(written from a Production point of view)
|"The First Duty"|
|TNG, Episode 5x19|
Production number: 40275-219
First aired: 30 March 1992
|←||118th of 176 produced in TNG||→|
|←||118th of 176 released in TNG||→|
|←||226th of 728 released in all||→|
| Written By|
Ronald D. Moore & Naren Shankar
Wesley Crusher must choose between his duty to his friends and his duty as a Starfleet officer following an accident during an academy training exercise that leads to the death of one of his friends.
The USS Enterprise-D is en route to Earth where Picard intends to give the commencement speech at Starfleet Academy's graduation ceremony. It will also be a good opportunity to speak to Cadet Wesley Crusher on his progress. However, he then gets a message from Rear Admiral Brand, the Academy superintendent; an accident has taken place with Nova Squadron resulting in the death of one member. This stuns Picard, as Wesley is on that squadron.
Picard approaches Doctor Crusher and informs her what happened. She is notably concerned about her son; however, Picard attempts to comfort her and tells her that Wesley is fine. Once the Enterprise arrives at Earth, they arrive to hear that the admiral is pursuing a formal investigation of the accident, where a cadet, Joshua Albert, was killed in a collision during a flight test. Joshua's father, a Lieutenant Commander in Starfleet, is consulted and requests that commencement ceremonies go forward despite plans to cancel them due to the tragedy. After all, there are still duties to perform and life must go on. Picard and Dr. Crusher go to Wesley's quarters. Picard attempts to talk to Wesley about what happened during the accident, but he refuses, saying that he has gone over it too many times over the past two days. Their reunion is interrupted by the leader of the team, Nicholas Locarno, who says that he was there to check on Wesley. Locarno says that he feels horrible that he has lost a member of his team. Picard says that unfortunately, it never gets easier. Wesley then asks Picard and Crusher to leave, saying that he has to talk to Locarno about some things. After Picard and Crusher leave, Locarno tells Wesley not to worry about the inquiry and everything will be fine.
Captain Picard walks through the quad of Starfleet Academy and finds Boothby, the Academy groundskeeper. He catches up with him and reminisces about his days in the Academy. Meanwhile, Locarno gives a pep talk to his team before entering the room for the board of inquiry investigating the accident. During his deposition, Locarno says that while performing a maneuver, Admiral Brand asks the team navigator, Cadet Jean Hajar, if they had changed their flight plan after filing it with Starfleet. When the navigator gives a cryptic response of "we were still within flight safety parameters," Admiral Brand becomes angry, stating that Hajar did not answer her question. She then says yes, they did change their flight plan. Captain Satelk, a Vulcan, asks Cadet Sito Jaxa, who was flying in the rear of the formation and thus had the best vantage point of the crash, if she saw either the collision itself or any indication beforehand that Albert was having problems. She says that she didn't see him because she was flying on sensors alone, which is extremely unusual for the maneuvers listed in the team's testimony. After being continually probed by Admiral Brand and Captain Satelk, Locarno helps out Hajar and Sito by blaming the accident on Cadet Albert. Locarno says that Joshua crashed into Cadet Hajar when he panicked while performing the Yeager loop maneuver near Titan. Admiral Brand says that she is disturbed over what has happened. She says that Nova Squadron has displayed a large degree of misjudgment and she is dismayed that the team did not release the information on Joshua's jitteriness on flying before the accident. Admiral Brand says that the first data from Wesley Crusher's flight recorder would be available that evening. Pending the results, the board of inquiry will be in recess and will reconvene at 1300 hours tomorrow. Cadet Albert's father is visibly dismayed over what the team has said about his son. Locarno tells Wesley Crusher that there's nothing to worry about and to trust him.
Captain Picard asks Chief Engineer La Forge and Data to make their own independent investigation into the crash. La Forge is unsure what they will find outside of the Academy investigation, as they have the most sophisticated accident reconstruction simulation equipment available. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the team meets together to get their stories straight on the next round of questioning in the board of inquiry. Wesley and the rest of the team are angry that they lied to the board of inquiry; however, Locarno insists that it is now time to save their own skin. When the board asks the team if it truly was Cadet Albert's fault, the team reluctantly agrees to that line – essentially committing to the lie. Locarno then starts to brief Wesley on his flight recorder data that was highly damaged during the accident and only covers the time before the crash. Wesley doesn't believe he can lie to the board, but the team tells him not to volunteer any additional information. Wesley silently agrees. Wesley goes to practice his deposition where he meets Cadet Albert's father. His father brings Wesley something from Joshua's quarters that belongs to him. Wesley identifies it as a memento from a ski trip to Calgary. They reminisce on Cadet Albert, talking about his problems in math and how he never gave up on anything. Cadet Albert had a lot of respect for Wesley. Joshua's father admits that he knows that it was his son's fault and apologizes for letting the team down. The next day, Wesley begins his deposition, following along with the video account of the crash from his flight recorder. After his flight recorder shorts out, he gives a narrative of his version of the events. When Admiral Brand asks if he has anything to add, he says no. Captain Satelk suspiciously asks Wesley to describe a Yeager loop. The Captain asks Wesley if Nova Squadron had ever gone out of formation after completing the Yeager loop. Wesley says no. Admiral Brand asks if he is absolutely sure about that. He says he is. Captain Satelk then confronts Wesley with the image from a satellite orbiting Saturn that shows their squadron's ships in a different formation while they were in the satellite's field of view, approximately seven seconds before the accident. When Admiral Brand asks what Wesley's explanation is for this, he has none.
Doctor Crusher comforts Wesley in his quarters and assures him that the Enterprise is going to find out what has happened. She thinks it is strange that the satellite view makes it look like he is lying when she knows he is not. As a result, Doctor Crusher and the other parents got together and decide that they want to delay the inquiry. Wesley is shocked and tells his mother to stay out of the inquiry and not to protect him. Picard has another talk with Boothby, asking him to tell him more about Nova Squadron. Boothby says that after Nova Squadron won the Rigel Cup the other students treated them like they were gods, and that was a difficult thing to live up to. Boothby also says that Nova Squadron would do anything for the team leader, Locarno, even if it meant "going off a cliff." Captain Picard returns to the Enterprise and asks if La Forge and Data have come up with anything in their investigation. They say no, stating that there are too many variables to determine exactly what happened; however, one item of note was that Wesley's plasma interlock was open when it is supposed to be closed during flight. It is extremely dangerous, as the interlock may ignite the drive plasma. Given this information and the imagery shown from the satellite, Picard knows what Nova Squadron was trying to do that caused the accident.
Captain Picard invites Wesley Crusher to his ready room on the Enterprise. Picard asks him to watch and identify a Kolvoord Starburst on his display. He says that the maneuver hasn't been performed at the Academy for 100 years because it had been banned after all five cadets who attempted the maneuver died after an accident. Captain Picard says that he thinks that Locarno wanted to end his Academy days in a blaze of glory and manipulated the team to perform the maneuver. He asks Wesley if he is correct. Wesley chooses not to answer. Picard says that he has already answered the question at the board of inquiry – a lie. Wesley says that he has told the truth; however, Picard tells him that he has told a partial truth, leaving out important details, which in his opinion is still a lie. Captain Picard says that he had never questioned Wesley until now. Angrily, Picard says that he will make things very easy for Wesley – either tell Admiral Brand the truth about what happened or Picard will.
Back on Earth, Wesley calls Locarno to his quarters where Wesley tells Locarno everything that transpired on the Enterprise. Locarno says that Picard has no hard evidence of what has happened and that it will be okay – they simply have to dispute Picard's account. Wesley says he can't call Picard a liar and decides to tell him what has happened. Locarno becomes angry because Wesley has made the decision alone to turn them in. Locarno informs Wesley of the duty to his friends. As an alternate plan to coming forward, Locarno tells Wesley to resign his Academy commission to save the team. After all, Locarno would do it without hesitation if he were in Wesley's position.
At the board of inquiry, Admiral Brand tells Nova Squadron that the disputing testimony of the satellite and their accounts are troubling; however, she must close the investigation because she has no hard evidence proving that either they have lied or that the data from the satellite is faulty. Admiral Brand issues her judgment – she revokes Nova Squadron's flight privileges and issues a formal reprimand to the cadets' permanent records. She then closes the investigation with the ringing of a bell.
Wesley then stands up and says he has something to add. The Admiral lets Wesley proceed and admit the truth. Wesley says that Josh died because they pressured him into executing the Kolvoord Starburst – a maneuver that Albert admitted he wasn't ready for. Admiral Brand asks if Locarno has anything to say. He says no.
The inquiry has concluded and Wesley is sitting on the grounds of the Academy. Captain Picard arrives and informs Wesley that Locarno was expelled. Wesley thinks they all should have been expelled – and Picard agrees – but Picard says that Locarno took full responsibility for the team to keep everyone else in school and in Starfleet, just as he said he would, Wesley comments. Picard then informs Wesley of additional consequences Admiral Brand handed down. She had canceled Wesley's academic credits for the previous year and he will not graduate with his class. Captain Picard says that there will be difficult times ahead for Wesley. Wesley thanks Picard for his help. Picard says that Wesley knew the right thing to do; Picard just pushed him in the right direction. The two then bid a farewell to each other.
"Jean-Luc Picard, Class of '27."
"I know that! What happened to your hair?"
- - Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Boothby
"That was not my question, Cadet!"
- - Brand, to Cadet Hajar
"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it's scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! If you can't find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don't deserve to wear that uniform! I'm going to make this simple for you, Mr. Crusher! Either you come forward and tell Admiral Brand what really took place, or I will!"
- - Picard, to Cadet Wesley Crusher
"You made a mistake. There's nobody among us who hasn't been young enough to make at least one."
- - Boothby, to Picard
- Although spoken of since the original series, this is the first appearance of Starfleet Academy, which was filmed on location at Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.
- Ronald D. Moore also wrote the Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" that focused on another group of Starfleet cadets, Red Squad.
- Robert Duncan McNeill (Cadet Nicholas Locarno) later played Tom Paris on Star Trek: Voyager, a character partly based on Locarno. It was hoped that Locarno himself would be a character on Voyager, but when it was realized that such a decision would mean that the writers of this episode would receive royalties for each Voyager episode, it was deemed cost-prohibitive and the character was adjusted to become Tom Paris.
- A picture of Robert Duncan McNeill as Locarno would later appear on Admiral Owen Paris's desk (representing Tom Paris as a cadet) in VOY: "Pathfinder".
- Robert Duncan McNeill said in an interview that while they may seem similar, Locarno and Tom Paris were actually quite different, as while Paris seemed unpleasant and self-serving, deep down he was a good person. Whereas Locarno, while nice and charming on the outside, was actually a really nasty person beneath the surface. (TNG Season 5 DVD)
- The Ligonians from TNG: "Code of Honor" are mentioned for the last time.
- Shannon Fill reprised her role as Sito Jaxa in TNG: "Lower Decks".
- Wesley has a model of the original Enterprise in his quarters. This is actually a pewter and gold replica of the ship that The Franklin Mint issued in the late 1980s.
- Wesley's quarters at the Academy have a hinged door with a mechanical doorknob, rather than the automatic sliding doors seen in most Starfleet facilities.
- The original script had Crusher refusing to turn in himself or his fellow cadets. Rick Berman felt strongly that having the character do so sent the wrong message while the writers felt the character's loyalty to his friends was a more realistic presentation. Berman eventually won out.
- Ray Walston reprised the role of Boothby in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, "In the Flesh", and "The Fight".
- Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode #9 on their list of "The Top 10 Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. 
Video and DVD releases
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 60, 15 February 1993.
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 5.7, 2 December 2002.
- As part of the TNG Season 5 DVD collection.
Links and references
- LeVar Burton as Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lieutenant Commander Data
- Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher
- Ray Walston as Boothby
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Nicholas Locarno
- Ed Lauter as Albert
- Richard Fancy as Satelk
- Jacqueline Brookes as Brand
- Carl David Burks as Russell
- Tracee Lee Cocco as Jae
- Richard Rothenberg as a Starfleet cadet
- John Tampoya as an operations division ensign
- Unknown performers as
2260s; 2324; 2327; 2368; 47 references; Academy Flight Range; Academy Range Officer; Academy training craft; acting ensign; Albert, Joshua; allergy; apogee; astrophysics; Bajoran; Betazoid; bicaridine; burn; cadet; calculus; Calgary (Canada); commencement address; coolant interlock; coolant tank; data recorder; deposition; diamond slot formation; Earth; emergency transporter; emergency evac station; engine coolant; flight plan; formal reprimand; fracture; Golden Gate Bridge; flag of the Federation; graduation ceremony; herbicide; holodeck; infirmary; inquiry; Kolvoord Starburst; landing strut; Ligonian; maintenance bay; mathematics; memorial service; metorapan; Mimas; Minsk; navigational control satellite; Nova Squadron; Parrises squares; Peliar Zel native; personnel file; plasma; plasma exhaust; power flow; pittosporum; proximity alarm; rear admiral; reconstructive analysis lab; regeneration series; Rigel Cup; running; ribotherapy; San Francisco; Saturn; sensors; skiing; squadron; Starfleet; Starfleet Academy; Starfleet Academy Database; Starfleet Academy personnel; Starfleet uniform (2366-2370s); statistical mechanics; superintendent; sweater; Team Navigator; Titan; Vulcan; west garden; wrestling; Yeager loop
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