A character-heavy episode, full of familiar tropes that add up to little. Starfleet seems much darker than we’ve ever seen it before, in two parallel storylines that intersect only thematically. Wesley, who we know full well isn’t leaving the show, applies to Starfleet Academy, and a grumpy admiral friend of Picard brings aboard an unlikeable prig who interrogates the crew, asking leading questions about events we’ve seen in previous episodes.
After beaming Wesley down to the Starfleet Academy branch campus where the entrance exam happens, the Enterprise apparently has nothing to do but hang around in orbit for what must be several days, since Picard complains that Remmick (the prig) has spoken to “every member of this ship.”
Some clever editing made some of the later interrogation scenes a little less predictable then they might have been, but Roddenberry’s vision of a happy crew with no internal conflicts means we just aren’t for a moment buying the idea that anything’s wrong with Picard, yet the interrogations continue.
I did like Dr. Crusher’s response to prying questions about her feelings about Picard. Remmick is suspects that Crusher may blame Picard for commanding the mission on which her husband died, but Crusher’s response (that Remmick should mind his own business) hints at the romantic tension between her and Picard.
Ultimately we learn that the interrogation was a decoy of sorts, a blind attempt to find any hint that Picard might be corrupt, because Admiral Quinn wants to recruit him into a covert plan to root out a conspiracy at high levels of the Federation, and wants to give him a cover position as head of Starfleet Academy.
Seeing how Starfleet played mind games with Picard before offering him the job, I wasn’t at all surprised to see the kind of mind games they threw at poor Wes in the final phase of his exam, making him face his greatest fear. Based on how Wes reacted when a smart, pretty girl called him cute, I briefly wondered whether his greatest fear might be cooties, but it turned out to be something that Wes has to articulate in dialogue afterwards so that the audience gets it. I also thought maybe his greatest fear would be failure, so that the Academy might have unfairly orchestrated a scenario in which he failed the entrance exam in order to test his character.
Now for the nerdy bits. A C plot in this episode asks us to believe that a civilian teenager can commandeer a shuttlecraft. Some dialogue lampshades the problem — this kid was trained, and Remmick does give Riker crap about it. I have a memory of another time later in the series when somebody else steals a shuttle, and Picard rolls his eyes and says, “Beam it back into its bay,” which implies they have routine procedures for stopping shuttle theft.
The Academy officer says all four of the candidates from the Relva testing station would make fine Starfleet officers, but only one will be admitted. If it’s true that all four are ready to be officers, then why doesn’t Starfleet change the rules and let all four enter the Academy? The answer, of course, is that Wesley is a main character, and the plot requires him him to stay on the Enterprise.
I did like seeing a model of the shuttlecraft — first time we’ve seen one in TNG.
And while Remmick spent a lot of time tapping away randomly on a handheld device, we don’t get a good look at it, but it’s certainly not one of the iconic Trek PADD handheld devices that became so much a part of the show later on.