119 – The First Duty

Grade: A

The First Duty (1992) on IMDb


While en route to Starfleet headquarters on Earth, Captain Picard receives a message from Admiral Brand. Wesley Crusher has been injured in an accident near Saturn. It turns out that he and four other cadets from Nova Squadron all survived the crash, but one of their classmates did not.


Wow, I haven’t seen two powerhouse episodes back to back like this in a long time. This one is one of the best this series ever produced. The characters are real people, not just cardboard cutouts or simple representations. I love it that all of the characters who get the most screen time are presented in consistent and compelling ways. Look at how Wesley Crusher reacts to the situation compared to his fellow cadets. Picard also has some excellent moments, and it’s refreshing to see that while he had his own troubles at the Academy, he continued to perform his duty.

Speaking of which, we’re never really sure that Wesley will do the right thing here. That’s great writing – because it’s a bit ambiguous. We certainly see his loyalty to his friends, but we also see his respect and admiration for Picard. There doesn’t seem to be as much of this for his mother, but that’s probably to be expected. Still, I really think the writer did a great job with this episode.

The storyline is very compelling, and you don’t notice the time going by as you watch it. Every scene builds the tension until the climax near the end. And one thing I thought was especially astute was the very last scene. Picard and Wesley are walking along the sidewalk, talking to each other. When they get to a certain point, they stop walking, but continue their conversation. After that, Picard goes to the left, but Wesley goes to the right, as if to symbolically represent their diverging paths in their careers and in their experiences. It’s really subtle and very well done.

The script is excellent, and each character says and does things in a very consistent way. The acting is a little weak from one of the cadets, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the episode.

At the time of this writing, it’s #5 on the Next Generation list, and #12 overall. Naturally, there will be a few other episodes that will end up ahead of this one, but I’m not the only one who liked it. Entertainment Tonight ranked this one as #9 on their Top Ten list of the best Next Generation episodes.

Of Note

Ray Walston makes his first appearance in the Star Trek franchise as Boothby, the chief gardener at the Academy. He does not appear in Deep Space Nine episodes, but he’ll be back for two more episodes of Voyager.

Also, Shannon Fill plays Bajoran Ensign Sito Jaxa. She returns two years later in the excellent episode called “Lower Decks.”

Nick Locarno’s character formed the basis for Tom Paris on Voyager. Both characters are played by Robert Duncan McNeill. Locarno did not become a regular character on Voyager, however, because the franchise would have to pay royalties to the writers of this episode for each time that Locarno appeared on Voyager. It seems to me that Star Trek would have had plenty of money and they should have paid the writer, but then I’m not in Hollywood so what do I know?