Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, turns a critical eye onto the next generation of Star Trek television with her review of “Encounter at Farpoint” – the pilot episode marking the return of Trek to the TV.
I’m sending my long overdue report on Star Trek: The Next Generation. While I have, as of today (August 31st), already finished the first two seasons, my discussion here will primarily focus on the pilot, Encounter at Farpoint, and my initial impressions of the series.
I will first talk about the main cast, starting with the arguably most important and iconic character, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played of course by the great Sir Patrick Stewart. Having already heard so much about Picard going into the series, my expectations for him were sky high, and hence I was somewhat taken aback to discover that he was a bit of a crank in the pilot. He seemed quite crotchety and short-tempered, and didn’t come off as particularly personable, although he does greatly improve in subsequent episodes.
However, in spite of my initial hesitance on his personality, I really appreciated the performance that Stewart gave. You are free to disagree with me on this, but I preferred Stewart’s acting to that of William Shatner’s. Shatner is incredibly charismatic; however, whenever he needed to get emotional or deliver a rousing speech, I find that he tends to get a little hammy. Even though Picard often gets irritated, and does a fair amount of shouting, Stewart is always able to rein it in; I never thought that he went overboard.
The Original Series was ground-breaking for featuring female characters in esteemed positions, and The Next Generation has certainly made further strides in that area. In the pilot, we’re introduced to characters like Tasha Yar serving as the Enterprise’s chief of security and Deanna Troi acting as Picard’s key advisor. We have women like Beverly Crusher, and in the 2nd season Katherine Pulaski (played again by Diana Muldaur), serving as the chief medical officer, and I find it refreshing that the actresses brought on are actually old enough to look believable as qualified doctors. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that skirts are now apparently unisex.
It is the 24th century after all, and men have every right to look good and feel great. Although I’m not thrilled with the way that some of the female characters have been written, I’m still impressed by The Next Generation’s inclusion of women in roles that have been traditionally reserved for men.
As for the remaining crew members, I did initially find Riker to be a bit bland in the pilot, although he has grown considerably on me in subsequent episodes, and is now one my favourite characters. I loved Data from the get-go. Even though he superficially appears like a successor to Spock, he is considerably much more humorous and approachable, eagerly partaking in activities that Spock would probably find to be illogical. I also quite like La Forge; the comradery he has with the other characters is always a joy to watch. I would have liked to see more done with Worf. The Klingons were always adversities in The Original Series, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to see one working with the mostly human crew in The Next Generation. Unfortunately, Worf is usually side-lined and seems to get frequently pummelled in fights (although I do hear that he receives a more prominent role in later seasons).
The one and only character that I really can’t stand is Wesley. I don’t like using the term ‘Mary Sue’ too liberally, but that is just the description that comes to my mind when I think of him. This is no knock on Whil Wheaton, whom I’m sure did the best job that he could, but I’m unable to buy into Wesley being the gifted prodigy who seems to always come up with the solution and save the day. I’m hard pressed to find anything compelling or likable about his character, and it is agonising for me to see him receiving more prominent roles in later episodes. The only solace I can take is that Picard shares in my distaste for him; it does bring me a certain amount of satisfaction to hear him yelling at Wesley.
Aesthetically, the special effects and set designs in The Next Generation do look markedly sleeker, and more digital and futuristic in comparison to its predecessor. The new bridge did take me a while to get used to. The bridge on the original Enterprise looked much more like a cockpit, being compact, with display panels and control boards everywhere. The bridge on the new Enterprise is much more spacious, with only the front and back parts being delegated to controls; I actually thought that it resembled a living room. I was also a bit baffled by the fact that the Enterprise apparently now carries families on board. Considering the mortality rate of crew members in The Original Series, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to bring untrained personnel and children on expeditions. Sure, they have the option of the saucer separation, as was first demonstrated in the pilot, but that to me just solidifies the notion that the Enterprise missions are perilous. Heck, Picard almost destroyed the entire ship after being threatened by Nagilum in Where Silence Has Lease; we see the obliteration of the Yamato and everyone on board in Contagion. Is it even ethical to bring minors along?
Another notable character that Encounter at Farpoint introduced is Q, who served as the episode’s antagonist, and is apparently a recurring adversary throughout the series. I know that this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I have to be honest: I didn’t care for him at all in the pilot. I hated Trelane from The Squire of Gothos. The character just had a knack for getting on my nerves; I spent the entire episode wanting to punch him in his smug, smirking face (which is, of course, a bad idea seeing that he has god-like superpowers).
Thus, I was less than thrilled by Q, who seemed to be heavily inspired by Trelane, and was just as obnoxious as the latter was, with a holier-than-thou attitude. It was infuriating to watch him strutting about in his gaudy costumes, taunting Picard and his crew, whom he had put on trial for humanity’s past sins. I also found his ‘test’ with the giant space jellyfish to be overly didactic: Q’s attempts of tempting the crew into using violence came off as quite heavy-handed and a little cheesy.
Reflecting back on the episode however, I do wonder what a trial for our species would be like. Q might be condescending and smug, but he wasn’t wrong in pointing out humanity’s abhorrent history. And it isn’t just the multitude of atrocities we’ve inflicted on each other that we need to answer for; it is also what we have done to our planet and its other inhabitants. It is also for the pollution of the environment, the depletion of the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, the destruction of the rainforests and the great barrier reefs. It is also for the dodos, the passenger pigeons, the Tasmanian tigers, the golden toad, the western black rhinos, and the countless other species that we have driven to extinction. When we stand trial, how would a jury find us? It is something that is probably worth considering going forward.