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Star Trek The Next Generation: The First Duty

"You don't have to lie, just don't volunteer any new information."

Captain Picard and Dr Crusher go to visit Wesley after he is involved in a training accident, and has to take part in the resulting inquiry.

This episode is most memorable to fans of Star Trek: Voyager for introducing Nick Locarno. Nick Locarno is a Starfleet cadet played by Robert Duncan McNeil, who accidentally caused the death of another in a flying accident, tried to cover it up, and was expelled when his superiors found out. One of the main characters on Star Trek: Voyager is Tom Paris. Tom Paris, played by Robert Duncan McNeil is a Starfleet junior officer who accidentally caused the death of three others in a flying accident, tried to cover it up, and was dishonourably discharged when his superiors found out.

Choosing Nick Locarno, who is manipulative, selfish, and arrogant, as the model for a regular character is interesting, and was part of the drive to be a bit harder edged that Voyager rather lost sight of fairly quickly (something I confess I have no problem with as I like my Star Trek idealistic!). The question of why he was re-named Tom Paris and his backstory slightly tweaked is controversial, but as far as this episode concerned, the interesting point is that the official reason was that Nick Locarno was not redeemable. The main difference between Locarno and Paris is that, whereas Locarno insisted he was in the right to the end and was reported on by Wesley Crusher, Tom Paris had a change of heart at the last minute and confessed himself. Clearly, the people behind Star Trek feel very strongly about the importance of honesty.

Voyager connections aside, this is a good episode that explores some interesting themes in an effective way. How important is it to tell the truth? The episode clearly thinks Wesley did the right thing in the end, but he has basically told tales on his friends - was he right to do so? If the only person suffering from the lie has already died, is there any harm in it? (Of course, this is why we see so much of dead cadet Joshua Albert's father - he is being hurt by the lie, as his son is being maligned). And are they really lying anyway? Wesley's companions, including Locarno, do genuinely seem to think the accident was Albert's fault, even if the idea to try out the dangerous manoeuvre was Locarno's. This being the case, why allow themselves to suffer to protect the reputation of a dead comrade? And then there's the whole issue of lying vs not revealing things - is a lie of omission the same as an outright lie? There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Although the episode makes it very clear what side we are supposed to come down on, it allows the issues room to breathe and other opinions to be heard in a way that makes it an effective morality play, like the best episodes of Star Trek.

Having Wesley involved in the situation is also interesting, and this is probably the most effective use of Wesley after he left the show - or, indeed, throughout the series. Wesley's involvement is, of course, what brings Picard into the situation in the first place but it also means we have a real stake in the case. I've always been a fan of Wesley anyway, but even those who don't like him will be familiar with him as a Starfleet golden boy, so to have him involved in a cover-up is mildly shocking, and helps to make his situation easier to empathize with. It also provides a really meaty story to bring Wesley back in, with real roots in a significant problem.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - Picard gets an excellent speech yelling at Wesley, which is also in The Picard Song, which makes it impossible to watch without hearing the rest of the song as well.

 - Locarno really is a bit of an arrogant ass, persuading everyone to try to learn a dangerous manoeuvre for the glory of it and then refusing to 'fess up to his mistake. Maybe the producers of Voyager were right - Paris is nicer!


Picard: The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth!

Good stuff and a proper story for Wesley to get his teeth into for once. Three out of four catchy YouTube songs.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


Mallena said...

Very good episode and review. I loved Wesley is this. He has gotten out of so many scrapes aboard the Enterprise, that he must feel like he is invincible a lot of the time. He wasn't able to solve the problem of a weaker teammate this time, he just went ahead to disaster. After being the golden boy for so long, this lesson was a really bitter one for him to learn.

I vaguely remember that Tom Paris was the same character for Voyager, but I had forgotten most of that lore, so thanks for reminding me. It'll help the next time that I watch Voyager. I remember being confused why Paris was aboard Voyager if he was such a disgrace.

lazybasterd said...

Unofficially, if they used Locarno they would've needed to pay royalties to this episode's writer for Voyager's entire run. So, new character Tom Paris was born.

Paris was on board because Janeway sprung him from prison. He'd briefly worked with Chachotay's group before getting caught and had some valuable intel. Then half the crew died and they needed a helmsman.