The plot, such as it is, quickly gets Picard and Wesley separated from the Enterprise and in the company of a mining shuttle pilot who challenges Picard’s authority.
After a few on-location scenes in a bleak desert, the story shifts to the standard generic cave set, where some falling chunks of foam and an avalanche sound effect puts Picard out of commission, setting up a puzzle for Wesley straight out of a CD-ROM point-and-click adventure game.
The good character scenes make the episode work. The writers have in more than one episode had Dr. Crusher, believing that this is her last chance, start to tell Picard something she’s always wanted to tell him. While she was interrupted each time, when it’s Wesley’s turn, the writers let him have his full say.
Wesley’s speech is okay, but I was more impressed by Picard’s response: “I envy you, Wesley Crusher. You’re just at the beginning of the adventure.” (I’ve used that line in my role as mentor, but it was much better in my head when I *thought* it in Patrick Stewart’s voice then when I *spoke* it at a graduation reception.)
As a Trek fan I knew of course that actor Wil Wheaton left the show because he wanted to pursue a film career, but I didn’t remember exactly *when* he left. So it was a surprise when I realized that his farewell episode was here already — just when the writers seemed to have figured out what to do with the character.
Nick Tate, who played the Aussie pilot Alan on Space:1999, manages to convey some depth in his portrayal of the miner who’s written as an NPC who complicates Wesley’s quest.
In an age when making sci-fi meant building physical models and layering optical effects on film, it would have been a real treat to see an FX shot of the shuttle crash landing, or at least a matte painting showing a trough where the shuttle plowed through the sand and a crater where it finally landed — but budget.
We have to settle for getting a good look at the exterior of the mining shuttle in the Enterprise landing bay, and then, after the crash happens during a commercial break, getting more good looks at the shuttle on the surface of the desert moon.