Star Trek: The Next Generation – Encounter at Farpoint [1.1]

The Enterprise, newly commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, heads to Farpoint Station at the edge of the explored part of the galaxy, tasked to discover how the natives were able to build the perfect Starfleet facility so quickly.  On their way, they are intercepted by the immensely powerful being Q, who uses the Farpoint mission to put the human race on trial for being ignorant savages.  Picard and his new crew discover that the Farpoint facility is actually a powerful alien creature that can convert energy into matter, and is being held prisoner by the local population.  They manage to free it so that it can rejoin its mate in space, thus apparently passing Q’s trial.

Written by Gene Roddenberry & DC Fontana.  Directed by Corey Allen

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Comments:
Right from the get-go, it’s hard not to see that the characters, designs and costumes for this episode look pretty dated, even compared to how I remember later Next Generation episodes appearing.  The biggest offenders are Troi’s unattractive outfit and hairstyle, and Wesley’s super-80’s sweater.  A lot of the things that get mocked or laughed at with the series show up here – Worf going on about being a Klingon warrior, Data not understanding simple things, Troi and her empathic powers, Wesley’s precociousness.  And yet once the episode settles in beyond all these things, it actually holds up pretty well. It’s an okay plot full of a lot of Gene Roddenberry-style science fiction morality storytelling, and gives each of the characters an introduction, though some are stronger than others.

Picard, Riker, and Data come off the best here, and seem to be basically the characters we know, although Picard does seem a lot grouchier than I remember him being later.  He’s pretty awkward with everyone else, including Riker and especially Dr. Crusher.  Actually, that last one really surprised me.  I always remembered them being old friends, but it’s evident here that they have had very little contact with each other for a long time, and there’s no real hint of any attraction between them.

Watching Picard and Riker get used to each other and their command styles is a nice touch.  The potential tension between them over Riker’s history of disobeying orders in order to protect his Captain, followed by Picard’s acknowledging his discomfort with children, and ordering Riker to help him present a congenial face to the families on the ship, are some of the best character bits of the episode.

The first of what will be many cool Patrick Stewart moments in the series comes when he defends humanity in Q’s crazy court, particularly when he sits down after being ordered to stand up.  It shows his guts and boldness.  The scene also gives Picard the chance to do what he does best:  try to talk down the unstoppable enemy with a mixture of sheer force of personality and humble admission of humanity’s failings.  The character in those scenes shows some real potential.

On the other hand, Tasha, Troi, and Worf definitely come across the worst in the story.  Troi is so awkward at seeing Riker again (to be fair, he is as well), that it’s impossible to imagine this wouldn’t be picked up upon by the Captain, or anyone else with a brain.  Tasha spends a lot of her time alternating between bratty emotional outbursts and standing around doing nothing (although she fairs better during the Farpoint sections of the story).  And Worf makes a feeble attempt at character development when he is ordered to take command of the saucer section of the ship, and then gives it up.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Dr. Crusher and liked her in this story.  Even Wesley doesn’t seem too bad here as an enthusiastic kid, and he has a great line to Riker:  “If you’re wondering about Mom, Commander Riker, she’s not unfriendly, she’s just shy around men she doesn’t know.”

Of course Q makes his debut here, and will show up a lot more in this series.  He seems very silly when he first appears, with his “thou’s” and so on.  But it’s redeemed when he starts changing appearance different eras of human military history.  And the image of him as a drugged out space explorer, as odd as it looks, is particularly interesting.

His appearances later in the story, and the entire conclusion to the whole “trial” story, are pretty weak.  Q just seems to pop in to talk condescendingly to the humans and to give obviously bad advice in a pretty feeble attempt to entrap Picard.  Picard, for his part, basically just ignores Q, and then smugly tells him off.  It’s a clear case of the trope “Omnipotence is stupid” and doesn’t do the episode, the character, or the series any favors.

Shout Outs to the Past
Of course, other than the fact that this is a Star Trek  series featuring the adventures of the Enterprise, and including a Klingon character, there is the specific scene featuring DeForest Kelley as Admiral McCoy – a brief but well-written cameo, with some good dialogue between him and Data.  It will be years before another character from the Original Series will show up in Next Generation.

Anticipating the Future
• There is mention of the Ferengi, who are at odds with Starfleet, who are also described as eating their associates, although that might be exaggeration on Picard’s part.  They’ll make their debut in just a couple of episodes.

• Of course, Q will show up many more times, including later this season, but the courtroom scene that is seen here is specifically referenced in the last episode of Next Generation, “All Good Things…”

• The encounter between Riker and Data on the holodeck, where Data is whistling, is referred back to all the way in Star Trek : Nemesis – the last appearance of these characters.

• It’s nice to see Colm Meaney right there in the pilot episode, playing an unnamed “conn” officer (known as “Helm” in the original series, this seems to basically be the ship’s pilot).  Of course he’ll become more and more important as the Star Trek franchise continues.

• There are a number of character backstory elements that briefly hinted at here but not explored until later in the series.  This includes the history between Troi and Riker, the death of Wesley’s father (which is never fully explored, but is expanded upon), the origins of Data, and Worf’s history, as well as the current position of the Klingon Empire within the Next Generation status quo.

Funniest Awkward Data Moment

Guest Cast
Michael Bell, who plays Zorn, the leader of the Bandi people who “created” the Farpoint facility, is famous for doing a lot of voice work in cartoons and video games.  He’s best known to me as Duke from the GI Joe series, and Lance from Voltron.

Observations
• The bridge of the Enterprise-D is insanely huge, giving lots of room for people to walk and stand around, all in anticipating of the next 7 years of drama.  The Battle Bridge set looks a bit more like what I’d actually imagine the bridge of a starship to be like.  The forward bridge chairs seem like they lean back quite a long way and it appear to be quite  awkward for posture.

• One of the strangest looking things I see in this episode, and don’t remember appearing again, is the image of male crew members walking around in what looks like short skirts.  Some sort of attempt to balance out the potential sexism of the original series?

• The saucer separation (at maximum warp) isn’t as long as I remembered, but it’s still pretty tedious, and I’m glad they didn’t do it too often.  The reconnection is even more boring.  Both maneuvers are treated as extremely perilous (one because it’s happening while the ship is at warp speed, the other because Riker is doing it “manually”.  Picard doesn’t seem the care while the rest of the crew seems on the verge of freaking out.  In both cases it goes off without a hitch, and really doesn’t seem to involve doing anything but pressing a few buttons.

• Q apparently changes history at one point, or at least changes O’Brien’s (as he’ll come to be known) memories.  When the senior staff are whisked off the battle bridge to the trial, they are sitting still, and not on their way to Farpoint.  But when they return, they are on course for Farpoint, and have been so for some time, according to O’Brien.

• Apparently, Geordi has been in pain all his life because of his use of the visor.  I don’t remember ever that referenced again, but I could be wrong.

• As I skipped through several chapters forward on the DVD at one point, I found that three chapters in a row all started with the same shot of the Enterprise flying from screen left to right in front of the planet.

• Riker’s reaction when Groppler Zorn is kidnapped away suddenly is pretty slow.  I guess that standing still during a beaming effect was still a necessary for the affordable technology of the day?

• I remember it being noted at the time that the dynamic between Riker and Data was popular with fans, as it reminded people of that between Kirk and Spock.  That is definitely true here, but over the series that relationship wasn’t developed particularly strongly, with a lot more focus being given to Data and Picard, which was quite a different dynamic.

• Funniest Awkward Data Moment:  I don’t remember how long this goes on for, but there seem to be a lot of “played for laughs” Data moments in these early episodes of the series that I’ve reviewed so far.  In this episode, it’s pretty funny sort of meta-awareness Data interrupts himself with the realization that he “seems to be commenting on everything.”

• There is no opening teaser, and the opening credits are slightly different, as they don’t include the characters each actors play (while on the other hand the guest star credits d0).  And the ending credits scroll rather than appear in separate frames.  The music quickly became known to fans as the Star Trek:  The Next Generation theme, but an arrangement had previously been used for the title theme of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.

• The image of the two space jellyfish stroking tentacles at the end is a bit too silly to stand, but it doesn’t last long.

Dialogue High Point
I don’t know for sure, but I anticipate that Picard will have most of these over the course of the next seven years of episodes, simply because Patrick Stewart is so good at delivering his dialogue.  He gets a fair few good lines here, especially in the trial scene and when facing off with Q, but my favorite is this one, spoken by Picard after his resolution to carry on as normal in the face of Q’s threats.

“If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”

This line, as much as any other, really sums up the whole ethos of Star Trek in this era.

Previous Post:  Star Trek:  The Next GenerationNext Episode:  The Naked Now
Season One SummarySeason One Essential Viewing

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Encounter at Farpoint [1.1]

  1. I’m late getting around to commenting on this. Oh well.

    I disagree about Riker’s character here being much of an indication of his future character. In the first season, he’s trying to be Kirk. He’s very macho, manly-man, stiff. Once he grows the beard, he becomes very different. A lot more laid-back, friendlier, funnier.

    This was a good pilot episode, and a mediocre overall episode.

  2. Well, I am watching these in order for the first time in a long time – maybe I don’t remember Riker as well as I think I do. But I think what we see here of Riker could easily be interpreted as the officer still settling into his new role, as much as anything else. Picard also has a lot less warmth than we’ll see later, but that also feels consistent with where the character is at.

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