Plot Synopsis: As Wesley Crusher faces the Starfleet Academy entrance exam, representatives from Starfleet Command conduct an exhaustive investigation into Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here introduces Plot A and plot B well enough: it opens with a great shot of a planet, and Wes consoles his poor sucker of a friend who didn’t qualify to take the Starfleet entrance exams. He beams down while an old buddy of Picard’s, an admiral, beams up with a lackey in tow and asks to speak privately with Picard in a pretty abrupt manner. Plot A is Wesley’s entrance exams into Starfleet Academy, and plot B involves the investigation of the Enterprise crew. Admiral Quinn, an old friend of the captain’s, comes on board with lieutenant commander Remmick, from the Inspector General’s office. Quinn tells Picard in no uncertain terms that there may be something seriously wrong on board the ship and Remick is to be given complete discretion with his investigation. Plot B starts off fairly well and the course of his investigation is pretty interesting. Plot A follows quickly with Wesley meeting the other candidates, of whom only one will be chosen to enter the academy. Plot A is pretty good as we get to see for the first time what the entrance exams are like, and indeed some of the tests are really creative. However plot B may be the stronger of the two upon repeated viewing. Wes completes his exams and doesn’t succeed like we expect him to and Remick’s investigation resolves in vindicating fashion.
Favorite Scenes: There’s an overlooked scene between Wes and Worf that is instructive. Worf finds Wes ruminating about the upcoming psych test and stops to talk to him. He could have come across as a tough-guy two-dimensional character, but instead he opens up a little to Wes and actually gives him some solid advice. Worf gets some needed development, and is humanized a little in talking about the psych test:
Worf: “They were very accurate about everyone I tested with…including myself.”
Wes: “You!? I thought there was nothing that could frighten a Klingon warrior.”
Worf: “Only fools have no fear.”
Picard’s handling of Jake Kurland’s runaway attempt is one of my favorite scenes of the episode even if it is a bit convenient. Picard handles the situation masterfully, and Remick’s reaction to it just as handily. By the time Picard stops Riker from pummeling Remmick the rest of us are thinking about it too, it’s a very nice scene. Later the psych test scene for Wesley is done well and makes logical sense as to what his greatest fear would be. The scene at near the end between Picard and Wes is also pretty good, where Wes just feels like a failure. Several good scenes in a first-season episode, that’s actually something of an accomplishment!
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard gets some development here as more than just a professional officer. He is presented as one who has a lot of the intangibles that it takes to be captain: he has skills in several different areas and really looks out for and feels a personal responsibility for everyone on board, and he deals well with Kurland, Remick and Wesley. In fact this is the first time we see Picard actually able to relate to Wes, which is nice. This episode does more for Picard than perhaps any other in the first season. Wes of course gets a lot of screen time this episode, and he doesn’t come across as annoying. We get to see more than the boy-genius that was being sold for the entire season and it’s nice. Riker doesn’t come across as badly as he did in Angel One, but he still does that annoying arms-under-the armpits thing and just doesn’t seem like he has a lot of self control. Worf, as has been mentioned, gets some needed development in this episode. Tasha, Dr. Crusher, Troi, Geordi and even Data have very little to do in this episode. Robert Schenkkan as Remmick delivers a very solid performance. He presents himself as being professional and driven, and doing his job to the best of his ability. The first time through he’s a character you might love to hate but upon repeated viewing he really gives a balanced performance overall. I think his performance here is why he was invited back for a later episode, Conspiracy. This is in contrast to Estee Chandler who plays Oliana–she does not give a good performance at all, you never forget she’s an actress saying her lines.
Blu Ray Version: Lots of exceptionally clear shots. The planet, the matte painting of Relva VII (originally from a Buck Rogers episode), even the shot of three female officers in the corridor wearing those funky skants are all greatly improved.
Nitpicks: Less than 10 minutes into the episode and Remmick hasn’t even done anything but Riker starts whining to the captain about him “turning the ship upside down.” The audience hasn’t caught up with him, we don’t feel the need to freak out that Riker apparently does. Remmick’s line about Picard being directly responsible for Kurland’s life is unnecessary and almost out of character in a later scene. Remmick oversteps there and I just don’t think he would do that in the middle of a crisis. There is one of those black cards on the back of the bridge at 18:13 and 19:47, but the scene is compelling enough that you would only notice it if you’re looking for it. However Tasha says Kurlan is out of transporter range when he’s in the shuttle–uh, how is that possible since people have been beaming down to the planet? Even if that’s so, I’m pretty sure the Enterprise is capable of moving. Even though I did like that scene the fact that Kurlan is clever enough to steal a shuttle but dumb enough to destroy the engines within 60 seconds of takeoff doesn’t make sense. Also, in a Remmick interrogation scene it did kinda bug me how Troi seemed unable to defend herself.
Overall Impression: I was surprised as I watched it through again this time. It felt pretty good to watch. There were a couple of weaknesses, but overall there isn’t anything terrible about it and there are some nice scenes in it. There is sufficient plot to keep our interest, but it’s really a character-driven episode. It doesn’t have the magic of the two strongest episodes of this season but there is a lot of character development for Picard (who’s my favorite character), and for Wesley too. This might be the first episode where there is a Plot A and plot B that both keep our interest, which is nice to see finally. Also there is no whiff of the original series. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: There was a scene that was cut for time showing Wes celebrating his 16th birthday with the crew. There is no video footage of it that CBS decided to restore, sadly, but here is a page with the script and some photos from the scene in question. This episode begins the first story arc of the series, which concludes in Conspiracy later on this season. Wes does retake his Starfleet entrance exams in the second season episode Samaritan Snare. This is also the first of only four episodes (along with BoBW2, Darmok, Conundrum) where we see the captain’s ready room from outside the ship. This episode was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup for a Series.
Missable/Unmissable? I’d watch it, it’s one of the season one episodes that doesn’t suck. Worth watching if you’re going through season one anyway (and the tie-in for the Conspiracy episode), but not indispensable. The next episode is an even better one, we are entering what is the “sweet spot” of season one for the next few episodes.