“Journey’s End” was always going to be a difficult episode to do because it tackles concepts of colonialism and oppression of Indigenous peoples. I am far, far from the most appropriate person to discuss those issues, so this column will focus mostly on the Wesley Crusher story and Picard’s experiences. However, because the Wesley Crusher story does intersect with the larger A-story, I will touch on some of those issues. Be aware.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Wesley Crusher has returned to the Enterprise on a vacation from Starfleet Academy and seems unmoved by the warm welcome offered to him by his mother, Data, and Commander La Forge. Meanwhile, Picard enlists Riker’s aid in preparing a welcome for Admiral Nechayev, with whom he has a remarkably fraught relationship. Nechayev bursts into the conference room and hands Picard’s the Enterprise’s new assignment: removing a group of Indigenous American colonists from Dorvan V as the Federation ceded the planet to the Cardassians as part of the Federation/Cardassian Peace Treaty. Picard protests, and Nechayev, not unmoved by his objections, offers to find another ship and captain to take over the mission. Picard demurs.
Down in Engineering, La Forge attempts to engage Wesley Crusher in a discussion regarding his new work with plasmadyne relays. Unimpressed, Crusher brushes him off rudely, and La Forge sends him on his way. On the planet, Picard and Troi are not having any better luck negotiating with the tribal council for the people on Dorvan V. Troi offers the colonists the choice of several planets, and Anthwara refuses, explaining that the mountains, rivers, and skies welcomed his people, prompting their choice of this world as their new home. Wakasa then accuses Picard of laughing at Anthwara’s beliefs, and Troi intervenes to call a recess. Picard extends an invitation to the council members to a reception aboard the Enterprise.
Before the reception, Dr. Crusher confronts Wesley about his attitude, and he snaps at her that he’s sick of following regulations. She leaves, and Wesley drags himself late to the reception where Lakanta addresses Wesley by name before introducing himself and explaining that he saw a vision of Wesley two years ago during a vision question in the habak. Picard and Anthwara use the reception as an opportunity to bond over their mutual love of their families’ history.
The next morning, Wesley joins Lakanta on the planet’s surface where Lakanta tells Wesley that he should view himself as sacred. Lakanta then offers Wesley the opportunity to use the habak. Wesley has better luck than Picard does as back in the council chamber, Anthwara refuses Picard’s offer of relocation. He explains that Picard will not remove the colonists because Picard must atone for the crimes of his ancestor, Javier Maribona Picard, who participated in the brutal aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Anthwara leaves, and a bemused Picard accompanies Counselor Troi out into the colony’s central square. They find Worf and his team giving a team of Cardassians who have beamed down from the Vetar the stink eye.
Picard begs Gul Evek for more time while Wesley takes Lakanta up on his offer to use the habak. There, Wesley sees a vision of his father who counsels him to abandon his father’s path, which Wesley takes to mean that he should leave the Academy. Wesley leaves the habak and notices that Worf’s team has begun surreptitiously putting in place the wherewithal to remove the colonists by force. Wesley incites the colonists to protest, and he leaves.
Picard summons Wesley to the observation lounge where he dresses Wesley down for his behavior. Wesley calmly declares that he intends to resign from Starfleet and leave the Academy. Back in Wesley’s guest quarters, Dr. Crusher doesn’t understand Wesley’s decision and asks him to explain. He tells her about his vision and admits that he no longer wished to be a Starfleet officer. He only continued to please her and the rest of his friends aboard the Enterprise. Dr. Crusher offers him her unconditional support.
Back on Dorvan V, the colonists take a Cardassian officer hostage, and phaser fire breaks out. Wesley moves to protest, and suddenly, everything stops. Lakanta, who is not frozen, reveals to Wesley that he is the Traveler and that he will be Wesley’s guide to a new path. He also reminds Wesley to have faith in his friends that they will solve this crisis, and they walk away.
Picard begs Gul Evek of the Vetar not to start another war, and Evek orders his men to stand down. He tells Picard that he lost two sons in the last war and did not want to lose the third and last. The scene cuts to the observation lounge aboard the Enterprise, where Picard asks Anthwara if his people understand what they are giving up when they surrender their Federation citizenship. Anthwara replies that they do, and Gul Evek opines that most Cardassians will likely leave them be. Anthwara assures Picard that he has wiped clean his ancestor’s blood debt. Wesley says goodbye to his mother and Picard in the transporter room as the Traveler believes he should begin his new life with the people of Dorvan V. Dr. Crusher reminds him to dress warmly on any other plane of existence to which he might travel.
Before I get into the meat of this column, I do want to direct you to a podcast reviewing the same episode: Metis in Space. The relevant portion of the review begins at 22:51. I also want to direct you to Mark Oshiro’s review of “Journey’s End” as Oshiro does a great job summarizing the larger racial context and just how badly the episode fails.
The Wesley Crusher we get in “Journey’s End” is one who is obviously drowning in his own teenage angst, so much so that the fact that no one notices makes absolutely zero sense. Wil Wheaton’s Wes seems really tired and over the entire Starfleet issue, which is likely appropriate to the story. However, that’s not a ringing endorsement of that performance because there is absolutely zero nuance to it. Wheaton’s Crusher here is as flat as Crusher can be, and even when he finally rejects the path he previously walked, his happiness is bland. Really, the most comfortable we ever see Wheaton as Crusher is when he’s yelling at the collected extras to rally against Starfleet. Maybe it was the yelling?
Wesley’s vision quest forms the emotional heart of the episode, and even when confronted with a vision of his father, Wesley’s overall reaction can mostly be summarized as “Huh?” His confrontation with Picard fares no better. That, too, should have been a huge watershed moment for Wesley, especially considering how much time TNG spent building up the relationship between Wesley and Picard. He literally takes advice from a vision of the father he never knew and bases a repudiation of the man who has most consistently been his father figure on it, so one would assume that he would exhibit an emotion outside of resignation. Patrick Stewart seems to be the only person in the scene to manifest a feeling about Wesley’s decision. When Captain Picard, the man Sarek trusted to keep himself sane, has more feels than you do, you should perhaps reevaluate your life choices.
Wesley weirdly doesn’t bat an eye when Lakanta, a man whom he has never met, not only knows his name but is willing to take him into the tribe’s holiest place. That Wesley never questions why Lakanta so readily identifies him seems very strange to me. On the one hand, it could be taken as an indication that Wes is so wholly absorbed in his self-created misery that his higher critical thinking skills have been sublimated to his depression. However, on the other, there’s a real possibility that Wesley believes himself to be just that important. His willingness to believe that Lakanta is just going to take him into the tribe’s habak speaks to the former, but it follows Lakanta’s speech about how Wesley, in particular, is sacred, hinting at the latter.
I don’t know what Tom Jackson planned to do with the Lakanta character, but it slots neatly into the “Magical Native American” trope. Even revealing that Lakanta is the Traveler fails to elevate the character beyond that trope, and frankly, relying on that stereotype feels very out of place in an episode that establishes itself as an attempt to grapple with the horrific history of oppression experienced by Indigenous peoples at the hands of colonial powers. Setting aside just how problematic it is to have the Traveler just create an entire person from an oppressed cultural minority, the episode appropriates the “habak,” which seems to be Space-Indian for “sweat lodge,” and “vision quest” in support of Wesley’s story, which centers a white character in an Indigenous context. This move runs counter to the overt themes in the episode. Ronald D. Moore’s script goes out of its way to assert that colonialism is B-A-D, but at the same time, cultural appropriation gives rise to the emotional climax of the Wesley Crusher story. “Journey’s End” cannot eat its cake and have it too.
Make no mistake, the episode’s themes are not subtle even in the episode’s A-story. Anthwara, capably portrayed by Ned Romero, frames Picard’s conflict as not being between the people living in the colony and the Cardassians but rather as one between himself and his own history. Anthwara’s entire worldview is tied up in the activities of ancestors, so when he discovers that Picard himself descends from a Spaniard who took part in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (yes, I know, please see below), he equates Picard finding a resolution with Picard repaying a blood debt on behalf of his forebear. Moore’s script takes that concept seriously, even though there is a brief moment in which Picard repudiates the idea in its entirety to Riker. The set-up in “Journey’s End” is therefore intended to force Picard, as an inheritor of colonialist benefit, to engage with this history. Moore also highlights how the Federation itself has stepped into the shoes of a colonial power in opposition to its own ideals. Picard is not happy about what Nechayev asks him to do, and significantly, she’s not any happier to demand it of him. However, his feelings on the issue matter less than the means by which he confronts that history.
Forcing Picard, the Federation, and by extension white viewers not only to acknowledge that their history and privilege is rooted in oppression but also to explore meaningful methods of providing restitution could have made for interesting viewing. Even today, there aren’t any mainstream representations of what actually doing the work of undoing colonialism and white supremacy actually looks like. Failing that, exploring how easily the Federation slides into becoming that colonial power would have been a bold move. However, Moore’s story doesn’t really do any of that. For all Picard’s expressed discomfort with his mission, he still accepts it, and he resolves the issue by granting Anthwara and his people actual independence from their colonialist overlords. That should have been the climax for the A-story, but it’s too rushed to be. Rather, the climax occurs when Picard throws himself on Gul Evek’s mercy to avoid war. Sure, Anthwara gets a seat at the negotiating table, but really, Picard and Evek work out the terms of a deal between themselves, meaning that once again, the fate of Anthwara’s people gets decided by two unrelated powers. When measured against the overt themes, the episode’s resolution is therefore problematic. Moreover, as with the Wesley Crusher storyline, the A-story focuses on the conflict from Picard’s perspective. Anthwara’s people get very little characterization or real screen time. They’re literally just walking reminders. We get more emotional depth out of Gul Evek and Picard’s performative guilt. Moore would have done better to write a story about Indigenous peoples that, y’know, focused on the Indigenous people. Better yet, he could have advocated for an Indigenous scriptwriter to write the story.
One cup of Earl Grey Tea on a saucer
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- Fun fact, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a real event and remains a significant part of the cultural history for the Indigenous peoples in New Mexico and Arizona. By all accounts, the revolt was a success. A coalition of Pueblo and Apache forces managed to drive the Spanish out from New Mexico for more than a decade. It’s not until 1692 that Diego de Vargas returns and negotiates a peace agreement with the various Pueblos. Thereafter, de Vargas engages in increasingly tyrannical control over the Indigenous populations, culminating in a brutal, bloody quelling of a second revolt in 1692. That latter event is where Anthwara determines that Picard’s fictional ancestor was involved. Anthwara’s description of events is therefore inaccurate, and as the emotional and thematic heart of the episode, it’s a strange thing to get even a little bit wrong.
- The episode uses the term “Indians” rather than Native Americans or Indigenous people, and while I realize that these terms were not really in use by the general, white population in the nineties, it’s still jarring to hear it. I use “Indian” above in one context sarcastically. I invoke Dances with Wolves in the title the same way as that film also centered a white man in the middle of what should have been a story focused on Indigenous people.
- The episode also seems to generalize that Anthwara’s people represent all of America’s indigenous cultures, which is ridiculous. The Pueblo groups speak vastly different languages, have different cultural practices, and distinct identities from other Native American groups. Y’all, that’s like calling the Polish stand-ins for all of Europe. Plus, visually, that colony? Pretty rustic. Pretty luddite. Surely in their hundreds of years of wandering from PLANET TO PLANET, these folks managed to pick up a thing or two that would influence how they construct their living spaces. This visual dismissal of their competence grates very badly.
- Credit where credit is due, Anthwara is an amazing negotiator. He backs Picard into a corner every time they meet, and that’s satisfying. I just wish the episode had, y’know, been about Anthwara.