Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 4): The Last Outpost

Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.

For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

The Enterprise chase a Ferengi starship that has stole a T-9 energy converter from an unmanned base. Picard hopes to use the mission to learn more about the currently unknown lifeform.

The Enterprise and the Ferengi are both captured by a planet adjacent to where they are trying to communicate with one another. The planet is an ancient outpost of a long extinct intergalactic outpost – however it is still controlled by an artificial intelligence calling itself Portal. Portal converses with Riker, is impressed by human knowledge and wisdom, and decides to let both ships leave.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Picard narrates:

Captain’s Log: Stardate 41386.4

The Enterprise is in pursuit of a starship designed by the Ferengi. The mission is to intercept the Ferengi vessel and recover a T-9 energy converter which the Ferengi stole from than unmanned Federation monitor post. The theft was recorded by scanners and Picard says that it now provides them with the long-awaited opportunity to make close contact with a Ferengi vessel. If the Enterprise succeeds, it will be Starfleet’s first look at a lifeform that, other than rumor, the Federation knows almost nothing about.

Riker sees the Ferengi ship on screen. “There she is.” Picard commands to enlarge their screen to better see the vessel. The Ferengi ship angles toward and unexplored solar system and then slows down to sub-warp speed. Picard commands LaForge to reduce their own speed to impulse power. The Enterprise scanners continue to notice power surges from the Ferengi vessel.

Picard asks Data for anything he might know regarding the design and he has nothing to add. Picard notes that Ferengi are thought to be roughly equal with the Federation with respect to technology.

Abruptly, Worf announces that the Ferengi are firing at them. The Enterprise shields hold but are weakened. They fire again with the same effect. Riker asks if the Enterprise should return fire and Picard says no. “They’re just responding to our close pursuit.” He commands that the Enterprise be pulled back but remain close enough to stay with them if they flee.

The Enterprise shields and power systems begin failing to the confusion of Data and Yar. The Ferengi vessels turns to face the Enterprise and it begins dragging the Federation’s Starship forward.

Riker: It’s obvious we’ve underestimated Ferengi technology, Captain.
Picard: Considerably. They have us right where they want us – in their sights.

Picard gets a status report from the bridge. Yar tells him that torpedoes are armed but their ship shows insufficient power to fire. Communication with Engineering is completely offline so Picard sends LaForge from the bridge to check personally. Troi informs the Captain that she senses nothing from their ship – which may indicate that the Ferengi are capable of shielding their thoughts and emotions from outsiders.

Data tells Picard and Riker that what he knows of the Ferengi is that the Federation has likened them to ocean-going Yankee Traders from Earth’s 18th and 19th centuries. The Ferengi are alleged to conduct their commerce on the ancient principle of Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.

Riker joins LaForge in Engineering and gets a report. Geordi lets him know that the prospects of freeing themselves from the Ferengi is not good. There is only a very small delay between the Enterprise pushing out of the Ferengi forcefield and the Ferengi reapplying it. Riker asks it if would be possible for the Enterprise to shift immediately into Warp 9 after during the interval before the Ferengi shield is reapplied. LaForge indicates that it is possible by pumping his fist and yelling woo-hoo.

Ask me after it’s done, sir.

On the bridge, Riker updates Picard. Worf interjects that he wants to fight.

Worf: There is nothing shameful in falling before a superior enemy.
Picard: There is nothing shameful about a strategic retreat, either.

LaForge returns to the bridge to inform the Captain that the ship is ready. He also announces that communication with Engineering is restored. Captain Picard wants to proceed with the plan.

Let’s throw them off guard.

Picard opens a hailing frequency to the Ferengi vessel and demands that they return the T-9 energy converter. Riker quotes Sun Tzu and says “He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight” and Picard is pleased that the Academy is still teaching Sun Tzu. The Enterprise then attempts to move directly to Warp 9 but the Ferengi shield prevents them from doing anything at all. Picard calls for shields to go back up.

Data tells Picard that someone is reading every file stored in the Enterprise’s memory banks. Troi speaks up and tells the Captain that with their attention on the Ferengi vessel they have ignored the nearby planet. Picard sets Data to learning what he can about the planet and then he calls for a conference evaluation.

In the conference, Yar calls for the Enterprise to fire on the Ferengi with enough ferocity to remove their ability to maintain the shield on their ship. Worf seconds this idea. Picard tells them both that it is impractical. When Yar counters that firing on the Enterprise was an act of war, Troi counters that the Enterprise was chasing them when that occurred.

Troi: Since then, all they have done is search our computers trying to learn who and what we are.

Troi suggests attempting again to talk to the Ferengi and this time telling them something that they want to hear. Picard returns to the bridge and hails the Ferengi vessel. He says that he would like if they present their terms.

The Ferengi vessel draws closer but does not respond. The Enterprise shields are only set to hold about a minute longer. Worf notes that if the Ferengi wish to fire on them, they will wait until the ship is most vulnerable. As a result, he, Yar, and Riker all agree that they might need to fire first. Picard continues to advocate for patience.

The Ferengi return Picard’s message, insult the ugliness of humans, and offer to surrender, revealing inadvertently that their ship is being held captive as well. They proclaim that they will die to the last man before dishonor. Picard asks to get a visual surrender from the Ferengi. Their commander says that this is against their custom but that the Enterprise is leaving them with no other choice.

In the conference room, Riker chases out to children and Data is playing with a Chinese finger trap when Picard, Riker, and LaForge enter. Data briefs Picard about the neighboring planet. He tells Picard, while struggling with the finger trap, that it was formerly an outpost of a vast interstellar civilization known as the Tkon Empire. The Tkon became extinct 600,000 years earlier. The Tkon were highly advanced, capable of moving stars and using planets as defense weapons.

Picard wants to send an away team to the planet’s surface. He suggests that they bring the Ferengi with them in order to both learn more about them and to alleviate issues that might arise when the Ferengi realize the planet, and not the Enterprise, is holding their ship captive.

Picard once more hails the Ferengi. The Ferengi reply.

Your alien images again shock us.

Picard allows the Ferengi to withdraw their surrender. He proposes that both ships work together to escape the planet holding them captive by sharing information and by going together for an exploration of the planet’s surface. He gets an agreement from the Ferengi leader.

When the hailing frequency is closed, Data reveals the the transmission from the Ferengi ship was distorted. Troi also states that she feels the Ferengi are hiding something.

As the Away Team, consisting of Riker, Yar, Worf, Data, and LaForge, prepares to leave, we learn that the energy drain on the ship will make it difficult to communicate with the Enterprise while on planet. Data also states that at present there will be no ability to transport back to the ship from the planet’s surface.

Riker arrives on the surface of the planet by himself. The rest of his team is nowhere to be found. The planet’s surface is home to wind and lightening. Riker explores for a few minutes until finding Data sitting atop something that looks like an oversized crystal protruding from the ground. Data climbs down and asks if they are alone. The two set out to find the other members of their team. They next find Geordi hanging from another crystal upside down by his feet.

Suddenly three Ferengi come upon them and use whip-like tasers on the three of them.

Picard narrates that it has been six hours since their team beamed to the planet’s surface. He says that conditions on the Enterprise are rapidly worsening. The power from the ship is being drained by the planet and if that is not abated everyone on the ship will freeze to death.

On the planet, the Ferengi remove the telecom buttons from the now unconscious Riker, Data, and LaForge. One of the Ferengi worries that they are violated the terms of their agreement. Another replies that they will accuse the humans of laying an ambush.

It will be our word against theirs.

While the Ferengi debate whether or not the Starfleet telecom device is made of gold, Riker wakes up. He tells them Picard will not be happy that they have broken their agreement. Worf show up, laying low within a fog on the ground, looking angry and, well, Klingon. A moment later, Data and LaForge are up, too, and the fight is on.

The highlight of the fight is Data holding up one of the Ferengi, with one arm, as though he is holding up an angry kitten. However, the Ferengi soon begin to get the upper hand.

Yar shows up last and ends the fight with a taser.

Ferengi: You work with your females and force them to wear clothing? Sickening.

Aboard the ship, Picard and Doctor Crusher ready everyone for death. She mentions to Picard that she wanted to give Wesley a sedative but did not.

Picard: He has the right to meet death awake.

On the planet, the two groups are separated and their weapons are not working against each other. They do not understand because the Ferengi weapons had been working when they first arrived. Geordi tells them that with his VISOR, he now understands what he has been seeing. The crystal structures sticking out from the surface have been made into power accumulators.

Suddenly the power from the planet begins to swirl and we hear a voice coming from that swirl calling them barbarians and telling them to speak. The sound from the swirl hurts the Ferengi’s more sensitive ears. The voice asks which of them is in charge. The Ferengi point at Riker.

Riker replies and asks who is speaking to him. The voice replies, “a Guardian of the Tkon Empire.” The swirl of energy takes the form of a person calling itself Portal. Riker approaches Portal and asks why they would petition to enter an empire that no longer exists. Riker, Data, and Portal discuss history. Portal believes that Riker and Data are deceiving him.

Suddenly, the Ferengi offer to serve the Tkon Empire at no profit. They ask Portal to return control of their starship to them so that they can destroy the humans for the Tkon. They accuse the humans of barbarism, point out that the humans sometimes withhold advanced technologies from less advanced worlds, and “shamelessly clothe their females.”

Portal challenges Riker.

Worf: No! For battle come to me!

Portal challenges Riker again and asks what the answer is to his challenge.

Portal: I offer a thought. He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight. You are being tested, Riker.

He starts swinging around a staff with a sharp small ax at the end of it and brings it to a stop near Riker’s head. Riker does not move.

Portal: Ah. You are facing fate with composure. But what is the answer to my challenge.
Riker: Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy>
Portal: Unlike these little ones who close their minds, you kind holds interesting thoughts. Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious. Why that thought and who is this Sun Tzu you revere?

Portal is now much more casual. He asks to speak more with Riker about him and notes that earth’s wisdom is much like their own. Riker says he will gladly continue the conversation but he first wants the starship released. Portal looks up and tells him “it is released. All power is restored.”

Aboard the ship we hear and see the power being restored and the passengers on board, including Picard and Crusher, sit quietly awaiting death.

Dr. Crusher: Not a moment too soon, Jean. I mean, Captain.

The Ferengi asks Portal to restore power to their ship and then claim credit for Riker’s words. Portal asks Riker if he should destroy them.

Riker: Then they would never learn.

Portal tells Riker that he will sleep until needed again. He vanishes in a lightning storm.

Back aboard the ship, Riker reports that they have obtained the T-9 energy converter. The Ferengi complained but one final roar from Portal convinced them. The episode ends with Riker asking to beam Data’s Chinese finger puzzles to the Ferengi and Picard agrees to do it.

The ship sets a course and flies away.

REACTION:

This is the episode where we meet the Ferengi. The episode needed them to be.. well, competent? A threat? They were TERRIBLE! It’s hard to imagine the Ferengi, as portrayed, as a civilization that advanced to building cars let alone starships.

I suppose they might work in future episodes as comic relief if they are re-worked a little bit. Their on-going fascination with Yar wearing clothes was bizarre. Was that an excuse for the writers to try to get viewers to think about her naked? Or were we supposed to think and laugh about the naked Ferengi women back on their planet?

The Ferengi are humanoid, like most of the aliens we meet, but they farther from looking human than most. Why does everyone seem to look so… human? Even the Tkon? There are theories.

We are only four episodes into this series and we have already encountered two god-like alien beings. That feels like too many. That said, I do like the idea – because the universe is so old – that intergalactic alien beings have built empires, and lost empires, before humans even existed. The Tkon Empire, hundreds of thousands of years earlier, was apparently more advanced than jus about anyone we meet in regular course of events in the present-day Star Trek universe (Q being an exception.)

There were a few episode highlights for me:

  1. I enjoyed Data holding the Ferengi up in the air with one arm.
  2. I enjoyed Picard telling Wesley’s mother that he has a right to face death awake. It was a grim glimpse into his psyche.
  3. I enjoyed getting to see some more Worf. He’s a fighter.
  4. I enjoyed that Wesley was off-screen for the entire episode. (NO CHILDREN ON THE BRIDGE!)

The futuristic android being fooled by a Chinese finger trap was… cringe.

Overall, this episode was just okay. The Ferengi were a misfire. Riker was the hero and that worked. His conversation with Portal felt like quintessential original series Star Trek “humans are special in the grand scheme of things” philosophical self-indulgence. I suppose if we are imagining our future space travels, we are permitted to imagine them as enlightened and noble.

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