(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
Following an accident during an Academy training exercise that leads to the death of one of his friends, Wesley Crusher learns the hard way what the first duty of every Starfleet officer is.
The USS Enterprise-D is en route to Earth where Captain Picard will give this year's Starfleet Academy commencement speech. Before reaching Earth, however, the Captain receives a message from Rear Admiral Brand, the Academy superintendent: there's been an accident involving Cadet Wesley Crusher.
Picard brings the news to Doctor Crusher: her son's flight team, Nova Squadron has suffered a catastrophic collision, one pilot has been killed, and Wesley has been seriously injured. While she is worried, Picard assures her that he will be fine, and their thoughts turn to Wesley's lost friend, Joshua Albert.
Upon arrival at Earth, Admiral Brand briefs the Nova Squadron parents, and Captain Picard, about the upcoming inquiry into the accident. 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 Nova Squadron, Nicholas Locarno, who says that he was there to check on Wesley. Locarno tells them that he feels horrible that he has lost a member of his team. Picard replies that unfortunately, it never gets easier. Wesley then asks Picard and his mother 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 the depositions, 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, but Locarno insists that it is now time for them to save their own skins. 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 right over 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 realizes 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; either the satellite has recorded inaccurate data or the cadets have lied to the inquiry. It is clear that Brand believes there is a cover-up going on between the four, but as there is no hard evidence either way she is left with no choice but to close the inquiry. 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 has been expelled. Wesley thinks they all should have been expelled and Picard tells him they very nearly were, but were saved when Locarno took full responsibility for the incident to keep everyone else 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.
"What happened to your hair?"
- - Boothby to Captain Jean-Luc Picard
"But a lie of omission is still a lie!"
- - Captain Jean-Luc Picard to Cadet Wesley Crusher
"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! And 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 and Cadet Wesley Crusher file info
"He got to you, didn't he? Picard told you some big story about duty and honor. Well, that must've been a pretty good speech to make you turn your back on your friends."
"We're Starfleet cadets. We have a duty to the truth."
"What about your duty to your friends? I got you on this team. I gave you a chance when there were upper classmen waiting in line. I said: 'He won't let us down. He was on the Enterprise. He knows what it's like to trust somebody with his life.' Well, I guess I was wrong."
- - Locarno and Wesley Crusher file info
"You made a mistake. There isn't a man among us who hasn't been young enough to make one."
- - Boothby to Picard
"Do you remember the first day you came aboard this ship? Your mother brought you on the Bridge. And you even sat in my chair! I was annoyed! A presumptuous child playing on my ship! But I never forgot how you already knew every control, every display. You behaved as though you belonged on the Bridge. And then, later, when I decided to make you an acting Ensign, I was convinced that you could be an outstanding officer. And I never questioned that conviction...until now."
- - Captain Jean-Luc Picard to Cadet Wesley Crusher
"Yesterday I testified that the crash occurred following a Yeager loop. That is not entirely true. We performed the loop, and, afterwards, broke formation and attempted a Kolvoord starburst. We knew it was prohibited and we knew it was dangerous, but we wanted to do something spectacular for the commencement demonstration. We pushed Josh into it and he wasn't ready. We thought we could do it. We thought we could do anything. We were wrong, and Josh died."
- - Cadet Wesley Crusher
Story and script
- The story for this episode was developed by Ronald D. Moore during the writing staff's Mexican retreat in the Fall of 1991. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- Rick Berman was initially skeptical of the idea. Michael Piller recalled, "When we pitched it to Rick, he said, it's not a Star Trek. Star Trek is about going off into space and exploring new planets. It's not about going back to Earth. He's right, of course, and no one's going to argue that he's not, but I looked at him and said 'Look, to me we have the opportunity to do something special. We have the chance to explore an issue that is extra meaningful to a lot of young people. If you're involved in drugs or teenage misbehavior or crime, and you may know that it's the wrong thing and you have the choice of being loyal to your friends or doing what is honest – that is a great issue for us to explore." Berman agreed, on the condition that a maximum of three sets were used. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- According to Berman, in early stages of the story, Wesley's crime was more heinous, and the cover-up was much more obvious. He stated, "I found that unacceptable. Wesley is Wesley. He is one of our characters and heroes and he's capable of lapses in judgement, capable of making decisions on an emotional basis as opposed to thinking them out, but not capable of some of the more severe things that were suggested. And not capable of overt cover-up, lying to Starfleet Academy officials. So we basically tempered it down, still keeping it believable and the crime that was serious and would result in a punishment." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- A dispute arose between Moore and Piller regarding the ending. Piller recalled, "I thought he should choose the truth, and Ron thought he couldn't go back on his friends. Ultimately I gave the order to go with the truth – that's what I'd want my kids to do – but I think it shows how much we can get into these characters when we find ourselves debating the points they're arguing." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- Moore later elaborated that, had he prevailed, the story would have been structured much differently such that Wesley's actions would still be the "correct" moral choice. He noted, "In the aired version of events, Wesley steps forward even though the court of inquiry is about to let them all off the hook. In so doing, Wes commits an act of moral courage by standing up for the truth and being punished when to remain silent would've allowed him to go scot free. Now, let's assume the circumstances had been constructed so that the Nova Squadron was going to be kicked out of the Academy by the court if they kept silent about what really happened. Say that the team had made a decision not to finger the one among them who came up with the idea on the "we all hang together" philosophy. In that scenario, Wesley coming forward to tell the truth is suddenly an act of moral cowardice because it appears that he's only trying to save his own skin at the expense of one of his teammates.
- "If that had been the story (which is more or less what Naren and I were advocating) then Picard's impassioned speech to Wesley about the morality of coming forward to tell the truth is suddenly a scene where the Captain tries to convince a young man not to throw away his own career in order to protect one of his friends. In the end, Locarno (the true culprit) comes forward on his own in order to save the rest of the team. As you can see, it's a very different kind of tale even though the essential "plot" is relatively unchanged.
- "...Both stories are valid and interesting, but I prefered the story about a young man willing to stand with his friends rather than a morality tale about telling the truth. Don't get me wrong -- I like "The First Duty," and I think it works pretty well just as it is, I just wanted to tell a different story." (AOL chat, 1997)
- According to Piller, Picard's unnamed indiscretion was added to the script relatively late in the process. "We had to have scenes with Boothby and Picard and we had scenes where they talked about the case, they talked about things, but the scenes weren't clicking and they were the weakest parts of the show. We started talking about maybe he helped Picard out with a problem and maybe he got into trouble, and we tried to figure out what it was. Rick said it doesn't matter what Picard's trouble was. We keep that part of our character a mystery, which we like to do every once in a while. That was a great decision and what it did for us was put in perspective in a life cycle sort of way that if you make a mistake when you're young and its found out, you have to pay a price for it. It doesn't mean your life is ruined. It means you can still become Jean-Luc Picard." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- "The First Duty" was filmed between Friday 24 January 1992 and Monday 3 February 1992 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16. On Monday 27 January 1992 the production filmed the Starfleet Academy outdoor scenes on location at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant. Second unit inserts were filmed on Friday 6 March 1992 on Paramount Stage 8 and 16.
- On Friday 24 January 1992 Make-A-Wish Foundation child Karo Coy-Smith visited the sets at 11:00 a.m. and on Monday 27 January 1992 the ice hockey team the New York Rangers had a set visit between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. although main filming took place on location. (Call sheets)
- The Academy flag seen in the exterior matte paintings flies at half-staff, a touch added by Dan Curry. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion) This episode also featured one of the last oil painted matte painting by Curry himself. ("Memorable Mission Year Five" ("Hero Worship"), TNG Season 5 DVD special feature)
- First UK airdate: 26 April 1995
Cast and characters
- Robert Duncan McNeill (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. (citation needed • edit)
- 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. He remarked, "Locarno seemed like a nice guy, but deep down he was a bad guy. Tom Paris is an opposite premise in a way. Deep down he's a good guy. He's just made some mistakes." Some fans have interpreted this as another example of why Paris was created to fill Locarno's originally-planned role on Voyager, as his actions in this episode rendered him irredeemable while Paris still had a chance to make up for his mistakes. 
- Shannon Fill reprised her role as Sito Jaxa in TNG: "Lower Decks".
- This is the first time we actually see Boothby, played by Ray Walston. He replies in response to Picards comment "I thought you were a mean-spirited, vicious, old man.", "I was, and by the way, I was about the same age that you are now.", which makes Boothby around 104 years old in this episode. He reprised the role in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, "In the Flesh", and "The Fight" (Although on both these occasions it is not the real Boothby, but a member of Species 8472 disguised as him and a hologram/hallucination respectively).
- Although spoken of since the original series, this is the first appearance of Starfleet Academy.
- Ronald D. Moore also wrote the Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" that focused on another group of Starfleet cadets, Red Squad.
- The Ligonians from "Code of Honor" are mentioned for the last time.
- This episode would prove to be the jumping-off point for two seventh season episodes; "Lower Decks" and "Journey's End".
Sets and props
- The hearing bell used in this episode is the same as the one used in the Original Series episodes "Space Seed" and "Court Martial". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion) The call sheet for Friday 31 January 1992 is listing it as "Antique ship's bell" in the set dressing section.
- Wesley has a model of the USS 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 or ringbell, rather than the automatic sliding doors seen in most Starfleet facilities.
- 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. 
- The writing staff was pleased with the added depth this episode gave to the character of Wesley.
- Jeri Taylor remarked, "I felt this episode humanized Wesley in a way that he never has been and maybe now would allow fans to actually like him. He wore this awful mantle of the genius child who always saved the ship and in that sense seemed remote from a real person. He was the perfect Wesley, and that was hard with people to identify with.He made a mistake, a bad mistake, he's flawed. People are and I think in enriching him as a character, it gives him texture, maturity. It gives him something he now has to work through. That makes you a finer person in the end instead of just being a plastic perfect teenager." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- Ron Moore agreed, noting, "We took that character in a really interesting direction and I think it helps him grow as a character a lot and makes him more accessible and human. I'm just really happy with what the episode became. It's probably my favorite episode of the year. It had a lot of meaty stuff; the Picard/Wesley scene is powerful. When he looks up from behind the desk and gets up, you think he's going to slug him. Picard just had a real heartfelt anger in his face." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- Director Paul Lynch credited the performance of Wil Wheaton, noting "It's nice to see because he was a good young kid actor when we first started Next Generation, and now he's matured into a good first-rate actor. It's nice to see the difference over the years." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- Rick Berman opined, "I think the direction by Paul Lynch was excellent and the casting was great. Getting Ray Walston to play Boothby was fortuitous and the casting of the three other Starfleet kids was successful. It was not a typical episode, it was not science fiction in nature, it was earthbound and it was a very dramatic character piece and courtroom drama. As filmmaking and one hour dramatic television, I thought it was riveting. It was a terrific episode and by dealing with some of the hi-tech abilities to detect what they were doing, we got elements of science-fiction in there as well." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- Michael Piller mentioned that "...the Air Force is showing this episode today to say "Look! Thats what its all about."" ("Departmental Briefing Year Five" ("The First Duty"), TNG Season 5 DVD special feature)
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 Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Ray Walston as Boothby
- Robert Duncan McNeill as Nicholas Locarno
- Ed Lauter as Albert
- Richard Fancy as Satelk
Special guest star
And guest starring
- Rachen Assapiomonwait as Nelson
- Louise Bale as Peliar Zel Starfleet cadet
- Belscher as Starfleet cadet
- Brian Bennett as Starfleet cadet
- Cigi Britton as
- R. Bruce as parent
- Carl David Burks as Russell
- Tracee Lee Cocco as Jae
- Cohen as Starfleet cadet
- Dixon as Starfleet cadet
- M. Dysart as Starfleet Academy teacher
- Hal Donahue as Starfleet Academy teacher
- J. Elliot as parent
- S. Halm as parent
- K. Holland as Starfleet cadet
- Hwang as Starfleet cadet
- L. Jeffreys as Starfleet Academy teacher
- Kamilyn Kaneko as Starfleet cadet
- Jacquelyn Masche as parent
- R. McDowell as Starfleet cadet
- Mitchell as Starfleet cadet
- Michael Moorehead as science division ensign
- Raber as Starfleet cadet
- Richard Rothenberg as Starfleet cadet
- J. Stanfill as Starfleet cadet
- John Tampoya as operations division ensign
- R. Torre as parent
- D. Turner as Starfleet cadet
- A. Valdez as Vulcan Starfleet cadet
- V. Valles as Starfleet Academy teacher
- D. Wayman as parent
- Christina Wegler Miles as command division ensign
Stand-ins & photo doubles
- David Keith Anderson - stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Patty Davis - stand-in for Jacqueline Brookes
- Eben Ham - stand-in for Ed Lauter
- Jackie - stand-in for Walker Brandt
- Ron Large - photo double for Patrick Stewart
- Tim McCormack - stand-in for Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Ray Walston & Richard Fancy
- Melba - stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Lorine Mendell - stand-in for Gates McFadden
- Richard Sarstedt - stand-in for Jonathan Frakes, Robert Duncan McNeill & Richard Rothenberg
- Dennis Tracy - stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Guy Vardaman - stand-in for Wil Wheaton
- James Washington - stand-in for Michael Dorn
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; groundskeeper; 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; statistical mechanics; superintendent; sweater; Team navigator; Titan; Vulcan; west garden; wrestling; Yeager loop
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