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Encounter at Farpoint [S1x01-02]—Star Trek’s Inherent Imperialism Problem

by Chloe Jade Skye

I’ve now watched the 2-part series debut “Encounter at Farpoint” three times in the last month. With each subsequent viewing, I grew more irritated at how hypocritical the show was—lecturing moral values and absolutes while betraying all of those morals with nearly every creative decision that went into crafting this pilot episode.

Before I get into it, I should do a little table setting. If you didn’t read my “announcement” post (which is likely most of the people reading this, as that post is thus far one of my least viewed blog entries), I should say that I’ve never been a Star Trek fan. Not because I watched it and didn’t like it, but because I was never exposed to it. The first time I ever heard the term “Star Trek” was in a trailer for the film, “Star Trek: Nemesis,” which seemed like it would be right up my alley (I was 11 at the time I saw the trailer), but my parents refused to take me to see it. Based on reviews that I’ve seen for the film since then, this was probably for my own good. Not to mention how strange it would have been for my first-ever Star Trek experience to be, essentially, the series finale.

What I came to know of Star Trek came about because of the JJ Abrams reboot in 2009 and the two subsequent sequels to that film, which, prior to starting this blog, was pretty much the extent of my Star Trek knowledge.

Cut to present day!

It’s clear that one of the main purposes of this episode is to establish the timeline of when, exactly, The Next Generation falls in what I’ve discovered is a vast and unknowable amount of Star Trek lore. This is, after all, the second Star Trek series (unless you count the short-lived “The Animated Series”) and must at least in part be responsible for the concept of a “sequel / reboot”. We are clued into the timeline by a mysterious character known only as “Q”, who appears onboard the Enterprise and tells the ship to turn around, as they “have infiltrated our galaxy too far already!”

Q, appearing as a White human male, is initially dressed as a 17th-century (using the modern dating system) ship captain and explorer. He goes on to explain that “humanity is a savage child race,” and will not be welcomed into this section of the universe. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart, the one bright spot in this entire episode) says, “that nonsense is centuries behind us!” Q then instantly changes his clothes to appear as a WWII army captain, prompting Picard to explain that WWII was “over 400 years ago,” and that even by that time, humanity had already begun to make “rapid progress.”

Q, as he initially appears onboard the Enterprise

When Q laments that humans are just reenacting the same old story over and over again, Picard says, “The same old story is you! Self-righteous life forms who are eager not to learn, but to prosecute, to judge anything they don’t understand or can’t tolerate.”

I am here to say that Picard is projecting like a motherfucker.

In this series, as I’ve seen thus far, humans are the self-righteous ones. Humans are the ones who are showing up, unannounced and uninvited, onto other species’ planets. Humans are the ones who instinctively respond to every challenge with violence first. Humans are the ones who don’t seem to understand that their mission to “explore” is just an evolution of colonialism, which carries all the baggage and ramifications of the colonialism that, even today, is destroying entire cultures and populations on Earth.

Q is presented by Star Trek: The Next Generation as a mischievous, untrustworthy villain—a barrier to the great glory of Starfleet’s mission: To boldly go where no man (or no one in the updated gender-neutral version) has gone before. But already we have a problem: how can you claim that no one has explored these areas, if every time you arrive on a new planet, you discover a new civilization? That certainly seems like someone has explored this place. Inherent in your assertion that “no one” has explored this place is your own self-righteousness. The fact that you believe your own species, or at least your own culture, is single-handedly responsible for exploration. If you haven’t been there, well, no one has. Behind that belief is a deep-rooted sense of superiority. “Yes, you may have explored your own planet, but you haven’t done it as well as we could. We’ll take it from here.”

Throughout human history, explorers arrived at new locations to be greeted largely with kindness by the natives, and it was the colonizers who instigated and perpetuated the violence. When White men arrived in North America, they weren’t greeted with Native Americans telling them “turn around or be killed.” The Native Americans, instead, taught these White people how to survive. They taught them which crops to grow, which animals to hunt (and how to do so), and how to survive the winter. Presenting Q as a cartoonish villain is a creative choice, but it is only realistic if you’re viewing history through the lens of the colonizers.

I can already hear some of you typing up rebuttal emails, detailing exactly how cruel and violent the Native Americans could be. I know. But if you’re looking at history from their point of view, instead of the point of view of “the winner” (as so many White people I know love to state), can you blame them? Shiploads of White people arrived, unannounced and uninvited, and started to claim the resources of the land—and the land itself—as their own. If you were a race who lived in harmony with nature and believed that land cannot be “owned”, you would see these White people as invaders who would, if left unchecked, destroy the entire world. All you need to do is look to 2020 and the effects of rampant, unchecked climate change to see that the Native Americans who fought White people were right to do so. Today, there isn’t a single piece of land on this continent that isn’t “owned” by someone. That level of colonization has, over the last few centuries, destroyed millions of lives and left entire ways of life starving in the dust.

I am firmly on Q’s side.

At this point, Worf and Yar both suggest the same course of action: ATTACK! Which, of course, just goes to prove Q’s larger point. The humans in charge of the Enterprise claim to be a peaceful race, but the moment they encounter even the slightest difficulty, even if it’s just an alien telling them to please go away, they fall back on their instincts and decide to kill the alien. It doesn’t matter if the alien is making a valid point. It doesn’t matter if the alien thinks you might cause more harm than good by being here. He challenged us—he must deserve to die.

When Picard decides it might not be the best idea to attack, the Enterprise crew attempts to flee, but Q’s ship easily catches them. Command is transferred to the Battle Bridge, and Q’s ship is fired upon. When they realize their weapons are useless against Q, Yar still suggests they try to fight. Picard questions her judgment, and she immediately backs down, saying, “I spoke before I thought.”

This, to me, is more an issue of The Next Generation’s inherent misogyny. This is one of many instances of female characters being portrayed as overly emotional, irrational, or just plain stupid. Yar, in this moment, is demonstrating all three. I don’t blame the actor, I blame the writing. Considering that Tasha Yar is the Chief of Security onboard the ship, I have to conclude that only a misogynist could have written this exchange. That, or Starfleet has a truly terrible screening process for promoting people.

Here is where things go crazy. Q teleports the crew to a separate location—a courtroom that is, as we are told, modeled after the “Post-Atomic Horror” section of human history, specifically in 2079. All around the room are racist caricatures and stereotypes from the late 20th century (circa-1987, let’s say), including a prominently-featured White little person in yellowface makeup who rings a tiny bell to signal that court is in session.

This is not okay.

One of the first things that happens in this courtroom is Yar attacks and subdues one of the guards, again displaying an absurd level of testosterone-fueled poor decision making, for which she is frozen solid as punishment. After this, the guard she subdued is killed by another guard, apparently for displaying weakness. It’s also possible that he is killed for having been defeated by a woman. With a show as misogynist as this, it’s hard to tell.

Q comes out on a hoverchair, playing the “judge” of the trial that is about to take place: Captain Picard and his crew are going to be tried for the crimes of the human race—for being, essentially, too violent and arrogant. At this point, Data (the ship’s android) stands up to object to the trial, on the grounds that, “in 2036, the New United Nations declared that no Earth citizen could be made to answer for the crimes of his race or forbears.”

Holy shit.

Maybe this sounded “woke” in the 1980s, but today, it rings as nothing less than horrifying. We live in a world where Colonization has killed millions (if not more). Where people have intentionally targeted Black and Indigenous populations to bear the brunt of their brutality. And as the concept of reparations continues to grow in popularity (and necessity), the idea that a bunch of White people would sit together in a room and declare that none of them would ever have to answer for the crimes of their fathers and grandfathers is disgusting and nightmarish. It completely removes any sense of culpability, instead blaming the victims of the colonizer’s atrocities for their own inability to survive in a system that was designed against them. And in a world where no one ever has to answer for those crimes, nothing will ever change.

Then again, maybe this was a deeply prescient prediction. We’re living in a racist world, and no one wants to take responsibility for their actions. Of course the very-near-future United Nations would do something like this. Perhaps setting this “post-atomic horror” world after the UN decision in 2036 was a way of saying, “if we don’t get our shit together and amend the wrongs of our past, we’re headed for a nightmarish hellscape where people are guilty until proven innocent!”

Somehow I doubt it.

I can also hear some people arguing, “come on, this show was made in the 80s. Trying to hold them to the standards of today is unfair.” And you’d be right—if my purpose in writing this was to hold the creators accountable. It isn’t. Instead, I want longtime fans of the series to interrogate where their own beliefs about the world might have stemmed from. I firmly believe that if you watched this show as a child, the concept of “no one can be made to answer for the crimes of their race or forbears” sounded pretty… futuristic. If you watched the show often enough, it might also have subliminally made its way into your psyche, and how you see the world.

So when you hear the Black Lives Matter movement say that reparations are necessary to make up for White people’s crimes against Black people, including the Tulsa Massacre, Chattel Slavery, lynchings, redlining, and so, so much more, you might instinctively think, “but how can we be judged for the crimes of other White people?” Presenting this argument from the POV of our heroes makes it so much harder for people to bother listening to any viewpoint on the opposite side. “Those ideas can’t be right… Captain Picard was on this side!” If that’s where people’s heads are at, it makes it more difficult to pass progressive legislation, because the people voting for it may be affected by the Star Trek content they absorbed as children. Considering the fact that Star Trek, as a franchise, is still today launching new series, these old episodes might still be affecting the minds of young people, and turning them against a future that is already more progressive than anything this show has to offer. As such, it’s important to call out the things that are deeply wrong with it, especially when their ramifications are currently being publicly debated.

Okay. I’ll climb off my soapbox.

Eventually, it is decided that maybe it is unfair to try Picard and his crew for the crimes of previous humans (even though they are still, by the very nature of their mission, continuing to commit those crimes). Instead, Q will oversee how the humans handle Farpoint Station, which was their original intended destination.

The mission? Determine whether Farpoint Station, which was built by another species, will be a suitable location for humanity to use for their own purposes.

And you’re trying to tell me that humanity is no longer savage? Once again, the show is overlooking the inherent savagery of colonialism. This storyline is, more or less, the story of Hawai’i: A small, “less advanced” race lives on a small island (or planet) that happens to be a perfect intermediary location for continued colonization.

What happened in Hawai’i sets a perfect precedent for what is likely to happen at Farpoint Station. First, White people arrived. They claimed to be peaceful and willing to work with the inhabitants of the island—but already they were planning their sinister follow-up move. Instead, the White people began to slowly claim ownership over the island. Eventually, the son of some American settlers, Sanford Dole, violently overthrew the Hawaiian government and crowned himself President. Now, today, there are very few Native Hawaiians left. They do their best to cling to their culture and holy lands, while every year, more White people arrive with bulldozers and permits that allow them to take over just a little bit more.

If you need more proof that Sanford Dole is a motherfucker, this is what he looked like

You may not see this as violence, but it is. New technology makes old ways of life “obsolete,” even if those ways of life were healthier and happier. So White people get to walk away feeling like the “Good Guys”, despite having slowly destroyed an entire civilization.

Farpoint Station is likely to be the same story. It starts out as a mutual agreement to use the base, and slowly, over time, the humans will want more.

Once we arrive at Farpoint Station, we’re introduced to the characters who will fill out the rest of the Enterprise crew on The Next Generation, including Riker, La Forge, and the Crushers. We’re also introduced to more racism, ableism, and misogyny.

First, I want to talk about ableism. I’ll start with Geordi La Forge. Geordi is blind, and has always been blind. In order to “see,” he wears a visor that allows him to see more of the electromagnetic spectrum than he would be able to see even with regular vision—but in order for them to work, he experiences constant extreme pain.

I’m sure at the time, the inclusion of a disabled lead character of color was a massive step forward. Now, looking back (as is the entire purpose of this blog), there are a number of areas this choice fails.

Firstly, there’s the implication that without this visor, Geordi would essentially be useless. This episode features a conversation between him and a doctor, who says that perhaps he should undergo experimental surgery or take painkillers so that he won’t have to be in pain in order to see. This would also cause the visor to function slightly differently, and perhaps remove a portion of Geordi’s vision. He refuses, implying that he would rather be in constant, excruciating pain than be a blind man. If that isn’t an ableist idea, I don’t know what is. Stack on top of this the fact that this is (as far as I can tell) the only Black person on the show who isn’t completely covered with alien prosthetics, and BAM! You’ve got your “self-hating Black man” stereotype and your “disabled person who thinks they’re broken because they aren’t like ‘normal’ people” stereotype on lock with one character!

I’ll take the pain, please.

I also just want to mention that in the year of our lord 2020, we are very aware of the fact that blind people can see. They use sound instead of light, but with some training, their ability to navigate the world is more or less unencumbered. Look up Daniel Kish and the foundation he started for more information, but he’s been teaching blind children to climb trees and ride bikes since 2000. If we’re 400 years in the future and we still haven’t begun to deal with our discomfort around disabled people being different, that’s not a future I want to live in.

There’s also a brief scene where Data, the ship’s android, states that although he is superior to humans in many ways, he “would give it all up to be human.” I fundamentally reject the premise than any android would wish to be human. Unless, of course, we programmed that desire into them, which would be a deeply fucked up thing to do. Why would an android want to be human? Only a human could have written this character in this way.

And then there’s THIS scene:

Burrrrr I’m a curmudgeonly old racist! BURRRRRR

I assume this is a character from the previous Star Trek series, because otherwise this scene serves zero purpose, apart from squeezing in just a bit more racism and misogyny into the series. This is (according to a Google search) Admiral Leonard McCoy, who shows up to spew some hatred about both androids and Vulcans before telling Data to treat the ship “like a lady.” McCoy is 137 years old in this scene, so maybe there’s a greater point being made about how older generations are just going to be more problematic and offensive and there’s nothing we can do about it, but every word that came out of his mouth in this scene made me want to gag.

“Treat this ship like a lady” is just another way of saying “treat women like property and they’ll take care of you!” I’m truly sick and tired of all of the men in our media who go around treating women like their personal caretakers, or comparing them to machinery, and never getting called on it.

Wait. Quick question. Do LGBT people exist in the future, or have the normies killed us all off? For as many characters as there are on the show, it’s baffling that literally none of them identify as anything other than cis- and straight. Is this because it was still taboo to have LGBT people in the military in the 80s, and Starfleet is, more or less, the future military? These are just questions. You know. Because a lot of people worship this fucking show and I am having a difficult time understanding why.

Moving on.

The story continues, I’m not going to write about all of it, because it really doesn’t matter. Troi is essentially only here to do emotional labor for everyone else, I can’t really figure out what her role is outside of falling down a lot, saying things like “I sense a strong presence! It is… SAD!!!!!!”, and being a romantic foil for Riker, because, as you know, a woman cannot exist on a TV show if she isn’t fuckable. After a surprise ship shows up and starts firing lasers at the planet Farpoint Station is on (but notably not at Farpoint Station itself), she says, “Protecting the Bandi doesn’t violate the Prime Directive.”

I did some research on this, because I had no idea what the Prime Directive is. I found out it’s essentially the guiding principle of Starfleet: Don’t interfere with the development of alien civilizations. Except… if you’re going to destroy an alien ship and you have no idea whose ship it is, who is onboard, or where it might have come from… how are you not interfering? What loose logic is this show using to justify its decisions? This is akin to saying “building a space research station at the top of Hawaii’s sacred mountain is not interfering with Hawaiian culture.” How do you know? You know literally nothing of this culture, but you’re already certain that you know whether your actions are going to affect them?

While this chaos is going on, Picard has a great idea: Let’s kidnap the leader of the planet. He even uses the word “kidnap” when he gives the order. And he knows that this entire mission is a test to see whether or not humanity is still a savage race. If the events of this episode are to be the basis for argument, humanity is indeed a deeply savage race who care not for the plight of anyone or anything outside of their own personal goals.

I’m so sick of White people (read: the creators of Star Trek) and their bogus justifications for their clearly evil actions. I can’t even handle it.

Then comes the revelation that the ship is not a ship, but a giant alien space-jellyfish, and it is angry because its lover was taken hostage by the Bandi (the race that built Farpoint Station in the first place) and used for spare parts. Meaning, they’re using the space-jellyfish as Farpoint Station. Oh, I forgot to mention—the space-jellyfish race has the ability to create matter out of energy, and can create literally anything they want whenever they want. But somehow, the space-jellyfish can’t think of any way to escape, and its lover can’t think of anything apart from “spaceship with lasers” to help its partner get free.

The episode ends with the Enterprise crew feeding the space-jellyfish-space-station enough energy to get off the planet and go home (?) with its lover, and Q deciding that because no one murdered the space jellyfish, humans must not be savage after all. He also gives warning that he may come back at any point, so I’m guessing Q will show up again in future episodes, hopefully to rescind his decision and lock these humans up so they stop fucking up the galaxy.


Credit Where It’s Due

The show seemed to casually mention that religion is nonsense, which was nice.

Patrick Stewart can make even the worst dialogue seem respectable.

There are women in positions of power, even if they’re all written to be incompetent.

The inclusion of a Klingon on the crew is progressive (I’ve heard they’re usually the villains), even if Worf, at this point, feels like little more than a prop. To be fair, most of the characters feel like props at this point, apart from the White men, who always have the most to do and say.

Nice try with the “humans aren’t actually evolved / or are they” storyline. Too bad you have no idea what it would actually take for humanity to evolve.

Goodbye for now

If you made it here, holy shit! Thank you so much. I’m putting a lot of time and energy into writing this series with literally no idea who might end up actually reading the whole thing, especially since I’m one of those “annoying liberals” who is “too PC” and “judges everything by how ‘woke’ it is instead of how ‘good’ it is.” Trust me, I know who I am. I know what I’m doing. I know how many people are going to be infuriated by my opinions. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s important.

That’s all for me for now! Check back next week for another recap 🙂

-Chloe Jade Skye

Published by Chloe Jade Skye

Hello! I'm Chloe Skye. I'm a trans woman currently living in Los Angeles. I write, I podcast, & I think too much. Check out my podcast about women in history, Broads You Should Know, my film review podcast, Modern Eyes with Skye and Stone, or my TV review podcast, Skye & Stone do Television!

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