Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: Coming of Age

Airdate: March 14, 1988
18 of 176 produced
18 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is in orbit of Relva VII to deliver Wesley Crusher to his entrance exam for Starfleet Academy. While there, Captain Picard meets an old friend, Admiral Gregory Quinn. Instead of a friendly reunion, however, the admiral, with the assistance of the uptight Commander Remmick, is here to convene an inquisition on Picard's ability to command. How will Wesley and Captain Picard face their respective tests?

"It's a good thing you're cute, Wesley. Otherwise, this really crappy matte painting would be distracting me the whole day."

Kevin: This is another in an early line of episodes that focus more on character development instead of science fiction elements. I don't mind them for the want of a sci-fi plot, as it is nice to see the characters developed enough to sustain a plot. It's an important turning point in any series, and if Naked Now occurred here, I may have enjoyed it more.

Matthew: I agree that not every show has to be sci-fi heavy. In TOS, we had courtroom stories that revolved around the deeds and misdeeds of characters. That's fine. The problem here is that the A and B story are essentially completely unrelated. What saves them for me is that the B story got a nice follow-up in "Conspiracy," and the A story fleshes out some questions about joining the Academy. But without knowing that follow-ups are coming, it just seems like strangely disconnected editorial housekeeping, as opposed to a functioning, self-contained drama. The teaser, for instance, is pretty weak: Wesley is taking a test? An Admiral wants to talk to Picard? How EXCITING!

Kevin: The plotline revolving around Picard and Quinn is pretty satisfying overall. The crew's responses were in character and I loved that so many plots from earlier in Season 1 were mentioned. There must be some chemical like serotonin keyed to science fiction continuity, where every time a prior event is mentioned I feel a little burst of happiness, like the game in "The Game." I also like how they left the real story behind the investigation vague. It really made me eager for the eventual payoff in "Conspiracy."

Matthew: However disconnected it was, it is undeniably dramatic to have a hard-ass character come in and accuse your main characters of malfeasance. And instead of situations on a show like M*A*S*H, where the misdeeds have to be located within the same episode (thus making it feel cheap and diminishing the sense that anything might actually come of it), this story is bolstered by referencing scads of previous plotlines. I do remember never worrying that Picard would take the job at Starfleet Academy, so that seemed kind of throwaway. It would have really been incredibly cool and ambitious if he had taken the job, and then he and Riker (under another captain who had been compromised) had uncovered the invasion plot from separate angles and reconnected in a blaze of awesomeness. Ah, well.

Kevin: Wesley's story was a little less satisfying, though more for incidental nitpick issues. Seeing Wesley fail and the moment with Picard afterword were very nice for both characters. I just don't buy there is only one seat for the Academy. At all. If these guys are half as talented as the resumes indicate, Starfleet should snap them up now to make sure they don't commit to another career. Also, Wesley was demonstrably better than Mordock in every test we saw. Wesley wasn't beaten by talent; he was beaten by a plot device.

Matthew: Agreed in spades. It seems vastly inefficient to have only 4 candidates travel light years to this place on a distant planet, a base whose only purpose seems to be to house this test, have random extras walk down the halls in order to pretend to be or do this or that. It just defies belief, both that the test would be so selective, and that the testing facility would be so elaborate for such a selective test. And as far as Mordock goes, it sure as hell looked like he was cheating. He looks over his shoulder for a long few seconds at Wesley's answers.

Kevin: One more nitpick: the psych test. They have to do more harm than good  with their glorified version of punk'd. Being told after the fact the gun wasn't loaded doesn't make the PTSD go away. How far does this test go? What if someone's deepest fear were being sexually assaulted...again? There has to be a better way to test crisis response.

Matthew: I agree, both for the reason you mention and for the simple fact that it would be really difficult to tailor the test to each person without a holodeck. Is this whole planet a chamber of horrors designed for 3 or 4 teenagers to come for a visit and have their nightmares acted out by a standing troupe of actors? Why, knowing that this is the case, would the "psych test" even fool Wesley?

Kevin: My only other complaint is the society implications of Jake Kurland's failure. Given that one person from the Enterprise gets to compete for one spot on a planet, Starfleet seems a pretty exclusive club. I understand that there may be some self selection because these are Starfleet families, but no one even seems to contemplate a viable life outside of Starfleet.

Matthew: Well, you know, Kevin, that I am interested in following up on Kurland's story and really digging in to life in the Federation outside of Starfleet. We get nothing beyond a few lines of dialogue that suggest some things. But this is not developed.  One extra note - Picard wears a dress uniform without any rank insignia on his way to meet Quinn. Given Roddenberry's prohibition against pockets, there is no reason to believe Picard was going to pop them on en route.


Kevin: All around, this was pretty good acting. Quinn was very admiral-y. Remmick was the perfect uptight officious jerk who is actually just doing his job. I also liked Wesley. Wesley is best when he acts like an actual teenager, albeit a gifted one.

Matthew: What's nice about this episode is that it gives every member of the cast a chance to play against Remmick. Gates McFadden was very good and nasty, Michael Dorn displayed some nice comic chops (albeit in the straight man mode), and so on. Frakes was a little over the top in his disdain, but maybe that has something to do with the rank of his character compared to Remmick.

Production Values

Kevin: Relva VII suffers from the same graininess as its Season 1 brethren. I like the testing center. It had lots of rooms and hallways. I liked the scene of Jake's shuttle bouncing off the atmosphere, too. The testing graphics were also pretty neat Okudagrams.

Matthew: I have to say, Relva VII was one of the chintziest planet sets they've had thus far. The matte painting depicting the extended hallway was AWFUL, the computer terminals were clunky (despite the nice Okudagrams), the exterior backdrop was unconvincing. I'm not saying I was completely pulled out of it, because the story was enough to keep me with the characters. But it didn't ADD anything to the mise en scene. On some other production notes, Remmick's calculator was silly looking. Is it some sort of court reporting typewriter, with 3 buttons, that beep irritatingly when pressed? This is not a "technology unchained" design in my book.


Kevin: I like this episode. There are a lot of good character moments. Though, without even a hint of science fiction or some really bigger character moments, this comes in at a 3. Like "When the Bough Breaks", it is a solid episode that evidences Season 1's locating of its groove.

Matthew: Well, this one is a tough limit case for me. There is almost no sci-fi, as you said. The story itself is quite disjointed, and at least half unsatisfying. The production values are cheap, in my opinion. So why am I going to give it a 3? Well, the acting was fine (though not great), and there's something that works just well enough to keep me entertained. Maybe it's because it is reminiscent of a high school story or SpaceCamp or something. Maybe it's the tension with Remmick. Whatever it is, this is the lowest 3 I think there is. But it's still in the big fat mediocre middle of the bell curve. So that's a 6.


  1. How far does this test go? What if someone's deepest fear were being sexually assaulted...again?

    I would be willing to bet that most of the writers for this show were Men and lets be honest we(men that is) have historically been willfully ignorant about the horrors of sexual assult. I assume the writers just never thought of that as a possibility. But you make a very good point. I too also always found it weird that A)only one person got picked and that Wesley for some reason could not legacy his way in. B) Would actors really consent to being trapped under burning equipment?(and why aren't they making movies then:-)

  2. HD highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    Nothing sticks out as spectacular, but several problem areas come off looking better. The shuttle re-entry looks much better, as does the Relva matte painting. There were lots of facial close-ups in this episode that looked quite nice.

    The hallway matte painting looked just as bad as before, perhaps moreso. It is now obvious in Picard and Riker's ready room scene that Riker's reflection is not speaking while we hear his voice.

    Random note: This episode has one of the most "dramatic doorways" ever, as Remmick pauses not one inch from the door to turn and mention his desire to transfer to the Enterprise.