Just for the heck of it, I have been re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. I started from the very beginning, with the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint.” I remember watching this when it first aired September 28, 1987. It’s a two-hour pilot, so it’s often split into two episodes, though it didn’t air that way on release. “Encounter at Farpoint” was written by the magnificent D. C. Fontana, who also wrote some of the best episodes of Star Trek the original series.
This episode was the first to feature the character Q, of the “Q Continuum,” and his bizarre obsession with using the Enterprise crew as, well, glorified lab-rats. The basic plot is this: The Enterprise is sent to investigate the sudden acquisition by the less than tech-savvy Bandi of Farpoint station, a sophisticated space station with an unknown power supply.
It turns out that Farpoint Station is organic, and sentient, and has a really pissed-off mate who comes in search of the missing space-station spouse. It all ends well, of course, even the sub-plot in which Q has challenged Picard (played by Patrick Stewart, also known, apparently, as “Pecan” to some of his fellow Trek actors) to prove that humans are civilized—by figuring out the “mystery” of Farpoint Station. The two space-living sentient ships are united, Q disappears (for now) and all is well.
“Encounter at Farpoint” already has some of the STNG’s primary mofits; Data the Pinocchio android who wants to be human, the come-here-go-away relationships between Riker and Deanna Troi the overly-emo-empath who was frequently poorly treated by the writers, and the relationship between Dr. Crusher and Picard. Mostly, though, this is the episode that pretty much screwed over the science-geek space cadet genius kid, Wesley Crusher, setting the mold for the unfortunate character’s entire run, and frustrating a powerless and talented actor, Wil Wheaton.
There’s a point in the extensive exposition when Riker, Dr. Crusher and her son Wesley are at a market at the station, when we see the station mysteriously respond to Dr. Crusher’s wish for a piece of fabric in a different color. Wesley notes that it’s a mystery and Farpoint Station is all mysterious and stuff. Wil Wheaton in his review of the episode writes:
It’s right around this moment, according to historical data and polling research, that the Kill Wesley movement got its first member, though scholars are unable to agree upon who it was. It has been narrowed down to a single male virgin, approximately age 24, living in his parents’ basement in the American Midwest.
Wheaton, by the way, writes not only solid and funny plot summaries, his critiques of the bits of acting that make characters work are not only spot on, he is invariably professionally generous (though he’s way too hard on himself—you were a kid, Wheaton, working with some less than stellar scripts).
When I saw this pilot when it first aired, the only character I liked was Data; he was predictable, but I thought Spiner took the character beyond the limits of the script. I was already a Patrick Stewart fan (I was in the audience at Royce hall when Justman decided to invite Stewart to play the part of Picard), but Picard seemed to be unreasonable, a bit of a blow-hard martinet in love with his own voice. There’s a scene where Picard confesses to Riker that he doesn’t like children. Picard elaborates:
I don’t feel comfortable with children. But since a captain needs an image of geniality you’re to see that’s what I project.
That’s really off-putting, duplicitious, and very much not like the character Picard becomes.
Then, there’s the problem that STNG was, already in the pilot, repeating episodes from the original Star Trek. “Encounter at Farpoint” is using not only the themes, but basic plot-points of the original series episode “Devil in the Dark.” It’s a pilot, and so some of the characters are a bit off in comparison to what they became, the timing and the delivery of some of the lines are not quite right, but it has something, something that got the series approved.