Star Trek: The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint (Part I) (series premiere)
Original Air Date: September 28, 1987
Written By: D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by: Corey Allen
Synopsis: The Enterprise, which is huge and beautiful and majestic, cruises through space toward the camera, and Trekkies who have waited since the 60s to have new Star Trek on television let out a mighty cheer. The camera zooms in on a darkened window, where her captain -- the second bald man to command a starship called Enterprise -- steps out of the shadows and gazes at the stars. In voice over, the captain, Picard, says that they're heading out to "the unexplored mass of the galaxy."
Picard heads out on a tour of this spiffy new Galaxy Class starship, through engineering and up on the bridge, while he tells his log (and the now tearfully celebrating Trekkies) that the ship is huge, isn't entirely filled with crew just yet, and is on its way to Farpoint Station, where they'll pick up their new first officer and absolutely nothing else of interest will happen.
Wait. Of course something interesting will happen! They're supposed to solve the mystery of Farpoint, but before the ship can even reach its mysterious destination, a more pressing mystery presents itself: the mystery of the giant mysterious CGI net that the ship can't pass . . . mysteriously.
A clue arrives in the form of a being who calls itself "The Q," dressed as an Elizabethan ship's captain, and speaking in ye olde English(e). A little corny? Sure, but nobody cares when he delivers the very first Red Shirt blasting of the entire series! Yeah! Oh. Wait. He's not dead, he's just frozen. Well, that's kind of lame, but it still looks sort of cool, so I guess we'll let it pass.
Picard takes the Red Shirt's phaser and tries to rub Q's nose in its "stun" setting (not the smartest move in the world, dude) and Q tells him that he had better turn around and take his spaceship home, or he's totally going to kick him right in his spandex-covered nuts.
Before Picard can offer one of his soon-to-be trademark rebuttal speeches, Q transforms into a WWII-era American military officer, and really lays into Picard about how humans are a savage race that's unfit for tooling around the galaxy in spaceships. Surprisingly, he doesn't transform into Michael Moore at any point during his diatribe. He eventually transports himself off the ship, after ominously promising Picard that they'll meet again one day. (A personal observation on this exchange: This scene is terrifically important -- maybe even the most important scene of the entire pilot -- because it sets up the tone of the show, introduces Picard's character, and needs to grab the audience's attention so they'll stick around for the next hour or so.
John deLancie's outstanding acting ability and dramatic instincts can not be praised too much in this regard. He doesn't just wear different costumes and speak in different voices; he actually becomes different characters as he accuses humanity of being a bunch of shitcocks. Patrick Stewart responds with an equally powerful performance, striking just the right balance between indignation and an attempt to genuinely enlighten this strange being. While there will be many truly awful episodes over the next two years, including the very next one, 'The Naked Now', this exchange previews what The Next Generation is going to be about for much of its first three seasons, for better and for worse. I don't know if the significance of this moment was felt by the actors when they filmed it, but they turned in great performances nevertheless.)
Well, now the Enterprise has a problem: run away or fight? Well, there'll be plenty of time for running away in the future, so Picard decides that the best way to protect his crew is to take the ship to maximum warp speed, drive it away from the mysterious net, and separate the saucer section from the stardrive section.
Wait. What? Separate the saucer section from the stardrive section? The ship comes apart, like a Transformer? Can it turn into a gun and a boombox and a dinosaur, too?
All the families head up into the saucer section, which will be commanded by Lt. Worf (who as a Klingon certainly won't want to shoot at everyfuckingthing he sees, and is therefore an excellent choice for the task of keeping them out of trouble) while Picard takes Tasha, Data, and Troi with him into the stardrive section, where he assumes control of the battle bridge, and makes plans for a sexy party.
The mystery net turns into a mystery shiny ball and chases the Enterpise at mysteriously fast speeds. After a minute, Picard orders the emergency saucer separation, a process which, though untested at warp speed and therefore theoretically deadly and dangerous, is made kind of silly by our knowledge as the audience that it's obviously going to work, and is accompanied by the triumphant Star Trek theme music. It's not The Motion Picture-esque in its lameness, but it sure comes close, especially when the saucer section pulls away, and the stardrive section makes a burning rubber sound as it turns past the camera and heads back to face off against Q.
Picard then surrenders, Troi cries, and Q wraps the ship up, and transports the crew members to a late 21st century courtroom, where the cast of Time Bandits prepares to watch them stand trial for "the multiple and grievous savageries of the species."
Oh. Is that all? Well, this should be interesting . . . except it really isn't. It's page after page of expository arguing about how horrible humanity is by Q, and how totally awesome humanity has actually become by Picard. It's not as preachy as future episodes will be ('Lonely Among Us', and 'Symbiosis' come to mind), but it could get to its point much more quickly than it does, and it delays what the audience really wants: getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers while solving real life problems. Luckily for us all, Q declares that Picard's (and humanity's) fate rests on how he handles his encounter at Farpoint, adjourns the court and returns them to the battle bridge before Poochie reminds us to recycle to the extreme.
After a commercial break, the audience finally gets its first encounter at Farpoint Station, a pointy, crop-circle-looking place on the planet Deneb IV. We're introduced to Commander William Riker in an expository scene with Farpoint's Groppler Zorn that makes it painfully clear to the audience that something weird is going at Farpoint station, which was built very quickly, a little too perfectly, and way under budget. (Clearly Halliburton doesn't make it to the 24th century.) For the slower kids in the audience, a bowl of apples magically appears when Riker mentions that he likes them apples, (that's mysterious and weird, kids) but as soon as Riker leaves the room, the Groppler freaks out at . . . well, something, promising all sorts of angry retribution to the unseen recipient if it ever pulls that sort of shenanigans again. Okay, does everyone get it now? There's something weird going on at Farpoint station! It's a mystery! Yeah, it's the Mystery of Farpoint Station. (I wonder if the Enterprise will get a bumper sticker, like the ones they give you at the Mystery Spot or Sea Lion Caves that says "I solved the Mystery of Farpoint Station!" when it arrives?)
Well, we'll have to wait to find out, because now it's time to introduce some more characters, namely Dr. Beverly Crusher, and her son Wesley. Riker encounters them on the outskirts of the mall, where they're about to do some shopping. Star Trek: The Next Generation is full of wonderful surprises about the future, and this is one that will make everyone happy: in the future, there are still outlet malls, and they're just as plentiful in the rest of the galaxy as they are on 20th century Earth.
As they walk around the mall, Riker tries to tell Dr. Crusher how mysterious the whole place is, but she interrupts him to admire a bolt of fabric. Just before Riker can tell her the exciting tale of them apples, the fabric changes into exactly what the doctor ordered. Woah! Mystery!
Riker and the Doctor begin to discuss the mystery, when Wesley interrupts them to explicitly point out how mysterious the whole thing is. (It's right around this moment, according to historical data and polling research, that the Kill Wesley movement got its first member, though scholars are unable to agree upon who it was. It has been narrowed down to a single male virgin, approximately age 24, living in his parents' basement in the American Midwest.)
Dr. Crusher and Wesley wander off into the mall to get a good seat for Carousel, and we get to meet Geordi LaForge, who tells Riker that the Enerprise has arrived, but only with the stardrive section, and the captain wants Riker to beam up immediately. (Riker then becomes the very first character on Star Trek: The Next Generation to use the transporter, which I've always been a little envious of.)
Riker beams up the Enterprise, meets Tasha in the transporter room and heads over to the battle bridge. (Okay, personal aside: I'd forgotten how ridiculously hot Denise was on the show. Damn, that girl really worked that spacesuit, didn't she?) Once they get to the battle bridge, Picard is a total dick to Riker. He's such a dick, Data and the unnamed CONN guy (played by future DS9 regular Colm Meaney) share a meaningful, "WTF" look. Picard then plays the popular "Q Gone Wild" video for Riker, and Riker delivers a "WTF" look of his own.
The saucer section arrives, and Picard orders Riker to reconnect it manually. He's a real dick, again, in this scene, but at the very end he glances up right after Riker leaves and gives the tiniest hint of an impish glint in his eye, as if he's enjoying putting Riker to this test. Set aside for a moment how profoundly irresponsible it is to risk some human error in a procedure that's obviously been automated for a good reason, and enjoy that moment. It's a cool bit of acting that I don't recall seeing explicitly given in the script, and am fairly certain was brought to life purely through Patrick's acting experience. It layers the character with depth and complexity that won't be fully explored for a long time.
Riker gets to the battle bridge, and after a whole bunch of "WTF" looks all around, successfully reconnects the stardrive section to the saucer section, in a scene that earns the Star Trek: The Motion Picture award for unnecessary and entirely too long visual effects jerk off. He then spends some quality time with Picard, where we learn that Picard doesn't like kids. Oh, interesting fact! I'm sure the writers won't use that as a crutch at all in the coming years.
Riker reports to the bridge, looking for commander Data, but finds Worf, instead. (Hey, at least he was looking for him on the bridge, and not in that bar down on deck 17. You know the one I'm talking about. Not that there's anything wrong with it.) Worf tells Riker that Data is escorting an admiral who refuses to use the transporter to a shuttlecraft, and this is where we separate the Trekkies from the Trekkers, folks, because the hardcores know before they see or hear him that the Admiral is Dr. McCoy. The ensuing scene remains one of my absolute favorites in the entire run of the series, and is quoted partially below. The episode ends with the two of them walking down the corridor, the Admiral telling Data that the ship has the right name, and "if you treat her right, she'll always bring you home."
(To be continued in 'Encounter at Farpoint, Part II')
What's so damned troublesome about not having died? How old do you think I am, anyway?
137 years, Admiral, according to Starfleet records.
Explain how you remember that so exactly.
I remember every fact I'm exposed to, sir.
I don't see no points on your ears, boy, but you sound like a Vulcan.
No, sir. I'm an android.
Hmm. Almost as bad.
Obligatory Technobabble: ". . . is a remarkable piece of bioelectronic engineering by which I quote 'see' much of the EM spectrum ranging from simple heat and infrared through radio waves etcetera, etcetera." - Geordi, describing his VISOR by quoting from the writer's bible.
Behind the Scenes Memory: I'll never forget how I got goosebumps and tears came into my eyes the very first time I sat in a darkened theater at Paramount and saw the Enterprise fly by for the very first time, engines rumbling and shaking the room, while Patrick's commanding voice intoned "Space, the final frontier . . ." When my name came up on that screen during the opening credits, I felt like I'd just seen my name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
We shot the mall sequence at Farpoint Station, on Stage 16 at Paramount, which was one of our three permanent sound stages. The bridge, ready room and something else which is lost to my memory was on stage 6, while the corridors, engineering, sickbay, and transporter room were all on stage 9. (We moved the contents of stage 6 to stage 8 in season two, and made the observation lounge a permanent set behind the bridge, but in the first season it was a redress of sickbay on stage 9.) Stage 16 became known as Planet Hell to all of us, because it was a huge stage that was freezing cold in winter, miserably hot in summer, and too big to effectively climate control (or not; maybe they just didn't want to spend the money on it.)
When we shot our scene with Riker in the mall, Gates (who at the time was still known as "Cheryl") and I noticed that the same background actors were crossing behind us numerous times during our scenes. We naively assumed that the audience would notice this, and it would disrupt their suspension of disbelief, so we mentioned our concerns to the first assistant director. He politely and gently pointed out to us, "If the audience is watching the people in the background instead of the actors -- who are performing a scene -- in the foreground, losing their suspension of disbelief is the least of your problems." Gates and I quietly decided to stick to our jobs for the rest of the episode.
The Bottom Line: While it is interesting in retrospect to see just how much the actors and writers evolved the characters over the remainder of the season -- the most notable change being in Picard, who really comes off as an unlikable, charmless hardass in this episode -- 'Encounter at Farpoint' displays all the strengths and weaknesses inherent to a pilot episode. It successfully introduces our main characters and it lets the audience see (for better and for worse) what it can expect from the first season: a lot of exposition and technobabble in place of character development and drama, some really spiffy visual effects, and a bunch of not-very-subtle commentaries on life in the 20th century.
We obviously have a long way to go, and because I know we eventually got there, I can enjoy watching these first few steps. But at the time, Trekkies who were hoping to see the Star Trek that they were used to from the sixties must have been disappointed.
Final Grade: C-