Star Trek The Next Generation: The Last Outpost

"Just try it, shorty!"

The Enterprise is chasing a Ferengi ship when both get stuck and their power is slowly drained by a planet whose civilization is long-dead.

This is the episode which introduced the Ferengi, who were originally supposed to be new major villains. At this point, Starfleet apparently "know almost nothing about" the Ferengi. Apparently they are similar to Yankee traders from the 18th and 19th centuries (which is unhelpful to me since British history classes did not cover American smugglers).

I like the idea of uber-capitalist bad guys, and of course, since this episode was made in the late 1980s, and aired just a couple of months before the release of Wall Street, it's no surprise that this seemed like an interesting starting-point for some new villains. The Ferengi themselves just don't quite work though. Too much is jumbled up together - extreme secrecy, a concern about not dying with dishonour, their monstrous appearance, sexism and a code that apparently requires the sacrifice of their second officers when surrendering, plus the greed and capitalism - it's all too much. Why would a culture obsessed with making money also have such a very strict honour code? I don't remember Gordon Gekko being especially honourable. And why would they offer, unasked, to sacrifice highly trained second officers? That's definitely a waste of the money spent training them. And as far as their physical depiction goes, the extreme close-ups on the leader's face during communications are creepy, but they distract from the point rather too much.

The portrayal of the Ferengi isn't the only thing about this episode that doesn't fit with the direction the show later took. Something really weird is going on with Geordi's characterisation in this hour. He gets waaaaay too excited about Riker's plan and utters the phrase "Wow-eee!" Then, later, he giggles and sarcastically says "My hero!" when Data has to be rescued from a Chinese finger trap (which he is playing with during a briefing because... reasons). He's even sarcastic when Riker and Data come to rescue him from hanging upside down from a rock because he beamed down badly (somehow). It's really not working - LeVar Burton just doesn't suit this character, somehow, and he's surprisingly unlikable in this episode. Which is strangely unsettling, as normally I love both Geordi and Burton's portrayal of him, he's one of my favourite TNG characters.

Everything culminates in a face-off on a stormy planet covered in bits of Superman's Fortress of Solitude with the Guardian of the Bridge of Death from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail (OK, that's an exaggeration, but honestly the whole sequence feels like it belongs in Labyrinth, not Star Trek, and I really was waiting for the Guardian to ask "What is your favourite colour?" and "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"). Meanwhile, everyone up on the Enterprise is slowly dying, but we don't spend too much time with that, making it seem rather unnecessary. At least Riker gets to look both intelligent and heroic.

Bits and pieces

 - Excellent accurate Latin translation of 'Caveat Emptor' from Data (he correctly translates it in the subjunctive as, 'Let the buyer beware', rather than the more common mis-translation of it as an imperative, 'Buyer beware').

 - It's established in this episode that Ferengi women don't wear clothing, in a blackly comic statement from the Ferengi captain. In the context of viewing the Ferengi as rather odd villains, it sort of works, though the way the writers are constantly patting themselves on the back by having aliens react to Tasha Yar (just as aliens constantly reacted to Samantha Carter in early seasons of Stargate SG-1) so our crew can show off their superiority, gender relations-wise, is getting annoying.

 - This episode is Armin Shimerman's first appearance as a Ferengi, playing Letek (he went on to play Quark in Deep Space Nine).

 - I love how trigger-happy Yar is. She just wants to blow stuff up.

 - Confession: I got the episodes mixed up and got halfway through 'Haven' before realising. 'Haven' is much better! Which meant this one, once I established it was the correct episode, suffered a bit by comparison.

Quotes

Crusher (recovering from near death): Not a moment too soon, Jean - I mean, Captain.

Apparently Picard says 'Merde!' at some point, though I didn't catch it myself. I don't blame him.

A classic example of Early Installment Weirdness in so many ways. One and a half out of four Chinese finger traps.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Data and the finger trap was the best part of the episode.

Way too Original Series. I had forgotten how many early Next Gen episodes were so old Trek. Maybe that's what they thought the viewers wanted. And the Ferengi are ridiculously terrible villains, although I had forgotten that the first Ferengi was the principal of Sunnydale High and a future Deep Space Nine cast member. The whole landing party sequence was so bad that it made me laugh out loud.

I did hear Picard say "merde". The censors do know what that means, don't they?

Hilarious review, Juliette. Loved it.

Juliette said...

Thank you :) This episode is so weird - I kind of like some of the awful attempts to be like the original series, just because they're amusing, but this one is just bizarre!

JRS said...

It's funny comparing the depiction of the Ferengi in this episode to their depiction in the first year of DS9. They evolve to be something much more interesting, I think.

Kathy said...

Don't forget--during these early episodes, Gene Roddenberry controlled it with an iron fist.

Since his control was removed from the movies (which were still going on during the pre-production and within the first couple of seasons of TNG), everything in these first couple seasons marked his vision.

It was only after his health started declining that other producers were able to start taking TNG in a new direction sot hat it wouldn't be a TOS clone. Which is also when it grew the beard, so to speak.

drnanamom said...

Fun episode in that it was so terrible - great review Juliette. You nailed all the issues I had with it as well. I also heard the Captain say "merde" under his breath and continue to enjoy his 'Frenchness'. It is kind of fun to go back and watch these early episodes and wonder how we managed to end up loving it.