the Enterprise really have no defense against radiation? Why don’t their enemies ever use this weakness against them?
The radiation might be the funniest thing about the episode, really. There is all this tension about when the radiation they are exposed to will turn fatal. They get away only seconds before it becomes fatal, actually. But as others have pointed out, what about all the effects of all this non-fatal radiation poisoning that the crew should have been suffering? There should have been a lot of sick people on that ship.
None of this might have mattered that much if the episode had been engaging, but it just isn’t, really. Sadly, Wesley’s departure from the ship is a bit dull. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t leave a strong impression. Instead, I just feel like we’re all being polite while everyone tries to give him some meaty material to work with. It just goes to show the challenges the production team have had with the character all along. So, no disrespect to Wil Wheaton (who does not do a bad job here at all), but Wesley will not really be missed.
Shout Out to the Past:
There’s direct reference to Picard and Wesley’s other shuttle ride together in Samaritan Snare.
To treat the radiation sickness, they use hyronalin - a drug originally referred to in Miri from the Original Series.
Setting up the Future:
Picard tells Wesley about Boothby, whom we will meet in The First Duty, the one truly great Wesley episode.
• Mary Konhert will appear one more time as Ensign Tess Allenby.
• There’s a funny little moment when the bit of the ship breaks off in Picard’s hand.
• Good scene, well done, when the ship crashes
• The location filming in the desert looks good.
• Picard’s pointedly telling Captain Dirgo to lead the way after they arrive in the cave and the tensions begin to build is a good touch.
• Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden both do well in their parts. I particularly like seeing Dr. Crusher act not just like a doctor, but like the Chief Medical Officer on a Starship.
• Nice line from Picard: “Mr. Dirgo, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bury me before I’d gone.”
• Dirgo’s death is pretty horrific – brings us to a very low point for Wesley, who now truly stands alone
• Wesley did everything he’s done just so Picard would be proud of him? Really? If Picard was that much of a father figure to him, that should have been developed on the show more strongly.
• The Special Effect of the Sentry is pretty neat.
Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
If Picard wasn’t the Captain, the story would have to change a lot, but it would not have necessarily been worse. The full potential of the Wesley-Picard relationship has never been explored and there is just as much room for an emotional connection between Wesley and Riker – who really has been acting as Wesley’s surrogate father for the last 2+ years. It might have been nice to see that relationship developed. And it would have been good having Shelby dealing with the radioactive garbage scow. On the other hand, though difficult it would not have been impossible to justify Picard’s presence in the episode even if he wasn’t Captain. So that would have been another option that would have allowed us to keep the “want you to be proud of me” speech.
Dialogue High Point
One of Wesley’s best lines is at the end of the story, after the injured-but-rescued Picard, being carried out on a stretcher, chides him for being in such a dirty uniform. Wesley replies
You don’t look so ship-shape yourself, sir.