Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Unicorner. Her continuing mission to recap every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To seek out new lulz and new fun times. To boldly go where many have recapped before but nobody as cool as she.
For a while, I’d been wanting to recap a classic show from my childhood. It’s fun seeing how well (or not well) the show holds up over the years and the different impressions watching as an adult. Jenny Trout’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer recaps largely inspired these, so credit where it’s due.
If you are familiar with my K-pop recaps over on my K-pop blog, Ahjummas Anonymous, then you already know what my recapping style is like. For those new to the party, I cuss a lot and have difficulty taking shit seriously, so if any of those things bother you, you might want to peace out right now. I write the way that comes naturally to me, not because I’m trying too hard to be ~edgy or whatever, so I have no intentions of changing my writing style. So strap the fuck in and get comfortable, because shit’s about to go off.
TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint” first aired in 1987. It’s a messy pilot in the sense that it was two hours long and felt like two episodes smashed together, one of which sucked donkey balls and one of which was OK. The first half introduced Q, a recurring character I personally can’t stand but who seems to be a fan favorite—and don’t all be writing butthurt Q defending comments because I don’t give a shit. Pretty much everyone else in fandom can’t verbally fellate this guy enough; you’ll survive one fan disliking him.
The first half of “Farpoint” is what happens when a TV show crew drops a lot of acid and then films something. I know this seems like a strange thing to say about one of my ultimate favorite TV shows, but I’m not above dragging things I love when it’s warranted, and it’s only fair to warn you that the first season and parts of the second are going to be really, really cringey. If you are considering watching TNG, persevere. It’s worth it. That being said, S1-2 aren’t complete wastes. There are occasional flashes of brilliance (such as the sublime “Measure of a Man” in S2 and the horror B-movie delight “Conspiracy” in S1) that forecast the greatness to come. And you know, to paraphrase a quote I no longer recall the origin of, TNG is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.
One more thing: if you’ve never watched TNG before and plan on watching along with my recaps, I warn you there may be spoilers for future episodes, as I will occasionally comment on plot threads, events, or motifs that pop up again (yay for continuity!)
Enough of this shit already, on to the episode.
We open with the iconic “Space, the final frontier…” monologue which Sir Patrick Stewart makes sound classy as fuck. Stars and planets pan slowly across our screen. The SFX actually hold up pretty well in 2016, which is more than can be said for Voyager’s credits though to be fair TNG didn’t have a budget of $2 either. We launch into the jaunty orchestral theme song whilst credits flash on the screen and the Enterprise whooshes majestically across a star field.
Our esteemed captain Jean-Luc Picard appears all dramatic like in silhouette. P.Stew’s voiceover informs us that the Enterprise is en route to a planet called Deneb IV, where the crew will investigate a new starbase named Farpoint. They’ll also rendezvous with their new first officer, Cmdr. William Riker. We follow Picard onto the bridge where several of the main characters are doing what they do as machinery hums and beeps all futuristic-like.
The bridge has undergone a makeover from the charmingly hokey ToS days, sporting a slicker and more modern look (well, modern by 1987 standards). The uniforms have been upgraded to a color-blocky catsuit (although the catsuits were apparently so uncomfortable that the uniforms were later changed to a two-piece design). Some characters still sport TOS-style minidresses, though it doesn’t seem to be a gendered thing, as some women wear pants suits and some men wear dresses. TNG, so progressive with its fashion!
We’re treated to a little exchange involving our resident android, Lt. Cmdr. Data. He’s sporting a kind of proto-Don Draper-meets-Instagram-model aesthetic, featuring enough highlighter to bankrupt a galactic Sephora and yellow contact lenses that would not be out of place in a K-pop music video circa the 2010s.
Data, you’re a style icon!
Data has “an encyclopedia” programmed into his positronic brain but can’t figure out human slang terms like “snoop.” He looks the word up in his mental database and starts rattling off every possible synonym until Picard tells him to shut the fuck up already.
The one ability not in Data’s programming is that of human emotions. His quest to be human is a continuing motif throughout the show, bringing us some of its finest and also cringeiest moments. Data giveth and Data taketh away.
Other crew members on the bridge include Lt. Worf, security chief Lt. Tasha Yar, and Counselor Deanna Troi, who’s sporting some serious 80s perm action. I guess fashion really is cyclical! Data detects something strange in the space neighborhood and it turns out that there’s a giant space wall blocking their way.
An asshole in a stupid costume suddenly appears and no, it’s not another cast member. It’s Q, an omnipotent being whose people have apparently declared themselves the space police. He assumes a corporeal human form most likely for budget and convenience purposes but it makes sense some entitled asshole who thinks he controls the universe would take the form of a white man.
Now that humans have become a presence in space exploration, the Q have taken an interest in them. Q orders the Enterprise to turn back and when they don’t comply, transforms some poor redshirt (a man of color, no less) into a human popsicle. Fortunately for Mr. Redshirt, he’s rushed to sickbay where he is safely thawed out.
All this is punctuated by a spectacularly cheesy soundtrack that will underscore most of the early episodes. Think 80s scifi answer to laugh tracks on a comedy show.
Q cosplays various historical figures representative of humanity’s darkest hours. If this really was the future, he’d have a doozy to cosplay from 2016, just saying. Picard, of course, pleads the humans’ case, demonstrating a tendency of early TNG dialogue to go overboard distancing this utopian future from the problems of our present.
Q fucks off and the crew talk strategy. Worf and Yar want to whoop some ass but it’s difficult to whoop the ass of a being who can appear and disappear at will. Troi’s empathic abilities are equally stymied.
Picard formulates a clever plan to distract the Q while getting all the civilians onto the saucer section, which will then separate from the rest of the ship. He puts Worf in command of the saucer, but Worf objects on grounds that a Klingon warrior does not run away from a battle. Picard ultimately pulls rank and Worf grudgingly complies. We get a quick montage of the civilians on the ship as they evacuate to the saucer section, and it seems everyone in the future dresses like they live on a hippie commune. Also, there isn’t a lot of urgency considering these ppl are being evacuated for their own safety.
Picard, Data, Yar, Troi, and Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien head to the battle bridge. Picard distracts the Q by firing torpedos, followed by a dramatic saucer separation sequence set over the theme music. Yes, it is as cheesetacular as it sounds.
Data states the obvious and says “Separation is successful, Sir.” The saucer section fucks off while Picard and co. lie in wait for the Q. Picard orders Troi to send a message of surrender and she tearfully does so. In these early episodes, Troi gives LOST’s Jack a run for his money in the tears department. I suspect the writers believed an empath has to feel the emotions she senses, and didn’t know how to convey that other than turning on the water works. Hope the makeup people invested in some good waterproof mascara.
The Q catch up to the Enterprise and teleport everyone to some bizarre courtroom that looks like Party City threw up on its attendees. The crowd laughs and jeers at the Enterprise gang while a racist Chinese caricature and a little guy with a gong conduct the trial.
We learn via expository dialogue that this is an accurate recreation of the “mid-21st century post-atomic horror.” The judge is, of course, Q, who comes floating in on a throne, sporting some serious lipstick and bling. Data jokes, “At least we’re acquainted with the judge” though being Data, might not have realized it was a joke.
Q is putting humanity on trial for its misdeeds. A soldier acts out of line, Yar whoops his ass to the cheers of the rowdy crowd, and then another soldier pumps the first one full of bullets (offscreen of course; this ain’t HBO). Things settle down and the trial begins. Humanity sucks, Data remembers every esoteric fact except what “snoop” means, yada yada. When Yar makes an impassioned objection, Q turns her into a Yarsicle but unfreezes her after Picard yells at him about fairness.
This scene is really freakin’ boring yet oddly timely in the wake of this 2016 US election. Q manipulates the entire trial to find the human race guilty but Picard gets his Annalise Keating on and challenges Q to test the Enterprise crew before reaching a verdict. Q intimates that their Farpoint mission will an excellent test, and the crew are teleported back to the Enterprise.
Now that this shit’s over with we head on over to Farpoint, portrayed as a green spot on a barren planet with a giant phallic symbol in its middle.
Also, I just realized that tower is taller than the freakin’ mountains. How big is that thing anyway???
Riker VO’s for the first time, informing us of his previous assignment on the USS Hood. I resist the urge to ask if it was captained by Coolio. Riker is visiting the Farpoint administrator, Zorn, whose office is in the old city. Wait, so Farpoint is supposed to be this technical marvel, right? Which begs the question–if these aliens have sophisticated enough technology to build such a cutting-edge starbase, why are they still living on a decrepit Dungeons and Dragons set?
I guess the makeup department blew all their budget on Worf’s forehead ridges and Data’s highlighter, because Zorn just looks like Gandalf. Riker praises the technical marvels of Farpoint and inquires about the aliens’ resources, which Zorn vaguely explains away with the planet’s geothermal energy. Zorn offers Riker a bowl of fruit, Riker looks for an apple, and suddenly a bowl of apples magically appears. Riker points out how odd it is that the apples just appeared, but Zorn convinces him they were always there and he just didn’t notice.
Once Riker leaves, Zorn berates an unseen being for arousing Riker’s suspicions. To be fair, we will find out in later episodes that Riker isn’t all that difficult to arouse.
In a vaguely Grecian looking market setting, Riker meets up with Dr. Beverly Crusher, future chief medical officer of the Enterprise, and her teenage son, Wesley. Riker tries to share his suspicions re:Farpoint with Beverly, but thinks he’s just trying to brown nose. However, she realizes he’s onto something when an item she was seeking magically appears in the market. We also find out that Beverly and Picard have a past—when Beverly’s husband was killed in the line of duty, Picard was the one to deliver the bad news.
Riker is approached by a guy donning a Star Fleet uniform and one of those ‘80s banana clips around his face. He’s Cmdr. Geordi LaForge, played by Levar Burton of Reading Rainbow fame. LaForge reports that the Enterprise has arrived sans the saucer section.
Riker beams onto the saucerless Enterprise, where Picard fills him in on the Q mess. He then orders Riker to conduct a manual docking of the saucer section when it arrives. In a Treknobabble-strewn scene, Riker does this proficiently, which seems to satisfy Picard. He calls Riker into a private meeting where he confronts Riker on his decision to defy his previous captain’s orders in order to save the captain’s life. Riker defends himself on grounds that a captain’s life is of utmost importance. Picard seems to approve, then asks Riker’s assistance in helping him deal with children (?) since the Enterprise is full of families. This is a rather bizarre exchange, but I guess it’s supposed to establish Riker as the warmer, more personable foil to the more austere by-the-book Picard.
In sickbay, Dr. Crusher examines LaForge. We learn that the banana clip thing is his VISOR—a device that allows LaForge, who is blind, to “see” via the EM spectrum (not to be confused with the literal visor Data will wear during poker games). Though the device causes LaForge some pain, he eschews the options of surgery or painkillers that Crusher offers. One of my favorite things about TNG is it never presented LaForge’s blindness as a flaw or obstacle to be overcome. It’s just a part of his character, and even serves as an advantage in certain situations.
We’re treated to a rather fluffy scene of Data assisting a gruff old admiral played by DeForest Kelley, who’s here to examine the ship’s medical layout before returning to the Hood (the ship, that is). The music and dialogue suggest a “passing of the torch” moment from ToS to TNG.
In Picard’s ready room, Riker shares his suspicions re: Farpoint. He points out that scans by the Enterprise have uncovered materials on the station that aren’t found on the planet, though Riker believes the Bandi (the alien race who built Farpoint) must have traded their geothermal power for those resources. Picard points out that Riker doesn’t have any hard evidence and wonders if Q is playing a trick on them.
Picard and Riker leave Picard’s ready room and meet up with Counselor Troi, who will join the away team on the visit to Farpoint. Music plays that lets us know Riker and Troi have a Past. I’ma warn you right now that I am a Riker/Troi shipper. Like big-time OTP and shit. As cheesy as this scene is it makes my shipper heart squeal with glee.
Troi speaks telepathically to Riker, as in the past she taught him to read her thoughts. I’m uncertain how this works since Riker is not a telepath, but maybe Troi is able to broadcast her thoughts via the power of true love or something. Riker stares at her as though he just got punched in the gut and they exchange stilted greetings. Picard asks if they know each other, they affirm this, and Picard pretends not to notice the obvious tension in the room. We get the impression that Riker and Troi were together in the past and things never really ended between them. Aaaaannnngst.
The away team meet up with Zorn, who has misgivings about Counselor Troi’s presence as he immediately clocks her as Betazoid, an alien people with telepathic abilities. Not quite sure how he knows this since Betazoids look like humans sporting black circle lenses, but maybe humans don’t wear color contacts anymore in the 24th century. This makes me sad. Troi informs Zorn that she’s half human so she can only sense emotions, but the latter is not appeased. Picard and Riker try to broker a deal for the Bandi’s services in building other starbases. Zorn is evasive, eventually threatening to take his business to the Ferengi if Picard and co. don’t stop asking questions. Suddenly, Troi is overcome by extreme feelings of pain, loneliness, and despair that she senses in a life form that is neither Zorn nor his people. I wonder if she sensed me while I was recapping Shadowhunters. Zorn becomes increasingly agitated and Picard, sensing his advantage, peaces out.
Back on the Enterprise, Riker locates Data on the holodeck, a room that—you guessed it—can transform energy into matter and create whatever setting the user wishes. Gee, I can’t imagine how this could ever go wrong. Data is chilling in a holographic forest when Riker informs him that the captain wants Data to accompany the away team to Farpoint. During the convo, Data shares with Riker his desire to be human which leads Riker to jokingly label Data “Pinocchio.” Yeah, subtlety was not really TNG’s strong point early on.
Data explains to Riker how the holodeck works, and Wesley randomly shows up for some reason. He falls into a stream and Data yanks him out with one hand, demonstrating his android super strength. After Wesley is cleaned up and donning a new ugly sweater, he implores his mother to let him on the bridge. She’s reluctant but Wesley is such a pain in the ass she eventually caves.
The away team beam down and split up. Riker and Data inspect the surface while Yar, Troi, and LaForge explore some tunnels under the station. Geordi finds that the tunnels are constructed of completely unfamiliar materials. Troi is reluctant to open her mind again after the incident in Zorn’s office, but at Riker’s urging, she does. Once again, she senses great pain from a life form that is neither Bandi or human.
Back on the ship, Beverly gets Wesley onto the bridge and Picard’s like “What’s this punk ass kid doing here?” But then Beverly shows up and Picard softens considerably, clearly feeling some residual guilt over the fate of her late husband. Picard lets Wesley have a look around for a bit, and we find out that Wesley is a teen genius due to his proficient delivery of treknobabble. An alert sounds and the little shit starts pressing buttons, prompting Picard to unceremoniously kick him and his mother off the bridge.
Turns out a large unidentified vessel is approaching the Enterprise. Picard contacts Zorn asking if the latter summoned the Ferengi and Zorn says no, he was just bullshitting before. The alien vessel scans the Enterprise with a beam of pink CGI, but does not respond to the latter’s hails. Then the alien ship begins firing upon the old Bandi town.
Back on the planet, the away team are making their way out of the tunnels when the alien ship’s torpedos hit. Riker orders Troi, LaForge, and Yar to beam up under protest from Troi, who fears for Riker’s safety. Meanwhile Zorn is freaking the fuck out and yells at Picard for help over his communicator. Picard tells him to calm his tits and puts his ass on hold while Riker and Data contact the Enterprise. Riker is like dafuq is happening and Picard fills him in. Riker informs Picard that the unidentified vessel is careful not to hit the station. Picard believes Zorn might have the answers and orders Riker to find him.
On the Enterprise, the crew debate if assisting the Bandi would violate the Prime Directive, a principle of non-interference in the affairs of less technically developed species. Q pops onto the bridge in his ridiculous judge outfit and starts talking shit. Picard ripostes that their medical team is ready to beam down and offer aid to the injured Bandi (whom we never see because apparently the show was too cheap to hire more extras). Picard orders Worf to steer the Enterprise between the unidentified ship and the planet, but Worf has lost control over the ship, presumably Q’s doing.
The alien vessel has begun firing again. Data and Riker, dusty and dirty but none the worse for wear, make it to Zorn’s office, where Zorn is huddled under a table sobbing.
Riker and Data fuck with Zorn a bit until he agrees to spill the beans. Before he can do that, however, he’s beamed out in a flash of purple CGI while Riker and Data look on. Riker contacts the Enterprise to tell Picard what’s up and wants to know if Q has a hand in this. Q gloats that they still don’t know what the fuck is happening, and Troi suddenly senses a new emotion: satisfaction. It’s coming from a source far closer than before.
Riker and Data beam back to the ship and and enter the bridge while Q keeps trolling. Riker volunteers to beam over to the unidentified vessel, which seems to impress Q, who disappears in a flash of light.
Picard goes to Crusher in sickbay to apologize for his behavior earlier. He offers her a transfer if she feels uncomfortable working with him. She replies that she requested this assignment and would not have done so if she felt uncomfortable working with Picard. The tension underlying this exchange hints at the Picard/Crusher will-they won’t-they dynamic that runs throughout the series.
An away team led by Riker beams to the unidentified vessel. Its interior looks a lot like the tunnels on the planet surface but also kind of looks like a poorly-lit waiting room in a doctor’s office. Troi senses powerful emotions of anger and hate, directed at the Bandi city. Data describes everything as “intriguing” establishing the word as his catchphrase, much like “fascinating” was Spock’s. Data again belabors the point that this vessel was firing not on Farpoint but on the home of the aliens who built it. Yes, Data, we know, we’re not morons. Fortunately, TNG would eventually stop assuming its audience has the attention span of the average ABC Family viewer.
As the group moves through the tunnel, Troi senses great fear. They hear Zorn blubbering and begging. The gang follows the sound of his voice to find him in a chamber, suspended in purple CGI where he is apparently being tortured.
Zorn claims not to know what the aliens want. Troi, however, senses deception, in the sense that Zorn knows exactly what the aliens want.
On the Enterprise, Picard tries to bring the away team back but Q shows up to shit-stir per usual. He blocks the transport of the away team which forces Picard to make a deal with Q. The away team does appear on the bridge, and Troi is quick to inform Picard it wasn’t Q who brought them back, but the alien ship itself. It’s not a ship, she says, but a living creature. Q and Zorn urge Picard to destroy the ship but Picard ignores them. Instead, Picard and Riker get Zorn to finally spill his guts—Farpoint was built by the ship-alien’s mate, a being with the ability to transform energy into matter in much the same way as the Enterprise’s holodeck. As if to demonstrate, the ship-alien transforms into a jellyfish-looking thing.
Picard sends a message to all the Bandi to evacuate the Farpoint station. Once the Bandi are out, the Enterprise sends out an energy beam, which “feeds” the Farpoint-creature allowing it to liberate itself. The space jellyfish share a happy reunion and float off together. Troi states the obvious, that she senses great joy and gratitude.
Q, unhappy at being outsmarted by mere humans, gets told off by Picard. Q is like, “Fine, I’m taking my toys and leaving, but I’ll be back!” Unfortunately.
End scene, and we fade back in on the Enterprise orbiting the planet. Picard VO’s that construction on a new Farpoint station will begin as per his instructions, which I assume stipulate not enslaving aliens. Riker and Picard share a jocular exchange about future missions, and the Enterprise triumphantly warps off.
And that’s a wrap for “Encounter at Farpoint.” This was a long ass recap but well, it was a long ass episode. But we’re back to regularly scheduled hour-long episodes after this, so stay tuned for more TNG fun times! The Unicorner out.