Star Trek: The Next Generation: Coming of Age   Rewatch 
June 5, 2020 9:14 AM - Season 1, Episode 19 - Subscribe

From Memory Alpha: "As Wesley Crusher faces the Starfleet Academy entrance exam on Relva VII, representatives from Starfleet Command conduct an exhaustive investigation into Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D crew."

Admiral Quinn comes aboard the Enterprise as the ship drops Wesley off on Relva VII so that he can take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. Quinn's brought his assistant, Lieutenant Remmick, who begins to conduct an investigation into Picard's command, closely questioning many members of the crew while citing several prior episodes' worth of possible misconduct. Things get tense.

Meanwhile on Revla VII Wesley has met several other candidates including the famed Mordock, inventor of the Mordock Strategy. The candidates face several tests including a subspace physics exam and the dreaded psych test. Wesley finds himself confronting an emergency situation when a bio lab suffers a damaging event; he is able to save one of the lab workers but has to retreat leaving another to their fate. This is of course the psych test. In the end, Mordock passes while Wesley does not, but the true test will be the friends we make along the way.

Back on the Enterprise, Wesley's friend and Academy entrance exam washout Jake Kurland has stolen a shuttle, but the kid doesn't know how to fly it, the foolish lad, and has to be talked to safety by none other than Captain Picard! Admiral Quinn reveals that the investigation was part of the vetting process to offer Picard the command of Starfleet Academy - it seems there is something rotten in the Admiralty and Quinn needs men he can trust in positions of strategic import. Wesley returns and we learn Picard declined the offer.

Memory Alpha further teaches us that this episode benefitted from an uncredited Hannah Louise Shearer rewrite. I dropped her a line to see if she would be willing to comment on her Trek scripts, but she has not yet responded.

Forgotten Trek tells us that this is the first TNG appearance of a shuttle, and has a nice overview of the development of the design of the shuttles over the arc of TNG.

I was interested in the testing scene where the candidates are in front of LCARS screens presenting a graphic schematic of what appears to be a hyperdrive system and hoped that I could find it reproduced at the somewhat moribund and dated (due to extensive use of Flash) LCARs graphic site, but I did not surface it. Ex Astris Scientia does not note a prior appearance for these consoles.

Poster's Log

This episode has a whole bunch of firsts. I *think* this is the initial appearance of a truly fully developed A/B plot, although I previously noted that Lonely Among Us had an A/B plot structure.

Other commentators have noted little thematic interplay between the A and B plots, but I think this is inaccurate, as Admiral Quinn and Lieutenant Remmick represent a test for the crew and command of the Enterprise.

In a scene where an obviously grouchy and combative Riker aggressively approaches Remmick, I believe we also view also the premiere appearance of the Riker Manuever! Reddit user 'wil' confirms speculation that the maneuver originated due to a back injury suffered by Riker's human host, Jonathan Frakes. Fling them legs, sourdough!

This episode also brings the introduction of the 'secret bad guys' theme on TNG - via a Badmiral, of course - and it will be resolved in an upcoming and memorable season 1 episode, Conspiracy.

I left an important scene out of my synopsis, the first really substantial featured-performer scene for Worf, son of Mogh, portrayed by Michael Dorn! Wesley is moping on the deactivated holodeck for some reason when Worf swings by and drops some science on the young buckaroo: "Only fools have no fear." It's a pretty good scene, and I am sure we are all as glad as Michael Dorn is for it.

WORF: It is very difficult for me to depend on anyone for anything. But especially for my life.
WESLEY: But on the Enterprise you do that every day. Everyone depends on everyone else to protect them.
WORF: Yes.
WESLEY: So you overcame it?
WORF: No. It is still my enemy.

This is great character building and could also reasonably have been delivered by Tasha Yar, based on what we have learned of her character to date in the series. But instead someone decided to see what Dorn could do with the material, and so we gain a notable forehead.

Memory Alpha also notes a scene cut (it's unclear if it was filmed, but i would guess not):

A scene cut for time showed Wesley and the whole bridge crew celebrating his sixteenth birthday. The script named the location of the scene as "Deck 21 Forward Lounge", probably an early predecessor of Ten Forward. The scene also featured a short, humorous bit: Data asks Worf how Klingons celebrate their birthdays, and Worf replies that they do not. Data then asks him, how does he know how old he is. Worf replies: he doesn't know and asks Data how does he know, with Data replying that he has no age. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion) [2]

Note that bit about Klingons not celebrating their birthdays. I would like to see the writer's bible for Worf at this juncture. Does the writers' room know he is an adoptee? I think they might. I note this in passing because it is extremely common among adoptees to have mixed or negative feelings about acknowledging and or celebrating one's birthday, and to find this bit of character design lying amidst the rubble of Deck 21 Forward Lounge is of interest to me.

As noted above, we see the first shuttle in TNG. I think in the testing scene, we see the first in-camera interaction with LCARS via on-screen animations created for the actors to engage with, but I have not been able to substantiate that.

Finally, when Jake Kurland steals the shuttle it's my opinion that we get a glimpse of the characters later played by Robert Duncan McNeill, Nicholas Locarno and Tom Paris. The character is also prefigured by the little boy who is fearful of disappointing his father in "When the Bough Breaks".

Finally, there is one other scene that calls for special acknowledgement, the scene in which Captain Picard verbally saves Jake Kurland by yelling at him from the bridge. This would appear to be the first time on TNG that we are given access to the full power and charisma of Patrick Stewart in command mode. It's a legitimately thrilling scene, even as it stretches credulity. I think that in this moment, Captain Picard fully comes into being for both us in the audience and, so it would seem from the numerous accounts we have of other castmembers of Stewart functioning effectively as the on-set leader of the cast, for the crew. It's just a great scene. I mean, who wouldn't follow that man? No disrespect to any other captains in Trek, but Captian Picard is my captain.

I do not recall watching this episode on initial airing, but I do have somewhere in my college notes a little doodle of Captain Picard's bald head and pointy nose under which I quite inappropriately quote Walt Whitman: "O Captain, my captain." I am pretty sure I already knew Whitman was writing about Lincoln after his assassination but just didn't let that stop me. Captain Picard, the Federation is your oyster, and Patrick Stewart, we thank you for embodying this man we are all so fond of.
posted by mwhybark (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This would appear to be the first time on TNG that we are given access to the full power and charisma of Patrick Stewart in command mode.

“Aim the shuttle at Relva!” is such a nonsense line but Stewart acts the hell out of it and makes it thrilling.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

The thing that occurred to me as I watched this episode is if it's this hard to get into Starfleet Academy, and (it seems) Starfleet Academy is the only place you can become a Starfleet officer, how does Starfleet not run out of officers?
posted by ckape at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2020 [7 favorites]

I feel the whole corner they paint themselves into with Starfleet is why they later retcon O'brien into being a non-com. The idea being someone looked and realized- shit we made it too hard to be in StarFleet uh... uh... ok lets make it that there are enlisted! That works!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:58 PM on June 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Maybe to create artificial scarcity? Because EVERYone wants to join Starfleet? Because, I mean, look at those cruise-liner ships. Plus you can bring your family. Plus they "have holodecks which you might enjoy," and this season argues that they are far from common. I think I'd risk death in space for holodeck access. OTOH, they're just coming out of a loooong series of wars with Cardassia, so maybe that's implausible. Oh, oh, I know: continuing education credits! Getting into Starfleet is only THIS hard when you're a child prodigy with little to know real-galaxy experience.

This one's corny in a somehow very '80s way but still strong; great character stuff in many different directions—Picard, Riker, Wesley, Worf. Riker was so almost "the Riker we know" that I could almost see the beard on him, and no, I'm not just referring to the Maneuver; he had the sternness, the impatience, the visible need to stifle a frustrated sigh that first-season-Riker has largely lacked up to this point. If this episode signals the end of gee-whiz-Riker, then I like it that much more.

Ward Costello (Quinn) is one of those guys who was in everything on TV in the '70s. MST3K fans will know him as the shouty Aunt Mary from Code Name: Diamond Head. (Aunt Mary is also a code name.)

Quite strong work here by young Kurland actor Stephen Gregory, whom MA says was a recurring character on Law & Order SVU.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:20 PM on June 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

The first season never fails to astound me how wooden most of the acting was.
posted by zadcat at 1:22 PM on June 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

BTW, here's the "Coming of Age" installment of "Greatest Generation." Adam and Ben have a BLM-supporting donation drive going, as their "Greatest Generation" intro now reflects; each of them donated $1,701. ^-^
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed this episode. The way the crew all come together (separately) to freeze Remmick out just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling deep down inside. Robert Schenkkan's performance as the inquisitor Remmick is quite good too, shows his humanity instead just being an evil secret policeman. According to Memory Alpha, he went on to be a pulitzer prize winning playwright.

It's maybe a little too on the nose that Kurland's near shuttle crash appears to be caused by him messing up the antimatter intermix ratio just after Wesley and the other candidates are tested on that very thing. And if it should always be 1:1, why would the shuttle controls even allow you to change it?
posted by rodlymight at 5:57 PM on June 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Good observations in the Poster's Log, mwhybark. This ep is yet another example of good writing for Wesley in the first season that I had forgotten about because of all the ostentatious Young Hero/Chosen One Saves the Day eps that he was saddled with. The teenagers being nervously friendly with each other while acknowledging that they're really competing with each other maps closely with some of the conversations that I remember from about that age; I'm glad that they avoided the cliche of the one person who tries to mess with other peoples' heads in order to get ahead (although that happens in real life, too). I also thought that the psych test, with its lesson that you can't save everyone, was a sort of preview of the Kobayashi Maru test that they'll eventually face in the Academy. I also agree that this is probably an early-entry test, and that the rest will eventually get in, although that may depend on how much of a current need Starfleet has for new officers. (We don't really know how many people or ships Starfleet lost in the Cardassian War(s); it seems likely that it was orders of magnitude less than the eventual Dominion War.) It's also interesting to speculate as to whether Starfleet has the equivalent of ROTC or the Reserves; instead of spending four solid years at the Academy, Wesley seems to spend quite a bit of his Academy time on the ship, as Nog will spend his on the station in DS9. (Nog also gets his commission and promotion sped up by his wartime service, I think.)

I don't have a lot to say about Quinn and Remmick; it sure is interesting to see them in this light, knowing what we know about their eventual fates in the much more notorious episode to come. About Worf: I don't know what was in the second edition of the writer's bible about him, but in the first one he's not even named--he's just "Klingon Marine." As I'll go into at some considerable length (fair warning) in the thread for the very next episode, that was probably to his advantage, knowing what we know about the backstage drama in the show at this point. One thing about the "Only fools have no fear" thing is that it's very similar to what Kang says to Kirk at the end of "Day of the Dove": "Only a fool fights in a burning house." It's a measure of practicality and honesty that runs a bit counter to the Klingon kliche of glory at all costs, and for some reason something tells me that it's probably attributed to Kahless, somewhere. Also, the sadly-cut bit between Data and Worf reminds me of this one from the episode "Booby Trap":

Captain Jean-Luc Picard : The ship in the bottle... Oh, good Lord, didn't anybody here build ships in bottles when they were boys?

Lieutenant Worf : I did not play with toys.

Lt. Commander Data : I was never a boy.

Data usually teams up with/plays off of Geordi because there's more of a contrast, but it's always fun to see the Serious Brothers team up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:22 PM on June 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

Lieutenant Worf : I did not play with toys.

There's an amazing outtake from that scene floating around where the scene plays out as planned but Dorn accidentally says "I never played with boys" and they all crack up.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:44 PM on June 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

"Only a fool fights in a burning house." It's a measure of practicality and honesty that runs a bit counter to the Klingon kliche of glory at all costs, and for some reason something tells me that it's probably attributed to Kahless, somewhere.

Knowing Klingon culture, this probably means you’re supposed to kick your opponent through a window or something as an excuse to go outside rather than stop fighting for a moment to agree to take the fight away from the flames.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:24 AM on June 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, the ancient Rite of Defenestration. qaPla!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:20 AM on June 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Only a fool fights in a burning house." It's a measure of practicality and honesty that runs a bit counter to the Klingon kliche of glory at all costs, and for some reason something tells me that it's probably attributed to Kahless, somewhere.

Kaptain Kruge* must have missed that day of Klingon klasses.
*See ST3 Search for Spock
posted by rodlymight at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lieutenant Worf : I did not play with toys.

There's an amazing outtake from that scene floating around where the scene plays out as planned but Dorn accidentally says "I never played with boys" and they all crack up.

So apparently a bunch of TNG outtakes, newly fully remastered, were released awhile back, with the result that one can splice outtakes into the final cut version seamlessly. Someone's been doing Star Trek "in-takes" as a result. Here's one using the scene Homo neanderthalensis referenced above.
posted by sugar and confetti at 9:52 AM on June 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Dammit, if I knew how to fly this thing I wouldn't have failed the exams!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:04 PM on June 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ah! See our next episode implicitly answers some of my questions upthread. CoB, I am certain your next post shall bring honor and glory! Qa’plagh!
posted by mwhybark at 5:04 PM on June 7, 2020

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