Apr 29, 2018
Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Last Outpost” (part 2 of 3)
Picard opens a channel to the Ferengi, and begins to discuss surrender in such an awkward, indirect, and unnatural way that he never actually specifies who he’s proposing surrendering to. Yes, that’s right, folks, we’re being set up for a Wacky Sitcom Misunderstanding, Star Trek style! And sure enough, on the other side of the next commercial break, the Ferengi captain Tarr comes back with the response that they’re willing to discuss terms, but that they’d rather die than submit to unconditional surrender. And that’s when, to borrow a British phrase that badly needs an American equivalent, the penny drops for the crew of the Enterprise.
With the realization that both ships are in fact sharing a common problem, and that cooperation might well be needed to resolve it, Picard naturally upholds the ideals of the honorable, noble Federation and takes ruthless advantage of the Ferengi’s ignorance of the situation. For starters, he demands visual contact, but that turns out to be against a Ferengi custom that we’ll never hear about again. But Picard plays hardball on the issue, and so we get our first ever look at the Ferengi.
And the first words out of Tarr’s mouth upon making visual contact with humans for the first time is a comment about how ugly they are. Charming. And not exactly smart, given the position they believe themselves to be in. Tarr offers to return the MacGuffin, and in line with another soon-to-be-forgotten Ferengi custom, offers to forfeit his second officer and a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft.
…Dammit. This is what I get for trying to write with an NFL game on in the background.
Data makes an aside to LaForge to the effect of he’s glad the Federation doesn’t have a similar custom. LaForge gives him a look like he’s thinking of proposing just such a custom.
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And it’s been a good five minutes since the last meeting, so Picard brings in Riker, LaForge, and Data for another one. But first, Riker has to shoo a couple of young boys out of the conference room. Apparently, “off-limits” on the Enterprise does not mean “locked adequately to keep a couple of eight-year-olds from wandering in”.
Actually, it turns out Data has something to report about the planet. He explains that it’s part of an ancient empire called “Tkon” that spanned thousands of planets, and which collapsed due to a supernova. But in fact, the real point of the scene is for Data to pick up and start fiddling with a Chinese finger trap, presumably left behind by the boys, and become ensnared in it, and ultimately admit an inability to escape it.
That’s right, folks: A Soong android, quintillions of calculations per second, and he can’t figure out a Chinese finger trap. Sigh. It’s at times like this that I’m reminded of the words of a more modern-day philosopher:
Kevin Murphy: The Prime Directive of Star Trek should’ve been: “Never Do Comedy”.
Finally, Picard takes pity on Data, and shows him the solution.
Yar breaks in over the comm to send in the results of some scans they’ve done that show something on the planet, its uninhabited state notwithstanding. Also, whatever it is, it is in fact draining the power of both ships.
Back on the bridge, Picard decides it’s time to boss around the Ferengi some more, but the Ferengi are now on to him, and not surprisingly just a bit peeved. Picard brushes that business aside by saying they have more pressing issues to deal with, but they still argue for a couple more minutes over everything that’s happened, before finally settling down to the matter at hand.
Picard proposes a “swap” of information, a term that somehow fails to translate into Ferengi (random translator failures = “funny”), but with that aside, they manage to come to an agreement to a joint expedition to explore the surface of the planet below. And despite obviously well-founded misgivings about the trustworthiness of their new partners, Picard nevertheless sends a super-sized, all-star away team consisting of Riker, Yar, Worf, Data, and LaForge down to the planet.
After a last-second mention from Data that there’s no way at the moment to beam back, and a “why did you have to tell me that” reaction from LaForge, they beam down. Cut to Riker materializing on the planet’s surface… alone. Which actually puts him in the unique position of being stranded alone on two planets at once, but that’s a story we’re years away from learning about.
We linger on the stormy landscape and Riker’s plight for a while, until he encounters Data, perched in a vein of crystals that he studies carefully, before deciding they’re inert and meaningless. “Nothing to write home about,” Data says, much to Riker’s surprise, and our annoyance.
Some more searching turns up LaForge, hanging upside down somehow. “Are you conscious?” yells a frantic Riker.
“Do I look conscious?” replies LaForge testily. You see, it’s funny because LaForge is wearing that VISOR, so you can’t see his eyes, so there was no way for them to tell if… oh, never mind: Komedy!
Data is about to dislodge LaForge, when LaForge spots the Ferengi approaching. Riker calls out to them, but one of them flicks some kind of electricity-discharging whip at them, which hits LaForge square on, knocking him down and taking Data with him. Somehow, Riker also gets a shock in the bargain, and he too sinks to his knees before another bolt takes him down.
On the Enterprise, it’s now six hours later, and the situation has deteriorated rather dramatically. Even their reserve power is almost drained, and everyone is struggling with attempting to convey “freezing to death” on screen without any helpful, cheesy “frost” effects.
Back on the planet, it’s quite clearly nowhere near six hours later, as the Ferengi have only just now started rifling through the possessions of their victims. A wrinkled hand reaches for Riker’s communicator, and finds to its obvious surprise that the communicator is not actually attached to Riker or his clothing in any way. Meanwhile, in what I have to imagine is a pretty humiliating scene in hindsight, the other two Ferengi are dragging Worf’s unconscious body into the area. (“Electro-whipped into submission by the damned Ferengi!”)
The Ferengi huddle together to discuss the situation. One of Tarr’s officers points out they’ve broken their agreement with the Enterprise, but Tarr says it’s their word against the Federation’s, so screw them. Analyzing Riker’s communicator with his tongue (no, really), Tarr suspects it might be gold, which a suddenly conscious Riker confirms. They start to whip Riker down again, but instead, they begin writhing in pain and clutching their ears, which, if you’ll recall what their ears are analogues to in humans, means something has done the equivalent of kicking them in the nads.
Riker chastises the Ferengi for breaking their agreement. Tarr comes back with the planned lie about Riker attacking them (which… huh? Why lie about Riker to Riker?), and then Worf and Data spontaneously spring to life, and the brawl is on. Data’s warning to Riker that the Ferengi are much stronger than they appear to be comes a split second too late (again, komedy). LaForge too wakes up, but wisely stays clear of the melee.
A Ferengi is about to restore order with a crack of his lightning whip, when Yar suddenly makes a timely appearance, phaser drawn. This apparently cues Riker and Worf to remember that they have phasers as well, and the fight comes to an abrupt end.
And… time. We’re at 33 minutes into the very first Ferengi episode, and the emasculation of the Ferengi is now officially underway!