A treaty with the Cardassians puts several Federation colonies into Cardassian space, including one populated by Native Americans who refuse to move. Wesley Crusher comes aboard the Enterprise, growing disenchanted with Starfleet. Disapproving of the recent Federation policy, Wesley stirs up trouble for the Enterprise with the local population. When he is rebuked by Picard, he resigns from the Academy and Starfleet. In the end, he Wesley discovers that one colonist who has been spiritually advising him and leading him in rituals that give him hallucinations of his dead father is actually the Traveler, the alien who has advised Wesley in the past. He invites Wesley to travel with him into other planes of existence, and Wesley accepts.
Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Corey Allen.
Our journey along the unsatisfying back half of Next Generation’s final season continues, as we hit the one where it ties up Wesley’s “story arc,” such as it is. The episode uses Native American spirituality as a mechanism to allow Wesley to explore his dissatisfaction with his life choices, a creative decision which I think on the whole is a bit of a failure. Or maybe the failure is just Wesley’s dissatisfaction at all, a bit of character development that we have never seen a single indication of up until this point.
I guess I understand the idea. Where No One Had Gone Before had established the idea that Wesley was not just a normal boy genius, but rather some sort of mutant engineering prodigy who had the capacity to see beyond the normal workings of time and space. Remember Me, from a few years later, suddenly remembered this idea and tried to reinforce it. So now, somebody has had the idea that this would be a good way of saying farewell to Wesley’s character.
The problem is that in between those other stories, we had dozens of episodes in which Wesley was shown to primarily be a boy genius who saw a life in Starfleet as the ideal. That was definitely the primary way Wesley was portrayed to the audience. So this episode, where he is all frustrated and discontent, comes across not so much unbelievable, but as inconsistent. It’s actually not a bad direction to take Wesley in, it just feels forced because it mostly happened off screen, and what we did see was built around his encounter with what feels like a Native American mystic, which is a bit of awkward fit for Star Trek, to say the least.
On the slightly more positive side, the “action plot” of the episode is kind of interesting. The use of generic Native Americans culture is forced, but the tension of the situation and the way Picard feels boxed in is pretty genuine. Wesley “freezes time” at a moment that is pretty gripping, and it’s a bit of an unexpected surprise to see that the various parties are in the end able to come up with a peaceful solution to things.
• Eric Menyuk makes his third and final appearance as the Traveler.
• Doug Wert makes his third and final appearance as Jack Crusher.
• Natalija Nogulich makes her third Next Generation appearance as Admiral Nechayev, although it’s not her last.
• This is Richard Poe’s first appearance in Next Generation (and second appearance in Star Trek overall) as Gul Evek, a role he’d ultimately play six times in three TV series.
• Ned Romero played Anthwara. He’d previously appeared on the original Star Trek series in the episode, A Private Little War. He later appeared in Voyager as Chakotay’s great grandfather.
Shout Out to the Past:
The Traveler reappears, with reference to the secret he told Picard way back in Season 1’s Where No One Has Gone Before. Admiral Brand from The First Duty is referenced. And of course, Wesley reappears.
Setting Up the Future:
• The political situation established in this episode, with the Cardassian demilitarized zone, will continue to trouble the Federation for years to come. It will come up in a later episode of Next Generation, it will give rise to the Maquis in numerous episodes of Deep Space Nine, and it will be important at the very beginning of Star Trek Voyager, although not really after that.
• Also, it’s assumed (though never stated) that the colony which appears in the episode is the homeworld of Voyager‘s Chakotay. That is, I guess, unless there are more than one colony in the demilitarized zone which was made up of Native Americans.
• It’s nice that if Wesley is going to show up, that the episode includes a bit of interaction with his mother. They have some cute dialogue at the start. “There comes a time in a young man’s life when he doesn’t want to stay with his poor senile mother. I understand.”
• And Data attempts to make a joke. “I was of course not serious about calling Security. It was a joke.”
• Classic closing teaser image #47: Wesley sits down on his bed with a pensive look on her face.
• Picard tries to establish a new relationship with Admiral Nechayev, but of course it does not come easily. Actually, though, as the episode goes on, we get a somewhat more sympathetic view of the admiral.
• This episode introduces the Cardassian demilitarized zone, which goes on to cause all sorts of problems in Deep Space Nine, including giving rise to the Maquis in Deep Space Nine in just a few weeks.
• There’s a lot of talk in this episode about “North American Indians” – clearly not the terminology that we currently imagine will be in common usage in the future.
• I like the moment when Nechayev offers to allow someone else to command the Enterprise. It underscores how difficult a position Picard is in.
• “Maybe I am sick of following rules and regulations. Maybe I am sick of living up to everyone else’s expectations. Did you every think of that? Um, pretty baby-ish, Cadet Crusher. Not long after this, Wesley was presumably seduced into becoming a Dark Lord of the Sith.
• Does the mystical approach to Native Americans come across as a bit of a stereotype, or is it an honest attempt to portray some of the unique facets of the culture? “The spirits of the Klingon, the Vulcan and the Ferengi come to us just as the bear and the coyote and the parrot. There is no difference.” Um…
• Wesley life is lacking a sense of the divine: “I think a lot of things are important, I have a lot of respect for things. But I don’t really consider anything sacred.”
• I feel like the whole episode–both the Native American spirituality, and Wesley’s growing self-awareness, is so…pithy. “I guess I haven’t had a lot of respect for myself lately.” Though it’s not a bad performance from Wil Wheaton
• I actually sympathize with the idea that one might want to in some way make up for the wrong deeds of one’s ancestor, without actually taking the blame for what they did. But it sure seems like a strange thing in Star Trek.
• Things escalate nicely with the appearance of the Cardassians, leading to my favorite dialogue of the episode (see below).
• And Wesley goes a little crazy…and then he resigns, undercutting Picard’s attempt at a cool speech.
• “Why didn’t you ever say anything?” says Beverly to her son about his lifetime of dissatisfaction. And the viewers all say the say thing to the writers. Gates McFadden does a good job playing the caring but angry and confused mother. And Wesley is a moron.
• Beverly tells Wesley about what the Traveler told Picard about Wesley: that he’s an engineering prodigy. But the Traveler told Picard to never tell Beverly. So how did she find out? Answer: he must have thought about it inadvertently during Attached. Boom! Alternately, maybe Picard told her after the very odd events in Remember Me.
• Wesley runs into a freeze frame. His first step to…”another plane of existence.” Ugh. This is a show that has routinely traveled through time, to other dimensions, to alternate timelines…but of course, no attempt whatsoever is made to explain “another plane of existence.”
• Picard gives a typical but cool speech to Evek to try to stop the onset of war: “Don’t send our two peoples back does that same path again. Not like this. Now the future lies in your hands right now. Give us one last chance for peace.” To which Evek responds, in typical but cool fashion, “I lost two of three sons in the war, Captain. I don’t want to lose the last one.”
• They’ll all agree to give up Federation citizenship? Every colonist? I guess they’ll be fine, until the Cardassians become puppets of the evil Dominion in a few years and start just killing whoever they want whenever they want.
• Attempt at cuteness at the end from Beverly: “Now you be sure and dress warmly on those other planes of existence.”
Dialogue High Point
In talking to Gul Evek, Picard makes it very clear that for the time being, the colony is still Federation territory, and the people who live there are under his protection. “Is that a threat?” asks Evek, Picard answers
It’s a fact. Bear that in mind while you conduct your survey.