Treking Down Memory Lane – Star Trek: The Next Generation Recaps

2020 is going to see the return of our favourite bald French starship captain, with the release of the imaginatively titled Star Trek: Picard.  Other than practising our face palming, there is no better way to prepare for this occasion than to delve back into the series that first introduced us to the Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew aboard the USS Enterprise 1701-D.

Due to not having much time before Picard actually begins, I won’t be able to post about every episode.  Instead, I’ll be posting two reviews a week of a episodes that I have been watching.

So, let us kick off with where it all began as we have an:

Encounter at Farpoint

For all of its faults, you have to hand it to this opening episode for juggling so much that would become so important to the series as it went forward.  It may well be a continuation of what could already have been classed as a franchise, what with a live action TV series, an animated series and multiple films, but Encounter at Farpoint is still required to create this new world, one that might be a continuation of what we have already seen before, but also one that shows noticeable technological advancements.  It also has to introduce us to a new large ensemble crew, one where each person gets their time to shine, as opposed to the triplet that the original series focused on.  On top of that, the show establishes itself as having ideas greater than the western in space that Kirk’s crew normally embarks upon.  Right from the start, TNG shouts that this will be show about humanity and its potential, once we get beyond our petty squabbling.

The opening 30 minutes or so of this are by far the strongest.  We are thrown quite abruptly into the action, as the Enterprise is interrupted from its journey towards Farpoint Station by a mysterious energy barrier that appears in space, blocking its path.  We are soon introduced to one of the most iconic reoccurring characters from the series, the trickster god-like being, Q.  He isn’t quite as we would come to know.  The Q of Encounter is far more malevolent than the impish figure he would later be portrayed as, but John De Lancie is still superb in the role.  He accuses humanity of being a savage race and that the crew of the Enterprise must return to Earth, ending their mission of exploration.  Rather than comply, Picard chooses an option that is partly to keep most of the crew and occupants of the Enterprise safe, but is also an opportunity to show off the fancy new ship, by separating the saucer section and letting it fly to safety.  With only him and skeleton crew left on what they refer to as the “battle bridge”, Q returns to put all of them on trial for the crimes of humanity.

The court scene that Q conjures up is rather wonderfully put together.  Supposedly a recreation of a post-nuclear period of human history (mid 21st Century, so better get our bunkers ready!), it is filled with an angry mob, soldiers that use drugs to fuel their violence and Q, floating above the proceedings on a throne and dressed in something that no doubt someone has a fetish for.  It is also here that we are able to witness Picard do what we come to know him best for, his power of persuasion and negotiation.  Refusing to accept the charges that are placed on him and his crew, Picard persuades Q to allow them to continue on their mission.  From their actions during the mission they will be able to demonstrate that they are no longer the savage race that Q believes them to be.  Q accepts and transports them back to the battle bridge, complete with a confused looking Chief Miles O’Brien, who doesn’t get a name yet.

From there, they continue on their way to Deneb IV, home of Farpoint Station, and meet up with Riker, Dr. Crusher and, eventually the saucer section.  From here, the episode begins to slow down from its initial fast pace, to something that would probably be more in keeping with a normal episode, in particular one from the first couple of seasons.  The main mystery we see at Farpoint, that of a station that seems to have been impossibly constructed and wishes seemingly being granted, is not particularly interesting and nor is the only character really meet on Deneb IV, the Groppler Zorn.  The main focus of the rest of the episode is really the introduction of the rest of these characters, which is handled mostly okay.  There are some introductions that are very on the nose though, such as the first meeting between former lovers, First Officer Riker and Councillor Troi.  Those of us re-watching this know how good a First Officer Riker would be, but for new viewers I would expect discovering that he had not taken a look at the crew manifest before boarding might have cast some doubts.  We also have a slightly random, albeit fun, appearance from Dr. McCoy, who accuses Data of being just like a Vulcan, signalling all you really need to know about the android.

There is a lot here that would come to play throughout the 7-year run though.  This is perhaps most notable with Picard.  Although his character is portrayed a little harsher than he would perhaps become (being polite, his meeting with Riker could best be described as dickish), there is plenty of nods to his loneliness as an explorer and his awkwardness with families.  We are also introduced to his past with Crusher, Wesley’s dreams to join Starfleet and become a bridge officer, Data’s desire to experience humanity just for a brief moment, the previously mentioned history of love between Riker and Troi, Worf’s inner struggle to control his warrior instincts buried beneath his Starfleet uniform, and Tasha Yar’s harsh upbringing on her home planet.  LaForge is perhaps the character given the shortest attention here, being not much more than the blind guy with a fancy visor, but it is surprising just how much backstory they are able to chuck into this, although it clearly makes the main plot suffer.

During the closing moments, a conversation between Riker and Picard concludes with Picard commenting that he has no doubt their future adventures will be “much more interesting”.  As a viewer, I think we can only hope the same thing.  As pilots go, this may not be the strongest, with a plot that is rather humdrum and relegates its most interesting aspects, the Q vs. humanity trial, to the side-line.  However, we are given a glimpse into a crew that you just can’t resist hang out with and a ship that will provide the necessary comforts for our 7-year voyage.

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