Episode no. 106
Season 1
Entertainment rating: C+
Tergiversation meter: +3


FEATURING: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher, with Eric Menyuk as "the Traveler." DIRECTOR: Rob Bowman. WRITERS: Diane Duane, Michael Reaves. STARDATE: 41263.1. EARTHWEEK: 10-26-87.

OVERALL RATING: C+. ACTING: Wheaton, B. It's not his fault. Menuyuk, A. WRITING: Conception of Wesley character, F; all else, B. DIRECTION: D. Unconvincing direction of Wesley character.

THE SHOW: This was the first of many scripts concerning which Gene Roddenberry stood over the scriptwriters with a cattle prod and forced them to write scenes in which Roddenberry's alter-ego, Wesley Crusher, is made out to be a "boy wonder," thus to fulfill Roddenberry's fantasy of himself as a youngster. In this case, we not only get Wesley saving the ship by being so smart and observant and perceptive (when all the adults are really dolts and can't figure out the problem), we also get a guest character--a strange alien who calls himself "The Traveler"--SAYING that Wesley is a genius and a wunderkind and should be given special training by Captain Picard himself. He bears watching, that kid. Gosh, he understands things about time and space and humans that nobody else understands.

The story, about a fake physicist (Kosinski) using the real talent--the "Traveler," a sort of psychic physicist--to warp spaceships at unheard of speeds to far corners of the universe, is actually okay. It's an interesting sf idea with a plausible, well-paced plot focused on the human angle of exploitation and charletanry. It's also great fun to see it as a metaphor for how Hollywood TV and film production actually works. A person with real creative talent and visionary powers (the "Traveler") is shamelessly used by other, exploitative types who have no talent (fake-physicist Kosinski) in such a way that the latter (Kosinski) is aggrandized and gets all the money and the glory and the chicks, and the former (the poor "Traveler") just sort of fades away into the space-time contiuum and is never heard from again.

For the "Traveler," read all of the long-forgotten science fiction writers and science popularizers whose names may not be known to you but whose works inspired most of the ideas in Star Trek. For "Kosinski," read executive producers who think that they are the real geniuses. And/or, for "the Traveler," read brilliant special effects people like Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, and, say, talented actors like Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, who are rarely given the credit they deserve for turning what are often very bad scripts into "watchable" entertainment. And/or, for "Kosinski," read Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman and, later, Michael Piller, who think that they are very hot stuff indeed.

The manipulations of this script to glorify (Roddenberry stand-in) Wesley Crusher almost ruin the episode with painfully icky scenes like the one in which Captain Picard promotes Wesley from kid to "acting ensign." The gratuitous mother-bashing ("Don't tell the Mother," warns the Traveler--that is, about Wesley's prodigious mind) could be offensive to women except that "the Mother" is Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and she really would ruin Wesley with icky motherly pride if she knew (she's done enough of that already).

But, back to the story. While the fake-physicist Kosinski proceeds with a fake experiment in a new, revolutionary kind of warp speed travel, his assistant, the Traveler--unknown to anyone except Wesley--is actually manipulating movement through space and time with thought-power aided by emotion. The mere touch of Wesley's hand (on the Traveler's) can catapult the Enterprise thousands of light years from its former position. This is what happens. They find themselves way far away in a place where everybody's thoughts start materializing on the ship. Picard sees his dead mother. Someone else sees a fire they once were caught in. Worf sees a Klingon pet from his childhood. The point is that everyone has to learn how to control his or her thoughts in order to aid the Traveler in getting them back to where they were before, in normal space-time.

This theory is intriguing. It is impossible to believe that time travel, for instance, will be possible based on present physical science, which bangs around in reality like a blind person, bumping into furniture and tripping over itself ("itself," of course, being the human mind). For time travel to become a reality, science will have to turn its eyes back into the head that generates scientific inquiry and start exploring "psychic phenomena" in earnest. Carl Sagan to the contrary notwithstanding, science and spirituality will converge again; our present bifurcation of the two is an anomaly, or perhaps some sort of temporary evolutionary necessity.

Science-populizer Sagan hates the idea of the mixing religion and science, and promulgates his anti-religious prejudice in his series "Cosmos," despite overwhelming evidence that early sciences, such as astronomy, were directly inspired by religion and would not have been developed but for early scientists' religious belief in the higher science of astrology. Ditto, mathematics, geometry, musical theory, biology, botany, psychology and a host of other sciences, including Sagan's own specialty, cosmology. Star Trek writers Duane and Reaves are to be congratulated for challenging scientific orthodoxy. It is the function of science fiction to do just that.

It's too bad that this idea is now associated in many millions of peoples' minds with Gene Roddenberry's manipulated ego-image, the "boy wonder" Wesley. For one thing, it's more likely that a girl will be the conduit of discovery--for girls are more prone to integrated thinking, to unified rather than compartmentalized theories and to a wholistic outlook (mind and body in tune with each other) than boys are. Some girl with this thought already in her head will probably turn it off, because of the subliminal suggestion (i.e, a boy hero, once again) that she is not capable of understanding physics--setting human discovery back thousands of years. Also, the unattractiveness of the Wesley character may do something to set the theory back. Imagine this episode with anybody else as the conduit--Picard, Data, Tasha Yar, Troi...

We might have made a major leap forward in human understanding.

TERGIVERSATION METER READING: +3 (on a scale of -5 to +5). The subliminal message conveyed by promoting yet another "boy wonder," at any cost--even at the cost of dramatic verisimilitude--is not good. The bold notion of the psychic-emotional-spiritual connection to matter is a plus for human thought, as is the distinction made between real creativity and P.R.

Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).

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