Star Trek Episode Autopsy – Encounter at Farpoint

So after starting at the end, let’s jump to the beginning! Encounter at Farpoint is a very different episode to Endgame, as the world we live in was a different place. There’s nearly two decades between the two episodes, and the loss of Gene Roddenberry and his particular vision for the future.

Although it’s a double-length episode, I don’t have enough to say about it to stretch this over two blog posts. Also, since it is the first episode of all the modern series (although since that really covers the period 1987-2002 calling them ‘modern’ is stretching it a little bit…) there’s not a lot to pick holes in it exactly, and it wouldn’t be completely fair to pick holes in future episodes based on this episode.


I love timelines! I love alternate and future histories! If I remember (and it’s been a while) my original Star Trek lore, two thirds of Earth’s population was wiped out in the Eugenics Wars of 1996-99, leading to a worldwide ban on genetic engineering. Of course, by 2063 we’d already fought the Third World War…

A couple of key dates in Earth history are brought up in this episode’s court scene. The United Earth Government was set up in 2036, showing that at least some nations on the planet are going to unite. My best guess for how this might go down is a convergence of economic collapse (see: the last few years) and energy crisis. Given most government’s inability to make bold changes that might upset voters or damage their own dreams of power, things would likely degenerate enough to force states to band together to fix things. It’s a bit of a stretch, maybe, and probably doesn’t match projected energy crisis timescales, but like I said – it’s my best guess for how nations might be forced together.

I also don’t believe that just by using the term “United Earth” makes it a unanimous consensus. This is the best explanation for how a Third World War can arise later, given the arrogance and presumption of using the name United Earth for yourself when some nations aren’t invited or refuse to join!

That uniform is so well cushioned he probably sleeps in it

The courts of 2079, in the wake of the Third World War, are a bit more difficult to reconcile. We know that First Contact occurs in 2063, and ushers in an age of peace, prosperity and extra-terrestrial contact. But these courts show that that process evidently took some time to establish. Again, in the absence of an official explanation, my best guess is that the different factions of WW3 – which are still openly hostile in 2063 – take different lengths of time to accept the Vulcan’s contact (given a recent global war, paranoia and suspicion are likely still high). I can’t imagine how a nation would feel being contacted by an enemy who says “Hey, we met some aliens and they’re really cool, shall we form a united government together?” Most nations today would not agree on a common set of goals, etc., and may disagree on how to govern equally and get angry about an apparent inequality in that proposed governance (over ideological things like human rights, for example).

The Court

Justice is blind when the light shines in it's eyes like that

The court scene puts me in two minds. I can see the point of courts becoming more theatrical, since everything nowadays is more theatrical and dramatised. The parliament of the UK has long been full of buffoons braying to each other and joining in daft mock-indignant laughter, and it’s all got a kind of tradition and pageantry of its own. In addition, the growing ubiquity of personal communication gadgets (including the upcoming field of wearable networked devices) mean that courts may not be able to keep from becoming completely public over the internet. In the worst possible case, this would combine with modern trash-television standards and the sensationalisation of news stories to create a court that panders to the crowds for entertainment values. It won’t happen fast, but could easily happen over a couple of generations. Since Star Trek’s view of the 21st century is pretty bleak (the Bell Riots, World War Three, drug-controlled armies and almost including the Eugenics War) it’s not impossible that in their world, things could move towards a media-savvy court.

In the fallout of the Third World War, a media-savvy court could easily become a entertainment form, especially since the court itself is just a prelude to sentence. It’s clear from Q’s remarks that the verdict has already been reached, and the court does not bring innocent people to trial.

An additional wrinkle though is that this isn’t time travel – it’s a Q illusion. Is it a true reflection of the courts of the late 21st century, or is it an analogy used by Q to frame his own trial (with a lack of justice, preordained verdict, etc.)?

Q’s Intentions

Q’s intentions are difficult to fathom. I can’t take them at face value. The fact that he is bringing humans to trial for savagery, but leaving the Klingons alone? That the Borg are assimilating their way across the Delta Quadrant, and aren’t being interfered with? I can only speculate that the Q (or just Q himself) are testing humanity, or else doing it for entertainment value. Their decision to limit humanity could have been done earlier in their history when Kirk is travelling around the galaxy (he goes further than Picard has at this point), or they could try to limit a more savage race instead (the Cardassians are more wicked, the Klingons are more barbaric). Not to mention that with the Q’s power, couldn’t they just send each vessel back to Earth and disable it from superluminal travel?

The trial is not Q’s intention, he instead instructed Picard to go. Picard mentioned a trial, and Q decided to acquiesce and give him one – although just as he’d already chosen what he wanted the Enterprise to do, he chose a trial where the verdict is preordained. Finally, despite both of these one-sided decisions, he chose to allow Picard a chance to prove humanity was no longer savage. He went from a 100% declaration of “go home” to “it will be proved you should go home”, to “show me why you shouldn’t go home” in very short order. He either allowed a mortal to talk him out of it, or he is playing a game with the Enterprise crew – the first of many.

There's three people in the back standing smartly to attention, but only one next to a console.

When it appears that they may not complete his challenge, he turns up on the bridge to gloat but also to nudge them in the right direction. It’s possible that the Enterprise would, through no fault of it’s own, fire on the alien vessel that is attacking (apparently unprovoked) an ally currently in friendly negotiations with the humans. They would be showing compassion to protect the Bandi, and yet damning themselves in Q’s eyes. But since Q appears and boasts, taunts and mocks the humans they get an idea of what they should be doing. Why would he jeopardise getting what he demanded at the beginning, unless what he really wanted was something else and it didn’t matter whether humans were sent back to their own solar system?


Most of the nit-picking that I would have done, I don’t feel fair doing because this is the first episode and thus so much of it is setting up the rules with the intention of breaking them later. The only one that I might bring up here is the fact that Admiral McCoy doesn’t like to use transporters. I’m not as big a guru on the Original Series as I am on later Star Trek series, but I’m fairly certain that he didn’t have such a problem with them in the past. Maybe if I feel malicious enough to give the Original Series this sort of treatment, I’ll revisit the decision then. It was a nice touch to see him though, with trademark casual racism (anti-Vulcanism sounds a bit more like an opinion on geology…)

It was also nice to see an admission that the Holodeck has a wall! I don’t think that this ever comes up again, I’ll make a note to keep an eye out for it…

Other Captains

As before, how would the other captains have handled this? Although it’s a single episode in two parts, there are two almost unconnected stories involved here – Q’s Ultimatum and the mystery of Farpoint Station.

The court is not necessarily an essential component of the ultimatum, since Q credits Picard with the idea. I imagine that Sisko would demand some sort of proof or trial, a way to fight his corner and justify humanity although he does believe that humanity can be savage (he himself will do terrible things in the Dominion War). In a way, he would need to argue his position since DS9 cannot separate or run away like the Enterprise can.

I can’t see Janeway submitting to any threats without proof that the Q have jurisdiction over them or that region of space. If it did go to trial, that’d likely be her point rather than argue the charges against humanity. I’m not saying that she’d get out of the situation happily or alive, but without previous contact with the Q (this is the first instance!) and without Starfleet’s briefings (based primarily on Picard’s future encounters with the Q), no-one would have a base level of knowledge of the Q and their capabilities, motivations, etc.

With the Bandi at Farpoint Station, I don’t see anyone acting too far out of Picard’s steps. In fact, most of the actions in investigating Farpoint were inactions. The negotiations had stalled because of a lack of information shared and the alien creature was rescued by one of it’s own. Nothing that happened in the investigation was as a direct result of the Enterprise’s actions. As far as discovering the odd emotions, Kes or Tuvok could help Janeway and Spock could help Kirk, but Sisko doesn’t have an empathic/telepathic crewmember to help.

Unlike the other captains, Kirk has previous experience with a Q-like being. It’s my personal theory that Trelaine could be a member of the Q-continuum, although a less disciplined and less dangerous being than Q. I recall that Kirk has dealt with other near-omnipotent beings too. I doubt he would submit to accusations of savagery (despite being more of a wrestler than any other captain), and would probably make a farce of any trial (I just can’t get his behaviour with Trelaine out of my head!)


It was strange watching this episode again, given the huge changes in general culture and television style since it first aired. It’ll be even stranger if I end up going through the Original Series too…

I also realised while watching this that computers at the end of the 1980s had very different designs, both in user experience, user interaction and architecture to computers just a decade later. The internet revolution hadn’t happened, and cloud computing was a pipe dream. It wasn’t really mentioned in this episode, but I know that future ones are going to show an interesting divergence of design.

I don’t think that I would actually do anything different with this episode. A bit boring, but there were no major plot-holes and since characters haven’t really been defined, no-one did anything out of character!

Overall, a nice utilitarian way to introduce the new series and all the characters – this is an android, this is a VISOR, this is a small boy who will threaten the ship with destruction. It also sets up some things that weren’t used as much in future episodes. The saucer separation in particular felt like either they’d want to do it more often and didn’t find a reason to (forgetting about it most of the time) or that it was being set up for the future so it wouldn’t feel like they made it up to get out of a sticky situation on the spot. Other things were being introduced that were left by the wayside – my favourite is the mini-skirts. Instead of dropping mini-skirts (oo-er) in the name of gender equality, they instead gave them to everyone in the name of gender equality! Then chickened out almost immediately. It’s a shame, it took guts to try it out.

There’s more that I could go into (Picard is clearly an angry man, hates Riker, swears a lot; O’Brien doesn’t seem to mind that everyone has been transported off of the battle bridge without him) but I think I’ll leave it there and maybe bring those up as they change in future episodes. Let me know what you think about my ideas, or what you think I may have missed!

  • Number of saucer separations: 1
  • Number of Q encounters: 1

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