***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
SERIES: Star Trek: The Next Generation
TITLE: S1:E1 & E2. “Encounter at Farpoint”
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn
GUEST-STARRING: John de Lancie
WRITERS: Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana
DIRECTOR: Corey Allen
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 28, 1987
SYNOPSIS: Captain Picard and members of his crew argue the merits of humanity at Farpoint Station with a mysterious alien entity called Q.
By Rob Siebert
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In years past, I’d tried to watch “Encounter at Farpoint” at least twice, maybe three or four times. But it just didn’t grab me. In fact, on at least one of those occasions I fell asleep. That’s a problem I didn’t expect to have, as so many people told me Star Trek: The Next Generation was the ideal gateway into Star Trek fandom.
Thankfully, I fared better this time.
So we start off with a slightly tweaked version of the “Space…the Final Frontier” intro from our new captain, Jean-Luc Picard, played by the great Patrick Stewart. The conception of Picard is interesting to me, as Kirk is such a tough act to follow. Reportedly, Gene Roddenberry wanted someone who was “masculine, virile, and had a lot of hair.” (So right out of the gate, I consider Picard to be a champion for bald-headed heroes everywhere…) In contrast to Kirk being more of an all-American hero type, Picard is portrayed as more of quiet, brooding Frenchman, who for some reason doesn’t speak with a French accent. Though apparently Stewart did try the accent at one point.
The episode doesn’t waste much time before getting into the action. We meet this strange person/entity called Q, we see what this new Enterprise can do as the saucer separates from the rest of the ship, and Picard and the crew soon find themselves arguing on humanity’s behalf in a kangaroo court in space. Not much of a mind for exposition, which is a little frustrating. But I confess this approach is for the best. Better to get on with the business of the plot than get bogged down with a bunch of information we’ll get eventually, anyway.
Picard refers to the simulated timeframe of the trial as “Mid 21st century. The post-atomic horror.” This would seem to imply we’re about to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons. That’s kind of a downer…
Tasha Yar, the Enterprise’s security chief, says the court should get on its knees before what Starfleet is, and what it represents. But what is that, exactly? I assume it’s something along the lines of dedication to peace, justice, diversity, discovery, etc. Also, this woman seems shockingly impulsive for a security chief, or for that matter, a security guard. I confess, I took a bit of pleasure when Q froze her solid.
How can you tell this show was made in the ’90s? There’s an indoor shopping mall. Think there’s a Sears in there?
It looks like one of the elements we’ll be exploring is Picard’s solidarity. Note his interactions with Dr. Crusher and Wesley, and his flat out asking Riker to help him around children. There’s a parallel between he and Kirk there. Star Trek V looked a little more in-depth at Kirk not having a family of his own, believing he’d die alone, etc. Of course, the interesting factor there is that this episode predates Star Trek V by about two years. So the movie could very well have drawn inspiration from the show.
There’s also an interesting parallel between Picard and Data. The latter is, of course, a robot who longs to be human. But Picard is, deep down, someone who wants to be more human. He secretly wants more out of his life. Naturally, I suspect we’ll be exploring that as our series progresses.
While Star Trek starts in 2266, Star Trek: TNG begins in 2364. So we’re about a century ahead of where we started. Nevertheless, we get a cameo from a 137-year-old Bones. Apparently, he made it to the rank of admiral, which is odd considering he was talking about retirement in Star Trek VI. Chronologically, this is the character’s final appearance. And so I raise my glass to my favorite character from the original series, and the actor who played him for a quarter century.
While “Encounter at Farpoint” does its job in terms of setting up the show at large, I can’t say it did much for me personally. To be fair, it’s technically two episodes that were originally aired together as a movie. But bluntly put, it’s just not that good as a movie. For newcomers like me, I would suggest “Encounter at Farpoint” be kept divided. I understand TNG had much to establish early on. But there’s such a thing as throwing too much at the audience too soon.
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