In the ninth episode of the fourth season of The Next Generation, Wesley and Picard go on a mission together that’s somehow more disastrous than the last one they went on. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Well, at least Wesley Crusher got a better send-off than Tasha Yar initially did.
I wonder if that played a part in the construction of “Final Mission,” which is about as good as one can get for a “final” episode. I get the sense that Wesley truly is going to be gone for some time, perhaps the remainder of the show, and the immensity of this episode is part of the reason why I felt this way. It’s a brutal story of survival and ingenuity, one that fits Wesley’s character arc, but it also feels so wholly unlike other Star Trek episodes.
I understand the budgetary concerns that prevent most shows from doing whatever they want, and I believe that part of the charm of both Star Trek shows I’ve seen comes from the way they utilize repetitive sets to tell different stories. Granted, the production team for The Next Generation has CLEARLY improved on that formula, and it’s been a lot of fun to be impressed by this particular show. That being said? Part of the allure of “Final Mission” is the brilliant location used for this shoot. I have no idea where in California this show sent Stewart, Wheaton, and Tate, but it absolutely makes this a better episode. It’s immersion, plain and simple. I was able to easily imagine that these people had crash-landed on a hellish desert landscape, that they were suffering while thirsting for any kind of liquid, and that they were relieved to find a source of water.
There are just so many haunting, powerful shots within this episode. Even choosing to frame Wesley in that one scene as the leader of the trio was a fantastic choice, just in terms of portraying him as such within a power-fantasy-style story. I think I’ve gotten to a point where my brain is so used to the settings and sound stages used by the show that I can at least block the critical side of my brain while watching The Next Generation. So it’s a thrill when I don’t even have to worry about that, you know?
On top of that, this is such a great unofficial “sequel” to the last time these goobers traveled together. Previously, Picard could barely tolerate the idea of traveling with a child, and now? He was eager to have Wesley alongside him and to give him his final mission before leaving for Starfleet. He is the adorably proud father figure that Wesley has always needed!!! IT IS SO CUTE IT HURTS! And it’s so fascinating and rewarding to watch how that role changes. Again, this is a power fantasy, and it’s easy to view this story as a chance for the show to elevate Wesley’s character in his final moments. Has he been my favorite crew member? No, not particularly. I think the narrative has been kinder to him than virtually anyone else on the show. Even when he fucks up â€“ like in “Evolution” â€“ he is often not held accountable by anyone at all. He’s goofy and fun, and I certainly don’t dislike him at all, so this episode felt right, if that makes sense. He can be heroic and get a proper send-off without the show making him out to be a perfect character. Even within this episode, he’s quick to defend Picard in a boisterous manner when Picard didn’t really need that.
But what does Wesley excel at? Why is he destined for greatness within Starfleet? For me, it comes down to an adage I’ll steal from Craig Ferguson: Star Trek is about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism. I don’t think Dirgo is a fool so much as he’s a brute. He is impatient, selfish, arrogant, and short-sighted. His character might have some similarities to Wesley, I’ll give you that. And I think you could do a wonderful meta-commentary on how Dirgo was Wesley when he was younger! That would mean the Wesley we see here â€“ about to enter the Academy â€“ is a character who has grown and become mature and figured out how to be a better person and a better crew member. He tries to treat the mysterious force field around the fountain as a puzzle to solve, not as a thing to be destroyed. He prefers to think twice before acting, though not all the time. He’s still a teenage boy, of course! But his actions in “Final Mission” give us an idea of the sort of person Wesley will grow to become.
His story may actually end here; I have no idea if he’ll be pulled back into The Next Generation by some last-minute plot twist like he has been before. Regardless, a chapter has closed on the character of Wesley Crusher, and I can’t deny that. And it works. Picard and Wesley switch roles; Wesley gets a truly great ending to send him off; and the show goes above and beyond to film the kind of episode that would be worthy for someone like Wes.
Bravo, The Next Generation.
The video for “Final Mission” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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