On the Enterprise-D’s maiden voyage, a mysterious and powerful entity calling himself Q (John de Lancie) blocks the ship’s path to Farpoint Station, accusing humans of being a “savage, child race” and telling them they must stop exploring the galaxy. After some verbal sparring with the ship’s commander, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Q puts the crew on trial for the crimes of humanity and then decides to judge them based on their ability to solve the mystery at Farpoint (natch). The new station seems almost magical and the station’s builders are loathe to answer any questions about it. On the clock with Q’s impending judgment and with a mysterious ship in orbit attacking the planet’s inhabitants — but not the station — Picard and Co. learn at the last moment that the station is actually a space lifeform forced to become the station by the planet’s inhabitants. Picard helps free the lifeform, and it leaves with its mate, which was actually the ship in orbit. Q declares the puzzle as too easy — which it really was — and leaves, but does not promise never to return (thunderclap). Then, the new crew decides to “see what’s out there,” and begins the 7-year run of the Enterprise-D.
Why it’s important
As Trek’s first television foray since 1969 — other than “The Animated Series” — “Encounter at Farpoint” establishes the new Enterprise, the crew (with surprisingly detailed backstories for many of the characters and only a smidge too much exposition) and, of course, Q. It’s hard to evaluate, all these years later, just how groundbreaking the episode was at the time, but it was clearly a reimagined version of Starfleet and the Federation we knew and loved — a version with a lot of spark and creativity. Next to the release of the original series and “Star Trek — The Motion Picture”, this is probably Trek’s most important premiere, from a real-world perspective.
Within the Star Trek universe, this episode shows that humanity and the Federation have made some major headway since last we saw Kirk and Co. In real time, the last Star Trek available prior to TNG in fall 1987 was “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” in 1986. We last saw the original crew on the bridge of the new Enterprise-A, which we learn later was 80 years before the events of this episode. Starfleet technology has notably advanced in the intervening time, things are at least somewhat better with the Klingons (with Worf on the bridge and all) and the high-sounding words of Picard and others clearly advance the idea that humanity continued to evolve.
We also learn that the Enterprise carries families and can separate when going into battle. The saucer section, carrying the families, presumably would run for cover while the star drive goes to kick some ass. It’s kind of an odd concept (more below).
We also meet Q, who is noteworthy as Trek’s first truly recurring villain. Khan might qualify, but he only appears in one episode and one movie, while Q makes regular appearances on TNG, shows up once on DS9 and three times on Voyager. Q, of course, introduces the Enterprise to the Borg in TNG’s second season — though it’s pretty clear that the Borg had dealings with the Federation (that weren’t apparent or possibly public knowledge) prior to Q’s actions in “Q Who?” In other words, it’s more than likely that the the Borg would have become a big thing to the Federation at some point, even if Q accelerated the timetable.
Lastly, we hear the name of a fairly important alien race for the first time in this episode: the Ferengi. Of course, they’re made out to be far more intimidating than what we see a few episodes later and throughout most of second-generation Trek. Picard actually says they’ve eaten their past business associates. Not sure the Brothers Quark would agree with that …
What doesn’t hold up
As this is was a pilot episode and the beginning of second-generation Star Trek, some rough spots were understandable (but worth noting):
— The technology is weird. Picard mentions use of computer printouts (!) and the bad science of TOS continues in a few spots. How did the Enterprise separate the saucer at warp if the saucer has no warp engines? And how did the saucer escape the encounter with Q and make it back to Farpoint on impulse? Were they that close to the planet when Q attacked? If so, was there really any advantage in removing the saucer?
— The saucer separation idea was a bizarre item in the first place, considering how rarely the move was made (just “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “The Best of Both Worlds”, and “Star Trek: Generations”). In only one of those instances was the saucer separated so the kiddies could get away before possible battle, despite multiple occasions where it could have been used. One that always stood out was the encounter with the Lore-led Borg in the “Descent” two-parter — where the ship uses a subspace corridor to follow the Borg into space that the crew knows will be hostile. I’m sure the initial idea was about a “gee-whiz” factor made possible by improved effects. Either that wore off, or the creators decided they didn’t like the headless-duck look of the star drive that much. Or both.
— Some of the characters weren’t quite right. Picard (as he does for most of season 1) seems officious and unnecessarily harsh. Data, much like Spock in early TOS, is too human (and he uses a lot of contractions and apparently can’t read a calendar). Troi’s emotive behavior when sensing emotions was just WAY over the top (not surprisingly, considering Marina Sirtis was probably Trek’s weakest regular actor). Everyone else was more or less on target with at least the first-season versions of the characters (Riker is stiff, Yar is overly earnest, Worf is too willing to pull a phaser, etc.).
— While Q generally fits with what we see later, it’s odd that he would need to throw force fields up in the middle or space or have the weird flaming-globe ship that pursues the Enterprise. It was probably another example of the creators wanting to flex their effects muscles, but if Q is all powerful, why would he need to have a vessel (or whatever that thing is) travel at warp in pursuit of the Enterprise? Was it a matter of further intimidating Picard and Co.? We only see the force field once more, after which Q’s powers are far less effects-driven.
— Lastly, it seems like Picard doesn’t know that much about how his officers were assigned to the ship. His line about how he was “informed” that “a highly experienced man” would join the ship at Farpoint seems like Picard didn’t actually pick his first officer, which runs counter to what we learn later (notably in “The Pegasus”). Same sort of goes for Picard’s discussion with Crusher late in the episode. How didn’t he know that Crusher asked for the assignment? More on that in a moment …
Again, “Encounter at Farpoint” is a pilot episode and should be given some slack (probably as much as any Trek episode other than “The Cage” and maybe “Where No Man Has Gone Before”). But there were clearly some editing issues. Why, for example, did Riker and Data formally meet on the holodeck when Data was at ops when Riker rejoined the saucer and the star drive? For that matter, why didn’t Riker just summon Data using his communicator? I know it allowed for the introduction of the holodeck, but it sure seems off. It feels like the holodeck scene was added later.
Also, why did Picard (in a scene often cut for time) take a few minutes in the middle of a crisis to go to sickbay and apologize to Crusher for the weird encounter with Wesley on the bridge? It would have made sense after the crisis was averted — but during, with a ticking clock and humanity’s future at stake? It almost feels like that scene was moved up for the sake of pacing everything else.
In fact, the entire situation with Picard and Crusher makes little sense. Surely, Picard would have known that his best friend’s widow had a son who was going to live on the ship, and would have pieced together that the boy in the turbolift — if not the boy dripping wet from the holodeck a few minutes earlier — was Jack Crusher’s offspring.
Granted, Picard and Crusher’s relationship prior to “Encounter at Farpoint” is pretty murky. But they clearly had some shared friends — e.g., Walker Keel, whom we meet in “Conspiracy” — and had enough interactions where Picard had strong feelings for Crusher (“Attached”). But here, it’s almost as if they’re nothing more than acquaintances connected by Jack Crusher.
The whole thing with Admiral McCoy inspecting the Enterprise was odd, too. How did Riker — whom we learn later came to the Enterprise from the Hood, where he was first officer — not know that a Starfleet legend was on the Hood to be transported to the Enterprise (and back) for an inspection? Or was McCoy on the Enterprise the whole time during the encounter with Q and transported to the Hood only after? Or was McCoy at Farpoint? Regardless, how didn’t Riker know about McCoy? I’m not against the “hand off” moment between McCoy and Data, but it could have been done a lot better. And, really, I wasn’t a fan of the fact that McCoy acted more like a redneck in this episode — his decision to call Data “boy”, etc. It’s almost like DeForest Kelley was doing a spoof on McCoy. Did he have too many Georgia Mint Juleps on the Hood?
Beyond that, was the Hood in orbit of Farpoint the whole time Riker was playing gumshoe before the Enterprise arrived and until McCoy was transported to the Hood in a shuttle? If so, we never see the ship or hear it mentioned. The natural assumption, too, is that Crusher, Wesley and La Forge were transported by the Hood to Farpoint (though this is never made clear).
Lastly, the post-atomic horror court scene created by Q is probably the low point of the episode. A lot of the acting — both by Patrick Stewart (surprisingly) and Denise Crosby and Sirtis (not all that surprisingly) — was pretty awful. The little person with the bell and the Asian announcer dude are straight out of the Book of Bad 1980s Sci-Fi Crutches — not shockingly, they aren’t part of the court’s recreation in “All Good Things …” — and there’s no blood when the guard attacked by Yar is shot repeatedly with automatic weapons just inches from Picard. Oh, and what’s with the conn officer (whom we learn later is Miles O’Brien) acting as if nothing had happened when Picard, Data, Yar and Troi returned to the battle bridge? He says they’ve been on course and acts as if the ship wasn’t in battle — despite the fact that the ship had separated. WTF, Miles? If everything’s cool, where’s the rest of the damn ship?
It’s also worth noting that things apparently didn’t get rosy on 21st-century Earth until well past the events of “Star Trek: First Contact” in 2063. Q says the courtroom is depicted from 2078, and Troi is very clear to Picard when she says the entire situation was “very real.” I suppose you could argue that Earth (or all parts of Earth) didn’t set course to be paradise immediately after the Vulcans landed in central Montana. But that leaves a lot less time for Earth to be as ship shape as we see it in the 2150s in “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Remember that we’re talking about a planet that, in 90 years, supposedly went from being ravaged by a world war to a society that’s totally eliminated hunger, conflict, etc.
Coming later this week …
We’re not sure you have the lobes needed for us to tell you, hu-man.