Poor Wesley. Poor, poor Wesley. Constantly in the "top ten most hated characters" polls, he's been a target of hate from Star Trek fans for twenty years now. It's a shame really, because if you're a geek, Wil Wheaton is about as awesomely cool as they come.
He was written as a two dimensional boy genius, rarely given anything meaningful to do. A lot of the characters were two dimensional and forced in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even the mighty Captain Picard was all over the place in terms of character traits, suffering more mood swings than a pregnant woman. Yet every other character in the main cast of TNG managed to rise past that mostly awful first season and become loved by everyone.
The problem was that Wesley was very rarely given any character driven stories. The most he usually got was: 'I've saved the ship again! Woo!' Even when the show was finally finding itself and moving towards more character focused stories, Wesley was left sitting at the helm, hoping, praying even, that some weird shit will happen and he can solve the problem with SCIENCE.
In an effort to prove it wasn't all saving the ship and glancing at brain scans, I present to you the top three Wesley Crusher Moments:
#1 - Evolution
The problem with Wesley was he was smart, well disciplined and hard working. Now seriously, what the Hell? He's seventeen years old, shouldn't he be acting like one instead of a seventy-five year old? Well, the episode addresses that, with his mother freaked that Wesley is far to mature and should be a bit more chilled out and dating chicks and stuff and not saving the ship all the time.
What's also really cool about this episode is that Wes doesn't save the ship - he puts it in danger. His experiment with the tiny wee robots goes completely tits up and nearly destroys the ship. It's great to see him have to deal with having made a huge mistake and having to find the courage to 'fess up about it.
#2 - The Bonding
One of my all time favourite TNG moments is in this episode - the scene in which Wes and his Mother remember the day his Dad died. The whole episode is about death, so you expect a bit of a depressing mood to be hanging over, but bloody hell what a tear jerker. It's the little moments like this that add to character and make the audience empathise, relate to and like a character. Wes seems to be on a roll in this episode when he actually gets two good scenes in one episode. The second comes when Wes admits that actually, he wasn't feeling like an enlightened human when his father died, he actually felt like crap. And he was was also angry as hell with Picard for being the one who survived.
To bad The Bonding didn't happen in season one...
#3 - Final Mission
Denise Crosby's best episode was her last. Sadly, so too is Wil Wheaton's. Had this not been the end of Wesley as a regular, this episode could have been the turning point for the character. What could have been another Wesley-does-it-again scripts, instead became an wonderfully written and performed, emotionally charged episode. Picard and Wes finally realise* and acknowledge that a kind of surrogate father/son relationship has developed between the two. Wesley telling Picard he isn't going to let him die is one of the all time great moments. The script comes from Jeri Taylor and it's a real shame she wasn't involved in Trek a lot sooner. You can see a definite shift in story telling after she came onboard, characters like Troi and Crusher got more to do and had she been given the choice maybe she could have done something more meaningful with Wesley too.
[*I say realised because I don't really buy into this idea that Picard became a father figure for Wesley after his fathers death. Picard really left that responsibility to Riker during the second season. Picard claims to have, 'always been proud' of Wesley. Yeah, when you weren't telling him to shut up or get off the bridge. While there were some great moment between the two in previous episodes, the shuttle trip, or Wes admitting the deaths of a thousand people has him wigged big time, they were always few and far between.]
The irony is, that two of the three episodes above show that having a teenager amongst the crew of TNG highlighted the limitations of the world of Star Trek. Humanity has evolved and we're not a bunch of bastards any more. Well, that's great...unless you're the poor sap that has to find some drama for the characters. When you have adult characters, there are ways around this limitation. With a child/teenager in a television drama, the whole point is to show them growing and learning about the world, that it's not a bunch or roses, that they have to learn by the mistakes they make and have their innocence of childhood beaten out of them, as the world does to everyone. That worked great in Buffy. Not so here. In the world of Star Trek, children are perfect. So they don't make mistakes and they don't get shit on by the adults because they know they have responsibilities. They don't throw mood swings and they certainly don't cry over the death of a parent.
Whatever good we got from Wesley was too little to late. Once the fans decided they hated him, there was no going back. Even though we later got episodes like First Duty out of the character, the odd appearance in later seasons did little to help repair the damage.
By the end of Final Mission, Picard's "You will be missed," was met met with a resounding, "NO HE WON'T" from most of the fans.