Monday, November 22, 2010

A Brutally Slow Start To The Philosophy Lesson: "Encounter At Farpoint" Is An Intriguing Pilot!

The Good: Moments of acting, Message, Initial characterizations, Soundtrack
The Bad: Most of the acting, Time spent establishing rather than doing, Pilot errors
The Basics: On a razor decision, the first look at the new Enterprise and crew is recommended solely to give the viewer a starting point from which the series blossoms.

At the very end of "Encounter At Farpoint," Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the 24th Century's USS Enterprise promises his first officer that most of the adventures the ship goes on will be much more interesting than the one they just experienced. Thankfully, Picard is good to his word and the series improves dramatically after the first four episodes. Originally presented - and seen on video and DVD - as a double episode rather than a two-parter, "Encounter at Farpoint" introduces the players in the new universe of Star Trek The Next Generation.

"Encounter at Farpoint" follows Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a philosopher king in space, from touring his new starship, the Galaxy-Class U.S.S. Enterprise to Farpoint, an outpost in a distant sector where he is supposed to pick up half of the important members of his crew, like the first officer and chief medical officer. En route to the base, the ship is waylaid by a powerful alien named Q who is omnipotent and subjects Picard and his bridge officers to physical and emotional abuse, declaring them unfit to be explorers. Picard distracts Q long enough to get the civilians aboard the ship off (he splits the ship in two, which is interesting enough, but takes a while and the drama surrounding it does not stand up over repeated viewings) and then confronts the powerful alien. Q then puts the Captain on trial for humanity being a barbarous race. Picard challenges Q insisting that humans have developed, and Q agrees to the challenge. Picard then is sent to Farpoint to determine its secret. It doesn't take long: Commander Riker, Picard's first officer, has been observing that wishes become reality at Farpoint, as far as material things are concerned, and shortly after the Enterprise arrives, so does another ship, which promptly begins bombing the surface of the planet. The end result of the various actions is that Picard and Riker put their heads together and solve the mystery of Farpoint station and prove to Q that they have evolved quite a bit.

Underneath the shallow plot is an obvious message, which is "Humans have the capacity to grow and change." This episode is packed with Gene Roddenberry's optimistic humanism and that's not a bad thing. It's a refreshing change from so much of the repetitive garbage on television these days. Here were positive role models, not for children, but for adults. It was about time.

The problem is, every other line is the explicit statement, "Humans have grown so much." It gets old quite quickly. The novelty of the "surprise" ending isn't bad and it makes the episode worth watching a few times.

The true purpose of the episode is to introduce the principle characters of Star Trek The Next Generation. The main characters are:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard - a crusty ship captain who acts more as a philosopher than a military leader (which is good because StarFleet is not supposed to be military),

Commander William Riker - The First officer who gave up a relationship with Troi sometime in his past to pursue a command of his own,

Dr. Beverly Crusher - A widow whose ties to Picard are somewhat troubling,

Counselor Deanna Troi - A half-human, half-Betazoid, which basically means she has some telepathic and empathic powers and gets to walk around in tighter uniforms than everyone else,

Lieutenant Tasha Yar - The security chief,

Lieutenant Commander Data - An android and chief science officer of the Enterprise,

Lieutenant Geordi LaForge - the ship's blind navigator who wears a device called a VISOR to see better than any human,

Wesley Crusher - The son of Dr. Crusher and a boy genius,

Lieutenant Worf - A Klingon whose purpose and function on the ship is ambiguous other than being a Klingon.

Other than introducing these characters, "Encounter at Farpoint" has little to recommend it. The story is only okay, the pacing is dreadfully slow throughout, and the photography is often downright bad in the episode. Unlike Deep Space Nine which is serialized, Star Trek The Next Generation is largely episodic, thus there is no "essential Next Generation." However, all of the bits of character details introduced in this longer episode appear in other episodes and most of them I would have less trouble recommending.

In a razor decision, I would recommend "Encounter at Farpoint" to anyone because it's not a typical story and this episode is accessible to those who are not fans of Star Trek. It was, however, the weakest Trek pilot until Enterprise's.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2002, 2007, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. I really dig this ep, because I love pretty much everything Trek, but the best element for me was to see the post-atomic horror aspect of Trek. The druggie soldiers with the arm-mounted guns were pretty cool.

  2. Interesting take on it. I love Trek, but it has its hits and misses like virtually every other series! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!