This is the first of many critiques of my favorite shows. I’ll be posting one twice a month on Fridays. I’m going to be doing Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Supernatural, X-files, and the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies.
These critiques will be my commentary as I watch through each episode. I won’t be covering every single episode, just the ones that stood out to me and that fall along the theme of this blog which is always ‘exploration.’ These critiques WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS!!! So if you have never seen these shows, beware!
The pilot episode of TNG aired on September 28th, 1987. How old was I you might ask? I was three. My brother was 2, my sister was still cooking, and my youngest sister hadn’t even been thought of yet. I don’t remember whether I was watching when the show first aired or not, but I do remember becoming hooked pretty early on so I suspect it might have been with this season or possibly with the second or third. I only recall that my mother allowed me to stay up an hour earlier than my brother if I stayed with her and watched Star Trek, so basically, it began with some enticement on her part.
But however it began, and whenever it began, I know it happened quick. And I went on to be into DS9 during my teenage years and Voyager during my early college years, and I always tell people how profoundly Star Trek has shaped my life. The values and lessons I picked up from this show made me who I am. Yes, it was considered an adult show with some adult themes. Violence? Yeah sometimes, especially with DS9. Dark themes? Yes, those were my favorite episodes. Sexuality? Only mildly. Yes, I was exposed to words like hell, damn, and ass, and I survived. I don’t ever remember being traumatized or being negatively affected by anything that happened on Star Trek, but I do remember being moved, inspired, and encouraged. It was an excellent show for a young girl growing up in the 80s and 90s to see. It was a show about humanity, diversity, accepting differences, and trying your best.
But this is the very first episode — Encounter at Farpoint. Just a brief summary is that the episode opens when the Enterprise encounters the Q for the first time. And this is my first thought about this particular episode. Q accuses Captain Picard and his crew of being a savage race. He refers to specific points in Human history, brings up things like the Crusades, World Wars, and other less pleasant points in history.
For Q, an alien examining humanity from a lense of his own values, it’s not surprising how he could come to these conclusions. As a scholar of history myself, I know how dark our past was, but the thing that’s worth noting is how Q is ready to judge Captain Picard for what happened in the past. He wants to know if Humans have progressed past their history, so he agrees to watch Picard and his crew as they continue on their mission to Farpoint station.
The interesting point about this is that this is a case of someone being judged for the crimes of their predecessors. This is a powerful point to consider because this sort of thing happens even today. The idea that the descendants of conquerors should be held responsible for the atrocities their ancestors committed is very relevant to this day and age. Is Captain Picard, a man of the 24th century, responsible or to blame for what humanity has done in the past? Captain Picard makes the bold claim that he sees no charges against him or his crew.
Later on when they arrive at Farpoint Station and meet up with Commander Riker, Dr. Crusher, and Geordi; they begin to explore the mysteries of Farpoint Station, and they learn that the Bandi, the native race of the planet, have in fact captured a shapeshifting lifeform and forced it to construct this space station in order to entice the Federation. Well, the lifeform’s mate arrived ready for revenge and begins attacking the planet.
Captain Picard and his crew soon learn the truth about the life forms, and they are angry at what the Bandi have done, condemning them for capturing this lifeform and forcing it to suffer for their benefit. The Enterprise frees the captured lifeform, and it rises to join its mate in space, and that is the end of this pilot episode.
Along the way, I had a few other thoughts. One of those is that Captain Picard’s childfree status is established in this very first episode. He admits he doesn’t feel comfortable with children, and he is uncomfortable with the fact that there are children on his ship. I picked up on that even back when it first aired because even when I was a kid, I was uncomfortable around other kids, and I was really able to relate to him. Throughout the show, Picard maintains this stance, and he’s constantly being challenged about this until finally, towards the end of the series, he begins to express regret.
As a childfree person myself, I think this was a powerful message that you shouldn’t be pressured into social norms if you aren’t comfortable with them. If you aren’t comfortable with children, you shouldn’t have them, and ‘no’ is an option and society shouldn’t pressure you into having them.
The second point about this episode that I wanted to point out is Data. You will see me bring him up a lot as well as the angels Castiel and Hannah from Supernatural because these types of characters are a particular archetype that is very important to people like me. Data is an android. He is far superior to humans in strength, intelligence, speed, and many other things. He’s basically a walking computer. But he has a fascination and curiosity towards humans. He’s always trying to fit in, to understand the various nuances of human behavior and communication.
This is precisely the sort of thing that I relate to as someone who is on the autism spectrum disorder. Us Aspies tend to be pretty smart, we quite often have very high IQs, but we tend to miss things like subtle hints, and we struggle to fit in just right with those around us. Such characters like Data are very important to me because he is relatable in such a personal way.
Growing up, I didn’t know that I had Aspergers, few people really understood autism back then, but I always felt different. I knew I was different. I struggled to understand things a lot, and I think that Data and I are kindred spirits.
I think it’s important to note Dr. McCoy’s appearance in this episode because this begins a trend that continues with Deep Space Nine and Voyager. A pattern of someone from the previous show or spin-off guest starring on the pilot episode as a way of giving the new show their blessing. On DS9, it was Captain Picard, and on Voyager it was Quark.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the interaction between Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher. Picard and Crusher are my favorite characters on the show, and they have always been. I’ve always been in favor of their relationship developing romantically and even in this very first episode; I can tell that there was something between them.
So there you have it — the pilot episode of The Next Generation. I am looking forward to the next one!