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Saving Midshipman Crusher

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As mentioned in a recent post, I've had an unexpected stretch of vacation time since breaking my ankle and leg, and I've spent a fair amount of that time hitting the Trek.  My personal sweet spot is DS9 in its entirety (although I've been skipping the Lwaxana Troi episodes); TNG Seasons 4-7; and movies II-III plus "First Contact."  I think part of my preference from DS9 stems from a greater attention to How Things Work.  I like the sense that heading to Ops is just another day at the office, where you get a cup of raktajino and push paper.  I like the sense that they really are overworked and understaffed and sometimes have conflicting agendas.  

During my recent rewatch, I've been particularly impressed with Nog's transition from troubled youth to Starfleet officer, and I've been thinking about how this contrasts with the mishandling of Wesley Crusher.  Part of Wesley's trouble was just good old-fashioned Early Installment Weirdness.  Taking the Chief Medical Officer's son, dubbing him Acting Ensign, and putting him on the bridge in his comfy rainbow sweater does not really sync up with how Starfleet (or Picard) seems to work in later seasons.  Having a mystical alien struggle to communicate in terms we can understand just how extraordinary Wes really is does not make things better.  

I liked what the did with Wes in later guest appearances --- making him promising yet fallible, ultimately leaving Starfleet for a life more suitable to Space Mozart.  Still, it's jarring to see him in this deleted scene from Nemesis --- he made LT and he's junior engineer on Riker's new ship and he likes girls and he's about thirty years old and not as good looking at that age as Q led us to believe.  They could've at least made him Riker's First Officer, and had him act like a grown-ass man.  Wes could've done this scene in Season 1.

Too late now, but I've gotten some inspiration from reading Patrick O'Brian's wonderful Aubrey/Maturin series, about the British Navy of the Napoleonic Era.  Back in the day, a prospective naval officer went to sea at age 12 or so, rated as a midshipman.  They were apprentice officers, given considerable responsibility over the crew (oftentimes veteran sailors 2 or 3 times their age) while learning their math and navigation and Latin.  Once they had their time in, they were tested before the promotion board.  If successful, they would be promoted to Lieutenant.  If not . . . well, some of the most pitied creatures in the fleet were midshipmen  thirty or forty years old, with no chance of promotion and nowhere else to go.

Maybe the distinction between "Acting Ensign Crusher" and "Midshipman Crusher" is a slight one, but I think it would have been much more palatable to establish that Starfleet has several routes to becoming an officer besides four years at the Academy, one being the Midshipman Program.  As a midshipman, you can stand a watch or man a duty station like any other officer, but you also spend a lot of time in the holodeck classroom and gaining hands-on supervised experience doing every job on the ship.  I grant you, they did some of this on TNG with Wesley, but just making this a regular program instead of something we are doing special for Cosmic Messiah Wesley sits a lot better, doesn't it?  And there could've been a whole "Lower Decks" type set of recurring characters --- in keeping with naval tradition, there's a "midshipman's berth" where all the mids bunk together.  Teenagers in space.  It writes itself.            

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