Besides being Wes’s final episode, this edition of the rewatch also provides a new category: In the Driver’s Seat. With Wes’s departure, the conn position is no longer occupied by any of the opening-credits regulars, and a varied selection of (mostly female) officers take up that position, starting this week with Ensign Allenby.
Written by Kacey Arnold-Ince and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Corey Allen
Season 4, Episode 9
Production episode 40274-183
Original air date: November 19, 1990
Captain’s Log: Picard has been assigned to mediate a dispute on Pentarus V, and he will be accompanied by Wes—for whom this will be his final mission on the Enterprise, as a position has opened up in this year’s class at Starfleet Academy, and he’s been accepted.
Picard and Wes board the Nenebek, a small mining shuttle captained by a crotchety old bastard named Dirgo. The captain says he and the Nenebek have logged 10,000 hours together—which is apparently when the warranty runs out, as the port thruster goes blooey en route to Pentarus V. They’re forced to crash land on a moon of Pentarus III, which is a big ol’ desert. The Nenebek‘s systems are completely trashed. It’s a small shuttle, so emergency supplies are limited, and there’s no food and water. The sun is brutal, and they need shelter that isn’t the metal shuttle (which will act as an oven), so they head toward a cave system, with Picard fashioning an arrow out of wreckage to point out where they went to any possible rescue parties. (Let’s hope a windstorm doesn’t hit…)
Meanwhile, Riker takes the Enterprise to respond to a distress call on Gamelan V. A garbage scow that’s leaking a metric butt-load of radiation got pulled into orbit of Gamelan, so the Enterprise needs to get it away from there and into the sun—and fast, as Pentarus V is reporting that the Nenebek never arrived.
Wes picks up EM readings in the cave system—he’s not sure what it is. They arrive at the caves, to discover that Dirgo has been hoarding a bottle of booze, which Picard confiscates, as they might need it for medical reasons.
They find a fountain in the cave, but it’s protected by a force field. Dirgo fires on the force field, and it starts shooting energy blasts around, one of which knocks the weapon from Dirgo’s hand and wraps it in an impenetrable cocoon, another of which starts a rockslide over Wes’s head. Picard pushes Wes out of the way, then inexplicably stands in place and looks up while the rockslide clobbers him. He winds up with a broken right leg, a fractured left arm, and a nasty-ass head wound. His vision is already blurred, and he tells Wes that he’s going to have to stand up to Dirgo on his own without Picard’s help, as the captain’s situation is only going to deteriorate.
The Enterprise‘s first attempt to attach thrusters to the garbage scow doesn’t work, as it damages the structural integrity of the scow and increases the radiation exposure. Left with no alternative, Riker orders the scow to be taken in tow by the tractor beam. It means they’ll have to delay joining the search for the Nenebek, but they have no choice, as they have to navigate the scow through an asteroid field.
On the moon, Wes determines that the EM field is coming from the force field around the fountain, and that it spiked when Dirgo fired on it. Dirgo decides to fire on it again, with Wes’s phaser firing at a higher frequency on the other side of the cave. It’s a particularly stupid plan, and Wes’s attempt to take Picard’s advice and stand up to Dirgo fails miserably—fatally so for Dirgo, as his plan fails and the force field wraps him in a cocoon of his own, killing him.
Wes tries to keep Picard awake by telling him sappy stories of how awesome he thinks Picard is. Picard sings “Auprès de ma Blonde,” and then tells Wes how awesome the Academy will be. Wes then uses the transponder on his combadge to short out the force field and get at the water.
Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise, having finally taken care of the scow, finds Picard and Wes and takes them home.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Wes detects the EM field as they walk toward it, and figures out that it came from the fountain force field. He tries to point out to Dirgo that, just because it reacted to Dirgo’s phaser fire, doesn’t mean it’ll respond to higher frequencies—it could be heat or some other stimulus. But Dirgo doesn’t listen, and dies because he doesn’t get the scientific method (or was just too darned impatient).
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi gives probably the worst pep talk in the history of the universe to Crusher to reassure her that Wes is probably all right.
The Boy!?: This episode has Wes at his worst, sadly: he’s obnoxious toward Dirgo and the Nenebek, his snotty defending of Picard to Dirgo makes him come across as a whiny teenager, and his sappy conversation with Picard just makes your teeth hurt. Oh, and he saves the day. Again.
In the Driver’s Seat: With Wes’s departure, we meet the thoroughly bland Ensign Tess Allenby (her first name comes from the scripts), who makes a point of touching controls all over the flight controller console.
I Believe I Said That: “What are you doing in such a filthy uniform?”
“You don’t look so shipshape yourself, sir.”
Picard and Wes taking the piss out of each other as their last conversation before he trundles off to the Academy
Welcome Aboard: Dirgo is played with suitable obnoxiousness by Nick Tate, who’s probably best known to genre fans as Alan Carter on Space: 1999. Dirgo is a tired stereotype, but Tate does well with the part, particularly right before they walk away from the crashed Nenebek as Dirgo gives the ship a final hand on its side before departing (established earlier in the episode as his culture’s equivalent of a handshake). Tate will return to play Liam Bilby in the Deep Space Nine episode “Honor Among Thieves.”
This episode also marks the first of two appearances by Mary Kohnert as Ensign Allenby, and also features Kim Hamilton, who is suitably hysterical as Chairman Songi.
Trivial Matters: This is, obviously, the final appearance by Wil Wheaton as an opening-credits regular, as the actor wanted the freedom to pursue other roles (ones which wouldn’t result in fans wanting his character to die, no doubt). He’ll be back as a guest star in “The Game,” “The First Duty,” “Parallels,” and “Journey’s End,” as well as a cameo in Star Trek Nemesis. And currently, you can see him in recurring roles on no fewer than four shows: Leverage as the obnoxious hacker Ka0s, The Guild as obnoxious gamer Fawkes, Eureka as the obnoxious scientist Dr. Parrish, and The Big Bang Theory as an obnoxious version of himself. (Hm, there seems to be a theme here…)
This episode marks the first mention of Boothby, the groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy. He’ll be mentioned again in “The Game,” and appear (played by Ray Walston, of My Favorite Martian fame) in “The First Duty,” as well as the Voyager episodes “In the Flesh” and “The Fight.”
Wes talks about the shuttle ride he and Picard took in “Samaritan Snare” when he’s trying to keep Picard awake.
The phasers Dirgo has on board are props from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, in keeping with other comments about how old Dirgo’s equipment is.
Dirgo’s shuttle was named after Larry Nemecek, Trek historian and author of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (and also all-around good egg). Scripter Jeri Taylor related to Nemecek that she had one of Larry’s TNG Concordances on her bookshelf when she was working on the show.
Make it So: “You will be missed.” The last time an opening-credits regular was written out, it was inexplicably viewed as a failure, because her death was pointless and random. So this time around, Wesley Crusher is given an episode right out of the Cliché Handbook, specifically the chapter on departing characters. He gets to spend all the time with the star of the show, he gets to show off what he can do, he gets to learn one last valuable lesson, and he gets to wear a silly scarf on his head. (So does everyone else, but Nick Tate and Sir Patrick Stewart don’t actually look like dorks when they do it.)
You can see the numbers by which this episode was painstakingly painted. As soon as we get a look at Dirgo’s clapped-out old ship—which Picard semi-diplomatically calls “sturdy”—we know it’s going to crash. We know the planet they crash on is going to be inhospitable, we know someone’s going to get hurt (and Corey Allen loses points for blocking the rockslide in such a way that Picard easily had two or three seconds to at least try to get out of the way of the rocks before they crashed down on him), and we know Dirgo’s going to be disruptive and impulsive and stupid. For that matter, we know the Enterprise will be delayed in rescuing them by a crisis that will last right up until the 42nd minute.
And then we have the force field on the fountain, which is the textbook definition of “plot contrivance.” It’s just there to give Wes a chance to technobabble his way out of a situation one last time before heading off to the Academy.
(We won’t even get into the ridiculousness of Wes just magically being accepted into the Academy becuase a spot opened up, after his jumping through the stupidest hoops in history to try to fail to get in three times before.)
There were times when the character of Wesley Crusher worked. Very few of them were in the first season, which led to a bad first impression for many, but he had some gems like “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Pen Pals,” “Peak Performance,” “The Bonding,” and “Remember Me,” and other fine moments, which should have been enough to erase the awful impression made in “The Naked Now,” “Justice,” “The Battle,” “Datalore,” and others.
Sadly, he went out with a whimper.
Warp factor rating: 4
Keith R.A. DeCandido only wrote Wesley Crusher once, briefly, in A Time for War, a Time for Peace, in a rather ridiculous scene that tried to reconcile his appearance in Star Trek Nemesis with his previous onscreen appearance in “Journey’s End.” It didn’t entirely work, but whatcha gonna do? Go to his web site and find links to blogs, books, and podcasts that will enrich our KRADdish experience.