June 21, 2013

Encounter at Farpoint Part II

Second Star to the Right, and Straight on 'Til Morning
Doctor McCoy gave the new series its sendoff in at the end of part I.  Gene Roddenberry didn’t expect DeForest Kelley to agree to appear when he asked the TOS veteran to appear, but in doing so, Kelley passed the torch to TNG and implicitly gave it his blessing.  

Part II opens with the Enterprise orbiting the Bandi world in tandem with USS Hood, the Excelsior-class starship that presumably carried Bones to his inspection, and is now carrying him away.  Excelsior-class vessels were the behemoths of the original cast’s day.  Excelsior, herself was annoyingly modern in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock--an irritating new golden boy that had the gall to presume it could replace the tried-and-true Enterprise.  Now, in orbit alongside the Enterprise-D nearly 80 later, it is clear that the Excelsiors are the aging workhorse of the Starfleet, and the Galaxy-class are the ships that will carry Trek into the future.  

The Hood breaks orbit, setting sail for parts unknown; leaving Enterprise to handle the Farpoint conundrum on its own.  It’s a touching visual, really; the Hood, a stand-in for the USS Excelsior, herself, seems to be giving its blessing to the new series just as Bones had.  

Picard ruins it with his message, “Bon voyage, mon ami.”  I might have opened fire.  

Was Patrick Stewart cast to play a Frenchman specifically to piss off actual French people. . .and certain Canadians?  We meet members of his family, and with the exception of his mother--who was a memory brought to live via negative space wedgie--every one of them speaks in an English accent.  Picard’s mother, incidentally, is also the only one who doesn’t appear to have been a member of the Khmer Rouge.  

Thankfully, Q appears to put an end to Picard’s douchebaggery. Setting a 24 hour time limit to solve the mystery of Farpoint Station or be summarily judged guilty.  

The episode gives us a lot of great glimpses at the kind of leader that Picard will become.  For all of the first, and much of the second seasons, Captain Picard is not quite the tolerant father figure to the crew that he’ll become.  First season Picard was irritable, curmudgeonly, and often downright unlikeable.  After Riker successfully reconnected with the saucer section manually-a maneuver that the mere idea of caused the bridge crew to shit a collective brick--Picard somehow made his ‘well done’ sound like ‘eat shit and die.’ 

He does, however, manage to foreshadow the master diplomat reputation that he will eventually earn.  When Q chides him for being dilatory, Picard tries to subtly set the terms of the test Q gave him:  “If the purpose of this is to test humans, your honor, we must proceed in our own way.”  It’s a subtle enough attempt that might have worked, had he not been trying to negotiate with a nigh-omniscient being.  He also shows his confidence in Mr. Worf’s potential, even after he nearly tried to shoot an image on the viewscreen, which. . .what the fuck, Worf?

"If we're going be damned, let's be damned for what we really are." 
--Jean-Luc Picard

It is at this point that Riker and Troi’s are reintroduced to each other after Riker left her on Betazed.  The resemblance of Will Riker and Deanna Troi’s relationship to that of Will Decker and Ilia from Star Trek The Motion Picture is obvious.  Riker and Decker were ambitious, young Starfleet officers, both fell in love with a local during a shore assignment. Both women had mental powers of some kind, and both Riker and Decker left without saying goodbye (I like to imagine that there was a pregnancy and livid parents involved in each case) only to be reunited years later aboard Enterprise.  I have no idea why TNG felt the need to recreate the Decker/Ilia dynamic, but I really don’t care enough about ether romance to research the matter.

Riker collects Data on the holodeck in a scene that really only really serves to give us some backstory for Data and establish the holodeck’s theme of trying to kill people.  With the away team assembled, the exploration of Farpoint can begin.  Councilor Troy is actually relevant to the plot for once, when she senses the first clue of what Farpoint Station is.  While exploring the tunnels below the structure, she feels the pain and despair of something.  She’s still vague enough to be annoying, but, credit where it’s due.  

A huge ship appears and begins to fire on the Bandi city near the station, but carefully avoids shelling Farpoint itself.  Picard breaks the first rule of kidnapping, never tell a room full of people you’re about to kidnap someone, destroying any hope he had of plausible deniability by specifically calling the act illegal.  He’s saved the felony charge by the other ship, however, when it abducts Groppler Zorn before he does.

Enterprise’s away team beams over to the alien vessel--a move that seems risky as sensor signals only bounce off of the ship’s hull--to find that Zorn is being tortured in some kind of energy field.  I personally couldn’t give a shit, but Riker decides to shut the field down by firing phasers at it. . .which, again, seems kind of risky.  

Picard realizes that the ship is actually a space-born life form and that its pissed at the Bandi for abducting its mate and only feeding it enough energy to survive and fabricate goods for the Bandi, but not to escape.  Riker is shocked that the life form, bubbled a space jelly in the extended universe, is naturally able to convert energy into specific patterns of matter like their transporters do, but admits "It has to be conceivable that somewhere in this galaxy there could exist creatures able to convert energy into matter."   Wow, that would be amazing; nobody’s ever seen anything like that before...

...Uhh, those guys don’t count.

Enterprise uses its phasers to feed the entity, which frees itself and joins its mate in orbit for some sweet jellyfish lovin’.  Good for them. 

Q leaves, but warns that he may be back some day, and the Enterprise leaves to carry on the mission of her predecessors. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation starts out its journey with an episode that was, frankly, pretty mediocre.  The episode has shadows of what the series will become, but Encounter at Farpoint’s better aspects simply don’t make up for its weird pacing, poor performances, and lackluster plot.  After the dregs of the first season, and a second season that had some great episodes surrounded by, well, more dregs, it will go on to become one of the great science fiction TV series of all time.  The actors become comfortable with their characters, scripts become better-and-better, and Wesley is put on a buss; allowing the show to blossom into something nearly as relevant and beloved the first series.  

The Good:
  • The music is outstanding in both episodes.  Its really amazing how much tension can be generated with excellent scoring.  
  • John di Lancie as Q.  Q’s motives are ambiguous, and don’t really make sense at face value.  I think that there's a very good reason for this, which I'll talk about in future.
The Bad:
  • Same as Part I, with the exception of Lt. Yar, who manages to make herself useful this time around.

The Verdict:
  • Must See

©2013 AHoden or The Special Needs Group. Screen captures and TNG publicity photos property of their owners.

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