I saw Menage A Trois last night on TNG, which is the episode where Picard gives Wesley his field promotion to Ensign, complete with cool regular spacesuit and slightly-less-dorky haircut. I'd forgotten the promotion happened in that episode, because, despite fantastic performances from all the actors (especially Majel) the bulk of that story just feels a little too close to slashy fan fiction for me. In my mind, I'd uncoupled the B story about Wesley from the A story about Riker, Troi, Lwaxana, and the Ferengis.
There's a scene in that episode where Wesley thinks he's leaving the Enterprise to go to Starfleet Academy, and as he walks across the back of the bridge, behind Worf and to the turbolift, he turns around and slowly looks at the bridge, you know, sort of taking the whole thing in like he's seeing it for the last time and wants to remember.
When I saw that last night, it reminded me of the first time I went on Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, and how I did exactly the same thing. Art imitating life imitating art.
Most of you who are TNG fans already know this, but it's a cool story that I'll tell anyway: Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek and was a good friend of mine while I worked on the show, was field-promoted to Ensign during World War II, and when Wesley was field-promoted on TNG, Gene came to the bridge one afternoon, gathered the cast and crew together, kicked out the set photographer, and shut down production for a few minutes to present me with the bars he'd received when he was promoted in the real military.
I can connect with that memory right now as if I'm watching it on a television all over again: Gene presents me with his bars, everyone breaks out into applause, and I feel like I really didn't deserve it -- I was just an actor, after all.
I was too young and immature to fully absorb the magnitude of the gesture, but I recall that Gene shook my hand, then pulled me into him for a big hug, and I felt that sense of pride and embarassment that you get when your dad brags on you in front of everyone at the family reunion for making the final out that won the All-City Championship, but you secretly know that you just held up your glove and the ball managed to find its way into the pocket.
I remember that Paramount wanted to make a big publicity deal out of it, and have a camera crew from Entertainment Tonight and a bunch of photographers there, but Gene wanted it to be a private, "family" moment. I always thought that was cool of him, and illustrates how seriously he took that moment; though I wish I had pictures from that day, if there'd been a photographer or film crew there, it would have cheapened the moment. I think Gene knew that and kept it real long before "keeping it real" was a popular pastime on MySpace.