Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Encounter at Farpoint”

“Encounter at Farpoint”
Written by D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Corey Allen

Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Original air date: September 28, 1987
Star date: 41153.7

Mission summary

Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been assigned command of the USS Enterprise-D. Headed to Deneb IV to round up the rest of his shiny new crew, the Enterprise thumps right into a supernatural barrier. The space net won’t budge and Picard and his bridge officers are visited by Q, a seemingly omnipotent being who accuses the human race of being a violent, savage race of puppy-drowning kitten-snatchers. He demands that they turn tail and run back to Earth or he will kill them all.

Picard tries to protect the civilians by separating the Enterprise, allowing the saucer section to escape while the stardrive section lures Q towards them. Q catches up and transports Picard, Yar, Data, and Troi to the spitting image of a World War III-era courtroom. He appears as a robed judge and demands that Picard answer for his race’s “crimes.” Picard, with his officers at gunpoint, pleads guilty–“provisionally”–and suggest that whatever humanity’s past, Q should judge based on how they behave now. Q agrees and lets them continue to their destination so that he may observe.

Meanwhile, on Deneb IV, first officer William T. Riker is weirded out by the local custom of his wishes and desires magically appearing before him. There’s something off about this space station and its leader, Groppler Zorn, who likes to talk to himself when the room is empty. Riker beams up to the Enterprise but Picard gives him the cold welcome of an unpleasant in-law and says he should watch some videos of the Q encounter before they meet further. Once he does, Picard berates Riker for his record of disobeying orders, but the beardless wonder takes it all in stride and manages to impress the old coot after all. Group hug!

This episode has been interrupted by fan service, in which Data escorts the 137-year-old McCoy around the new Enterprise. We now return you to your regularly scheduled episode.

Picard introduces Riker to Troi but they seem to know each other rather intimately already. (Deja vu of TMP is entirely justified.) The trio beam down to visit Zorn but the leader freaks out at the presence of a Betazoid. Troi, meanwhile, is picking up feelings of intense pain and suffering, proof that she must be able to see these episodes before we do. The meeting collapses, so Riker goes wandering to find Data in a forested holodeck and then runs into Gary Stu Crusher before finally deciding to get back to work and lead an away mission with Yar, Data, La Forge, and Troi down to Farpoint Station.

They discover a network of complex underground tunnels entirely unlike anything any of them have seen before. It seems improbable that the Bandi–the locals lead by Zorn–had anything to do with its construction. But before they can get too comfortable, an unknown space entity nears Farpoint and begins firing on the Old Bandi City (but deliberately avoids  hitting the station).  The away team beams back up to the Enterprise to find out what’s going on.

Q turns up to taunt Picard into firing on the unknown ship, but Picard doesn’t need Admiral Ackbar to tell him what’s really going on. He sends an away team to the ship, where Riker realizes that the corridors are exactly like the tunnels found below Farpoint station. The ship is a living being, and it’s reaching out to its mate–held captive by the Bandi for its ability to create matter from energy.

Picard uses the Enterprise‘s deflector to free the trapped animal/ship, and the two lovesquids float off happily ever after. Q grudgingly grants Picard this one, but promises in so many words to appear again.

PICARD: All stations?
DATA: Ready for departure, sir.
PICARD: Some problem, Riker?
RIKER: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.
PICARD: Oh no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. Let’s see what’s out there. Engage.



“Encounter at Farpoint” is a child of two worlds. On the one hand, it’s trying to present a kinder, more noble, and diverse future. On the other hand, it’s trying to pay all of its debts to the original series. I think it relies too heavily on the latter without fully realizing the world of the former. Roddenberry is repeating the same old shtick (a space douche tests humanity!), with the same writer (D.C. Fontana), even.  I admit I smiled when Picard said, “No, the same old story is the one we’re meeting now. Self-righteous life-forms who are eager, not to learn–but to prosecute to judge anything they don’t understand or can’t tolerate.” It’s the same old story to us Trek fans–but we want new stories, don’t we? Instead, I felt like we’d seen it all before and the episode didn’t really offer any surprises. We’ve come to expect the unexpected, and there’s no allowance for that, no accounting for familiarity.

“Farpoint” is strangely, uniquely terrible. Everything feels very stiff and artificial, grounded tenuously by Patrick Stewart’s innate gravitas. Each of the characters shows up for his or her trademark, paraded before the audience to tell his or her one joke and sit back down. Troi senses something obvious, Data provides “comic” relief by misunderstanding something, Wesley is a little rascal, etc. The music is awful, the effects are mediocre, and the sets look as cheap as the TOS ones. It’s a mess, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a veritable miracle that this dreck turned into one of the most beloved shows of all time.

What bothers me most is that we get the “answers” to all of the characters right away. Everything is told and nothing is shown. Troi is half-Betazoid and senses emotions but can’t read thoughts. Geordi’s visor causes him pain. Worf is too Klingon to be a good bridge officer (or is he?). Data wants to be human. Crusher and Picard have a specific event in the past that’s weird between them. I mean, there are no secrets, nothing to discover, nothing to reveal. One of the things I did really enjoy about DS9 was how slowly you came to know each of the characters, and how many secrets (minor or major) each had. In real life, other people are always a little bit of a mystery. They don’t open up right away. We shouldn’t be getting the whole story so quickly, spelled out completely in the first episode. Even Riker and Troi’s relationship is out in the open from day one. Wouldn’t that have been more interesting if it had been hidden for at least a full episode?

There’s also just no solid sense of who these people are, and no depth to their outward character types. Picard’s opening voiceover, full of curiosity and promise at the upcoming mission, contradicts the capriciousness on display when Riker comes aboard. I feel his “testing” of Riker would have been more effective if we hadn’t been in Picard’s head and hadn’t already known that it was just a ploy to feel out the new recruit. Instead the captain just seems like a dick, a bitter old man threatened by a younger one (TMP much?). Riker is a kind of cipher, and it’s clear he was meant to be the man the audience could identify with, who would command away missions and do awesome saucer unification and strangle a man with his bare hands–yet he can’t hold a candle to Stewart, whose mere presence commands attention in a way that a young Frakes just couldn’t. And how can Riker  manually dock the two ship sections but not know how to locate Data and has never seen a holodeck?

There’s so much else that just doesn’t work. Picard is surprised that Dr. Crusher has a son… yet they had already established that he had met him when he brought the father’s body home. And wouldn’t he know that Dr. Crusher had requested the assignment? How is it that Riker and Wesley know each other, down on Deneb IV? Why does Data spend his time in a forest simulation? And ye gods, why does the holodeck let other people in when you’re in the middle of your little holofantasy? Talk about a place I wouldn’t want to be walked in on…

One of the worst parts is, I’m sad to say, DeForest Kelley’s cameo. That sequence feels shoehorned in to please the old-timers. We get a Vulcan joke and a transporter joke, and again you get the sense that they felt the need to go through this old song-and-dance rather than try something new. All that make-up hides Kelley’s expressiveness and he just looks like a really old muppet wearing bell bottoms. It’s sad and it’s out of place. I have always been weirded out by McCoy’s line about treating the Enterprise like a lady, because then she’ll always bring you home.  What is that even supposed to mean? So if you pick up the tab you’ll always score? A TOS cameo is just a box to be ticked off on the “Tropes Fans Expect” list, like the slow saucer separation and then saucer unification sequences (which feel straight out of TMP: slow, pointless, unimpressive). And let’s not forget that in the heat of battle they strain the engine’s limits, except this time you don’t even have Scotty (or anyone like him) to make the tension feel more real.

The only moments that feel right in the whole two hours are the scenes with Q. He has a puckishness we’ve come to expect from space douches and more energy than the rest of the cast combined (who occasionally manage to be less kinetic than bingo night at the senior center). I had never realized that Picard himself is the one who suggests that the ship’s mission be the triable evidence of their progress as a race. The idea that the actions of this crew on their various missions are going to determine our worth as a race is the diamond in the rough (…very rough) at the heart of this series. It allows me to forget the cheesy costumes and stilted dialogue and terrible narrative structure and remember what Star Trek is all about: embodying the goodness and idealism that could define humanity if we just gave them the chance.

I’m going to have to try and remember that through “The Naked Now” and “Code of Honor.” You’ll help, right?

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: PICARD: If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.

Trivia: Deneb IV is  obliquely referenced in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” when Kirk tells Gary Mitchell he’s been worried about him “ever since that night on Deneb IV.”

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Next episode: Season 1, Episode 2 – “The Naked Now.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.