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The Trek Nation - Encounter at Farpoint

Encounter at Farpoint

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 16, 2007 - 10:34 PM GMT

See Also: 'Encounter At Farpoint' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Captain Jean-Luc Picard takes command of the new Galaxy-class U.S.S. Enterprise-D, headed for its first mission to Farpoint Station to establish friendly relations and learn how the Bandi built the energy-efficient station. Before arriving, however, an omnipotent alien called Q intercepts the ship, accuses humans of atrocities and insists that they should go back from whence they came. When Picard refuses, Q puts them on trial and threatens to sentence them to death. Sending the saucer section of the ship to safety, Picard and most of his senior officers take command of the battle bridge and quickly find themselves in a recreation of a 21st century courtroom. An impassioned Tasha Yar argues that Starfleet saved her from a wretched life on a remote world, but Q is unimpressed, reluctantly agreeing to use the Enterprise's mission to Farpoint to let the humans prove themselves.

Arriving at the station and picking up Commander Riker and Doctor Crusher, the captain learns of the enigmatic, almost magical abilities of the Bandi to turn requests into reality. While the crew explores the station, an unidentified alien arrives and begins to fire on the city near Farpoint where its designers live. Q appears to encourage an attack on the alien, but Counselor Troi's sense of a being in pain makes the crew realize that the "station" is in fact another alien, trapped and seeking to reunite with its mate. Picard orders an energy burst to strengthen the wounded alien and watches the two strange life forms float away into space. Q lets the crew go, though he suggests that Picard may see him again.


Analysis: I'll tell you the truth: this is only the second time I have watched "Encounter at Farpoint" in its entirety, the first being its premiere nearly 20 years ago. During the seven years that it was on the air, I learned to appreciate and admire many things about Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I did not immediately take to it as I did Deep Space Nine and Voyager. My attachment to the characters grew only very slowly. It took Nemesis - which I did not see until its DVD release, when it was clear there would not be another Next Gen film and Enterprise already showed signs of an aborted run - for me to realize that I had finally grown to love the Star Trek that is, for many people just a bit younger than I am, the definitive series.

As a lifelong fan who grew up watching Kirk and Spock with my father, it's hard to forget my disappointment with the beginning of the new show. I didn't care so much about the story, because some of my favorite original Trek episodes were quite mediocre in that department; it was the crew who let me down. In particular, I was not impressed with Jean-Luc Picard, and watching the pilot again, it's easy to see why. He's almost painfully stiff. Where Kirk would have turned on charm and then moral outrage for Q, Picard's reactions are wary and repressed. He lets his crew do much of the thinking for him...and not the logical android so much as the quivering empath. Sure, it got to be annoying over time that Sulu, Uhura, Chekov and often Scotty rarely got anything to do on the original Enterprise, but in the first few episodes we needed to see the captain established strongly...something at which Next Gen failed greatly for me.

The female characters were another big disappointment for me. I was so sure that Star Trek of the late 1980s would have made great strides since Janice Rand and Janice Lester, but it isn't immediately obvious in the pilot that that's the case. There's a female security officer, but she's almost immediately overshadowed by her Klingon second, and her big scene in "Encounter at Farpoint" involves a near-hysterical rant to Q about how Starfleet officers swooped in like knights in shining armor to save her from a miserable youth. There's a female doctor, but she's defined first and foremost as a widow and a mother - Picard is ready to throw her off the ship, so certain is he that she won't be able to face him many years after her husband's death - and her way of coping with a new first officer's meddling is to go shopping. And then there's Troi. I should mention that, by the era of Enterprise, I had come to adore Troi so much that her presence in the prequel finale didn't bother me in the least...but in this first outing, her major moments involve weeping in pain and telling an ex-lover telepathically that she's still not over him.

Data makes a wonderful first impression as the android who wants to be more human, and LaForge's unusual abilities are intriguing, but it's a bit odd when they are both upstaged by a teenage whiz kid who knows as much about the ship as the senior officers. (I know that it's fashionable to claim to have despised Wesley from the outset, but I didn't; I thought the character was ill-used and often at the expense of other characters, just like Seven of Nine later would be on Voyager, but the idea of a geeky teen genius never bothered me.) As for Riker, he makes almost no impression in the pilot; he's a generic good-looking wanna-be Kirk. Nowadays I love Riker almost as much as I love Troi - my fantasy post-Voyager series was always The Will and Deanna Show - so it's really something for me to see how unimpressively he comes across in the pilot.

There are some things that I really like about "Encounter at Farpoint" and maybe that's where my focus should have been all along. It's clearly following right in the idealistic footprints of its predecessor, leaping right in with one of those all-powerful aliens Kirk was always facing down and having to prove that humans of the future would treat each other and everyone else better than humans of the present. Even though most of Enterprise's first season has better writing than most of The Next Generation's, the older show appeals to me more and more...this is what I think of as the core of Star Trek, its meaning and value over its long television history. When Q takes hostages to put on trial as representatives of humanity, one is half-Betazoid, one was not raised on Earth and one is an android...in its own way this crew is more diverse than Kirk's.

Yet the idealism has to be engaging, and to this day, this first episode simply doesn't grab me. This Q doesn't have the delicious charisma he will later turn on Picard in "Tapestry" and on Janeway in "Death Wish." This Troi watches a crewmember put into deep freeze and screams, "He's frozen!" - surely one of the moments the writers of Galaxy Quest had in mind when they created a female character whose only job was to state the obvious. This Picard seems less excited about exploring strange new worlds than in getting a ship running smoothly, and he's downright cranky about the fact that there will be children running through the corridors. This Data is still learning not to overstate his case rather than working out the big questions like what it means to be "human" in the first place.

Above all what's missing from this first episode is a sense of fun. The original series pilot has lots of tension but also a good deal of humor; this one substitutes Wesley falling into a holographic river and Riker calling Data "Pinocchio" for anything like chemistry or wit. The warmest moment all episode is brought about by the one visitor from a bygone era, when Data leads Admiral McCoy through the corridors of the new Enterprise, griping about having his atoms scattered across the galaxy and complaining that androids are almost as bad as Vulcans. At least the ship has the right name, McCoy observes. That, as much as anything, made me tune in the second week of Star Trek: The Next Generation...and I have never been sorry I stuck with it despite this inauspicious beginning.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.