Jul 11 2011 2:01pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Coming of Age”

Mordock“Coming of Age”
Written by Sandy Fries
Directed by Mike Vejar
Season 1, Episode 18
Production episode 40271-119
Original air date: March 14, 1988
Stardate: 41461.2

Captain’s Log: Wes and Jake Kurland have an unintentionally hilarious conversation where Wes apologizes, and Jake says it’s okay even though it isn’t. It’s not until the captain’s log voiceover that we realize we’re talking about the Starfleet entrance exam—Wes qualified to take it, Jake didn’t, thus spoiling our episode of Brokeback Enterprise….

Wes beams down to a testing facility on Relva 7. Admiral Gregory Quinn requests a meeting with Picard, and he arrives with Lt. Commander Dexter Remmick and wants to speak to Picard alone—without even the first officer. Riker looks like someone killed his pet at the news.

Remmick is with the Inspector General’s office, and he’s conducting an investigation of the Enterprise. Quinn is parsimonious with specifics, to Picard’s annoyance.

Wes meets the other three candidates for entry to Starfleet Academy at the facility on Relva: Oliana Mirren, a human woman, T’Shanik, a Vulcan woman, and Mordock, a Benzite man who formulated “the Mordock strategy,” according to Wes. Tac Officer Chang starts the testing, and the kids go at it.


Remmick starts interrogating the crew—La Forge about “Where No One Has Gone Before,” Troi about “The Battle,” Worf about “Angel One,” Data and Riker about the captain’s logs and computer records, Crusher about her relationship with Picard, and Picard about “Justice.”

Jake steals a shuttlecraft. Remmick asks the question I always ask whenever someone steals a shuttle: why isn’t the shuttle bay secured? I mean, okay, maybe Jake spoofed the computer or something, as he’s supposed to be bright, but there’s a thousand people on the ship; can’t they spare just one or two to, y’know, watch the place? (It didn’t bother me as much in “The Doomsday Machine,” because the shuttle was stolen by a commodore who could’ve intimidated the guy guarding the place with his rank.)

Anyhow, Jake breaks the shuttle, and Picard guides him back, causing Remmick to justifiably ask how pathetic is this ship where kids can steal shuttles, and wasn’t this hotshot Academy candidate trained in discipline? Picard is equally justifiable in his response: he’s a teenaged boy, for cryin’ out loud.

Wes continues the testing, both planned and unplanned. He has an encounter with a Zaldan, plays with a 3D Rubik’s Cube (just in case you forgot that this episode was filmed in the 80s), and has the psych test. In the latter, two people are in danger, but Wes can only save one of them; his fear was that he couldn’t make that decision when it mattered.

Remmick gives Quinn his report: he couldn’t find anything wrong with the ship. In fact, he requests a transfer to the Enterprise when his tour in the IG is up. Quinn finally explains himself: he’s worried about something that is trying to undermine the Federation—the admiral isn’t sure where the threat is coming from, inside or outside. Now that Quinn has cleared Picard of being involved with this threat through Remmick’s investigation, he wants to promote the captain and put him in charge of the Academy. A shocked Picard politely declines — he’s not at all comfortable with politics — to Riker’s obvious disappointment. (No, seriously, when Picard mentions the promotion, Riker’s words say “Congratulations! What a wonderful choice, sir! You’ll be able to shape the minds of the future leaders of Starfleet,” but his face says, “MINE! THE SHIP IS MINE! MINE MINE MINE!” and he gets so totally crestfallen when Picard makes it obvious he’s declining the promotion.)

Despite his declining to run the Academy, he does do a nice job of bucking up both Jake and Wes — the latter being disappointed that he failed the entrance exam, at which point Picard reveals that he failed the first time, too (admonishing Wes never to tell anyone). Quinn beams off, saying that maybe he’s just been playing politics too long, and the Enterprise heads off to its next mission.

Wes testing for the Academy

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: When Troi is being interrogated by Remmick, he asks if Picard suffered any mental lapses. Troi says no, and Remmick brings up the events of “The Battle.” When Troi points out that Picard was controlled by a mind-altering machine against his will, Remmick says, “I would call that a mental lapse.” Troi at that point stews in annoyance, as if she’s been defeated by Remmick’s verbal trickery. What Troi should have said in response was something like: “You can call it that all you want, but since I’m a trained therapist and have medical degrees in psychology and stuff, I think my definitions of a mental lapse are of more use than those of an IG drone. Also: stop staring at my cleavage.”

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The first two options listed when Jake’s shuttlecraft breaks down are the tractor beam and the transporter, but said options are rejected because the shuttle is too far away. What a pity that they’re not in a space ship that is capable of locomotion under its own power and would therefore be able to cut the distance by moving closer to the shuttle….

Once that idiocy is out of the way, Picard guides Jake through a nifty maneuver that bounces the shuttle off the atmosphere, a move very similar to one made by John Crichton in the premiere episode of Farscape….

Mordock and WesNo Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: At one point, Oliana tells Wes: “It’s a good thing you’re cute, Wesley, otherwise you’d be really obnoxious.” This results in the patented Wesley Crusher Goofy Grin. She flirts with him a few more times before the episode’s over.

The boy!?: Half the episode focuses on Wes’s Starfleet entrance exam, the structure of which makes absolutely no sense. Seriously, what possible logic is there in having so cut-throat a system where only one of four brilliant candidates are allowed in? Starfleet is a huge organization. It’s obvious that Wes, Oliana, T’Shanik, and Mordock are incredibly bright and talented, more so than most. So why is the Academy only taking 25% of them? This is never described as a gifted-students program or an early-admissions test, where that level of difficulty would make sense. There’s simply no way Starfleet could properly and regularly replenish their officer corps if they’re this fussy about who gets in.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf and Wes have a nifty conversation about the psych test, where Worf opens up (in his own way) about his own psych test and his fear of depending on others — which he very characteristically describes as being his “enemy.”

Welcome Aboard. Ward Costello, Robert Schnekkan, and John Putch all make the first of two appearances. The former two will reprise their roles as Admiral Quinn and Lt. Commander Remmick in “Conspiracy,” this episode’s sequel; the latter will come back as a different Benzite in the second season’s “A Matter of Honor.” Robert Ito is his usual dignified self as Chang, and Estee Chandler is delightful as Oliana.

I Believe I Said That: “You don’t like me very much.”

“Is it required—sir?”

Remmick showing how observant he is, and Worf confirming his observation.

Trivial Matters: This episode sets up “Conspiracy” several episodes hence. It also sets a record for references to past episodes through Remmick’s investigation.

Picard’s assurance that Wes will test again in a year’s time is made reality in “Samaritan Snare.”

A Singular Destiny This is Mike Vejar’s first of many Trek directing credits, though it’s his only time directing TNG. He would go on to do plenty of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise episodes. This is also the first time we see a shuttlecraft on TNG.

A scene was cut with the crew celebrating Wes’s sixteenth birthday in case he got into the Academy and would therefore not be around for it. Said scene had a wonderful line from Worf when asked how old he is: “Klingons do not celebrate birthdays. You are born, you become a warrior, you die.”

Wes’s psych test was in Room 101, proving that the Academy administrators have read George Orwell.

The courtesy-free Zaldans wouldn’t return on screen, but would get used in several novels, most notably your humble rewatcher’s own A Singular Destiny, where the Zaldans’ brutal honesty would be used against them.

Make it So: “Breathe! I gotta remember to breathe!” I don’t have any bad feelings about this episode, but every time I think about it, I’m less than impressed. There are no real surprises in the testing phase, which is bog-standard and not that exciting. You know Wes isn’t going to get in the Academy and you know Picard isn’t going to accept the promotion to admiral because Wil Wheaton and Sir Patrick Stewart are in the opening credits. Jake Kurland doesn’t seem to serve a purpose except to give Picard a chance to show off his ability to make shuttles bounce off atmospheres, and the entire procedure for letting officer candidates into the Academy makes nothing like sense.

Remmick is the ultimate cliché of the jackass interrogator, stirring up trouble and misinterpreting and generally being a nuisance to no good effect. Vejar does do a good job with the jump-cutting in the later interrogation scenes, going from Data to Worf to Crusher to Picard.

And yet, I don’t actually dislike this episode and enjoy watching it. The performances help. This is one of Wheaton’s better turns in the first season, and we see Wes’s intelligence and his insecurity without any of the smug obnoxiousness or adult stupidity that all too often accompanied the former. Nobody ever went wrong casting Robert Ito in anything, and John Putch is eminently likeable as Mordock.

Ultimately a run-of-the-mill episode, hence the dead-average rating.


Warp factor rating: 5.

Keith R.A. DeCandido made that utterly gratuitous reference to Farscape above mainly because he is writing the monthly Farscape comic book for BOOM! Studios, in collaboration with Rockne S. O’Bannon, that show’s creator. Two other TNG writers worked on Farscape: David Kemper and Naren Shankar. Keith’s other recent novels are the high-fantasy police procedural, Unicorn Precinct (currently available for the Kindle, available in other eBook formats and trade paperback later this month, from Dark Quest Books) and the superhero police procedural Super City Police Department: The Case of the Claw (currently available in all eBook formats from Crossroad Press). To find out more, read Keith’s blog, or follow him on either Facebook or Twitter.

David Stumme
1. grenadier
Are they admitting "3 of 4" or 25%? Can't be both. :-)
2. Nightsky
Teenaged Wil Wheaton so kawaii. But WHAT is that stripe-y sweater... turtleneck... thing... he's wearing in the first still? It doth bring the fugly.
rob mcCathy
3. roblewmac
Points for a cool alien but yeah if Star fleet is so hard to get into explain BaRKLEY
4. jyhash
Man, Remmick is so over the top in this. I mean it helps breathe life into the story, and gets the stoicicty out of the way with the cast, but it's like he goes for the throat without any instigation. Beyond Riker's initial blow up (that, truth be told, seemed way over the line to begin with), no one gives him any just cause to do so.

I also love the Jared Leto look alike, too. Shame we never really saw more families stealing shuttle crafts in future episodes.
Keith DeCandido
5. krad
grenadier: GAH! That was a typo. It's now fixed. Thanks for the catch.

jyhash: To be fair, Riker himself apologizes and admits he overreacted. It was a perfectly understandable, human reaction to Remmick being an asshole....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
The other question I had whilst watching this episode was whether or not (SPOILER ALERT) the infestation had taken ahold of Quinn or Remmick by this point yet. Remmick is not easy to discern, as he had no "tell tale signs" like the gill they find on Quinn, but was it supposed to have gotten to those two yet by this point? Having Picard on Earth within reach of Quinn is kind of sketchy, but you'd think that if he was infected that he'd have just ended up ordering Picard to report for his new posting. I'd like to think he wouldn't because that would ruin the subtext of Infested Quinn's character, but I don't think the writers of Season 1 were much for subtext...
Keith DeCandido
7. krad
My personal take as that Remmick was already "turned" -- he had to have been, honestly -- but Quinn wasn't, and that Remmick made Quinn part of the conspiracy after the events of this particular episode....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
8. John R. Ellis
This is always the episode where the "Every alien species has one world culture that every member shares, one default personality type" that infests the entire Star Trek franchise always leaps out at me. Because I can never stop imagining how badly Wes' encounter with the Zaldan would have gone if the guy had been, you know, a person instead of being a test to prove that yes, Wes is good at cataloging stock responses based on stereotypes.

(I know, I know. Worf is an even more blatant example of this problem. But it's not until the later seasons that this becomes something that continually shoves me right out of the episodes focusing on him.)
rob mcCathy
9. roblewmac
Yeah I wanna see some Klingon look at worf and say "god no wonder you drink prune juice.'
Michael Poteet
10. MikePoteet
It may not hold up well lo these many years later, but as a teenage Trekkie (now an adult Trekkie -- I don't see that term as a slur!) I liked this one a lot because (a) any chance to see the inner workings of Starfleet was okay by me (and, hey, maybe accepting only 25% of the applicants is a really, really high commitment to standards? Could be); and (b) it was the first real attempt Star Trek on TV had ever made at paying attention to the continuity of specific episodes (excepting, I suppose, "I, Mudd"). The referencing of past adventures just really wasn't done in Trek prior to this; and though I didn't like (and still don't) how it would pay off in "Conspiracy," this nascent attempt at arc-building is a pretty significant milestone in overall Trek history.
Jane Smyth
11. Kaboom
I always had the impression that there was only one space left at the academy for that particular sector. Like someone defaulted after the main admission session. But now that I think about it, that does not make much sense either.
Jane Smyth
12. Kaboom
This kind of episodes of recapping the season (and probably saving money in footage) has since become very annoying in other tv series, like Stargate for example. Almost every year had one of them.
13. Nightsky
Nothing implausible about a 25% acceptance rate; that's higher than plenty of selective colleges. If we assume that Starfleet Acadamy is the equivalent of West Point, well, West Point's acceptance rate is around 15%, about the same as Cal Tech's.
But that applies to the general run of applicants--not to four particular candidates that the script goes to great trouble to establish as extraordinarily talented. They could easily all have made Starfleet without having posed a problem for Starfleet's acceptance rate, just like more than 15% of students from Bronx Science can make it in to Cal Tech.
14. Edgar Governo
I actually had the opposite impression of Remmick in this episode--I assumed that neither officer had been turned yet, and his douchey personality was supposed to shake up the crew in case any of them had been "turned" already, which is what makes it tragic later in the season that the conspiracy has caught up to Remmick and Quinn after all.
Andrew Love
15. AndyLove
@14: I tend to agree - Remmick seemed sincere in his request at the end of the episode to be assigned to the Enterprise - indicating that he had been deliberately offensive in an attempt to find weaknesses in the crew, but was so delighted to find that there were none that he wished to serve with Picard, et al.
Michael Burke
16. Ludon
@12, Kaboom

This kind of show is called a clip show and it has become just about standard for special effects heavy shows to turn a lame story idea into a clip show episode as a tool to extend their effects budget for the season. Other shows also do it to extend their budget for guest stars or other special things they plan to do that season. By the way. Battlestar Galactica did something different. They took an idea that could have been the clip show - "Unfinished Business" with the use of boxing matches to work out tensions and grudges - but used clips that were all (or mostly) new material.

On to the question of the test and the selection process. I had the impression that this test was for a political appointment to the Adacemy. This Starbase had had only one slot open for a political appointment at that time. However, this is quite different from what we saw in Star Trek: The Reshuffle a few years ago.

I didn't take any of what I saw of the exams as tests for intelligence. I saw all of it as a test of character. The Command Staff at this Starbase would have been aware of their test scores and general schooling reports but how much of the person's character would have come through in those freports. These tests are a fishbowl. That Wes quickly caught the tell-tale sign in that encounter was not the "correct" response in that there was no "correct" response. How Wes handled the situation - no matter where it progressed - was what they wanted to see. Even if the encounter became a confrontation, would Wes eventually realize that it was a cultural misunderstanding or would he hold a grudge against "those people". I can see where trained observers (within the Star Trek universe) could gain a lot from these silly tests. That's how I felt about it when I first saw this episode and I still feel that way about it.
17. Mike S.
I definatly don't think that Quinn was infected at this point, but I do think that Remmick was.

Look at the way his head and neck move when Riker blows him off the first time. I know he's pissed off, but that's just not normal, and of course, we know that the "mother parasite" attacked in his head.

Did you notice the one crewmember whose interview with Remmick wasen't shown? Yup, Tasha Yar. Rewatching this season, it's very easy to see why Denise Crosby left the show. Levar Burton, and especially Michael Dorn, were taking major screen time away from her by this point (I thought she was the "star" of the first three episodes).
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
MikePoteet: "and, hey, maybe accepting only 25% of the applicants is a really, really high commitment to standards? Could be" The problem is -- they have hundreds and hundreds of ships, most of which have hundreds and hundreds of people on them. If entry was really that stringent, they'd never fill up an officer class (especially given how choked Starfleet is with officers -- DS9 was the only show that regularly acknowledged that there were enlisted personnel) for more than a couple three ships.

Kaboom: Except this wasn't a clip show, because there was no footage from past episodes, just talking about it. You're perhaps conflating this episode with "Shades of Grey," which really was a clip show. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. JasonD
How old is Wes (the character) supposed to be in this episode? If he's any younger than 17, and he sounds like it, then maybe this is some sort of accelerated early-entrance program. Wes may be brilliant, but he's no Doogie Howser.

And now I just got Wil Wheaton-Neil Patrick Harris pictures in my head... *shudder*
Keith DeCandido
20. krad
JasonD: T'Shanik asks if he meets the age requirement, and he defensively says he'll be 16 soon.

My problem with the notion that it's an early-admissions test is that nobody ever at any point in the episode says it is, when there are plenty of opportunities to. And both Picard and Worf talk about their own experiences with the same test. It's discussed consistently as the standard entrance exam.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
21. Julie K
Aren't all Rubik's Cubes 3D?
Keith DeCandido
22. krad
Julie: Yeah. I meant virtual Rubik's Cube. I could go in and edit it, but I'll take my screwup like a man.......... :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
23. Cradok
One thing that always bugged me about this episode is during the *looks up* dynamic relationship test, is that Mordock is panicking, Wes talks him through it while simutaneously doing his own and finishing only seconds later, but when Chang comes in, it's Mordock he praises for his time. I know he does belatedly praise Wes when Mordock protests, but I still hate it.
24. Christopher L. Bennett
I don't really have much to say about this one. It's kind of just there. Nice idea to do a story that's more about drama than action (though they had to tack on the pointless shuttle sequence to meet the obligatory action quota), but it was somewhat unfocused.

Yes, Remmick was a jerk in the interrogations, but that was his job, to push and see if anything gave. His final scene, where he dropped the act and showed he was a nice guy after all, helped redeem his earlier portrayal. It was a cliched role, but it was one the character adopted intentionally to serve a purpose.

And I'm sure that parasite possession wasn't even an issue for the people involved in making this episode, since I don't think the idea of the parasites had been settled on yet. The conspiracy Quinn was talking about was meant to be a cabal of high-ranking officers, sort of like what we later got in ST VI or "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost," but Roddenberry didn't want Starfleet to be anything less than perfect, so it got reworked into the parasite thing. Maybe you could retcon it and assume the parasite queen was already inside Remmick, but that idea wouldn't have been around yet when this was made, I think. (Or would it? Scripts are written well ahead of shooting, and we're getting fairly late in the season, so maybe the script for "Conspiracy" would've been in the works during the shooting of "Coming of Age." It doesn't really feel like it to me, though.)
25. Ellynne
Given the things some of the genius kids would get up to (like accidentally creating intelligent lifeforms that escape and declare war on Federation personnel), I assume the academy had to calculate how many students of that type they could survive in an average semester. Wes was lucky to be considered.
26. anony
The remaining 75% of academy positions are reserved for patronage and nepotism.
Andrew Love
27. AndyLove
@23: I thought that (the praise at Mordock's speed, and neglect of Wesley's) was another test - to see if Mordock would acknowledge the help he'd receive and to see if Wesley would react badly (very reminscient of some of the testing at the beginning of "Space Cadet")
28. Philosophizer
I don't have much to say about the episode, but I want to add a bit of praise for these posts. As a lifelong fan (I was five when TNG first aired), I find myself consistently overrating the episodes (as I try to guess the warp factor rating) only to read the review and find that I cannot help but agree.

Thanks for the great posts, and, please, keep it up!
29. Jasin Moridin
I vaguely remember this episode. Looking back on it after reading this, it strikes me as the "entrance exam" being more like the Voigt-Kampff test in Blade Runner, in that the actual test isn't the point of the test, but the subject's reactions to it.

And 25% enrollment rate does seem really low, especially when you have people like Barclay and Kosinski from "Where No One Has Gone Before" in Starfleet.
30. De
@24 - According to Sandy Fries, Remmick had not been turned yet because Fries did not have a conspiracy as the reason for the interrogations. Fries mentioned this at a writer's seminar in DC back in 1995.
Keith DeCandido
31. krad
Philosophizer: Thank you so much!

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
32. jonmwilson1979
You passed me up in my own rewatch, Keith, and are now way ahead of me. So expect the occasional comment I make to be on increasingly old posts.

My two major thoughts on this ep are that a) the Worf monologue about his own "psych test" is probably the most he's said in the show to this point, and b) baby jesus didn't tell me that there is a deleted line that clarifies that this was an early entrance exam, but it's the only way the whole thing could possibly make a lick of sense, so it's a part of my "personal continuity".
Justin Devlin
33. EnsignJayburd
I agree, Remmick was definitely turned at this point, which is why, I think, he requested the transfer to Enterprise. He also had the mother creature in him, which means he had to have been turned rather early. Also, doesn't Remmick seem like the perfect recruit for Section 31? Too bad that hadn't been established yet...

Yeah, I always had a problem with the exclusiveness of these exams. Chang did say only one candidate would be accepted from Relva, but still...I like to think these were early entrance exams. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable episode and it felt like the series was finally getting in to some sort of groove.

@29 - The Voigt-Kampff test? LOL! I can just imagine Wesley saying, "My mother? Let me tell you about my mother !" (whips out phaser)
34. crzydroid
I think the only logic in Barclay getting weeded out this way is possibly through the psych tests. He's established to be brilliant, even before an alien probe boosted his IQ.

I got the impression that they only had one spot open for this particular planet...making it seem like an affirmative action sort of thing, i.e., Starfleet has to accept equal representation from each sector. Even if Starfleet only accepted so many applicants across the board, it seems like there could be room for more than one of these guys. In terms of 25% being able to fill a starship or an entire officer corps, I think it depends on how many people in the galaxy are applying each year. It certainly seems odd, when you think about it, that there is only ONE Starfleet Academy, in San Francisco. That DOES seem rather limited. Why not, SA-SF, SA-Vulcan, SA-Betazed, etc. Maybe we can stretch our imaginations and say that's what this was; the local SA to that sector only had one spot left. Still doesn't explain Picard failing the first time.

Otherwise, I don't see much evidence in THIS episode to say that either the admiral or Remmick had been taken over yet. I guess it's just opinion, unless other evidence from "Conspiracy" sheds light on it.
35. Nix
@29, well, clearly this exam had to be a reaction test, because as an *exam*, it sucked. e.g. as far as I can tell, everyone had to complete each question in the hyperspace physics test in synchrony, hugely limiting given that different candidates can quite reasonably want to take different amounts of time over different questions. Nothing else is compatible with the system reading the questions out to the whole group one by one, as seemed to happen.

It seems unlikely that nobody on the writing staff had ever taken a real-world exam, so clearly these changes from the current norm were intentional -- but whether they were thought through is another matter. (Whether anything this early in the series is thought through is arguable.)
36. ARH
I'm not as bothered by the 25% admission rate for Starfleet. There is only so much space (excuse the pun) at the Academy, and top universities in the U.S. TODAY routinely have acceptance rates of under 10%. Yes, it isn't fair that equally qualified bright and motivated candidates don't all get to go to the Academy. Or Harvard. Or Columbia. But when you want the best of the best, balanced by location (Relva vs. Vulcan), a test by location with low rates of acceptance from each location works for me.
37. Electone
I attended a special viewing of this episode hosted by the writer, Sandy Fries in the late '80s in London, Ontario. When asked if this was a direct pre-curser to "Conspiracy" he said yes but made mention that there was no evidence that Remick was compromised at this point.

Here's a little trivia point: the painting of the exterior of the Relva starbase was actually first used in several Buck Rogers In The 25th Century episodes.
38. David Sim
The contaminant Remmick was "asking" Worf about could have been the one from The Naked Now, but could just as equally have come from Angel One. Two viruses infecting the crew of the flagship of the Federation, all within the same year. I'm surprised Remmick didn't tear Worf, Picard and Tasha a new one for that.
39. JohnC
my favorite moments of this episode were too instances where characters didn't say anything. First, when the Remmick discloses he wants to serve on the Enterprise, Picard just gives him the "buggar off" look, and the second is when the actor in Wes's test comes out of the room and gives him the "hey what up bro" look as he brushes past.

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