Is Star Trek: The Next Generation’s pilot Encounter at Farpoint a parade of exciting new characters, a new ship, and marvelous things, or is it just a bunch of stuff?
In the wake of Star Trek’s return to massive popularity on the big screen, 1987 marked a new generation of Star Trek. The next generation, that is. To what mysterious new worlds would this new series and it’s pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” take us? Faraway colonies? A court room?
Admittedly, it’s difficult to disentangle my perception of “Encounter at Farpoint” from the rest of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To its credit, the series upholds many of the ideas and characters and themes introduced in the pilot. Even the series’ conclusion “All Good Things” masterfully recalls the pilot, but through the lens of seven seasons worth of maturity and familiarity.
So why was it hard to go back and watch this one?
For every strong point, it seems like there was an uneven, poorly executed shadow looming behind it. Let’s take a look at a few of these points to see if we can find out what went wrong.
The Next Generation features one of the most famous and popular casts in the entire series. While we don’t meet *everyone* in this pilot who made the series notable, all the core characters are here.
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Riker minus beard and Troi are introduced as having had a previous romance, a hold over from Star Trek: Phase II and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We meet Worf and Tasha Yar on the security side of things. Picard and Beverly Crusher’s connection to Wesley’s father is revealed. Geordi LaForge has been blind since birth, by the way. Oh, and Data would love to be human, because he’s an android.
So what’s wrong with all of this?
If you zoned out in that previous paragraph, I don’t blame you, because that is essentially how the episode introduces everyone. There is so much talk, talk, talk in this episode about who everyone is and how they know each other that it really drags down the plot.
Despite some scenes in the beginning trying to show the crew act under pressure as they meet Q, and you can’t miss how many times crew members eye each other sidelong when Picard gives a risky and unconventional command, most character introductions are straightforward and from the character’s own mouth.
“I’m a Klingon!” “I’m an Android!” “I’m half-Betazoid and can feel emotions!”
Q is Q and wouldn’t be otherwise if not portrayed so well by John de Lancie. Despite appearing in later Star Trek series, his wheelhouse was The Next Generation. He’s impish and amusing, but powerful and dangerous.
His introduction in this episode seems overlong though. He talks, just like everyone else, sooo much. I feel sorry for the actor having had such a high number of costume changes, and that post-apocalyptic courtroom scene needed to be edited.
How many people tuning into a brand new Star Trek series really wanted to see a drawn out legal drama? Sure we just saw the new Enterprise flex its technological muscle, but putting Jean Luc and friends on trial because humanity is an immature child race? If that were to happen today, I can only imagine how social media would explode with a flurry of activity due to how bored people would get.
I kind of like the premise that is set up only for the finale to swing back around with it, but it was a snooze in the pilot.
While not a cast member per se, the Enterprise-D is crucial to the series. What it can or can’t do in any situation and how the crew works the ship and its systems to make something happen is where much of the drama is.
Having said that, the opening scenes with Q’s weird wall and pushing the Enterprise “past the red line” which we never hear about again are just too forced. Let’s separate the saucer section because of… action? Let’s make Riker manually reconnect the saucer section because of… tension?
On the one hand, those ship functions are pretty nifty when compared to Kirk’s Enterprise, but it seems a little overplayed. Later in the series, when writers had a better understanding of the balancing act required to create better drama, separating the ship was used in some truly dire circumstances and with actual great risk like in “Best of Both Worlds” or Star Trek: Generations.
As the kids today would put it: Weird flex, but okay.
So what happened?
The actual plot of the episode regarding Farpoint Station wasn’t that bad, when it finally got around to that part. The mystery surrounding its seemingly limitless power source and the revelation that it was holding a mysterious life form in its thrall to reap its energy was a by-the-book Star Trek story. It just seems that the episode’s balance was thrown way off by so many extra scenes and elongated sequences.
You’d think that the episode just needed to be edited down to only an hour instead of trying to fill up two, right?
"“There was some contention, because the studio wanted a two-hour pilot and Roddenberry only wanted to do a one-hour pilot.”Rick Berman, The Fifty Year Mission: The Next 25 years"
Considering this, everything begins to make sense. The age-old story of the studio interfering with production for its own reasons at the cost of a consistent product rears its ugly head. Perhaps if the studio had trusted the people making Star Trek, we would have gotten something better.
Despite this, and a rocky first two seasons, we still got the rest of The Next Generation, one of the best Star Trek series ever. Looking at the pilot on its own, however, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe that.