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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Continuing to look at the Star Trek pilots, we now turn our attention to the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Encounter at Farpoint” can be a bit difficult to get through mostly because it is so dated. The entire episode just screams 1980s. In my “Where No Man…” review, I noted that that episode had a timeless quality about it. Not so when “Encounter…”, and I am not sure why that is the case. It is just how I feel when viewing it. If someone can explain it, please shout out below!
Moving beyond that, this pilot does some good work when establishing the series. I suppose it had to. The Next Generation was the first of all the Star Trek spin-offs (not counting The Animated Series). As such, there was a lot of anticipation and skepticism when this episode was nearing air date. Keep in mind, this was when the Star Trek movies were going strong. Star Trek IV was just in theaters a year prior, and “everyone” seemed to love it. Now, these “pretenders” are coming on TV. TNG could have been a huge misfire.
But it was not. And this episode was instrumental in setting that tone. It was a double-length episode (something future Star Treks continued), and it was careful to establish who these characters are. Sure, many of them fell into the same Star Trek arc types (heroic cowboy, alien outsider, no-nonsense veteran, etc), but everything was well re-defined. It made the show familiar, yet different and not redundant.
Also helping tremendously was the fact that sci-fi was not really happening on TV at the time. Star Trek: The Next Generation was pretty much the only game in town. All the flaws that this episode (and the rest of the first season) had were trumped by the fact that there was nothing else feeding into the genre. It got away with being mediocre. Luckily, the show got its footing and improved year after year, before hiding its stride.
The story in the episode is okay. It does its job. The Enterprise, under the command of Captain Picard heads to Farpoint Station, a distant outpost, to pick-up the rest of its crew and to investigate some suspicions Starfleet has about the station. Along the way, they encounter Q, who claims that humanity is a threat to the galaxy and deems them unworthy to leave their own solar system. Picard strikes a deal to prove to Q that humanity has evolved for the better by solving the Farpoint mystery. Spoiler Alert: They do.
To be honest, the plot here is a bit thin. But, “Encounter…” was more about setting the stage for the series. The actual story probably could have been wrapped up in an hour, but then we would have missed out on some key character bits. With nine main cast members to service, it was going to take time to give them each a moment.
Depending on what your expectations are, “Encounter at Farpoint” can be tough to get through at first. You adjust pretty quickly to the 1980s-ness of it, and once you do, you can enjoy the episode on its own merits. It is not one of TNG’s best, and I would not call it essential Trek watching. However, it did kick off eighteen years of continuous Star Trek on the airwaves. That is definitely something to consider.