June 3, 2020

002: TNG: Encounter at Farpoint

Is this Picard??

In this episode, Jeff Akin reviews the characters, production, and direction of Star Trek The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint. With focus, Jeff looks into the different facets of Jean-Luc Picard and the type of leader that he is. From this pilot, we’ll get to see his character that a lot of leaders today, in whatever field, can definitely take notes from. He’s stoic but also able to warm up and display care. Supremely confident but can also admit to his mistakes and mend. And even though Picard draws out nothing but the soundest best from his comrades in the toughest situations, a general thing to do by captains, his leadership pushes him to get in between danger and his people if needed to.

Listen to the episode and join Jeff as he talks about Captain Picard, what we can learn from him, and everything else in between.

He Stands Up and Sits Down

Ballsy is a word that Jeff describes Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the many interactions he’s shared with Encounter at Farpoint’s main characters. In one scene, where the enterprise is halted by a mysterious force that Troi was able to pick up earlier from the situation, Captain Picard carries himself to meet the threat that is Q, who proceeds to extinguish and freeze one officer. Picard then handles this display of power with unshaken confidence and stance as he continues to stand right up to Q, flashing leadership and questioning him.

In another circumstance up against Q, this time as their Judge, Picard boldly faces humanity’s alleged crimes of savagery as Troi, Data, and Yar’s representative. In a post-apocalyptic court setting, wherein they’re held in front of blood clamoring people and securities armed with guns, a legal overseer named Bailiff orders Picard’s party to all stand as criminals – to which Picard responds to with a cold stare before shortly sitting down. Even when their most basic and bare being as humans is being questioned, Picard can present himself sure and collected.

Listen more to what Jeff has to say about Picard’s character as a leader in the Starfleet Leadership Academy Podcast!

About Starfleet Leadership Academy:

Star Trek is full of great examples of leadership. Jeff Akin, a leader with over 20 years of executive management experience in both the public and private sectors, breaks down each episode of Star Trek, from The Original Series to Discovery and beyond, pointing out examples of great leadership, management, lean/six-sigma, communication and more.

If you enjoy Star Trek, or are even a little Trek-curious, and have an appetite for leadership development, this is the podcast for you.

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Welcome and thanks for tuning in! We’re taking on the heavyweights this week - the show that defines Star Trek for many fans as we dive into Star Trek: The Next Generation, Encounter at Farpoint.

Not going to lie - hearing the intro this series will always send chills down my spine. Full disclosure, while I grew up watching the original series with my Mom, I watched TNG, first run, every single week. I grew up with this crew! 
We start off with a great way to open the show - easing the viewers in: new Enterprise, great new visuals…save the judgement of characters till after the first impression. 
It had been about 18 years since people had seen new Trek on TV and never without the original cast.
Opens with a great shot of the Enterprise from below. And we meet Captain Picard. 
Some rough handheld footage as he moves through engineering into the Bridge as he provides some limited exposition on the ship - a Galaxy Class starship, super fast, state of that art…all that stuff. 
We’re headed to Deneb IV and he mentions the 1st officer they’ll be meeting: William Riker.
Then we meet Data and Troi while Picard explains the mission: negotiate an agreement to use the base while “snooping” around to find out why the life form built it. 
Data goes off defining a word while we learn Troi senses a “powerful mind.” 
In a Tholian Web moment, the Enterprise is stopped by some force.
And...there’s a KLINGON on the bridge?? 
And then in a flash of light, some Macbeth looking character appears on the bridge and threatens Picard.
Picard here shows his first flash of leadership, questioning the being and showing great, physical confidence. I mean, he stands right up to this guy. 
The being explains he is called “Q” and then shows off his powers by fire extinguisher freezing the poor conn officer. 

Then there’s a series of Q appearing in military costumes from various periods in Earth’s history.

Q comes with the news flash that humans are violent and dangerous. 
We are smoothly introduced to Security Chief Lt. Yar: “As security chief I can’t just stand here...”
Picard stands as a champion of what humanity has become. Q leaves with a cryptic threat. 
There is some INCREDIBLE synthesizer background music here! 
For some reason, Picard wants to separate the saucer session at high warp velocity. Per Data, this is very dangerous but possible. 
Engineering reports they’re ready and a shot of the bridge shows that Star Trek isn’t quite ready to paint women in an empowered light as Troi’s uniform covers almost half of her butt. 
High speed chase ensues, showcasing the warp capabilities of the Enterprise. 
Yar is freaking out a bit as they are accelerating and the Q “ship” is keeping up. Picard maintains ultimate calm. 
Picard is not afraid to use weapons - as ship continues to gain on Enterprise he arms torpedoes. 
Picard orders emergency saucer sep and puts Worf in command of it. Worf pushes back and Picard stands his ground - “You are a starfleet officer!” 
We see that the Enterprise has families on board...and that even men are wearing the ever-so-stylish skirt uniforms. 
Picard, very calmly, relays the strategy and battle plan from the Battle Bridge.
Hey! It’s O’Brien!!! 
We then, some some reason, replay the theme music as the SUPER DANGEROUS saucer separation goes off without a hitch. 
Then there’s a pretty cool shot of the star drive section veering off from the saucer as it draws the attention of the Q ship. 
Yar starts making recommendations to fight and Picard cuts her off. He questions her and then, kindly and earnestly says that he’d like to “hear your advice.” She rethinks her position and gives more sound advice.
He acknowledges his crew: “Thank you, Conn” 
And then...he surrenders to Q! 
The bright, white light hits again and we’re in some 80’s style, post-apocalyptic setting. 
Bold move by Picard as a bailiff of some kind smells the prisoners to all stand. Picard sits. 
Data points out they are in the mid-21st century (2079-ish), the Post Atomic Horror. Kind of fun to see them do the dangerous work of “filling in the blanks” between the 1980’s and 2360’s. 
Q emerges as judge, jury and executioner. We get our first glimpse of Picard-as-lawyer as Q accuses the human race of savagery and multiple crimes. 
A soldier starts shooting a gun around trying to get the crew to stand. Picard doesn’t budge. Yar shows her H2H prowess as she knocks the dude out.
We learn that Yar grew up on a rough world and that she holds Starfleet in the highest regard. She’s fire extinguisher frozen for speaking out. 
Data records everything and can do verbal playback. 
Picard-as-lawyer proposes that Q tests them - see how they represent humanity. Q agrees to use the Farpoint Station mission on Deneb IV as the test.  Flash of light, and they’re back on the battle bridge. Poor O’Brien has no idea anything even happened. 
Man...Troi just constantly looks confused. 

We meet William Riker! Sans beard.....  He explains he’s transferring from the USS Hood to the Enterprise as he meets with the Farpoint Station administrator.
They talk about the high geothermal power levels and the rapid construction of the Station. The administrator offers refreshment, Riker says he’d like an apple but there aren’t any...and then some appear. As he leaves, the administrator starts chastising some unknown presence about arousing suspicion. 

Riker meets up with Dr. Crusher and her son, Wesley who are shopping. She looks at a bolt of fabrics and expresses it’d be nice if it had gold on it. Suddenly...it does, and Riker notices. 
Crusher refers to Picard as Jean-Luc. Wesley explains that Picard brought his father’s body home after he passed away. 
Lt. LaForge arrives; he’s got some device covering his eyes. Riker big times him so LaForge snaps to attention and officially makes his report. He reports the star drive section has arrived without the saucer. 
Riker has been trying to get the crew to do work while on the planet and is holding LaForge to military standards. 
Yar greets Riker as he beams up and takes him the battle bridge. 
Picard all but refuses to acknowledge Riker as he reports aboard. He sends him to a viewer that conveniently has the episode that we’ve just watched queued up! 
Riker and Picard meet in the ready room. Picard randomly assigns to Riker to immediately, manually rejoin the star drive to the saucer. 
Data and Yar make a big deal out of this being done manually...though it really appeared to be a routine operation.
This episode seems to be trying to make a really big deal out of the operation of the Enterprise - maximum warp saucer separation, manual rejoining, going to maximum warp...but there isn’t ever anything to suggest any of these are actually difficult or impressive. 

Picard and Riker meet up again. Very formal. Picard questions some of Riker’s decisions on the USS Hood. Riker stands his ground. “Permission to speak candidly, sir?” And then he pushes right back to Picard. 
Picard then shares he’s not a family man and isn’t comfortable around children. Asks Riker to help him project an air of congeniality. 
Much to the joy of Riker, Picard welcomes him and shakes his hand. 

This was almost a cool scene where two people that have to lead a starship are coming together for the first time. Imagine a group of C level executives meeting for the first time; they’re all going to work to mark their territory, so to speak. In this case, Picard is clearly the superior office and he tests Riker, hard. Riker takes a risk and pushes right back, a testament to his confidence and his experience - he knew he had done the right thing and would do it again. Picard ultimately respects that in him and it completely changes the tune of their relationship. 
Where this lacks, for me, is Picard’s lack of authenticity. He came at Riker with aggression and anger…he tested him. While there are times that may be appropriate, say, in a crisis, this does not feel like the right time for this at all.

In sickbay, Crusher and LaForge explain his eye device. LaForge is blind and this allows him to “see” through multiple different methods. 
Riker comes onto the bridge and we get a beauty shot of it as the camera sweeps around. Worf explains Data is on an assignment transporting an admiral.
In a scene that did not age well (in any way) we see Data escorting Dr. McCoy from the original series through the Enterprise. We learn here that Data is an android. An admirable attempt to link this series to The Original Series, but really not well executed at all. <<Maybe play some audio from here>>
Q shows up to remind them of the stakes and the timeframe. Riker praises Worf’s reaction, while Picard calls Worf’s effort futile. 
Riker updates Picard on the Station and how items magically appeared. 
Picard introduces Riker to Troi, who telepathically communicates with Riker. Turns out they have quite a history as Troi calls Riker “Imzadi”
Picard - “I consider it important for my key officers to know each other’s abilities.” Troi - “We do, sir. We do.” 

The trio meet with the administrator, Groppler Zorn, who informs us that Troi is a betazoid. She corrects him - half betazoid. 
In the negotiations, Groppler Zorn threatens to seek an alliance with the Ferengi if these talks break down. Given what we see of the Ferengi in the future and on other series...that may have been a good idea! 
Troi senses very strong emotions: pain and terrible loneliness, despair from an unknown source. 
Groppler freaks out and starts yelling. The trio exit as he again threatens to talk with the Ferengi, Picard says, “I hope they find you as tasty as they did their last associates.” I’m guessing those were tube grubs….

We get a fun scene to introduce the holodeck (Well, we’ll count it as an introduction since we’re not covering the Animated Series, see “The Practical Joker”). This starts off with Riker asking an Ensign where Data is. She demonstrates the utility of a Galaxy class starship and Riker demonstrates the irresistible, magnetic charm we will come to know from him. Super cool shot as he thanks her and walks away and she totally, very obviously is checking him out.
Riker is blown away by the holodeck and it does look great. They shot this on location at Griffith Park and it’s really effective at conveying how cool this technology is.
As a side note, my most memorable moment at Griffith Park was eating a 16x16 In ‘N Out burger outside the Observatory. That was a shameful...and oddly proud moment for me.
Riker needs Data’s help problem solving the mysteries at Farpoint Station. He works to personally connect with Data, calling him, Pinocchio after Data reveals he wants nothing more than to be human.
Wesley Crusher shows up and falls into a river. We get a crystal clear shot of Brent Spiner’s stunt double as he dives down to rescue him. 
We see him next in sickbay with his mom, Dr Crusher, where he is lobbying for her to show him the bridge. She explains that Picard would not be ok with this, but ultimately says she’ll see what she can do.

On Deneb IV, Riker, Yar, LaForge, Troi and Data split up to explore some underground tunnels and see what they can find out on the surface. 
In the tunnels, Troi is really struggling. The feelings of pain are overwhelming to her. Riker and Data beam to them and Riker talks her through it. He utilizes their relationship to calm her down. 
On the Enterprise, Dr Crusher brings Wesley to the bridge and Picard gets very upset. Crusher reports to him, the first time they’ve seen each other on the episode, and the tension of their existing relationship is palpable. Once he understands who Wesley is, and their connection, through Wesley’s father, he allows him to look around the bridge. 
This shows there is a warm side to the captain. That he does care for the people around him. He brings us back to reality, though, with a quick, “But don’t touch anything!” 
He looks around the bridge, they use a handheld so we have his POV. He sees Worf....WHY IS NO ONE FREAKING OUT ABOUT A KLINGON ON THE BRIDGE?!?!
Wesley takes right to it all, understanding the controls and way overstepping his bounds. Picard ends up telling him to get off the bridge. 

An unknown ship is approaching the Enterprise. Won’t answer hails. Picard recalls Riker and his crew to the ship. Shields up and phasers ready.
Picard confronts Groppler about the ship. He admits to making an empty threat about the Ferengi. 
Quick comment from off camera mentions this ship measures “12 times our volume”

The effects and shooting style of this very much feel TOS. 

The ship starts shooting at the planet (pulses, kind of like the Caretaker). Worf says it’s targeting the old Bandi City. 
We get a very TOS/Classic Battlestar Galactica shot of the assault on the City.
The crew in the tunnels sees the attack. Riker leads them to the surface so he and Data can get a closer look allowing the rest of the crew to beam back up. 
Picard talks with Riker and asks if Riker would be okay with a “clearly illegal kidnapping.” Riker is down for it so he goes to get Groppler Zorn and bring him to the ship. 
On the ship, Picard orders Yar to lock phasers on the mystery ship and Q shows up, taunting them for resorting to violence. Despite the taunting, Yar is all about blasting the ship.
Picard doesn’t take to the taunting and gives it right back. Says Q accuses them of savagery when he knew all along that people were going to be hurt and still allowed it to happen. 
Riker and Data get blasted in the assault on the old city. You can actually see the Dippity Doo label in Riker’s hair....so much gel....And Data channels the Undertaker some 3 years before he debuts as he recovers from the blast. 
Jonathon Frakes is incredible in this. His eyes as he reacts to Data’s strength, and pushing the point with Groppler...so good.

As Data and Riker question Groppler, he says he’ll try to explain and is then painfully transported to an unknown place.
Q is still on the bridge, taunting Picard as Troi senses enormous satisfaction. 
Picard steps up to Q once again. “Either leave or finish us!” Worf is up and ready to roll as Q keeps his cool. He invites Riker and an away team to beam over to the mystery ship and Riker is all for it. 

Picard meets with Dr Crusher and apologizes for not personally and professionally welcoming her on board. He then tells her that he would approve a transfer request in consideration of her, and Wesley’s, feelings because of the death of her husband. She reveals that she requested this posting. Picard extends his hand and welcomes her aboard. Eats some good crow here.
Riker, Yar, Troi and Data beam over and the ship looks exactly like the tunnels did on the planet. Troi feels very powerful anger and hate directed to the Bandi City. Which is where the people that “constructed” Farpoint Station live. 
They hear Groppler Zorn being tortured and find the room he is floating in. Riker and Data break him free with some phaser shots. 
Cut to the bridge as Q flashes on board saying their time is up. Picard desperately begs Q to allow him to help his people. Q brings them all, including Groppler Zorn, to the bridge. 
Troi figures it out! It’s not a ship, it’s somehow alive. Picard and Riker question Groppler who admits he was “helping” an alien; keeping it captive. 
The ship flips over and reveals it’s actually been a pinkish-ish space jellyfish the whole time <<Spongebob jelly fishing>>. 
Q continues to taunt Picard and he just ignores him. Supreme confidence. 
Picard pieces it together...somehow. Farpoint Station is actually the alien ship’s mate. They blast it with an energy beam to feed it until it flies up out of the ground. Oh, and it’s blue. How very subtle....
The two creatures touch tentacles, and fly off, never to be seen or mentioned again. 
Picard kicks Q off of the ship who does not promise never to appear again. Which is okay. I mean, so far...Q is a fascinating and very well acted character.
Picard sends us into the series - “Let’s see what’s out there. Engage.” 

This episode was…not good at all. I struggled to get through it at times. I don’t think the writers had a really good idea of who these characters were and many of the actors had less of an idea. There’s obviously, you’d assume, some great plans around Worf, but he and Yar just come across as hotheads. Troi is there to barely wear clothes and sort of be crying all the time. Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie did a lot with what they were given. Q was borderline kitschy camp, but de Lancie made the threat real. We’ll talk about Frakes’ and Stewart’s challenge when we verify our command codes. 
Ultimately, watching this episode, I’m kind of surprised the series survived. I remember the fans of the original series straight up losing their minds once this episode aired. History proved that Paramount made the right choice…but….wow. 

Command Codes:
Two very different leadership styles in Picard and Riker. Well…sort of. I don’t think they knew quite who they wanted these two to be, so they really moved from one side of the spectrum to the other.
Let’s look at Riker. When we first seem him, he’s friendly and cordial. In a heartbeat, when he meets LaForge, he goes full military. We don’t really see that out of him again as he starts to settle back into the role of a charismatic leader. He praises Worf, jokes with Data and isn’t afraid to lean in on an existing relationship to gently get control of a situation. I really appreciate his confidence. When Picard is big timing him and ultimately gets on his case about not allowing Captain DeSoto to go on an away mission, he stands his ground. We see a little military as he asks permission to speak candidly, but once that permission is given, he does exactly that. From what we saw of Riker on this episode, we can expect to see a leader that people gladly follow. 

Picard, on the other hand is all over the place in this…but often, appropriately. He’s the Captain, he knows it, and he holds himself to the highest standard. There are two key moments of humanity we see in him: we he asks for Riker’s help in appearing congenial; especially around kids and families; and when he offers to approve a transfer request to Dr Crusher due to his involvement in the death of her husband. Other than these instances, he tends to be an experienced, tactical and strategic military leader. Other than, what I saw as, his inappropriate conduct when meeting with Riker - I mean, all but ignoring him when he comes on board the first time all the way through that grilling when they finally do speak - we see an unflappable individual. Confidence right up to the line of arrogance or bravado, but not crossing it. I mean, there are multiple instances with Q, in the post atomic court room and even with Groppler Zorn where he stares death in the face and doesn’t step down. He puts himself between his crew and danger, but also expects perfection out of them. I love the scene where Yar is wanting to go toe to toe with Q’s ship and he, very calmly, interrupts her and theny says that he’d like to “hear her advice.” This was so effective - he didn’t get emotional, even in a dangerous and escalating situation. He didn’t discount Yar’s input, in fact he welcomed it, but with his tone he was able to communicate that she was headed down the wrong path. Picard’s ability to often separate emotion from his decision making and communication should pave the road for some excellent examples of leadership down the road. 

Next time, on the Star Fleet Leadership Academy, we’ll be going back in time to Broken Bow - the first episode of Enterprise. I’m sure there aren’t any strong feelings about the show out there……

In the meantime, you can catch me on social media. I’m @jefftakin on the twitter, instagram and facebook. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the episode as well! 

And, until then, Ex Astris Scientia!