Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep19: Coming Of Age

Coming Of Age: The transition from childhood to adulthood for a young person.
"I failed Captain. I failed you and I failed the Enterprise."
"Ridiculous, did you do your best?"
"The only person you're truly competing against Wesley is yourself. You have to measure your successes and your failures within."
"Only fools have no fear."
I was actually shooting for the colors on Wesley's shirt here.

Alternative rock band Foster The People is perhaps one of my favorite new artists to arrive on the music scene in the past few years alongside Of Monsters and Men. Perhaps it's their ability to create a future sound while sounding entirely retro. That's no small trick. I'm fairly enthusiastic about their sophomore effort, Supermodel (2014). The lead single is a light, breezy, catchy, accessible and deceptively sneaky little grower called Coming Of Age. It doesn't grab you by the throat like Pumped Up Kicks (2010), but it grows with you like Star Trek: The Next Generation does in good time.

The Coming Of Age concept is always a favorite for young and old. The Wonder Years (1988-1993). Stand By Me (1986; also with Wil Wheaton). Freaks And Geeks (1999-2000). The Man In The Moon (1991). You remember them all and you love to re-experience it all over.

This crucial rite of passage to maturation and the understanding of the changes that go along with it have forever fascinated the human race.  Even as adults we enjoy film and television that takes that risk in attempting to make sense of this special period in a person's life and we embrace it all over with elated abandon.  We never grow tired or old of experiencing all of that newness again. Seeing and experiencing things, even aboard a starship, through a young person's eyes like Wesley Crusher is somehow always cherished no matter how old we grow.

With his whole life ahead of him young man Wesley Crusher takes on the challenge of gaining acceptance into Starfleet Academy in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 19, Coming Of Age as he hopes to become part of Starfleet Academy.

Franchise mainstay Mike Vejar has stood behind the camera on some memorable episodes of all four franchise arms of Star Trek as well as Babylon 5 (1993-1998). He has a terrific visual eye for a shot, but can he help inject life into Season One's run of flagging scripts?

The Crusher story is just one component of the Coming Of Age installment along with Picard and crew under scrutiny by Starfleet officers in the form of an investigation that will have a ripple effect and ramifications later in the series. Picard has no knowledge of the meaning behind the investigation, but must cooperate with Starfleet with the review headed up by old friend and colleague Admiral Gregory Quinn.

Upon recently viewing both Season Two and Season Three of ST:TNG, Season One's deficiencies are notable. First, the scripts and dialogue are lacking in areas like logic and flow.  The dialogue is sometimes less than convincing in quality and leaves a strong cast with weak material. Second, there is still a subtle difference in chemistry between cast members here versus Season Two and beyond. The rhythms are off, no doubt partly due to the sometimes poor dialogue they are forced inhabit combined with what direction the creators wanted to take these characters.

I shouldn't be too hard on Season One and I do appreciate certain aspects of this debut season as the team, actors and writers alike, iron out the wrinkles.  To make a fair comparison, as the writer here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, sometimes looking back at some of my earlier entries can put a wince in my face and some wrinkles on my forehead. And I don't need any more of those. I'd like to think, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, there has been plenty of growth and improvement in my own approach here. Getting it right out of the box is a rare achievement, and just so we understand I'm not casting stones (more like water balloons), because I had plenty of growth ahead of me and still do.

I have to give the nod to Star Trek: The Original Series, Stargate Universe and Firefly for achieving geek nirvana from the start. Others like Babylon 5, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stargate SG-1 certainly needed a little fine-tuning. Your humble blogger is part of that latter group. But, we're in good company.

Fittingly, Coming Of Age, moves the series that much closer to its groove. Patrick Stewart moves much closer to the qualities of his role that would become exemplary and a pleasure to watch in the coming seasons. He is in fine form here offering his seasoned and steady wisdom without coming off stuffy. He and the rest of the cast are much more in command of their roles, and while still a little bumpy, are indeed moving in and out of one another's sphere of influence within the show with a more natural, even effortless flow.

Coming Of Age also does a fine job of balancing two tales and a touch of mythology in the history of Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Wesley Crusher and Wesley's deceased father placing a focus on the difficulty of choices and hard decisions in the world of Starfleet.  As a result, Wesley is enlightened and grows as a result like all of the best stories that discover a truth in the maturation process. Coming of age for Wesley is also coming to terms with certain realities regarding those he loves and respects.

The story also foreshadows events to come in the form of ST:TNG, S1, Ep25, Conspiracy. In fact, the investigation plot of this episode feels a bit awkward and slightly unreasonable and without merit - a "charade" as Picard calls it. Still, the discomfort of that piece of the show, which would normally leave me uneasy with the script, based on much of the qualitative Season One evidence to date, can be logically explained to a degree when linked to the upcoming Conspiracy story. Coming Of Age, taken on its own, doesn't quite measure up concerning the investigative portion of the story. It just doesn't sit quite right, but given forthcoming events definitely makes a good deal more sense.

Admiral Gregory Quinn's "I see conspiracies everywhere" is a little easier to swallow in keeping with old friend Picard, but seeing episodes down the road does have a way of putting some of these earlier ST:TNG entries into context.

Wesley faces adversity, especially after his successes at the opening of the episode whereby Wesley is accepted to take the Starfleet exam while another friend is not. Adversity is another way in which we grow. Picard, too, suffers his own adversity. How both young and old respond to those challenges, and the rewards they provide any of us, is how we all handles with transitions in our lives. Either we have the character to deal with them and grow are we do not learn.

Coming Of Age offers a nice presentation of those lessons even if not the most sound or enthralling of ST:TNG entries. Like the process itself, Coming Of Age demonstrates the series growing pains, but also highlights a series moving from weakness to strength.

One of the show's great strengths, for me, is the wisdom often imparted through the calming voice of Picard as a man of reason. It is indeed a quality bestowed on this Captain that is truly one of the great highlights of the show and one that really shines with each new entry as we go. Unlike the earlier, preachier installments, Picard discovers his humanity and demonstrates the beauty of our flaws and how we learn from them. Coming Of Age is a terrific example of the new Picard.

One scene in the final minutes between a disappointed Wesley and a sagely Picard recognizes Picard's own failings offering Wesley comfort. Wesley, in a way, is comforted in the knowledge that Picard too failed entrance into Starfleet Academy his first time. This gives Wesley perspective and understanding and, in turn, provides him with a source of strength and inspiration.  It is a beautiful moment essentially lifting Wesley up, like all young people need, and reinforcing in them of their ability to overcome failures and grow and improve through belief from within. Picard is also a splendid role model in this entry providing father-like guidance to young people that are not his own children.  And that is how it should be.

After viewing Season Two, and seeing a more mature Number One sporting facial hair, another form of growth with the coming of age of the series, I thought perhaps the series pivoted with the growth of that beard, but viewing this entry again one begins to realize that's not so and Season One continues to show maturing signs of life even without Commander William Riker's beard.

"Then shall we continue with our mission?" asks Picard of Wesley. "Yes sir," speaks a bold Wesley Crusher confident in his future despite setbacks.

It would appear there is some hope to mine the allegorical beauty that is ST:TNG's trek into new frontiers as the series itself is coming of age too.

Coming Of Age: C+.
Writer: Sandy Fries.
Director: Mike Vejar.


le0pard13 said...

Another wonderful episode dissection, G. Keep'em coming, my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Gracias Mike. And where else can you get Foster The People and Star Trek in the same post? :)

John Kenneth Muir said...


Great review of another mediocre season one TNG entry.

There are some nice moments in this episode and you tag them, but the general feeling is just kind of "meh."

This is another soap opera story when the crew should be out space adventuring...

Finally, I just want to add: we all grow and develop. The more we write, the better we get.

I look back at some of my writing in the 1990s (and even 2000s) and think...I could have done that better! D'oh!

We are all, always, coming of age.

What's nice about this episode is the window into Picard's character.

He wasn't always the poised, elder statesman. He too started somewhere...else.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Definitely average when you consider what's to come. No question about it.

It's notable how Picard is coming along, but in more general terms, I like how you frame the fact Picard started out somewhere else too.

We are always growing as you say.
Thanks John

El Vox said...

Of Monsters and Men--I was unaware of them until last night when I watched the credits to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which iirc played one of the cuts to the ending credits. I enjoyed the movie a lot as well.

Re: Coming of Age--that's one creepy alien, eh? When I was introduced to Westley's character it was a bit of an eye roll for me--the genus child, I don't know if he felt like a comic book cliche to me or what, and I still can't say he's my favorite character on Next Gen, but I had to grow into him, and he's okay.