Welcome to Star Trek The Neutral Zone and our first interview. We were lucky enough to catch up with Susanne Lambdin, co-writer of 'The Wish', the speculative script that eventually became a key element of the Star Trek: The Next Generation season four episode 'Family'.

 TNZ: The relationship between Jack and Wesley is such a bittersweet one, given that their moments 'together' are separated by time, and lived out via the holodeck. What gave you the idea of highlighting that lost father / son relationship?

SL: I worked for Peter Kane, the attorney on the Arsenio Hall Show. Everyone knew I was writing spec scripts for ST:TNG, which accepted scripts from anyone. This meant I was able to work late. One evening, a mailroom boy named Bryan Stewart came by my desk, deeply depressed, and it was obvious he had been crying. I asked Bryan what was wrong, and he told me, “my father just died, and there are so many things I wished I had been able to say to him but didn’t get a chance to do so.” I told Bryan that I was working on a script for the show at some point. We both stared at each other and knew at once that his pain and what he wanted to say to his father was precisely what was needed for Wesley Crusher. Bryan, it turns out, was a huge fan too. He was also a whiz when it came to all the tech on the show. We sat down and worked out a spec script called ‘The Wish,’ which was Wesley’s wish to get a chance to meet Jack Crusher and say all those powerful and emotional things Bryan wanted to say to his dead. In our story, Jack was interactive on the holodeck, a program that allowed Wesley to ask his dad anything and have a meaningful conversation with his father that covered so much more than what you saw in ‘Family’.

The episode purchased by ST:TNG included our portion of ‘The Wish,’ but sadly it was a recorded message, so you missed out on the interplay between father and son. In the original story, it is incredibly moving, and what we wrote between Wesley and Jack, helped Bryan heal emotionally in the long run. This year, Bryan noticed I was a published author and he reached out to me. He is not a writer these days but he never forgot the time that we worked together and shared so many personal things about his father, and of course, about the Crushers.

TNZ: The Jack and Wesley element from your spec script was taken and woven into the wider tapestry of Family, which focussed on Picard in the days after Wolf 359. Many fans consider it the third chapter of the Best of Both Worlds story, seeing Picard heal following his travails against the Borg. When did you learn that your Wesley and Jack story would be a part of that episode?

SL: I had already met Michael Pillar. I took in a script called ‘The Death Merchant,’ which is close to ‘The Defector’. Michael was interested in what else I could write. I had also met Ron Moore and we were friends. After Bryan and I gave Ron a copy of ‘The Wish,’ we were called into the legal office at Paramount to discuss payment and a screen credit. We learned in that meeting that the Crusher storyline would be used in an episode that would deal entirely with family issues. Obviously, both Bryan and I were delighted and were told the title was ‘Family’.

TNZ: What are your thoughts on the Jack and Wesley parallels? They are very different characters, although we see them both as young men in Starfleet. 

SL: I happened to loved the character of Wesley. I wanted to see him grow into a man similar to his father, join Starfleet, and become an officer. I always thought if Wesley had a show where he was marooned on a planet, forced to survive in a harsh environment, perhaps meet a love interested, that by the time he was rescued he would turn into someone like his father – someone with direction and ambition. All Wesley needed was an opportunity to be a man, perhaps step back from his own mental brilliance and grow in touch with his feelings, but I think without a father in his life that he was unable to do this. His later trouble with Starfleet and ending up as a Traveler was not what I wanted . . . I wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and succeed.

TNZ: Family also shows Worf - the orphan with more family members than any other character on the show - and his own struggles with his elderly human parents. In terms of learning about the family lives of our bridge crew, no episode gives us more. Were there any other Crusher family elements you would have liked to reveal and / or explore?

SL: The writers always seemed to like to torment Worf. So it was true with Wesley’s character. As I said earlier, in ‘The Wish,’ we found out more about who Jack Crusher was, and how his absence had effected Wesley, and what Jack wanted for his son. Beverly was handling the loss of Jack. She was a solid character, but I would have liked to have seen her more vulnerable, while Wesley stepped up and became a stronger individual. Wesley’s character was simply too intelligence and it gave him little room to grow, but had some of that been stripped from him and he was forced to think more like Worf in an episode and rely on his physical strength instead of his brain, I think it would have made a difference. Wesley needed to be thrust into a situation where he could separate emotionally from the loss of his father and the expectations of his mother, and Picard, and find his true place on the ship. Both Picard and Kirk were intelligent men, but not at Wesley’s level of genius. It was the genius of Wesley that eventually handicapped him. I really would have liked to have seen Wesley excel at the academy, find the friends needed to bring out his best, and eventually return to the Enterprise as an officer ready to assume a vital role in the crew.

TNZ: We saw Wesley grow a lot between the first and fourth seasons, and soon after Wesley would leave the show to join Starfleet Academy and begin his training proper. Was it Wesley the character that you were drawn to, or was it more the unique story of a dead father and his son?

SL: Wesley’s character was something I was drawn to before I met Bryan. I wrote a number of scripts, and pitched fifteen ideas to the writing staff, and some of those dealt with the development of Wesley into manhood. As much as I campaigned for Wesley and tried to shape his future, it just didn’t happen.

TNZ: Have you met the actor behind the focal point of your story, Wil Wheaton? 

SL: Sadly, Wil is the only actor on ST:TNG that I never met. I saw Wil many times playing hackey sack with his friends outside the sound stage. He was a kid in tattered jeans who wore a dangling earring and just wanted to have fun. Here I had no problem approaching Patrick Stewart with a script idea that I wrote for him, or meeting Jonathan Frakes, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but I never felt right about interrupting Wil Wheaton with his friends. Wil often plays games at a store in the town where I live. I had a book signing at this store, The Burrow, and he was supposed to come in that day. The owner Derrek Burrow played ‘Family’ all day, and we waited for Wil to show up, but he couldn’t make it. I missed him at Planet Comic Con the year I didn’t attend. However, I had signed a copy of ‘The Wish,’ for a fan, and she took it with her. She approached Wil who stared at the script and said, “Where did you get this? I always wanted to see this script.” And he signed it for her. It’s the only script in the world that both Wil and I autographed together, but still, I have never met him.

TNZ: If you were able to continue the story of Jack and Wesley - given Wes joined the Traveller and began to learn secrets of the universe, so who knows if he would be able to bend time and visit his Dad - where do you think you might have taken it?

SL: Frankly, it would have been nice if Wesley had found a way to save his father. Perhaps in an alternate dimension Wesley saves Jack, and then we are able to see what his life would have been like if his father had lived. As a Traveler, he could have then watched a young Wesley grow up with his parents at his side. He could have watched himself attend the academy, fall in love, and later be assigned as an engineer on another ship. Then the Traveler Wesley could have moved on, resolved with his past, and with more determination to discover the universe knowing in another dimension that he did become the man that everyone hoped he would be – even a mirror universe story that goes darker would have been fun.

TNZ: What other characters on TNG, or indeed the other series including Discovery, pique your interest?

SL: Well, I have to admit that I am a huge Gul Dukat and Glinn Damar fan. I love the Cardassians. I tried to get on staff for both ST:TNG and DS9. Unfortunately, my brother died when I was vying for DS9 and I had to return to Kansas. However, like so many Cardassian fans, I wanted something different for Gul Dukat. Of course, we were supposed to be upset that he went insane and was seduced by the Pah Wraiths. I enjoyed the interplay between Sisko and Dukat and their rivalry, one representing good and the other evil. I also loved Dukat and Major Kira. Learning that he’d been her mother’s lover was shocking. I didn’t mind that Dukat turned out evil, but I really wanted the ultimate battle between Sisko and Dukat in space. If not in ships, then fighting in the worm hole and Dukat being tossed out on the opposite unable to return would have been satisfying. Damar received the glorious death as a warrior and champion of his people – and I did love this though I didn’t like to see him die. I really love DS9 though, and what Ron did with Cardassia and Bajor and the space station was marvelous. Plus, Garak is a wonderful character . . . just delicious with all his intrigue with his father and the OO.

When I think about it, I was drawn more to the male characters. However, Jadzia Dax was my favorite female character of all time. Her relationship with Worf was a fantastic romance and everything you could want. I also loved Tasha Yar. Her meaningless death on ST:TNG made me weep. I really hated to see her leave the show, though she returned later as a Romulan. And of course, Major Kira was just amazing. Her development from where she started and ended up was brilliant writing. That being said, I think Odo was the most heroic character of all – his arc was incredible. I was thrilled he and Kira later fell in love, and it was heartbreaking when they had to part.  

As for Discovery, I have only seen the first three episodes but will catch up with this show.

TNZ: Family is often considered one of the most affecting stories from all of Star Trek and is often listed in fans top ten lists. That must be very satisfying.

SL: Absolutely. I was at a Dr. Who convention when a fan approached me, surprised I had written part of ‘Family,’ and wondered why I never talked about it. I wondered that myself. I purchased the Platinum 1st Edition of Starlog that has featured article about me and writing ‘The Wish,’ and started to sell it at my table. I let folks know that I wrote for the show, and suddenly I was invited as a celebrity at Galaxyfest in Colorado Springs with Garret Wang and Antony Montgomery, and then was at Topcon with Mike Mundy (The Walking Dead) and Partrick Barnett (Star Trek: First Contact), and everything changed in my life. I had no idea what a mark the episode of ‘Family,’ had on ST fans. People LOVE this show more than any other from ST:TNG, and it’s because it’s not on the ship, but about the relationship, about family, and touched so many heart strings. Being part of the history of Star Trek, and especially writing the storyline about Wesley meeting Jack on his eighteenth birthday mean so much to me. I wish Bryan hadn’t lost his father as a young man. I was trying to hard to get other scripts on Michael Pillar’s desk, and I had, yet it turns out that the script born from the tears of a young man who experienced the same loss as Wesley turned out to be my gateway.

TNZ: The character of Wesley had a rough time of it in his early years on TNG and episodes like Family went a long way to turning that ambivalence and bitterness around by giving him such a deep and emotional family history. How much does that please you?

SL: Bryan went to lunch with Ron Moore, who was first to tell us that ST:TNG was going to buy the script. I think Bryan was on Cloud 9 after that meeting and he stayed on that cloud for a long time. It’s with pride that I think back to those days and I love telling fans about all my stories about the show. People remember ‘Family,’ more than any other episode. It touched the lives of many people. What Wesley went through as a boy many people identified with . . . and ‘Family,’ was truly an endeavor of love by the ST:TNG writing staff. I don’t think any other script was approached with the same manner of love as that particular one, which is why it remains special to this day.

In parting, I’d like to say that on the eve of Leonard Nimoy’s death, I was at Galaxyfest and the local television channel came out to interview me. The reporter asked if I had met Mr. Nimoy. I told him I ran into Mr. Nimoy after I sold my script and I told him what happened. Mr. Nimoy looked at me calmly said, “Star Trek has been very good to me. I know it will be good to you, too.” And he was right.

I am now an honorary member of the USS Zebulon Pike in Colorado Springs and of Starfleet Omega in Wichita. Just knowing how much people appreciate my contribution, and how they go out of their way to meet me - (the USS Dark Fury even came out to the Topeka library last Friday to buy my books and accept a signed copy of ‘The Wish’) - means everything to me. ‘Live long and prosper’.

Thank you so much for interviewing me. I still love Star Trek and will always be a Trekkie at heart.




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