When I started my journey through The Next Generation, I jotted down thoughts and impressions with each episode. Not every episode was noteworthy, but here I present for your reading pleasure, the good, bad, and ugly moments of Season 1. [Note: I have the utmost respect for Wil Wheaton. Anything said here to disparage Wesley Crusher is aimed at the writers, not the actor]
Encounter at Farpoint:
This episode served to introduce the series to viewers. At this time, new episodes of Star Trek had not been broadcast on television for 18 years. And it starts with… the title sequence.
In a series known for establishing an episode’s tone with a teaser (notably when they destroyed the Enterprise before “Cause and Effect”) this is a jarringly bland opening. Next, we have music underscoring the individual episode credits, and finally a pan across the Enterprise D. I understand that this was meant to introduce viewers to the new ship, but the big reveal happened before the title of the series came up. We’ve seen the ship already, thanks. We can move on.
As Captain Picard enters the scene, we are treated to a great deal of forced and awkward exposition-speak. Nothing actually happens in the episode until about the five minute mark. And then Q appears. Despite his initial use of Ye Olde Butchered English (such as “Go back whence thou camest”), his presence is the only thing that makes the episode tolerable.
Also notable in this episode are the following:
- The first instance of saucer separation (which took way too much time to use effectively)
- Truly poor selection of musical cues (saucer is separating, let’s play the theme from The Motion Picture)
- Colm Meany as The-Character-Who-Will-Someday-Be-Known-As-Chief-O’Brien
- Saucer re-connection, with Picard being a jerk to Riker, and post-maneuver smirks from everyone on the bridge
- Q being done right (are you taking notes, Voyager?)
- Picard telling Dr. Crusher to get Wesley the Hell off of the bridge (this is, of course, the proper reaction)
- An all-too-brief cameo of Deforest Kelly
Where No One Has Gone Before:
I’m going to keep this one short, because the episode was so terribly dull that I fell asleep twice while watching it. I rewound to see what I had missed both times, and discovered that nothing of consequence had happened either time. This episode is notable for two things. First, it contains the Traveler, an alien who transcends dimensions (or something) and explains to Picard that Wesley is essentially the Chosen One. Second, it ends with Wesley’s promotion to “acting ensign”, which sets up all kinds of
facepalm-inducingly bad fun plots where Wesley saves the ship and crew.
This episode gave a perfect excuse to kill Wesley Crusher, but Picard would rather violate the Prime Directive and defy a mechanical god than let that happen. But I digress. The crew of the Enterprise discover a utopian planet populated by people with terrible fashion sense.
After some description of how idyllic this planet is, Wesley manages to break one of their few laws by falling on some flowers. I’m not even joking. Much hemming and hawing about the Prime Directive ensues, and Picard eventually decides to just beam Wesley up. It is at this point that the planet’s godinterferes, blocking the transporter beam. The god turns out to be some kind of alien ship that is never fully explained, and Picard argues with it until it decides to let them leave with Wesley. My thought is that it watched the previous episodes in the series and realized what it was getting into.
The Big Goodbye:
The first episode to feature the holodeck going haywire as a plot point, and one of the
better best episodes of the first season. This one let the characters and actors have quite a bit of fun (although the fun was short-lived for the characters). Picard, to relax before a tense diplomatic meeting, uses the holodeck to enter the film noir world of Dixon Hill. He brings along his friend, the ship’s historian, Dr. Whalen, who is important enough to have a name but not important enough to not get shot. Dr. Crusher and Data also come along for the fun.
The situation turns ugly when a power surge causes a malfunction on the holodeck. The safety settings are disabled (leading one to wonder why there is an “unsafe” setting in the first place), and the heroes can’t even interact with the computer to end the program. Dr. Whalen takes a bullet to the gut, and the captain, the doctor, and the android must avoid a similar fate while waiting for rescue. The program is successfully reset, the villains try to storm the ship, only to disappear when they leave the holodeck, and everyone goes home happy. Oh, and they took Whalen to sickbay. He probably got better or something.
The Arsenal of Freedom:
The other best episode of the season. This episode has the crew searching for the Drake, commanded by a friend of Riker’s. Soon, the ship and crew are under attack by what amounts to a sales pitch for a planetwide armaments system. After a pre-recorded sales pitch featuring the deliciously ironic tagline, “peace through superior firepower”, the planet’s systems enter demo mode, where “demo” is a word that is used here to most closely mean “kill everything and everyone in sight”. The away team first encounters a hologram of Riker’s friend that asks pressing questions about Riker’s ship’s armaments. Riker, sensing something is very wrong, responds that his ship is the Lollipop, “a good ship”. The hologram eventually gives up and reveals itself to be an aerial drone, which begins the attack.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise finds herself under attack by an invisible assailant. A rare saucer separation is performed, and in an even rarer moment, it adds to the episode rather than detracts from it. Increasingly desperate battles ensue, and Picard finally solves the problem by telling the automated sales person that they want to buy the weapons system and that they can end the demo. The episode strikes a good balance of action, character development, and comedy.
Skin of Evil:
This episode is infamous as being “that episode where Tasha Yar dies”. Other than the fact that it is the first episode to actually kill a main character, there is absolutely no reason to watch it. It is a terrible episode, and not even in a “so bad it’s good” way. They use the exact same shot of Armus, the oil-slick monster, rising up out of itself, over and over.
The infamous death is abrupt and nonsensical. Jonathan Frakes takes a bath in Metamucil and printer ink. Actually, that last bit is kind of hilarious.
This episode was a follow-up to a plot thread introduced in “Coming of Age”. In that episode, the crew was under investigation, due to odd behavior and mysterious happenings in the upper echelons of Starfleet. When I saw that episode, I was intrigued, and also curious as to why I didn’t remember this plotline. It felt like something that would have been too important to miss, even in hearing people talk about the series. This episode explains why the plot was swept under the rug.
The episode begins rather well, with a secret meeting between captains of different ships on an isolated planet. It seems that Starfleet command is acting under the influence of some kind of hostile force. Minutes after leaving the rendezvous, the Enterprise discovers that one of the ships involved has been destroyed, losing all hands. This prompts Picard to turn the ship around and fly back to Earth to confront the admirals about this conspiracy. So far, this sounds like an engaging premise.
Well, to make a long story short, it turns out that the conspiracy is caused by parasitic aliens that aren’t Ceti eels, we swear. They have taken over most of Starfleet command, and they decide to taunt Picard before converting him by making him eat live grubs. Riker comes in, saves Picard, and they stun the infected admirals. They look for the source of the infestation, and then this happens (viewer discretion was advised during the original broadcast, and is still advised now).
And that is why that plot thread is as dead as the Hydralisk that popped out of Remick’s chest.
…and that’s about all I can stand to write about Season 1. Tune in next time for Season 2: Riker has a Beard Now!