Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Where No One Has Gone Before”

“Where No One Has Gone Before”
Written by Diane Duane and Michael Reaves
Directed by Rob Bowman

Season 1, Episode 6
Original air date:  October 26, 1987
Star date: 41263.1

Mission summary

The Enterprise accepts the assistance of a Mr. Kosinski, a propulsion specialist who claims he (along with his nameless alien assistant) can improve the efficiency of the ship’s engines. Data and Riker are not convinced–they’ve run the models, and the models indicate no improvement in speed or performance. Moreover, Kosinski is an arrogant, self-satisfied schmuck (and yet strangely not a commodore!), and both Riker and one of the chief engineers, Argyle, hesitate to allow Kosinski access to their engines at all. They eventually decide that if his calculations are gibberish no harm can come to the ship anyway, and allow Kosinski to go through with his experiment.

Beginning at warp 1.5, the Enterprise steadily accelerates–but something goes wrong. Suddenly the ship is zipping past galaxies at incalculable speeds. Picard orders an emergency reverse of the engines, and when the ship comes to a full stop they realize they are (improbably) in the galaxy M33: 2.7 million light years from home. It will take over 300 years for them to return their own galaxy.

Kosinski, meanwhile, titters over his “discovery.” He believes that his “wonderful mistake” has broken the warp barrier, and looks forward to his name going down in the history books. Though all are a little skeptical, they give him the benefit of the doubt as long as he can get them home. The exception is Wesley Crusher, who had his eyes on the assistant during the experiment–the alien who seemed to “phase” in and out of this reality at the critical moment. He believes the assistant and not Kosinski is responsible for getting them this far, and seems to understand what it is the assistant is doing–connecting time, space, and thought as different facets of the same continuum. When Wesley shares this idea with the alien, the assistant warns Wesley that this world isn’t ready for such “dangerous nonsense.” Wesley is worried, though, and tries to tell Riker what he saw of the assistant’s phasing before everyone attempts a return journey. Riker shoos him off, and Kosinski and the assistant prepare a reverse trajectory back home.

It works–too well. The ship goes hurtling backwards in space but it cannot stop. The assistant passes out on his console and by the time Picard can order a full stop of the engines, the Enterprise is over a billion light years from home, at the edge of the known universe, in a swirl of blue and white. Here thoughts become real: Worf sees his pet targ from childhood; Yar imagines she’s back on the planet of flimsy characterization rape gangs; Picard even imagines his mother serving him Earl Grey, hot. The thoughts soon become dangerous, though, as people’s fears become real.

In sickbay, Dr. Crusher wakes the assistant, who we now know for sure is responsible for the ability to travel at superwarp speed. He weakly explains to Picard that he’s a Traveler from another dimension, gaining passage on Starfleet ships with his exceptional propulsion abilities. Kosinski is merely a cover for him to travel freely. He will do his best to get the Enterprise and her crew home, as he meant no harm. He also tells Picard–privately–that he believes Wesley is a kind of child prodigy a la Mozart, and that Picard should encourage him in this way (though without telling him or his mother).

The Traveler takes his place in Engineering, and Picard orders the crew of the Enterprise to think positive, healing thoughts directed at him, to give him strength. It seems to work, and the Enterprise begins warping back home. The Traveler phases in and out–and ultimately disappears entirely just as the ship returns to the Milky Way galaxy. Picard takes the Traveler’s advice to heart and summons “the boy” to the bridge. For “conduct in the true spirit and traditions of Starfleet,” he makes Wesley an acting ensign, complete with duty roster and responsibility.

Analysis

“Where No One Has Gone Before” is most notable for two things: the Traveler, who will return twice more in “Remember Me” and “Journey’s End”; and Wesley Crusher earning his field commission (which becomes one of the few progressive character arcs in the show). It’s notable for me because it’s the first time all season the show has been worth watching.

Finally, we get a good science fiction story. I like both the mystery of what exactly is happening to the Enterprise (How did we get here? Should we stay? How do we get home?) and the answer (that time, space, and thought are all related). The ship, by way of technology indistinguishable from magic (a joke the Traveler slyly mentions), winds up in a place where imagination can shape reality, and memories can come alive in the present. What if ideas had power–real, tangible power? In a way we already know it to be true: it’s called storytelling, and Star Trek is finally getting the hang of it.

And then there’s the Traveler himself, who I have always rather liked. We get a powerful alien being who isn’t a space douche. He’s not interested in toying with lesser life forms; in fact, he’s rather polite. He’s a tourist, an explorer, just like our heroes. I find it much more realistic that a supremely advanced species would be a little more reserved, rather than go tromping around the universe being a total douchenozzle just because. The Traveler doesn’t insert himself unnecessarily in the affairs of others, and in fact, tries fairly hard to blend into the background and remain unnoticed. It’s what I would do. I think my favorite moment in the episode is when Picard asks the Traveler the purpose of his journey and he simply says, “Curiosity.” What’s more universal than that? He’s a great character, and I was pleased that they brought him back.

What I hadn’t remembered about this episode but absolutely adored was Kosinski. So far the cast and crew have been so bland and lifeless (or as the Traveler puts it, “Up until now you’ve been…uninteresting”), and finally we get a little personality injected into the mix. It’s nice to see some friction, particularly within Starfleet. I do wonder what his rank is supposed to be, though. Riker calls him “sir” at one point, but everyone else simply addresses him without rank, as Mr. Kosinski. Any ideas?

As much as I like the setup and the story and our guest characters, there are two things I hate about this episode. First, the visions the cast and crew have are sort of inexplicable. Why does Worf think of his pet targ? Can we please ditch the rape gang thing? And why does Picard’s mother have the worst French accent this side of a Monty Python skit? Second, Wesley Crusher. I know, I know, he was the internet’s punching bag for over a decade. But even watching this with fresh eyes, even acknowledging that I liked his character when I was a kid, I just cannot get over how ludicrous that whole prodigy idea is. Why is “the boy” in ugly sweaters the second coming of Isaac Newton?

This doesn’t and won’t ever work for me. One of the things I have always admired about the show is that there seems to be a place for everyone. Every person has some talent that can be put to use, because if you put people in work that’s right for them (in a society that has computers to do all the busy work so everyone has interesting work), they can excel. Anyone can. Nobody is special, because everyone is special. There’s an exceptional person in each of us. The privileging of Wesley Crusher undermines that. To take that message and say, well, okay, everyone is really awesome and all that, but this kid: lemmetellyou. I don’t buy it, it doesn’t interest me, and I don’t like the implication that his intelligence is the result of a freakish, unearned miracle rare amongst the various dimensions of reality. By that point, we really have gone where no man has gone before: the Marty Stu galaxy, where no good character ever returns.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert:  We’re adding a new feature to chronicle the horrendous fashion of the future. I suspect the first few seasons will be mostly Wesley sweaters, and today’s entry is no exception.

My favorite thing about this sweater isn’t even the color, which is admittedly impressive–it’s the absolute blindness to pattern. You have a chevron, then a ruffle, then a braid thing, and then some vertical stripes.  A-maz-ing.

Best Line: WORF: It’s a Klingon targ, from home, from when I was a child!
YAR: So you’re telling me that that thing’s a kitty cat?!

Trivia/Other Notes: Eric Menyuk, who plays the Traveler, originally auditioned for the role of Data.

The story is loosely based on Duane’s novel The Wounded Sky.

The “targ” was actually a Russian wild boar named Emmy-Lou.

This episode was the Trek debut of 27-year-old Rob Bowman, who directed many other episodes early in the show’s run before becoming a producer (and prolific director) of The X-Files. He was apparently terrified and worked extra hard to make a good impression on the cast and crew.


Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 5 – “The Last Outpost.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 7 – “Lonely Among Us.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.