WARNING: Once you've journeyed to the end of this article, you'll have encountered many spoilers for TNG's "Journey's End" along the way. If this path is not of interest to you, turn away now.
Whew. Not stellar, but a hell of a lot better than "Genesis".
Of course, that doesn't mean much. Still, it was very ... pleasant. More after a synopsis:
The Enterprise is at starbase 310 to meet with Admiral Nechayev, and also takes on board Wesley Crusher, on leave from the Academy. While Wes quickly proves much more prickly and remote than usual, there are bigger problems afoot: Nechayev tells Picard about the new border arrangements with the Cardassians, and gives him the unenviable task of moving a colony now located in Cardassian space. The colony, on Dorvan Five, is an old American Indian tribe that left Earth to find a home centuries ago -- and the historical parallels of uprooting them due to a political decision are not lost on Picard.
Once the ship reaches Dorvan, Picard meets with the tribal council, only to discover that they consider this planet home, for intangible, spiritual reasons far beyond the transient environmental issues. They do not intend to leave, but both sides agree to reconvene the following day and eat dinner at the Enterprise that evening.
After a brief argument between Bev and Wesley (in which Wesley informs Bev that he might just possibly be tired of living up to expectations), the dinner commences. There, Picard talks to Anthwara (the tribe's leader) about the tribe's past and answers questions about his own family, and Wes too has a meeting -- with Lakanta, another colonist who tells Wes that he saw him in a "visionquest" two years ago, and knew that Wes would be coming, "to find the answers that you seek."
As Jean-Luc tells Beverly that Wes must work out his problems for himself, Wes follows Lakanta down to the planet and asks Lakanta what to do next. Lakanta talks to him about the sacredness of everything on the planet, including Wes himself, and urges Wes to start treating himself with respect. Wes agrees, and the pair then retire to begin Wes's own visionquest.
Picard and the council have yet to reach an agreement, and despite Picard's own moral objections to his orders, Picard informs them that "no" is not an acceptable answer. Anthwara, however, says that Picard won't use force -- in fact, that Picard is here to atone for the crimes of one of his ancestors, a Xavier Maribosa Picard partly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of their tribe nearly seven centuries ago.
As if that weren't enough to drive Picard to distraction, three Cardassians suddenly appear down on the planet. Led by Gul Evek, they are there to do an advance survey of materials left behind, and do not intend to be deterred by a group of colonists that should be gone anyway. Picard allows them to remain, but informs Evek in no uncertain terms that until the border change takes effect, he will protect these people.
In the "habak", the chamber where visionquests occur, Wes and Lakanta talk briefly of spirits that have visited before, and then Wes is instructed to start the fire and sit. Lakanta says that "I can open the door -- but only you can go through it," as the quest begins.
Picard's attempt to plead for more time with Starfleet fails, despite Nechayev's sympathies. Wes, meanwhile, continues to stare into the fire, and suddenly sees a vision of his father, who tells him that he's reached the end of this journey, the one he's been on ever since Jack died -- and that "now it's time to find a path that is truly yours. Don't follow me any further." Wes wakes and returns to the camp, only to find Worf making surreptitious preparations to beam the entire colony off-planet. Appalled, Wes attempts to put a stop to it the easiest way he can: he informs the colony of Worf's actions, very publicly, and nearly incites a riot as a result.
Picard is, to put it mildly, not pleased at this news, and tells Wes that his actions were completely inexcusable. He tells Wes that the morality judgement was not his to make, and that "while you wear that uniform, you will obey every order you are given." Wes agrees, but promptly removes his combadge and tells Picard he's resigning from the Academy immediately. He later explains this action a bit more to Beverly, who is very upset by it. Wes explains that Starfleet has never really been for him, but it wasn't until recently that he began to realize it -- and it wasn't until his vision that he actually accepted it. Bev, keeping in mind the Traveller's promise that Wes has a very different destiny in store for him, accepts this.
Wes returns to the surface, only to find that two of the Cardassians have been taken prisoner by the colonists. With the situation growing more volatile by the minute, Evek (on the Enterprise meeting with Picard) prepares to order troops to beam down, rescue the colonists, and "occupy" the village. Picard protests, threatening a response that would lead to war. A Cardassian tries to break free, and a struggle ensues. Wes screams "NO!" and rushes to help --
-- and finds that everything around him is frozen. He stands confused, until Lakanta (very much unfrozen) reassures him that Wes has simply stepped out of time for a moment, beginning a journey very few humans can take. Lakanta now reveals himself to be the Traveller, offering Wesley the chance to explore this new side of himself, with the Traveller as guide. Wes accepts, and the Traveller urges him not to interfere in this current fight, trusting them to work out their own problems. The two walk off, as the fight continues.
At the last moment, Picard manages to convince Evek to avoid a confrontation by beaming up his officers (an action which Picard then repeats for the Enterprise crewmembers). The issue is settled: the tribe renounces its Federation citizenship, allowing them to stay where they are but putting them at risk for Cardassian interference. Evek, however, says that he believes they will be left alone, providing the tribe does the same. Evek leaves, satisfied, and Anthwara thanks Picard for his help, assuring him that he has erased the "stain of blood" that has been on his family for centuries. The Enterprise departs, but not before Picard and Beverly bid fond farewells to Wesley, who has decided to remain behind to learn what he can from these people before continuing his training with the Traveller.
Well, that pretty much covers that. Now, onwards:
For the most part, I rather liked "Journey's End". I didn't love it -- there were a few things I wanted to see that weren't there, and the pace got a bit slow here and there -- but I liked it. It was pleasant, and I thought it was a nice farewell to Wes (whose presence alone guarantees that a fringe 10% or so of the net will hate it sight unseen).
The main problem I had with the show, and the one thing that'll keep it from a very high rating, is this: there is a perfect point to tie into Wes's growing alienation, and a perfect reason why he might have been having added difficulties at the Academy. It's called ostracism; ostracism after turning in his teammates in "The First Duty". It was said even then that Wes was in for "difficult times ahead", and Wes should show signs of that strain.
Nothing we see in "Journey's End", though, suggests that. The reference Bev makes to his Academy time suggests that he's been doing fine until the last semester, and Wes refers on at least one occasion to his many friends on campus. That makes it sound like "The First Duty" was removed from existence by the stroke of a pen -- and given just how excellent a piece of development that show was for Wes, and just how neatly it could have fit in here with minimal changes, it really hurts to see it ignored.
That's my main gripe. "Journey's End" works just fine by itself, but it somehow feels like there's a big story we missed in between "The First Duty" and this to explain the changes. Without that explanation, this show feels like it was shoehorned in. That's my major gripe.
Otherwise, I liked most of the show. I thought Wes's vision, while not quite as intensely dreamlike and weird as I might have made it, got the point across to both Wes and us with a minimum of beating-over-the-head (something which would have been very easy to do). Wes may not have understood what Jack meant immediately, but I did, and I was gratified to see the point wasn't belabored. (Besides, it was wonderful to see Jack again, even for a moment -- and even if he does look like MST3K's Mike Nelson. :-) )
It was interesting to see Nechayev in a slightly more sympathetic role than usual, but I have to confess I didn't feel particularly sympathetic for her. Nogulich's delivery suggests unpleasant regardless of the intent, and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. (On the other hand, the mere fact that Picard has a "regular superior" is so long overdue that I'm not going to quibble about this.)
I liked the two major guest stars after Wes and Nechayev, those being Tom Jackson as Lakanta and Ned Romero as Anthwara. Both did a good job being enigmatic and frustratingly calm; while I'm not sure it's particularly realistic, it really did work for dramatic purposes. (George Aguilar as Wakasa, the most hostile member of the council, however, has to go. Bleh.)
I do think the whole "look, we're including Native Americans, aren't we wonderfully multicultural!" angle of the show was a bit overdone, however. First, it stuck out like a sore thumb -- I'm all for keeping cultural differences alive, but not when every scene featuring these people is saying "Look, we are a separate culture -- a culture that's not yours and that's separate, got it?" That's more or less what was here; thankfully, it was rarely the majority of any given scene, some of the early ones aside. Second, I'm not certain it's a particularly accurate portrayal; I don't know why, but I have that feeling. (My own contact with Native Americans has been exceedingly limited, however, so I'd appreciate comments from those with more experience than I on how well it worked.) As I said, it worked beautifully for dramatic purposes, and since I don't know enough of the reality to comment, that's all I can really talk about.
As for Wes's final fate: works for me. I think there was a slight stretch to make the Traveller's comments applicable to here (remember, he's supposed to be a Mozart of _engineering and propulsion_, according to the Traveller way back when), but not enough to get me really concerned. I think Wes realizing that Starfleet isn't really for him is a very fair realization for someone who's been through everything this character has to make, and it was well executed in the bargain. (Truth to tell, I think it makes Wes a good role model: he's not afraid any more to admit making a fairly large mistake in living up to others' expectations. Then again, I've been reading a lot of Feynman lately, so I have a vested interest in anyone making the point that others' expectations can be unreasonable.)
That's it. "Journey's End" is a pretty simple story, really, and works well for what it's trying to do. If nothing else, the utter lack of technobabble is a marvelous cure for "Genesis" overload.
So, a few short points:
- An excellent detail which gave away Lakanta's identity earlier than planned. His statement about only being able to "open the door" for Wes, but Wes having to choose to go through is almost exactly the same phrasing he used when he discussed being able to rescue Bev in "Remember Me" three years ago. Sharp writing.
- Lots of detail problems in this show, though. Wes is wearing a third-year uniform (which might be a problem in itself, given that he allegedly had to repeat his first year two years ago), but Bev calls him a fourth-year cadet. The massacre Anthwara mentioned occurred in 1690, which he then calls over 700 years ago. Pardon? (The Traveller is also referred to as being from Tau Ceti, which is wrong.) Nothing earth-shattering in these points, but together they add up to being somewhat annoying.
- What's more, Anthwara's grandfather is said to have led the original expedition off Earth, 200 years earlier -- but that would imply (being generous and saying Anthwara's currently 90, and that the grandfather was young when he left, say 30) that his grandfather is a full 140 years older than Anthwara himself. Given long lifespans, it's not impossible -- but for a culture so deeply rooted in past traditions, it seems markedly implausible. Would there be a real problem in going back another two generations?
- I feel it should be made shown that the Wes as portrayed here is, more or less, my brother-in-law, except that Wes was a little more active in being pissed off at the world. Just a note -- and I hope he never sees this. :-)
- A familiar name in the "based upon material by" credit: Anatonia Napoli was the second name, but the first was Shawn Piller. Relative of Michael "Hi, I exec-produce" Piller?
- This is the second week in a row that we've seen virtually nothing of Geordi. Was LeVar busy during this time or something?
That's about it. "Journey's End" isn't earth-shattering, but it's a nice bit of closure for Wes. More power to it on that level.
So, wrapping up:
Plot: Simple, and fairly tight. The one major objection is the lack of any fallout from "The First Duty".
Plot Handling: The "we're multicultural, dammit!" bits were a little too much, but all in all nice.
Characterization: Nice. A trifle sparse for everyone but Wes and Picard, but nice.
OVERALL: Call it a 7. Pleasant.
NEXT WEEK: Well, we got an ad for calling in for a marathon rather than a real preview, but presumably it'll be "Force of Nature" next week. Oh, happy day.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"There comes a time in a young man's life when he doesn't want to stay with
his poor, senile mother; I understand."
"I'll come visit you in the Old Doctors' Home every Sunday."
-- Bev and Wes
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...