Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Coming of Age"

**1/2

Air date: 3/14/1988
Written by Sandy Fries
Directed by Michael Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Wesley Crusher takes the Starfleet entrance exam, pitted against three other young candidates who are as brilliant as he is. Only the highest of the four scores will go to Starfleet Academy. This is the sort of story that, at age 12, made me fear for my future of entering high school and college. Consider — here were four fictional characters who were far more brilliant than I was, and three of them would be going home as failures, despite their brilliance. Now there's a frightening message about competition for a 12-year-old. Guess you'd better study harder, kids.

Finally, this is a Wesley-oriented storyline I can tolerate. The reason it works is because it treats Wesley as a teenager instead of the crazy kid who saves the ship with his implausible genius. It treats him as a young person who has a lot to learn about life. Yes, he may be a hopeless geek (and still annoying), but at least the story recognizes him for his human qualities rather than his techo-plot ones (the "stress test" at the end deals with his own personal issues rather than his warp theories).

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Picard's old friend Admiral Quinn (Ward Costello) sends in his investigative pit bull, Lt. Cmdr. Remmick (Robert Schenkkan), to look for problems in Picard's command. Remmick interrogates the entire bridge crew, pissing off everybody in the process. This leads to some pretty good scenes of conflict on a show sometimes notorious for its lack of interpersonal conflict. The investigation is dramatically on shaky ground because the episode never says what Quinn and Remmick are looking for (except "problems"). In the end, Quinn levels with Picard about a possible conspiracy within Starfleet, and offers him a promotion. It's a strange, albeit watchable, series of notions, interviews, questions, and conclusions.

Although it doesn't have a strong driving focus, "Coming of Age" is about the personnel workings of the Enterprise crew more than it's about a generic plot, which is in its favor.

Previous episode: Home Soil
Next episode: Heart of Glory

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11 comments on this review

Carbetarian - Fri, Jan 14, 2011 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
You know, when I was a kid I thought Wesley Crusher was awesome. I was always considered bright. I went to a magnet public school for gifted children, and had a college reading level by second grade. So, I think I sympathized with Wesley and his struggle to be taken seriously because I frequently struggled to be taken seriously myself.

When I was in grade school, I read a lot of the great classics of literature and I thought that my comprehending the language of what I was studying meant that I understood what the author was trying to say. In jr high, I took the SATs early and thought that I understood what it meant to cram for an exam. By high school, I was taking college classes and I thought that I understood what it meant to be a college student.

Well, the truth is I didn't really understand anything; and neither does Wesley Crusher. Being smart enough to learn answers quickly does not make up for a lack of emotional depth or substitute for real life experience. Being intelligent without boundaries leads to over confidence and, eventually, mistakes. It is important to question yourself and to learn to work with others. I know that now.

Someone should have told all of that to Wesley Crusher! Where as I used to love watching Wesley outsmart the adults, I now just feel annoyed at his arrogance and lack of supervision. Sure, Wesley saved the ship plenty of times. But, he nearly destroyed the ship on more than one occasion as well. Who in their right mind lets a teenager pilot a galaxy class starship? Not even the most genius of adolescents deserves that kind of power.

It's funny. Wes was my favorite character when I was a little girl. But, now I literally just cringe whenever he opens his mouth. How annoying is he in the naked now? Ugh, awful.

@impronen Haha, I love your description of season one as being "one facepalm after another"! Too true.
Jake Taylor 07 - Sun, Mar 13, 2011 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
In this first season episode, we follow the familiar A/B storyline. In the A plot the Enterprise is being investigated by one Lt. Remmick who along with Admiral Quinn has come aboard to determine 'what is wrong' with the ship. In the B plot, oddly for which it is titled Wesley takes his academy entrance exam on the planet Relva.
Lt. Remmick proceeds to observe the bridge crew a bit, then question First Officer Riker about the captain. Riker’s offended and storms into a lift, telling him he will answer questions later. Way to cooperate there Number One. Yes, Remmick is written as an ass, and the actor portrays him as such during his subsequent questioning of the crew.
Meanwhile, Wesley makes friends with fellow Academy hopefuls on the planet, and befriends a Benzitte named Mendon. Here he helps him with words of encouragement. Wes passes many of the early tests without issue, including a (supposedly) hotheaded officer who tries to pick a fight with him. The Lieutenant who runs the testing facility, Chang (no not the Kingon commander from Star Trek VI, just a token Asian in command) sees this altercation and commends Wesley on standing up to the bully. Wesley explains that he noticed that he had webbed hands. He told Lieutenant Chang that he knows his race thinks being police is phony, so stood up to him. Mendon tells Wesley he’s so smart, and he'd wouldn't have known that. So the only reason Wesley didn't get his ass kicked, is because he happened to know about this rare one off alien race we've never seen, and will never see again. This whole altercation is weird and really comes off awkward. It makes little sense from an viewpoint, and succeeds only in making Mendon feel inferior.
Back on the flagship of the Federation, Picard and Remmick are on the bridge when on the civilians, a teen boy, steals one of the shuttles, and gets caught in the gravity well of a planet. Remmick, in true ass mode interrupts Picard during the boys call for help in which we learn he has 30 seconds to alter course before he crashes. Remmick things this is a good time to tell Picard that if he dies the boys blood is on Picard’s hands. Well I can see that, but I mean he sure picked a awful time to state the obvious. Picard is clearly, and understandably annoyed at the guest lieutenant. He then instructs the boy to safety, showing that when he gives an order people trust him, and they listen. He even goes so far as to say "This is Picard...giving you an order..." I know its the first season, but the arrogance of the characters is so high to think that this boy frightened out his mind, clearly already unstable is going to follow instructions from the captain which I may point out instinctive would seem wrong, would snap into obey mode on a dime. I mean the kids not even a cadet! Alas, the boy is saved and even Remmick gives a "yes!" and a fist pump before reverting to full dick mode, and continuing his investigation of the crotchety and snobby old English accented French captain.
Wesley is back on the ship during his break, and is walked in on by Worf while in the holodeck. No not caught with a holographic version of Lt. Yar topless or anything- just standing there. Worf asks what’s up and Wesley tells him he’s worried about the phsyc test. In a nice moment Worf tells him not to worry about things he can't control, and says "only fools have no fear." I want you to remember that as later this human side of Worf disappears and is replaced by the cardboard cutout Klingon warrior Worf. In fact I am almost positive at one point in the series later on he says "I fear nothing!", but that is neither here nor there, and on with "CoA"....
The question continues until it reaches the point where Remmick finally get to Picard himself. Well see Picard's had enough of this without knowing what this is all about, so he goes to his friend, and Remmick's boss, Admiral Quinn. Quinn brings Remmick and he delivers his report: he can find nothing wrong on board the USS Enterprise. It seems his whole heel persona was just a tool for his investigation. In fact he even tells Picard he'd like to serve there in six months when he’s free from Quinn, and Picard gives him the no fing way look. Picard then says to Remmik what’s this all about? Quinn hints the infiltration by something, or someone (which sets up the seasons later episode "Conspiracy") and he had to be sure Picard was who he said he was. Picard is angry at this whole ordeal. That’s when Quinn thinks it would be a good idea to offer him a promotion to Admiral and a post as commandant of Starfleet Academy. Picard is still annoyed, and now befuddled. Why? Quinn says he needs him close, and he needs and answer soon. Picard angered that this was all about him tells him he will have on tonight. (Does the Admiral really expect him to accept? We are told they are friends, but Quinn cannot talk to Picard like a man and tell him what’s going on?)
The payoff to the Wes story is that he first passes his physc test in which he saves 2 crew members of the testing center?/ school/ star base on the ground. However during the final academic test he stops to help Mendon with a question which causes him to finish the test second, and no get accepted to the academy as a result! Wes may be book smart, but it seems the kid has no common sense. That is all I can figure from this. Not only is it stupid, but it seems like it would surely be a breech of testing regulations, but whatever.
Back on the ship Picard in his dress uniform, chats with Wesley who is hanging around in the observation lounge. This scene works well as Picard takes the roll of father figure telling Wes to measure his successes from within. Not to worry what anyone else thinks, and that he will get in next time. The interaction between Steward, and Wheaton feels real, and the two will have many more father/son moments to come.
We never see Picard decline Quinn's offer, but we don't need to. We also are not told why it is so imperative that Quinn get Picard home, or what the threat is. Does he want him home because he is concerned for his friends well being? I don’t see how him being the head of the academy makes him any more valuable to defend against this unspecified threat...so we don’t really know why Quinn went through all the motions. So in the end what do have, a nice story about Wesley, and a teaser for the week after next's show...all in all it feels unfinished, some clunky moments, but all in all its enjoyable to watch and well paced. Wesley confronts something that many young people must receives some good advice along the way. The typical early TNG snobiness is there, but its not out of control as on some other episodes. But the lack of resolution on what I called the A story, since it deals with the "larger" aspect of entire Enterprise is unfinished. This is why this episode gets six and points out of ten. Its only half done, even thought its engaging, its incomplete.

Jake Taylor 07 - Sun, Mar 13, 2011 - 11:37pm (USA Central)
The above comments are for "Coming of Age"
Rikko - Fri, Aug 10, 2012 - 11:31am (USA Central)
This was my favorite episode at the time, mostly due to the lack of competition than by the ep's own merit.

I still like it even with all those small mistakes (finely detailed by Jake Taylor 07). The fact that doesn't feel like a complete story actually plays in its favor, making this one the first non-single-ep contained story of all TNG.

It's also cool to see a story about Wesley Crusher that doesn't suck. While the tests were kinda awkward and Wes friend has the face of a fish, it's still fun to see and actually has a point (unlike 80% of the first season).

And I thought they wanted to get rid of Picard, so Admiral Quinn would take his place. I was surprised when it was actually revealed to be a test of trustworthiness.
Rachel - Thu, Aug 23, 2012 - 3:47pm (USA Central)
Season 1 seems really dated, but the series does have its highlights, and I think this episode is one of them.

Wesley remains too smart for me - the scene where the alien lieutenant (looked far too human to me!) shouted at Wesley, and WC calmly explained to Chang that he knew that their race hated politeness, seemed a stretch too far. Wesley may have been on the Enterprise, but to pick out one species from the many the crew must have encountered, seems too easy to just 'know'. I accept Wes is supposed to be super smart...but even Chang says he doesn't get through the test not only because of losing time, but other things too. Are Benzites supposed to be that smart?

The other story, with Remmick and Quinn determined to find something wrong with the ship, is far more engaging, although Quinn comes off like all the Admirals (maybe with the exception of Ross in DS9) - stuffy and full of themselves. No wonder Picard turns the 'offer' down.

Good episode, though who thought up Wesley and Deanna's uniforms in season 1?
xaaos - Sun, Nov 4, 2012 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
Although I dislike Wes, I loved his smile at the last scene.

Not a top episode, but a good one, of these that make me love watching Star Trek.
DPC - Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - 8:43pm (USA Central)
More wooden acting from a redwood tree that tries to look like a human earthling female, and an overly-pompous Vulcan, but despite one plot point I liked this one.

The plot twists and turns are good, as is Wes, but - let's face it - one training center to take just one person to add to the Fleet's ranks is highly inefficient and dubious in concept.

Chang is too polite (even for the pre-PC era) as well. Worse, Wesley should have won - he's helping others in a crucial moment is surely a bigger qualifier for being able to work in TEAMS, which is crucial in high stress situations??

But the trials Wesley goes through are great, as is the subplot with the Admiral and his staff.

3 of 4
William B - Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
It may be that I am too generous to this because it is in the midst of TNG season 1, and any bright spot seems brighter than it otherwise would be. Still, I think this is a good show. The Wesley material, if occasionally a bit silly -- the Zaldan thing doesn't quite work -- is the best use of the character in this season ("Where No One Has Gone Before" gets an honourable mention) and actually creates a story that makes him human and compelling. Remmick's investigation of the crew is a little repetitive, but helps demonstrate a real bond of loyalty between these characters. I like Picard's saving Corey (was it?) and the genuine sense of excitement that sequence creates, while operating in a very low key (as compared to the number of episodes where a superbeing threatens the ship).

I would like to see a bit more explicit character work on why Picard turned down the appointment to Starfleet Academy -- the episode parallels Picard and Wesley, as the two of them are both considering going to the Academy, and both end up not going, Wesley because he did not succeed enough and Picard because he feels that he's better-suited to the Enterprise. I do think that it's mostly that Picard sees himself losing his zeal in a political situation away from the exploration which he loves so much, as well as the obvious fact that he really does *like* his ship and crew and feels an attachment to them. Still, it is funny that the episode doesn't let us know much of Picard's own reasoning besides that he'll be most useful on the Enterprise.

I suppose 2.5 stars is an appropriate grade, but I can't help bumping it up to a low 3.
istok - Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - 2:11pm (USA Central)
Is it just me or did they use the same orange thing "planet" prop thing for this and the previous two episodes?
Van_Patten - Wed, May 15, 2013 - 4:32pm (USA Central)
With 'Home Soil' TNG turned round a shaky run of episodes since 11001100 and this episode continues that positive stretch. Again the episode has a dual plot. Whilst Wesley sits his entrance exam for Starfleet Academy, the Enterprise is visited by an Officer from the Inspector General's Office with a brief ' Find whatever is wrong on the ship'

With this kind of setup, much hinges on the Guest Actor coming in - fortunately Robert Schenkkan is sufficiently hostile to pose a genuine threat whilst not crossing the line into being ludicrous and the scenes where he interrogates the crew (especially the one with Data) are excellent.

As for Wesley, it might not be an exaggeration to say that he has been rather poorly served by many of season's one scripts - so it is a surprise to find one that uses him quite well. As Jammer says, this is probably the first episode (maybe Datalore?) where he isn't absurd because it emphasises his inexperience and callow nature. I enjoyed the scenes involving him and Mordock (John Putch)and the interaction between him and Worf show the growth in the latter character and might be the first time where he isn't merely 'the boy', at least from Worf's point of view.

A pretty good script by Sandy Fries, and (certainly in comparison with most of season one) Strong Direction by Mike Vejar add up to a strong episode overall - Agree with William B that this one merits 3 stars for me. An unexpected highlight and one that stands up quite well to repeat viewing.
grumpy_otter - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 10:56pm (USA Central)
I do love the line when Wesley explains that "Zaldans are infuriated by courtesy." That cracks me up every time!

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