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The Dauphin

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 7, 2007 - 11:41 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Dauphin' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Captain Picard is ordered to transport a girl named Salia and her governess Anya to Daled IV - a planet Salia was born to rule, for she is the child of the descendants of two warring families now at peace. Though Anya tries to shield Salia, who was raised in isolation, Wesley Crusher overhears Salia discussing ship's functions, realizes that she is brilliant as well as attractive, and falls in love with her, seeking advice from various older crewmembers about how to court her. Though Salia enjoys eating chocolate and exploring the galaxy on the holodeck with Wesley, Anya becomes more and more overprotective, trying to keep her in her quarters and suggesting that a mildly ill patient in sickbay be killed so he does not infect Salia. Worf discovers that Anya is a shapeshifter when he tries to have her restrained. Fearful of putting his ship as well as the mission at risk, Picard orders Wesley to stop seeing Salia, but she sneaks out to visit Wesley anyway. Arriving and witnessing the teenagers kissing, Anya turns into a large roaring creature, and Wesley watches in horror as Salia transforms as well to defend him. At first reluctant to forgive her for her deception, Wesley ultimately comes to believe that she loves him. Salia, in turn, wishes she could experience life as a human for longer, but her duty is to become the leader of Daled IV. The two must reluctantly say goodbye.

Analysis: "The Dauphin" might be a bit thin on plot - well, a lot thin on plot - but it's still enjoyable, and probably Wesley's strongest storyline so far. He's still a boy wonder, but he's neither intolerably clever nor embarrassingly adolescent as he experiences first love. His questions to the older crewmembers are restrained and lead to some hilarious exchanges about the foibles of love in general, and his unhappiness at discovering that his beloved is not what he had hoped is neither overly sulky nor unbelievably brief. Harry Potter could learn a thing or two from Wesley.

It helps a lot that the object of his affections is both well-written and well-played - sadly, more of the adult women who've served as temporary love interests on The Next Generation haven't been so interesting. Salia isn't remotely an ordinary teenage girl, but then Wesley's not an ordinary boy, either. Forgetting the question of whether he's "special" as the Traveler tells Picard, he's growing up on a starship currently without a parent. He's clever, but he's sometimes overconfident and he isn't always smart. We don't need Troi to tell us his emotional weaknesses; even LaForge knows that it's hopeless trying to get a lovesick teenager to concentrate on engineering. So when he meets a girl, it's no wonder that the first thing he notices isn't her looks but her ability to discuss microconverters.

All right, maybe it's unrealistic for a young Starfleet officer to ask such direct questions of his direct superiors, but it leads to some wonderful character moments for everyone. Worf gleefully describes Klingon courtship, explaining that the women roar and hurl heavy objects while the men recite love poetry. Data offers completely unhelpful, slightly icky advice about physiological compatibility. Riker and Guinan demonstrate flirtation, with Will typically overdoing the charm and the mysterious bartender at first haughtily batting his lines back, then deciding that she rather likes such attention and requesting that it continue after Wesley has decided their approach really isn't his style - "Shut up, kid," Guinan orders, asking Riker to tell her more about her intoxicating eyes.

In fact, Wesley figures out on his own that he'll do best just being himself, and he's clever and fortunate enough to have fallen for a girl who appreciates a somewhat nerdy starstruck boy. Though wide-eyed innocence gets really annoying in grown women like Picard's Jenice and Graves' Kareen, it's perfectly charming in a teenager raised in isolation to become the ruler of a planet she has never been permitted to see. Because of this backstory, her wide-eyed wonder at the universe doesn't seem phony and her Miranda-like admiration of the human form makes increasing sense as we discover that she doesn't really look human at all. (It's a bit odd that when they're alone together, Anya takes on the form of a girlfriend her own age rather than reverting to their natural states, but maybe the ship's sensors would detect a major change, whereas they appear not to react when Anya turns into a cuddly pet of sorts.)

Salia accepts her fate with grace and surprisingly little whining, given that she is a teenage girl, and her need to be shown the ropes of the ship is balanced by her intelligent questions about it. I find it difficult to believe that Anya can be so overbearing as a guardian and taken seriously as a friend by Salia at the same time, but I suppose that in the isolation of their previous home, Anya may have had less reason to use intimidation. It also doesn't make a lot of sense to me that Anya would be so panicked about Salia catching a humanoid disease while in humanoid form considering that she isn't humanoid...I would think that if she were susceptible to contagious diseases, the isolation of her upbringing would have put her at risk for all sorts of things the rest of the crew wouldn't worry about. The monster forms of both Anya and Salia are among the sillier-looking aliens of The Next Generation, but if one wishes to be charitable, one can assume that this is what a shapeshifter thinks would be scary to humans rather than bad costuming.

It's too bad that Salia's nature as a shapeshifter doesn't get explored further - has she lived as a humanoid previously? Is it physical sensation that draws her to human life, or merely the presence of peers and potential friends? ("O brave new world that has such people in't!") Her easy dismissal of Anya, her one friend and pseudo-parent, when Anya announces that she will retire to the planet's third moon now that her duties are discharged, stretches credulity more than the shape-shifting. Anya gets a nice send-off, with Worf expressing admiration for her skills as a warrior and hoping they might meet in battle for the same side, but how harsh it seems to hear her dismiss a girl she has raised as a responsibility to be dismissed. The residents of Daled IV must be quite different from humans in terms of emotional connections. Whereas Wesley is stuck with his heartache, though Guinan tells him kindly that he will love again, and it will be different, and it will be worth it...a gentle closing for a gently appealing episode, not terribly deep but satisfying nonetheless.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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