Is Jean-Luc Picard Wesley Crusher’s father? And if not, why not? Or is the personal relationship a step too far for Star Trek?
My television streaming service carries all the Star Trek television series, and I’m slowly working my way through them. I’m now up to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although I’ve caught the occasional episode of this series on its endless repeats on late night television, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to watch it all from the beginning. On those few occasions I did watch it, one unanswered question often crossed my mind. Is Jean-Luc Picard Wesley Crusher’s father?
Contributors to online forums are adamant that Wesley could not possibly be Picard’s son, quoting dates that prove it impossible and defending Dr Crusher’s virtue. However, what they all forget is that these are not real people with a factual history, but characters created by writers, in fact by a team of writers not all of whom were on the same page, and who were subject to the prejudices, whims and vagaries of the series’ producers and a television network. Unless the production team maintains a strong and well-thought out vision, false starts, changes of direction, inconsistencies, and contradictions are likely to creep into a series, keeping fans, forums and bloggers busy picking over them for years to come. This is obviously what happened to Star Trek: The Next Generation, especially in its first season.
Scripts for individual episodes, as well as the series, can also change over time. A script can go through rewrites which might fundamentally change its whole meaning. Sometimes the original screenwriter might be asked to make the rewrites, but more often than not other writers, and even the producers, might make changes, sometimes without any reference to the original author. (In fact, the gossip is that Gene Roddenberry let his lawyer rewrite several scripts!) These changes might be made for purely practical reasons — perhaps a long script needs to be cut back in length, or the budget doesn’t stretch to the special effects or locations required, or characters featured might have left the series or be unavailable at the time of shooting. But more often than not it will be because the series’ producers have a different vision to the screenwriter’s.
The premiere double episode of the series, Encounter at Farpoint, is a prime example. The original script was written by D.C Fontana who was a major contributor to the original Star Trek series, but it was extensively re-written by executive producer Gene Roddenberry. This episode introduces the main characters and furnishes them with backstories. Without access to the original scripts we might never know whether it was Fontana or Roddenberry who devised the backstories, but since Roddenberry, as producer, would have authorised the final script we must assume he knew and approved of them. It’s only natural that the viewers and, indeed, the actors, would expect these characters and their backstories to be developed as the series progresses along the lines set down from the beginning. However, this wasn’t the case for Star Trek: The Next Generation, especially for the main characters — Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Dr Beverley Crusher, her son Wesley, Commander William Riker and Counsellor Deanna Troi — and it seems it was Roddenberry himself who stymied them.
The first time Commander Riker encounters Counsellor Troi we can tell by the long, yearning look they exchange that they were once, and seem to still be, deeply in love, their connection being so strong that Troi is able to project her thoughts to Riker. It’s also made obvious that there’s history between Dr Crusher and Captain Picard. What that history might be isn’t made explicit, but the implication is clear enough.
We first meet Riker, Dr Crusher and Wesley at Farpoint where they are waiting to join the Enterprise which is on its way with its newly installed captain, Jean-Luc Picard. Riker introduces himself to Dr Crusher and, when she refers to Picard as Jean-Luc, he asks her if she knows him. Dr Crusher is reluctant to answer and lets Wesley answer for her. Wesley tells Riker that when he was little, Picard brought home his dead father’s body.
Later in the episode, Wesley is eager to see the ship’s bridge. Dr Crusher is reluctant to break the Captain’s rule that no children are allowed on the bridge, but she finally gives in as long as he stays in the turbo-lift. When the doors of the turbo-lift open and Picard sees Wesley he blusters and orders him off his bridge until Dr Crusher steps out from behind him. The sight of her silences Picard and they exchange a long, emotionally charged look. Dr Crusher nervously informs him that Wesley is her son and gives Picard his full name. Picard is surprised to learn she has a son, but readily agrees when Dr Crusher says he met Wesley once before. Picard’s attitude towards the boy immediately warms. He tells Wesley he knew his father and awkwardly offers to show him around.
There is an obvious inconsistency in this story. How could it be that Picard doesn’t know that Dr Crusher has a son? Surely if a man brings his colleague’s dead body home to his young widow, the fact that she has a now fatherless infant son would be a major topic of conversation.
One can only conclude that Wesley was not born the last time Picard and Dr Crusher met and the story of his bringing home her husband’s body when Wesley was little is a fiction concocted for Wesley’s benefit to cover the truth. What is that ‘truth’? The look exchanged by Picard and Dr Crusher, the way Dr Crusher introduces Wesley to him and his change of heart towards the boy can lead the viewer to only one conclusion, that Picard is Wesley’s father. One might speculate, perhaps, that Dr Crusher’s husband died earlier than Wesley has been led to believe, that he hadn’t yet been born when the body was returned to her and may well have actually been conceived on that occasion.
In the third episode, The Naked Now, the crew is infected by an intoxicant which lowers their inhibitions. Under its influence Troi tries to seduce Riker, Dr Crusher propositions Picard and Lieutenant Tasha Yar beds Data. When they recover and settle back into their routines, Yar tells Data the incident never happened, and Picard looks meaningfully at Troi and Riker, advising them to resist temptation.
It seems they take him at his word. Their relationship gets no further than it did in the first episode and their psychic connection is never invoked again. Even when, in the episode Haven, Troi’s intended comes aboard to formalise the marriage their fathers arranged years earlier, Riker sighs and sulks but makes no real effort to win her back. Troi claims their relationship must remain platonic because Riker’s greatest desire is to become a ship’s captain, as though it’s some kind of priesthood that requires celibacy. To the viewer it looks very much like an easy cop out.
As for the — implied — relationship between Wesley and Picard, it seems that very early in the season the whole notion was dropped altogether. Before too long Wesley is a young person Picard doesn’t want to know about, and in the episode Justice — when Wesley is under threat of execution for a minor infringement — in private conversations between Dr Crusher and Picard, Picard repeatedly refers to him as ‘your son’ and Dr Crusher tells him he would be as distressed as she is if Wesley were his son.
It isn’t just the viewer that’s exasperated by this failure to carry through. Gates McFadden, who played Dr Crusher, was so frustrated that the anticipated relationship between Dr Crusher and Picard never materialised — in fact was actively prevented by Roddenberry — that she resigned from the series at the end of the first season. So too did Denise Crosby, who played Lieutenant Yar, because her character was not developed either. (Despite Yar being killed off, Crosby made several return appearances, while, as Dr Crusher was just re-assigned, McFadden was eventually able to return permanently.)
One can only wonder why, if Roddenberry was so opposed to developing relationships between the characters, he allowed them to be burdened with so much emotional baggage in the pilot. Did the implied relationships between Riker and Troi, Dr Crusher and Picard slip past him? It isn’t as though the backstories were essential to the plot, or, as we have seen, to the characters, or that it would have been difficult to make the necessary changes. In both cases it would have required changing only a couple of lines and how the actors were directed in those scenes to start them off with clean slates. Troi and Riker could have just as easily been meeting for the first time and perhaps found each other attractive, while Dr Crusher and Picard could simply have recognised each other as old friends who hadn’t met in many years — although even in such a case Picard should have known that she had a son. It looks like somewhere between the pilot and the next episode, Gene Roddenberry’s whole vision for the characters changed and it was too late to go back and reshoot those scenes.
This discomfort with the development of relationships is one of the major problems with the Star Trek franchise. While I found the original Star Trek interesting, though problematic on a number of fronts, loved Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, and was a devoted fan of Voyager, I had never warmed to The Next Generation. I felt there was something missing in the characters. I found them wooden, unsympathetic and humourless and it seems to have been in order to keep them so that the producers resisted developing any relationships between them.
Why they would make such a decision is a mystery. Perhaps it was as a reaction to the criticism of the rather histrionic characterisations of the original Star Trek crew. Perhaps they thought such personal relationships might endanger the smooth running of the starship. Or perhaps they felt their target audience was geeky teenage boys who would be put off by too much emotion. Another explanation may be that Gene Roddenberry’s Utopian vision for Star Trek led to his insistence that there should be no interpersonal conflicts between the main characters, and, of course, one can’t have relationships without conflict.
Unfortunately, one must put these intrinsic problems with Star Trek: The Next Generation at Roddenberry’s door as the series improved markedly in the second season once Roddenberry had relinquished total control. However, by then it was too late to change the relationships, or lack thereof, that had been established in the first season. It was not until the final two seasons, 6 and 7, and the subsequent movies, that the relationships established in the pilot were finally allowed to be explored and developed, albeit, after all the twists and turns in between, not exactly as originally implied.
Roddenberry wasn’t around to put his restrictions on the later series. The relationships in Deep Space Nine are fully developed and, while some end tragically, they are brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Unfortunately, the relationship side of Voyager was not so well-realised.
At the beginning of the series, when they fear it might take them 75 years to get home, the Captain contemplates how to accommodate the inevitable births of children. In fact, in the first six years, only one child is born on Voyager and she was conceived before her mother signed on. Only one other child is born, and that was in the very last episode. Despite the fact that the ship is crewed by 150 odd men and women in their prime, only one couple is formed and they are only allowed to get together after the previous only couple aboard inexplicably breaks up. Meanwhile, although an attraction is established between Captain Janeway and her first officer Chakotay in the first few episodes — and despite their once being stranded alone together for some time on a bucolic planet — the relationship is never consummated and instead the Captain’s longest liaison is with a hologram. Again it seems that the producers were reluctant to follow the path laid down by the series’ creators. Since this series was deliberately aimed at a female audience, such reluctance is impossible to fathom. (See also Life and Love in the Delta Quadrant or my fictional reflection on this problem in Lovelorn.)
While I greatly admired Star Trek: Enterprise, it seems the series was never able to win a sustainable audience and was axed after four seasons. The last episode skipped ahead six years and took us to the first Enterprise’s last voyage. This would have been a good way to end the series, if the finale had not been totally botched and, again inexplicably, by the series’ own creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga who wrote the episode.
From the very first season a relationship had been foreshadowed between the troubled Vulcan First Officer, T’Pol, and the warmhearted Chief Engineer ‘Trip’ Tucker. Yet while every episode in the fourth season seemed designed to bring them closer together — sometimes in defiance of logic and reason — we are told in the finale that no such relationship ever developed. (And that wasn’t the worst blunder in the episode, but I won’t spoil it for you.)
What on earth were Berman and Braga thinking? Were they so angry that the series had been axed they decided to metaphorically trash the joint? Had they been so uncomfortable with the way the series had developed they wanted to undo what they saw as the damage? All I can say is that it was a terrible decision which retrospectively ruined an avid viewer’s enjoyment of the whole series. (So much so that I wrote my own finale for the series.)
More recently, controversy has erupted over the fact that, in the latest Star Trek manifestation, produced by JJ Abrams, Mr Sulu has been revealed as a gay man. The LGBTI community is saying ‘it’s about bloody time’, while the fans of the original series are claiming it goes against Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.
Despite my criticism here of Roddenberry, this is one failure we cannot blame on him. In an earlier essay, Star Trek and the Feminine, I wrote about how the network thwarted his attempts to give women a more prominent role in the original Star Trek and how hard he had to fight to keep Mr Spock’s ‘Satanic’ ears. One can imagine the brouhaha he would have faced if he had dared introduce a gay character. In fact, if there are no gays in Star Fleet, the blame must be sheeted home to his successor, Rick Berman. Gene Roddenberry wanted to introduce a gay character in The Next Generation, in fact he had proposed that Geordi La Forge should be gay, but Rick Berman vetoed it, as he did for all the succeeding series. Though, given Roddenberry’s track record, if La Forge had been gay, he would have had to remain celibate, too!
© Pauline Montagna 2016