This is a thing that comes up frequently. Someone wonders why Picard put Wesley, who was a teenager, at the helm of the Enterprise.
Surely, the argument goes, there are more qualified, experienced, adults on board who deserve the spot.
This most recently came across my Event Horizon, thusly:
“… The better question is how did this completely unqualified child get to actively pilot the flagship of the federation while others had to attend the academy for years and get multiple placements before even being considered.”
I NEVER respond, but today I felt like Wesley deserved someone to speak up for him, so why not me?
“Okay, so. Disclosure: I am the actor who played Wesley. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about exactly this, because angry nerds have been yelling at me about it for 30 years.
“Remember that a being of extraordinary power and ability pulled Picard aside and said, “this kid is special. I can’t tell you exactly why, but it’s really important that you nurture and encourage him to the best of your ability.” And Picard listened. He heard that this being, who had literally just taken them where no one has gone before, and he followed his advice.
“And that eventually leads Wesley to become one of the Travelers.
“I’m sure that there are plenty of officers on the Enterprise who share your opinion. They’re pissed that this kid was promoted. They’re pissed that he’s a nepo baby.
“But they don’t know everything that Picard knows. And Picard is the captain of the ship, so he gets to make that call. And he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone.”
And what I didn’t add there but will add here is: The Traveler from Tau Ceti made it very clear to Picard that Wesley and Beverly must never know that Wesley is special, the crew and everyone else on the Enterprise must never know. So all of the sudden, Wesley is given this thing he dreams of, and he absolutely knows he hasn’t yet earned it. How do you think this makes Wesley feel? I mean, we never saw it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist within the character and actor who played him. He wants to make Picard and his mom proud of him more than anything, and Picard promoted him? HOLY CRAP DREAM COME TRUE! But … wait. What’s going on? His peers are jealous of him and what he gets to do. The adults he is around when he isn’t on the Bridge quietly resent him for what they believe is unearned privilege. There are a a thousand people on the Enterprise, and Wesley probably knows maybe two dozen of them. Everyone else who sees him? All they see is the nepo baby, and Wesley knows it. He has MASSIVE imposter syndrome, and spends a lot of his time trying to understand why Captain Picard believed in him and gave him a chance. He can’t understand why that isn’t enough for anyone else. It’s Captain Picard, man! He made the call! Doesn’t that count for something?
Wesley’s dream has come true, and he can’t even celebrate it. Yeah, he’s a full ensign, a Starfleet officer … but he’s a kid who has never been to the academy and learned what being a Starfleet officer means, how to behave and exist around other Starfleet officers who have also gone through everything it takes to get a posting on the federation’s flagship. He is wearing the uniform without having gained the experience that he needs to fill it. He doesn’t know that Picard and the Traveler did this. He just knows that, now, he has to show up and prove that he actually does deserve it.
And this kid has never been in a place where it’s safe and okay to make mistakes and learn from them. And he knows that. At fifteen. It’s a lot. Now this kid has to carry around with him not just the responsibility that comes with the chair and the rank, but he also has to exist on the Enterprise where he passes people in the corridors, sees people in the canteen, waits in line to use the transporter with all these other officers who have never met him, and DEEPLY resent him for something he didn’t do. Wesley feels that resentment every single time, and it hurts like fucking hell. He will spend the rest of his time in Starfleet trying to prove to everyone that he was and is worthy of the promotion. And every single time he sits at the CONN, he knows that if he fucks up even a little bit, everyone he loves could die. He carries that with him, every second of every day. He feels it in every judgmental look, every whispered conversation, every challenge from a bully who has had one too many drinks. And when he doesn’t hear it from someone else, he hears it from a voice in his head. He can’t escape it, until he finally does and it all makes sense.
And, thirty years of Terran time later, after he’s spent more time being a Traveler, seeing and doing things you wouldn’t believe than he ever spent as a human, he’ll hear someone complaining about how he got that promotion someone else really deserved way back when, and it will hurt all over again, because the body remembers.
Ask me how I know.