Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Episode Review - The First Duty (Next Generation, Season 5)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – En route to Earth so that Captain Picard can deliver the commencement address at Starfleet Academy, the Enterprise is notified of an accident involving Wesley Crusher. While Wes survived the accident, one of his friends did not. As they help Wes deal with his loss, an inquiry is begun to determine what happened. Picard and his crew are dismayed when it becomes apparent that Wesley and his friends are keeping vital information secret from the Academy, information that could end Wesley’s Starfleet career before it even begins.

Score: 8/10 – For an Earth-bound episode with no new aliens, space battles, major mysteries, or the like, this is one amazing episode that is packed full of powerful storytelling and pristine performances. Of particular note are Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton. Both actors are at their finest in this episode. This is the episode that caused many fans who had previously been critical of the Wesley character to start respecting the character. Wes was made more human and more real than the simple boy genius who saved the ship every week during season 1. We are also introduced to Robert Duncan McNeill, who would later be cast as Tom Paris in Voyager. It was often rumored that they wanted to have Nic Lacarno in Voyager, but felt that his character was a bit beyond redemption. This meant that Tom Paris was created, and thankfully the same actor got the part. Add to that some great performances from the rest of the guest stars and you have a solid episode of television. I also liked the Canadian reference (being Canadian myself) when Wesley told the father of his fallen friend about the ski trip that they did in Calgary. Being the city where I currently live, I liked that.

Relevance - 3 points. A lot that ties in things here. We see a continuation of Wesley Crusher’s story and his days at the academy. This will be concluded in the seventh season episode “Journey’s End”. We are introduced to Cadet Sito Jaxa, a Bajoran citizen who will later appear in the seventh season in a great little episode called “Lower Decks”. Thought Starfleet Academy has been mentioned many times this is the episode that first get to see it. We also have reference to “Encounter at Farpoint” when Picard reminds Wesley of his first visit to the bridge where he sat in the captain’s chair. Finally, we get to meet the famous Boothby, groundskeeper and mentor to Picard and so many other Starfleet officers. The role was brilliantly cast with legendary Ray Walston as the wise gardener and caretaker. We will get to meet him again, albeit as a disguised member of Species 8472 and a hallucination.

Continuity - 3 points. Character continuity gets a big point here. Wesley is out of his element in trying to cover up for the sake of the team. You see his inner turmoil as he wrestles with his sense of integrity. Ultimately, he does the right thing and comes open about what happened. Picard is also right in character by giving the young cadet a tongue lashing of a lifetime, espousing the virtues of the truth.  This shows one of the most real elements of their relationship. Continuity for the story is solid as well, and everything is right with the universe. Full points here.

Character Development – 3 points. “Final Mission” was a great Wesley Crusher episode. “First Duty” is a phenomenal Wesley Crusher episode. We see his growth as a character take a great turn for the better. As I mentioned earlier, this is the episode that turned a lot of the fan base around on Wesley Crusher. He messed up, and messed up big. He was no longer the “wunderkind” that he was originally presented as. He was human, hurt, and fallible. Then, when Picard dresses him down for his actions, we saw Wesley’s vulnerability. This also allows his relationship with Picard to evolve as well. We see in Picard a different aspect of his mentorship role towards Wes. Ever since the famous “Shut up Wesley!” in Season 1, we have Picard show young Mr. Crusher the tough love that we sometimes have to show those who look up to us. It takes Picard to a new level, and it is very effective.

Social Commentary – 3 points. “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…”. With this line from Picard, we are given the message from this episode, and it is the universal concept of “truth”. When we discuss aspects like integrity, honor, and a sense of right vs. wrong, truth is always there, front and center. This episode delivers that message with perfection. It should come as no surprise that the United States Air Force shows this episode to their cadets during training to emphasize their motto “I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

Cool Stuff – 2 points. This is not your typical science fiction episode. In fact, there are no space battles, science principles, new aliens, or anything else that makes this episode really “cool” that I normally include. Instead, there are two very cool things in this episode that are noteworthy. First, Ray Walston as Boothby, What a pure stroke of casting genius. I remember being at a convention before this episode was aired, and it was announced that he had been cast in this role, and the crowd erupted in cheering. I am hard pressed to imagine a better choice. Second, Picard gives likely one of his best speeches in his verbal dressing down of Wesley Crusher. Great acting and an emotional moment that great television is defined by.

Rank Admiral – (22 points). I have to admit that I am a little bit surprised that this episode is not included in more people’s Top 20 lists. Maybe not Top 10, but Top 20 seems about right. It does seem to get overlooked a lot in Top X lists, but it is an excellent piece of television. It shows that you don’t need actions and fight sequences nor love interests to be considered top quality television. Perhaps a lot of us overlook it in favor of glitzier episodes, but this is a must watch on my list.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Next Generation, click this link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.