Weekly Trek – June 13-19, 2016

The first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are not considered to be the best of the show’s run.  And that’s putting it mildly.  As the first Star Trek television series in over a decade, the show took a while to find its footing and its characters’ voices.  Adding to the challenge for the writers was creator Gene Roddenberry’s edict that there should be no conflict among the members of the crew because humanity had grown beyond such things.  The writer’s strike that hit at the start of the second season didn’t help things either.

Despite of the issues, there are a few episodes in those first two seasons that I really enjoy.  I talked about Season Two’s “The Outrageous Okona” in THIS POST back in March, and I’m sure I’ll talk about others as the year wears on.

Today, though, I want to go back to TNG’s two-hour pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.”  The story, briefly, is that newly-assigned Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the just launched USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D has been ordered to investigate how a species called the Bandi managed to build the quite-advanced Farpoint Station.  As assignments go, it’s not all that exciting, but en route the Enterprise is waylaid by a godlike being named Q.  Q tells the crew and really humanity in general that they need to turn around because they aren’t ready for what the galaxy has in store for them.  He goes so far as to put Picard on trial for the crimes of humanity and decides that the upcoming mission to Farpoint will determine whether or not humanity is guilty.

So Picard and company go to Farpoint and get to business with Q showing up every so often to taunt them.  Frankly, I can’t imagine a major television series starting this way today.  There’s no real villain.  Sure Q sets himself as adversarial, but the Enterprise crew can’t fight him.  He’s basically a god.  The episode has very little in the way of action.  Instead it takes its time to introduce us to our new main characters as they work to solve the mystery of Farpoint station.  The resolution is really about responding to new lifeforms with wonder and compassion rather than fear and hostility.

“Encounter at Farpoint” isn’t likely to make anyone’s Top Ten TNG Episode lists, it does give us Q, played with the perfect amount of superiority and humor by John de Lancie.  Q would go on to show up about once a season, usually with some new test for Picard and Company; although, in Season Three’s “Deja Q,” he actually needs the crew’s help after his fellow Q in the Q Continuum (Yes, they’re all named Q) strip him of his powers.

The Q episodes range from comedic romps like “Q Pid,” in which he puts Picard and the other senior officers into a Robin Hood tale (As well as being incredibly fun, “Q Pid” has some of Worf’s best moments.) to more serious stories like “Tapestry,” in which Q allows Picard to see how his life would have turned out if he’d made a different decision as a young man.

Perhaps the closest Q comes to being an outright villain, though, is in Season Two’s “Q Who?”  In this episode, Q decides that Picard and friends are a bit too confident about their ability to handle whatever the galaxy has in store for them, so he sends the Enterprise thousands of light years away into an area of space controlled by the Borg.  The Borg are cybernetically-enhanced lifeforms that have a singular goal: assimilate all other intelligent life into the Borg Collective.  They travel in massive cube-shaped ships that are capable of repairing themselves, and both their ships and the Borg themselves quickly adapt to any weapons used against them.  After failed attempts to fight and flee, Picard is forced to ask Q for help.  Q obliges and sends them home.

Q’s actions here not only cost the lives of several of the Enterprise crew but also introduce the Borg to the Federation (and vice versa), leading to the catastrophic events of “The Best of Both Worlds,” which I will talk about next week.

While he primarily appeared on TNG, Q also popped in on Star Trek: Voyager three times, giving them a 10,000 light jump toward home in one episode, and once on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  Q’s antics didn’t really fit in with DS9, but his visit there did lead to one of my favorite moments in that series, which you can watch HERE.

In many ways, Q is integral to 24th Century Star Trek, and I’ll be mentioning him a few more times before the year is out.

- Alan Decker

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