Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Coming of Age”

“Coming of Age”
Written by Sandy Fries (uncredited rewrite by Hannah Louise Shearer)
Directed by Mike Vejar

Season 1, Episode 19
Original air date: March 14, 1988
Star date: 41461.2

Mission summary

Enterprise delivers acting ensign Wesley Crusher to Relva VII to participate in the planet’s annual Hunger Games Starfleet Academy entrance examination. He meets the other candidates: a girl named Oliana, a Vulcan girl named T’Shanik, and a Benzite named Mordock. They are all incredibly bright, but apparently only one of them will be offered a coveted spot at the Academy.

While the crew waits around for wunderkind Wesley to ace his test, Picard reunites with an old friend, Admiral Quinn. Alas, this isn’t a social call: The admiral assigns his obnoxious assistant Remmick to ferret out something “wrong” on the ship. It soon becomes obvious that the real focus of their investigation is Captain Picard himself, as Remmick interrogates the staff about his performance in the first season’s greatest hits, as well as several discrepancies in the log.

Wesley and Mordock prove themselves to be the best candidates through each phase of The Federation’s Next Top Cadet, and Wesley even helps the Benzite out with a tricky question—which gives his opponent a slight advantage. But Wesley is nervous about the psychological exam, which is supposed to force applicants to face their worst fears. He’s already made a fool of himself in front of Oliana, so what could it be?

Picard scores some points of his own with Remmick when Wesley’s friend Jake steals a shuttlecraft to run away and join a freighter, upset that he wasn’t chosen to take the Starfleet Academy admission test. The kid screws up and his shuttle ends up on a crash course for the planet, until Picard talks him through a maneuver that enables it to bounce off the atmosphere.

Finally fed up with Quinn and Remmick’s vague investigation, Picard demands an explanation. Remmick reports that there’s nothing wrong on Enterprise: “Except, perhaps, a casual familiarity among the Bridge crew, but mostly that comes from a sense of teamwork, and the feeling of family.” Then he asks Picard for a job, because that’s how networking works in the future. Quinn explains that he suspects people are trying to take down Starfleet from within and he needs people he can trust in positions of power. He offers Picard a promotion to commandant of Starfleet Academy, and Picard promises to give him an answer by that evening.

Wesley passes his psych test: a no-win scenario fabricated to force him to make the difficult choice of leaving a man behind after a devastating explosion in the environmental lab. But Wesley still doesn’t make the cut — Mordock will be going to the Academy, the first Benzite in Starfleet. Better luck next year, Wes!

A run in with Jake helps remind the captain that his place is still on Enterprise; he turns down the promotion, though he promises to support Quinn however he can. Then he consoles Wesley about being a failure:

PICARD: Did you do your best?
PICARD: When you test next year, and you will test next year, do you think your performance will improve?
PICARD: Good. The only person you’re truly competing against, Wesley, is yourself.
WESLEY: Then you’re not disappointed?
PICARD: Wesley, you have to measure your successes and your failures within, not by anything I or anyone else might think. But, if it helps you to know this, I failed the first time. And you may not tell anyone!
WESLEY: You? You failed?
PICARD: Yes. But not the second time.

So the ship will be stuck with Wesley for at least another year. Back on the Bridge, he takes his station at navigation and lays in a course for their next mission, business as usual.


This is another disjointed story that tries to create tension and conflict from the smallest incidents. Part of the problem with “Coming of Age” is that the B-plot only exists to set up a later episode, “Conspiracy,” and it isn’t handled all that well. Only one step above a clip show, Remmick mentions the events of previous episodes in the course of your standard “interrogate a large group of people” montage. I would love to know what program or film first introduced the editing technique used to cut between different questions and responses. It’s effective, but clichéd.

The intrigue surrounding the vague investigation and Quinn’s ominous warnings of Starfleet’s imminent doom are compelling, especially considering the perfect future Roddenberry has created; however, the plotline doesn’t manage to satisfy viewers as it’s essentially a teaser for what’s to come—a lot of buildup for something that doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Personally, I would have preferred Picard to evaluate his friendship with Quinn through these events and come to a stronger realization than, “I should be a starship captain! I can make a difference!” since he’s been doing that all along.

The A-plot of Wesley’s examination fares slightly better. Although we deal with many scenes of students answering technobabblish questions on computer screens, we also get to see just how competent the boy is, and how he behaves among other teens as talented as himself. Whether we believe Wesley or not, he insists that despite his natural ability, he still needs to study, and I felt my sympathy for him sway back in his direction. He handles the situation with the Zaldan remarkably well, and though his psych test might be transparent to viewers, it was interesting to see him deal with that sudden moment of self-awareness. It’s particularly interesting to see Wesley fail at something, and his nurturing relationship with Picard really starts to evolve in this episode.

Although the testing makes for decent enough drama, I had a hard time accepting that Starfleet’s application process is really so competitive. Why are they taking only one applicant from this random planet? What determines where you have to take the test? If the exam is really standardized and selective, why not compare their scores to those of every other exam taker everywhere in the galaxy? I also have to imagine that an acting ensign would have what some would consider an unfair advantage over other candidates, for all the good it does him; it also has to be somewhat embarrassing for a candidate from the Enterprise to not advance to the Academy. I half suspect Wesley lost the deciding points for his shirt.

I was also highly suspicious of the incident with the shuttlecraft. Was Enterprise really unable to move into transporter or tractor beam range in time to save the kid? The whole thing is crafted to give Picard a chance to shine and have a Meaningful Moment with a Troubled Young Man we’ve never seen before, nor will see again. Off to boarding school with him, I think. And I didn’t remember Riker being this pouty and unprofessional. I couldn’t believe it when he sulked, exclaimed “This is very frustrating!” and actually stormed off the Bridge. Well done, Number One.

This is weird, very uneven episode, but I can’t complain too much. It was overall engaging and focused on characters and their relationship more than most episodes have this season. It was, at the very least, an enjoyable diversion for forty-eight minutes; sometimes that’s all it takes, but it’s surprising how often the series fails to deliver even that much in its early seasons.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: I just have never been able to get behind the Starfleet dress uniforms. It’s not so much the length, as the fact that they are shapeless and unflattering, and Picard’s in particular looks like it was slapped together in a few minutes by a drunken seamstress.

Best Line: LA FORGE: “Commander, just having that guy around makes me feel guilty.”

Trivia/Other Notes: A deleted scene shows Wesley and the crew celebrating his sixteenth birthday. Big deal, when you’ve already been driving a starship.

This episode marks the first appearance of a shuttlecraft in the series.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 18 – “Home Soil.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 20 – “Heart of Glory.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.