Star Trek: The Next Generation – Coming of Age [1.18]

Picard is surprised when his old friend Admiral Gregory Quinn pays a visit to the Enterprise and proceeds to launch a thorough investigation into his conduct as the ship’s commander.  This turns out to be because Quinn suspects a mysterious danger to the Federation and wants to make sure Picard can still be trusted.  Meanwhile, Wesley sits in his examination to enter Starfleet Academy.  He is beaten out by another applicant, but learns valuable lessons about himself in the process.

Teleplay by Sandy Fries.  Directed by Michael Vejar.

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There are a lot of reasons to be interested in and to even like Coming of Age.  Wesley’s Starfleet Academy entrance exam is something we’ve never seen before, and it includes a handful of colorful competing applicants as well as some tantalizing hints to about the death of Wesley’s father.  At the same time, the mystery of Commander Remmick’s investigation, particularly once it is clear it is really focused on Picard himself, is intriguing.  Unfortunately, the end result is a little bit disjointed and not completely satisfying.  It’d be difficult to identify which if the two major plots is really the main one for the story – they both seem to take roughly the same amount of time and weight in the story.  But they don’t seem to have much to do with each other, even thematically (aside from both being about “testing” of some sort) aside from just happening to occur at the same time.  This robs the episode of cohesion and focus.

I remember when first watching this that I was fully expecting to find out the full backstory on the death of Wesley’s father in this episode, and being disappointed when this wasn’t what we got during Wesley’s “psych test”.  (Oddly, this story was never told in in any televised version of Star Trek).  Now, 25 years later, I’m over that disappointment, and I have to say that in hindsight, the hints that are thrown out (about Picard making a choice that led to the elder Mr. Crusher’s death) are intriguing, and perhaps actually “enough” for me.  Wesley’s realization that this is why he was given the particular simulation that formed his “psych test” is one of the character’s best moments in the series so far.

The other plot, where Picard is investigated by the mysterious and almost unbelievably unpleasant Mr. Remmick winds up a bit frustrating and unsatisfying.  All we find out in the end is that Admiral Quinn has got some sort of “sense” that the entire Federation way of life is being threatened by “something”.  Of course it feeds into a future episode (we’ll see how satisfying that turns out to be) but seeing how half this week’s screen time is devoted to these interviews, it’d be nice to get a bit more of a taste of what is going on in Quinn’s mind.  Or, at the very least, it’d be nice to see a clear motivation for why Picard unsurprisingly turns down his promotion offer.

But by far the weakest portion of the episode is all the nonsense with Mr. Kurland stealing a shuttlecraft.  This very clever kid who nearly became a Starfleet Academy applicant cleverly bypasses theEnterprise security measures and steals a shuttlecraft so he can run away and join a freighter crew, or something (Where is he going?  Why didn’t he just beam down to the planet and go from there?)Within seconds, his piloting error nearly destroys himself and the shuttle (This guy was almost an Academy applicant?)  They don’t try a tractor beam because Enterprise is too far away to get a positive lock (Isn’t it still worth a try?  Why don’t they just move closer?)!  They are also out of transporter range (Isn’t he crashing into the planet they are orbiting?  How do people beam down to the planet?  Why don’t they just move closer–oh, never mind).  This whole sequence is silly and very contrived, just to show Remmick and the audience how incredibly collected and smart Picard can be.  But in this case, Remmick is right – it’s absurd that security is so lax on the ship that some kid – even a brilliant student who is trained in ship’s systems – can just steal a shuttlecraft before anyone can stop him.

Shout Outs to the Past:
This episode picks up on Picard’s commitment to get Wesley Crusher into his Starfleet Academy entrance exam, as commented on in Where No One Has Gone Before.

Remmick’s investigation references plotlines from prior episodes such as Where No One Has Gone Before, The Battle, Angel One, and Justice.

Setting Up the Future
This episode leads into Conspiracy later this season, where both Admiral Quinn and Lt. Commander Remmick will reappear, and we will get some understanding of the threat to the Federation that Quinn is concerned about.

A different Benzite played by the same actor will show up later in the series, in the episode entitled Matter of Honor.

Guest Cast
Robert Ito, who plays Lt. Chang, co-starred as Sam on Quincy, ME, and also appeared as Harry Kim’s father in Voyager.

• That’s quite a good scene with Worf talking to Wesley about his deepest fears.  It’s easy to see how Worf had a lot of potential as a character that is not usually written for Tasha, the character whose position on the ship he will eventually replace.

• Over his years on the show, Wesley will have a number of super-cuties that he will rub shoulders with.  Fellow applicant Oliana Mirren is the first of these.

• Picard’s response – a dumbfounded and ungenerous expression – to Remmick’s request to serve on the Enterprise is priceless and completely appropriate.

Dialogue High Point
My favorite exchange in this story is one that shows a very human side to Picard, as he talks to Wesley following his failure to make it into the Academy on his first attempt:

Picard:  Wesley, you have to measure your successes and your failures within, not by anything that I or anyone else might think.  But uh, if it helps you to know this, I failed the first time.  And you may not tell anyone.
Wesley:  You?  You failed?
Picard:  Yes.  But not the second time!

Previous Post:  Home SoilNext Episode:  Heart of Glory


2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Coming of Age [1.18]

  1. Why can they only accept on qualified applicant from this place? That’s silly. If all four of them got better results than four people testing on Earth, then all four should be accepted. A quota is just a stupid idea for something in an idealistic future.

    Beyond that, it’s pretty OK. Some good performances, at least.

  2. Yeah, it’s a bit odd. Does it function like that with military academies or anything in real life? It sort of reminds me of how in the early days of the Legion of Super-Heroes, they’d only except one new member a year.

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