Star Trek: The Next Generation: Final Mission   Rewatch 
January 15, 2021 3:05 AM - Season 4, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Leaving the Enterprise to go to Starfleet Academy, Wesley gets on a shuttlecraft with Captain Picard, and just like last time, Picard narrowly escapes death. Picard never gets on a shuttle with Wesley again.

I envy you, MeFi FanFare; you're just at the beginning of the wiki:

• This episode was created expressly with the purpose of providing an appropriate way for Wil Wheaton to leave the show. Wheaton had asked to leave The Next Generation so he could pursue offers to appear in feature films.

• Michael Piller commented, "There had been a lot of very bad feeling around here about the way Tasha Yar was sent off. So we were determined to give Wesley a send-off that had real value and something that stayed with us. We finally decided that he would go to the Academy, which I think was Gene's idea [and] the most reasonable and easiest idea, which also keeps him alive for future episodes."

• In the original story, Wesley and Picard crashed on an ice planet. On the suggestion of Rick Berman, this was changed as it was believed that a desert planet could be created more realistically.

• Jeri Taylor recalled, "That's the episode I probably put more work on than any all year long, because it was a combination of a very delicate kind of interpersonal story, and the dreaded technical story which is the garbage scow in space. So I had this supertechnical thing going on at the same time as this delicate kind of interpersonal story."

• Two days of location shooting were done on the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles to portray the surface of Lambda Paz.

• This episode marks Wesley Crusher's final regular appearance on TNG. He later appeared in the episodes "The Game", "The First Duty", "Parallels" (in another quantum reality), and "Journey's End" as well as Star Trek Nemesis.

• Nick Tate later played Liam Bilby in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Honor Among Thieves".

• Before beginning their trek to the mountains, Dirgo distributes some phasers he scavenged from his damaged shuttle. The props used are Starfleet phaser pistols circa 2285, from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which would make sense since Dirgo operated his shuttle with old and outdated equipment. This is supported by Wesley's observation that some of Dirgo's equipment looked "…about a hundred years old."

• The groundskeeper for the Starfleet Academy, Boothby, is mentioned for the first time. He later appeared in the fifth season Next Generation episode "The First Duty" and in the fifth season Star Trek: Voyager episodes "In the Flesh" and "The Fight".

• Michael Piller remarked, "I think Jeri did a wonderful job on the script and Corey Allen, who is one of my favorite directors, gave you the best pieces of film you can get. If it gets an A- instead of an A, it's only because the story itself, of two guys trapped on a planets and how do we get off, in general is not very original, and the story of the garbage scow was no great shakes either. But I think we handled it pretty well."

• Rick Berman added, "That's one of my favorite episodes. I think it was very poignant and the acting on the part of our guest cast, Nick Tate, Patrick's work and Wil's, was just excellent. I thought it was just a terrific piece of drama."

"She seems a very… a very sturdy craft."
- Picard, struggling to give Dirgo a compliment on his shuttle, the Nenebek

"And you were worried about how tough the captain is?"
- Wesley Crusher, after picking up Dirgo when he fell due to exhaustion from the heat

"Sir, in the past three years, I've lived more than most people do in a lifetime."
- Wesley, reflecting to an injured Picard about his time on the Enterprise

Poster's Log:
Not a bad send-off by any means. The situation Wes and Picard find themselves in is dramatic enough, Dirgo is nicely loathsome, Patrick Stewart once again elevates the proceedings (love his delivery of the "I envy you" line), and Wheaton looks suitably determined throughout, especially during the almost-silly climactic wraith-versus-tricorder showdown. But I agree with Piller that nothing here is strikingly original, and I feel like Wesley's big speech at Picard's side was overwritten. Wheaton did fine with that scene, but look, nobody's ever gonna top Ed Harris's identical scene in The Abyss (that's the one with "YOU'VE NEVER GIVEN UP ON ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE, NOW FIIIIIGHT!").

Wesley returns in four more episodes of TNG. My remembered impression is that the Wes episodes became better overall when he was a guest, and I wonder how much of that was due to changes in Wheaton's feelings about his role in the TNG stable influencing his acting (see Supplemental). I was never in the "I hate Wesley" camp, but so many of the early Wes episodes are so rough that I couldn't help but develop a Wes-aversion—to the point that I've skipped the first episode of season 3 more often than I've watched it, just because of the way it opens.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Wil Wheaton talks (quite candidly) about his career in the recent HBO documentary Showbiz Kids (written and directed by Bill & Ted's Alex Winter!). The article "The Real Reason Wil Wheaton Left Star Trek: The Next Generation" is more specific to our interests, and also addresses the possibility of Wheaton appearing on PIC (I'll save you a click: he's open to it, but doesn't think there's a chance in hell).

Until we start getting new All-Access-Trek, how does a Monday/Thursday post schedule sound for TNG, rather than Monday/Friday?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Until we start getting new All-Access-Trek, how does a Monday/Thursday post schedule sound for TNG, rather than Monday/Friday?

Thumbs up emoticon from me.

I've always really enjoyed this episode, though it makes less than zero sense that Picard and Ensign Crusher would be taking a trip on... that shuttle. But I can forgive that - as I've commented in the past, I'm willing to overlook so many of the ridiculous plot contrivances in this show.

Conventional wisdom at the time: Wil Wheaton was baaaaaaad. Wesley Crusher was baaaaaaad.
My take on my very first watch: Wil Wheaton makes the most of what he's given, which is not much. The character of Wesley Crusher seemed set up to fail. The writers and producers didn't really know what to do with him, and the fact that I've developed a fondness for the character in spite of Season 1 tells you everything you need to know about Wheaton's abilities. And this episode, perhaps, plays a part.

Does anybody ever doubt Wesley's reluctance to confront an older, more experienced space-faring thug? Even after his years of being the know-it-all aboard the Enterprise-D, it's like the culture aboard that ship protected him, nurtured him, and now without that in place, he's kind of lost.

Patrick Stewart, as ever, is tremendous. Nick Tate becomes Dirgo. And Wil Wheaton. If the writers and producers could have stretched themselves earlier and written plots like this for him, I think he would have been around the entire run of the show. So good.
posted by rocketman at 6:56 AM on January 15, 2021

It's nice that the then-current showrunners took something away from Yar's shoddy send-off; unfortunately, that's not necessarily a lesson that showrunners on other Trek iterations will learn, but we've been over those. It's also a nice gesture to Wheaton, given his infuriating experience with being shut out of a role in Valmont, even if it ended up being the least successful adaptation of the three Les Liaisons dangereuses adaptations of the 80s-90s. Personally, I thought that Wheaton's bits in the cave, with his face dirty and his hair losing its "helmet hair" quality, had him looking and acting the most grown-up that he's been so far. And, yeah, the "on your feet, soldier" bits are kind of corny, but given that he's still a teenager, I'll allow it. (The best version of this is DS9's "Starship Down" with Kira actually praying over Sisko.)

And, even though Nick Tate gets it even worse in "Honor Among Thieves", I'm glad that they avoid the cliche of the scruffy old dude knowing everything about survival on a random desert planet; he's actually much worse than the Starfleet officers.

I'm OK with Monday-Thursday. Who knows when the next CBSAA show will drop.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:59 AM on January 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

For whatever reason, I saw this on syndication way too many times and kinda can't stand it. Picard's "oh I envy you" line is of course very memorable. I never had strong feelings about Wesley either way, he's had lots of cringey moments, but pretty much every character was written very poorly for at least a few scenes.

The radio-active garbage story doesn't get enough credit as perhaps the most beige Trek sequence ever. Dr. Crusher had a couple nice moments showing how anxious she was about having to balance her Starfleet duties with her desire to run off and save her son. But otherwise, it is so flat, so undramatic as to completely leave one's mind seconds after its resolution. Also, it was just amazingly lazy from a sci-fi perspective, even by the standards of TNG.
posted by skewed at 7:15 AM on January 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Final Mission is a fair episode. It has some things going for it, as others have mentioned above. I really like the "I envy you" line. A good line, a good performance, and it really ties into the whole Wes-Picard relationship from previous episodes. And yes, the climactic battle of Wes' tricorder versus the sentinel is Star Trek-cringeworthy-technomagic as its worst. I get it, they were going to have to defeat the sentinel by guile, not by force. But how about Wes solving a puzzle a la Tomb Raider instead of using the Swiss-Army-Tricorder.

While Final Mission is redeemed by its A plot, the B plot is maybe the most blatant plot service of all of TNG. There are so many other options there to deal with the waste barge. But the writers needed to tie up the Enterprise for awhile. Ugh.
posted by Stuka at 9:15 AM on January 15, 2021

"Commander, we appear to be stuck in a plot vortex, that won't allow us to leave until a parallel narrative has run its course."
posted by wabbittwax at 9:19 AM on January 15, 2021 [8 favorites]

Great points so far. This one...

Personally, I thought that Wheaton's bits in the cave, with his face dirty and his hair losing its "helmet hair" quality, had him looking and acting the most grown-up that he's been so far.

Wes was such a lost opportunity. If they had given Wil a leash for outside work while recognizing his worth as a young adult character (who wouldn't want to watch young pseudo-Picard?)... Kirk was always portrayed as an advanced student at Starfleet Academy. No reason why space-prodigy Wes couldn't have disappeared for a season or two and then come back as a regular ensign with decent hair and a well-fitting spacesuit. A fresh character would have gone a long way towards helping the show in the later seasons.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:37 AM on January 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

A fresh character would have gone a long way towards helping the show in the later seasons.

I recall Ensign Ro filling in this capacity but she really wasn't around that much or that long. The memory, as they say, cheats...

Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG may defy expectations. That this storyline is featured so minimally in the game is probably a large part of the reason why I remembered nothing about it, on rewatch.

We have Premiere's Radioactive Garbage Scow, which is not as destructive as say a Borg Ship but a highly effective space dilemma. The mission attempt is stopped, period, and you have to tow the thing away before proceeding. Preferably to one of your opponent's missions to interfere with them instead. This is kind of OP so in the next set it became possible to Destroy Radioactive Garbage Scow, which likewise offers both offensive and defensive uses. Towing Scows around is probably what the Tractor Beams on most ships in the game were used for, more than anything else.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:57 AM on January 15, 2021

Kirk was always portrayed as an advanced student at Starfleet Academy.

Is that correct? I know he was famous for solving the Kobayashi Maru but I seem to remember reading/seeing something about how Starfleet would send out crews of the best of the best and they cracked in unexplored space so for Kirk and his crew they picked the B students, people who were more used to setbacks and scrambling to find solutions, in the hope they'd be better able to deal with the unknown. It was likely some novel that wasn't "cannon" though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Kirk's canon backstory has never been spelled out. The bits and pieces given over the course of TOS indicate he was an advanced student. He served on a starship, went on a mission, and even taught at the Academy. Like Saavik in TWOK, Kirk appears to have held rank while a cadet. All of this seems to have happened before he joined the fleet as an actual Starfleet officer.

So, Wes was a bright guy, was already an ensign, and had lots of mission time aboard Starfleet's flagship. Having him quickly advance through the Academy wouldn't have been the most incredible thing Trek had done story and character-wise.
posted by Stuka at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2021

It amuses me how in Star Trek characters that leave have to be given a big sendoff, or a dramatic death, when in the real Navy people show up and leave all the time as they transfer to and from other commands or reach the end of their service. Dr. Crusher leaving abruptly and with no fanfare to head up Starfleet Medical between Seasons 1 and 2 is perhaps the most realistic personnel transfer we see.

It is also extremely unusual to see folks stick around for 7+ years, or be transferred en masse to a new ship when their old one explodes, or be promoted from a junior officer position to a senior officer position (Like say, helmsman to security chief or chief engineer) at the same command. Apparently the Starfleet MILPERSMAN is pretty different from the US Navy one.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:46 PM on January 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

I found the A story really enjoyable. During the scenes where they loose control of the shuttle and crash in the desert, it especially felt like a step up in terms of sets and cinematography. For a few minutes it felt a little like watching Star Wars. I thought Wes's interactions with Dirgo were realistic.

As for the B story...I know there's always something pretty janky about the physics in this show, but this one was super painful to sit through. There's practically no friction in space, so why do you have to give the garbage ship a long continuous tow? How 'bout you just give it a little push into an orbit safely away from the planet, and then go rescue the captain? Come back in a week to finish moving the garbage ship if you need to. And is this like the 3rd episode where the computer has given a countdown to the exact second when radiation exposure goes from A-OK to lethal? GRAR.

I also want to know if the people on that planet are, like, filter feeders?
posted by polecat at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I noticed that they immediately set off about 20 degrees away from where the arrow was pointing. That's not a good start.

Dirgo: There has to be water in here. Aren't caves formed by water?
Me: But how would that explain the stairs?

I had completely forgotten about the garbage scow B-plot, and I can definitely see why I forgot.
posted by ckape at 7:14 PM on January 16, 2021

"Wesley... look after Dirgo." *two minutes later* "Sir, I regret to inform you that Dirgo is dead." "Never change, Wesley."

I just hated the character of Wesley when I was a kid. I was really expecting that the intervening decades would have softened my position on him, so I was genuinely surprised to find that I still can't stand him. I've been trying to put my finger on exactly why that is. I think what it comes down to is that he exists within the show under false pretenses. If he were just a super-smart baby genius officer fresh out of the academy-- and still Bev's kid!-- that would have been a decent reason for him to be hanging around and getting into adventures with the grown-ups. But of course he wasn't, and the fact that he was a trainee and a teenager made it crystal clear to the viewers that he existed as a contrivance and not for a natural plot reason.

Look, I was that smart, nerdy, socially awkward kid. As far as I could tell, the character was meant to appeal directly to kids to me in particular. But I never felt seen by the character of Wesley; I felt condescended to. He was never as a character written as that kid; he was written to that kid. It all had a whiff of the after school special about it. And it still does.

As an adult, I find the character even more annoying, mostly because there were so many ways he could have been saved. The producers could have come up with a solid vision for what he was supposed to be. The writers could have tried to build a distinct character. The plots could have put some effort into giving him some personal responsibility and growth. And, sorry Wil, but Wheaton could have pushed back and demanded that Wes be written consistently. But none of these things happened, and Wes ricocheted from incompetent goofball to exhausted student to awkward normal teen to supernerd from scene to scene. Has Wes learned from his experiences on the Enterprise? It's hard to tell.

But the real deal-killer for me is the show's contant trope of having Wesley fuck up-- badly, constantly, dangerously-- and never appear to suffer any long term consequences or develop as a character because of it. It makes the character weaker, and it makes the stories weaker. Imagine if, in "Remember Me", it had been Geordi running an experiment which had zapped Bev. Keep everything else the same. It makes more sense, right? Wes gets to actually be a hero instead of just pulling everyone along on another mission to correct his fuckup; we're not left wondering why an ensign is randomly reconfiguring the warp core just before they're supposed to be getting underway; maybe we get some good Geordi/Wes moments as they deal with the interpersonal fallout of all that. But we didn't get those episodes. We got the "Wes has made a terrible mistake" episodes. We get Wes, supposedly shy and awkward, badmouthing the captain of the vessel he's about to embark on. We get... well, what we got. Bye, Wes.
posted by phooky at 5:58 AM on January 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Look, I was that smart, nerdy, socially awkward kid. As far as I could tell, the character was meant to appeal directly to kids to me in particular. But I never felt seen by the character of Wesley; I felt condescended to. He was never as a character written as that kid; he was written to that kid. It all had a whiff of the after school special about it. And it still does.

That's a great summation of the Wesley Problem; he was rejected by the people that should have identified with him the most. I think that it was a combination of his being an author insert for Gene Roddenberry (I know that it's a cliche for people to describe any unusually capable or canny character as a Mary Sue, but Wesley was a pilot, like Roddenberry, and "Wesley" was literally Gene's middle name) and the writers' early seasons weakness for hanging afterschool special-type social/ethical lessons on Wes. I often wonder how the character might have developed if the character had been Leslie Crusher, as originally proposed, and maybe not saddled with Roddenberry's self-identification.

And, sorry Wil, but Wheaton could have pushed back and demanded that Wes be written consistently.

...yeah, we're gonna have to agree to disagree on that. Most teenagers (unlike a lot of teenage characters played by older actors, Wheaton would have been about 14 in 1986) don't have that depth of experience and degree of assertion to tell adult showrunners that they're screwing up their character. Wheaton would also have had the instructive example of his TV mom getting kicked off the show for a season as a result of speaking up about some of the awful S1 writing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:21 AM on January 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

Cripes, he was fourteen? That is not a great situation to put a kid in. I retract that sentence completely.
posted by phooky at 7:29 PM on January 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

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