[6.0/10] Most of the time, when I’m writing these reviews, I wait until I’ve completed my write-up to look into any of the behind the scenes information. Knowing the circumstances under which something is made can color how you look at the completed product, rather than judging it on its own terms. But more than once, going back and looking at the production history of a show or a film can explain problems or successes that are evident in the final work.
The second half of “Encounter at Farpoint” is a great example. The original outline and script for the episode were written by one of The Original Series’s best writers, Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana. But there was grand debate between Gene Roddenberry and the producers at Paramount as to whether the premiere of a new Star Trek series should run for one hour, two hours, or ninety minutes. The result is that Fontana, and later Roddenberry, were cutting and adding material throughout the scripting process.
The result is a “Part 2” that feels logy and unfocused. Much of the episode feels more in line with a traditional episode. There’s a mystery down on the planet; the crew tries to investigate it; difficulties ensue, and through a last-minute revelation, the day is saved. But mixed in with that fairly straightforward (at least by Trek standards) story are lots of moments that don’t add much to the episode-specific narrative but are designed to introduce to the new set of characters and their relationships with one another.
In multiple instances, that takes the form of long lost or forbidden romantic relationships among “key officers” on the Enterprise. The most obvious form of that comes between Riker and Troi, a relationship the show would explore with some regularity as it goes on. “Encounter” uses a heavy hand though, playing sweeping music as Riker gawks at his old flame and Troi psychically tells him “I couldn’t say goodbye either.” There’s little compelling about the connection here in the early going, despite Troi expressing concern when Riker risks his life in the cave, but it’s another point where you can see the heavy machinery of a pilot episode being wheeled around.
The other, no more subtle but slightly more successful effort in this vein happens between Picard and the Crusher family. This part of the episode plays a little better if only because it’s more complicated than just a bit of unresolved romantic tension. There’s complexity that the show would eventually mine in the fact that Picard was friends with Dr. Crusher’s deceased husband, and even delivered the news of his passing. The way that Picard tries to show compassion for the difficult position this puts Beverly in, and Beverly responding with resoluteness that pushes back against any patronizing sets them out to be excellent foils for one another right from the jump.
It also gives us the first scenes shared between Picard and anti-fan favorite Wesley. While the li’lest Crusher was few people’s favorite character, there is something to be wrung from the Captain who explicitly admits that children annoy him and make him uncomfortable trying to be accommodating for the son of his dead friend. More to the point, the show uses the scene where Picard welcomes Wesley to the bridge to sell the awe and majesty of the ship better than any saucer-spinning space maneuver could.
The camera switches to a POV shot from Wesley’s perspective, letting us see the bridge through his eyes: the scope and depth of the path to the controls, the imposing Klingon standing in his sightline, the regal Captain himself gesturing toward him. As much of an impossibly, annoyingly talented kid as TNG would make Wesley, it could also use him as an audience surrogate, someone wowed and in wonder of the Federation’s flagship, and that’s where he finds his best use here.
(We also get a brief encounter between Riker and Data, with “Pinocchio” comments that feel like foreshadowing, or at least fodder for callbacks, in a later episode.)
The same can’t be said for Q, who reappears in the second half of the pilot to taunt Picard and render judgment. De Lancie is still a fun ingredient in the soup of the first episode, replete with “mon capitan” utterances and claims that he leaves of his own volition, but he’s more imposing than playful. That’s not to say he’s bad, just not quite as familiar as the character would become, leaving him feel somewhat more perfunctory considering how Roddenberry shoehorned him into Fontana’s original script.
That script, or at least the portions of it that remain in the broadcast version, are generally strong. As much as the acting and the pacing of this hour suffer (and man, Troi’s glassy-eyed protestations about what she’s sensing are no better here than they were later) there’s a very traditional, and heartening story at the core of it.
Star Trek is about many things, but one of its most prevalent themes, and the one I’d argue provides the essential ethos of The Next Generation, is the will to explore and the importance of lateral thinking. This isn’t the last time Q will impose a puzzle on Picard and company and force the crew of the Enterprise to consider the unconsidered, and test their commitment to their principles.
It’s less interesting to see Riker’s away team dodder around in a cave or negotiate with the overacting local representative. But it’s compelling to see Picard have to decide whether to fire on what looks to be an enemy ship attacking the station below, or find some other solution. It recalls “The Korbomite Maneuver” as another instance where the Enterprise crew is threatened and encouraged to strike, but forbears, finds alternative answers, and discovers new life in the process.
The image of those giant space jellyfish emerging and reuniting in interstellar fashion is a weird but beautiful one, which captures the spirit of the franchise. It’s an unexpected resolution to the central mystery, one that answers the questions asked by the strange occurrences down on the surface with a story about respecting life and sideways solutions to unforeseen problems.
The opening hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation certainly have their problems. The stop-and-start-and-double-back scripting process can be firmly felt in each scene that feels unrelated to the one before it. But it capture the feel of the series -- the personalities and connections between them, the spirit of adventure, the need to think outside the box, and the respect for life that make up the core of what Star Trek is.
Picard’s final lines, about more interesting adventures and seeing what out there are on the nose, but also inviting, making you want to, like Wesley, sit in that chair and wait for whatever’s to come. I certainly felt that way watching this show as a kid, and it’s heartening to know Picard’s first declaration of “engage” can stir the same feelings today.
Here I continue my review from Part 1 (https://trakt.tv/comments/178380). As before, the dividing line between Part 1 and Part 2 of "Encounter at Farpoint" is the scene between Data and Admiral McCoy in the corridor.
Boy, are there some out of place scenes in this half. Number one on my list is when Picard goes to Sickbay and (more or less) asks her to transfer off his ship. That wasn't the time to go apologize for yelling at Wesley, either. Thanks to Andrew Bloom, I know why so much of this episode felt wrong, though: The target length of script was in constant flux throughout the writing process. Constantly adding and removing scenes doesn't help anyone trying to write a cohesive teleplay, that's for sure.
Now, a word about Troi: Mon Dieu is her character awful. Blank-faced monotone suits no one, especially a new character the audience is (I guess?) supposed to like. I don't like Troi at this point in the series. She doesn't get that much better later, but she does improve.
Actually, Q was disappointing as well. I almost said in my review of Part 1 that Q's playfulness didn't come through, but deleted that paragraph because I realized on reflection that it actually does, sort of. In Part 2, though… Q is just obnoxious. Showing up on the bridge and disabling Picard's command of his own ship isn't so much playful as it is mean. Though depicted later on as being a, er, being of his (its?) word, this early incarnation of Q seems entirely too ready to go back on promises already made.
More than anything, from a production perspective, I was surprised at the lack of variety in spaceship-alien corridor sets. While it makes sense that both aliens would have similar internal structure, there was very clearly only one set constructed. The different lighting used for the one in orbit didn't conceal it, and the camera work didn't even try. For a project as important as putting Star Trek back on TV, one might rightly expect higher production values. (I am, of course, watching the remastered Blu-ray. The redone visual effects are really nice—the team did an amazing job making the giant aliens look good in HD—but the move to HD was less kind to physical sets.)
Ultimately, I found Part 2 (or the second half, I suppose, since I only have the full-length Blu-ray release of this episode and not the two-part broadcast-syndicated version) slightly better than Part 1, but still rather "meh". I gave this half 6/10 instead of 5/10 only because 1) giving both halves the same rating is passé and 2) I was rounding up from 5.5.
An interesting turn of events in this second part of the series premiere.
Content Concerns:Sex: None. 5/5Nudity: Woman in a short skirt. 4/5Language: Three or four uses of the h-word. 4/5Violence: Some sci-fi action violence; a man is tortured. 3/5Drugs: None. 5/5Frightening/Intense Scenes: Emotional intensity; crew members placed in danger; the character of Q. 3/5
Second verse same as the first. I was enthralled, couldn't take my eyes off the tv.