Encounter at Farpoint, Part Two
It's not really a flying saucer, it's a space jellyfish!
Q pops by to give Worf a jump scare and remind everyone that this adventure is terribly important for reasons that never become entirely clear. We get introduced to the show's most enduring plot device, the holodeck, where Wesley is sadly saved from drowning by Data. Everybody beams down to the matte painting of Deneb IV and they all run around mysteriously identical-looking alien corridors until this fact is eventually made into a plot device, at which point it is revealed they were inside a giant space jellyfish, helpfully colour-coded blue so the pink one that turned up can be clearly identified as its mate. Oh, and Q pops by at the end, largely to tell us that he'll be back later on, hopefully when the scripts have improved.
The most interesting word-drop in this script is Picard name checking 'Ferengi'. For the longest time I assumed that all this talk about them eating their enemies was just because they hadn't worked out who this alien race was supposed to be yet. But no. It turns out that because the Ferengi were originally going to be super-evil in order to replace the Klingons (they're our friends now, dont’cha know), this idea that they would eat their enemies was intended to paint them as dark as possible. Of course, by the end of Deep Space Nine, Ferengi society is busy transforming into a 90s liberal fantasy of the what the United States could be if only US liberals weren't utterly incapable of negotiating social changes with conservatives, so in retrospect this throwaway line looks rather uncomfortable. But this is season one of TNG. It's going to get a lot more uncomfortable than this!
This is largely Frakes' episode, securing Riker as our backup Kirk in case the more cerebral Captain Picard backfires on the audience. I remember a UK newspaper review from when “Encounter at Farpoint” first aired (I think it was in the Daily Express): the reviewer expressed exactly this pro-Riker thought: "this is what Star Trek fans really want". In retrospect, of course, nobody could possibly uphold this view. Not that Riker isn't a lot of fun - but does anyone really think there's any incident in Star Trek: The Next Generation when Riker would have made better command decisions than Picard...?
Of course, as I noted in the synopsis, what Riker largely does in this episode is lead his away team round and round in circles in the alien corridor set, as they go towards and then away from the camera just to justify the cost of building the set. At least Riker's meeting with Data, although badly written, provides some clumsy exposition that will prove useful later in the series, as well as establishing the holodeck that will provide such aid to the writing team whenever they run out of ideas.
“Encounter at Farpoint, Part Two” is chock full of what is called these days 'shipping teases', which is to say, hinting at relationships between the characters that actually aren't going to happen (not inside the continuity of this show, at least). It's all rather unfortunate. Frakes and Sirtis have no chemistry at this point, and even later in the show's run when they do, they're clearly friends and not lovers. McFadden and Stewart are having more fun with it here, but anyone who gets a scene with Picard is happy, because Patrick Stewart is the one actor keeping the whole show from falling apart.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
The sense of continuity with classic Trek is evident here in the special effects. We get a matte painting of Deneb IV from an unusual aerial perspective…
…and a scale model for the Bandi city that would be at home in any classic Trek show you'd care to mention.
The most striking visual effect continuity is when we see the Enterprise in orbit of the planet, arranged perfectly side-on. That's not the only way we saw the USS Enterprise in the 1960s, but it is one we saw most often, and that's because side-on you can use a matte painting of the planet which is way, way cheaper than building a planetary model, which is a much more expensive endeavour.
The special effects triumph in Part Two also comes from Lucas' ILM like the six-foot Enterprise model in Part One, and it's Rick Sternbach's 'Farpoint cnidarians' AKA the space jellyfish. As ludicrous, as ridiculous as this part of the story is from any and all perspectives, I admire the shots at the end of the episode showing our blue and pink jellyfish reconnecting after Mr Jellyfish foolishly let himself get dominated by a man so terrifying he spends much of the episode cowering under a desk. A brilliant piece of miniature photography, these are easily of cinematic quality. Just as Q rescues Part One, this sequence rescues Part Two, despite its inherent preposterousness. Rather less impressive is the giant flying saucer when the female turns up, but it’s a nice bait and switch all the same.
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