Jake Sisko: Wesley Crusher Done Right

An essay detailing the similarities and differences between Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Jake Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space 9

As always, a spoiler alert is in effect from here on out.

By now, there are many different Star Trek series and movies in the world. But my two personal favorites are Star Trek: Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are too many differences to name, but there is one similarity: a naïve, young character that grows up with the show, who the audience is supposed to identify with and enjoy. Those characters are Wesley Crusher on Next Generation (NG) and Jake Sisko on Deep Space Nine (DS9).

In a lot of ways, these characters are very similar. Both start out young and naïve — although unlike Jake, Wesley does want to be on the Enterprise. That being said, their situations couldn’t be more different. Jake’s father has been given the difficult task of bringing a deeply hurting civilization, Bajor, into the Federation — a task that neither he nor Jake truly wants. Wesley, on the other hand, is merely another child on an enormous ship, and though he and Captain Picard don’t get along (at least initially), he doesn’t have any true hardships throughout most of the series.

However, there is one big difference: Jake Sisko is someone who grows and changes throughout the series. The audience enjoys watching him and sympathizes with him when something bad happens. Wesley Crusher is the opposite. There is exactly no character growth — the only difference between young Wesley and grown Wesley is that the latter is somehow even more boring. Throughout this post, I will compare these two characters in the context of their shows, and thereby explain why Jake Sisko is a better, more realistic version of Wesley Crusher.

When we first meet Wesley, we instantly see that he’s young, enthusiastic, and has a good relationship with his mother. These are three things that, fundamentally, never really change (though his enthusiasm does disappear). In the next few episodes, we learn that he’s naturally gifted with the functions aboard the Enterprise, and he’s made acting Ensign, nicely setting up his future Starfleet Academy storyline. We also learn that he has a strange connection with someone called The Traveler, who can manipulate … something (trust me — it’s confusing) such that he can travel around the universe and to many dimensions with ease. This doesn’t come back until the end — where he ends up taking Wesley with him — but it sets up Wesley’s ending very nicely. For as good as Wesley was at his studies, I never could see him as the type to make a career in Starfleet.

But here’s the thing: he never really changes. Aside from gaining knowledge and changing circumstances, his actual character remains static. He stays a nice, polite, gifted kid who loses his enthusiasm with age—and who only ever seems to have any more of a personality when he’s under the influence of something or in a (rather sweet) brief romance with a visiting species (and one with an Ensign on board the Enterprise). That’s incredibly sad, especially for a series that has someone like Data, who has an incredible amount of character growth over the seasons. He was probably meant to be a sort of self-insert character, how kids could imagine themselves on the Enterprise, and someone they could grow up with. But he ends up being incredibly boring as a result.

Once he leaves, Wesley is essentially replaced by Ensign Ro Laren, the first Bajoran we ever see on a Star Trek series. She’s immensely more interesting, which is extremely sad given that we don’t have nearly as many episodes with her. Wesley is only in two other episodes after leaving the Enterprise: the one I mentioned previously (involving the romance with the Ensign), the one with the accident, and the one with some dispute that ends with him going off with The Traveler. Oh, there’s also the time-travel one with Q, but … it’s Q.

The thing is, these episodes have very little to do with the overarching … well, there’s not really much of an overarching plot after the Borg, but suffice it to say he’s far more peripheral than anything. Worst of all, he’s had no character development, as I mentioned before. He’s the exact same he’s been, except with even less emotion than when he was first introduced. He’s the only character (well, besides Q — and Q is … well, Q) who doesn’t change. And if he’s supposed to be a stand-in for the younger members of the audience … that’s not a good thing.

In contrast, Jake Sisko is anything but boring. He’s brought to DS9 by his father, much against either of their wills, and stays an important secondary character for much of the series. Unlike Wesley, Jake isn’t perfect. He gets in trouble, especially when he’s hanging out with Nog, his Ferengi friend on DS9. He has a bad attitude at times, especially when he’s frustrated. And his crushes are a lot more realistic, especially since they don’t always go his way. There are two main instances that illustrate my point: his relationship with his father, and his friendship with Nog.

To begin, let’s talk about his father. From the beginning, we can see that Jake and his father truly love and respect one another. We also see just how much they would do for each other, especially as the show gets darker thanks to the war with the Dominion. I think the episode that best emphasizes their relationship is “The Visitor”, where an accident on the Defiant leaves Captain Sisko stranded in the space-time continuum. Jake has so much trouble moving on after his father’s (essentially) death, and he ruins his own life by allowing it to take over. The end is heartbreaking, as Jake (now an old man) realizes that he has to die so his father can keep the accident from happening. We see the strong bond between father and son, which continues throughout the rest of the show, even when Captain Sisko joins the Prophets.

Contrast this with Wesley’s relationship to Dr. Crusher. It’s evident through their dialogue that they both love each other and have grown close thanks to Wesley’s father’s death. But as for everything else, it’s almost as if the viewer has to fill in the gaps when watching them interact — there’s a distinct disconnect between them and the audience.

As for Jake’s friendship with Nog, it’s one of the best parts about an already amazing series. As Jake is human and Nog is a Ferengi, their beliefs are distinctly different about many things, most notably when it comes to wealth and women. And yet, despite their differences, the two develop a steadfast friendship, despite their fathers’ (initial) reluctance to allow it. This friendship stays for the rest of the series, and only becomes stronger as the show becomes darker and heavier.

In contrast, Wesley doesn’t have friends, or at least, not that we see on screen. He mainly hangs out with people much older than him on the Enterprise, and the few times we see him with people his age is at the Academy, the resolution of an episode, or when he’s romantically involved with someone. When someone young hangs out with someone much older than them, you can’t exactly say they’re friends, especially in Starfleet where hierarchy is very important. Because of this, we don’t really get to see Wesley in any context other than one where he can show off just how perfect he is (although of course, he’s as humble as they come). He’s incredibly smart (a “wunderkind,” as one episode calls him), kind, humble, curious, and always gets the girl (even if it’s only temporary) — the only thing that changes is his complete naïveté.

To sum up, Jake Sisko is a better version of Wesley Crusher because of his more-developed personality and relationships with others (I didn’t even mention his writing! Well, I guess I am now). Now, I’m not saying Wesley Crusher is the worst written character I’ve ever seen — boring is preferable to just plain terrible. But all things considered, he could’ve been a much better written character, as shown by Jake Sisko in the following series.

Your fairytale enthusiast,

Kirsten Hardin

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