In which we meet our noble crew, Riker enjoys an apple and Data is not really in character yet.
Memory Alpha says: 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, an omnipotent extra-dimensional 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 on Deneb IV, a base that is far more than it seems to be. (Series Premiere)
Here’s how it’s going to be: I am going to assume you have access to the episode in question. If you don’t, you can follow the Memory Alpha link to read detailed information. I’m not going to provide a full summary of the plot because, well, Memory Alpha exists. This will just be me watching the episode and saying what I think about it, bit by bit, perhaps slightly pretending I am doing a DVD commentary.
‘Encounter At Farpoint,’ like most of the first two seasons of TNG, needs to be viewed with an indulgent eye, bearing in mind how good the show eventually became. (This also applies to the first couple of books in the Discworld series. I don’t think anyone reading The Colour of Magic cold would understand why the series inspires the devotion that it does, or why Pratchett gets compared to Dickens.) It is hard to watch without experiencing a certain amount of contact embarrassment (oh hey, I think I got that phrase from Pratchett), but the same is true of pretty much any of us as a teenager, so I’m not on a high horse here. Let’s boldly go.
There is no pre-credits teaser (good decision, as the audience is not prepared to know who it’s looking at) so we are simply ushered in by the beautiful opening animation, slowly zooming out from the Earth, and Patrick Stewart’s wonderful rich brown leather wingback armchair of a voice intoning the captain’s speech, with that little ‘we are modern now and not sexist any more, honest’ amendment of ‘no man’ to ‘no one.’ Actually, that doesn’t just cover gender, does it? It also removes any species discrimination. Nice.
Oh, the music, I love the music, I love how it builds up and counterpoints Stewart’s speech, I love how as the Enterprise goes to warp it KICKS OUT THE JAMS and announces WE ARE GOING ON AN ADVENTURE AND IT’S GOING TO BE SPLENDID. HAVE YOU SEEN OUR NEW SHIP? IS SHE A BEAUT OR WHAT? WHOOOOOOSH.
The first shot of Picard is so foreboding, so very ‘Who IS this mysterious new captain? Can we TRUST him?’ His accent is a little odd in his opening voiceover – he pronounces ‘command’ and ‘class’ with American ‘a’s rather than English ‘ah’s. Everything looks very nifty and new. I have never understood why the seats for the two control panels at the front of the (oversized, as many before me have noted) bridge are so very recliney. You don’t need to worry about Data getting too comfy and falling asleep, but surely it happens to others sometimes. Of course, it is great to go comfortably where no one has gone before. It shows a certain cardiganness of attitude of which I approve.
Picard asks a good question about how Data can be programmed as extensively as he is and still run up against unfamiliar vocabulary like ‘snoop.’ This is always one of the things I find a tiny bit implausible about Data, one of those things that don’t bear close examination. When he starts work on the Enterprise he is (I think) twenty-seven years old and has several years’ service aboard USS Trieste under his belt, yet he is so often written as if he is trying to work with humans for the first time. It makes me wonder what he was like in his early years, how basic and, well, autistic he was in his interactions with others, that he never before encountered some of the social and cultural concepts he experiences on Enterprise. If he was like that, how, in fact, did he get through the Academy? Apart from the fact that Bruce ‘Ferret Face’ Maddox opposed his admission, what is the point of administering a Kobayashi Maru test on someone who is just like ‘boop beep, calculating all the possibilities, beep boop, no options, that’s that’? I do, though, like the idea that Data’s Enterprise years are a new epoch in his life in which his personality begins to bloom, so I’ll go with that (and try to ignore how the emotion chip stuffs it up).
Yeah, I’m one of those women who really really like Data, and tend to view TNG as a show about Data in the same way that I feel Lost is a show about Ben Linus.
Once Picard provides a couple of synonyms for ‘snoop’ Data thesauruses at him, indicating that he’s certainly familiar with the concept if not that particular word for it. Data, your thesaurus is shitty if it includes ‘pussyfoot’ as a synonym for ‘sneak’ but not ‘snoop.’
Troi gets her first close-up shot at this point and oh God her hair. It’s a cloud of frizz, almost Afro. She looked so beautiful later on when they tamed it into ringlets and ripples, but frizz does not work for her. I am probably going to talk a lot about Deanna’s hair in this blog because frankly, both she and Beverly got more hair development than character development over the course of the show. I wonder what they would have done with Tasha’s hair if Denise Crosby had stuck around; her punk-rock party hairdo in, um, some episode where Lwaxana comes to visit is an intriguing hint.
These graphics of the mesh surrounding them in space are adorably dinky. It’s interesting that Deanna is clearly looking at a display that gives technical and tactical information, an attempt to analyse what the mesh is, which is quite different from her later role of only talking about emotions and suchlike girly things. I suppose, actually, here she’s been given the line Riker would say if he were present. Poor Deanna; I always thought you were capable of being more useful than they let you be.
BOOM IT’S Q. Standing in a position that initially makes it look oddly like he has only one leg. Having him come in dressed and speaking as if it’s the Renaissance reminds me of Trelane in ‘The Squire of Gothos”s confusion about where in history Earth was up to, so to speak. I haven’t seen this episode for years, so I can’t remember; he’d better be going to explain WHY he decided to speak in thees and thous at the first meeting, or this is just an incredibly weird writing choice. Presenting yourself like a captain from one of Earth’s greatest ages of exploration to tell people to stop exploring is a bit counter-intuitive.
That tiny little phaser looks like a key fob (I had a key fob based on that phaser). I would be absolutely humiliated to be killed, or even stunned, by that.
Now Q starts his little historical cosplay parade (and looks sort of hot in his WWII uniform). He never DOES really explain why he chose to START at the Renaissance. Looking at his drugged soldier performance with DS9 behind me, of course I immediately think ‘so basically we had our own Jem’Hadar, and what an interesting way of revisiting that idea, have a cookie DS9.’ I also love what a weird uniform he’s in, how it makes you wonder exactly what sort of environment those troops were fighting in. And honestly, why does Q decide to give shit specifically to the humans when there are people from multiple species on the Enterprise, including a Klingon right there? (I know, because Star Trek is a show for humans and I shouldn’t think too hard about that part.)
Oh God I’m looking at Troi’s Alice band and short sleeves and she is approaching Mallory Pike levels of awkwardness. (On rereading this I am mildly surprised that I dragged the Baby-Sitters Club into this so soon. You have to bear in mind that around 1988-1990, my two major cultural influences were Star Trek: the Next Generation and The Baby-Sitters Club. I still get excited if I get to go on holiday somewhere they went in a Super Special, and I still try to dress just a tiny bit like Claudia Kishi.)
I bet Worf would rather slide down a pole than ride that slow open-front elevator. This is one of those pace-killing shots that serve no particular story purpose, just give atmosphere at a point where cutting to atmosphere feels inappropriate. We already had a good look at the Engineering set with Picard earlier.
So there’s a bit with a glowy thing chasing them through space and then Captain Picard decides to do a saucer separation because… they decided that would be a cool thing for a ship to be able to do, it really adds nothing to the plot.
O’BRIEN ON THE BATTLE BRIDGE. I LOVE YOU O’BRIEN, AND HAD FORGOTTEN YOU WERE THERE FROM THE BEGINNING. God you were slim then. The comfort eating started after you married Keiko, didn’t it? Field rations hidden all over your quarters.
This whole elaborately prepared sequence of the saucer separation, with theme music, feels just like one of those pieces of slightly higher-quality animation that gets recycled every episode in an anime series with giant robots, showing the robot transforming or launching or assembling from its separate parts. You get the feeling it would have been used that way if they hadn’t realised that would be idiotic in a show of this format. I got the Macross theme in my head anyway. Speaking of idiotic, the battle segment of the Enterprise looks like an absolute simpleton with its tiny little ‘head’ and big butt.
Picard addresses Deanna as ‘commander,’ a rank which I have a feeling didn’t make it out of the pilot. She certainly seems to have more responsibility or authority here than she later did. Poor, poor Deanna, shunted from competence once Riker and his buttchin turned up. (Please don’t think for a second that I don’t love Riker and his buttchin.)
And now something weird is going on! It’s the Post-Atomic Terror courtroom! But we’re going to do some civil disobedience by sitting down when you tell us to stand up.
Note how Q has abducted Picard, Tasha, Data and Deanna, but not O’Brien, the only other person I saw on the battle bridge. Q hates the Irish. This is canon to me. Oh, nice, Tasha, you just got that pudgy junkie killed with your unconvincing karate kicks.
I am thoroughly enjoying this scene – it’s really snapping along, much more pacily than I expect from early TNG. Presumably O’Brien is continuing to drive the Super Dimensional Fortress Enterprise all on his own, because he is O’Brien and he is resourceful and competent and steadfast but really wondering what the hell is going on.
I love how Q glides around on his cherrypicker chair, and his, like, Darth Cardinal judge’s get-up. They are using a REALLY weird lens on Picard in some of his close-ups, with shadows at the top and sides of the frame, which are not present in any of the wider shots.
The dwarf with the Fu Manchu moustache is impressed by Data’s ability to imitate voices. Honestly, I am too. One day he is going to figure out that he can use that Picard voice to totally impress girls.
Deanna’s posture is horrible. She’s so round-shouldered! Maybe the horrible dress is pulling her shoulders down; I know everyone had that problem with the standard uniforms, to the extent that they were changed for Season Three when Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor warned that he was going to permanently bugger his back if he kept wearing them. And from then on everyone looked way more stylish and less… naked, and it was good.
And now we meet the LOVELY William Riker, and he is just UNFEASIBLY young, almost foetal. There’s a weird bit when Groppler Zorn (great name, or greatest name?) offers him ‘an Earth delicacy,’ holding out a bowl of assorted fruit, and Riker says, ‘Well, if there’s an apple…’ and looks into the bowl where apparently there isn’t one, and they are both kind of embarrassed and disappointed. Are apples seriously the only fruit Riker will eat? And are his manners so poor that he wouldn’t quickly look at the bowl to see what was there, then, if there wasn’t something he liked, he could say ‘Thank you, but I’m not hungry’? It would be different if Zorn had just said ‘Would you like an Earth delicacy?’ and Riker didn’t know what was on offer, like that thoroughly annoying situation where your host says ‘What would you like to drink?’ and you have to play a guessing game wherein they don’t have any of the first three things you ask for, and you are made to feel difficult, and if they can only offer you white wine, water or orange juice, why didn’t they just say so at the beginning and spare you asking for Coke or red?
OOH SPOOKY APPEARING APPLES. They match his uniform. Awkwardly, Riker and Zorn use ‘good morning’ as goodbye. Zorn does not look well.
Now it’s time to meet Bev and Wesley, in a remarkably artificial-looking courtyard! They’re going to the mall! And totally weirdly given her later warm, maternal-to-everyone manner, she’s being kind of an ice queen and is really snotty to Riker. He manfully refrains from asking what she had for breakfast, Campbell’s Cream of Bitch? I find it distinctly peculiar that Riker and Wes already know each other by name before Riker meets Wesley’s mom. Creepy Riker, right from the beginning. Then Beverly name-drops the captain by his Christian name, like she’s still trying to make Riker feel small. You can’t make Riker feel small, Beverly – he feels big and strong ALWAYS.
Geordi arrives in a red uniform that really doesn’t suit him, and Riker’s kind of a hardass to him for no particular reason, except maybe he’s passing on the attitude Bev gave him. Up on the battle bridge, it’s evidently Be Ungracious Jerks To Each Other Day, because Picard won’t even turn around to look at Riker when Tasha introduces him. It’s not like he’s looking at anything super important at this stage. In fact, he is apparently watching Data park. Data and O’Brien exchange Looks about all this; Data’s like ‘I hate it when Mom and Dad fight’ and O’Brien’s like ‘Officers, what are you gonna do?’ I feel I should have mentioned that O’Brien is also wearing red at this stage, but it looks nicer on him than on Geordi. As I think I mentioned, I haven’t watched this episode in years, didn’t remember him, and feel like I’m getting these little O’Brieny bonuses every time he appears. Colm Meaney is not very handsome but he’s fun to look at.
Awesomely, Riker sits down to watch what happened earlier on in the episode, which I know we’re supposed to think is recorded by the bridge’s security cameras, but I see no reason why the security cameras would use quite such dramatic angles, and I’d love to know who edited the footage from all the different cameras into the abridged sequence Riker’s watching now. (I’m going to say Data.) Riker is creeped out by Picard’s apparent cold-bloodedness about this weird encounter. In Continued Unnecessary Hardassery, Picard requires Riker to do a manual re-dock of the two sections of the ship.
Data displays very un-androidlike trepidation and doubt about Riker trying to do this manually, I suppose to get across the idea that this is a very tricky task so we’ll be impressed when Riker pulls it off, but his attitude is weird and it would have felt better to me to give the line to Tasha or O’Brien (who are both just standing and sitting around while this goes on). Maybe if they let O’Brien say it they’d have had to pay him more.
Riker doesn’t actually do anything manually, just stands there and gives instructions to O’Brien and Data, who do the actual, you know, manual parts on their control panels. At least it’s not as silly as the joystick in Insurrection. Anyway, O’Brien looks worried, but the two pieces of the ship click together nicely, and O’Brien looks happy and Data looks at Riker like he is totally impressed and will definitely copy his facial hair if he ever grows any. Riker looks pleased with himself (more so). It really is funny how much they make of the ship’s pop-apart design, considering how little it mattered in the long run.
Picard and Riker have a little chat about whether Riker is an insubordinate prat or not, and it’s all ‘You stand up to me! I RESPECT YOU FOR IT.’ Now, somewhat out of nowhere, Picard talks about his kid-aversion and asks Riker to help him… I think fake liking children? He says the captain needs to have an image of geniality, but a) I don’t quite see why, this isn’t a cruise ship, and b) he hasn’t been making any apparent effort to appear genial up to now!
Now we have a little blurb with Bev and Geordi about Geordi’s visor and the fact that it gives him wicked headaches but he tolerates them in order to have superduper vision. I like the fact that after Geordi recites a long passage of technobabble he sends it up a little bit. Geordi ends up being the most boring person on the Enterprise, but at least they do make stabs at giving him a sense of humour.
Now there’s the lead up to the fact that McCoy is on board, doesn’t like the transporter, etcetera, so we’ll be all ‘oh BOY, an original cast member!’ Honestly, DeForest Kelley has so much age make-up on that it could almost be anyone doing a McCoy voice. He calls Data ‘boy’ quite rudely, and says some racist stuff about the Vulcans, and expresses folksy affection for the ship, and that’s about it. I notice Data says ‘shouldn’t’ in this scene, because they hadn’t yet established that contractions don’t come naturally to him. Brent Spiner looks extremely young and pretty here, especially because the lighting is golden and brings out the shimmery qualities of Data’s complexion. The music is very sentimental, and it really doesn’t feel justified by how short the scene is and how little McCoy contributes. Also his pants legs are a weird shape. It’s a shame, because McCoy is probably my favourite TOS character and I would have liked to enjoy his cameo more. Perhaps it would have been nice if some kind of reference had been worked in to androids encountered in the original series, like if when McCoy heard Data was one, he got a glint in his eye and tried to trick him with a logical paradox like ‘Everything I say is a lie: I am lying,’ but it didn’t work because Data has a modicum of metacognition and doesn’t have to ask some dork called Norman to co-ordinate him.
That, by the way, is the dividing line between Part 1 and Part 2 – McCoy.
Worf wants to shoot the viewscreen, perhaps because Q is wearing so much lipstick and rouge. Worf, like O’Brien, is weird to see this early on, knowing everything that he later did and became. His hair is awful. Oh, first appearance of Picard’s pet fish. Hi, sweetie!
The ‘romantic’ scene of Riker and Troi meeting again is hilariously awkward, partly because of her aforementioned hair and posture, but chiefly because as Troi walks towards Riker talking to him telepathically, Marina Sirtis’ face looks absolutely blank and bored.
Oddly, when talking to Groppler Zorn, Deanna says ‘I am only half Betazoid. My father was a Starfleet officer’ as if this implies her father is human (or at any rate, something non-Betazoid). I know humans dominate Starfleet, but not to that extent.
Deanna’s little cap sleeves stop at exactly the right point to make her upper arms look chubby, when they’re not even. That uniform is HORRID. First mention of the Ferengi, who are clearly Bad News. Deanna gets upset and talks about pain and I assume we’re supposed to find it evocative of Spock’s mind-meld with the Horta. Picard implies that the Ferengi eat people. That is a base slander and calumny and they are going to sue the hell out of him.
Time for the wonders of the holodeck – and they did choose a beautiful location to be Data’s simulation, although I’m not sure why he would choose a lovely forest as a location for whistling practice. When Riker completes ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ for him, he turns and says ‘Marvellous’ with a half-smile and sounds exactly like Lore and it is so creepy. I know what I’m seeing here is just an actor sorting out how he’s going to play a new character, who is not yet well defined, but I can’t not look at it through a lens of what came later, and it’s super creepy. But then, Riker is creepy back when he calls Data ‘Pinocchio,’ and explains this as ‘a joke,’ as if it weren’t extremely patronising. Oh well; you can patronise early Data and he doesn’t really notice. Data Contraction Alert: ‘we’re right next to it.’ His demeanour throughout this scene is noticeably a little more casual than it later is – his movements are more fluid, particularly in actions like walking between the trees and ferns – the way he tilts his head and swings his arms. Noticing these little weak points here in the pilot just highlights how well he played the part later on.
When Wesley falls in the holo-water like a noob, Data jumps and scampers down to pull him out just as if he were actually in danger of anything other than embarrassment (and quite frankly Wesley had better get used to that). There’s a fairly obvious stuntman alternated with Brent Spiner here, and oh I’m such a jaded beast for pointing it out. He yoinks Wesley out of the water, holds him aloft and gives him a smile and OH THE CREEPINESS. I’m just going to make it headcanon that in between these events and those of Season One proper, someone, maybe Deanna, gently told Data that his smiles are nightmare fuel and he decided to dial it down. Wet Wesley stays wet after getting out of the holodeck – I know the idea is that it’s real replicated water, but it would be a far cooler effect if he dried as he stepped out.
A glorious Wesley Sweater now makes its debut. You know the problem with having turned into an old lady around the time I turned thirty? I think little Wil Wheaton is cute and endearing. And at this stage Wes hasn’t been given an implausible position of responsibility – he’s just a bright, curious boy who would like to see the bridge of the super-cool starship he’s come to live on.
Tasha, Deanna and Geordi walk through a creepy creepy catacomb. Data says ‘can’t’ and apparently can’t see as well as Geordi, which is… curious.
‘Whatever I felt in the Groppler’s office became very uncomfortable.’ What a wonderful thing to say on television. How can anyone be called a Groppler and not sound like a total molester? Anyway, Deanna gets all upset, just like a girl.
The music when Picard and Bev meet again on the bridge is so LUSHLY ROMANTIC it makes me giggle – and curse a little bit that these two never did anything about obviously adoring each other. I’m enjoying the uneasy balance here between Picard trying to be nice to Bev’s son and ‘DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.’ The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like music as we get a Wesley POV shot walking onto and looking around the bridge also makes me giggle. The bridge is carpeted with swudge. Oh, and there’s a perimeter alert about something, I wasn’t listening.
There’s a great big flying saucer, basically, and it feels up the Enterprise with a beam of pink light. What is it? Worf doesn’t know. Well, Worf doesn’t know anything, he’s kind of a meathead at this stage. I’m also noticing that Michael Dorn is speaking in a lighter voice than he later did – he hasn’t got the Worf Growl yet.
Riker just called Deanna Lieutenant, even though Picard called her Commander earlier on. Data and Riker are lightly dusted with dust. Deanna continues to act as if she has an actual job on the bridge, other than to look pretty and talk about feelings! It’s so weird. Q shows up again, which is good because I’d almost forgotten about him, and he’s still wearing his kinky judge outfit.
Here’s a small physical bit that I love – Data and Riker have both been knocked flat by explosions on the planet’s surface. Riker, face down, gradually pushes himself up on his arms; Data, who was on his back, just sits up effortlessly, going from a 180 to a 90 degree angle just like that. I mentally add a ‘boing’ sound effect. He does some more smiling at Riker, helping him up, and this time it’s less creepy than it is flirty. I love how many ways this pilot finds to be inappropriate. Anyway, Zorn gets annihilated or transported or something, and there’s some more arguing with Q on the bridge.
Time for awkwardness with Picard and Bev. That’s really all I can say about it, ‘awkwardness,’ because it’s frustrating to think too much about the fact that this is never going anywhere.
In the next scene Riker and Data have clean hair and uniforms again. I want to know whether they took the time to have showers and get changed, or just had someone vacuum them. I really like the vacuuming image, actually, so we’ll go with that.
In the catacombs on board the giant flying saucer, Data walks around making a face of wonder with his arms dangling and swinging slightly, and it’s very unData again, and the other thing that’s very different from later on is that Deanna doesn’t just feel other people’s emotions, they get into the expression of her face and voice. (She’s been doing this all episode, I’m just remarking on it now.) Data also calls himself out on ‘commenting on everything,’ as if this is a new tendency he’s just developed. The boy is blossoming, I tell you.
Further along, Groppler Zorn is getting groppled, or something. Seeing an away team of Riker, Data, Tasha and Deanna feels really weird, perhaps because it’s all core cast with no obvious expendables – and Tasha doesn’t say anything, only the other three have lines. And up on the bridge, Q appears in his captain’s uniform for the first time, and he has such a strange haircut! I suppose that was just John De Lancie’s hair in real life at the time, but he has kind of a Caesar cut, short and all brushed down and forward, and I always think of Q with puffy hair.
Oh, and while I was talking about Q’s hair they solved the mystery of the episode. And the flying saucer is turning into a giant space jellyfish, and it’s actually very pretty. Everyone else looks at it in reverent wonder, and Tasha looks at it like ‘ew.’ I love her a bit for that.
It’s SO heavy-handed how when Picard says ‘captured its mate’ the music goes all tinkle tinkle and we get reaction shots from Will and Deanna. But actually, it’s a good shot of Marina Sirtis that really makes you notice how lovely her eyes are and takes my mind temporarily off her ghastly hair.
The space jellyfish hold hands! Aaaaaah! Sweeeeeet! Then they just sort of ooble away through space, and Deanna has a really unnecessary line about great joy and gratitude.
First use of ‘mon capitain.’ Jean-Luc, you have a problem now. He likes you. He thinks you’re fun.
And now we’re on the bridge getting ready to sum up and fly away, and my eyes are out on stalks because Tasha is wearing the minidress uniform and it’s wrong. Let’s see what’s out there! Engage!
And the end credits inform us that at this stage, O’Brien’s name was Battle Bridge Crew.
I liked that! I’m glad it got picked up.