Written by Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar
Directed by Paul Lynch
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is invited to speak at the Starfleet Academy commencement ceremonies and so the Enterprise is returning to Earth. Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), who once lived on board the ship with his mother (who is the ships’ doctor) is part of a flight squadron scheduled to perform at the commencement. Just prior to the Enterprise’s arrival, there is an accident and one of the cadets in the squadron is killed. Wesley is injured, but it’s nothing that won’t heal.
At the inquiry, there are some discrepancies in the testimony of the cadets involved versus the data Starfleet Academy has collected. There are also parts of the stories that just don’t seem to add up.
Admiral Brand (portrayed by Jacqueline Brookes) seems to sense something is amiss and gives Captain Picard to begin his own investigation. Picard puts his crew to work on finding out exactly how the accident happened.
It’s nice to see Wesley in a very different setting than he’s been seen before. While he was a regular on the show, he was rarely seen with those his own age. Rather, he was a teenager (supposedly wise beyond his years) who was almost always interacting with the adults – officers – on board the Enterprise. By having this setting, plus Wesley often portrayed as smarter than those around him, Wesley quickly grew into a very irritating character to most fans.
Here, however, Wesley is among his contemporaries. The greatest influence is Nick Locarno (portrayed by Robert Duncan McNeill). Nick is Wesley’s squadron commander and walks around with an air of bravado somewhat reminiscent of a certain starship Captain known as James T. Kirk.
In the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, much is made of Kirk’s antics on how he passed a particular test that no one else ever had while attending Starfleet Academy, known as the Kobayashi Maru. Locarno’s bravado and antics really brought that to my mind. Were the writers looking to show the other side of what happens when overconfidence takes over where caution should be? Kirk’s alteration of the conditions of the Kobayashi Maru put no one in real danger (that we know of), but he was changing the rules to suit his own need to never fail. Locarno is also changing the rules – and getting his squadron to go along with it – so that he can make a name for himself.
This puts Wesley in a conflict that almost every teenager is put through. He is stuck between wanting to be part of the group and go along with those in his squadron, and the truth and what is expected of him by those who he loves and who care for him. It’s interesting to see Wesley this fallible. It’s also interesting to wonder if his actions, in the end, would have been different had the Enterprise not been present.
Robert Duncan McNeill is excellent as Nick Locarno, and I think was by far the most interesting character of all the young people, even Wesley. He will later appear on Star Trek: Voyager as Tom Paris. It would have been an interesting point if that character had actually been a continuation of the character in The First Duty. It could have been done and would have placed Paris joining Voyager about seven years down the line after this incident, easily fitting in with the story. McNeill’s terrific acting here probably won him that role. That he could create a character that resembles a youthful Kirk so much without having it become over-the-top really speaks to his abilities.
One minor nitpick is that when the gardener at the Academy, Boothby (portrayed by Ray Walston) sees Picard again he remarks “What happened to your hair? This is a direct contrast to the depiction of a young Picard that was seen in Star Trek: Nemesis.
It’s a pretty decent episode that suffers only because at times it seems a bit preachy on the subject of telling the truth. Star Trek has never been noted for its subtleties, however. There really never was a question in my mind what action Wesley would take in the end, although having him choose the other path might have led to a terrific second story later on as he copes with his choice.
Previous episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cause and Effect
Next episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cost of Living