Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Last Outpost
Original Air Date: October 19, 1987
Written By: Herbert Wright, from a story by Richard Krzemien
Directed by: Richard Colla
Synopsis: The Enterprise is chasing a Ferengi ship, in an effort to retrieve a T-9 energy converter, which the Ferengi stole from an unmanned monitoring post on Gamma Tauri IV. This gives the Federation a chance to make their first contact with a species that they know almost nothing about.
The mood on the bridge is tense. Rumors about the Ferengi are numerous, and include some terrifying suggestions: they eat humans, they're big and scary, and they have really huge wangs.
The Enterprise makes visual contact with the Ferengi ship just before it enters the unexplored Delphi Ardu system, and slows to sub-warp speed. This prompts Data to suggest that they're having engine trouble. Thanks for that incredible insight, Mr. Data.
Worf announces that the ship is in full visual range, and Picard orders maximum enlargement on the viewscreen. This reveals a ship that sort of looks like a croissant, which Picard says is an "impressive design." Ah, the joys of writing and filming reactions before the models are done.
Some expository dialogue ensues, with Data telling Picard (and the audience) that Ferengi and Federation technology is at about the same level, but that we are "advanced in some areas, they in others." Man, Data is just full of insightful information, and we haven't even seen the credits, yet!
There are a few power surges, and the Ferengi ship fires at the Enterprise! Luckily, the shields hold, and the blasts bounce harmlessly off. Everyone wants to return fire, except Picard, who says that the Enterprise should just chill out for a minute, because its close pursuit may have harshed on the Ferengi's mellow.
The Ferengi ship turns around to face the Enterprise, and now it does look kind of cool, sort of like a little croissant attached to a bigger croissant, like maybe a sausage croissandwich. Mmmmm . . . croissandwich.
The Enterprise begins to close on the Ferengi ship, which makes Picard -- who is already a little cranky -- a little more cranky. Geordi says that he isn't even touching the gas pedal, and that his foot is securely on the brakes. Since there is no farmer's market in sight and Geordi is in his 30s, it's reasonable to believe him.
Before Picard can get really cranky, the ship begins to lose power, and Picard trades crankiness for concern. Riker says that they've clearly underestimated the Ferengi's technology, and it's pretty clear that the Enterprise is in for some serious shit as the credits roll.
Picard walks around the bridge, and tries to get a SITREP. There's not enough power to fire the weapons. That's bad. Engineering isn't responding to his efforts to use the communication system. That's bad too, so he sends Geordi down there to check things out and report back, which reveals that power to the Turbolifts is segregated from power to the communications system. That's good . . . or maybe the writers needed a mechanism to get Geordi down to Engineering, to show off that awesome and expensive set. That would be kinda bad.
Finally, Picard asks Troi if she's sensing anything from the Ferengi ship. That's good, since it's kind of her whole job and everything. She says she's sensing nothing, so maybe they can block their thoughts and emotions. That's bad.
Rapidly running out of questions to ask, and dangerously close to bringing this brutally expository section of the script to a close, Picard turns to every writer's favorite information crutch, Mr. Data.
Data says that we don't know that much about the Ferengi, which is bad, but we do know a few things about them that seem to be reliable, which is good. Data says the Frogurt is also cursed. Riker, getting a little fed up with all the exposition, tells Data to just get on with it and tell them what he knows, endearing himself to large sections of the audience.
Data says Ferengi are like traders, and explains this with the most obvious contemporary reference: Yankee traders from 18th century America. This indicates that, in the 24th century, the traditional practice of using 400 year-old comparisons is still in vogue, like when you're stuck in traffic on the freeway, and you say, "Man, this is just like Vasco de Gama trying to go around the Cape of Good Hope!"
Riker says he likes the sound of that, and Data says "I doubt they wear red white and blue, or look anything like Uncle Sam." Picard, perhaps sensing that the audience's suspension of disbelief is being stretched to the breaking point, calls down to Engineering. When there is no response, he sends Riker down to see if Geordi is actually working, or reading Fark. Riker gratefully heads into the Tubrolift.
Picard reminds the glassy-eyed audience that the Enterprise is still in real danger from the Ferengi ship, because without their warp drive, they're just a floating target.
Worf says, "Uncle who?" and Tasha wonders what "bright, primary colors" have to do with anything. Many viewers were wondering the same thing. Picard gives a civics lesson on the colors of flags, Data rattles off a list of flag colors and the countries they represent, and Picard tells him to shut-up before he can finish. Aw, that joke never gets old.
Without the benefit of a certain not-yet-acting-ensign around, Riker and Geordi try to figure out how to break away from the Ferengi power beam holding thing, and Riker comes up with what a plan that Geordi likes: "We shift down hard, kick back into warp 9 and come back fightin' woo-ee!" Indicating that colloquial 20th century Globetrotter has also survived into the 24th century.
Riker heads up to the Bridge to share his plan with Picard, while The Ferengi sit there and look scary. Worf wants to fight, Picard wants to run away. The French taunter tells them that their mother was a hamster, and their father smells of elderberries.
Picard sends a message to the Ferengi ship, then tells Riker the underlying philosophy of his French ancestors: "Sometimes, Riker, the best way to fight is not to be there."
Riker replies, "Yes sir, he will triumph who knows when to fight, and when not to fight."
The audience wonders what the hell is going on, until Picard says, "Glad the academy still teaches the strategies of Sun-Tzu." Hmmm . . . I wonder if that's going to come back into play later on in the show?
The Enterprise gets ready to try Riker's plan, and with a great shuddering and much dimming of lights, the Enterprise doesn't go anywhere. Down in his quarters, Wesley Crusher sits next to an Enterprise-saving science project, waiting for a call from the bridge that will never come.
After that anticlimactic failure, Data gets worried, because someone is scanning the entire Enterprise library. Troi, in perhaps her first (and nearly last) truly useful moment in the first season, points out that, with their focus on the Ferengi ship, they've ignored the planet. Oh, snap! Pretty lady knows what time it is! Picard calls for a meeting in the observation lounge, where they can have an evaluation of the situation.
Once there, Picard asks for suggestions. Tasha and Worf suggest using the Enterprise's power to launch a photon and phaser barrage, which Picard angrily shouts down as impractical. Seriously, how much longer is Worf going to put up with this shit? Isn't he a warrior?
Troi suggests they talk with the Ferengi, and Picard is all, "Uh, we just did, stupid! They ignored us." And then Troi is all, "Hey, you're stupid! You should go try again and suck up to them a little bit." Then Picard is all "Hey, Geordi, what do you think?" And Geordi is all, "I'm just gonna shrug because I got all 'woo-eee' about that plan that didn't work." So then Picard is all, "Well, does anyone have any other ideas? Because right now going to suck up to them is about the best you guys have given me." They're all, like, dude, and they leave. So Riker comes up and is all, "Hey, what do you want to do, man?" And Picard goes, "I totally want to surrender, because I'm, like, scared. Will you hold me?" And Riker is all, "Ewww gross!" And then Picard is all, "No, seriously, dude. If the shit gets too heavy, I want you to blow it up." And Riker is all, "Damn, Gina. That is crazy!" And then Picard is all, "True dat, biotch."
(Okay, I don't know why I just turned into a 9th grade girl imitating Snoop Dogg, as I described that scene, but it made me laugh. If you didn't find it as amusing as I did, I'm going to be all, "oh yeah? Well . . . you are!" KTHX.)
Picard goes back onto the bridge and cowers before the Ferengi. He asks them to present their terms to him so he can surrender. Man, these Ferengi sure are tough and scary! I can't wait to see what they look like and how they act!
Finally, a Ferengi speaks. In an absolutely terrifying growl, identifying itself as Daimon Taar, he demands unconditional surrender, but quickly reveals that his ship is locked in the same immobilization as the Enterprise. Whoops! That changes everything. Maybe these Ferengi aren't as scary as we thought?
Armed with this new information, Picard demands a face to face meeting. The Ferengi initially refuses, but Picard, perhaps taking a, uh, page from the book of Maf54, sweet talks him into it, and we get our first look at this terrifying enemy!
Hrm. Okay, he's not as terrifying as the voice lead us to expect. There's a big wrinkly nose, a bumpy head (hey, it wouldn't be a Star Trek alien without a bumpy head) and really huge ears. He's got shifty eyes, though, which is the universal symbol for "this guy can't be trusted," and he does have sharp pointy teeth, but still . . . something just isn't quite right here.
Anyway, he offers to give back the T-9 device, and offers the lives of his 2nd officers, as required by the Ferengi Code, which is a lot like the DaVinci code, and, it turns out, is rooted in just as much fact.
Picard puts him on hold, and reconvenes a meeting in the observation lounge, where two little kids are playing. Good to know that unsupervised children are allowed to run around the upper levels of the ship when it's seconds away from a potential battle with an unknown enemy, which indicates that spectacularly irresponsible parents have also survived into the 24th century.
Picard wants to know what is holding the Enterprise and the Ferengi vessel, and Data and Geordi are going to help him out. Data sits down and picks up Chinese fingercuffs, which have as much logical reason to appear in this room as, say, a T-Rex or non-expository dialogue, but we all get ready for hilarity to ensue.
We learn that the planet they are around is the center of the Tkon empire, "A once epic civilization of trillions that has been extinct for 600,000 of our years, and these planets were once outposts of that empire and --" before Data can finish his exposition, he gets his fingers caught in the Chinese handcuffs! Oh, that wacky robot! He's so silly and accidentally human!
Riker and Geordi are bemused by Data's predicament, but Picard (and 90% of the audience) is not. Picard tells Data to get himself unstuck, and we learn a rather significant limitation in Data's construction: while he can lift a 14 year-old child over his head with one arm, he apparently is not able to generate enough force to tear through a few pieces of bamboo.
Picard frees Data, who says the device is "intriguing," which must be colloquial 24th century slang for "totally lame." Data then reveals that the Tkon empire was highly advanced, and could even move stars.
A bit more research and some pretty nifty graphics reveal that the planet they are orbiting is an outpost from the Tkon empire, which was destroyed when their sun went supernova. Why the Tkons couldn't just move the sun or their planet with their advanced star-moving skills is not discussed, because the screen time was spent on that hilarious Chinese fingercuffs gag. Hey, you can have expository technobabble, or you can have humor, but you can't have both. We have a budget, you know.
Tasha sends some probe data into the room which shows that some sort of power beam is emanating from the planet's surface and holding both ships in its grasp. Picard decides that they're going to send an away team down to this planet to see what's going on, proving that D&D and its lessons about not splitting up the party didn't survive into the 24th century. After a bit of discussion, he also decides to invite the Ferengi -- those evil, dangerous, deadly, scary, we-don't-know-anything-about-them creatures -- down to the planet to have a look around, too. But the audience doesn't really listen to any of this, because those Chinese fingercuffs are right there on the table! What's Data going to do with them next? Oh! Geordi picks them up, and throws them to Data, who . . . aw, crap. He just carries them out. Weak. Let's all hope this is the beginning of a running gag, like telling the robot to shut up or making Worf a single-minded dumb guy who just likes to fight.
After a commercial break, Picard tries to get the Ferengi to come on down to the planet for tea and a look around, and in the ensuing conversation, we learn that the Ferengi are:
- Not that tough.
- Not that scary.
- All about the Benjamins.
- Probably the lamest enemy ever introduced in the history of television.
Tasha, Worf, Geordi, Data, and Riker all head to the transporter room, where we learn that communication with the Enterprise may be difficult, and they may not be able to be beamed back to the ship if they can't figure out what exactly is holding them and why. But, come on, we know there isn't any real danger on the planet, because there isn't a single Red Shirt beaming down with them.
The planet looks really, really cool, and it's one of the very first times we can see the difference in budgets and technologies available to the original series and the Next Generation. It's misty and stormy, and other words that are not also stage names for strippers, and we discover that the energy in the atmosphere has messed up the transporter's coordinates, and Riker's been beamed down alone. He quickly finds Data, who again uses the word "intriguing" to describe things. He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.
Riker and Data scout around, and find Geordi suspended upside down when -- oh! here come the Ferengi! Holy shit! The evil Ferengi! They're finally here, in person! We can see more than just their moderately scary faces, and they are . . . uh . . . short. And bouncy. And they wave their hands around over their heads a lot. And they don't like loud noises. And they carry whips . . . and wear Ugg boots. Uhm. I think I speak for Trekkies everywhere when I say they are "Intriguing," with the 24th century use of the term.
Riker, apparently forgetting that he just saw one of them on the main viewscreen, asks them who they are, and the Ferengi respond with their traditional greeting: they shoot energy blasts out of their whips and stun the entire away team.
Six hours later, we learn that the Enterprise is in big trouble. The force that's holding them is draining all the ship's power, and life support is quickly going the way of the audience's interest in this episode. Picard says that it's going to get cold in the ship, all the way down to minus two hundred degrees, but Dr. Crusher helpfully points out that they won't have much to worry about past minus seventy or so. Thanks, doc. Thats some reassuring bedside manner.
Back on the planet, we learn another astonishing fact about the Ferengi: they paint their nails a wonderful shade of blue. We also learn that they've delivered the traditional Ferengi greeting to the rest of the away team, as they drag Worf into the clearing, and add him to a growing pile of embarrassed actors. The writers make a valiant effort to portray the Ferengi as really evil, when one of them instructs another to kill any captive who moves, but the bouncing and leering and tasting of a communicator to confirm that it's made of gold is so incredibly lame, it's impossible to take these guys seriously.
In an effort to drive this point home, a dramatic crash of thunder and flash of lightning accompany a now-awakened Worf, and reactivated Data, who leap into action and attack the once-promising enemies, who we quickly learn are more easily defeated than Chinese fingercuffs. Finally, because the Ferengi aren't ridiculous enough caricatures already, the writers have them reveal that they don't work with -- or clothe -- females. Wow. We've really come a long way since the 60s, guys. Oh, and they reveal this sexism while being held at phaser-point by Tasha, who we wouldn't mind seeing unclothed, Ferengi-style. (Oh shut up. You know you were all thinking it.)
Back on the Enterprise, we discover that things have gone from bad to worse. The lights are out, the ship's heating is nearly gone, and Picard has had the remaining power rerouted to the family decks, where he's currently talking with Dr. Crusher. Picard asks where Wesley is, and though the implication is that he's concerned for Beverly and her family, a quick glance between the lines shows Picard's concern for Wesley, as well.
Oh, it's not because Picard is actually Wesley's father, as hundreds of thousands of Usenet words will argue over the coming seven years; it's because Picard knows that Wesley could totally figure a way out of this, probably by generating some sort of Enterprise-enveloping control field with one of his science projects, using an electro plasma system energy converter, to reverse the polarity of the Navigational Deflector to emit an inverse tachyon pulse into a subspace beacon, and rerouting the power from the impulse engines through the okuda conduits to the forward sensor array's antimatter pod, using the auxiliary fusion generator to turn the power back on and save the day.
But, sadly, we learn that Dr. Crusher left Wesley in their quarters to stare death in the face alone, without even the benefit of a sedative. Picard reassures her that leaving Wesley alone and fully conscious was great parenting, because he has the right to "meet death awake." Legions of Trekkies agree, then curse Picard for getting their hopes up.
Back on the planet, Tasha orders the intriguing Ferengi to stand still, but they, uh, bounce around and show their teeth and wave their hands over their heads instead, so the away team sets phasers on stun, and blasts them. Unfortunately for Trekkies and for the Away team, the phaser blasts do not hit their target, but fly around and zap into a crystalline tree looking thingy. The Ferengi try to retaliate with their totally awesome whips that totally don't look at all like the mutant offspring of a vibrator and a light saber, but the energy blasts also zap into the crystalline tree thingies.
Suddenly, the crystalline tree thingies glow brightly, and release Poltergeist-esque wisps of energy that fly around the Ferengi and the Away Team, finally coalescing into a giant spectral face above a heretofore unnoticed bridge. The face speaks, the Away Team is confused, and the Ferengi cower and cover their ears as the face asks the "who dares disturb me" questions, that all giant spectral faces are contractually required to ask in the Star Trek universe. Welcome to planet Plot Device, enjoy your stay.
The Ferengi bravely point at Riker and and say, "He did it! It was totally him! Dude! We were so not doing anything, but this guy over here totally did that thing that pissed you off! Uh, look at how much we bounce around and wave our hands above our heads and cover our ears! We totally wouldn't lie to you about something like that! Seriously, dude!"
The face transforms into a humanoid man, clutching a staff, wearing a hooded cloak, and says, "Those who wish to cross the bridge of death must answer me these questions three, 'ere the other side he see!"
Okay, not really. He actually asks who wants permission to enter the Tkon Empire. Riker helpfully points out that the empire is long dead, and that's that.
Ha. Not exactly. Riker and Data explain (in excruciating detail of course) the history of the Tkon Empire, listing off several different ages that nerds furiously scribble down on notepads, because, you know, they need to know that sort of thing.
The man, who was a bunch of wispy energy and then was a face and is now called "Portal," refuses to acknowledge the facts and the history of his culture, indicating that Neoconservatism has also survived until the 24th Century. One of the Ferengi hops up and tells the Portal exactly what he wants to hear, indicating that Fox News survived, as well.
The Ferengi see which way the wind is blowing, and offer to serve the Tkon Empire, if the Portal will release their ship. (This indicates that the Democratic Leadership Council survives until the 24th Century, and represents the retiring of this joke.) They say that they'll totally blow up the Enterprise, because the "Hew-mons" are really bad and stuff, and totally don't bounce around or hold their ears or wave their hands above their heads like the scary, evil, dangerous Ferengi do.
Okay, I'll spare you a blow-by-blow recounting of the scene that plays out, and just leave you with this: it's the most intriguing introduction of the most intriguing enemy ever. If I was a producer on Star Trek, when I saw the dailies of this stuff, I would have put some heads on pikes.
Finally, Riker is challenged by the Portal, who says, "I offer a thought: he will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight." He holds his scary staff over his head and advances across the bridge of death, holding the blade just over Riker's shoulder, "You are being tested Riker. What is the answer?"
Riker says, "Fear is the true enemy. The only enemy."
Ah, that brief expository exchange all the way back in the first act pays off, as Riker and the Portal quote Sun-Tzu to each other, while the Ferengi threateningly cower and bounce and cover their ears.
The Portal, now BFF with Riker who he's totally not gay for (not that there's anything wrong with that) releases his planet's hold on the Enterprise, which powers back up.
Back on the planet, Riker and the Portal walk and talk, and the Ferengi actually manage to make themselves even more intriguing than they already were. The Portal teases Trekkies everywhere and offers to destroy the Ferengi, but Riker says that they're like humans once were centuries ago.
Wait. Did Riker just say that the Ferengi are just like 20th century humans? I'm pretty sure we don't bounce around and cower and jump and hold our hands above our heads as much as they do. Maybe he means that the Ferengi are like the ancient humanoid ancestors portrayed at the beginning of 2001, before they touched the Monolith. Yeah, that must be it. Okay, back to business.
The Portal and Riker shake hands, and the Portal vanishes into the mist. In a voice over, Riker says, "Although I hadn't seen him in more than ten years, I know I'll miss him forever."
Back on the Enterprise, Picard commends Tasha and Worf for, uh, whatever they did, and Riker asks Picard for permission to beam a box of those hilarious Chinese fingercuffs over to the Ferengi ship.
Picard smirks, and tells him to make it so. The camera pulls back to reveal that Riker and Geordi are wearing them, and Data has to send the Enterprise to warp speed himself, because Geordi's fingers are hilariously trapped. It's an intriguing ending to an intriguing episode.
Paws off, Ferengi!
No female -- Human or Ferengi -- can order Mordoc around! Submit!
Just try it, shorty.
Obligatory Technobabble: "Most intriguing, sir. I assume a problem of inaccurately transmitted program coordinates due to the force field around the ship, sir. " - Data, explaining why the away team did not beam down together. Could also explain why the Ferengi, originally intended by Gene Roddenberry to be like the Reavers in Firefly, somehow became more like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.
Behind the Scenes Memory: I didn't work on this episode, but I was at Paramount for tutoring when they filmed it, and I clearly recall the cast being unhappy with several aspects of this script, from the lame Chinese fingercuffs joke to the idiotic behavior of the Ferengi. Also, if you have this episode on DVD, you can pause it during Picard's walk across the back of the bridge (the "horseshoe" is what we called it) in the first act, and see several black cards just stuck onto the science stations to block reflections of lights and C-stands. It always bothered me that they were so obviously there, and so easily seen, (and they are all over the place throughout the first season) but I never said anything about it, because it wasn't my place, but it still bothers me to this day.
The Bottom Line: TNG's struggle to find itself continues with this episode, but there is some solid character growth along the way. Obviously, it fails spectacularly with its introduction of the Ferengi, who were intended to replace the Klingons as a terrifying and worthy adversary to the Federation, but were a total joke until Armin Shimmerman brought Quark to life on DS9, and repaired much -- but not all -- of the damage.
However, If you take away how outrageously lame the Ferengi are, this episode has some very cool elements to it. The planet looks great, and the effects that lead to the revealing of the Portal, its point of view about itself, and its interaction with Riker are straight out of classic Star Trek. In fact, the entire story of the titular last outpost would have been a very strong one, had the Ferengi not been so weak and laughable. Imagine, for example, the relationship between Kirk and the Romulan Commander in Balance of Terror, and put them into this situation, where they are forced to cooperate.
The scene in the Observation Lounge where Picard asks for counsel from his trusted advisors is very cool, and represents a real departure from the spirit of the original series, where Kirk pretty much figured everything out himself. But Picard, who will eventually be a warm, wise, incredibly complex character, appears weak and indecisive in the face of adversity, and his unwillingness to heed the advice he asks for, combined with his willingness to surrender so quickly and easily, rightfully earned the wrath of many fans who were used to Kirk kicking ass and taking names only when the name belonged to a hot green alien woman who he wanted to hook up with later.
Fans who were hoping for an improvement on The Naked Now and Code of Honor couldn't have been very happy with the show, which spends its entire first two acts on exposition, and doesn't even get going until the Away Team beams down to the planet in act four. I imagine that a lot of people who were on the fence about TNG simply tuned out after this one, which is a shame, because the next episode, Where No One Has Gone Before, is a pretty good one.
Final Grade: C