Today continues the second week of the Star Trek Pilot Series. This week we turn to “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and the return of Trek to television after 17 years since cancellation. Suffice to say it is a very mixed return in this episode “Encounter at Farpoint,” a two part episode that shows some of the best and worst of Gene Roddenberry at the head of his creation. This again would be for better and for worse…much of what was wrong about the “Original Series” carried over into early “Next Generation,” until it was able to find it’s own voice. To get into more of what I mean.
The premise of “Encounter at Farpoint” is it is the first time The Next Generation Crew is put into action and they are challenged by Q to prove they have evolved and are worthy of being out to investigate the stars and are not the bad they were in the past by solving the mystery of Farpoint Station. Here is the assessment:
The Pros: The crew – The crew is interesting and they are given things to do throughout the episode. Everyone has a role even if the actors don’t pull off that role well. We have Picard as the voice for humanity against Q and the one who reasons through situations, Riker as the investigator, Yar as the voice of the past (grew up on a post apocalyptic type planet), Worf as the alien perspective, Data as the critique of humanity and Crusher and Troi as the empaths (the healers of mind and body) to keep the crew functioning. The show starts out with a great dynamic, that they tell us about but don’t always show us…
Q: The introduction of Q in the guise of the judge is fantastic. Some of his other stuff is less subtle but John de Lancie does a good job elevating the terrible script to at least be an intriguing antagonist. He is what makes the plot interesting since the story around Farpoint is pretty weak.
Dr. McCoy guest appearance: DeForest Kelley makes a great guest appearance speaking about the love of a crew for it’s ship which also added more to it.
Okay: The actors – They just started and are a mixed bag. Frakes does alright as Riker and McFadden does alright as Dr. Crusher. Sirtas as Troi and Wheaton are just bad. Stewart is good as the Captain and Delancie is good as Q…there are no great performances though. The episode isn’t elevated by the actors the way “The Man Trap” was.
The Special effects – The Special Effects are alright, they aren’t as good as they would be later, but they are much better than the original series. It at least gives us some interesting things to look at when the script drags, which happens often.
The Ending – It isn’t amazing, but it isn’t terrible like some of the episodes in Trek, it just feels empty considering that this was the chance for the crew to shine but we don’t get to see it really. Nothing of consequence really happens that wouldn’t happen anyway (the Space Jellyfish meeting, the introduction of Q), in that way I would say the ending of “The Man Trap” and even “The Cage” are superior. They have more awareness of themselves and the actions that occurred in the episode.
The Cons: The script – The script is bad. It made me miss the writing in the original series. It tells us rather than shows us evolved humanity most of the time which makes the crew come off as no better than Q…which wasn’t the writers’ intent I’m guessing. It is far to busy preaching (especially in regards to the aliens that inhabit Farpoint) rather than presenting a dilemma.
The tone: It never felt like the crew was ever in danger because the script presents Q as such a huge joke. He never feels dangerous, though he does look cool in his Inquistion robes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he comes off as a clown not otherwordly threat because of the episode unable to fully realize what tone it wants to take. It wants to be the “Original Series,” (Otherwordly mysteries with a something discovered about how humanity has grown) but also be “The Next Generation,” (new crew, new time, new place).
The Romance: The romance between Riker and Troi feels tacked on in this episode. I had a hard time they’d loved each other being this was the first time we as the viewers see them meet. It is believable in later episodes, but not the first one.
The “Original Series” also suffered from a few bad scripts and being too preachy at times (showing not telling), one thing the pilots do well though is show us the message rather than tell us. They present us with the danger of travel and the possibility for wonder. Here the message is preached to us by Picard with a badly written foil through Q and the sense of wonder falls flat since the aliens are just concepts. The aliens in “The Man Trap” and the “Cage” were more than just ideas…they were living creatures and had complexity, the Space Jellyfish have no complexity at all, they just wanted to mate…and we have no idea how many of them there are or what they do in the larger scheme of the galaxy. It is for this reason I have to rate this episode as less than the other pilots.
I would rate this episode as 6 / 10. It had a lot of potential (both with the conflict among the crew) and outside threats (Q and Farpoint) that were never fully realized.