22 November 2015

Final Mission

Episode: s4, ep 9

Survival is more important than questions about magical fountains.

What Happens
Picard is going to mediate a dispute between some aggressive miners. First he tells Wesley that a place has opened up at the Academy and Wesley will be admitted in 2 weeks. A planet in another system sends a distress signal, an unknown ship has appeared in their orbit and is leaking huge amounts of radiation. As ever there's not another ship nearby, so Picard orders Riker to go help the planet. A small mining shuttle collects Picard and Wesley before the Enterprise leaves.  The shuttle has various malfunctions and has to crash land on a moon.
Moon of Hats!
The shuttle crashes into a desert and when it turns out that the shuttle captain, Dirgo, has no rations Picard insists they trek to the distant mountains. Meanwhile theEnterprise discovers that the radiation ship is an unmanned junker and will need to be taken through an asteroid field and sent into the nearby sun. The radiation levels are dangerously high on the planet and put the Enterprise crew in danger too. The miners contact the Enterprise to say that Picard and Wesley never arrived. Riker says they can't go and help search until they've dealt with the radiation. Crusher organises her medical team to help on the planet. Geordi is wary about towing the radiation ship and suggests using drones to steer it remotely. It's a good idea, but one drone detaches and trying to move the ship causes more damage and more radiation. They will have to tow it even though it's dangerous.
As Picard, Wesley and Dirgo hike to the mountains Wesley's modified tricorder picks up an odd energy reading coming from the mountains. He doesn't know what it is, but they don't have any choice about their destination. They find a cave with a fountain that's protected by a forcefield. Dirgo tries blasting it with his phaser, which makes an aggressive, swooshing light appear and shake the cave. Dirgo ignores this, and Picard's orders for him to stop, until the light swooshing light knocks his phaser out of his hand. Picard pushes Wesley away from falling rocks and is hit by them himself. Later Wesley is checking Picard's wounds, and Dirgo reckons the Captain is a goner. Picard quietly tells Wesley that he will have to keep Dirgo in line while he figures out how to get the water. Wesley doesn't want to face the fact that Picard might die. Dirgo uses Wesley's fears for Picard to make the Ensign help him shoot at the forcefield again. This results in Dirgo being attacked by the swooshing light and encased in a hard, transparent substance. Wesley tells Picard that Dirgo is dead and as the Captain moves in and out of consciousness Wesley tells him that since coming on the Enterprise he's lived his life entirely to make Picard proud of him.
The Enterprise tows the radiation ship through the asteroids towards the sun. Radiation levels get higher on board and approach critical levels. Power is diverted to the shields and the tractor beam, but any attempt to speed up destablises the beam. Crusher has most of the crew moved to the middle of the ship. The miners say they've started looking for the missing shuttle, but they don't have a lot of ships that can search, they ask the Enterprise to come soon. Eventually they clear the asteroid belt, with just seconds left before the radiation would have become lethal. Once the toxic load is headed for the sun they go to search for their missing crew.
Picard tells Wesley to seek out the Academy groundskeeper, a very wise (and presumably long-lived) individual who helped Picard when he was there. The Captain tells Wesley that he's always been proud of him. Wesley desperately promises to save Picard. He examines the fountain and the energy coming of it, then activates the forcefield with his phaser. The swooshing light appears and Wesley halts it by frantically pressing keys on his tricorder. It fluctuates a bit and then swooshes through Wesley without visibly harming him. When he turns around the forcefield disappears and he's able to collect water for Picard. Later Wesley is woken by his relieved mother as the search team finds them.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard does his whole stern headteacher act when giving Wesley the news about the Academy, it's actually kind of nice. The Captain has assured the Academy that Wesley is capable of catching up on what he's missed. It sounds like the Academy backfill places rather than having a second intake - what happened to the person whose place Wesley is filling? Picard is respectful of shuttle captain Dirgo, and gets respect in return. He may share Wesley and Geordi's snobbery about the small, rough vessel, but he isn't rude enough to show it. Later Picard gets firm with Dirgo because it's a survival situation and that's the priority. He's a little appalled that Dirgo doesn't have emergency rations and later that he's been sneaking alcohol, which is awful for drinking in this situation, but useful for other stuff.
After he's injured Picard accepts that he may not survive and focuses on giving advice to Wesley. He's in and out of consciousness for a while, but hears Wesley's confession and gives him the validation he's been craving.

Doctor Doctor
Dr Crusher asks the planet about radiation levels and sickness, then briefs her team about making and distributing anti-radiation medicine to areas on planet affected. She asks them to coordinate with medical teams on the planet, this kind of cooperation shows respect. When Troi tells her that Wes and Picard are still missing Beverly is very worried, but focuses on her lifesaving work. When the Enterprise has to tow the radiation ship anti-radiation medicine is pumped through the vents (I assume that's Crusher's idea, or at least came from her team, though that isn't specified). As the radiation levels increase towards the point where the medicine can't help, she orders that non-essential crew and family members be contained within internal corridors to limit their exposure.

Blind Engineering
Geordi was bemused by Dirgo's efficiency modifications to his ship, but he tells Picard it'll be safe. Clearly he was very wrong (and again the other Engineers all seem to be... um, wherever it is that they go). He's clearly bemused by the mining shuttle with it's non-standard modifications, and though his comments to Dirgo are fairly neutral he's clearly giggling about it with Wesley.
I actually understood Geordi's solution to moving the radiation barge. This almost never happens (admittedly I've largely stopped trying). Towing is very dangerous, so send a drone to do it remotely. Makes sense. Turns out it doesn't work (the first solution never does), but I understood what was happening. The towing scene doesn't seem very dramatic because the radiation is invisible and though the ship is being pushed to its limits everyone is being calm and professional about everything.

He's late to see Picard at the start because he was doing a volatile experiment, do all the kids and/or Ensigns on the ship get to do whatever volatile experiments they like? Wesley has also been studying how outpost legal decisions affect Federation law, so Picard thinks the mining dispute will be useful. Though it turns out it's kind of an excuse for a trip. Wesley is snobby to Dirgo about his shuttle, which is unnecessarily rude. Wesley then gets defensive about Picard and his orders whenever Dirgo is doubtful, which I think embarrasses Picard a little.
Wesley doesn't want to accept that Picard could die. As a doctor's son he's firm with Dirgo about applying pressure to Picard's wounds, but can't keep Dirgo in line elsewhere. It's not surprising as Dirgo is a stubborn adult who's not used to taking orders. Wesley wants to investigate further but as Dirgo wants action so he rides roughshod over Wesley's objections and uses the lad's concern for Picard against him.
Wesley tells Picard that all the stuff he's been doing since he's been on the Enterprise is to make the Captain proud of him. On the one hand it's kind of sweet that Wesley has been so inspired by his role model. On the other it seems a bit odd that Wesley has done so much (excelling at school, extra study, experiments, working on the ship, becoming a crew member, applying to the Academy) just to make one man proud of him. Picard has never placed any such requirements on Wesley; though he and the other crew had always encouraged Wes, it seemed to stem from his own ambition. Did Wesley actually want to do any of that stuff for himself? If not then this nice moment takes on a weird edge, but given who smart/exceptional/precocious Wesley is I can see he would've been a problem if he hadn't been kept occupied. I can understand that Wesley views Picard as a father figure, the Captain is friends with both of Wesley's parents and is the one who brought Pa Crusher's body home after he died. I feel like Wesley may have gone a bit overboard in a way that might not have happened had his father still been around. Picard doesn't seem to have much to do with Wesley's upbringing (which is absolutely fair enough, they aren't related). I hope that Beverly had a word with Wesley at some point about taking on too much, or doing things for himself sometimes.

Future Is Better
As Captain, and sole operator, of a mining shuttle Dirgo seems to fulfil various US working class stereotypes. At least I think that's what happening, my main sources are admittedly US TV and film, but I see similarities here with other depictions of/stereotypes about working class people. The Enterprise and most of its crew have always struck me as being very middle class. Wesley is initially amused by Dirgo and his crappy little ship, which just comes across as snobby.
Dirgo himself is proud of his ship and the work he does, and defensive about his limited resources, which is fair enough. This episode shows just a glimpse of the differences between those living on Starships and those who live and work in more dangerous/less privileged situations.  Dirgo starts out thinking Picard isn't tough because he's is formal and a Starship Captain, so he won't be able to cope with a load of rough miners. Picard being English/French (I don't think it really matters which in this context) probably adds to that. Dirgo by contrast seems straightforward, a working man doing his job as best he can, ignoring the giggles of those posh Federation folk with all their resources. The episode goes on to show him as stubborn, impatient, crafty (for the sake of booze no less), argumentative and unwilling to accept what he doesn't understand. In an episode (and a show) full of officers and diplomats it's a shame that Dirgo is the main antagonistic character here. I mean a lot of the words I've used to describe him are lazy stereotypes, but that's how Dirgo is. Plus, as we never see or hear from any of the miners (just someone reporting their messages asking the Enterprise for help because they don't have good enough ships), Dirgo is basically representative of all of them. The main other thing we hear about them is that they are prone to violence, the image of the Undeserving Poor just paints itself really. I don't think there's any attempt to examine anything here, just the writers wanted a working class character and this is what they came up with. He's never malicious but the fact that his own stubbornness and ignorance get him killed feels patronising and off.

No Magic Here
On a desert moon there are mountains, in the mountains is a naturally-formed cave with naturally- formed steps and a naturally-formed entrance tunnel that's conveniently shaped like a doorway. I guess that the naturally-formed fountain is protected by a naturally-formed forcefield and a naturally-formed creepy spirit thing? Hmm, actually I'm pretty sure this is a magic cave with a magic fountain. Why is it guarded by something that looks like it should be living in the Ark of the Covenant and melting the faces off of Nazis. Plus the guardian can somehow encase people and things in an amber-like substance. I realise that survival takes precedence, but no one seems the slightest bit curious about what's going on here. Is it the remains of a forgotten-but-advanced civilisation? Is it a manifestation of a lifeform unlike any encountered before? Is it an alien who's just curious and wants to be friends but doesn't know how? Seriously this is Star Trek, it must be one those!
I know Wesley keeps mentioning energy fields and electrically-deposited something-or-other and scans the hell out of everything, but that doesn't answer my questions. I was kind of hoping it would be the Fountain of Youth, or a healing fountain maybe, which I suppose it might have been because Picard was on death's doorstep. It's odd that after carefully testing the forcefield and the swooshy guardian and defeating them with button pushes Wesley doesn't stop to check that is just water. It could have been anything.

Near-Death by Space Misadventure
Everyone and their families has to huddle together in corridors on specific decks. Just standing there waiting to get radiation sickness. Join Star Fleet today!

Actual Death by Space Misadventure
Dirgo, a mining shuttle captain who logged ten thousand hours of flight time. While it is true that his stubbornness and impatience contributed to his death, it is also true that he didn't have the Federation resources that might have prevented it. Assuming of course that he is dead and not just magically frozen or something. Maybe if a handsome prince happens by in a hundred years...

The End
While being carried out of the cave on a stretcher Picard tells Wesley that he will be missed.

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