Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: Season 1 Wrap-Up

You're going to need more than one glass to get through this season, Picard.

With the worst behind us, we present our summarized ratings for season 1 and ponder what we ever did to deserve this.

Title Eugene’s
Encounter at Farpoint
Aired: September 28, 1987
3  2
  1×03 The Naked Now
Aired: October 5, 1987
 1 Impulse
  1×04 Code of Honor
Aired: October 12, 1987
 Full Stop  Full Stop
  1×05 The Last Outpost
Aired: October 19, 1987
2 1
  1×06 Where No One Has Gone Before
Aired: October 26, 1987
4 4
  1×07 Lonely Among Us
Aired: November 2, 1987
1 1
  1×08 Justice
Aired: November 9, 1987
2 Impulse
  1×09 The Battle
Aired: November 16, 1987
2 2
  1×10 Hide and Q
Aired: November 23, 1987
3 3
  1×11 Haven
Aired: November 30, 1987
2 2
  1×12 The Big Goodbye
Aired: January 11, 1988
3 2
  1×13 Datalore
Aired: January 18, 1988
4 5
  1×14 Angel One
Aired: January 25, 1988
1  Impulse
  1×15 11001001
Aired: February 1, 1988
4 2
  1×16 Too Short A Season
Aired: February 8, 1988
2 3
  1×17 When the Bough Breaks
Aired: February 15, 1988
2 1
  1×18 Home Soil
Aired: February 22, 1988
2 2
  1×19 Coming of Age
Aired: March 14, 1988
3 3
  1×20 Heart of Glory
Aired: March 21, 1988
4 4
  1×21 The Arsenal of Freedom
Aired: April 11, 1988
1 1
  1×22 Symbiosis
Aired: April 18, 1988
3 2
  1×23 Skin of Evil
Aired: April 25, 1988
1  Impulse
  1×24 We’ll Always Have Paris
Aired: May 2, 1988
3 3
  1×25 Conspiracy
Aired: May 9, 1988
3 3
  1×26 The Neutral Zone
Aired: May 16, 1988
2 1

Are there any ratings you would change?

Eugene: I think I did tend to overrate episodes this season, but now that I can look back on it as a whole, I would bump several of them down: “11001001” should be a warp 3, “Symbiosis” is Warp 2, and I think “The Naked Now” deserves to get my only Impulse rating. I just can’t bring myself to give any episode this season any better than a warp 4.

Torie: I’m going to bump “Too Short a Season” down to a Warp 2, because I watched it just a few months ago and can’t remember anything that made it mediocre, but I remember all the things that were terrible. I’m otherwise pretty content with my ratings.

Best episode? Favorite episode?

Eugene: I’m going to call “Heart of Glory” the best episode this season. It turned out to be a real surprise to me, since it was never really on my radar before; like I said in my comments on it, I didn’t even remember this one happening so early in the season. It really feels like an episode from a better period of the show. Unsurprisingly, my favorite episode of the season remains “Where No One Has Gone Before.” It just hits all the right notes for me, well, most of them. And it was almost as good as I remembered it.

Torie: As my only Warp 5, “Datalore” wins as the best episode of the season. It’s chilling to watch, lacks the moralizing and weak performances of the rest of the season, and sets up a few basic character conflicts that will endure throughout the series–all things that make it similar to “Heart of Glory,” the other gem of the season. I think between the two “Datalore” is my favorite, though.

Most disappointing episode?

Eugene: This is a tough one, since pretty much every episode disappointed me in some way, even the ones I already had low expectations of. So many episodes I remembered liking turned out to be deeply flawed. The most disappointing was probably “We’ll Always Have Paris,” simply because it had so much potential for a great SF premise and meaningful character development, but ultimately fell short. That was the basic theme this season, wasn’t it?

Torie: “Encounter at Farpoint,” by a mile. It’s the series opener and they had two hours to tell a good story, but the whole thing is a barely watchable mess. Personally I’m going to say “The Big Goodbye,” because I remember the Dixon Hill episodes pretty fondly and that was just not good.

Eugene’s final thoughts on Season 1: I’m glad it’s over? Okay, that probably isn’t enough. Well, I’m also glad that I re-watched it, despite the associated suffering and lingering trauma it caused.

This has always been my least watched season of TNG; when I was recording the series on VHS, I was always trying to get better copies of each episode, but I never much cared whether I had decent copies of season 1. (I didn’t, which probably also contributed to infrequent viewing.) Aside from an episode or two, I never attempted to appreciate any of these episodes as more than an entertaining diversion, so I’m happy that we’re now giving it the same critical treatment we gave the original series. It deserves it, and seeing how awful the show was at the beginning makes its eventual success all the more impressive and gratifying.

I tried to write a couple of scripts for DS9 and Voyager back in junior high, but when I was watching all these shows I wasn’t making any serious, dedicated attempt to writing fiction professionally. So it’s fascinating and instructive to pick the stories apart now and recognize and learn from their many mistakes, and I am even more eager to study the good decisions the writers make later on. It’s remarkable how you can take the same characters and settings, and many of the same plots, and end up with an episode as unwatchable as “The Naked Now” or as brilliant as “The Inner Light.”

I’ve been assuming all along that TNG only survived by some miracle fluke of its nature as a syndicated program, which may account for some of its perceived success, but according to The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion by Larry Nemecek, the show was actually a commercial hit, top in the syndicated ratings and with an overwhelming approval rating from fans. I guess people were just starved for more Star Trek, and despite its problems, many were willing to give it a chance. Many of the story problems we’ve identified–inconsistencies in continuity, lack of character conflict and development, plots that went nowhere–were frustrations for the writing staff as well. There was apparently a “revolving door” of writers through season 1 and the beginning of season 2, which perhaps slowed once Gene Roddenberry voluntarily stepped back his role–though he still rewrote a lot of scripts and refused to allow conflicts among the perfect Starfleet crew. Even with the writers’ strike, which affected the quality and quantity of scripts (season 2 would have only 22 episodes, 21.3 episodes if you want to be mean, which is kind of a mixed blessing really), the show’s writing team largely stabilized and solidified in its sophomore season, and a lot of other elements finally fell into place, from set design to costumes, visual effects and makeup. The producers finally knew what they were doing and clearly took the opportunity to fix many of the issues from the previous season, further refining and shaping the show into the series we know and love.

When we set out to do a TNG re-watch, we were considering doing only select episodes from season 1, but as we tried to list the ones we had to cover, we realized that almost every episode was significant in some way and worth discussing. I still think that’s true. Season 1 was very rough on all of us, but it was the foundation for all that came after it–an entire revived franchise set in the Star Trek universe. And I think this show is also important: from the perspective of its syndication (which is the only reason it lasted more than a season), considering the fact that it was one of only a handful of SF shows on television for a time, for the way it revolutionized the way special effects were done, because of the caliber of the writers who contributed to it, and for the many careers it launched onscreen and behind the scenes. I think TNG is an important show, and I’m interested in continuing to see just how well it holds up to current television, especially at its best.

But yes, I’m looking forward to season 2, even with all its low points. Even with Dr. Pulaski. Getting through season 1 TNG was not nearly as dispiriting as the last season of the original series, when we had all its past glories to compare episodes to, and nothing to look forward to but the animated series and a handful of good films. Instead, TNG will only get better! (Just give it a little more time…) I feel like we’re witnessing the evolution of a cultural phenomenon in a way we couldn’t, and likely didn’t, while it was actually on the air; back then, no one could have known just how good this show would get, even if they knew how good it could be. It won’t always be pleasant (*cough* “The Child” *cough*) but at least all those flaws give us something interesting to talk about, right? And hey, I’m finally getting some use out of my overpriced DVD collection.

Thanks again to all our readers for joining us on this remarkable, sometimes painful, journey.

Torie’s final thoughts on Season 1: HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME. I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.

What, I need more?

About five years ago, my boyfriend was in the mood for a full TNG re-watch. I hadn’t watched it since syndication and I had missed plenty of episodes anyway, so I said why not. One by one we got our Netflix discs, and let me tell you, I finished Season 1 kicking and screaming. Every day he had to beg me to keep watching, promising it would get better. I could not imagine it ever improving, and I convinced myself that whatever regard I had felt for the episodes I had seen was obviously misplaced. Of course, the show did get better, but I had some serious deja vu as we watched it this time around. By halfway through this re-watch, I was despairing. What had I ever liked about this show? Why am I still watching? Is my love for this Trek above other Treks proof of insanity? Can we just watch Season 3 of TOS again?

I wish I could say that despite the handwringing and rage and tears, I caught some inklings of what made the show so amazing. But honestly, I don’t feel like that happened. Most of this season was utterly unrecognizable to me from later seasons, and for the better. The writing is a disaster most days. It’s hard to believe this show ever gave us “Chain of Command” or “The Best of Both Worlds.” Even thematically it feels alien, with its condescending sermons about the glory of mankind, and I believe in the glory of mankind! Interesting science fictional ideas are executed with the kind of clumsiness you’d never expect from some of the outstanding writers they rounded up, and the crew is too perfect and distant to feel relatable or interesting. So why subject myself to this? I never stuck through Babylon 5 (or Enterprise, for that matter), so what makes TNG different?

Part of it is knowing the good episodes that will come next, like a long climb to a summit with a worthy view. But part is also that even with the worst script, Patrick Stewart can command my  attention. A bad holodeck episode still makes me wish I had a holodeck. A sloppy wet kiss to the awesomeness of man’s abilities still stirs that part of me that watched the SpaceX Dragon ship and wished it was me up there. It’s the sense of possibility. You just know that with time, this cast can gel together. With a strong narrative, these characters will feel like friends to me. And hopefully, with a deft hand at the wheel, space travel will once again be inspiring.

Until then, I can at least say that at long last, our shared nightmare is over.

Until season 7.

About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.