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July 13 2024


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Coming of Age

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 4, 2007 - 2:48 AM GMT

See Also: 'Coming of Age' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Wesley Crusher earns the right to take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam, beating out older students on the Enterprise, one of whom is particularly envious. While he meets the other candidates and begins tests about starship functions and astroscience, Picard receives a visit from his old friend Admiral Quinn, whom to Picard's surprise is standoffish and demands a full investigation of the ship. Lieutenant Commander Remmick interrogates each member of Picard's staff and seems none too impressed until he witnesses Picard guiding an Academy hopeful beaten out by Wesley safely back to the ship after the young man steals a shuttlecraft. Remmick reports to Quinn and Picard that in fact the Enterprise seems to be a very efficient ship and he would like to serve there himself. Quinn then asks Picard to take over as Commandant of Starfleet Academy. He warns Picard that a vast conspiracy has the Federation in its grip and says he needs Picard nearby, but Picard ultimately chooses to remain on the Enterprise. Wesley, too, will remain on the Enterprise after being outscored by a Benzite. When Wesley expresses his fear that he has let down the captain, Picard admits that he too failed to get into the Academy on his first try.

Analysis: What should be a storyline that finally allows viewers to relate to Wesley Crusher - he's nervous about his college admissions scores, he's not necessarily the very brightest! - instead becomes a rather unbearable story about how Wesley really IS such a boy wonder that even the cleverest candidate offers to defer to his all-around greatness. Add to that a B story about a nebulous conspiracy that ends with an even more nebulous conspiracy, and "Coming Of Age" is...well, "craptastic" is the word that comes to mind, though it's not very eloquent. It is, however, really all this episode deserves.

It isn't that the actors aren't trying. Wil Wheaton tries gamely to flirt with a girl, throw supportive glances at a guy wearing an alien outfit ten times cooler than Wesley's acting-bridge-crew uniform and look like he doesn't know it's a setup when his "psych test" involves abandoning the testing facility to go attempt to rescue crewmen trapped in environmental controls. The guys playing Remmick and hapless Wesley-wannabe Jake Kurland are trying even harder; every line seems over-emphasized, every nuance played as if from a stage for a far-off live audience. I saw this episode once before, when it first aired, so I knew it was leading into the season-ending conspiracy but couldn't remember the details, and I was positive that Remmick and the admiral both must have been possessed by evil aliens.

The performance that comes across the most strongly is John Putch's Mordock, but that might be because the Benzite makeup and gas mask requires a lack of subtlety just to show off the most basic of emotions. He is a rather more convincing teenager than Wesley in large part because he doesn't articulate everything he's thinking and feeling to the nearest adult around. If Wesley's biggest point of anxiety is that he thought he might freeze up in a situation like Picard experienced with Wesley's own father, where Jack Crusher died, I wouldn't expect him to jauntily chat about this fact with the test administrator who just put him through a physically and emotionally grueling psych evaluation; I'd expect more private relief or, more plausibly, private anger, but on this show everything gets spelled out in verbal exposition as if all the viewers are dense. Thus what could have been a really lovely emotional scene between Wesley and Picard at the end, with Wesley telling the man responsible that he understands now how paralyzed he's always felt because of his father's death, is turned instead into yet another "You're a wonderful young man, Wesley" pep talk. I didn't dislike Wesley Crusher so much the first time around but am finding him intolerable upon rewatching this season!

Then there's the marginally connected B-plot in which Picard too finds himself being tested, though he doesn't even know why. Nor do we. It's more exposition - crewmembers explaining aloud that they think Picard is wonderful and refusing to talk about their personal feelings (the person who could explain the obviously fascinating backstory involving Picard and Jack Crusher best - Beverly Crusher - coyly refuses to answer interrogatory questions, and who could blame her, but it's one moment of potentially thrilling expository revelation thrown away). Riker's face is fixed in a permanent frown both because he thinks Picard won't tell him what's going on and because he thinks Remmick's investigation is completely unfair. Worf growls very nicely but doesn't really contribute anything to our understanding of how he feels as a Klingon among humans.

And the payoff for this storyline is postponement, deferral, vague talk of an evil conspiracy with so few details or hard facts that Picard never really seems to consider accepting a promotion to admiral and control of Starfleet Academy from his obviously unhinged old friend. It feels as though the writers decided they needed some internal conflict on the show, so they attempted to manufacture it by having an outsider come aboard and attempt to stir up trouble, but then they got cold feet and instead decided to have everyone take turns announcing that this is a big, happy, confident crew. Even Wesley, even if he was marginally beaten by a Benzite he took time to help (the two female candidates, naturally, are characterized as far behind the others, even though one is a Vulcan and doesn't waste precious time flirting with Wesley).

Probably what I dislike most about this episode is knowing that it feeds into the insane Alien Worm Conspiracy storyline at the end of the season. I can't help but grit my teeth all through the latter part of early Next Gen.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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