Coming of Age
They're testing Wesley to see if he's good enough to join Starfleet... better hope they don't test his fashion sense
Wesley passes a very glum Jake in the Enterprise corridors. We've never seen this lad before, but young Mr Crusher is apparently really close with him and bummed they don’t get to go to the Academy together. Yar (always trying to avoid doing any actual security work) beams Wes down to join in the craziest selection process Starfleet could come up with. Four contestants - each one seemingly more qualified than most crew members we meet in Star Trek - compete in a bizarre game show to see who will win the prize of admission to Starfleet Academy. Wes doesn't win, but there's always next year.
Meanwhile, an old friend of Picard's, Admiral Quinn, beams aboard with his ball-busting aide, Dexter Remmick. Remmick sets out to be a royal pain in everyone's ass while seemingly trying to dredge up dirt on Captain Picard. The crew get shirty - Riker bristles with indignation that borders on insubordination - and everyone gets far more annoyed than we've ever seen them before. Without warning, Jake steals a shuttle craft! You'd think that would require a reprimand for the Security Chief for lax launch bay protocols, but no, Remmick is more interested in blaming Picard, who saves the day with the ol' bouncing-off-the-atmosphere-to-jump-start-the-engine trick. Even Remmick has a fist pump moment! Albeit briefly.
After applying further thumbscrews, the abrasive Remmick becomes so impressed that he asks to be transferred to the Enterprise... I wouldn't wait for Picard to sign those assignment papers, Lieutenant. It turns out it's all a test to see if Picard is good enough to take over as Commandant at Starfleet Academy to defend against some shadowy and mysterious threat. Frankly, do we really think Picard is going to give up command of the flagship to look after a campus full of Wesleys…? Hard pass.
"It's a good thing you're cute, Wesley, or you could really be obnoxious."
Many a true word is spoken in jest! This script, drafted by Sandy Fries and rewritten by Hannah Louise Shearer, is full of weird moments but it plays out quite charmingly. I love the way the A and B plots are linked by the transporter room scene (shown at the top of this WAM). A-plot Wesley beams out, then straight afterwards B-plot Admiral beams aboard. All one shot. It’s rare that the subplots fork so elegantly.
Immediately before that scene in the screenplay was one that was cut from the final episode: Wesley’s 16th birthday, which takes place in “Deck 21 Forward Lounge”.
The screenplay includes this lovely exchange:
Troi hands pieces of cake to Data and Worf.
Thank you... Humans are fascinating. They celebrate the passage of time with such joy until a certain age, and then it becomes a topic of some discomfort. I suppose it is because each birthday is another step towards inevitable death. Do Klingons observe birthdays, Worf?
Klingons are born, live as warriors, and die.
Then how do you know how old you are?
I don't. Do you know?
I have no age.
Okay, that would have sunk a fair number of great Worf scenes that we got in future episodes, but it’s a nice moment regardless.
And oh my goodness - talk about continuity upgrade! This episode marks the first time that the groundwork for future stories are laid by intent within an earlier episode, since the Remmick and Admiral Quinn characters are instrumental to the forthcoming "Conspiracy". Back in 1987 this kind of attention to the flow of events between episodes is essentially unheard of in a network television show - I believe they were breaking new ground right here in this story!
This is the first TNG episode to get great value out of very short scenes, which really gives the entire ensemble cast a chance to shine. This is mostly thanks to Robert Schenkkan doing a great job as Remmick, interrogating the crew members remorselessly. He manages to make his character utterly detestable throughout - and then still manages to redeem him in his final scene. Despite a substantial set of appearances as an actor, Schenkkan has been arguably most successful as a writer, having won not just a Tony but even a Pulitzer Prize for his set of one-act plays called The Kentucky Cycle. Colour me impressed!
Although they get very few lines, I enjoy Wil Wheaton's supporting cast in this episode very much. Robert Ito - best known as Quincy's sidekick, Sam Fujiyama - offers a firm hand as TAC Officer Chang.
Estee Chandler's Oliana gets the best line in the script (quoted above). John Putch is thoroughly amiable as the Benzite, Mordock, and he will reprise this species - but not this character - next season. But the most interesting role in terms of production history is Tasia Velenza's T'Shanik of Vulcana Regar, despite only getting a measly sixteen words over three lines.
T’Shanik’s character was originally going to be a Klingon named Kronos, but Consulting Producer Bob Justman suggested going against the writing guide and making them a Vulcan. Page 11 of the guidelines specifically excluded stories based around Vulcans, with Roddenberry somewhat ironically stating:
We are determined not to copy ourselves and believe there must be other interesting aliens in a galaxy filled with billions of stars and planets.
Once Justman's rule-bending suggestion was accepted, D.C. Fontana provided the suitably Vulcan name. I get the impression she was actually rather pleased to smuggle a Vulcan passed Roddenberry!
But my favourite moment in this episode is also the first time Worf is really allowed to carry a scene rather than just being played for humour. Wesley is hiding out in the holodeck. He can't even be bothered to run a program, he's just reading somberly. I totally recognise my teenage self in this moment. (The holodeck set looks shockingly shoddy when you watch this on an HD TV - check out those scuff marks! - but on a 1987 TV set nobody would have noticed.)
Worf enters, presumably about to practice how to get beaten up by aliens, and is surprised to find Wesley skulking in the shadows. In a very nicely written exchange, Worf not only admits that "only fools have no fear", but reveals that his own terror springs from having to depend upon other people, adding that this "is still my enemy". It not only gives Wil Wheaten a great story beat, it allows Michael Dorn is first opportunity to truly sparkle. The writing team have no idea that Worf's story arc is heading inexorably towards fatherhood, but in this scene all that potential is already clearly on display.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Let's give a big welcome to the Shuttlecraft studio miniature and set!
Supra-fanonically this is a Type-7 Shuttlecraft, but at this point in the show this is just the only shuttle we get. I note that an Okudagram of the draft design appeared in the "The Naked Now" (cheekily named “Galileo” by Okuda, albeit in print nearly too small to read).
Here’s the designer of the shuttlecraft, Andrew Probert, working on a study model. I love how it shows the same familiar-yet-curvier aesthetic that connected the two Enterprise designs, but this time updating the classic Trek shuttlecraft.
The Benzite make-up is another of those ambitious season one alien designs that will prove too costly to justify as the show progresses.
I don't think it's entirely successful, to be honest - something about the latex always feels slightly off - but the inclusion of a breathing attachment that isn't just a respirator is a lovely touch. I imagine this was a nightmare in filming, but perhaps the dry ice lasted long enough that it worked out in practice. The script only asked for "a powerfully built alien with a special suit using circulating gas tubes." Michael Westmore's make-up department delivered much more than was asked for!
And finally, this matte painting is eight years older than the episode it appears in!
That's because it was made for a 1979 Buck Rogers episode, "The Plot to Kill a City". Here's the two paintings side by side for comparison:
As far as I can tell, the painting was bought as a studio asset and then modified by a matte artist for this story, which would have saved both time and money. Any excuse for a matte painting is good in my book, and this brief establishing shot caps off a winning episode for the SFX teams.
Special thanks to Dukhat for finding the picture of Probert working on the study model.
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Really enjoyed reading this one!
LOL subtitle 🤣