Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Coming Of Age

Review James Hunt 15 Feb 2013 - 07:51

Wesley and the Starfleet Academy take centre stage in this week's Star Trek TNG look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

1.19 Coming Of Age

Well, the day's finally here. Wesley is taking his Starfleet Academy entrance exam. Yes, he's saved the Enterprise and its crew multiple times, yes, he's been flying the ship for weeks, but he was still pretty much on work experience. All he has to do is beat three other people and he's in. What could go wrong?

With the Enterprise in orbit around Relva VII, Picard welcomes his old friend Admiral Quinn aboard. Quinn has bought an instantly-dislikeable stooge, Lieutenant Commander Remmick, with him, and suddenly things turn all-business. He calls a meeting with Picard immediately. Alone! Some kind of one-to-one target setting, presumably. While this is going on, Wesley is meeting his fellow candidates: Mordock, a Benzite, T'Shanik, a token Vulcan, and Oliana, a human. And they're all as irritatingly precocious as he is.

Quinn has asked Remmick to observe the crew, which naturally makes everyone very uncomfortable. They're all feeling a bit put out, especially Riker, because no-one will explain what's wrong and why they're being investigated. Remmick is given permission to interrogate every member of the Enterprise crew, but mercifully we only see him interviewing the bridge staff – mainly asking questions that make the previous episodes sound twice as insane as when we were watching them.

"So you're saying the Captain merged his consciousness with an alien energy being and transported his mind into a space cloud, but you managed saved his life when he put a 'P' on your control panels to indicate that he had successfully hidden in the computer?"
"Oh sure, it sounds crazy when you say it like that."

After struggling through his first set of exams, Wesley goes and stands in an empty holodeck until Worf walks in on him. He's worried about the psych test, which confronts you with your greatest fear! Whatever that is. Worf gives Wesley a pep talk, Klingon-style, before ending with the very unhelpful revelation that he was has not yet overcome the enemy within. Er, great. Really useful advice.

On the bridge, Yar detects an unauthorised shuttle launch. It's Wesley's friend, Jake, who we learnt missed out on his Starfleet Academy exam earlier in the episode. He plans to run away and join the circus or something, but about three seconds after launching he manages to cripple the shuttle's propulsion and enter a freefall towards the planet. (On balance, they were probably right not to let him try the exam.) Apparently he's out of tractor beam AND transporter range, so Picard talks him through a dangerous manoeuvre. Which succeeds! Everyone is impressed, even Remmick.

Back on the planet, Wesley demonstrates his brilliance multiple times – defusing a potentially difficult situation between him, Mordock and an alien crewman using his superior knowledge of alien cultures, helping out Mordock during a difficult test and acing a psych test after seeing Mordock left a quivering wreck by his. It's only right, then, that Mordock is declared the victor. Everyone else, including Wesley, is invited to reapply next year.

Finally, Picard goes to Quinn and asks for an explanation. Quinn avoids giving anything away until Remmick gives a report that declares the Enterprise Best Starship to Serve On 2364. Satisfied by this, Quinn explains that "something is rotten" in Starfleet, and that the purpose of the test was to make sure they hadn't gotten to Picard. He needs friends around him, and wants Picard to take over the academy.

Picard considers his options, but ultimately declines, promising Quinn he'll be available if he's needed. On the way to deliver this news, he bumps into Wesley, who is feeling like a failure. Picard tells him not to worry – he failed the test first time too. He gives Wesley the old "As long as you tried your best" speech, and then they do one of those painfully schmaltzy endings that end with everyone grinning while they fly off into the distance. Audience throws up. Roll credits.

TNG WTF: Leaving aside the question of what the examiners saw in Mordock the Terrible at Everything (to give him his full title), the biggest WTF moment in this episode is the idea that everyone in Starfleet has to go through this process. Picard did it, Worf did it, Tasha Yar somehow must have done it, despite spending her childhood living in a war-torn wasteland (maybe there's a scholarship for disadvantaged youths?) and even Data must have done it. Good luck to anyone else in that group. "Yeah, I almost got into Starfleet, but I ended up in the same exam group as an emotionless robot with no fears, super-reflexes and a supercomputer for a brain. What chance did any of us have?"

Oh, and we have to mention: Jake? Out of transporter range? I severely doubt that, given that he's just left the Enterprise and is flying TOWARDS the planet. You know, the planet they beam people to and from later on. I get the reasoning for ruling out the Transporter, but come on, come up with a better excuse than that!

TNG LOL: Irony sensors to maximum: After shouting abuse at a Zaldan he bumps into, Wesley explains to Mordock that he did it because Zaldans hate politeness – they consider it dishonest to cover up your true feelings. So, just to recap, in order to avoid offending the alien that doesn't like false pretences, Wesley had to pretend he was angrier than he really was. Well, as long as the Zaldans are happy…

Mistakes & Minutiae: Wesley's "worst fear" is, appropriately enough, found in Room 101. Presumably indicating that he's afraid of mediocre BBC1 panel show formats (that's one for our UK readers.)

Time Until Meeting: 4:10. Straight in there, with Quinn telling Picard that they're going to be doing some snooping around.

Captain's Log: You know what this was? A very good episode. Despite being Wesley-heavy (yet again) his scenes were well done, and it was presumably something of a surprise that he didn't succeed, the first time around anyway. The scene of him facing his fear – having to leave a crew member to die – was also a well-executed set-piece, even if it was reasonably clear what was going on.

The way the guest characters Remmick and Quinn were written meant that the audience felt the same outrage as the crew ("Who are these people and why are they trying to make the Enterprise personnel out to be the bad guys!?") and their interrogations were nice and tense. This also includes two fantastic sequences – Remmick's meetings with the crew, which are seamlessly cut together as if they're one meeting, and Picard saving Jake. If only all TNG episodes could come up with ideas as inventive and original.

Watch or Skip? Absolutely watch. The first episode this series that feels like it even approaches the standards of the modern TV. And, of course, it sets up Conspiracy a few episodes down the line…

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Home Soil, here.

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Disqus - noscript

yeah, it's a week late, SLACKER.

Agree with the review, it's quite a nice episode, as is Worf's quote that 'only fools have no fear'. Whilst re-watching season 2, check out how many times Riker does that annoying arms-under-the armpits thing, it'll slowly drive you insane.

I remember enjoying the buildup which took place across a few episodes, suggesting that there was a insidious conspiracy in Starfleet. But I also remember being gutted when it turned out to be a rehash of RAH's Puppet Masters. That is the second time I have thought about that book in a few minutes. I just read the Host trailer review. How did alien parasites get onto a starfleet ship with their sophisticated bio-filters? Very sloppy.

The bio-filters have routinely been shown to be less than useless! It's almost as if all the technology is set to fail for plot reasons...

It was a well-directed episode considering it consisted of lots of interviews, one contrived moment of drama with a runaway shuttle, and some kids trying to get into college (and come on, there was really only one placement, and they'd risk losing the other three to the Ferengi or the Nybarites? And how many places get to offer placements? I'd expect with all the worlds in the whole Federation and billions of kids itching to wear those snazzy uniforms, places at the Academy would go quicker than Lady Gaga tickets).

Having just read every single "TNG look back" article I have a few comments.
1. BEST ongoing analysis EVER
2. James if you do not complete the entire series, and then proceed to DS9 and then onto VOY and yes even ENTERPRISE I will hunt you down and tickle you until you bend to my will
3. Thank you James for the laughs and the nostalgia. I wish I could camp out in your lounge room while you watch and review, I would bring Bollie and Blue Cheese and give you foot rubs.

Why is it I remember TNG as great yet these articles make it sound like a crock of excrement?

"check out how many times Riker does that annoying arms-under-the armpits thing, it'll slowly drive you insane."
hee hee so true. I'd forgotten and now cannot get the image out of my head. Thank you very much. :)

It was originally meant to be just conspiracy among Starfleet officers rebelling against the Prime Directive, but Roddenberry stated that such things couldn't happen in his future.

Unfortunately yet another episode that exposes the ill thought out absurd mess that is recruitment and promotion to Starfleet in Star Trek.

Starfleet probably needs thousands of new officers each year to service natural attrition through retirement not even counting deaths (Dominion war multiply that by many multiples of 10). The idea that you would use this process is absurd! You have an entrance and psych exam followed by training with further options to wash out people who don't meet the grade not some kind of strange competition that only selects one out of several promising candidates.

For that matter the issue in Starfleet of officers staying in the same rank on the same ship for decades in some case is not how a fleet is run in the real world! We are told that the Enterprise is the flagship of the fleet with some of the brightest and most aggressively career minded officers yet they suddenly decide to stop all that and hang around with no promotion?! This is an endemic problem across all Star Trek shows! In DS9 we are told that Starfleet is haemorrhaging ships and crews yet the Enterprise is allowed to jog around with some of the most experienced officers in the fleet who should all be commanding their own ships by now in the same ranks they have held for years?! Starfleet would of said "We have ships that need captains tough if you are all pals"! Please nobody give me the usual fan excuse that they are all friends and starfleet wants to keep them together as some kind of reward! It just isn't the way to run an organisation! Of course there is the further issue of Non-coms! During this time the vague impression is given that this is the only way in yet much later we get Miles O'Brien the only NCO in the fleet as far as I can make out!

Seconded!

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