Oct 9, 2020
Star Trek: The Next Generation “Encounter at Farpoint”
We finally meet Q himself in the second installment of…
We also meet the entire crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation, because this is the premiere episode of that series, “Encounter at Farpoint”.
The series begins with a lovely shot revealing the Enterprise NCC-1701-D. We also see a nice first shot of its captain, Jean-Luc Picard, as he makes his first log entry of the series. Why he’s in total darkness, I don’t know, but this is a cool shot of him.
Picard explains that the ship’s first mission is to go to Deneb IV to take a look at a new station called Farpoint to see if Starfleet can use it. At the same time, he’s getting acquainted with his new ship, which is still missing some personnel, such as a first officer, although the ship is set to pick up its remaining staff when they reach Farpoint.
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Picard goes to the bridge and we see Worf, Yar, Troi, and Data for the first time. Not long after Picard settles into his chair, sensors pick up a strange force-field. Picard humorously says to cut the red alert by stating, “Shut off that damn noise!”
The ship stops and a man suddenly pops up on the bridge dressed like a character from a Shakespeare play. He tells Picard and company to get the hell out before identifying himself as “Q”. He also makes it clear that he’s not to be confused with the James Bond character of the same name as he whips up a mini force-field to keep two crew members from getting out of the turbolift. On top of that, he freezes a crew member for pulling a phaser on him.
Q then changes his attire to that of a 20th Century military officer and says, “You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies! All it takes are a few good men!”
But faster than you can say “You can’t handle the truth,” Q transforms himself again, this time into what we’re told is a 21st century policeman in order to illustrate that things on Earth didn’t improve like Picard says they did, because apparently policemen in this century will have gadgets attached to their uniforms to snort drugs at their leisure.
After Picard gets word that the frozen crewman will recover, Q tells him they’ll see each other again soon and vanishes.
Worf and Yar suggest fighting or escaping, while Troi says that Q is too powerful to take on. Picard decides it’s time to break in his new ship’s engines by getting the hell away from Q’s force-field. But said force-field collapses and goes after the ship. As it gets closer, Picard decides to distract it by separating the ship’s saucer section, so non-essential personnel can escape. He puts Worf in charge of the saucer while he goes to the “battle bridge” in the stardrive section with Data, Troi, and Yar, along with O’Brien (although we don’t know his name at this point).
Yar fires torpedoes in Q’s direction before the ship shows off its cool separation trick. Picard takes the stardrive section back toward Q, stopping the engines. He then tells Troi to signal their surrender. The stardrive section is surrounded by the force-field and Picard, Yar, Data, and Troi suddenly find themselves in what we’re told is a courtroom from the late 21st century. I guess O’Brien isn’t with them because Colm Meaney’s name isn’t in the credits.
The quartet is surrounded by jeering crowds and policemen such as the one Q was dressed as earlier. Q himself soon appears sitting on a big chair that’s being brought forward, while dressed as (again, what we’re told is) a judge from the same time period. Q sure loves to make an entrance. One of the policemen tells our heroes to get to their feet, prompting Yar to kick his ass. This leads Q to execute him.
Q then tells Picard to admit that humanity is worthless. This prompts Yar to object, which not surprisingly leads to Q freezing her. But he soon unfreezes her before threatening to kill Data and Troi if Picard doesn’t plead guilty that his race has a history of savagery. Picard does so, but suggests that Q test them with regard to their mission at Farpoint. Intrigued, Q agrees and returns them to the Enterprise, although he makes it clear that he doubts Picard is up to the challenge. The quartet is back on the battle bridge where O’Brien tells them that they’re still headed to Farpoint.
We next see Farpoint itself with Riker making his first log entry, saying the USS Hood has dropped him off and he’s waiting to begin his first officer duties on the Enterprise.
Riker meets with Farpoint’s administrator Zorn (Michael Bell) in the city that’s near Farpoint. He tells Zorn that his stay at Farpoint has been pleasant and asks how his people were able to build such an advanced station considering their level of technology. Zorn simply says Deneb IV has a shit ton of geothermic energy before offering fruit to Riker, who says he’s in the mood for an apple. Zorn apologizes for the lack of apples, and Riker shrugs it off until he spots a bowl full of apples next to Zorn. The latter offers a weak apology for neglecting to present it. After Riker leaves, Zorn talks to the air, telling… something not to do things like that again or it’ll get a spanking.
At Farpoint itself, Riker meets up with Dr. Crusher and Wesley in a market. He begins to tell them about what happened in Zorn’s office before Crusher gets a similar surprise when a ream of fabric she’s admiring suddenly has a gold pattern, just as she was thinking of it. They agree that this is something they should bring to Picard’s attention. This also leads to Riker learning that Crusher and Wesley already know their new captain, because he was a friend of Wesley’s late father. After they part, La Forge shows up to inform Riker that the Enterprise is in orbit but without its saucer section, and Riker has to beam up ASAP.
Riker does so and meets Yar in the transporter room. She escorts him to Picard on the battle bridge, where he gives his new XO an indifferent “Welcome aboard” before bringing Riker up to speed on what happened thanks to footage on a nearby console.
Picard and Riker meet up and we learn the saucer has arrived. Picard tells Riker to perform a manual reconnection, which takes Riker and the others briefly aback. When the ship is in one piece again, Picard and his new first officer meet in the observation lounge. Picard brings up an incident where Riker deliberately disobeyed his previous captain in order to keep him out of harm’s way. Riker admits he did so and won’t think twice about repeating himself when it comes to Picard’s safety. The captain also asks for Riker’s help regarding the children on the ship, as he’s never been comfortable with kids and “The Inner Light” is still five seasons away. The conversation concludes with Picard officially welcoming Riker aboard.
Riker is soon getting acquainted with the ship himself as he comes to the bridge and asks Worf where Data is. Worf says that Data is giving a tour of the ship to a visiting admiral who arrived via shuttlecraft. Riker wonders why the admiral didn’t just beam aboard. The next scene answers that question as the admiral is none other than Dr. McCoy, who says that Data (more or less) reminds him of Spock and wishes him and the ship happy trails ahead.
Later, Riker meets Data on one of the holodecks where Data is running an outdoor nature program. They’re joined by Wesley, who makes a fool of himself by falling into a stream. Afterwards, he sweet talks his mom into letting him get a peek at the bridge.
After Bones’s nice cameo, Picard comes to the bridge to confirm a transmission from the departing Hood when Q appears on the viewscreen to inform everyone of the 24-hour deadline they now have. Picard sees no choice but to just carry on, and we next see him in his ready room talking to Riker about how Farpoint was built. Picard tells Troi to join them in their meeting with Zorn, while Picard learns that Riker and Troi already know each other.
As they meet with Zorn, Troi senses pain, although it isn’t coming from Zorn or anyone else in the city. But Zorn’s reluctance to come clean leads to Picard and company leaving, which leads to Zorn threatening to cut off negotiations with Starfleet and start doing business with the Ferengi. To which Picard replies:
Picard: Let’s hope that they find you as tasty as they did their past associates!
No wonder Quark got pissed with Harry Kim in Voyager‘s premiere episode, although in fairness there are many things Harry does to piss people off.
Picard sends Riker and Data to search Farpoint above ground, while Troi, La Forge, and Yar look in the tunnels below. La Forge can’t see anything unusual with his VISOR, but Troi is soon overcome by feelings of intense pain, prompting Riker and Data to join them at their location.
On the ship, Picard is initially miffed when Wesley arrives on the bridge, but the captain’s mood changes when he sees Dr. Crusher. Her presence prompts Picard to allow Wesley to tour the bridge and even sit in his chair. Picard is surprised at how much Wesley knows about the Enterprise’s operations. An alert then prompts the captain to kick mom and son off the bridge just before he sees the cause of the alarm: an alien ship approaching. Picard contacts Zorn asking if he knows anything about it and Zorn says he doesn’t. Once the ship is in orbit, it begins firing on the city next to Farpoint. Riker and his team head for Zorn’s office only to see him beamed away by the alien ship. After the party returns to the ship, Q arrives again to harass everyone. Riker suggests beaming aboard the alien ship itself to investigate, impressing Q, although he still has his doubts.
Riker, Troi, Data, and Yar beam over and see that the inside of the ship is the same configuration as the tunnels beneath Farpoint. Troi is experiencing feelings of anger from the ship. They also find Zorn and free him. Picard tries to get them back but Q pops in, saying that their deadline is up. The captain says he’ll do what Q asks if he can get his people back. Just then, what do you know, Riker, Zorn, and the others are beamed onto the bridge. Troi says that the ship itself returned them, and talks about how similar it looks to Farpoint.
Zorn says that he and his people encountered a creature that was dying and helped it, with Picard noting that they exploited it for its matter-altering powers to create Farpoint. The ship itself soon transform itself into a glowing jellyfish, leading to the ship beaming everyone out of Farpoint before the station itself makes a similar transformation as it joins the other and heads off.
Picard then tells Q to piss off, saying that they have nothing more to prove to him. Q obliges, but promises to return.
The episode ends with Picard stating in his log that Farpoint will be rebuilt. On the bridge, he assures Riker that future missions will be more interesting, thankfully.
On a dramatic level, this episode did nothing that “The Squire of Gothos” didn’t do better. Repeating dramatic ground would be a criticism of TNG’s first season. Also, like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the episode has a number of moments that are simply there for their own sake, such as the separation sequence and reattachment as well as an inexplicable close-up of a nameless Vulcan crew member in engineering, as if to remind us that Vulcans still exist.
But there are some nice aspects to “Farpoint” as well, such as DeForest Kelley’s cameo, and De Lancie’s charisma makes Q instantly watchable. Also, Starfleet communicators now being something one can just tap on their chest also caught on quickly. Picard officially welcoming Riker aboard would later get a nice bookend with the scene in Nemesis where they bid each other farewell as Riker goes off to command the Titan. It’s a pity that there wasn’t a better movie to go with that nice moment.
Another thing “Farpoint” succeeds at is setting the right kind of tone in that a new era of Star Trek has begun. Many of the subsequent episodes of this season would hit the same dramatic potholes as this one did, but positive elements would also be present; elements which would be amplified in the coming seasons, making Picard’s final line of the episode all the more meaningful.