As the new Galaxy-class Enterprise heads out on its first mission to Farpoint Station, the crew encounters a powerful being known as Q (John de Lancie), who blocks and then pursues the ship, before kidnapping four of the crew and putting humanity on trial. Captain Picard finds himself answering Q's charge that humanity is a "savage race."
Star Trek: The Next Generation launches with an uneven maiden voyage, which admittedly shows its age when compared to today's higher-tech and faster-paced world of drama. Slow and talky (which is not necessarily a demerit), "Encounter at Farpoint" suffers in part because it doesn't find the right balance between the supposed urgency of Q's ominous warnings and all the character threads that are in play as the new crew is assembled. The shifts in momentum between plot and character are at times distracting. Meanwhile, there are two overly self-impressed set-pieces involving the separation and reintegration of the Enterprise's saucer section — an action gimmick that's frankly much ado about nothing. Sure, the visual effects are impressive for 1987 television, but there's not much substance to the idea here beyond, "Look, honey! The ship can split in two!"
As a pilot and as Trek, this is adequate and absolutely no more; it establishes all the regular characters while supplying a reasonable (but ultimately disappointing) sci-fi scenario. The unconvincing planet sets and the dramatic music score give the production a definite feel of old-school TOS Trek. On the other hand, making the ship more of a luxury liner than a military vessel is a definite departure from TOS, as is the character of Picard, who is a mannered intellectual and debater. I suppose it takes a certain level of guts to make Picard the ultimate anti-Kirk, who announces an unconditional surrender in the first half-hour of the story and frequently showcases a cerebral style. And Picard's debates with Q are the first in what would eventually become one of the series' great running dialogs.
The notion of asking questions before resorting to violence is in tune with Trek's humanistic message, but the plot's solution is far too transparent and unchallenging to live up to Q's portents of earth-shaking significance. "I see now it was too simple a puzzle," Q notes at the end. Funny — that's exactly what I was thinking.
The episode has one of my favorite goofy laugh moments: Q invades the bridge and then puts a deep freeze on a threatening lieutenant with a phaser. "He's frozen!" exclaims Troi. Wow, thanks!
Next episode: The Naked Now