Star Trek: The Next Generation: The First Duty   Rewatch 
May 20, 2021 4:54 AM - Season 5, Episode 19 - Subscribe

Wesley succumbs to peer pressure from his new Academy friends, and it's up to Picard to turn his chair backwards and get real with him.

The first duty of Memory Alpha is to the truth!:

• Moore developed the idea with his friend Naren Shankar, who had completed a Writer's Guild internship with the show the previous season. Shankar recalled, "Ron had been in ROTC in college and we were both into military history. We wanted to do a show set at Starfleet Academy and pick up where Wesley was with his life."

• Rick Berman was initially skeptical of the idea. Michael Piller recalled, "When we pitched it to Rick, he said, it's not a Star Trek. Star Trek is about going off into space and exploring new planets. It's not about going back to Earth. He's right, of course, and no one's going to argue that he's not, but I looked at him and said 'Look, to me we have the opportunity to do something special. We have the chance to explore an issue that is extra meaningful to a lot of young people. If you're involved in drugs or teenage misbehavior or crime, and you may know that it's the wrong thing and you have the choice of being loyal to your friends or doing what is honest – that is a great issue for us to explore." Berman agreed, on the condition that a maximum of three sets were used.

• According to Berman, in early stages of the story, Wesley's crime was more heinous, and the cover-up was much more obvious. He stated, "I found that unacceptable. Wesley is Wesley. He is one of our characters and heroes and he's capable of lapses in judgement, capable of making decisions on an emotional basis as opposed to thinking them out, but not capable of some of the more severe things that were suggested. And not capable of overt cover-up, lying to Starfleet Academy officials. So we basically tempered it down, still keeping it believable and the crime that was serious and would result in a punishment."

• A dispute arose between Moore, Shankar and Piller regarding the ending. Piller recalled, "I thought [Wesley] should choose the truth, and Ron thought he couldn't go back on his friends. Ultimately I gave the order to go with the truth – that's what I'd want my kids to do – but I think it shows how much we can get into these characters when we find ourselves debating the points they're arguing." Piller later called it "one of the most rewarding arguments in the history of the production of this show."

• Moore later elaborated that, had they prevailed, the story would have been structured very differently, such that Wesley's actions would still be the "correct" moral choice.

• According to Piller, Picard's unnamed indiscretion was added to the script relatively late in the process. "We had to have scenes with Boothby and Picard and we had scenes where they talked about the case, they talked about things, but the scenes weren't clicking and they were the weakest parts of the show. We started talking about maybe he helped Picard out with a problem and maybe he got into trouble, and we tried to figure out what it was. Rick said it doesn't matter what Picard's trouble was. We keep that part of our character a mystery, which we like to do every once in a while. That was a great decision and what it did for us was put in perspective in a life cycle sort of way that if you make a mistake when you're young and it's found out, you have to pay a price for it. It doesn't mean your life is ruined. It means you can still become Jean-Luc Picard."

• Robert Duncan McNeill later played Tom Paris on Star Trek: Voyager. Locarno was the inspiration for the Tom Paris character. (More detail here)

• Shannon Fill reprised her role as Sito Jaxa in TNG: "Lower Decks".

• This is the first time we actually see Boothby, played by Ray Walston. He replies in response to Picard's comment "I thought you were a mean-spirited, vicious, old man.", "I was, and by the way, I was about the same age that you are now", which makes Boothby around 104 years old in this episode. He reprised the role in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, "In the Flesh", and "The Fight" (although on both these occasions it is not the real Boothby, but a member of Species 8472 disguised as him and a hologram/hallucination respectively).

• Walston was best known for his role as the titular character in My Favorite Martian. According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 197)), "throughout his days of shooting, the cast and crew approached him with the old character's schtick of head antenna and finger-wiggling 'levitation'."

• The producers hoped for Ashley Judd to reprise her role as Ensign Robin Lefler for this episode. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 181) notes that this "didn't work out".

• Although spoken of since the original series, this is the first appearance of Starfleet Academy.

• Ronald D. Moore also wrote the Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" that focused on another group of Starfleet cadets, Red Squad.

• The writing staff was pleased with the added depth this episode gave to the character of Wesley.

• Michael Piller noted that "the Air Force is showing this episode today to say 'Look! That's what it's all about.'" The episode was aired to cadets as part of an introduction to the honor code.

"You made a mistake. There isn't a man among us who hasn't been young enough to make one."
- Boothby, to Picard

"Do you remember the first day you came aboard this ship? Your mother brought you on the Bridge."
"Yes, sir."
"And you even sat in my chair! I was annoyed! A presumptuous child playing on my ship! But I never forgot how you already knew every control, every display. You behaved as though you belonged on the Bridge. And then, later, when I decided to make you an acting Ensign, I was convinced that you could be an outstanding officer. And I never questioned that conviction... until now."
- Picard and Wesley

"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it's scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based, and if you can't find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don't deserve to wear that uniform. I'm going to make this simple for you, Mr. Crusher; either you come forward and tell Admiral Brand what really took place, or I will."
- Picard and Wesley

Poster's Log:
Stuka mentioned previously that it's always great when TNG episodes show little glimmers of wider worldbuilding. This episode is a big example of that too.

I struggle to get into Wes's head here. He's been through some serious cosmic WTF shit by the time he enters the academy. One would think it'd give him a less narrow perspective on the events herein. OTOH, he's still young and not yet a space-demigod, and he might still be trying to live up to the Picard/Jack Crusher image of what his destiny is meant to be as a way of avoiding/suppressing whatever weird proto-Traveller stuff is going on deep inside. Anyway, that's a lot of head-non-canon; this is still a solid hour of drama, made possible by how familiar we got with Wes given his considerable screen time in previous seasons.

Given her characterization here, I'm really surprised that Sito isn't one of those Bajorans mentioned by Ro who changes the order of their names to "assimilate." But then, AFAIK, we never actually encounter that in canon.

Gonna take a wild guess and say that the Air Force doesn't show DS9: "Valiant" to cadets.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Seinfeld fans will recognize the Vulcan captain as one of Elaine's bosses. Gotta say, I think he was miscast as a Vulcan; he struck me as a little too emotive, even considering the circumstances.

I greatly enjoyed the "First Duty" Greatest Gen episode's discussion of Starfleet Academy's accommodations.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is this the first time we've seen a non-automated door in TNG? Aside from holodecks or The Royale or whatever? It was hilariously jarring to me when Wesley answered his door knock by getting up and physically opening the door. As pointed out in the TNC or Greatest Gen podcasts, they must have done it for practicality, since there were so many entrances and exits from that room there would have been umpteen flubbed takes with the doors opening/closing too soon/too late, but, it was so weird to see happening.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:14 AM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

As I mentioned in the previous ep thread, I think that this is the best Wesley episode ever, although that's not a particularly tough contest, his previous featured eps mostly falling into Wesley Saves the Day or A Very Special Episode territory. Part of the question that COB poses above might be answered by the then-current showrunners/writers deciding to ignore a lot of that rather dismal precedent and simply treating Wes like a more-or-less normal (but still gifted) cadet, for the purposes of the ep. (A more realistic treatment of a cadet who had been at the helm of the Enterprise during the Borg incursion would be for the other cadets to fight for the honor of carrying him in a sedan chair from class to class; he'd be the only cadet to be excused from the Kobayashi Maru test.) It actually fits in nicely with my wish that Wesley had been treated like a normal bright kid during the early seasons; you could still have had the "science fair project gone awry" plots, and the implicit reason behind Picard et al. sponsoring him for the science track of the Academy is that a) he'd learn about safety protocols and/or b) be someone else's problem. And he'd still have had bragging rights to simply being aboard the E-D during the Borg thing and other stuff.

The other thing that makes it work for Wesley is that I don't remember him being shown as having friends his age before now. Most of the kids on the E-D seem to be much younger than him; probably the person closest to his age is Robin Lefler, who's already an ensign, and the only group of real peers that we see him with are the other prospective cadets that he takes the Academy entrance exam with. Speaking of Very Special Episodes, peer pressure, as they say, is a hell of a drug.

It was kind of startling to find out that we hadn't actually seen the Academy before now, since it's been mentioned so much in the past (Kirk's Academy tormentor Finnegan, the Kobayashi Maru test and the training simulator in what may or may not be the Academy in TWOK) and we did see Starfleet HQ in TMP. Ray Walston was great; I didn't care so much that we don't know what Picard got in trouble for, especially as we'll get more about his rep as a young hellraiser in next season's "Tapestry." And I really liked Robby McNeill's work as Locarno; he's just so smooth as the ambitious cadet who seamlessly rationalizes throwing his dead buddy under the bus that you can imagine him doing so IRL at one of the actual service academies. I can even understand why they didn't use Locarno instead of revamping the character into Tom Paris for VOY; Paris was more chaotic neutral, in a way, and Locarno more evil, and harder to plot a real redemption arc for. (There's some interesting discussion of that in Locarno's MA entry.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 AM on May 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

This episode made me actually care about Wesley. This is really a tribute to Wheaton, because Wes makes the worst possible series of choices. He ends up lacking the conviction to support his friends, but also doesn't manage to work up the nerve to tell the truth until after Picard's explicit threat to expose him, and lacks the courage to tell his friends what he's going to do, and waits until the last possible second to do so. It's especially galling because he's been here before: remember back at the start of season three, where he releases nanites that nearly kill the entire crew, and he doesn't tell anyone until halfway through the episode because he didn't want to get in trouble? That episode ended with him going on a date with a cute girl, apparently to drive home the point that he had learned nothing.

Anyway, after so many episodes of "the entire crew pulls together to fix Wes's mistake", it was kind of gratifying to see them pull together to expose his mistake, instead. I feel that TNG works best when there are consequences, and there are significant consequences this time. It's a credit to the writing and acting that I feel bad for both Wesley and Jean-Luc by the end.
posted by phooky at 7:32 AM on May 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

I thought the reason they didn't use Locarno was because of IP reasons, that they'd have to give the writer who created Locarno a royalty for his use on Voyager, and they didn't want anything to unnecessarily add to production costs?

Wheaton's palpable shame and discomfort is really good here, and Stewart is really laying it on thick (as is appropriate) in his scenes with Wesley, great stuff. I had forgotten how enjoyable this episode is, it's very rewatchable, the plot and pacing seem very distinct from typical TNG. Building the drama by having Wesley quietly begging his mom not to try to get involved was really good.

It is weird to think about how Wesley would "really" be perceived at the academy, coming from being a respected junior officer and helmsman of the ship that literally saved civilization from human history's greatest threat just a couple of years ago. I think it would take a herculean effort for Wesley not to become the "well, actually" guy in all his classes. "
posted by skewed at 7:55 AM on May 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
First Edition included 3 rare cards based on this episode, such as Premiere's Satelk, mostly interesting for being retconned as a commander of U.S.S. Jupiter from the Star Trek: Armada game, released as a promo card.

Q-Continuum's Nick Locarno was part of a self-conscious attempt to A) beef up the flagging options for a personnel to be used by Klingons or Romulans at the time and B) feature a familiar face from that one show. The game posits that getting kicked out of Starfleet is tantamount to leaving the Federation entirely and going rogue, so to speak. A rather similar Thomas Paris card was released as a promo just 8 months later.

Holodeck Adventures Boothby is about what one can expect from 'personnel focused on a special ability in 1E'.

Come Second edition, Andrea Brand, Academy Superintendent is featured as a pan-Federation skill filler. Second Edition's 10th release, To Boldly Go, featured a card cycle based on the episode including Boothby, Groundskeeper(that stat bonus is way-more-good in 2E); Jean Hajar, Nova Squadron Navigator; Nicholas Locarno, Nova Squadron Leader; Sito Jaxa, Nova Squadron Pilot; and Wesley Crusher, Nova Squadron Pilot. The kids are all right for their cost, but really you wanna use them for Practice Orbital Maneuvers to make get the most out of them. If you're running Cadets you might as well toss them on U.S.S. Valiant, Red Squad Training Ship while you're at it.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:43 AM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought the reason they didn't use Locarno was because of IP reasons, that they'd have to give the writer who created Locarno a royalty for his use on Voyager, and they didn't want anything to unnecessarily add to production costs?

I've seen this bandied around a lot, but the mysterious WGA rule that this allegedly falls under is always [citation needed].
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

That's interesting, I guess if it were a true story there probably would have been someone involved who would have said so in an interview. There are generally fixed minimums for writers who create a character who is then used in a spin-off, as can be seen in this WGA compensation schedule (page 45). So that's something that would have to be paid for each episode Locarno appeared in. I can imagine the producers being willing to pay up in order to add an established character like O'Brien or Worf, but not for Lacarno. However, also seems plausible that it wouldn't be a big deal, I don't really know how tight-fisted they were. If I'm reading that WGA agreement correctly, it'd be a $4,399 royalty per episode if this happened now, which seems like a small amount on what was somewhere north of $1 million per episode production budget even back in 25 years ago.
posted by skewed at 9:49 AM on May 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Cool--I've never seen the actual document before, thanks!
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:23 AM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I suspect that "Using Locarno would have meant a royalty payment" is one of those weird intellectual property rationales that become commonly accepted but don't make much sense.* For one thing, it's not like this is an episode that came out of the slush pile. It's written by Ron Moore and Naren Shankar, who continued to work for TNG and DS9 for many years. For another, the separated rights on a TV series devolve to the series creator, not to the episode writers--and Roddenberry continues to get the "Based on Star Trek by" credit today for the new series that presumably covers any TNG character (e.g. Q coming back to both Lower Decks and Picard).

*(See also, "Nintendo can't re-release Earthbound because some of the music resembles work by the Beatles," which was popular for a while among people who didn't know Vanilla Ice beat the lawsuit by Queen.)
posted by thecaddy at 11:14 AM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

If it really is that there was no financial reason to not use Locarno (And why would there be? Both of the writers of this episode were still working for Paramount when Voyager was conceived) then I think it's just another incidence of Voyager wimping out on doing something bold. Voyager could have been about a ship full of terrorists and criminals trying desperately to come together and save their collective asses but they just could not pull the trigger. Tom Paris was already a shitheel, just go ahead and make him straight-up evil.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

A couple things about this episode, if you don't mind an interloper from the journey of the good ship Voyager popping in; one is Picard's big line "A lie of omission is still a lie" caused a long lasting disagreement between me and the friend I watched all Next Gen with, I think the argument is a basically an interpretive tautology if held as true, a lie is a lie and I'm saying you lied because I don't like your choice, or wouldn't be a universal if interpreted as omitting information is a lie. My friend of course disagreed, but we argued back and forth about it for years, and probably still would be doing so if I hadn't moved across the country. Just one of the weird little things about the series that stuck with me after so much else has faded from memory.

The other is the quote from Moore mentioned above which I just saw for the first time,

Moore later elaborated that, had they prevailed, the story would have been structured very differently, such that Wesley's actions would still be the "correct" moral choice.

That, for me, sort of captures the essence of why I have difficulties with the various Trek shows, not to mention many other series, the idea of constantly tweaking the world of the show to maintain the character's choices are "correct" or only wrong within acceptable bounds of minimal harm in fault, feels like it bends the "reality" of the stories towards the characters too much and by extension keeps the viewer too comfortable in their associations. The episodes of the shows that did this the least are often those I thought best, Janeway or Riker choosing against the grain makes the characters feel more vital to me than finding twists that will fit the rest of their storyworld more comfortably into supporting the rightness of the main characters. Again, no big beef intended, just something that always kinda bugged me but didn't have a clear outlet for noting til reading the quote.

Anyway, while I haven't joined into the conversations before, I've enjoyed reading a lot of them for the shows I best remember and enjoy them all as much as ever. Y'all do good work!
posted by gusottertrout at 1:56 PM on May 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Good points all around. A couple of things:

I wish Wes's first moments with Bev and Jean-Luc hadn't ended with Nick showing up and Wes not very subtly asking the adults to get lost. Alarm bells for them and the audience, geez!

Given her characterization here, I'm really surprised that Sito isn't one of those Bajorans mentioned by Ro who changes the order of their names to "assimilate." But then, AFAIK, we never actually encounter that in canon.

Sito is her family name, isn't it? I was watching just now and Locarno in his conversation with Wes kept talking about himself, Jean, and Sito. They must not have given her a given name in this one and "Sito" was all she had for a name.

I wish Wes had gotten a moment with Boothby. Picard told Wes to seek him out in "Final Mission." I would have liked to have seen an example of what their relationship looked like.

This is one of the best Wes episodes and is a quality episode overall.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:51 PM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is an interesting episode and perhaps the turning point (intentionally or not) for the Academy in BermanTrek. Before The First Duty, the Academy was just the Academy, where wunderkinds went to earn their place in Starfleet, the great human vocation in the 24th Century. But The First Duty opens the door to something more insidious than even the S1 alien conspiracy to take over Starfleet: hubris. It's not mentioned in the episode (I dont think), but my old old old Star Trek Chronology mentions that Nick Locarno was expected to make captain by age twenty-five. I assume the Okudas didn't just pull that out of thin air. By Wes' time, the Academy seems to have become something more like Top Conn, where they're keeping score and there are no points for second place. This Dark Academy would be explored more later on in DS9 with Red Squad.

But I agree, this is an excellent Wes episode and overall.
posted by Stuka at 7:18 PM on May 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Good to see ya, gus!

This is an interesting episode and perhaps the turning point (intentionally or not) for the Academy in BermanTrek. Before The First Duty, the Academy was just the Academy, where wunderkinds went to earn their place in Starfleet, the great human vocation in the 24th Century. But The First Duty opens the door to something more insidious than even the S1 alien conspiracy to take over Starfleet: hubris.

When you consider the function of Starfleet Academy in-universe, and its real-world analogues, it kinda seems like descent into hubris was inevitable, if you want to look at the Academy plausibly (as opposed to looking at it through Roddenberry-colored glasses). That's what DS9 was so consistently good at: looking at established Trek concepts plausibly w/r/t real-world analogues and in-universe extrapolations, often with (naturally) tense and morally-grey results like we get here. Really, then, this could even be called the turning point for BermanTrek period in terms of showing that the UFP/Starfleet isn't Humanity Perfected so much as Humanity Significantly Evolved (which AFAICT is the main reason a lot of Trek old-schoolers disliked DS9).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:35 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

the UFP/Starfleet isn't Humanity Perfected so much as Humanity Significantly Evolved

Thus the apparent replacement of Nova Squadron with Red Squad; they won't make the same old mistakes as their predecessors--they'll make all new and even more spectacular ones! [spoilers for DS9 episodes]
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:45 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of disappointed with Beverly in this one. From the sleepwalking discussion with Picard when Wesley is first injured to the complete obliviousness of "I know you're telling the truth but the satellite data made it look as if you were lying", Gates wasn't really given a lot to work with, was she?

Morally outraged Picard is best Picard, though.
posted by hanov3r at 7:13 AM on May 21, 2021

Oh yeah: Playmates did a Cadet Wesley figure approximating his attire in this episode, you can kinda see why in an interview Wheaton opined that they 'look like junk'.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:00 PM on May 22, 2021

« Older Mystery Science Theater 3000: ...   |  Live Stream: Semifinal 2 (2021... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments