Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Coming Of Age

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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