Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Last Outpost” (part 1 of 3)
Before we begin, I understand there were some questions as to why I chose the episode “The Battle” for my previous recap. I guess part of the confusion stemmed from the “Worst of Trek” banner that gets automatically applied to any Star Trek recaps on this site.
What I’m recapping in this series is not “the worst of Trek”, exactly, although at times there will certainly be some overlap (including, arguably, this very episode). What I actually intend to do here is recap all the major episodes of the various Star Trek franchises featuring the buttmonkey species of the Alpha Quadrant, the Ferengi.
I’m tentatively calling this series…
…and yes, I am open to having that redone by someone who actually knows something about graphic design.
As for why I didn’t mention this in my recap of “The Battle”, well, you never tell the customer everything up front. I’m pretty sure there’s a Rule of Acquisition about that.
We start out this episode with an up-tempo version of the theme, signifying that the Enterprise is in mid-chase. Picard logs that a MacGuffin has been stolen from an unmanned monitoring post by the crew of a ship designed by a race called the Ferengi.
Given what we now know about everyone’s favorite space goblins, typical reactions might be, “well, duh, it wasn’t nailed down”, or “we’re lucky they didn’t make off with the whole monitoring post”. But this was 1987, and the fourth episode of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when nobody knew what a Ferengi was or anything of their now-famous tendencies. So join me, won’t you, as we take a trip back to when an aura of mystery surrounded this new rival of the Federation, and see just how long it takes for their mystique to be utterly and forever left in ruins. Starting my stopwatch… now.
The Enterprise has already closed to within visual range of the Ferengi ship, just as they enter an area of space that LaForge helpfully describes as “that solar system”. So we’re already off and running with the clunky dialogue. But the point being established here is that this particular system is an unexplored one.
After several moments of nothing happening and nobody saying anything, Yar reports that the Ferengi have abruptly dropped out of warp. Picard follows suit, and Data speculates the Ferengi ship might be experiencing an engine malfunction. “Breaks my heart,” LaForge says flippantly. The Enterprise goes in for a closer look, to which LaForge comments, “Hello, stranger.”
Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with LaForge either. Maybe he’s just trying to compensate for Wesley not being around to annoy us in this episode.
More conversation between Picard and Data establishes that while we know next to nothing about the Ferengi at this point, rumor has it that their technology is roughly on par with the Federation’s.
Just then, the Ferengi fire a couple of vaguely EMP-like blasts at the Enterprise, which from the numbers Yar reads off, sound like they did some damage, but nobody reacts much at all to them. Picard decides to back off the pursuit, but instead the Enterprise is drawn closer to the Ferengi ship, which turns to face them. Then to make things worse, the Enterprise’s systems start shutting down, immobilizing the ship.
Worf fumes over being “immobilized by the damn Ferengi”, which is a weird comment to make at this point, because it strongly implies he knows more about the Ferengi than he’s letting on. But nothing comes of this, so let’s just chalk it up to bad writing. Picard and Riker stand up and fret over the awkward position they suddenly find themselves in, as we head into opening credits.
Afterwards, the crew is still fumbling around over what to do, and to make things worse, they don’t have anyone to spare to be the voice reporting in from Engineering. So Picard dispatches LaForge to go check on Engineering personally, and then he turns to Troi, but as we would later find out, she actually has a valid excuse for being useless this time.
Finally, for lack of anything else to do, Picard has Data process all the rumors and hearsay about the Ferengi and come up with some sort of exposition about them. What Data comes up with is the observation that the Ferengi appear to be into trading, and something about how “scholars” compare them to the “Yankee traders” of the 18th and 19th Century, to choose a somewhat obscure term from American history, and perhaps more importantly, a group of people who are long dead and therefore can’t object to being slandered. The Ferengi, Data concludes, operate on a principle of “caveat emptor”, which in a coincidence of galactic proportions, means exactly the same thing in Ferengi as it does in Latin.
This description appeals to Riker, as he’s doubtless imagining worthy rivals in the grand art of scheming, or perhaps brethren in the American spirit of independence. Of course, it’ll turn out that caveat emptor applies there as well, but Riker will find that out soon enough.
Data decides it appropriate at this point to caution Riker that the Ferengi probably don’t “wear red, white, and blue, or look anything like Uncle Sam”, so it’s not surprising that Riker immediately finds the idea of joining LaForge down in Engineering an appealing one.
Sure enough, after Riker leaves, the dialogue derails quite spectacularly, as Worf is baffled by the name “Sam”, we learn that white is apparently considered a primary color now, Picard strays into a monologue about how those silly Americans ordered their national colors backwards, and Data chips in by starting to list other sets of national colors, before Picard tells him to shut up.
There’s no way to be sure, of course, but it’s possible all of that may have been intended as comedy.
Down in Engineering, Riker and LaForge are having a technobabble discussion of the bind they’re in: basically, whatever they try to do gets countered almost instantly. Riker seizes upon the “almost” and comes up with an idea that essentially amounts to flooring it, and hoping to catch them off guard. To which LaForge reacts thusly:
Yeah, you read that right. “Whooo-wheee”.
LaForge, when you get a chance, check in with Dr. Crusher. I think your medications need adjusting.
Back on the bridge, they’re all set up for some whooo-wheee. Worf, naturally, still wants to fight somehow, but Picard has his heart set on retreat, so that’s what they’re going to do. But first, Picard wants to play some head games with the Ferengi, so he broadcasts a demand for the return of the MacGuffin. Then he turns back to Riker, and they exchange this piece of seemingly throwaway dialogue that I’ll ask you to file away for later:
Riker: Yes, sir. “He will triumph who knows when to fight, and when not to fight.”
For those of you keeping score at home, Riker has just quoted the first of Sun Tzu’s five essentials for victory in The Art of War, the other four being the ability to handle both superior and inferior forces, a unified spirit in the ranks, cutting down on turnovers, and establishing the running game.
Hang on… I may have gotten hold of John Madden Art of War ‘10 by mistake. Sorry about that.
And with that, they fire up the engines and… nothing happens. So at least that streak is kept alive.
Picard slumps into the captain’s chair, and in what was celebrated at the time as a classic Getting Crap Past the Radar moment (literally), he utters the French word “merde”. I suppose we should all be grateful that nobody on the bridge asked what he said, for that would surely have triggered a very memorable explanation from Data.
What Data does notice at this point is that their memory banks are being rapidly scanned. While everyone else starts wondering out loud what else the Ferengi are going to do to them, Troi pipes up with the suggestion that they all might be paying too much attention to the Ferengi, and not enough to the planet that they happen to be orbiting right now.
Now if, like me, you hadn’t seen this episode in a long time, you might be jumping up and down going, “Oh my God, Troi is actually going to be useful here! She’s sensed something down on the planet and…”
…Sadly, no. I have to bring you down and tell you that she contributes nothing further on the topic whatsoever. Instead, Picard has Data do some research on the planet, while he calls a staff meeting for everyone else.
Cut to said staff meeting. Yar and Worf are both ready to go down fighting—an early sign that one of these characters is redundant. Picard rejects their suggestion, on the grounds of it being impractical and “provocative”. Yar responds to the “provocative” remark by being all, excuse me, they shot at us, but Troi is all, yeah, but we were chasing them, so… that makes it alright?
Troi’s suggestion is that they talk to the Ferengi. Picard points out they’ve tried that, but Troi suggests telling them something they want to hear. Unfortunately, they have no idea where to find the best price on Slug-O-Cola in the system, so they’ll have to think of something else. Picard asks for any other comments, but everyone present is obviously a veteran meeting-goer, because they all quickly clam up so as to force this thing to end.
Picard stays behind with Riker to talk about… Well, honestly, I’ve listened to it five times and I’m still not sure, so let’s just skip to where Picard returns to the bridge, and for the second time in four episodes, decides the only viable course of action is surrender.
You know, maybe this is my ‘80s-centric worldview speaking here, but sometimes I really suspect the whole running joke about the French surrendering at the drop of a chapeau doesn’t come so much from anything to do with World War II, as it does Picard’s repeatedly doing so in the early seasons of TNG.