Rob Watches Star Trek – The Value of Failure

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1:E19. “Coming of Age”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Will Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes
GUEST-STARRING: Ward Costello, Robert Schenkkan
WRITER: Sandy Fries
Mike Vejar
March 14, 1988
As Wesley takes his Starfleet entrance exam, the Enterprise is the subject of a mysterious investigation.

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By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ll admit, despite insisting that I don’t mind the Wesley character, I did groan a little when I realized this episode was largely about him. Young Will Wheaton did have a very punchable face…

This is another “Mary Sue” episode. That’s a damn shame. As it actually could have been really good if the impetus wasn’t there to make Wesley seem so damn perfect. 

The show sees Wesley attempt to pass the Starfleet entrance exam, and ultimately fail. Though he doesn’t fail due to any fault of his own. At least not as far as the viewer can tell. Over the course of the episode we see him being effortlessly smart, generous, kind, and brave. It largely seems that the only reason Wesley doesn’t pass is because he chose to help another candidate during a crucial moment.

I like stories that take a hard look at failure. Not just because I’ve tried and failed a bunch of times myself, but because failure has a lot of value. Our failures shape who we are every bit as much as our successes. Sometimes more. An episode where this apparent young prodigy gives it his all but ultimately comes up short, thus learning to cope with failure, might have been really compelling. Not to mention make for some nice character development.

The episode tries to play that tune. But ironically, it fails. Instead or seeing him struggle, we see Wesley emerge as the likely winner from the start. His only flaw (if any) is that he’s too kind for his own good. Toward the end there’s an attempt at a teachable moment in which Picard tells Wesley he failed at his first attempt at the Starfleet exam as well. But it falls flat. Because Wesley didn’t really fail, did he? He made a sacrifice, thus causing his own failure. It doesn’t add up.

Running parallel with the Wesley plot is a clumsy one about the Enterprise being investigated, which leads to Picard being offered a job as the head of the Starfleet Academy. The only interesting thing that comes out of it is the conversation between Wesley and Picard. The notion of the ultra-strict captain being offered a teaching position seems like a bad fit at first. But the scene where Picard counsels Wesley about failure shows that, despite certain inclinations, he can in fact be a good teacher. That’s an important quality for a leader to have. So it made for some nice insight into Picard.

But overall, this one was a stinker. As is much of season one at large. That’s a big disappointment, as I’m still waiting for this show to live up to all the hype…

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