Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 1: Encounter at Farpoint

Jellyfish-ho!

Jellyfish-ho!

Plot Synopsis:  Captain Jean-Luc Picard leads the crew of the USS Enterprise-D on its maiden voyage, to examine a new planetary station for trade with the Federation. On the way they encounter Q, a seemingly omnipotent being who challenges humanity as a barbaric, inferior species. Picard and his new crew must hold off Q’s challenge and solve the puzzle of Farpoint station, a base that is far more than it seems to be.

Plot A and B Analysis:  There is no teaser in this episode. Plot A is the actual mission to Farpoint station, and it’s the less interesting of the two. It’s kind of standard Star Trek fare and any excitement or tension that’s felt was largely part of this being the first episode of a new series. The dialogue is stilted, many of the actors are fairly stiff and a bit nervous, and you probably aren’t given enough clues to solve the mystery until the mystery is about to be solved. Plot B revolves around Q, and is much more entertaining. It’s ironic given that Q was a character that Gene Roddenberry thought up when Paramount told him they wanted a feature-length episode and he’d only plotted a standard hour. A red-shirt almost dies, humanity gets put on trial and the crew of the new Enterprise has to prove their worth to a being whose powers are certainly beyond anything they can handle. Q of course is reminiscent of Trelayne from the original series episode The Squire of Gothos, but John DeLancie makes you forget that and rivets your attention. He’s the only actor that seems like he’s having fun and relaxed, and not surprisingly most of the good scenes are ones that he is in. We also get to see the ship separate, which is a device that’s rarely used for the rest of the series. The mystery is solved and the new Enterprise crew prove to Q they’re worth sticking around for a bit longer. The episode ends with one of the best last-lines of any pilot: “Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!”

Favorite Scenes:  The single best scene probably belongs to the cameo of DeForest Kelley, playing Bones as a retired 137-yr old admiral. It’s just him and Data, and the nostalgia in this scene can be felt; you really get a sense that the torch is being passed here. The scene where Picard and Q are facing off in the courtroom scene is also enjoyable and does work because we get to see actual drama between two actors who know exactly what they’re doing.

Nose to nose

Nose to nose

Use of Cast/Characters: Every cast member is in this one, everyone gets introduced and we get at least some development out of every single one of them. DeLancie does such a good job that he becomes a recurring character for the rest of the series and virtually every Star Trek series after this one. Patrick Stewart comes across as a powerful, mature figure and one that can legitimately challenge Q, but he’s written as something of a hard ass in this episode. Everyone else is competent but a bit stiff as they haven’t quite figured out how they will play their characters yet. Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi really gets the shaft in this episode:  she has to wear the stupid mini-skirt and gets saddled with terrible lines like “Pain! Loneliness! Despair!” and “Don’t! If you should be hurt…!” Granted she’s not an actress that’s going to win an Oscar, but her dialogue is certainly the worst in the episode. Oh, and soak up the image of her in a Starfleet uniform, because she won’t wear one again until season six. During an interview Marina has said she hated her performance in this episode, describing her acting as “Star Trek meets Sophie’s Choice.” Still, at least she gets some screen time. Worf doesn’t do much but complain and try to shoot the viewscreen, and Tasha Yar gets little more.

Blu Ray Version:  Star Trek: TNG was shot on 35mm film like a movie, instead of tape, so it lends itself to updating to HD much better than other shows made at the time. Watching this episode on Blu Ray is nothing short of a revelation. You’d never know it was made in 1987 from the love that was shown by the restorers. Some of the scenes are so sharp you can see the make-up and pores on the actors’ faces. The planet looks a lot better (but not as good as in future episodes) and the Bandi city looks like an actual city, not some brown smudge on the screen. The two jellyfish-like creatures are color-corrected and look beautiful and pristine, and their enhancement to the effects is pleasantly noticeable without being intrusive. An old flaw is corrected as the Enterprise’s energy beam is for the first time shown coming from the phaser bank, where it was supposed to.

There are also several little changes they made also. When Riker first enters the Holodeck, the river in the background is actually running, and the leaves of the plants are moving now. Also in the holodeck scene, due to the extended scan area, if you look carefully on the right of your screen you can see a spotlight that’s not supposed to be in the shot. The Bussard collectors of the Enterprise are color corrected so they’re not blue or purple in various shots as in the original version.

Nitpicks:  There is a LOT of time dedicated to watching the ship separate and reattach in this episode, and it slows everything down to a crawl, especially in the action sequence. Evidently they needed an extra couple of minutes to fill. I’d have been happy if they cut the time of both of those scenes in half. On his way to the holodeck Riker is instructed that it’s the “first hatchway on the right,” so of course he goes left to find it? On the original, non-Blu Ray-version of this episode the energy beam which is supposed to come from the phaser bank actually came from the Captain’s Yacht on the bottom of the saucer section.

Overall Impression: The intro of the first episode is just fantastic. Patrick Stewart’s voice-over of the continuing mission of the Enterprise is first-class, and a perfect set-up to the episode and the series. The new Enterprise itself is just a beautiful ship: big, sleek and elegant, it’s in some ways the main character of the show. Her bridge is maybe the best of all the starship bridges I’ve seen on various shows. In real life it’s probably too big but I love it. It’s perfect form meets function, and seems futuristic and realistic at the same time. We’re also introduced to TNG’s single greatest contribution to the tech of Star Trek:  the holodeck. Unfortunately it mostly goes downhill from there. These do seem like interesting characters we’re meeting, but there’s only so much one episode can do and the dialogue doesn’t help. Wil Wheaton noted that fans of the series from the 60’s must’ve been disappointed. Q is a highlight but much of the rest of the episode is forgettable. As a 12-year-old I thought it was dazzling, but watching it now it seems terribly dated and weak, especially when you think of all the terrific episodes in the seasons that would follow. I rate it 2 out of 5 stars.

The new crew looks pretty promising...except for the miniskirt

The new crew looks pretty promising, but the miniskirt doesn’t help

Behind the Scenes/Trivia:  According to Patrick Stewart it took a month to shoot the pilot. Watch the intro, and at about the 1:25 mark when the saucer section comes out from underneath the camera if you look closely you can see an animation of the crew walking back and forth in the observation room. It’s a cool touch for the observant viewer. At a recent group interview, Brent Spiner and a lot of the cast really gave credit to the episode’s director, Corey Allen, for helping the actors to shape and find their characters. He would only direct four more episodes for TNG. In fact Patrick Stewart has told a story that for one of the shots of the episode, instead of Corey yelling “action” he yelled out, “Patrick! I want you to F*** the universe! Action!” Marina Sirtis wears contacts to make her irises look larger and darker, and she wears them throughout the entire series. The frizzed out hair here is actually hers, but in every other episode of season one she wears a wig with those red beads. Just something to remember in general about TNG: there was no such thing as CGI back in these days, the Enterprise and all ships were models, and the special effects were done by simply being as creative as you possibly could. The effects look great for the entire show and are a testament to how talented these guys really were.

Remember also this show actually had a live orchestra for the music in every episode. A ton of people watched the pilot, according to the Nielsen’s 15.7% of America watched it, and it would be the most watched TNG episode for years. The book Star Trek 101 lists this episode as one of the “Ten Essential Episodes” from TNG. Lastly, this episode was nominated for a Hugo award for Best Dramatic Presentation but ended up losing out to The Princess Bride. Ah well, can’t say I fault that decision. Still, it was the first time a TV episode had been nominated since 1972. Last thing I’ll mention are stardates. Here’s how you decipher them:  the first digit, 4, always remains the same. The second digit tells you which season you are in. After that you can generally tell how far you are through the season by how high the number is.

Missable/Unmissable?  If you want to see how the ship, crew and re-occurring characters are introduced, this episode is certainly unmissable. I’m confident in rating it thus, mostly because I think folks should watch the pilot episode of most shows. This is a great starting point if you want to see where the characters started, particularly in light of the great places they end up going; so yeah, watch this episode. It has some flaws, but just relax and try to have fun with it. The next episode, though, is one of the craziest in the whole franchise.

Back to the Season One Menu                                                                                   Next episode: The Naked Now

3 thoughts on “Review of Episode 1: Encounter at Farpoint

  1. I update them from time to time (which is a good reason to read my reviews again and again, heh), but mostly I’ve been adding new ones. Now that I’ve finished off season two I’m waiting until season three comes out.

  2. Have you been updating these or am I way behind?

  3. heh, the ten minute saucer separation and reattachment reminds me of “star trek the motion picture” where the enterprise leaving the dock took what seemed about ten minutes. Enough already!!! I kept saying.

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