Author’s Note: I watched all the original-cast movies with gusto, but have nothing to add. I suggest this series of articles on EW for insightful commentary on each one.
I love Star Trek: The Next Generation almost as much as the original series, but I’m much less familiar with it. I’ve seen seasons in bits and pieces, mostly when visiting family members who had cable when I was younger — some big swathes of episodes, some random ones here and there. I’ve just started watching the series from start to finish as part of my grand Star Trek watchthrough, and it’s cool to be coming to it straight off the original series. Here are my first impressions of Encounter at Farpoint, informed by memories of the rest of the show.
- It’s awful. Painfully eager. The cast members hadn’t yet found depths for their characters, and their reactions are comically intense. But trying too hard is, perhaps, better than just being bad, or going off on the wrong track entirely. I do like the idea of having a new crew starting on a new mission, unknown to each other as well as the audience.
- Those long, lingering shots on their diversity — Vulcan down in engineering, Klingon on the bridge, female security chief. The “no one” replacing “no man” in the opening monologue. A scene describing Geordi’s visor usage in detail. They’re proud, and I’m proud they’re proud.
- They’re already doing a better job of being an ensemble show, in the newer style that followed “permanent status quo” structures of the 1960s. Even with the one-note acting, they already give the impression of a crew of people with distinct interests, and there are glimmers of the strengths they’ll show later.
- Picard is weirdly hardass…? He and Riker almost remind me of Gibbs and DiNozzo from NCIS. Which is fine, I love NCIS, but I like them better as themselves. We associate Picard much more with inspiring humanistic speeches. Again, we see some lovely hints, though: “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
- Data is actually pretty well-formed. They’re not advertising “here’s our Spock,” but rather the newness of an android and what he’ll be able to do on the show. He has a childlike interpretation of events rather than a logical one.
- ADMIRAL MCCOOOOY at age 137! The symbolic handoff is so important to legitimize the show, and Data was a great choice to represent the new generation. Data would be the last person to understand anything McCoy’s ever said, and as a childlike character listening to his elder, his presence creates a sense of newness and hope for the new show.
- Long, lingering shots of the new set and ship, planets, the holodeck, people using the chest badges… and they disconnect the saucer in the first thirty minutes. They want to show off what the show can look like now.
- The inclusion of families on the ship is a major change. I’ve always thought it was very unsafe, but I think it’s supposed to indicate Starfleet’s exploratory focus in a more believable way. But the leadership don’t have families, that’s still for scientists and extra people, not really compatible with Starfleet. (Except Dr. Crusher, and Wesley was awful at the beginning just because the lines seemed scripted for a much younger child… And she’s a female character consistently treated in a sexist manner in the early years). Picard makes a point to say he’s not comfortable with children, even. So it’s kind of mixed messages.
- The plot recalls Star Trek’s first (successful) pilot, with themes of godhood and humanity. But it brings a greater sense of exploration, too. The core plot has that “classic sci-fi” feel, a little sterile but basically about discovering life forms incomprehensibly different from ourselves.
- This episode is really boring, which makes the conclusion unintentionally funny: “Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir. Picard: Oh no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting.”
Conclusion: The show doesn’t feel grounded yet, and the pace often lags, but it’s got a lot of promise and a genuinely hopeful tone. Can’t wait for more!