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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S1E18 "Coming of Age"

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"Never mind me, I'm just checking for parasitic bugs that can take over your brains."

Original air date: March 14, 1988

An old friend of Picard's, Admiral Gregory Quinn, arrives on the ship along with his aide, Lt. Commander Dexter Remmick. Quinn tells Picard that Remnick is there to perform a thorough investigation of the Enterprise and her crew. Remnick quickly earns the ire of the other officers by questioning Picard's recent actions from previous episodes, seemingly determined to interpret them in the worst possible light. The crew steadfastly stand by their captain.

Meanwhile, Wesley is off to take the entrance exam to Starfleet Academy. There he meets Mordock, a famous Benzite scientist who is also applying. Only one of the four applicants will be allowed to pass, but Mordock and Wesley don't let that get in the way of being friendly. Wesley excels in the tests, but Mordock is stiff competition. For his final test, Wesley is sent to Room 101 to await a psychological exam, where he will confront his greatest fear. As he's waiting, a disaster occurs just outside. Wesley rushes to help and finds two casualties, an injured man who cannot walk and a trapped man who is paralyzed by fear. Unable to help the trapped man, Wesley helps drag the wounded man out of the area. Of course, this was the actual psych exam, confronting his fear that his father's death would make him unable to make hard choices on who to save in a crisis.

Back on the Enterprise, Wesley's buddy Jake is so upset at having been passed over for the chance to apply for Starfleet Academy that he steals a shuttlecraft and tries to run away rather than confront his father. He quickly runs into trouble, requiring Picard to talk him through a dangerous maneuver to regain control of the craft. Jake is ultimately able to return to the ship, where he is given a stern punishment as well as a pep talk by Picard.

Remnick concludes his investigation and states that he has been completely unable to find any wrongdoing in Picard's service history. He concludes that Picard is a superlative captain under whom any officer would be lucky to serve. Quinn reveals that the test was part of a vetting process to promote Picard to oversee Starfleet Academy. Quinn states that he believes dark forces are at work within Starfleet, so he requires trustworthy men like Picard at his side. Picard mulls it over but ultimately cannot give up his life as an explorer.

In spite of Wesley's sterling performance on the exams, Mordock is chosen as the winner instead of him. Wesley congratulates his new friend on being the first Benzite to enter Starfleet Academy. He returns to the Enterprise feeling humiliated to have failed in spite of all the high hopes of his mother and the rest of the crew. Picard states that there's no shame in failure as long as you're trying your hardest and learning from the experience. He then admits that he himself failed his first attempt to join Starfleet.

Tropes in this episode:

  • Always Someone Better:
    • A bit zig-zagged. Wesley may have been the wunderkind of the Enterprise, but ultimately Mordock defeats him to get into Starfleeet Academy. However, Wesley generally seems to outclass Mordock throughout the tests (with the exception being one where Wesley intentionally stopped to help Mordock). Ultimately, Wesley is left feeling like he's let everyone down by not getting in, while Mordock is left feeling like Wesley should have gotten in instead of him.
    • Jake Kurland found himself only narrowly defeated by Wesley himself and is so disappointed that he steals a shuttle to try and leave the Enterprise rather than face his father.
  • Call-Back: During his Interrogation Montage, Remmick brings up the incidents with an accidental contaminant, the Ferengi, the Traveler, and the Edo as examples of Picard's questionable decisions.
  • Character Tic: The first appearance of Riker's unique way of sitting down.
  • Characterization Marches On: This episode highlights the quick change in Picard's character through season one, from cold and sharp to supportive and wise.
  • Crash Course Landing: After Jake steals the shuttle, his inexperience at the controls causes him to fall into the planet's gravity well. Picard talks him through how to "bounce" off the planet's atmosphere to avoid burning up.
  • Declining Promotion: Quinn offers to promote Picard to Admiral and make him commandant of Starfleet Academy. Picard declines, saying he'll serve better on the Enterprise.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Zaldans hate courtesy, believing that it covers up true emotions. Luckily, Wesley knows this when he bumps into one and responds with Brutal Honesty.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: It's stated repeatedly that only one candidate on the planet will be admitted to the Academy, implying that Starfleet training is so highly rigorous that even among the best of the best, they're still not all good enough for the exacting requirements of Starfleet training. Considering some of the later graduates of Starfleet Academy we meet, such as Lieutenant Barclay or Ensign Harry Kim, and the size of the fleets assembled after the Battle of Wolf 359 and especially during the Dominion War, Starfleet simply can't be this discriminating in their admissions.
  • Education Papa: Hinted at with Jake's father. It's part of why he's so desperate in the second half of the episode.
  • Face Your Fears: The whole point of the psych test. In Wesley's case, it's the fear that if he sees two people in trouble and can only save one, he won't be able to choose. He passes quite well.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Wesley couldn't possibly depart for Starfleet Academy this early in the series.
  • Famed In-Story: Mordock is already a famous scientist when he takes the Starfleet entrance exam. Wesley is surprised that he hadn't already joined.
  • Foreshadowing: Admiral Quinn suspects that there's a conspiracy in Starfleet. We see that he's right later this season in the appropriately-titled episode "Conspiracy".
  • A Father to His Men: Remmick outright calls the Enterprise staff behaving like a family.
  • Interrogation Montage: Conducted by Remmick. Nobody he talks to is particularly cooperative. Especially if it means speaking ill of Picard. Or the Enterprise.
  • Jerkass: Dexter Remmick while interrogating Picard's staff. Turns out he was Just Following Orders and keeping up a jerkass front.
    Remmick: You don't like me, do you Lieutenant?
    Worf: Is it required, sir?
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Riker asks this of Picard before venting his frustrations over Remmick. Picard doesn't exactly disagree.
  • Pet the Dog: Despite being on the verge of being openly antagonistic towards the Enterprise crew, Remmick reveals that he's a good guy at heart when he gives an enthusiastic fist pump after Picard helps Jake escape a fiery end. He immediately returns to his antagonistic demeanor afterwards because that's his job.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Remmick aggressively pursues even the faintest whiff of misjudgment about Picard, but it's just his job. He eventually concludes that the Enterprise is faultless, and he himself would like to serve on it.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Quinn, especially after he reveals that Remmick's investigation was to ensure Picard was still someone he could trust to help protect the Federation against whatever was working to undermine it.
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • An "incident" with a brusque alien Starfleet NCO tests Wesley's knowledge of other cultures.
    • Before Wesley can start his exam, an accident occurs and there's only enough time to save one of the two endangered men. Wesley picks the one who's more badly injured, and then it naturally turns out this was the exam—according to Wesley's psych profile, his greatest fear was that he wouldn't be able to make such a decision. Wesley mentions that this was the same decision that "another Starfleet officer" (Picard) made that led to his father's death.
    • The entire investigation of the Enterprise is one for Picard and his officers; Admiral Quinn wants to confirm that he can be trusted before offering him a promotion, because of a suspected conspiracy in Starfleet.
  • Shout-Out: The psych test takes place in room 101, in reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four, where Room 101 was used to psychologically break the subjects by torturing them with their greatest fears.
  • So Proud of You: Wesley thinks that he let everyone down by not getting into the Academy. Picard admits that he also failed the exam the first time, that Wesley did his best, and that he will try again next year. Picard also tells him that he shouldn't seek validation from others, only himself.
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: One of the questions in the Academy exam asks applicants what the proper matter/antimatter ratio would be for a starship at a particular location to reach the nearest starbase at maximum warp. One of the applicants treats this as a standard warp theory question and runs out of time to answer while running calculations. Wesley gets it right after thinking about it—no matter what, the proper matter/antimatter ratio for a warp drive is always 1:1 and none of the other math matters.
  • Think Nothing of It: After giving Jake a rather gentle pep talk about his recent difficulties, Picard reacts quite sternly when Jake thanks him for saving his life: "That's my job, young man!" he almost snaps.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Picard gives a speech like this to Wesley after Wesley fails his Starfleet Entrance exam, going so far as to confide in Wesley that even he didn't pass the first time. More than likely, this conversation went a long way towards convincing him to reapply.