The tense, character-driven script for this earth-bound episode features plenty of meaty material for Patrick Stewart and the guest stars, all of which shine. They include Robert Duncan McNeil (who would go on to play Tom Paris in Voyager), Ray Waltson (who would reprise Boothby in two episodes of Voyager), Shannon Fill (who would reprise the role of Sito Jaxa in TNG's seventh season episode, "The Lower Decks") and, of course, Wil Wheaton returning as Wesley. The episode, showcasing the first ever appearance of the much talked about Starfleet Academy, builds the drama without any sci fi gimmicks and yet is probably the best Wesley episode of all; it's certainly one of the most unique and memorable Star Trek episodes of any series.
While en route to Earth Enterprise receives a message from Starfleet Academy saying that the vaunted Nova Squadron, of which Wesley Crusher is a member, has crashed during an in-flight training exercise killing one squad member. An investigation begins.
"The First Duty" is one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation for a number of reasons. First because it relies on actors, well-written dialouge and character development instead of special effects and phaser battles. While the aforementioned elements have worked very well in the past ("The Best of Both Worlds" especially), it's nice to see a change from all of that and see a very well-acted story. Wil Wheaton gives his best performance on the show as Wesley Crusher hands down. Ray Walston is also a high point of this episode. An episode worth your time.
No space battles, sci fi gimmicks or weird aliens appear in "The Final Duty". Instead, this is a character-driven drama that, unlike some other TNG episodes, actually tackles reality.
In another review (to "The Game"), I said that Wil Wheaton was a victim of poor writing; as the guy proved during his 5th season guest appearances (and Patrick Stewart commented in later interviews), he certainly didn't fall short in the acting category. Unlike more contrived "coming of age" stories that the writers forced upon Wheaton during the first four seasons (including a mediocre one with that exact title), this one really does deal with growing up and dealing with the consequences of one's actions.
The episode would be worthwhile, but not quite superb, if it weren't for a tour de force sequence in the Captain's Ready Room in which Picard really lays down the law for Wesley. In the previous few episodes, it felt like Patrick Stewart and/or the writers were slacking off, thinking they could stick any sort of pompous blather in Picard's mouth and make it come out impressive. Sorry, that doesn't work by this point in the series. But Stewart's raspy, intense delivery here is one of his finest moments in the series.
It's so rare in television or movies to see a character or storyline that is not black and white. Generally there is an antagonist and a protagonist; a right and a wrong. In this case, the viewer has the rare experience of not knowing what is right or wrong, or what we would do in Wesley's shoes. I'm sure we'd all like to think we'd tell the truth, but telling the truth will not bring cadet Josh back from the dead.
Wesley is put in a tough position that I would not take on for a million bucks. Loyalty to a truth that will only do harm to his team and put his career on the line, or loyalty to a group of friends who have always been there for him. The fact that Wesley struggled so hard with this was very realistic and well-done. Previously, Wesley has always been the type of goodie two-shoes who gets shoved into lockers. I've found myself wanting to give him a space-wedgie on several occasions. However, in this episode we see Wesley is not perfect and he is capable of lying. Had it not been for Picard's research, we can only assume he would have run with the lie until the bitter end.
Nicholas Locarno's character is not black or white either. He's the bad influence... he's the liar... but in the end he puts it all on the line for his team. In the end, the only thing gained is truth for the sake of truth. The case is closed, and nobody is in any serious trouble. Wesley's last-minute decision to tell the truth, while noble and bold, still had an effect on living members of a team who trusted him, and did nothing to change the past. So did he do the right thing or not? What would any one of us do in his place? Definitely a 10.
Wil Wheaton gets a great episode to show his acting prowess - something which was woefully missing when he was a regular on the show. The writing in this episode and "The Game" have been superb for the character of Wesley Crusher.
We get an interesting problem with the plot - is duty to one's friends more important than duty to the service (Starfleet)? The answer to Picard is neither, really; but a duty to the truth, which we hear in a wonderful monologue he delivers to Wesley in his ready room. "The first duty" is to the truth, and Picard certainly has lived up to that over the series's run. He opposes Starfleet to uncover conspiracies, and he fights his friends when he knows they're working against the truth. Wesley's realization of this notion is a beautiful thing to watch in the episode.
The fact that Nicholas Locarno takes the fall for the rest of Nova Squadron is a nice touch, too; they made him seem selfish at first when he asked Wesley to lie, but in the end, he stayed true to his word and took the fall to help his friends. Patrick Stewart does some wonderful acting as usual, this time in the role of Wesley's mentor. He's always been like his father - we even get him sitting opposite Beverly Crusher in the dorm room, like a father and mother visiting their child.
Boothby was a cool character to meet, and reminded me a lot of Picard's brother from "Family." This is a smart man who may not understand how a warp drive works, but he does know the politics of the Academy and he understands people.
The “Enterprise” is en-route to Starfleet Academy. Picard is scheduled to give this years commencement address. When the crew gets there we learn Wesley Crusher along with others in squadron is involved in an in-flight accident.
The “Enterprise” is en-route to Starfleet Academy. Picard is scheduled to give this years commencement address. When the crew gets there we learn Wesley Crusher along with others in squadron is involved in an in-flight accident. All squadron members were able to transport out of their ships except for Joshua Albert. Joshua was killed instantly. Joshua was a good friend of Wesley Crusher. Admiral Brand, the academy superintendent, is conducting an investigation. The Alpha Squadron hides the truth from Admiral Brand, but they can’t fool Picard. Picard has a talk with Wesley. Now the ball is in Wesley’s court.
The whole crux of this episode is not something that I would expect Wesley to do. For me, that makes the whole episode uncredible.
Having said that we see alot of detail from StarFleet academy and we see Boothby. "Paris" plays himself and is convincing as the "Jock" leader of the team. How Wesley ends up in what is supposedly a "cool" academy team is beyond me!
Maybe the length of time hes spent away from the Enterprise hed gotten into some bad habit. However, if the graduates from StarTrek are as prone to bend rules and truth as they apparently are in the academy, I would expect lots more of border infringements and diplomatic incidents! Furthermore, the amount of personnel, time and effort to investigate every little thing would make SFleet twice as large because of the beauracratic wing!
So the actualy issue is fair for the plot, and its handled well enough, but really - it was unintresting to me!
The whole episode is one of those ones that they put between the sort of episodes that the show became well known for!
Not just a filler, but one with quality execution!
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