Written by Diane Duane, Michael Reaves, Johnny Dawkins, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Rob Bowman
When looking at the credits for this first-season episode, I immediately realized why it worked so much better than others I’d watched. One of the co-writers on this story is Diane Duane, who has written some of the best Star Trek novels I’ve read.
An arrogant “propulsion expert” is beamed aboard the Enterprise, along with his assistant, to fine-tune the engines in the hopes of achieving better performance. Kosinski is so believably portrayed by Stanley Kamel. He comes off as the typical people I’ve witnessed who have come in with the arrogance that they are the greatest gift to a corporation. Usually, they end up driving it into the ground.
In many ways, that becomes the case here. His own arrogance is in many ways Kosinski’s undoing. As he and his assistant enter engineering with Chief Engineer Argyle and Commander Riker, he acts as if he owns the place and talks down to both Riker and Argyle.
His assistant is a much more likable alien from the planet Tal-Alpha-C. His name is unpronounceable in our language. Wesley Crusher is in Engineering doing a school project, and the two of them develop a natural rapport with each other.
Everything seems to go haywire, however, as a trial run of the fine-tuning is performed. The Enterprise is transported over 2,700,000 light years away from home – a distance which would take 300 light years to return from at full-warp. Only Wesley witnesses the phasing in and our of our reality of the Assistant during the trial run.
Kosinski is so arrogant about his apparent success in pushing past the Warp 10 barrier, he has dreams of a new speed scale titled “The Kosinski Scale”. He is not worried about getting home, only the adulation that is due him.
After an attempt to return falters, so does Kosinski. Watching him unravel somewhat leaves the viewer smirking. Meanwhile, his assistant is dying, having exhausted all of his strength. Wesley tries to tell Commander Riker what he witnessed, but Riker dismisses him.
The Enterprise has landed in an uncharted area of space – someplace where thought and reality are merging and strange things begin happening on the ship.
The Assistants true self is revealed – he is an alien “Traveler” who was using Kosinski and his abilities as a way to study humans. Before this time, his race considered them too primitive and uninteresting to be bothered with.
Before he makes a final attempt to send the Enterprise back home, the Traveler has a word with Captain Picard about Wesley. During their time together, the Traveler has seen that Wesley is a prodigy and has insights that are truly gifted and not normally seen in a boy of his age. He urges Picard to use this opportunity to help guide Wesley, but not to tell him about what has been said.
To send the Enterprise back, the crew is told to “center their thoughts on duty”. I found this to be an almost Peter-Pan like moment of “think happy thoughts”.
As the Traveler uses his abilities to send the Enterprise back to its point of origin, he phases completely out of their reality.
I thought this episode was interesting. It set up a lot of potential in Wesley that I think was wasted in later episodes. The concept of The Traveler was a great addition, and was carried off very well. The writing was great, especially the part about space and time and thought aren’t separate things they appear to be. The concepts here were stated clearly and without giving me a headache.
There was humor too, mostly in the shape of Kosinsky, but also when the strange things began appearing on the Enterprise. When a Klingon “targ” appears on the bridge next to Worf and he explains that it’s the Klingon version of a kitty cat, it’s a fairly humorous moment. (Even though this hints of Worf’s childhood being on the Klingon homeworld, something we find out didn’t happen in later episodes).
An exceptional piece of acting is also to be noted in Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of Picard as he is talking with his “mother”. I thought this was a tremendous piece of work pulled off with such clarity by Stewart. I have always felt that he was the best “Captain” and small scenes like these tucked away in episodes only confirm it.
There was one strange thing in the episode. When Picard is giving his “think happy thoughts” speech, the scenes switch to different crew members around the ship listening to him. At one point, we see a middle-aged male Asian crewmember in what appears to be the Starfleet uniform with the skirt. I thought it was odd, and I actually watched the scene a few times making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.
This episode ranks as one of the best of the first season. Unfortunately, that is not saying much.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Haven
Next episode (link): Star Trek – The Next Generation: The Last Outpost