In the first episode of the first season of The Next Generation, Captain Picard and his crew face the ambiguously frightening Q, who is prepared to judge all of humanity. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Let’s get a couple things out of the way first!
Please read the Site Rules and FAQ if you’re new here. I imagine that a lot of you sat out my watch through The Original Series because… well, a lot of you told me you did, haha. But in case you’re new here, I recommend you familiarize yourself with my community before you post. We have stringent rules about spoiling and not being a total asshole. Read them. And, more importantly:
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Video commentaries are recorded a week before the review is posted live. Each episode will be $0.99 and will be posted in my store, collected by season. I announce when new videos are available on Twitter and over on Mark Spoils so you don’t have to wait for the review to go up to see my immediate reactions. Each file you purchase can be downloaded 10 times, so feel free to spread to others who cannot afford the cost. Please consider supporting me with a Video Pass, which can be used on video files ONLY.
My Master Schedule denotes when each review goes up. I am following the airing order for the remainder of Star Trek canon. That means I’ll watch the movies based on what episodes aired before and after it; I will also begin to switch between The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 once they aired at the same time. The entirety of the four remaining shows and the ten films are on the Master Schedule, and I assure you that will answer most of your questions about how I’m watching this.
I do like to be transparent about what I’m “spoiled” for on a show, so here’s what I knew going into The Next Generation.
- That Patrick Stewart was on the show. (HELLO I’M SO EXCITED.)
- The same goes for Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, and Wil Wheaton.
- It’s a Star Trek show?
- I ACTUALLY DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ELSE THAT HAPPENS ON IT.
Which is a great thing, because the first half of “Encounter at Farpoint” is a FUCKING SPECTACLE. You know, I don’t even know if I know half these characters names. Tasha Yar, Picard, Riker, Data, the Crushers, Worf… WHO THE HELL IS EVERYONE ELSE? Who’s the frumpy white guy who barely talks? The woman who has psychic powers, who I WANT TO KNOW PLENTY MORE ABOUT? Levar Burton’s character? (I recall something like Forge?) And I don’t think this is a negative aspect of this pilot. I was grabbed by this story because the writers dropped me into a surreal, existential disaster, and then they expected me to figure it out on my own. That’s not typical of The Original Series, and it’s also a bold start to a show that many people would use as their introduction to this fictional universe.
But isn’t also something that’s perfect for this kind of show? The original show had a lot of episodes about omniscient, god-like beings who wanted to judge the crew of the Enterprise. However, “Encounter at Farpoint” is so much more brutal than most of what we saw on the original series, and it’s a great way to show the audience that this is not going to be the same show. John de Lancie portrays Q with a ferocity that makes Q utterly terrifying. Q is not afraid to toy with these people, and Q does as they wish because they CAN. That’s the sense I got from that bizarre, Kafka-esque trial. It’s all a show simply because Q knows that they’ll win. But why? Where did the Q come from? How long have they been observing humanity? We don’t get these answers – at least not yet – because they’re not important right now. This is merely the canvas that the writers use to introduce us to these characters for the first time.
We’ve got Jean-Luc Picard, who is INSTANTLY portrayed as more cold than Captain Kirk ever was. I LOVE IT. I mean, if there’s anyone here who’s most like Kirk, that would be Riker. This episode establishes the power dynamic between the two of them. Picard is powerful, dominating, but well aware that this makes him intimidating. Riker, so far, seems eager to be a part of command. I’m interested to see how much they’ll develop the relationship between him and Picard, given that Picard has asked him to step in so that he doesn’t come off like an asshole. Another character dynamic I picked up on is Yar and Picard; she seems to be the youngest of the bunch, not counting Wesley, and she’s VERY, VERY PROTECTIVE of everyone around her. Which I’m totally into, since the show is already subverting expected gender roles through her. She’s the first (and only!) person to throw a punch in this episode, and she does so out of a deep love for Starfleet and her fellow crew. I’M INTO THIS. MORE PLEASE.
I don’t quite understand the role of the other woman on the ship, but I noticed that Picard relied on her a couple times for advice, so I wonder why she provides him guidance. I don’t imagine that’s quite like the role Riker will play. Well, obviously, since she can READ MINDS or something. WHAT’S THAT ABOUT? And what of Worf? I was pretty damn shocked to see a Klingon onboard, so I’m assuming that something happened since The Original Series ended that would explain why the Federation now trusts the Klingons. What’s fascinating is that you’d think that since Worf is a non-human species, he’d fall into the role that Spock played. But no, I’d say Data is a lot closer to Spock. (I mean, if Bones says so, then it’s canon. HAHAHAHA I’M TOTALLY FINE WITH BONES’S APPEARANCE HERE. NO PROBLEMS. TOTALLY OKAY.) That’s not to say he’s the same character; he’s utterly inhuman as an android, but I can see how the show might be able to build off of this characterization for both humor and insight.
As for the story? I don’t quite know what to think because I’ve seen so little of it. I loved the court sequence for its weirdness and brutality, but all the stuff on Deneb hasn’t been developed much. They’ve got access to some sort of power that allows them to manipulate matter, and we saw that one dude talking to… nothing? The air? A GHOST??? Something must be up, but I don’t know how that’ll work as a test for humanity, nor why Q is so insistent that Picard will fail. I think I’ll save my commentary on that for the second half of this pilot.
But I did want to say that THIS WAS SO TERRIBLY EXCITING TO WATCH. Look, I know a lot of people who count this as their entrance to this fandom and to science fiction. (Thank you to those same people for not spoiling me!) Having made my way through The Original Series and the utterly fantastic films that came out prior to The Next Generation, I’ve been pretty damn excited myself to get here. I want to know why y’all love this, and “Because Patrick Stewart is on it” will have to suffice for now. (It’s a great reason.) How did this show challenge things established by the original show? How did it build from it? What did it do to make it so beloved? Why am I not best friends with Levar Burton? (Seriously, y’all, how has this not happened yet?) I don’t know how this show will unfold; I don’t know any of the characters not introduced yet; I don’t know if we’ll get any serialization; and I don’t know where this takes place within this established universe. That sense of ignorance is a thrilling thing for me, and I mean that. I love watching television without knowing what the fuck I’m getting into, and with an episode as bizarre as this, I feel like I’m off to the right start.
The video for the first part of “Encounter at Farpoint” can be downloaded here for $0.99. (I have had to retire my policy of giving the first episode away for free. My hosting costs are skyrocketing, and I’d rather not change the price of anything for y’all. Thanks for understanding!)
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