“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
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.
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….
No 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.”
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.