Encounter at Farpoint, I&II

Until The Writing 101 prompts come around, I still have about two weeks’ worth of posts to fill, in order to avoid being a sad sack who reneges on his commitments. So, I thought, here’s a novel idea for the creatively lackluster days: start naming posts after Star Trek: The next Generation episodes, and even if you don’t talk about the episode, you can make it a theme. Brilliant! So, let’s go chronologically. First episode: “Encounter at Farpoint, parts I and II.” Crap. Oh well. Also, by the way, if you’re unfamiliar with Farpoint, you’re probably going to be lost. But hey, that’s why there’s Netflix.

After staring at my screen for an hour and not knowing what in tarnation I could possibly write about this, I remembered something. Despite being retroactively reviled by fans and hipsters alike, Farpoint had all the makings of a perfect TNG episode, and would actually go on to be the blueprint for much better episodes, like “Clues” (in the style of Friends: The one where Data wipes everyone’s minds lest they all be murdered by aliens). Honestly, it wasn’t a terrible episode; it just suffered from the kind of stiff writing and undeveloped characters most first-season network TV shows have. And the first- and second-season uniforms were kind of awkward. But those things are peanuts compared to what it got right.

While, admittedly, Captain Kirk kicked mountains of ass from one end of the galaxy to the other during his abbreviated five-year mission, there was generally a great sense of exploration and newness to the Original Series. Farpoint made a point to carry on that tradition, and in doing so, set the precedent for the rest of TNG, which is why far more of its episodes have more replay value than those of any other Trek series. Because of its uncompromising fidelity to the “new life and new civilizations” ethos, the Next Gen crew could encounter grave conflict, but the show never had to become mired in it. As the following series in the franchise became increasingly battle-based (eventually self-destructing with Enterprise, which was basically Stargate SG1-Lite), crews became less focused on the exploring and newness, and more and more bogged down in the typical human-style conflict of territorial pissing. Now, with the film reboots, the new-old Federation resembles the Klingons or Romulans more than it does the peace-seeking and -keeping Shatner- or Stewart-era Federation.

If there is an argument out there that TV audiences only respond well to cruelty and explosive action, this show is its antidote. And it’s all because of a mediocre first meal made from the best ingredients.

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2 comments

  1. So, so true. “Enterprise” felt, during the only time I watched it [when it aired], like a simple restatement of the Bush-doctrine “shoot first, ask later” ethos. Comparing that to the profoundly humanitarian spirit of TNG, even at its occasional weakest or worst, or to the bare-knuckled but empowering “sí, se puede” spirit of TOS (forgive me, UFW!), is simply no comparison at all. TOS said we did because we could because it was fun; TNG handed that philosophy to Q and made Picard ask why; the rest, as you say, were too busy pissing.

    1. Hmm. TOS: a positive response to JFK? TNG: a positive (though belated) response to Jimmy Carter? It could be argued…

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