Star Trek: The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint (Part II)
Original Air Date: September 28, 1987
Written By: D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by: Corey Allen
Synopsis: When we last left our heroes, the Enterprise had just entered orbit around planet Deneb IV, so that's a pretty good place to pick up the action, as an Excelsior class ship (in this case the USS Hood) pulls away from the Enterprise, giving us a sense of just how goddamn big this spaceship is. It's a cool shot -- so cool, in fact, we reused it about 900 times over the duration of the series, with different planets (or no planet at all) put into the background.
Picard walks onto the bridge, and before he can find out the Hood's reply to his taunt bon voyage, mon ami (which loosely translates into "suck my balls, assmaster" in 24th century starship captain slang), Q appears on the main viewscreen. Worf leaps to his feet, propelled by his Klingon instincts, and draws his phaser. Luckily, before he can fire, Picard (and the entire audience) point out that all he's going to do there is blast a hole in the main viewscreen. (It is at this very moment that the Big Dumb Stupid Old Worf drinking game is born, one of the only Star Trek drinking games to span two series and at least four movies.) Q gives Picard 24 hours to have his Encounter at Farpoint, or be summarily judged by Captain Q's Kangaroo Court, where he faces death beneath an avalanche of ping pong balls.
Eleven of the 24 hours pass, and we find Riker and Picard getting ready to head down to the planet to meet Groppler Zorn, and have some of those tasty-but-mysterious apples Riker keeps ranting about. Picard then introduces Riker to the ship's counselor. As she walks down toward them, she projects some of her thoughts into Riker's mind, and calls him "Imzadi," which is Betazoid for "Backstory red herring that never really goes anywhere for seven years but finally pays off (sort of) in the last movie when Riker gets Worf's sloppy seconds, but let's not go there because 'ew gross.'"
They all head into the turbolift, and Picard says, "Hey, I think it's great that you guys know each other, because it's important for my key officers to know each other's abilities." Troi says, "We do, sir," and Riker and Picard subtly high-five each other as the turbolift doors close.
Down on the planet, Riker, Troi and Picard have their meeting with Groppler Zorn (who, it was pointed out by several commenters in Part One, was played by legendary and prolific voice actor Michael Bell, making it really fun for Gen X-ers who recognize his work from Voltron, Transformers, and G.I. Joe.) Zorn is really unhappy that Troi is around, because Betazoids can read minds. She reassures him that she's only half Betazoid, and can only sense strong emotions. Oh? I wonder if we'll experience any of that in this episode?
Starfleet wants the Bandi to build some other bases on other planets, since they did such a great job on Deneb IV, but Zorn says that Bandi don't like to leave their homeworld, and if Starfleet doesn't just back the hell off, he'll get on the phone with the Ferengi, and set up an alliance with them. Ohhh! The Ferengi sound really scary and dangerous; I can't wait to see their first episode!
Troi looks like she's either just felt a great disturbance in the Force, ate some bad fish that's trying to come back up on her, or has some knowledge of the Ferengi's first appearance on the series. When pressed to disclose exactly what her damn problem is, she tears up and says she feels, "pain . . . pain . . . loneliness . . . terrible loneliness . . . despair." Wait. Is she talking about the average Trekkie? (Oh, I'm going to get letters about that one, so I hope you enjoyed it.) Maybe she's talking about Groppler Zorn. Okay, it's neither of those things, but it's something close by . . . Riker's Little Captain, maybe? Oh! I know! It's Picard's sense of humor and brevity!
Before we can run this joke even further into the ground, Groppler Zorn totally freaks out, and our heroes decide it's time to go. Groppler Zorn again threatens to take his football and go play with the Ferengi, and Picard says, "Good. I hope they find you as tasty as they did their last associates." Oh! PWNED! GodDAMN those Ferengi must be so fucking bad ass!
What? What are you laughing about? Moving on . . .
Back on the Enterprise, Riker heads into the holodeck to meet up with Data, who we learn can't whistle like a human (that's lame) and wants to be human (that's lamer) and is consequently called "Pinocchio" by Riker (excuse me while I recalibrate the scale of lameness.)
Hey, speaking of things that are lame, here comes Wesley Crusher, who is so busy talking about how awesome the holodeck is, he falls right into some of its totally awesome and entirely realistic water, soaking his brown sweater in the process. Luckily for Wes, he has a closet filled with those horrible things, and in the very next scene, we see he's changed into a spiffy green number (which, if I must be honest here, was the sweater I hated wearing the least. Yeah, it was ugly as hell, but it was much more comfortable than the other ones, and was nearly baggy and lame enough to pass for something you'd wear to a pink neon-lit club in 1987.) Since it's been about 41 seconds since Wesley did something annoying, he asks his mom if she can get him a look at the bridge. Trekkies everywhere gasp in horror at his temerity, then ponder taking it back when he points out that "Captain Picard is a pain, isn't he?" It is the first and last time Trekkies will agree with anything Wesley says until the appearance of Robin Lefler.
Back on the planet, Troi tries to get Riker to take her with him to examine the very empty, very secluded, very-good-for-pounding-out-a-quickie tunnels beneath the station. We learn a little something about Riker when he instead sends Tasha and Geordi with her, and takes off alone with the robot. Ooooohhhhhkay, Riker, whatever inverts your matter/anti-matter intermix chambers, big guy.
Down in the tunnels, Geordi can't see anything, even with his funky banana clip, Tasha fights off a rape gang flashback, and Troi opens up her mind to find . . . . pain. Lots and lots of pain. Boy, there sure is a lot of pain. Riker and Data beam into the tunnels, and she tells them that there's also unhappiness, and terrible despair, from some sort of lifeform that isn't anything like them. (Trekkies again? Oh I didn't! Yeah, I did.) Geordi's magic banana clip springs to life, and he reveals that he sees some zany building material that he doesn't recognize at all. Yes, it's all very spooky and mysterious. We get it. Hey, as long as you're taking your time and not moving the story forward at all, why not have a pod race?
Back on the Enterprise, we find Picard harrumphing on the bridge. He's well and truly pissed off when the turbolift doors open, revealing Wesley Crusher, who thinks it's just about the coolest thing in the world to be standing right there, inside the tubolift, looking out at the bridge. I know this, because I thought it was just about the coolest thing in the world to get into that turbolift, have the doors automatically close in front of me, and pretend, just for a moment, that it was real. When those doors opened and Wesley looks out at the bridge like he's Lindsay Lohan with a bag full of blow at an all you can binge and purge buffet, it wasn't acting. I really thought it was that cool. In all the years that I worked on Star Trek, even when I was a stupid teenager who wanted to be at the beach with my friends, instead of wearing a spacesuit and spouting technobabble, I always had an undeniable affection for the bridge.
Dr. Crusher steps around Wesley, and tells Picard that she's reporting for duty, and Wesley is her son. The audience isn't quite sure what's up between them, but it sure seems like there's something going on there. Will anyone have the courage to write even one word of slash fiction about them? Oh, we can only hope. She tells Picard that he hasn't seen Wesley since he was a baby, and Picard brought his dead father's body back to them. Oh, and if it's cool, could he walk out onto the bridge? What could possibly go wrong?
Picard tells Wesley, with some difficulty, that he knew Wesley's father and -- okay, all snark and silliness aside, this is actually a really wonderful moment, carried entirely by Patrick, because I was just too young and inexperienced as an actor to really know what to do with it. We can see him look at Wesley like he's trying to see (or maybe trying to not see) his father, and we can see Picard struggling with the memory of his good friend Jack Crusher and his role in Jack's death. I guess it's okay that I didn't do much more than I did, because it wouldn't have been realistic, but watching this scene for this review, I really wish I'd just done more than stand there while the grown-ups did some actual acting.
Picard then invites Wesley to have a walk around the bridge, and take a seat in the Captain's chair. Hey, what could possibly go wrong? Picard shows Wesley how his chair does all sorts of neat-o things, like log entries, and LCARS stuff, and Wesley quietly listens.
Oh. Wait. No he doesn't. He keeps interrupting Picard to show off that he knows everything about the panels, like where the backup CONN and OPS controls are, and that it has a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time! Wesley then shows us all exactly what could go wrong, when he pushes buttons he shouldn't push, and tells Picard that there's a perimeter alert. This is where the wheels come off in this scene: Wesley stammers some apology, (as an actor, I stupidly telegraph everything that I'm going to do before I do it,) and Picard orders both of them off the bridge. Worf tells him that there's a perimeter alert (hey, at least he didn't try to shoot Wesley with his phaser) and Dr. Crusher pours a nice big cup of gasoline on the Kill Wesley fire when she sasses Picard: "As my son tried to tell you! Nyahh! Nyahh!" Thanks for that, mom. Bon voyage, mon ami.
The perimeter alert, it turns out, is the result of a huge spaceship arriving and taking up orbit next to the Enterprise. It won't respond to any messages, so Picard orders the away team back to the ship, and calls Groppler Zorn. While Picard talks with
Duke Major Bludd Groppler Zorn, the UFO pulls right up next to the Enterprise. It's 12 times the size of the Galaxy Class Starship, which in 20th century measurement terms is reallyfuckinghuge. Zorn says he has no idea what the ship is, but whatever it is, it scans the Enterprise with a spiffy purple light, and then starts blasting away the Bandi city down on the surface with the same purple light. That purple light, she is a fickle mistress. Prowl
Most of the away team beams back to the Enterprise, leaving Riker and Data down on the planet. As the UFO continues to blast away at the Bandi city, Picard tells them to grab Zorn and beam him up to the Enterprise, because that dude totally knows something about the mystery of Farpoint Station (Picard must have seen the bumper sticker on Zorn's RV.) Then, he tells Tasha to lock phasers onto the UFO. You know, he's actually doing a pretty good job handling these things, making logical and difficult decisions while under a not insignificant amount of pressure . . . and then Q shows up to pee all over everything.
Down on the planet, Riker and Data find a rather terrified Groppler Zorn, who is pretty clearly hiding some clues to the Mystery of Farpoint Station. (You know, it's too bad that this didn't happen like, five episodes from now, because Wesley would totally have solved this problem in, like, 38 minutes.) Anyway, Groppler Zorn is whisked away by a purple transporter beam (gosh, I wonder where it came from?) and Data and Riker go back to the Enterprise.
On the bridge, Picard and Q have another argument, very similar to the one we've seen three times already, where Q is really like a stupid Internet Troll; he makes some stupid accusation against Picard, Picard refutes his argument with logic and reason, and Q just changes the terms of the argument, all the while enjoying the attention he's getting. Finally, he leaves, and Picard leaps into action . . . and has a leisurely chat with Dr. Crusher. What? Man, what a shame. It's a good scene, and does a lot for their relationship in just a few pages, but it's so poorly placed in the screenplay, it feels very jarring and out of place.
Riker takes an away team to the mystery ship, and they land in a series of corridors all alike. It's very dark, and they could be eaten by a Grue. Actually, it looks just like the corridors underneath Farpoint Station, but nobody bothers to comment on that. Troi senses that a very powerful being is very pissed off, and then senses that Groppler Zorn is nearby and in great . . . wait for it . . . pain. Zorn is floating in some sort of glowing cylinder, and when they blast it to rescue him, the ship shimmies and shakes and glows. Oh! Dangerous! Picard tries to beam them back, but Q won't let him, until Picard promises to do whatever Q wants (What could possibly go wrong?) and the away team appears on the bridge, accompanied by Groppler Zorn. Troi tells Picard that the ship is not just a ship, but is also a living creature, and Picard solves the Mystery of Farpoint Station, just like that.
As a reward for this, Picard gets the bumper sticker, but he also gets to watch the UFO transform into a really beautiful creature that looks like a cross between the mothership from Close Encounters and an intergalactic space jellyfish.
The Enterprise sends an energy beam down to the space station, which transforms into another intergalactic space jellyfish that flies up into orbit, and high-fives the other intergalactic space jellyfish. Troi senses a feeling of great joy and gratitude from both of them, as well as a thousand Trekkies throwing up a little bit in their mouths.
Picard then turns to Q, and totally smacks him down. Like the sad little Internet Troll he is, Q makes some blustery arguments, but leaves with his tail between his legs. Picard tells him, "bon voyage, mon ami" as he goes. Sweet. Then, in a dramatic close up, he delivers one of my favorite lines of any pilot in the history of television, "Let's see what's out there. Engage."
It is an unknown, Captain. Isn't that enough?
If you'd earned that uniform you're wearing, you'd know that the unknown is what brings us out here.
Obligatory Technobabble: ". . . which uses high-resolution multispectral imaging sensors!" - Wesley, totally showing off for the Captain that he knows how the main viewer works. What a dork.
Behind the Scenes Memory: When I walked down the bridge set, taking it all in for the first time, looking around like it's the coolest thing in the world, it required a little bit of acting on my part. Even though I loved that set, when we filmed that walk, everything that I would have been looking at was pulled out to make way for lights, crew, equipment, and the camera dolly. I wasn't helped by a very well-meaning director who, in an effort to extract maximim wonder from me kept hollering, "Picard controls the sky, man! HE! CONTROLS! THE! SKY!"
Yeah, I know he does, dude, but what I'm seeing right now is a grip scratching his ass, and I have to be honest with you: it's not all that impressive, and you're kind of distracting me.
And here's something really cool, that was a practical necessity when we shot, but I think is an equally awesome visual bit that most audience members may have missed the first time around: when Riker and Data are walking in the Holodeck talking about Data's service record, they walk behind a large mound when Data says, "Understood sir, prejudice is very human." After that line, the mound crossfades into another mound, the actors emerge, and the scene continues. We had to do this because on location that day (at a place called Ferndell, in Griffith Park) they ran out of space (I can't remember if it was the camera or the actors who ran out of space) and they had to reset the action. They cut, moved to a different part of the park, and covered the reset with the crossfade. In any other case I think it would distract the audience and break the suspension of disbelief, but in this case, I think it actually reinforces the reality of the show, because that's exactly what the holodeck would do if it was real.
The Bottom Line: There's not much to add here, because I already said most of it in Part One, but I noticed something while watching this that I hadn't really noticed before: someone made Data very cartoony in both parts of this episode. I don't know who was responsible for it, but someone obviously realized that it wasn't the strongest choice, and I'm really glad that they gradually changed Data's character arc. I'm not sure (because we haven't gotten there, yet,) but I think this happened around 'Datalore'. It's also clear that someone decided to dial Troi's sensing ability from 11 to a more palatable 3 or 4, which was also a good decision for her character. As I said last time around, this is a pilot episode, and though it doesn't really hold up very well (mostly because it wasn't all that great to begin with) it's still a lot of fun to watch it, and see what we kept and what we changed as the show evolved. And I don't care how much you were annoyed by all of our shortcomings in this one; when Picard says, "Let's see what's out there," it's hard not to be excited for next week. Unfortunately, next week delivered 'The Naked Now'. Oops.
Final Grade: C-