While I wouldn’t say this was a strong episode, of the first season episodes I’ve rewatched, it’s the first that really felt like the Star Trek: The Next Generation I grew to love. The young director Rob Bowman went on to direct about 12 more episodes.
The arrogant Starfleet propulsion expert Kosinski makes neither friends nor sense as he smirks and bullies his way through his scenes of techno-magical warp drive flimflammery. His alien assistant, whose elaborate facial makeup defines “supercilious,” works humbly in the background, noticed only by Wesley (who’s conveniently in main engineering doing a “school project”). Although Riker has already during the short run of the show gone to bat for Wesley several times, this script requires him to brush off the youngster’s warnings, and the Enterprise first ends up two galaxies away, and then in some unnamed part of the universe that’s apparently ruled by a 1980s TV optical effects company.
When Picard leaves the bridge and heads to the engine room, he has an unusually eventful trip, starting by almost falling out of a turbolift into a star-filled abyss, then encountering a pair of crew members pursued by an invisible threat; a different crewman trapped behind a wall of fire, a woman doing a ballet routine (Picard either knows her by sight or somehow manages to spot her rank insignia while she’s twirling), and a vision of his own mother.
I remember upon my first viewing being struck by the scene where Riker sees Picard crouched down before the vision of his mother, asking, “Can I help you, sir?” and Picard says, “Let’s help all of us.”
It’s not really clear why Picard seems to have figured everything out so quickly — we just have to trust that he kind of gets what’s going on, and acting on his gut feeling, and the fact that Kosinski is a jerk, Picard chooses to trust the alien with the unpronounceable-to-humans name. In a similar way, we have to accept that the technobabble spouted by Kosinski is supposed to be nonsense, while different technobabble spouted by Wesley and the alien “Traveler” is supposed represent eye-opening brilliance.
I had forgotten most of the scene where the Traveler asks to speak to the captain alone in order to praise Wesley as a gifted individual with metaphysical insight into the “lovely intricacies of time, energy, and propulsion.”
Even though I cringe as I think of the many times the writers will make Wesley save the day, I must say I couldn’t help enjoying the wish-fulfillment fantasy of Picard granting Wesley his acting ensign commission.