The opening sequence in Top Gun features Maverick and Goose buddied up with Cougar and Merlin. They are tasked with dealing with a couple of bullying Russian MiGs threatening to breach the personal space of an aircraft carrier. Maverick achieves missile lock on one, and the MiG breaks off, headed “home.” Unfortunately, the situation is opposite for wingman Cougar (John Stockton).
Even though he broke right and high, to “see if he’s alone or not,” and looked like he had a good vantage point to see that there were two planes, right next to each other, passing Maverick, he somehow got one of them on his six; now he’s got a missile lock on him. Maverick flips his plane (and the bird), Goose takes a Polaroid, and they head back to the boat because they’re on fumes. But Cougar freezes.
As Maverick flies 150 miles away, gets everything perfect about his landing, bolts at the last millisecond, and flies 150 miles back to Cougar, we see a man petrified with fear. Did he really think the MiG pilot was serious? He seems overcome with adrenaline as he rips his oxygen mask away, but frozen into non-action.
So, Maverick manages to talk him into a landing pattern, and after some stock footage of F-14 Tomcats dipping their wings haphazardly, he lands. Cut to the Commander sitting at his desk as Cougar enters, and turns in his wings. He says he doesn’t want to orphan his son before he even has a chance to meet him, says he’s lost his edge. Apparently the missile lock put the fear of death into him.
Run that by me again?
This is the guy who would have gotten into Top Gun ahead of Maverick, and while I can understand the “holding on too tight” to family thing completely, here’s where the whole reasoning fails. If he was afraid he was in danger of dying, having just been spooked, but nonetheless freaked out by it, wouldn’t he just want to land the plane? Yeah. He’d be the first to turn that thing around and beat Maverick back to the safety of the ship, where he could get out of the deathtrap that threatens his current existence. As much as I’ve always liked Mr. Stockton (he was also in Losin’ It with Cruise) and Tony Scott, this is a lame, failed mini-character arc.
But at least there’s this tribute: