Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Last Outpost” (part 3 of 3)
The two Ferengi underlings drop their whips, and apparently never get them back again, which is a real shame, because all in all, they were pretty cool weapons. But never mind that, because it’s time to introduce the world to another famous Ferengi hang-up, that of the beclothed state of females of other species.
After an earful of that, it’s back to the Enterprise, where they’re still freezing. Dr. Crusher puts in an appearance to confirm their state of helplessness, and also, for reasons unknown, mention Wesley.
Back on the planet, the Ferengi are now hobbling around like the buffoons we’ll soon come to know them as, much to the annoyance of Yar, who still has her phaser drawn and would very much prefer them to stand still. Finally, she fires a stun beam, only to have the beam suddenly careen off into a pair of crystal spires. You’ll remember those as the ones Data dismissed earlier as “nothing to write home about”.
Tarr still has his whip, and he tries a shot with it, but the crystals gobble that up, too.
They quickly figure out that the crystals are part of what’s draining their ships of power, and mention the plot hole of how the Ferengi whips were working earlier, but before they can finish trying to explain that away, it’s time for a little light show.
“Who meets the challenge?” yells the image of a face that suddenly appears before them. “Who will it be?” Tarr bravely speaks up and… nominates Riker.
After more dialogue to the effect of Riker asking who the heck this guy is, we dispense with the light show and our guest, a “guardian of the Tkon Empire”, AKA “Portal Six-Three”, or just Portal for short, takes on a more physical form. Riker explains that the Tkon Empire fell about 600 millennia ago, but Portal seems dubious of this. So Riker tries having Data talk him into submission instead.
Oh, and yes, I’m probably committing some sort of violation of Net Neutrality regulations by not taking the guardian’s name as a cue to force in references to cakes and lies and whatnot, but isn’t it time we as writers start to take a stand on this, and just say “no” to gratuitous mega-popular video game references? Who’s with me?
After we establish that Portal has missed a good chunk of history since the time Tkon still existed, Tarr decides to jump in and tell him that if he thinks it’s the Age of Bastuul, then it most assuredly is, and don’t let these lying humans (and, er, androids and Klingons) tell you otherwise. He proceeds to lay it on thick, explaining to Portal that the Enterprise is here to loot the Tkons, and that if they’ll just release the Ferengi ship, they’ll be happy to blast the invaders to kingdom come, or whatever they call it in the 24th Century.
For some reason, Riker decides on a strategy of playing it cool to the point of being ridiculous about it, saying flatly that if Portal believes the Ferengi’s accusations, then he should act on them. The Ferengi respond by merrily piling on the accusations, which somehow leads them to leering at Yar, who, admittedly, responds with a fairly awesome moment where she tells the Ferengi to stick it in their ears, so to speak.
Riker, apparently feeling really cocky now, decides he can go one better and make the case against humanity even better than the Ferengi have—or actually, delegate that part to Data, who goes on for a while about all the things the Federation has sat back and let happen because of their principle of non-interference. Portal quickly tires of all this, and decides to get on with the challenge.
William T. Riker, for your life and the lives of your crew, answer the following! “He will triumph who knows when to fight, and when not to fight.”
Riker reacts to this in three ways. First, “Wait, that wasn’t a question.” Second, “Are you kidding me? I’m being quizzed on a Sun Tzu quote I said to my captain about an hour (or something over six hours) ago?” And third, the one he actually vocalizes, “How do you suddenly know my name?”, apparently having forgotten that he shouted it out just before the brawl with the Ferengi.
Portal responds by using the power of fast-motion cameras to run up and give Riker a much closer look at his halberd-like weapon. Impressed that Riker doesn’t even flinch, he asks again for an answer. Riker’s response:
Which, as far as my research has been able to tell, appears to be a completely made-up quotation.
I find no words to the effect of “fear is the only enemy” in The Art of War, and every attribution of that statement to Sun Tzu that I’ve been able to find leads back to Riker’s “quoting” of him in this episode. To what end the writers would do this, given Riker’s response really has nothing to do with anything in this episode apart from his decision to adopt an ultra-composed stance during this confrontation, I couldn’t tell you. Seriously, if anyone can come up with a citation for this quote that predates 1987, let me know. I promise to actually read the comments in the forum this time.
Regardless, this appears to be all good with Portal, who suddenly drops his pretense of sitting in judgment and starts buddying up to Riker, big-time.
“Know your enemy and know yourself,” Portal quips, “and you will always be victorious.” Which is actually a very rough paraphrase of Sun Tzu, but at least one mostly grounded in reality.
Portal wants to talk more Tzu, but Riker brings up the small matter of his crew freezing to death up in his starship. Portal is all fine, fine, waves his hand, and…
On the Enterprise bridge, everyone is surprised to find they are Still Alive. (Okay, happy now?)
Planet. While Portal natters on about what he was thinking while watching the two ships in action, the Ferengi are jumping around like either complete idiots, or badly advanced Parkinson’s patients. They’re all, hey, we’ve got crewmates dying up there too, how about letting them go, and Riker and Portal are all, shh, grownups are talking here, and you’re all, are you really going to keep writing like that, and I’m all, no, I’m done. But as for Riker and Portal, they do eventually decide to let the Ferengi go, because let’s face it, if we have to go seven seasons with Data as the sole source of comic relief, a heck of a lot of people will be diving into warp cores before we’re done.
Enterprise. Picard is handing out commendations to everyone, while we learn that Portal “suggested” to the Ferengi that returning the MacGuffin was a good idea. “Something to write home about,” comments Data. Case in point as to what I was just saying about the comic relief on this show. And so it falls to Riker to save us, and remarkably he does, by suggesting they beam over a crate of Chinese finger traps to the Ferengi as a thank you gift, leaving it to the viewers to fill in the details of what’s likely to happen next.
It’s a much better closing moment than this episode really deserves, but… oh wait, it’s not quite the end, because we see that LaForge and, if you look really closely, Riker as well, are fiddling with those same Chinese finger traps, so much so that Data has to operate LaForge’s navigation panel for him to fire up the engines. The end.
I’d like to add an epilogue to this episode, if I may.
Just over two hours after parting ways with the Enterprise, Daimon Tarr was the first to free himself from a finger trap (hey, he didn’t get promoted to Daimon for nothing), and instantly seeing the money-making possibilities, he took the crate of them around the quadrant to various species with appropriately-shaped appendages, challenging them thus: “Escape in two minutes and it’s free, otherwise, you owe me a bar of latinum for the solution.”
Tarr made such a fortune from this over the next three years that he was able to retire from space faring, settle down in Cardassian territory, and open up a bar on a space station called Terok Nor. Realizing that “Tarr’s Bar” sounded too cutesy, he decided, for marketing purposes, to change his name to Quark.
Believe it, or not.