Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Final Mission

The Next Generation, Season 4
"Final Mission"
Airdate: November 19, 1990
82 of 176 produced
82 of 176 aired


Captain Picard is heading to Pentarus V to mediate a dispute amongst the miners there. He asks Wesley to accompany him, as his last mission on the Enteprise before leaving for the Academy. Shortly after leaving the Enterprise, the mining vessel transporting them malfunctions, and along with its "captain" the three crash land in an arid desert. Meanwhile, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from a planet facing ecological disaster from an orbiting garbage scow leaking massive amounts of radiation. Will the Enterprise be able to save the planet? Will they do so in enough time to find Picard and Wesley?

"Sensors show that this guy is a twat, Captain."


Kevin: The production staff was trying to give Wesley a better send off than Tasha and I would say that they certainly succeeded on that front. Wesley solving the mystery du jour felt organic and credible. The threat to Picard's life was well achieved, and the dialogue between the two was simply heartrending. I loved that they reference the shuttle trip from Samaritan Snare, and when Picard tells Wesley he was always proud of him, I defy even the stoniest of you to not tear up a little.

Matthew: I enjoyed how Wesley said "You've thought us out of worse situations, and I'm going to think us out of this one." It not only tells us something about the Wesley character, but also, I think, the franchise. Survival drama, especially in deserts, is generally interesting, and it is interesting enough here. But I couldn't help having a nagging suspicion that there are just too many Class M worlds out there. Hell, our solar system only has one. We don't know of any moons in our system that would come even close. A moon generally is too small to hold onto an appreciable atmosphere - the ones that do are usually either extremely volcanically active, and thus poisonous to our kind of life; or offshoots of gas giants, and thus far, far too cold. So I think it may have been a more interesting sci-fi idea to have them crash on an inhospitable world, one without earth gravity, one with poisonous or thin atmosphere, something other than "Planet California." I get that budgets often constrain such things. But there must be a way to do it and remain cost effective.

Kevin: As for the mystery itself, I would have to say it's okay. It seems odd that a society advanced enough to make the forcefield would still guard a single fountain on a random moon so zealously, but maybe it had religious significance or something. I think a little explanation of who put it there would have been helpful. The tension with Dirgo was largely well done. I feel he was a little too obstinate for no reason in some places, and the end result was me being less sad when he died.

Matthew: Yeah, I really wish we would have found out about the fountain builders and their motives. Why is it a fountain, and not a pool? With such technology, why is it important? Why on this moon? This seems like such an obvious criticism, one has to think it was discussed and dismissed for whatever reason. TOS would have been all over this. Even just a line of dialogue, Wesley reading an inscription, something! This is a potentially glorious sci-fi opportunity which was horribly missed. One thing I found a bit off-putting was Wesley's overt snottiness towards Dirgo. He really was kind of a jerk. Perhaps Dirgo's behavior could have been tied to that, and Wesley could have learned a lesson from Picard about diplomacy and working with others.

Kevin: Speaking of Samaritan Snare, this show has one of the dumber Enterprise Distraction Plots as well. Let's review what's wrong here. Simply towing the ship out of orbit and aiming it at the sun should be sufficient. Inertia will carry it...wait for it... indefinitely until another force acts to stop it. Also, space is full of radiation. There is no way the ship is leaking more than the local star is producing. Even if the ship crashed into one of the asteroids, it still shouldn't pose a threat. Even if it did, tow the ship to the asteroid belt and leave it there until the rescue of Picard and Wesley is achieved. This was an entirely artificial crisis designed only to keep the Enterprise from saving the day sooner.This is less dumb than the Enterprise Distraction Plot in Samaritan Snare, but not by much.

Matthew: Yup. This is certainly in the "Contrived B-Plot Hall of Shame." I thought just the same thing about simply towing it into a much higher orbit and coming back to it. Even the objection of "what if it hits the asteroids" is easily surmounted by towing it off the ecliptic of the solar system in question. This is all so obvious that we can only conclude that the writers and producers said "Screw it, we need to fill 20 minutes, who cares if it makes sense." And that's a grave sin in my book. Hell, it would have been more interesting if they had just established in dialogue that they crashed on a planet with rocks that distort sensors or something. Then, we could have had the drama of the Enterprise searching but failing to find the missing crew, added to the survival drama. It was just a bad, bad choice, and it threatened to derail all of the fine scenes that Wes and Picard got together. Father figures being proud of their sons? Emotional goldmine. Towing garbage scows? What a waste.


Kevin: We've discussed Wil Wheaton seeming a little out of it this season, but I have to say he really delivered  when it counted. His scenes with Picard were lovely and pitched perfectly. He really struck the balance of more mature than previous seasons' Wesley but still truly scared at the thought of losing Picard. Acting while almost in a coma can't be too much fun for the actor, but Patrick Stewart delivered too. For all my issues with the mysterious fountain and the garbage scow plot, their scenes together pretty much successfully carry the episode.

Matthew: Despite being written like a snot, I very much agree that Wesley's scenes with Picard were lovely, and that Wil Wheaton showed depth and maturity in playing them. Reading Wheaton's blog will tell you why he felt it necessary to leave the show (you know, to join Denise Crosby in pursuing a fabulously successful movie career), but none of it shows up on the screen. If this were indeed Wesley's final appearance, it would be a good one, thanks in no small part to Wheaton's genuine and touching performance.

Kevin: No one else got a ton to do. Nick Tate did a good of of being grizzled, but like I said, I think he got pissy and obstinate too quickly. No one else really got anything to do, save for Dr. Crusher. Her scene at the end was great and the dialogue with Crusher where she is clearly barely holding it together was great. The rest  of the ensemble just walked through a fairly predictable almost disaster plot.

Matthew: Yeah, Gates McFadden delivers yet again as the concerned mother. Her scene with Sirtis, trying but failing to counsel the doctor, was terrific. With Wesley gone, we're going to have to see if Crusher gets under-utilized as a result.

Production Values

Kevin: The moonscape was great. The use of La Mirage dry lake bed was fantastic, and it really achieved the feel of desert hell in a way a soundstage couldn't. The cave looked somewhat artificial, though I suppose that was the point. The forcefield effect on the fountain was okay, but the streak-of-light bots were a little undercooked for me.

Matthew: I just wish they would actually have walked in the direction of the arrow. Yeah, the "planet hell" set with stairs actually makes sense here. I fervently wish that they could have placed a ruin or two in the room with the fountain. Just something evocative to tell us that something cool is in the background, even if we never get a full-bodied explanation of the fountain builders. I really liked the light trails on the sentry, personally. I will say though, when Wesley used his tricorder to [tech] the sentry, he was pushing the same three buttons over and over. How many permutations are there?

Kevin: The shuttle and mining ship were well achieved with lots of detail. I also loved the planet work for Gamelan V and Pentaurus III and its moons. It really looked like a gas giant with moons large enough to support an atmosphere. The effect of the Enterprise dragging the scow was well done. The alien was visually interesting, but its one of Westmore's designs that seems to be a little overdesigned. It doesn't quite look like a real biological being.

Matthew: I do believe that the shuttle was a re-dress of the shuttle in "The Most Toys." I definitely agree that it looked great. The scow was the "Batris," if I'm not mistaken. There were indeed a lot of really great optical shots of the planetary system. The best part for me was when they showed it through the window of the shuttle. Little details like that really add to verisimilitude. Another blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail was the oncoming image of the desert through the window when the shuttle was crashing. Great stuff. I also want to mention the music - there were some really nice moments during Wesley and Picard's heart to heart chats.


Kevin: The acting is a solid 5. The question is do the fairly standardized plot to keep the Enterprise busy and the somewhat undeveloped mystery plot of the water fountain pull it down to a 3 or a 4? I am going with the 3. Half the episode gets spent on a contrived device to keep the Enterprise busy and the water fountain leaves too many unanswered questions to be fun in what it leaves unanswered. This is a great episode for Wesley and for Wil Wheaton, and it's a very nice send off. For once, the parts of the episode not about Wesley are what drags it down. Still, awesome dialogue alone are not enough to resolve my other plot issues.

Matthew: I think this is between a 2 and a 3. But the comparison with "Samaritan Snare" is quite instructive. They're actually very similar episodes, when it comes down to it - two principals in danger, rest of crew distracted by some BS or other. But this episode has better proportions - we get more of what we're actually interested in, namely the characters, as opposed to the moronic garbage scow story. "Snare" reversed this. So I'll give this a 3, where "Snare" got a 2. That makes for a total of a 6. But it was a squeaker.

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