Aug 10 2012 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The First Duty”

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty“The First Duty”
Written by Ronald D. Moore & Naren Shankar
Directed by Paul Lynch
Season 5, Episode 19
Production episode 40275-219
Original air date: March 30, 1992
Stardate: 45703.9

Captain’s log: The Enterprise is heading back to Earth. Picard is giving the commencement address to this year’s graduating class, and Cadet Wesley Crusher’s flight team, Nova Squadron, will be performing a demo as part of the commencement ceremony.

While en route, and after Riker and Picard trade stories of their respective Academy superintendants, the current superintendant, Admiral Brand, contacts Picard with a grave message: there was an accident with Nova Squadron. When the five ships flew close formation during practice, something went wrong, and they all crashed into each other. Four of the cadets made it; Cadet Joshua Albert did not.

When the Enterprise arrives, Brand briefs the families of the five cadets, plus Picard. There will be an investigation and a memorial service for Albert, and commencement will go forward as planned (there was talk of cancelling it). Picard and Crusher then visit Wes in his quarters, where he’s recovering from his injuries. He doesn’t want to talk about the accident—it’s all he’s discussed for two days.

Then Wes’s flight team leader Cadet Nicholas Locarno enters. After exchanging pleasantries, Wes says that he and Locarno have things to discuss. They then talk about sticking together, and that everything will be all right—basically the exact conversation you’d expect from two guilty people trying to cover something up.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

Picard then goes to say hi to Boothby, the groundskeeper, who is a cantankerous old bastard. They reminisce, and Picard mentions an incident from his time at the Academy; no specifics, but Picard admits that he would never have graduated if not for Boothby.

Locarno and the survivors meet—along with Wes, there’s a Bajoran girl named Sito Jaxa, and a human girl named Jean Hajar—and then head to the inquiry. Locarno explains what happened. They were in a diamond-slot formation doing a Yeager Loop around Titan. Albert broke formation and crashed into Hajar’s ship. Everyone activated their emergency transporters except for Albert. The flight team also deviated from their filed flight plan by a few thousand kilometers, and Sito claims she was flying only on sensors, not visuals, which is unusual in that close a formation.

Then Locarno drops the bombshell: Albert was nervous, and he panicked and broke formation. Brand is disappointed that they did not mention Albert’s nervousness before. The inquiry is then recessed until the data from Wes’s flight recorder is recovered.

Sito, Hajar, and Wes meet with Locarno in private, and are furious with Locarno for saying that the accident was Albert’s fault. Wes says that they agreed that they weren’t going to lie. Locarno then engages in some lovely doublespeak that gets Hajar to agree that it might have been Albert’s fault. The preliminary report from Wes’s flight recorder is that they only have a third of the telemetry, all of it from before the crash. Locarno assures them that everything will be fine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

Albert’s father talks to Wes, and apologizes to him for his son letting the team down. Wes looks utterly miserable at this—as well he should.

Wes gives his deposition, and it all goes well until they show telemetry from a nearby sensor station that shows that the five ships were not in a diamond-slot formation as they all testified, but rather a circular one. Wes says he has no explanation for the disparity.

Crusher gives what she probably thinks is a pep talk to Wes, including offering to ask Brand to delay the inquiry while La Forge and Data go over the telemetry. Wes, though, urges her not to protect him and to stay out of this.

Picard goes to Boothby and asks about Nova Squadron. When the team won the Rigel Cup, the celebration was huge—the Academy practically worships the squadron as gods. That, though, is tough to live up to, but Locarno keeps them together. The team, he says, would follow Locarno anywhere—even over a cliff.

Back on the Enterprise, Picard and Crusher go to La Forge and Data for a report. They can’t figure out how they got into the new formation, nor why the crash happened. Picard asks if there was anything odd in Wes’s flight recorder info, but all they found were a few minor fluctuations that were a) within normal parameters and b) would be irrelevant to a crash. He also had a coolant valve open, which was odd, but not harmful. You’d only do that to refill the coolant, or as the first step to ejecting plasma before igniting it—

—at which point a light bulb goes off over Picard’s head. He immediately summons Wes to his ready room and confronts him with what he believes the truth to be. Five ships flying in a circular formation within ten meters of each other and igniting their plasma trails form a spectacular display called a Kolvoord Starburst. It was banned by the Academy a hundred years earlier because of a training accident where all five cadets died. Picard assumes that Locarno convinced Nova Squadron to attempt it for the commencement demo to show how awesome they are.

Wes chooses not to answer Picard’s direct question, at which point Picard seriously looks like he’s going to slap him. Wes insists that he told the truth at the hearing—up to a point. But a lie of omission is still a lie, and they neglected to tell the board of inquiry that their incredibly illegal maneuver was the direct cause of the crash.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

Picard guilts the crap out of Wes, then, reminding him of the day he first came on board, sat in his chair, and manipulated ship’s systems like he was born to it, and later when he made him an acting ensign, how he thought Wes would become a fine officer. He believed that until now. The captain makes it very simple: either Wes tells the board, or he will.

Wes panics and talks to Locarno. Locarno points out that Picard doesn’t actually have evidence, so it’s his word against theirs. Wes is appalled at the notion of calling Picard a liar, but Locarno says that Wes has no right to make the decision for him, for Sito, and for Hajar. If Wes feels he can’t lie to the board, then he should quit the Academy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

The board reconvenes. Brand doesn’t have sufficient evidence to know what actually happened, and she finds the inconsistencies troubling. Her judgment is that Nova Squadron’s flight privileges are revoked, and she issues a formal reprimand on all their records.

And then Wes steps up and admits the truth about the Kolvoord Starburst. To Wes’s surprise and relief, Locarno doesn’t deny any of it, simply saying he has nothing to add. In the end, Locarno takes full responsibility and expulsion in order to keep the team together. Wes himself thinks all four of them should’ve been expelled. Not that they get off easy: all of them have their previous year’s credits vacated, so the remaining three each have to repeat a year.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: If you ignite the plasma trail of a small flight ship in close formation, you can make an awesome bit of fireworks. Since you have to fly within ten meters of each other, it’s also incredibly dangerous.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

The boy!?: Wes is the voice of reason throughout, the first to go for telling the truth, and the one who agonizes most about lying. But ultimately he goes right along with the coverup, going so far as to plead the fifth to Picard, which is, to say the least, ballsy. (And Picard totally looks like that’s where he wants to kick him when he says it.)

In the driver’s seat: Wes’s experiences flying the ship from the second through fourth seasons no doubt led to his being considered for Nova Squadron, and helped them win the Rigel Cup.

I believe I said that: “What happened to your hair?”

Boothby’s greeting for Picard.

Welcome aboard: Obviously, Wil Wheaton comes back as Wes, alongside Robert Duncan MacNeill, warming up for the role of Tom Paris as Nicholas Locarno; Shannon Fill, making the first of two appearances as Sito Jaxa (she’ll be back in “Lower Decks”); and Walker Brandt as Hajar. Jacqueline Brookes provides gravitas as Admiral Brand, veteran character actor Ed Lauter acts all tough-guy weepy as the father of the dead cadet, and Richard Fancy makes no impression at all as the Vulcan who aids Brand in the inquiry.

But the best guest star here is the perfectly cast Ray Walston—best known as the titular My Favorite Martian—as Boothby. It would’ve been easy to drop the ball when finally casting this character so revered by Picard, but instead they absolutely hit it out of the park.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

Trivial matters: This is the first time Starfleet Academy is seen on screen in Star Trek.

This episode was the springboard for showing the Academy in more depth in the novel The Best and the Brightest by Susan Wright and the Marvel comic book Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, written by Chris Cooper. The characters of Admiral Brand and Boothby were supporting cast members in both the novel and comic book.

Speaking of Boothby, after being mentioned in both “Final Mission” and “The Game,” we finally see the groundskeeper in the flesh. Images of Boothby will be seen, again played by Ray Walston, in the Voyager episodes “In the Flesh” and “The Fight.” Boothby himself will continue to be referenced both on screen and in tie-in fiction quite a bit moving forward.

There are a lot of resemblances between Nicholas Locarno and Voyager’s Tom Paris—both played by Robert Duncan MacNeill, and both with remarkably similar backstories. It’s not entirely clear why the producers didn’t just use Locarno on Voyager. The official story is that Locarno was considered irredeemable after this episode, which isn’t particularly convincing. However, Writers Guild rules are such that the creator of a guest character gets a (very small) royalty every time a character is subsequently used. (As an example, when the Traveler came back in “Remember Me” and “Journey’s End,” Diane Duane and Michael Reaves got a little sum added to their next royalty check because they created him in “Where No One Has Gone Before.”) It has been rumored that the real reason for changing Locarno to Paris was so that they wouldn’t have the added bookkeeping of paying writers Moore and Shankar every time a Voyager episode aired. However, there is no verification of this.

Locarno returns in the novella “Revenant” by Marc D. Giller in the Seven Deadly Sins anthology, where he’s part of a civilian crew that encounters the Borg.

The events of this episode will be followed up on through the eyes of Sito Jaxa in “Lower Decks” and Wes in “Journey’s End.” Sito also is seen as a child on Bajor in the Terok Nor novel Dawn of the Eagles by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison.

The incident that Picard and Boothby discuss is never specified, though an incident described in the comic book Starfleet Academy #11 written by Chris Cooper, involving Picard and his friends Marta Batanides and Cortin Zweller (introduced in “Tapestry”), might well fit the bill.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

The hearing bell was the same one used on the original series in the episode “Court Martial.”

Michael Piller has stated on DVD commentaries that the Air Force has shown this episode to cadets.

The Yeager Loop performed by the cadets when they crashed was named after test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Make it so: “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth.” It’s easy to simply describe this as the one where Wes screws up, but it’s actually a fairly brave choice for an episode. So often, the TNG crew are painted as paragons of virtue and brilliance, with screwups reserved for visiting admirals or messed-up officers who get better by serving on the ship (I’m looking at you, Reg Barclay). So it’s a refreshing change to have a character royally mess up, and not because the plot calls for it or because the writers don’t understand that the character’s being an ass (I’m looking at you, Geordi La Forge), but because the character’s just a fallible human being.

Having it be Wes, the kid who saved the ship way too often in the early days of the show, makes it even better. The moment when he says, “We thought we could do it—we thought we could do anything,” is heartbreaking and utterly convincing because we spent three-and-a-bit seasons watching Wes pretty much do anything. It’s real easy to get arrogant and complacent and think you really can perform miracles at the drop of a hat.

And thank goodness for that back-knowledge of Wes, because that’s the only way the episode works. As it is, it’s really hard to get your arms around the storyline because we don’t know anything about Nova Squadron. Boothby tells Picard that they’re worshipped as gods, and he also tells Picard that Locarno’s a great leader. Sadly, telling is all we get—we’re not shown anything about Nova Squadron beyond their clandestine meetings where they’re arranging their coverup. They don’t come across as highly regarded students being taken down a peg, but rather a bunch of thoughtless teenagers pissing on their friend’s grave.

Worse, Locarno is played by Robert Duncan MacNeill, who doesn’t give us a great leader so much as a sleazy lawyer type. MacNeill is a charismatic actor, but it’s the wrong kind of charisma for this role, and that, combined with the utter lack of context for Nova Squadron’s exalted status in the Academy, really takes the wind out of the episode’s sails.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The First Duty

Still, it’s salvaged by genuine consequences to a character we do care about. (Actually, two, though we won’t truly come to care about Sito until she comes back in “Lower Decks.”) And it’s easily one of Wil Wheaton’s two or three best performances on TNG. The scene where Albert’s father comes and apologizes to him is beautifully played. In general, director Paul Lynch deserves a ton of credit for getting a great deal out of facial expressions: Picard’s fury when Wes pleads the fifth, Albert’s father’s sadness, Wes’s free-floating guilt, Locarno’s easy-does-it-everything-will-be-okay-don’t-worry-your-pretty-little-head affect, Crusher’s desperate attempt to be clinical and calm when Picard tells her about the accident, and so on.


Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido wonders what ever happened to Cadet Hajar.

Mike Kelm
1. Mike Kelm
Another good episode after a few duds in a row. Wil Wheaton had matured as an actor (and the writers didn't turn him into the most obnoxious boy in the galaxy) so this episode suceeded on a couple of levels. You get a real sense of a father/son relationship between Wes and Picard, where the real punishment for Wes isn't that he has to spend another year at the academy but rather that he let down his mentor/hero. You also get a sense of the pressure that Wes had to deal with at the academy. (Much like former enlisted military personnel going to service academy's and now dealing with cadet politics). I find myself wondering what it must have been like the first time a fourth year cadet tried to haze him, the kid who was ready to ram a starship into the side of a Borg cube.

I also find it interesting the attitudes of cadets we see here and again in Red Squadron (I think that's what they called themselves) in DS9. The sense of invincibility and seeing things only as what they are capable of doing, not what they should be doing. Wes is reminded of this by Picard and it adds a level to not only Crusher but Riker, Picard and all of the other senior officers- that they understand not only how to do things but when to do things.
Heidi Breton
2. AnemoneFlynn
I remember being on pins and needles, wondering what Wes's final choice would be in this one, and how they would pull it off. I was so relieved when he confessed. I remember Picard's shock that Wes would do something so dangerous and then cover it up, too. Overall, it was a pretty scary episode as far as character relationships go!
Mike Kelm
3. Christopher L. Bennett
A strong episode, to be sure, but why the heck do they even have a fighter squadron at Starfleet Academy? We've never seen one-person fighters used in ST before or since, and despite the conceits of certain franchises that transpose WWII tropes into outer space, fighters really don't make any sense in space combat. Their only purpose is to extend a warship's reach beyond the horizon, and there are no horizons in space. Anything a fighter could do, a remote-controlled missile or UAV (well, USV, since it's in space) could do as well, and without the need for the costly added mass of a pilot and life-support equipment.

All I can figure is that they use the fighters strictly for training purposes, to teach piloting. But it seems odd to teach piloting with a type of craft that nobody's ever actually going to pilot in the course of their duties.

I can't agree that Richard Fancy left no impression as the Vulcan captain on the inquiry board. To me, he left an intensely negative impression as possibly the most miscast Vulcan in ST history. He came off as more petulant and irritable than logical and unemotional, and he looked kind of silly in the Vulcan makeup and wig. But then, lots of one-time guest actors over the years have had trouble understanding how to play a Vulcan. It even took Nimoy a while to figure it out, so it's not surprising that one-time guests wouldn't get it right (though Mark Lenard caught on right away). Jolene Blalock also needed a year or two to sort out her characterization. Tim Russ got it right from the start, but mainly because he was doing a Spock impression. (Not a criticism; Tuvok was the only good Spock impression I ever saw before Zachary Quinto came along.)

By the way, Keith, your mention of Boothby's Voyager appearances is a bit misleading. The Species 8472 "Boothby" only appeared in "In the Flesh" (and made a return appearance in my Myriad Universes novel Places of Exile). The Boothby seen in "The Fight" was initially a holodeck character and subsequently a hallucination.
Jay Hash
Picard's chastising of Wes about the truth is by far one of the best pieces of writing in the series. And it was rather refreshing to have Picard be extremely disappointed in someone who he nurtured (in his own way). I don't think that even with the admission of guilt on the part of Wes that he ever returned to the Status Quo in Picard's eyes. Not to say that Picard is one to hold a grudge (except with the Borg, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax), but being part of a conspiracy to cover up a death that you caused is tantamount to burning all your bridges with him is how I see it. I mean not even Ro Laren got that and she was openly responsible for the death of a landing party AND essentially became a traitor in the second to last episode.

Boothby was a great addition to this episode, and I never realized that this was his only appearance outside of Voyager. I guess he was referenced so much in other episodes and featured in the novels, that I thought he got a whole lot more screen time. But I have to admit, he was quite the badass not to be trifled with. I kind of see him as a proto-Garak: Doling out veiled advice, seeming like chastisement, and someone who's bad side you NEVER want to be on. Man, I'd have loved for them to have a meet up. I don't recall if it happened in Una McCormick's "Hollow Men", but it should have.

The only thing that bothers me about this episode is that you find out that starfleet has these short range, one man ships, but you almost never see them in use anywhere else. Sure, Starfleet is not specifically a military organization, but I think that the fighter wings would be standard on certain ships instead of just an academy training vehicle. I recall that they were only used in two other occasions: at Wolf 359 (when Jupiter Station scrambles defenses, that the Borg make short work of), and during certain engagements in the Dominion War. They might have been featured more in the novels, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head.
rob mcCathy
5. roblewmac
Pretty good but lost some points for a "story you have to tell once there's a bording school" On the other hand it was cool to use Wesely.
After this though I kind of wanted to see some other universe where Wes did'nt go to Starfleet and just took over the universe.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie
I don't know why, but the thing that really stood out for me in this episode was the father who was so quick to think his son was kind of a failure to the point that he felt he had to apologize for him.
rob mcCathy
7. roblewmac
it was 1980s popculture if you were a male and it's not a comedy you're father is a dick.
Mike Kelm
9. John R. Ellis
I think by Season 5 we were already in the 90s.

Ray Walston was brilliant.

While yet another in a long, long, LONG line of TNG episodes where most of the scenes are people sitting in a room and talking, I find this one entertaining.
Mike Kelm
10. Cradok
@4 The Mars Defense ships seen in BoBW were unmanned, or at least that's what they were intended to be. The model didn't even have windows.

The 'fighters' we see the Maquis using and during the Dominion War (and by the Terran Rebels) are probably the closest to what we consider fighters, but it's actually bigger than a Danube-class runabout or the Delta Flyer, and has a flight deck, rather than a cockpit. Exactly why it - or any small attack ships we see - is used pre-Dominion is never really explained.

One thing that's always annoyed about this episode is exactly what did they think was going to happen if they pulled it off? It's still banned.
Keith DeCandido
11. krad
Quoth Cradok: "One thing that's always annoyed about this episode is exactly what did they think was going to happen if they pulled it off? It's still banned."

Oh, that didn't bother me at all. These are teenagers -- worse, these are arrogant teenagers who have done all sorts of awesome stuff. They're indestructible and nothing bad will ever ever happen to them. Between a former part-time job at a high school and my current experiences teaching kids at a karate dojo, believe me when I tell you that belief that the rules don't apply to meeeeeeeee 'cause I'm speshul! is pretty damn common....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Mike Kelm
12. Sean O'Hara
We've seen shuttles act as fighter/bombers on a number of occassions -- most obviously the runabouts at DS9, but I also recall a shuttlecraft providing air support during Kirk's failed attempt to capture Paradise City, and numerous examples from Voyager. Given the limited capacity of starships, it would make sense to have multi-purpose vessels. Dedicated fighters are probably assigned to star systems for patrol and defense so as to avoid having starships tied down.
Mike Kelm
14. StrongDreams
I think the idea is that they would practice in secret, then show off at graduation, and the cries of "Wow, look how awesome they are" would drown out cries of "Hey, that manuever is banned."

There is still writerly stupidness here, particularly the idea that the move has been banned for 100 years. Really? Technology has stood so still that this move is as unsafe in 2380 as in 2280? That's like saying that because the Wright brother's first flight crashed after 39 seconds, no cadet should ever fly longer than 39 seconds in an F-18.

Also stupid: Of course the Federation has fighters, especially AFTER Wolf 359 and the Cardassian war. But the writers, being good liberals and utopianists, totally ignore the military function of Starfleet in 99% of episodes. The problem is not that they were in fighters, the problem is that the fighters were never mentioned before or since.

But still, much less stupidness here than in other episodes, and much good to balance it.
Mike Kelm
15. Bruce M
@14 - I think what Christopher and others are questioning about the fighters is not that Starfleet has specifically-military craft, but whether, with ST technology, tiny one-person attack craft make military sense - add me to the list of people who think they don't. (Unlike aircraft and ships, there's no order-of-magnitude speed difference between a small spaceship and a big one - the analogy for a space carrier isn't "aircraft carrier with lots of F/A-18s", it's "USS Iowa decides that carrying 60 speedboats to attack other battleships makes sense".) The fact that ST combat used to be fighter-free and more like big naval ships maneuvering was always a feature, not a bug.

Didn't bother me here, though - I assumed the ships in this episode were only for training.
Joe Romano
16. Drunes
This is another episode that shows the limitations of television as a medium. Despite the fact home-recording became ubiquitous in the 1980s, most TV episodes can't stand the scrutiny of re-runs or re-watches. What makes sense when you first watch an episode often doesn't hold up later. TV is too structured and too fleeting. Nowhere is this more apparent than in TNG with its ideas that go nowhere from one episode to the next and its quick resolution of monumental problems as the hour ends.
F Shelley
17. FSS
I am a usaf academy grad ('96), and can confirm that a clip from this episode was played during first basic cadet training in one of first classes about the usafa cadet honor code. Man, that almost exacly 20 years ago now (like 20 years and 2-3 weeks!)..
Mike Kelm
18. AdamM
I always thought of the squadron as sort of like the Blue Angels - intended to fly cool stunts, impress people, represent the academy well. Maybe there are competitions as well?
Mike Kelm
19. Sean O'Hara
@15: Depends what the fighters are used for.

Taking on capital ships -- unlikely given what we've seen of space battles in the Trekverse.

System patrol -- fighters probably could interdict smugglers and offer limited defense for systems that don't have starships constantly in port. Basically what we saw runabouts doing in DS9.

Air support -- not every battle's going to take place in space; at some point you need boots on the grounds. I imagine fighters played a major role in the Battle of Betazed, for example.
Sara H
20. LadyBelaine
It wasn't until this moment that I realized that Sito Jaxa was in this episode too! Poor Jaxa. She still makes me sad. Then again, I sometimes get bummed thinking about Captain LaForge (Geordi's mother) and her doomed vessel.

Hell, I am still sad about Lt. Stahdi and the vulcan nurse from Voyager.

I also have this episode mentally scrambled with the dreadful "Red Squad" one from DS9.
Joseph Newton
21. crzydroid
Except that these guys weren't nearly as annoying as Red Squad.
Andrew Love
22. AndyLove
This is one of the two TNG episodes that I felt treated Wesley as a real person (the other one that I liked was "The Game" which had Wesley save the day, not because he knew more about everything than anyone else on the ship, but because he was more interested in chatting with Ashley Judd than in playing games with anyone else). It would have been nice to see some mention of the effect that the punishment year had on Wesley after this episode, but I don't recall any - but we did hear about Sito's experience later on, which worked so well, that I wouldn't want to dilute it with a Wesley episode trodding the same ground.
Robbie C
23. leandar
I'm sure we can imagine Wesley's experience was pretty similar to Sito's, and I seem to remember the next episode that he's in that from this point on, his grades slip and he starts to fall in danger of being kicked out of the Academy which leads to him becoming a Traveler.
Chin Bawambi
24. bawambi
Actually, the flight training is such an important military role that Sheppard AFB is only still around just because they are a NATO flight school (mainly t-38s). My main problem with this episode is my utter disbelieve that Wes would EVER even hang out with this tool. The other cadets seemed easily starstruck but with his Enterprise experience Wes would never be conned by this guy. MacNeill plays him convincingly IMO but I don't think for one minute that Wes is that naive by the time he enters the Academy so this episode never works for me on any level. 4 only for the acting which was good.
Rob Rater
25. Quasarmodo
Names don't generally stick with me, so when Voyager started, I naturally assumed Paris was the guy from this episode. It was the same actor, and their backgrounds were similar. I think I still think they're the same character, even though technically I know they're not.
Mike Kelm
26. Mike Kelm

Going to agree that small patrol craft probably do have a purpose in the Star Trek universe. Runabouts sort of fill this role in DS9, escorting the USS Odyssey to the gamma quadrant. And they would actually have a purpose in Capital ship combat, draining shield power and drawing phaser fire to make larger ships more effective.

I think the reason we really didn't see them was probably more budgetary than anything else. Space combat would probably end up looking more like Star Wars or BSG than Star Trek. Star Trek combat (at least prior to the Defiant) shows the ships as heavyweights, slugging at each other more than three dimensional maneuvering to seek advantage. Plus localized patrols, reconnaisance, anti-pirate activities, ground support would all be better undertaken by a small fighter than a big starship. If I want to find out how many ships are in drydock around cardassia and I can send a small warp powered shuttle with enhanced sensors or a starship, I'll take the shuttle because if my mission fails, I haven't lost a more resource intensive, heavily manned ship, but if I suceed, I get the same info regardless.

And at KRAD- I agree that it makes perfect sense for these kids to expect everyone will be so wowed by their tricked out exhaust that they won't get the book thrown at them the moment they make the ground, but I also agree with bawambi @24 that it doesn't make sense for Wes to be enthralled with Locarno- after being exposed to Picard and Riker I wouldn't expect him to be that impressed with his fellow 20 year old. I'd almost think that it would make more sense if Locarno was trying to pin it on Wesley instead of the dead kid.
Alyssa Tuma
27. AlyssaT
I don't think Albert's father was meant to seem dickish in this episode -- although I too was struck by how different his reaction was from the much more typical "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY SON?!" we usually see in pop culture. I interpreted it as a way for the writers ratchet up the guilt levels, and also thought it was meant to represent the general good public opinion of Starfleet -- super-smart, super-capable, super-full-of-integrity. Thus making the cadets' actions even more irksome.

But if you want to see Ed Lauter in a positively delightful "dick dad" role, I highly recommend 1985's Girls Just Want To Have Fun, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. He is AWESOME in that movie as a retired military colonel squashing his daughter's dreams to dance on DTV!!!
28. jlpsquared

I honestly think it is amazing, that in one of the best episodes of TNG, with some of the best scenes for at least 2 characters, the only f-ing conversation on this board is whether or not you need 1 man fighters in space!!!

First off, this is stupid, and anyone who is arguing you WOULDN'T need 1 man fighters has obviously NEVER read a book about military or military history. A previous poster made a point about our history when used massive naval ships and not smaller ones. I am not sure what history he is reading, because in every period in naval warfare, no matter how big capitol ships are, you are always going to have smaller faster support craft.

The answer is simple...YES, they would. Suppose someone needed to go somewhere in space that was a tight fit, and they might need a gun...DONE. you need a one man fighter.....

This is where I am surprised that sci-fi fans are not more logical. To argue that starfleet would have no need for 1 man fighters, you must by defintion argue that there would "NEVER be a situation in which a small manned lightly armoured vehicle was needed". Now, there were people in WW2 who argued that after the invent of large bombers, small fighters were no longer needed. Of course, then dresden happened.

Oh, and @10, cradok, of course people would not have cared if it was awesome, in fact there is a star trek example of this, remember Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru??

So sorry people, of course there would be need for 1 man fighters.

Anyways, great episode, and I love the return of "Mean Picard"
Mike Kelm
29. Christopher L. Bennett
@28: Drawing precedents from military history doesn't work here, because there is no history of military activity in outer space. Fictional franchises like Star Wars can just take the trappings of WWII dogfight movies and recreate them in a space setting using miniatures or CGI, but that's a fantasy. Realistically, space is a profoundly different environment than any in which human beings have ever waged combat, and it doesn't make sense to transpose aerial craft into space combat any more than it would make sense to use tanks and jeeps in underwater combat. It's just not a valid analogy.

Here's a very good analysis of the problems with the idea of fighter craft in space:

"Suppose someone needed to go somewhere in space that was a tight fit..."

What does that even mean? Space, as the name implies, is very, very spacious. There are no tight fits in space. Something like the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back is pure fantasy; in reality the typical distance between two adjacent asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt is sixteen times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, and you could fly through its densest portions fifty times without even seeing an asteroid with the naked eye. The only real thing that would approach a sci-fi-style asteroid swarm is something like the rings of Saturn, but even there the particles are typically a kilometer or so apart, and the whole thing is so utterly flat and thin that there's no good reason to fly straight through it when you could just fly above or below it.

Besides, even today, the military is increasingly using UAVs to do the jobs that you used to need fighter planes for. There's no need to risk a human life when a remote-operated or computer-controlled drone can do the job just as well (another reason why historical precedents fall short). Already, in real life, the Air Force is training more drone pilots than fighter pilots. And in space, there's the added issue of the life-support equipment you'd need to keep the pilot alive, which would add considerably more mass to the craft and reduce its range and maneuverability. So drones are preferable for reasons of efficiency as well as human safety. If fighters are already on the way out in real-life military scenarios today, then it's kind of outdated thinking to expect them to play a role in space combat in the future.
Joseph Newton
30. crzydroid
I would totally use a tank in underwater combat.
Mike Kelm
31. turtletrekker
KRAD said--
"The incident that Picard and Boothby discuss is never specified, though an incident described in the comic book Starfleet Academy #11 written by Chris Cooper, involving Picard and his friends Marta Batanides and Cortin Zweller (introduced in “Tapestry”), might well fit the bill."

This incident was also mentioned in "Section 31: Rogue", by Mangels and Martin.
Mike Kelm
32. lorq
Agree with many comments here about both strengths and weaknesses of this episode. One additional weakness, though, is that there's nothing specifically science-fictional about the story. It might as well be about contemporary military cadets; the fact that they fly in tight formation over Titan and not the Nevada desert adds no significant new content.
Mike Kelm
33. SpaceCadet
#32 - Why should not being science-fictiony be a weakness of the episode? The whole point of Star Trek is to take modern issues and present them in a fictional context which is accomplished here simply by taking place in the future and with futuristic spacecraft. "Family" was another episode that wasn't science-fictiony at all but it worked all the better for it because it was simply an exploration of characters we care about.

I get a kick out of knowing this episode made such a real-life impact as to be used in the training of U.S. Air Force cadets.

And I picked up the recent blu-ray release of the 5th season and Ron Moore and Naren Shankar confirm it - Nick Locarno wasn't reused as a character on Star Trek: Voyager because it would have meant that Paramount would have had to pay the writers every time Locarno's name was used which would have been for every episode! Moore and Shankar joked about sueing the studio for essentially stealing their character.
Mike Kelm
35. AlRoper
Okay, I know the story wouldn't work if either of these two tools were used in the trial/hearing. One, Betazoid mind reading. In the opening scene of this episode, Picards states his Academy superintendent was a Betazoid who, when you were summoned to his office, didn't have to ask what you did. He was a full telepath, and alreay knew. Two, Vulcan mind meld. There is a Vulcan sitting right there on the hearing panel. I recall Spock ripped the truth out of Valeris, near the end of Star Trek 6:The Undiscovered County, to find out about the assassination plot at the Khitomar peace conference. So we know getting the truth, is possible. It could be said both techniques are an invasion of personal rights, and therefore not used, but it brings up the interesting idea that trials/hearings in the 24th century could be basically cut and dry, if all available resources, were used. After all, this was a military hearing, with a death involved, so kind of important, to get to the truth.
Mike Kelm
36. Nick Wingfield
Just seen this for the first time.

My first thought was the same as Cradok: What on earth did they think would have happened if they had pulled off the Kolvoord Starburst? They might have become heroes amongst their fellow cadets but Starfleet would still have had to court martial them for disobeying orders. There may still have been expulsions. Not good for anyone’s CVs.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by the black and white simplicity of the episode. It begins with a moral dilemma. Will Will do the right thing or not? And it ends, after a stern lecture from Picard with Will doing, surprise, surprise, the right thing. But the middle section hinted at a greyer, more complex solution that might have been more interesting. When Picard and Boothby meet they talk about an unspecified incident in Picard’s past that nearly caused Picard to fail to graduate. Boothby concludes by saying: “The most important thing you did with your life was what you did afterwards”. At this point I assumed that Picard had done something similar to Will and lied on oath to protect his team. I assumed Boothby’s comment was a way of saying that the end justifies the means: You told a lie, Picard, but you made up for it by becoming a credit to Starfleet. As a result, I expected Picard to figure out Will’s dilemma (which of course he does) but then surprise him by encouraging him to maintain the lie to protect the team - perhaps even lending a hand in the deception. Instead, of course, we got a holier-than-thou Picard giving Will a good telling off without even hinting that a similar thing had happened to him.

After the episode ended, I replayed the Picard - Boothby scene just to see if I had misinterpreted it. I realise now that the dialogue is ambiguous. It could support my original theory that Boothby persuaded Picard to maintain his lie. Or it could be read that Boothby persuaded Picard to finally tell the truth - in an exact parallel of the scene between Picard and Will.

Assuming the latter is the intended version, I have a couple of problems with the storyline conclusion. Firstly I don’t mind Picard giving Will the third degree in order to get him to do the right thing - but Picard goes further than just telling him off - he blackmails him by saying “if you don’t tell the truth, I will”. This robs Will of the opportunity to nobly do the right thing. Because if he doesn’t stand up at the end and own up, Picard’s going to rat on him anyway! Some choice!

Secondly, when Picard and Will meet at the end I really think the script writers should have given Picard the opportunity to admit to Will that something similar happened to him when he was at Starfleet - so he can show Will he sympathises with his predicament. Without this, Picard comes across as an arrogant and insensitive hypocrite - unable to admit his former failings. Of course, he admits those privately to the audience with his final line to Will: “You knew what you had to do. I just made sure that you listened to yourself”. This, of course, is almost exacty what Boothby told Picard. So we, the audience, know that Picard sympathises with Will - but poor old Will doesn’t. Imaging how he’ll feel if, in year’s to come, he discovers that a similar thing happened to Picard - but Picard never said. If I were Will I’d be thinking “To think of all the times I saved the Enterprise, the least Picard could do was admit that a similar thing happened to him at Starfleet. That would have made my subsequent years so much more bearable”. If I were Will, Picard would definitely be off my Christmas card list.

Anyway, I know I’ve been taking the show far too seriously. Oh well … back to the real world!

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