Hi! Welcome to my episode-by-episode recap of, and reaction to, Star Trek: The Next Generation. As is my custom with recaps, I will give you a short summary version and a long and
unnecessarily helpfully detailed version. My reaction will follow at the end if you just want to scroll past all of the recap.
I am watching via my Hulu subscription but I believe the series is also available with an Amazon Prime subscription.
I watched the first run of this show – mostly via reruns – in the early 1990s. I also watched the original series around the same time. I am a fan of most of the original cast’s movies. But my fandom did not really take me into the other off-shoot Star Trek series. I did not watch (much) of Voyager, Deep Space Nine, etc. I have not watched “Picard” yet, either. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get into the rest of the universe through the re-watch.
[DustyReviews Note: There is some, but not a lot, of cursing in this episode. Just be aware of that if you want to watch with your kids.]
THE QUICK AND CLEAN EPISODE SUMMARY:
Picard, newly named Captain of the Enterprise, is slated to pick up the rest of his crew at Farpoint Station before setting off on a journey to explore the galaxy. Along the way, he encounters a super-powerful alien being calling itself Q.
Q accusses humanity of savagery and demands that Picard return to earth. Picard challenges the accusation and Q then sets up a test of character for the humans once they reach Farpoint. As it turns out, the test is solving the mystery of Farpoint Station. The starbase there defies what the local people should be capable of building. Picard discovers – after the arrival of another vessel – that another highly powerful and unique alien is trapped on the planet beneath Farpoint Station. He passes Q’s test by freeing the trapped alien and not attacking “its mate” which is the approaching vessel.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
Patrick Stewart narrates the intro. This theme music is fire.
The show opens in the black of space with stars slowly passing across the screen. The view pans up to the Starship Enterprise.
Captain’s Log: Stardate 41153.7. Our destination is Deneb IV.
The captain of the the Starship Enterprise is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He is so recent to the command that he does not have his full crew, yet. He is slated to pick up Commander William Riker at the ship’s Deneb IV destination. Picard is having a conversation with an android officer, Data, regarding their mission at Farpoint Station. The crew’s mission is to negotiate the right to use the starbase there while simultaneously “snooping” around to find out how and why the lifeform there built the station in the first place.
Commander Data does not know of the word “snoop” and after Picard explains it, he lists several synonyms. Just then, an attractive woman next to Picard – Counselor Deanna Troi – states while showing discomfort that she senses a powerful mind.
On the ship’s screen, we see something that looks like a wall. Troi suggests that it might be an incredibly powerful forcefield. Picard yells for the ship’s alarm sound to be shut off and then he commands that the ship be put on yellow alert. As the ship nears the wall, Picard commands for the Enterprise to stop.
An entity calling itself “Q” appears on the ship. Q appears to be a man in his 40s. He is speaking and dressing as though he is from the time of William Shakespeare. He notifies the crew that they have traversed too far into the galaxy and that they are required to return.
One of the officers approaches Q and is promptly frozen by him.
Q: Now go back or thou shall most certainly die.
[Picard orders the ship to turn around and the credits roll. Just kidding.]
Q transforms himself from a 16th century ship’s captain, speaking in Shakespeare’s English, to a mid-20th century American military officer. He transforms again into the costume of what appears to be an early “deep space” uniform worn by humans.
Q: You can’t deny that you’re still a dangerous savage child race.
P: Most certainly I deny it.
Picard and Q discuss human history and Picard suggests that Q, not humans, is the negative, self-righteous life form, prosecuting and judging without knowing all the facts. Q suddenly seems excited. He says they can proceed as Picard suggests but that he has preparations to make. Then he vanishes from the ship’s bridge.
Lt. Worf, a Klingon, suggests that it seems their only option is to fight. His statement is followed quickly by Lt. Tasha Yar who suggests that they could try to escape. Troi states that the being’s mind is immensely powerful. Picard decides to turn off all communication equipment aboard the ship and accelerate as quickly as possible in an effort to surprise Q and move past it further into the galaxy.
P: Our only other option is to tuck tail between our legs and return to earth as they demand.
The Enterprise makes a run for it. “The hostile” gives chase. As Picard’s ship moves past the red line of safety and beyond Warp 9.3, the hostile begins to overtake them. Picard asks Troi her guess as to what they just met and she suggests that it felt like something beyond what they might consider a life form. As the Enterprise accelerates to 9.5, the hostile is at Warp 9.8. Commander Data tells Picard that they may be able to match 9.8 but it would be at an extreme risk to the ship.
Picard states that the saucer section of the ship will separate from the rest. He puts Lt. Worf in charge of the saucer section. Worf does not want leave a battle once commenced and Picard tells him that his Starfleet Officer station usurps his Klingon cultural beliefs and that he must comply. He does. The civilian population aboard the ship leaves on the saucer section while the rest of the ship plans to turn around and confront the hostile chasing them. Picard has Yar fire torpedoes to “blind” the entity chasing them for long enough that the saucer section can escape.
[We watch the saucer separate successfully while this show’s fire theme song plays triumphantly.]
The rest of the ship turns around and stops to wait for entity chasing them. Picard, in all languages, issues a surrender to the entity chasing them. A moment later, all of the officers on the bridge find themselves somewhere else. A crowd of people are gathering. Picard tells us that the crowd looks to be from the mid-21st century “post Atomic Horror.” Troi tells them that what they are seeing is not an illusion or a dream. It is real.
Suddenly a judge from that era emerges on something that looks like a floating throne. It is Q.
“At least we’re acquainted with the judge, Captain.” – Data
The ship’s crew are ordered to stand. After they do not, and the orders become hostile, Lt. Yar attacks the man giving the order, knocking him down and disarming him. The crowd laughs and jeers at the man on the ground.
Q tells us that the court is from the year 2079. In that year, it was legal to try humans for the crimes of their forebears. Yar is furious. She says she grew up in a world that allowed things like this court. After she is done yelling, Q insta-freezes her. Data catches her as she falls. The 21st century crowd, gathered to watch the trial, cheers wildly.
Picard complains that assaulting his officer proves that this can hardly be considered a fair trial. Q then says the court is merciful and he unfreezes her. The crowd boos his decision to do so. Picard tells Q that he recognizes which court they are in and that humanity knows its history – even when ashamed of said history. The court they are in prosecutes from the position of “guilty until proven innocent.”
Q: Of course. Bringing the innocent to trial would be unfair.
Q charges humanity with being grievously savage. Picard argues that this is not a specific enough charge so Q calls to someone – who looks to be dressed like a 21st century member of Genghis Khan’s army – to bring the charges. Picard states aloud that he sees no charges “against us.” Q tells him he is out of order. His solders point weapons at Picard and his officers, and Q tells them to pull the trigger if Picard utters any word except guilty.
Picard then pleads guilty… provisionally. He states that there is evidence that supports the assertion that humans have been savage. However, Picard asks that the court test “us” (seeming to mean his crew.) Q agrees and says that Farpoint Station will be an excellent test. Q adjourns the court so that the criminals can be tested. The crew reappears on the bridge of the Enterprise. Q ominously states that they may have been better off accepting sentencing.
Personal log: Stardate 41153.7. Commander William Riker tells us that he has been dropped off at Farpoint Station where he awaits the arrival of the new USS Enterprise. Riker meets with a local leader. Riker expresses disbelief that the station was constructed so rapidly and so perfectly for the needs of Starfleet.
Next, we see Riker speaking with Dr. Crusher and her son Wes. She tells him that they were planning to do some shopping and he states that he has been meaning to visit the mall himself. At the mall, they discuss oddities on the planet – particularly how the planet seems to continue producing for them exactly what they ask for. Dr. Crusher witnesses this when a cloth she asks for seems to magically appear in front of her. She tells Riker that he may have a point regarding the planet and that there may be something there that Jean-Luc wishes to examine. Riker asks if she knows the Captain and Wes answers that when he was little it was Picard who brought his father’s body home to them.
As Dr. Crusher and Wes walk away, Lt. La Forge approaches. He informs Riker that the Enterprise has arrived but without its saucer section. Riker pushes an intercom on his shirt and a moment later he beams (teleports) aboard the ship. Picard sends Riker to view video from “their little adventure” taken of their encounter with Q upon the bridge.
Riker: He calls that a little adventure.
As Riker approaches the Captain to discuss what happened, the Captain is informed that the saucer is in orbit. Picard informs Data that Commander Riker will perform a manual docking. Data seems confused that Riker is ordered to perform the task manually and with no automation.
We watch, tensely, as Riker manually docks the ship. He succeeds.
Later, Picard interviews Riker. Picard expresses concern over an incident in Riker’s file wherein he disobeyed a captain’s order to keep him safe. Riker defends the decision as being his duty, in the situation, as a first officer. Picard accepts the answer. He requests that Riker do him a favor and help him with the children aboard the Enterprise. Picard tells us that he is not a family man and that he does not feel comfortable with children.
P: Every Captain needs an image of geniality. You are to see that that’s what I project.
Dr. Crusher is now aboard the Enterprise. She is with Lt. La Forge. He is blind, however, due to a visor that he wears, he is able to see to some degree but with some persistent pain. I’ll quote the wiki page explaining his situation – also somewhat summarized in the discussion she has with him. (No spoilers to follow.)
In the Star Trek fictional universe, a VISOR is a device used by the blind to artificially provide them with a sense of sight. A thin, curved device worn over the face like a pair of sunglasses, the VISOR scans the electromagnetic spectrum, creating visual input, and transmits it into the brain of the wearer via the optic nerves. The sensors are located on the convex side, that covers the eyes and attaches at small input jacks implanted in the temples. The only VISOR seen on screen was used by Geordi La Forge, who was blind from birth. VISOR is an acronym for “Visual Instrument and Sight Organ Replacement”; however, the complete term never appeared in the series, but only in novelizations and other written tie-in products.
Riker walks aboard the bridge and asks Lt. Worf where he can find Data. Worf replies that Data is with an Admiral on a shuttle craft.
We meet Data with Adm. Leonard McCoy. McCoy seems confused by Data.
McCoy: I don’t see no points on your ears, boy. But you sound like a Vulcan.
Data: No sir, I am an android.
McCoy: Almost as bad.
McCoy says that this is a new ship “but she’s got the right name.”
In the next scene, Picard, Riker, and Worf are on the bridge when Q reappears. He warns them that they have twenty-four hours to complete their test or they will face summary judgment. Riker asks Picard what they will do next and the Captain tells him that they will do what they would have done had Q never appeared at all.
P: If we are going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.
Aboard the ship, eleven hours into their twenty-four hour window, Riker and Picard are discussing Farpoint. Riker suggests that the planet traded geothermal energy for the building materials to build their starbase. Picard says, as to the magical appearances of objects that seem designed to please the human on the planet, that none of it seems threatening.
Riker and Picard step out into a hallway. Picard tells him that he’s asked Counselor Troi to join them for a beam down onto the planet to meet with Zorn, the person (?) on the planet whose job it is to negotiate with the Captain. Riker’s eyes turn into heart shapes when he first looks at Troi. We learn that Riker has met Troi in the past and that he can sense her thoughts.
With Groppler Zorn, Picard and Riker try to fish from him how his people built a starbase. Riker suggests having Zorn’s people show Star Fleet how they built the base. Zorn says that his people do not like leaving their home world and that if Star Fleet cannot accept this, they will seek an alliance, unhappily, with the Ferengi.
Troi is suddenly overcome with an emotion that she feels. She gets permission to discuss in front of Zorn. She says she feels pain, terrible loneliness, and despair. Zorn will not admit any knowledge of what she is feeling. Picard adjourns their meeting and states openly his suspicions over the fact that Zorn will not answer their most basic questions about how the base was built.
Later, Riker asks an ensign where to find Commander Data. She shows him that Data is aboard a holodeck. Once he reaches it, Riker enters the holodeck. As the doors open, we see a hologram image of a forest setting. He steps inside, the doors behind him close, and the doors disappear from view. Riker walks through the forest and shouts “hello.” He eventually finds Data sitting beside a tree practicing to whistle. As they are leaving the simulation, walking through the forest, they find that Wesley Crusher is in there with them. When he falls into a stream, Data is able to lift his entire body out of the water using just one arm. As the three of them leave the holodeck together, they find Picard waiting outside by the doors.
Wesley leaves them and finds his mother. He asks her if she can arrange for him to see the ship’s bridge. She tells him that would be against the Captain’s orders. He persists and she tells him that they will see what they can do.
On the base, Riker, La Forge, Troi, Yar, and Data are gathered together. They plan to do some snooping. Yar, Troi, and La Forge set out to explore passages beneath the base while Data and Riker explore topside. The group in the ground give a report to Riker. La Forge says he has no idea how the tunnels were constructed and has never see anything like them. Troi tells Riker that she feels crippling pain. Riker and Data beam down to their underground signal. Troi says that the feeling is from an unknown life form. La Forge clarifies that the construction below ground is from no material he has ever seen or heard of previously.
On the bridge, Dr. Crusher and Wes visit.
Picard: What the hell? Children are not allowed on the bridge!
Dr. Crusher tells Picard that her son is not on the bridge. He merely accompanied her up the turbolift (elevator.) Picard seems stunned to see Dr. Crusher and remembers Wesley’s father. Feeling a bit less snappish, Picard tells Wesley that as long as he is here, he can look around.
The camera pans around the bridge, from Wesley’s perspective, as Picard warns him not to touch anything. As Picard is explaining how things work, he finds that Wesley knows a lot about how the ship works already.
Picard: How the hell do you know that, boy!
Suddenly the bridge gets an alert. Picard sends the two Crushers from the bridge. A vessel of unknown configuration is approaching the planet for an unscheduled stop. After attempts to communicate with the new ship fail, Picard orders shields up and phasers ready. He contacts Zorn on the planet and asks if he knows who the approaching vessel could be. Zorn confesses that they have not actually had dealings with the Ferengi, yet, when asked about them by Picard.
The approaching ship is twelve times larger than the Enterprise.
Still below ground, the group of Data, Troi, Riker, Yar, and La Forge note that their communications with the ship are blocked.
Worf tells us that there are no records of any ship of the nature of the one approaching them. Suddenly, the other ship begins firing on a place nearby Farpoint.
On the ground, the five officers are close enough to the surface that their communication devices work. They can hear the phaser blasts close by. Riker orders Yar, La Forge, and Troi to beam up while he and Data remain on the ground to learn more.
Picard orders Riker and Data to illegally kidnap Zorn in hopes of getting answers from him. The ship from orbit is blasting the Old Town outside of Farpoint hard and Riker notes there are likely to be many local casualties. On the Enterprise, Picard and Troi discuss that the kidnapping may not be illegal given the effort to both save lives and the fact that they are already engaged in diplomatic efforts. With that settled, Picard tells Yar to lock phasers onto the newcomer ship.
Q reappears. He once more accuses humans of being savages. He critiques the effort to use phasers and remarks on how the ship is not actively attempting to save lives. He is wrong, though, and Picard shows him a moment later when he patches through Dr. Crusher and lets Q know that they are sending a team down to help save lives. He further accuses of Q of being a savage, in turn, noting that Q knew this would happen and did nothing to prevent it.
Worf alerts the Captain that they have lost control of the Enterprise.
On the planet, Riker and Data narrowly avoid a phaser blast. They find Zorn and hear him yelling.
Z: You can make them stop. You can drive it away.
They ask him, “make who stop” and he once more feigns ignorance. When Riker and Data make as to leave, Zorn – terrified – says he will try to explain. After he says this, a light appears on his abdomen and he begins to scream. Suddenly, he is gone. Riker reports to the Enterprise that they have lost Zorn and that it appears a transporter beam snatched him away.
On the ship, Troi tells Picard that she is sensing enormous satisfaction. The source of the satisfaction is close by. Q wants Picard to send an away team to the foreign vessel. Riker says that he wants to go. Q leaves. Picard gets on the turbolift.
The Captain visits Dr. Crusher. He apologizes for being harsh earlier and offers to allow her an assignment transfer if she wants one. He is concerned that seeing him will remind her of a deep personal tragedy. In turn, she says that if she had issues with the assignment she would not have requested it. He is surprised to learn that she requested the posting.
As he leaves her office, he tells her that he hopes they can be friends.
Data, Yar, Riker, and Troi beam aboard the unknown vessel. They note that it is of much the same construction as the tunnels beneath Farpoint. There is no crew, no signs of mechanism of circuitry, and no controls or read-outs. Up ahead, the away team hears Zorn yelling to “please, make it stop, no more!”
Riker and Data fire phasers at Zorn. He is released from the grip of whatever is holding him. Just then, Q reappears on the bridge of the Enterprise and tells them that their time is up. While Picard calls for the away team to be transported back, Q has taken control of the Enterprise and they cannot.
Picard asks Q to let him help his team. When Picard tells Q that he will do whatever Q says, the away team is transported back onto the bridge of the Enterprise. Troi tells Picard that it was not Q who brought them back onto the Enterprise but it was an alien life on the other vessel.
Suddenly Troi realizes that she senses not one but two aliens. The other ship is one alien and the tunnels beneath Farpoint are the other. Picard refers to the one on the planet as “its mate.” Picard finally gets a confession from Zorn that they found the other alien lifeform and that they fed it while it was starving. However, they fed it only enough energy from their planet to keep it alive to do what they asked of it.
Picard locks a beam onto Farpoint station and the alien is freed from the planet. We see it ascend from the planet’s surface to join the other of its kind in obit. Now they both look like outer space jellyfish. They touch tentacles and fly away.
Troi: A feeling of great joy and gratitute. Great joy and gratitude. From both of them.
Q is still on the bridge. Picard tells him to get off the ship. Q says it suits him to leave but he will not promise never to appear again.
Captian’s Log 41174.2. They have reached an agreement to rebuild Farpoint Station. Riker says to Picard that he hopes this is not how all their missions will go. Picard says, in return that he is sure most will be far more interesting.
Picard: Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!
This was really good!
I did not remember Picard as having such a short temper. I was continuously surprised by his outbursts throughout. I will probably adjust my perceptions within a couple of episodes. I also primarily remember Riker as a little bit, uh, heavier, and bearded, and thus I had forgotten he was the cast’s heartthrob when this show started.
At it’s heart, Star Trek is always optimistic and adventurous. There is nothing out there in the universe that the best in humanity cannot overcome. After all, in-universe, we already cleared the tallest hurdle (i.e. our own failings as a species.) The pilot episode tackles this topic head on. When we see the humanity of Star Trek, we are not seeing the humanity of the 21st century. We are, instead, seeing the best version of ourselves. The show gives us a future for which we can and should aspire.
Speaking of, as a person who is not in that future, just yet, watching the human beings on Star Trek TNG feels a little bit like watching aliens. Everyone stands tall, they have perfect posture, and maybe because we are on something of a military-adjacent space ship, everyone has an almost unnatural self-possession. Seeing the occasional breaks in that calm outward demeanor creates a lot of the action on the show. But it also feels so unnatural that it is humorous. Picard is self-possessed when Q comes aboard unannounced, threatening everyone, but he absolutely blows up at the sight of Wesley Crusher in the elevator.
Maybe Picard just has some Sheldon Cooper-ish hatred of Wil Wheaton.
We get a general sense of the cast in the pilot but we do not get to know any of them terribly well. I am fine with that. Let’s get to know them better when we get into the regular format of the show.
I did want to mention a few things, though.
- Q reminds me a lot of the Superman villain Mister Mxyzptlk. He is too over-powered to use him in the show very often. But he worked for this episode as a foil for “humanity” in general.
- I am glad we got to see “Admiral” McCoy in this pilot – even if he was outrageously old. It’s nice to throw a bone to the fans of the original cast.
- In hindsight, the biggest misfire from a futurism standpoint was La Forge’s blindness. Given what we now know about genetics, is it conceivable that we will not have genetic cures for blindness four hundred years from now? Probably not. That said, the VISOR looks cool.
Speaking of futurism:
The U.S. created the Air Force Space Command in 1982.
The U.S. created the Space Force (officially) in 2020.
_____ created Starfleet in _____?
Humans will be exploring the galaxy before we know it. We already designed our logo.