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TNG 1-01

TNG 1x01
"Encounter at Farpoint"

Original airdate: 9/28/1987
Rewatch date: 7/21/2011


On its maiden voyage, the Enterprise encounters Q, an advanced being that puts the crew on trial for belonging to a savage race. To defend humanity, they must solve the mystery of Farpoint Station, a distant outpost where strange things are afoot.

Spoiler-free notes:

I'm torn as I rewatch this episode. On one hand, I can remember how exciting and awesome it was when it first aired back in 1987 (when I was eight). On the other hand, however, "Encounter at Farpoint" is so painfully bad that it's hard to believe that the show was picked up at all. There are major problems throughout, from poorly-written dialogue beating a dead horse by telling you how dangerous everything is rather than showing it to you (especially in an early sequence where the Enterprise goes to warp using "maximum acceleration" and separates the saucer section) to the awful music quality, which is at times so bad it reminds me of the MIDI tracks found in early PC games.

Also, the episode introduces us to many of the characters in a much too sloppy manner, reducing them to one-dimensional archetypes rather than full-fledged characters. For example, in an early scene, we are given about two minutes to get to know four major characters, Data, Troi, Worf, and Yar. We learn everything we need to know about Data through a quick exchange with Picard in which they discuss the meaning of the word "snoop"; Troi is a melodramatic woman who can "sense" things; Yar is uppity and confrontational; and Worf is a stereotypical Klingon who yearns for battle. Of these, only Data gets better as the episode continues, thanks in large part to his interactions with Commander Riker. Yar, on the other hand, does nothing but question the captain's orders and step out of line, leaving us to wonder how she got to be officer material (though some heavy-handed dialogue does hint at a violent backstory). As for Worf, his only big scene is when he stupidly points his phaser at the ship's viewscreen.

Another good example of the terrible way this episode handles introductions is when we first meet Wesley Crusher. When Commander Riker asks if his mother, Dr. Crusher, knows Captain Picard, Wesley delivers the ludicrously awkward line, "When I was little, he brought my father's body home to us." While I applaud the screenwriter for being efficient, this line is an incredibly weird thing for somebody to say to a new acquaintance, especially when the much simpler "he's an old family friend" would have worked just as well, been more mysterious, and given more weight to a later scene between Picard and Crusher, where the backstory could have more organically been explained. On top of that, Wesley's incredibly sad line is immediately followed by a cheerful goodbye in which Riker says, "Wes, see you on board," and then smiles like a creepy pedophile.

Still, some characters are handled well. Commander Riker is never boiled down to a single concept, making him a more well-rounded character than most of the rest of the crew; Captain Picard is given lots of different character traits to play with (and of course, Patrick Stewart acts circles around just about everybody else); and Geordi is given a completely believable introduction in sick-bay. But easily the best thing about the whole episode is Q.

The story itself, stripped of its bad dialogue and insistence on telling rather than showing, is still pretty cool. Star Trek is at its best when it presents a sci-fi mystery, and that's exactly what Farpoint represents. TOS has plenty of omniscient beings, but Q is far and away a more interesting concept than any of those. I also like how the episode introduces the concept of the holodeck and then uses the same technology to explain part of the mystery. Perhaps the people who gave this pilot the green light were noticing things like that (along with the dollar signs), and weren't paying attention to the rest of it.

I still love the brief scene with McCoy. What I never noticed until this rewatch is that, right before McCoy is introduced, there are a few bars of the TOS theme song in the background. Nice touch.

As a final side note, when Riker first comes aboard the Enterprise, he is shown a highlight reel that makes absolutely no sense. It definitely doesn't bring him up to speed. Then again, while Riker is watching it, Picard asks Data how long it will take for the saucer section to arrive, and Data says 51 minutes. When Riker finishes watching the highlights, the saucer section arrives. It must take Riker longer to watch those highlights than it seems (indeed, 51 minutes would be longer than the episode to that point). Still, how did the crew film all those events, edit it all, etc.? It does not make sense. Why couldn't Yar just hand him a preliminary report or something? Or better yet, wouldn't a briefing be in order?



Spoiler section:

It took TNG a long time to separate itself from TOS, and this episode is a perfect example. Whenever I watch it, or indeed almost any episode from the show's first season, it feels more like watching a TOS episode than it does TNG.

I do like how, when Riker arrives, we finally get to see Picard get down to serious business by testing Riker with the order to manually dock with the saucer and then grilling him about his philosophy towards the role of first officer. Of all the characters in this episode, Picard and Riker are the ones who most feel like the characters we come to know later on in the show, Riker's clean-shaven face notwithstanding. I also like how they deal with the "Captain shouldn't beam down on dangerous missions" thing right off the bat, which is one of the main differences between TNG and TOS.

Honestly, I don't miss Yar, and I'm not looking forward to the episodes ahead that deal heavily with her. Her character is way better after she dies.

It's too bad that, in the future, Picard will never completely deal with his problems with children. Him never getting the family he deserves kinda sucks.

I like how McCoy is the first to compare Data to a Vulcan, telegraphing Data's interesting relationship with Spock later on in the series.

Yay, it's Miles O'Brien! It's amazing how much his character develops from this point on.

We never hear the joke Geordi supposedly told Data during the Farpoint mission that Data doesn't get until his emotion chip is activated in Star Trek: Generations.





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