May 9 2011 1:13pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Encounter at Farpoint”

“Encounter at Farpoint”
Written by D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Corey Allen
Season 1, Episode 1
Production episode 40271-721
Original air date: September 28, 1987
Stardate: 41153.7

Captain’s Log: The newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise-D is heading to Deneb IV, beyond which lies “the great unexplored mass of the galaxy.” En route there to investigate Farpoint Station, an impressive base built by the Bandi on that world, they meet Q, an all-powerful being much like those encountered by Kirk and his crew, except considerably more obnoxious. In a lengthy bit of exposition, we see the ship separate the saucer, an effect so awesome and practical that it would only be seen two more times in the show’s run.

The first-season Next Generation crew With most of the ship’s complement in the saucer, the stardrive section confronts Q, who puts four of the five people on the battle bridge on trial in a late 21st-century “post-atomic horror” court. (Hey, something to look forward to in 70 years…) Q condemns humanity as a savage race, but Picard insists that the charges do not apply to humanity any longer and suggests that Q judge them based on how they are now. Q likes this idea, and so sends the Enterprise off to Farpoint Station to evaluate them on their current mission.

At Farpoint, Commander Riker reports and is told to manually reattach the saucer in order to prove his manhood. They then investigate Farpoint to try to figure out why the station is so amazing. Groppler Zorn, the leader of the Bandi people, is evasive on the subject.

Funky alien couple reunited at last!

A ship enters the system and fires on the city around the station before kidnapping Zorn. Q returns to be snotty for a little bit before Riker takes a team over to the other ship, where Zorn is being tortured—by the ship, which is alive, and wants its mate back. The Bandi kidnapped one of these living ships and enslaved it to be a station. The Enterprise frees it, and the couple are reunited in a scene that is straight out of cut-rate hentai.

Q decides humanity isn’t savage—for now. And the Enterprise goes off to explore strange new worlds, and all that other stuff….

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Upon seeing Lieutenant Torres being frozen, Counselor Troi declares: “He’s frozen!”

Can’t We Just Reverse The Polarity? “Something strange on the detector circuits.” We will never hear from the “detector circuits” again, which is probably for the best.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Both leading men have pasts with women on the ship. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were an item years ago, and Captain Picard ordered Dr. Crusher’s husband (and Wesley’s father) to his death, yet she requested assignment to his command. Also, a female ensign totally checks out Riker’s ass after she gives him directions to the holodeck.

The Boy!? Upon Wesley Crusher’s first trip to the bridge he shows aptitude for both using the ship’s controls and pissing off the captain.

If I Only Had a Brain… Data hangs out in a forest on the holodeck while trying to whistle “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf gets emasculated right off the bat by Picard ordering him to command the saucer section rather than serve on the battle bridge.

Welcome Aboard: John deLancie makes his first of many appearances (on three different Trek series) as the all-powerful, all-snotty Q. In addition, Colm Meaney appears as an unnamed conn officer (the fifth guy on the battle bridge) who would get a name (O’Brien) in the second season, graduating to being a recurring character as the show progressed, becoming a regular on the spinoff Deep Space Nine. And then there’s DeForrest Kelley….

I Believe I Said That: “Well, this is a new ship, but she’s got the right name. Now you remember that, you hear? You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.” Admiral Leonard McCoy to Data as they amble slowly down the corridor.

Trivial Matters: Riker and Troi’s backstory is almost exactly the same as that of Decker and Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, also written by Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry. David Gerrold wrote the novelization of the episode, using several concepts that were part of the original conception but later abandoned (Worf having a more aggressive personality, Riker being called “Bill,” a woman from Picard’s past named Celeste). If you read his novel Voyage of the Star Wolf, you can see some of what he had in mind for the show before he was let go early in the first season. (He later repurposed a first-season script called “Blood and Fire” as a Star Wolf novel...)

Make It So: This two-hour premiere is bogged down a bit by a languid pace, way too much exposition, and a plot that isn’t actually all that interesting. The acting from many of the regulars is stiff. The episode also spends a whole lot of time distancing itself from its predecessor. There are away teams instead of landing parties, on which the captain does not go; a captain who is cerebral and asks his officers for their opinions, and who also surrenders the ship in the very first episode; and a Klingon in a Starfleet uniform.

For all that, there are acknowledgments to the past: when Worf walks through engineering he passes a human male in gold talking with a Vulcan male in blue. Plus, of course, there’s Kelley’s delightful cameo as an elderly admiral being escorted through the ship.

Where this pilot does work, though, is in the non-stiff performances. Patrick Stewart has a tremendous gravitas in the role of Jean-Luc Picard. You never doubt for a moment that he’s in charge, and that he’s twelve steps ahead of everyone else—even the omnipotent guy. Speaking of whom, John deLancie is a revelation, as the screen lights up when he’s on it (and drags to a halt when he isn’t). And Brent Spiner is delightful as the android Data.

Plus, there’s a guy walking around the corridors of the Enterprise in a minidress. Whole episode’s worth it for that.

It set up what was to come, but isn’t a lot of fun to watch, especially when you know the show’s going to do better.

Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing or editing Star Trek fiction since 1999 in novel, short story, eBook, nonfiction, and comic book form. His work has covered all five TV shows, as well as the prose series The Lost Era, New Frontier, Corps of Engineers, Myriad Universes, Mirror Universe, and I.K.S. Gorkon/Klingon Empire. His acclaimed novel A Singular Destiny served as the transition between the best-selling Destiny and Typhon Pact series. Follow him online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.

James Whitehead
1. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I was a Freshman at college when this series started and I thought the espisode was good overall. 'Course, I do agree it hasn't aged well compared to episodes from later seasons.

The problem my friends & I had with this episode at the time , and the first few seasons, was the tendency of the writers to go out of the way to macke Picard the 'anti-Kirk.' Didn't work well for me honestly. When they realised Picard could be cerebral & 'take charge,' that's when the writing for the character got good.

I always felt that Tasha Yar & Worf were the same character really. I know they had their different traits obviously. But they seem to be the same archetype, if you will. Maybe they would've gone with a female half human/half klingon tactical officer if the new universe had been developed further.

Still it is interesting to note that if Denise Crosby hadn't wanted to do other things, Michael Dorn's Worf would never have developed.

I did think Q was the best part of the episode, aside from seeing the ever cantankerous Dr. McCoy one last time. Anyway thanks for posting this.


PS - I had forgotten about the male ensign miniskirt. Too funny.
2. Pendard
I love "Encounter at Farpoint." It's my deep dark secret. When I watched this the night it aired, I was just starting kindergarten and I was hooked. I guess it couldn't have been that boring and expositional if it kept a five-year-old interested. On the other hand, kindergarteners don't exactly have unerring tastes either.

Because I loved it at such a young age, I can't be objective about this episode, or a lot of the others in TNG season 1. I adore them. Twenty-four years later, I admit they haven't aged that well, and in any objective sense they aren't nearly as good as some of the later episodes of TNG. Frankly, we're lucky the show didn't get canceled after the first season -- it probably would have been if it weren't for the 1988 WGA strike gutting new show development for the 1988-89 season. But none of that matters. Love is blind. If you gave me a choice between watching "Encounter at Farpoint" or the series finale, "All Good Things...", I'd take "Farpoint" any day. Watching this episode makes me see the show's potential. Watching "All Good Things..." just makes me see the ways it failed to live up to that potential in its last few years.
3. Jamsco
I recall trying to defend this episode with my roomate after watching this junior year of college:

Me: They had cheese outerspace aliens in the first series.
Him:Yeah, but they didn't hold hands!

. . . or tenticles as the case may be,
Michael Poteet
4. MikePoteet
It doesn't stand up now as the best episode of the series, but I remember being thrilled out of my mind the night it first aired. I had been very skeptical that "Star Trek" could be recreated with a new cast and a new ship set in a new era ... but darned if they didn't pull it off! "Farpoint" will always get high marks from me, if only for sentimental reasons.

My other very vivid "Trek"-related memory of autumn 1986 is eating box after box after box of Honey Nut Cheerios in an attempt to win that guest role on a TNG episode. (I also spent too much money on stamps sending in 3 x 5 cards to the Cheerios people for additional chances at winning. Didn't get on the show -- needless to say -- but I did win of the 5000 little plastic Enterprises. I still have it, too!)
rob mcCathy
5. roblewmac
picard storms into admeral's office
Picard "Sir what did I ever do to you?"
AdMERIAL "Whatever do you mean?
Picard 200 children? the first Klingon and the Helmsmen, the man who DRIVES the ship is blind? That's not a crew it's a punchline!
aD relax think of Data as a one of a kind lifeform!
Picard "Great so when the kligon guts it we won't find spare parts
Chris Palmer
6. cmpalmer
Oh, how I wanted to love "Encounter at Farpoint". I was soooo hyped for the new series. I suffered through the arguments over the cast and new look. Watching it, however, was a miserable experience for me.

I never was a huge fan of ST:TNG after that, but I will admit that it got much better (and worse a few times).
Mouldy Squid
7. Mouldy_Squid
Warp Factor 4 for "Encounter at Farpoint"? 4/10 perhaps, but certainly not more than that.

The first 3 seasons of TNG are pretty much a right-off, with less than a handful of exceptions. I remain surprised to this day that TNG managed to not get cancelled.
rob mcCathy
8. roblewmac
It's so hard to seperate what I thought then from what now
I liked the captain best (like every series) Disliked riker disliked Data (i've NEVER liked "Robots longing to be human. LIKED Worf (boy that changed.) Liked wESLY (That changed show by show) but in the first Wesly's not bad
9. Charles R
"The first 3 seasons of TNG are pretty much a right-off, with less than a handful of exceptions. I remain surprised to this day that TNG managed to not get cancelled. "

I think you need to rewatch Season 3. It (along with Season 4) are TNG at its peak. The momentous jump in quality between the drek of season 2 to season 3 is phenomenal.

The show was still good in season 5 and 6, but definitely not as consistent. Season 7 is as hit or miss as the first two seasons, and is only saved from being the worst season of all by the improved production values, the performances of the regular cast, and a handful of the very best episodes of the entire series (which includes the finale).
10. critter42
I was working in the electronics department of a department store when this premiered. Of course, I turned all the TVs to that channel, took off my badge so I wouldn't look like an employee and spent the next two hours watching.

There wasn't any Internet (ok, not like we know it today and I didn't have access anyway :) ), so no spoilers, published casting sheets, "leaks", etc. The only info I had on the show were what showed up in TV Guide, Starlog, etc. STIV had just garnered a lot of goodwill with the fans (I think the story might have been completely different if STV had come out before TNG premiered) and we were READY for weekly ST episodes.

However, I wouldn't say it wasn't without controversy - those jumpsuits (tip to those men who like to cosplay 1st season - guys, we REALLY don't need to know what religion you are when you wear them), the oddly-shaped yet familiar looking ship (and curvilinear entered my vocabulary :) ) and Gurney Halleck's the captain?

I enjoyed the first episode and, maybe because my critical palate wasn't as refined, enjoyed all but the most stilted and cliched of the 1st season because man, it was STAR TREK! ON TV EVERY WEEK AGAIN!!!
11. The Chronic Rift
The biggest problem with this episode, like most of the first and a good bit of the second season, is that it doesn't hold up very well to time. Add to that the subpar stories that we got until the third season and one can't look as fondly at these episodes as one does the three seasons of the original series.
Keith DeCandido
12. krad
WHOOPS! My bad, we forgot to change the intro post. We decided to change the warp rating scale to out of 10 rather than out of 6 for TNG.

So yeah, it's 4 of 10, not 4 of 6.

Also, TNG was a massive ratings bonanza for Paramount, especially since the whole concept of the first-run syndicated drama was brand-new. The 1988 writer's strike had nothing to do with it--it was making beaucoup bucks from jump, and was never in any danger of being cancelled.

Amusingly, TNG started a revolution that has since revolved into something else. Nobody did first-run syndicated drama until TNG, and then there was a metric butt-load of it in the 1990s. But with the advent of new networks, the increase of original programming on cable networks, and the death of the independent local station, by the middle of the previous decade, the concept was dying and now no longer exists.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
It took some time for the show to hit it's stride, and it never got the level of character interaction of TOS, mostly because there were weak characters that never got that great. Specifically Troi and Wesley were very weak and Riker only had a few moments where he wasn't a stick. The major problem was there were too many major characters, and not enough minor ones. They kept trying to make storylines to make them all happy, and thats a lousy way to design a series.
j p
14. sps49
I agree with johntheirishmongol, with the additions of the severe overuse of the holodeck and Wesley Saves The Day.

I thought I remembered the premiere of this, but a quick calendar check reminds me that I was in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. I am sure this was the first Next Generation episode I saw, and I was super exited to watch on the crappy mess deck TV after we returned.

I was disappointed. Two hours was too long for the plot.

(I may be premature for this re-watch, but) Most of the first two seasons was dull, 3 picked up some, 4-5-6 TNG was fully in it's stride, 7 was a bit self-indulgent but okay. I look forward to the rest of your re-watch!
Chris Lough
15. TorChris
Just to follow on Keith's comment @12: The Warp Rating of 4 is a result of me getting confused regarding when we're implementing the 10-scale.

For those interested, the episode was given a rating of 2 out of 6 on the Warp 6-scale that we've been historically using on the Original Series rewatches!
Teresa Jusino
16. TeresaJusino
I was an eight year old fan of TOS, and LOVED this episode, because it was giving me a Star Trek that was MINE! No longer could my older brother hold it over my head that he'd been a fan of TOS first. :) Also, this was the same year that Tiny Toon Adventures came out, and I thought "YES! A Star Trek for me, AND a Looney Toons for me!" Heh.

I will always and forever love Q. John De Lancie in this episode is a big part of what kept me watching. That, and I loved Data.

And had a crush on Wesley. Shut up.
17. trekgeezer
I was 32 (a fan sinceTOS) and the first thing I hated were the uniforms and the bloated guppy look of the Enterprise D.

The show was slow starter for me, the first season was really bad mainly because Gene kept running off the writers. Second Season had a few very good eps. Things picked up in the third season.

One of the reasons I don't own this series on DVD is because there is a lot of stuff I wouldn't care to set through.
18. USSWylie
My family started our own STNG re-watch so the younger generation could catch-up and we're already through The Lonely Among Us. You aren't just writing up one episode a week, are you?
Keith DeCandido
19. krad
USSWylie: As you may have already noticed by now, it'll be two a week, as "The Naked Now" just went up today. There'll be new rewatches every Monday and Thursday. Look for "Code of Honor" on Monday....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
20. orokusaki
I guess I'm a little late to the party.

But I found that ST:TNG is on Netflix now, so I'm a happy camper. All I wanted to say was that I also caught the "detector circuits" dialogue. ...I cringed. I guess circuits were new enough to mainstream TV back in '87 that they were called out as something fancy that "detects" things, haha.
21. Ensign Jayburd
I, too am late to the party, but I should catch up rather quickly. I loved Farpoint when it first aired, not for the episode in and of itself, but because I saw great potential in the characters of Picard, Data, Worf and (at the time) Wesley. I knew it would get better and it did (except Wesley). Also, I was a big fan of David Lynch's Dune, so I was very excited that the new Trek starred Gurney "You Young Pup!" Halleck as the Captain. I was 20 years old in 1987 with much older brothers who also held their TOS fandom over my head (same as they did with The Beatles). I finally managed to convert my eldest bro when I showed him "The Measure Of A Man." But that's a story for another day.

2 LOLs: "Worf is emasculated right off the bat" - indeed he was. Captain Sisko would put him to much better use.

Also, the mini-dress guy made at least one encore performance in 11001001. Looking confused as ever.
22. LM
Also late to the party :) Although I was pretty geeky, I never watched Star Trek TNG growing up, but my mom was a big fan and so were my friends. The first episode I distinctly remember watching with some friends is 'Cause and Effect' - still one of my favorites to this day.

Anyway, my husband was a big Trek fan, and had a few DVD collections I enjoyed with him. From the start my two favorite characters have always been Data and Q (imagine my glee when we found the Q DVD collection!). Anyway, we just got the entire TNG series on DVD so I am pretty excited to read through this :) This will actually be my first time watching the series too - aside from the episodes on the Time Travel collection and the Q collection and a few other favorites my husband recorded off of TV, I really haven't seen that many episodes.

I can understand the nostalgia factor coming from some of the previous commenters - I also own the entire series of Full House on DVD. Objectively, I know it's not the greatest show ever. But I still greatly enjoy watching it even now.

I love all the little 'moments' outlined in the episodes and I look forward to the re-watch.

Also, just going to say - I've heard a lot or bad press regarding Wesley, but I'm about halfway through the first series and he doesn't grate on me that much - yes, he overplays the precocious genius kid trope a bit, but he hasn't gotten on my nerves. I am certain I would have had a huge crush on him had I watched this when it came out, haha!
23. Big Joe S.
Two things stick out to me about this episode. They should have kept Marina Sirtis in the blue mini with her hair down.
She looks terrible with her knotted up like that.
Compare here:
The other is, as an action romp, most of Part 1 works. Getting trapped by the Q net, the chase, saucer separation, and then the trial all flow. Things slow down needlessly after that. It's like how Brannon Braga and Ron Moore discussed Generations. It was good, but, it got lost when the two captains started cooking eggs. It's all well and good to have them together, but, cooking eggs?
Things don't quite open up again until the second entity arrives.
I have to say, this reimagining is pretty funny.
24. JohnC
I just got Netflix and see they have all 7 seasons. I had watched the series on BBC America but for some reason they don't have Season 1, so I'm interested in finding out if it has aged as badly as I suspect. So I just watch Farpoint, and I find it a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I cringe at some of the awkwardness of the actors who haven't yet figured out what to do with their roles, and Picard almost bursting into tears when he says "Guilty" makes me shudder - but I kinda dig the machismo when Riker successfully manually docks the saucer section with the rest of the ship, and the backstories of the characters, sometimes only hinted at, give some indication this is going to be a series with some depth to it. I'd give it better than 4 out of 10 - maybe a 6.

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