Sunday, August 28, 2011

And Where Have You Gone, Wesley Crusher? "Journey's End"

The Good: Excellent character development, Nice acting, Good story, Nice consequences
The Bad: Special effects look campy now
The Basics: When Wesley Crusher returns to the Enterprise, he takes a moral stand in defiance of StarFleet and achieves his potential in the process.

In my quest to write reviews for all of the episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine, I tried to look at each season and evaluate who the important characters of the series was. This comes very much to light in my DVD reviews of the season boxed sets. One of the conclusions I make on the early seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation is that it is a show dominated mostly by Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher.

That Wesley Crusher had such an important role in establishing Star Trek The Next Generation, set up an interesting dichotomy within the series. Instead of being simply about the Captain and leader, the show was balanced with the perspective of the civilian and prodigy. It was a shame to lose that depth on the series and when Wesley Crusher left the show in the fourth season, the tenor of the show did change. Fortunately for all concerned, Wil Wheaton - who played Wesley - opted to return to give Wesley a proper send off from the series in "Journey's End."

Wesley Crusher returns to the Enterprise while the Enterprise is on a mission in the borderlands separating Cardassian and Federation space. On a small planet that is populated by Native American Indians who colonized the planet decades ago, Picard finds himself caught in a moral dilemma. StarFleet has turned the planet over to the Cardassians and when Picard is unable to convince them to go with words, he is drawn to the reluctant conclusion that forcing the colonists to leave may be necessary. Wesley Crusher, seeing what he feels is a grave injustice, renounces StarFleet and accomplishes something that sends him down the road of meeting his true potential.

I don't remember if back in the days when Star Trek The Next Generation first aired I was a fan of Wesley Crusher or not, but upon reviewing the series now (some fifteen years later), I am impressed by the character of Wesley and the acting of young Wil Wheaton. So, knowing that I am a fan of him, it may seem strange that every time I watch this episode (and I find lately that is not an uncommon occurrence), I am disappointed yet again by Wheaton's brief cameo as Wesley in Star Trek Nemesis (reviewed here!). "Journey's End" sends Wesley off with such magnificent, sensible resolve, that his return to StarFleet (as he is seen in the movie in a StarFleet uniform) seems both unlikely and unfortunate.

While much of the episode is involved with Picard facing his own demons, as he learns that his family's history involves a violent incident of Indian displacement, this is very much Wesley's story. Wesley moves along the action of this episode and actually forces Picard's hand. Despite all of Picard's moralizing, it is Wesley's ability to stand outside the StarFleet viewpoint and push an ethical view that makes "Journey's End" come together.

Furthermore, fans of the Star Trek franchise will enjoy "Journey's End" because it becomes integral in the future of the Star Trek storylines. Due to the resolution of "Journey's End," the Star Trek Deep Space Nine storyline that begins with "The Maquis" is developed and as a result of that, half the characters on Star Trek Voyager are created.

For those who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, "Journey's End" tells a compelling story of the importance of individuality and the limitless nature of the human potential. Think of it as The Matrix without the Matrix. More than that, it is a haunting reminder of how even those who study history, people of conscience, may be drawn into repeating history's crimes. Unlike some episodes that follow a modern day parallel theme, "Journey's End" does not seem overly heavy-handed. It seems necessary and important to remember the sovereign rights of other peoples.

What binds "Journey's End" together is quality acting. It seems that everyone here is playing their a-game. Patrick Stewart manages to play Picard as considerate, thoughtful and somewhat powerless, a position he is not often in throughout the seven years of Star Trek The Next Generation. The reluctance Stewart toys with is far more compelling than playing him as angry (after all one of the last times he encountered the Cardassians, he was tortured nearly to death). Gates McFadden does an excellent portrayal of Dr. Crusher as a mother, focusing her energies there with great realism.

The piece is held together by Wil Wheaton, who gives the performance of his life. "Journey's End" illustrates how talent may flourish when it is properly nurtured. While Wheaton had been away from Star Trek The Next Generation for years, he makes his return seem effortless and presents his character with a level of growth that implies quite well that Wesley has been becoming a man in his absence from the screen. That's not an easy thing to do, but Wheaton makes it appear effortless.

"Journey's End" is one character's bow out of Star Trek The Next Generation done properly and will be most appreciated by those who are fans of the series. Those who are not will enjoy the story of the importance of infusing imperialism with humanity.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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