The Enterprise-D is out on its maiden voyage to Deneb IV to pick up Commander William Riker when suddenly she encounters a giant space net of some description, and a being that calls himself a "Q". After a reflex action results in the freezing of a Red Shirt note (he gets better), Q decides to challenge the crew: If they can prove that mankind has put aside their savagery "nonsense", he'll let them go. The challenge involves them solving the mystery of Farpoint Station, an outpost on Deneb IV that has been the site of some absolutely bizarre goings-on, mostly in the guise of apples that appear from nowhere and fabric that suddenly changes texture. Of course, all is not as it seems, and the head of Farpoint Station, Groppler Zorn, has a lot to answer for.
The year is 2364. The United Federation of Planets is enjoying a period of unprecedented peace and exploration, and the crown jewel of this period has been launched: the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D. She's captained by Jean-Luc Picard, a forty-year veteran of Starfleet and one of their most distinguished officers. His crew is a handpicked ensemble of Starfleet's finest, including an android (Lieutenant Commander Data) and a Klingon (Lieutenant Worf), a sign of the Federation's alliance with the Klingon Empire. For her maiden voyage, the Enterprise has been assigned to visit the Bandi on Deneb IV, a planet on the edge of explored space. It seems they have constructed a space station (on the surface) and they're appealing to join the Federation.
Suddenly, the voyage is interrupted by a vast energy grid blocking their path. Picard orders full stop, and the crew is startled by someone who flashes onto the bridge. The being declares that humanity has gone too far into the galaxy and they are to return home at once. Identifying himself simply as Q, he demonstrates his powers by blocking security from entering the bridge and freezing a redshirt (though non-fatally). Picard and Q engage in philosophical debates as the former tries to explain how humans have grown up from being a "grievously savage child race." Nevertheless, he inadvertently gives Q an idea and the being departs. Worf recommends they fight while Security Chief Tasha Yar recommends escape. Thinking quickly, Picard decides to see just what a Galaxy-class starship is capable of and orders them to jump to maximum warp. A Sphere of Fear gives chase and eventually starts to overtake the Enterprise. The Captain orders all civilians into the saucer section, which separates while he takes the stardrive against Q. However, recognizing that he is outmatched, Picard broadcasts a surrender.
Suddenly, Picard, Troi, Data, and Yar find themselves in a late-21st Century court. They are heckled by the audience and threatened by armed soldiers until Q arrives, dressed in regal attire as the court's judge. He presents the charges against Picard, that humanity is a savage race. Despite promising a "fair trial," it's quite clear that the Q have already made up their mind. He has the soldiers put their guns to the defendants' heads and demands they plead guilty. Picard does so, but only provisionally. He asks Q to test humanity, to see if this is still true of humans. Q is intrigued and agrees this, noting that Farpoint Station will make an excellent test.
We then cut to Farpoint itself, and meet Commander William Riker, formerly of USS Hood and ready to assume his position as first officer of the Enterprise. He goes to meet with Groppler Zorn, the administrator of Farpoint, and asks some questions about how the Bandi were able to build the facility in such a short time despite having no advanced construction techniques. Zorn attempts to deflect this by offering some fruit. Riker asks if he has apples, to which a bushel of apples suddenly appears. After the human leaves, Zorn begins cursing an unseen force.
In the market place, Riker meets with Dr. Beverly Crusher, the new CMO, and her son, Wesley. He starts to talk about the strange occurrence in Zorn's office, but Crusher is distracted by a bolt of fabric. She off-handedly mentions it would look lovely with gold, and it suddenly has a gold pattern on it. Soon after, they get word from Lt. Geordi LaForge that the stardrive section of the Enterprise has arrived. Riker is signaled to beam aboard.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: Q presents himself as a "fellow captain" to break the ice. This being Q however, "A Form You Are Irritated By" may be more accurate.
- Actor Allusion: Once again, Wil Wheaton falls into a stream. At least this time, there's no leeches.
- After the End: Q puts the crew on trial in an Earth Kangaroo Court from the late twenty-first century, the time of the Post-Atomic Horror following World War III.
- And the Adventure Continues: Justified as this is the first episode and the beginning of the journey.Picard: Let's see what's out there... Engage.
- Appeal to Force: Once Q has put the Enterprise crew on trial, the accusation is made that humanity was once and still might be a "dangerously savage child-race". Picard says they will successfully defend themselves against the accusation if the trial is fair. Q replies that the trial will be absolutely equitable, and then promptly orders that Picard and crew be summarily executed if they enter any other plea besides guilty.
- Badass Boast: "Let's see what this Galaxy-class starship can do!"
- Beyond the Impossible: Picard tries to outrace Q and pushes the Enterprise to its maximum emergency speed of warp 9.7 (which is a subtle Continuity Nod to the Original Series, where in the episode "That Which Survives" a villain made the Enterprise go at warp 14.1, the same speed but on the old scale). Then Q's "ship" reaches warp 9.8. Data says they might be able to match that, but at "extreme risk." As Picard hesitates and considers...Yar: Now reading hostile at warp nine point nine, sir!
- Big "SHUT UP!": Q uses this to silence the spectators when they protest him unfreezing Tasha.
- Call-Back: Admiral McCoy's old-age makeup was designed to resemble the doctor's appearance after being hit with the rapid ageing disease in TOS's "The Deadly Years."
- The Cameo: DeForest Kelley as 137-year-old Admiral McCoy. This would start a tradition of each new Trek show having a cameo from the previous show in its pilot.
- Captain Morgan Pose: Q adopts this pose when he first appears on The Bridge, well before Riker makes this his shtick.
- Captain Obvious: Troi is there right from the start, as she sees a guy covered head to toe in ice and declares "He's frozen!"
- Captain's Log: The first spoken words after the Opening Credits.
- Cerebus Retcon: When the crew is placed on trial, Picard suggests that Q judge them based on their performance on the "long mission" they have ahead of them. Q dismisses the idea but says he will judge them just based on how they perform on this specific visit to Farpoint Station. Seven years later, in the final episode "All Good Things...", Q reveals that he took up Picard's suggestion after all, saying "the trial never ended."
- Change the Uncomfortable Subject: A subtle example—when Riker compliments Zorn on how well Farpoint Station caters to the desires of its guests, Zorn offers him a bowl of fruit.
- Characterization Marches On:
- Tasha Yar loses her temper and essentially goes into a tirade against the illusionary postapocalyptic courtroom. This may be a carryover from The Series Bible where her character was originally called Macha Hernandez and was essentially meant to be an expy of Vasquez from Aliens (whom the series bible specifically refers to), in that she was fiery and feisty. This was evidently forgotten immediately when the producers realized that a characterization based on a Space Marine was not exactly compatible with the non-violent, Mildly Military vision of Gene Roddenberry's future. After this, Tasha was regularly shown to be somewhat mild mannered but still capable and independent.
- It's stated that Riker wants to be the captain of the Enterprise more than anything else.
- Picard implies that the Ferengi (who had yet to appear onscreen) were known for eating their nominal allies, a trait that seems unlikely now. Early appearances show them as a fairly warlike race, meant to replace the Klingons as primary antagonists, but ended up as the greedy, unscrupulous capitalists shown in most of their appearances. This is at least justified in being rumors being that the Federation hadn't actually established contact with the Ferengi yet.
- Chekhov's Lecture: In the holodeck, we're treated to some mild technobabble on how it converts energy to matter to make objects. Later on, it is revealed that the Starfish Aliens live on energy and use it to create objects in order to please people on the Farpoint station.
- Chewing the Scenery: Counselor Troi has some moments when she senses the pain of an imprisoned alien. It doesn't quite come off, as Wil Wheaton notes in his recap:Troi opens up her mind to find... pain. Lots and lots of pain. Boy, there sure is a lot of pain.'
- Department of Redundancy Department: The crew says that the mysterious ship does not match anything in their database at least twice.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Tasha goes ballistic at Q's Kangaroo Court. It gets her frozen for her trouble.
- Dull Surprise: The crew's faces during the saucer separation. Not helped by the fact that the theme song is blaring triumphantly in the background while our heroes stare blankly and agape at the screen.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Lots. It's obvious the actors and the writers hadn't quite found the characters yet.
- The Bandi were apparently a pre-warp civilization, even going so far as to rely on the argument that they do not like to leave their homeworld as an excuse for not accepting a proposal to build starbases for the Federation elsewhere. Despite this, the Prime Directive is apparently not an obstacle to the Federation setting up shop on their planet, even though in later seasons it would be argued that comparable civilizations should not be saved from extinction due to the Prime Directive forbidding even contact with them.
- When meeting Riker, Data mentions he graduated in the "class of '78" (very likely meaning 2278). Data's original intended backstory was very different from the one which was eventually developed during the course of the first season. He was supposed to be much older and have been serving in Starfleet for much longer.
- This is actually elaborated in David Gerrold's novelization, in which Data explains that he was found by a Starfleet crew on an alien planet, lying among the ruins of a mysterious alien civilization, as their only surviving "relic". However, this was contradicted by "Datalore", in which Data is revealed to be the creation of a human scientist, Doctor Noonian Soong, found among the ruins of a Federation colony about 30 years prior to the show (Canon Marches On).
- The holodeck behaves a bit oddly compared to later in the show. The water Wesley falls into must have been non-holographic, since it persists when he leaves. Data also throws a rock, which bounces off the holodeck wall instead of merging into the scenery as it should.
- On top of that, Data is stated to be in "Holodeck Area 4-J." Holodecks would only be listed by a single number.
- Dr. Crusher decides to purchase a bolt of fabric and asks the Bandi to charge it to her account on the Enterprise, making this one of the very, very rare references to any sort of money being used by the Federation.
- Data sits at what would later become the helm console by "Code of Honor". In addition, there's a hidden phaser underneath the console.
- The primary handheld weapon in this episode is the Type 1 phaser, nicknamed by some as the "lady razors." They would rarely appear in the first season, as Gene felt they were too small to see on-screen and hardly appear afterwards.
- A male skant version of the uniform makes one of its few appearances here. Tasha is shown wearing the skant variant in the final shot.
- A dropped idea for Q was that the Q Continuum was many entities with the same face. While Q's behavior still falls under the concept of the general trickster archetype, watching this episode with this in mind, it's very clear that John de Lancie's performance is based on this idea.
- Zorn and Picard describe the Ferengi as some great force who take over planets and possibly eat people.
- At the end of the episode, Picard orders an energy beam fired from the main phaser banks. The beam is emitted from the direct underside of the saucer section, from what supplementary materials would identify as the Captain's Yacht. This was corrected for the bluray release.
- A major example of weirdness is Troi. We see her clearly telepathically speaking to Riker, even though she would later be established to be only empathic (the ability to sense emotions). On top of that, she is emotionally impacted when she senses the feelings of the jellyfish aliens, becoming sad, angry, and joyful as she opens her mind to them.
- This was also the only episode Troi would wear any standard uniform (the skant) until season six's "Chain of Command" (excluding the illusory Troi in season 4's "Future Imperfect").
- The ship's computer has a much different female voice than the series would use later on, and it spoke in a much more natural manner than the simple computer tone that would become the later norm.
- When formulating his plan to outrun Q, Picard says that his orders will be transmitted via "printout only," in contrast to the clearly No-Paper Future.
- Picard asks Riker if he'd like to initiate "an illegal kidnapping." Later episodes would show Picard to be quite a strickler with rules.
- Data uses contractions. Later episodes establish that he actually can't.
- This is the only time in which Picard says "supplementary" in his Captain's Log, instead of "supplemental."
- Picard's narration of his logs is very flat and subdued, compared to the more casual deliveries in later episodes.
- When Q first appears, he makes a serious and dignified attempt to pass himself off as a historical domain character once he makes first contact with the Enterprise crew. When Picard and company don't appreciate the form he's assumed, the guise drops and he stops using any pretense of respect for them. Then Q reverts to his true nature as a sardonic gadfly, and hereafter, any of his guises are cheesy, biting, and sarcastic cosplays.
- While Q still appears, disappears and changes his appearance with a flash of light, other displays of his power (such as putting a Q-grid across the turbolift entrance to block out security, or freezing Lt. Torres solid) are done with a simple glance and no flash, rather than his iconic Badass Fingersnap and flash of light combination. This is also the only time he would turn uppity humans into Human Popsicles.
- The "Previously" segment in part two is narrated by a male voice, which announces the title of the pilot episode, "Previously, on 'Encounter at Farpoint'", as though the creators didn't know if the show would be picked up for a full run and lacked the confidence to use the actual series name because it wasn't full-grown yet. Later two-parters would be narrated by Majel Barrett, who would say "Last time on ''Star Trek: the Next Generation", then a recap segment, and finish by saying, "And now, the conclusion."
- Neither Geordi nor Worf start the show in their familiar roles as chief engineer and security chief, respectively.
- This is the only episode in which the main theme plays during the episode itself.
- The Starfleet officers wear tight-fitting spandex jumpsuits with shoulder piping that would be replaced with the better-known wool two-piece uniforms with collar piping a few seasons later.
- And of course, Riker is clean-shaven.
- Establishing Character Moment: All the characters get an establishing moment at some point:
- Captain Picard appears in silhouette through the window of the Enterprise-D, making a captain's log entry. The first appearance of a remarkably different captain to Kirk.
- And then there's his speech to Q. There's a reason he's the Trope Namer there, folks. Plus the moment when he commands them to take an untested starship on its maiden voyage to well-beyond-regulation-safety-limits.
- Commander Riker boards the Enterprise and immediately has a talk with Captain Picard about his previous service. Picard brings up a time when Riker refused to let a previous CO beam down to a planet (which becomes a running theme between the two of them in the later series). Picard gruffly asks if Riker has any respect for a Captain's rank. Riker, without being either defensive or smug, says that a Captain's life means more. Picard suddenly smiles and says "Welcome aboard the Enterprise." This scene is more or less sums up how their relationship is going to go for the rest of their time serving together.
- This scene received a Call-Back in Season 7 episode "The Pegasus" when Picard points out that said incident was what sold him on Riker as his first officer: He was, "someone who would stand up to me. Someone who was more concerned with doing what was right than how it might look on his record."
- Data gets confused by a human figure of speech—and upon discovering its meaning, immediately reels off various synonyms like the walking encyclopedia he is.
Data: I am superior [to humans], sir, in many ways. But I would gladly give it up to be human.Riker: Nice to meet you, Pinocchio.
- And then there's a little later in the episode when Riker finds him trying to whistle in the holodeck (he finds how easily humans can do it amazing) and makes the statement:
- After harassing the crew, Q appears on the Enterprise's main viewer. Worf draws a gun and is ready to shoot, prompting Picard to ask him if he want to put a hole in the main screen. The Son Of Mogh may be a little hot-headed, like all Klingons, but damned if he's gonna back down from people screwing with his Captain and his ship.
Worf: Sir, I am a Klingon. For me to seek escape when my Captain goes into battle...Picard: You're a Starfleet officer, Lieutenant.Worf: (pause) Aye, sir.
- Also, when Picard orders Worf to take command of the Saucer section of the Enterprise and continue to Farpoint Station.
- Wesley begging to get to see the bridge of the Enterprise, getting overexcited in a holodeck and falling in the water established him pretty well as a smart, eager kid and probably would've been okay if they left it like that.
- Q's first appearance—as a middle ages Sea Captain taking in iambic pentameter, is almost jocular (Soundtrack Dissonance aside)—but a few seconds later he's freezing a crewman solid with a glimpse. Enter...chaos.
- Tasha's impassioned speech about how much the Federation did for her and how much of a mockery Q's "Court and Jury" setting was established her attitude, and hinted heavily at her background.
- The first thing Deanna Troi does on screen is start sensing things and recounting what she's feeling. Then later she talks right into Will's head via a kind of telepathy, establishing their romantic history.
- Geordi gets one talking about his VISOR to Dr. Crusher.Geordi: A remarkable piece of bioelectronic engineering by which I quote "see" much of the EM spectrum ranging from simple heat and infrared through radio waves etcetera etcetera, and forgive me if I've said and listened to this a hundred times before.
- Captain Picard appears in silhouette through the window of the Enterprise-D, making a captain's log entry. The first appearance of a remarkably different captain to Kirk.
- Extremophile Lifeforms: The huge jellyfish-like aliens are luminous and pliant, yet able to survive nicely in the vacuum of space.
- Famous, Famous, Fictional: When Q first appears, he is dressed as a captain from the Age of Sail, then as a US Marine from The 20th Century—and finally as soldier from the Post-Atomic Horror of the 2070s. (And at the end of the episode, he is continuing the theme by wearing the uniform of a contemporary note Starfleet captain. This last one will evolve into the default outfit for him and other Q in many later episodes.)
- Fantastic Honorifics: The leader of the Bandi is addressed as "Groppler" Zorn.
- Fictional United Nations: In Q's court, Data quotes a precedent from the New United Nations that established that no Earth citizen could be made to answer for the crimes of his race or forebearers. Q snaps back that theyre in a post-WWIII court, which had no consideration for United Earth nonsense.
- Funny Background Event: When Picard steps onto the bridge for the first time, Data can be seen stretching his fingers before using the console.
- Get Out!: Picard angrily orders the Crushers to leave the bridge when Wesley instinctively opens an alert on the captain's chair.
- Government Drug Enforcement: According to Q, soldiers during the post-atomic horror were controlled with drugs. One such soldier at the trial even takes a snort just before being executed.
- Greeting Gesture Confusion: Zorn apparently uses his left hand for handshakes instead of his right.
- Hanging Judge: The Post-Atomic Horror court.Picard: I recognize this court system as the one that agreed with that line from Shakespeare. "Kill all the lawyers."Q: Which was done.Picard: Which led to the rule guilty until proven innocent.Q: Of course. Bringing the innocent to trial would be unfair.
- Humanity on Trial: The Q do this because they believe humans are a barbaric race.
- Kangaroo Court: Q has made up his (their) mind already and the trial is a sham.
- Kill It with Ice: Q does this to the Redshirt Lieutenant Torres and later to Tasha Yar, though both are revived (Torres with the Enterprise's sickbay, Yar by Q himself). Part of the Early Installment Weirdness; later on Q's weapon of choice for messing with people is different forms of Teleport Spam.
- Magical Security Cam: Picard shows Riker the highlights of the episode so far when he comes on board. Which we see in its entirety.
- Mathematician's Answer: Troi tells Groppler Zorn that she's only half-Betazoid; her father was a Starfleet officer. This is true, but it doesn't explain that her father was human.
- Mauve Shirt: Colm Meaney is playing a nameless Red Shirt extra in this episode. This role later evolved into Chief Miles O'Brien, who eventually even got main character status in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Mythology Gag: At the end of their initial encounter aboard the Enterprise's bridge, Picard angrily dismisses Q and his whole agenda, commenting that this is far from the first time humanity has encountered arrogant Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who felt their higher level of technology gave them grounds to mock and scorn humanity for its violent past or lower power level. This actually indirectly references several stories from Star Trek: The Original Series, most prominently in the season one episodes The Corbomite Manuever and Arena.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! / Insult Backfire: When Picard dismisses Q as a "self-righteous life form, eager to prosecute and judge anything they don't understand or can't tolerate", Q pounces on the notion with glee."Splendid, splendid, Captain! You're a veritable fountain of good ideas. There are preparations to make, but when we next meet, Captain, we'll proceed exactly as you suggest."
- Noodle Incident: Whatever happened on Altair 3 that Riker wouldn't let DeSoto beam into.
- One Mario Limit: The guy who gets frozen by Q is named Lieutenant Torres. Of course, this was long before the character B'Elanna Torres was created, around the time TNG was about to end.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: First used in the series to convince Q that humans have evolved.
- Tasha gives one to Q that doubles as "The Reason You Suck" Speech:Picard: Tasha, don't—
Tasha: I must, because I grew up on a world that allowed things like this "court"! And it was people like these who saved me from it! This so-called court should get down on its knees to what Starfleet is! What it represents!
- Tasha gives one to Q that doubles as "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Permission to Speak Freely: Riker before spelling out to Picard that being his Number Two means being responsible for his safety.
- Planetville: As had been standard for Star Trek since the original series. The Bandi "capital" (and seemingly the only major settlement on Deneb IV) is a crude-looking village in the desert.
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The 'jellyfish' aliens, once their true forms are revealed.
- Power Echoes: Q's voice has a noticeable echo when he first appears on The Bridge.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Worf, of course; it's his Establishing Character Moment in fact, when Picard orders him to take command of the saucer section and lead the civilians to safety.Worf: I am a Klingon, sir. For me to seek escape while my captain goes into battle—Picard: You are a Starfleet officer, Lieutenant!
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Picard's short but poignant rebuttal to the Q for thinking their superior technology grants them de-facto superior morality:Picard: No. The same old story is the one we're meeting now. Self-righteous lifeforms who are eager not to learn but to prosecute, to judge anything they can't understand or can't tolerate!
- Tasha gives another short but well-aimed anti-Q diatribe that melds this trope with Patrick Stewart Speech.
- Scenery Porn: The saucer separation sequence, intended to show off the Visual Effects of Awesome that the new series would become known for.
- Schizo Tech: A plot point is that the Bandi don't seem technologically advanced enough to have built Farpoint Station. It turns out they didn't.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Q promises Picard that there will be "a fair trial, absolutely equitable." This fairness lasts about half a minute, culminating in Q ordering guns to the defendants' heads and demanding a guilty verdict.
- Secret Test of Character: Picard gives Riker one as soon as he comes on board, starting with a manual reconnection of the saucer and stardrive sections and culminating in questioning his ability to follow orders — specifically, whether or not he can function as a Commander Contrarian within the bounds of Starfleet regulations. Riker passes with flying colors.Picard: I see in your file that Captain DeSoto thinks very highly of you. One curious thing, however — you refused to let him beam down to Altair Three.
Riker: In my opinion, sir, Altair Three was too dangerous to risk exposing the captain.
Picard: I see. A captain's rank means nothing to you.
Riker: Rather the reverse, sir. But a captain's life means a great deal more.
Picard: Isn't it just possible that you don't get to be a Starfleet captain without knowing whether it's safe to beam down or not? Isn't it a little presumptuous of a first officer to second guess his captain's judgment?
Riker: Permission to speak candidly, sir?
Riker: Having been a first officer yourself, you know that assuming that responsibility must by definition include the safety of the captain. I have no problem with following any rules you lay down, short of compromising your safety.
Picard: And you don't intend to back off from that position?
Riker: No, sir,
- Shout-Out: The USS Hood is most likely a nod to the TOS-era ship of the same name, which was named for the British battlecruiser HMS Hood.
- Shutting Up Now: Subverted—when Data apologizes for "commenting on everything" while on the space-dwelling life form, Riker tells him, "Don't stop, my friend." He probably ends up regretting that.
- Shut Up, Kirk!: Q cuts Tasha's impassioned speech at the trial short by freezing her solid.
- Some Kind of Force Field: Troi suggests that the Q-grid that appears in front of the Enterprise might be a powerful force field. Q makes a smaller one appear in a turbolift, stopping two Red Shirts from entering.
- Spinoff Send Off: DeForest Kelley, as an elderly Dr. McCoy, sends the TNG crew on its way with his blessing.McCoy: Well this is a new ship. But she's got the right name. You treat her like a lady, she'll always bring you home.
- Starfish Aliens: Jellyfish Aliens, to be exact.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Q is capable of transporting himself and other people around at whim, and disables the Enterprise a couple of times.
- Take That!: Q's U.S. Marine uniform is modeled after Col. Oliver North, who was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal.
- Technology Marches On: The computer showing visitors around, with displays lighting up with traveling dots, was impressive at the time, but now seems a rather low-tech solution to the problem. This wouldn't be such an issue, except Riker treats it as new and impressive in-universe rather than taking it for granted.
- Theme Music Power-Up: The main theme blares triumphantly during the saucer separation sequence.
- Voice Changeling: Data uses this to repeat Picard and Q's words from earlier, in which the latter promised that this would be a fair trial.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting:
- The jellyfish aliens (although the Bandi ensured that it wasn't voluntary for one of them).
- Q can also change his appearance at will, although he mainly uses it for putting on different "costumes". However, in his next appearance, "Hide and Q", he briefly takes the form of a three-headed Aldebaran serpent.
- We Will Meet Again: After completing the test, Picard demands Q get off his ship. Q obliges, but not before saying, "But I do not promise never to appear again."