Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Last Outpost   Rewatch 
April 17, 2020 8:09 AM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Meet the Ferengi! From Memory Alpha: “In pursuit of Ferengi marauders, the Enterprise and its quarry become trapped by a mysterious planet that is draining both ships' energies."

The Enterprise is held in an energy field above a planet in the Delphi Ardu system after chasing a Ferengi ship which has stolen a device from an unmanned outpost. The Ferengi are fierce warriors with enormous heads, heads so large that they occupy the entire forward viewscreen on the bridge of the Enterprise. In a moment, both ships will learn that they are held from the planet, and that the field is rapidly draining both ships’ energy reserves. Perhaps the two crews can meet on the surface and work together!

Data likens the Ferengi to Yankee traders, those famed avatars of extreme commerce! Yes, Yankee traders! The Ferengi should not be construed as a recasting of tropes associated with another cultural identity associated with avarice and -- say, is that shiny thing gold?

What’s this? Portal 63 of the Tkon Empire would like a word with you newcomers, here amidst the papier-mache rocks of the planetary surface. Turns out, it’s a lonely thing to be a door left unused for millenia. The door, of course, has the perspicacity to see that the Federation is highly evolved, while the short, capering, large-eared Ferengi are less so.

Armin Shimerman appears for the first time in Trek as Letek, leader of the Ferengi away team. Mike Gomez portrays DaiMon Tarr, the Ferengi captain.

The Great Bird of the Galaxy appears on the navigation console of the Enterprise during the shot illustrating the mysterious scan through of the vessel’s databanks.

Memory Alpha, as is par for these season one episodes, has a great deal more information on the episode and production.

--

Poster’s log:

I was pleasantly surprised to be pleasantly surprised by this episode. I don’t think it’s a retread, and while a great deal of information on Ferengi culture is alluded to and introduced here, for the most part the Ferengi are presented as odd, formidable, and alien, rather than as comedic but menacing foils (although that happens too). The directorial choice of presenting DaiMon Tarr’s head in extreme closeup but behind the Enterprise crew echoes some of the techniques used in both The Prisoner and in the tunnel sequence in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to represent dislocation and propagandistic dominance. I don’t think this is ever used again in TNG; I found it both effective and silly. The dialog makes a throwaway reference to this.

The script gestures hesitantly toward the A/B or even A/B/C plot structure that would become the hallmark of TNG with the introduction of the finger trap business and with the presentation of the crew, Captain Picard, and Dr. Crusher aboard the Enterprise while the away team struggles with the Ferengi and Portal 63 planetside. TOS used this dual-plot technique on several occasions, of course.

Recycled plot elements from TOS include the timeless guardian (Mr. Atoz of All Our Yesterdays, the Guardian of Forever from the City at the Edge of Forever, Losira from That Which Survives) and Riker’s parting gift of the finger traps beamed over to the Ferengi (Scotty's parting gift to the Klingons, of course, from The Trouble with Tribbles). Despite this, this episode felt recognizably like Star Trek but not like plot salad. While I had braced for an uncomfortable and regrettable introduction to the Ferengi, this was actually better than I had remembered or expected. Not perfect, but not terrible.
posted by mwhybark (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Great Bird of the Galaxy link needs fixed.
posted by briank at 8:16 AM on April 17


flagged, thanks
posted by mwhybark at 9:44 AM on April 17


[Fixed!]
posted by cortex at 9:44 AM on April 17


Huh, I guess adding 'Rewatch' to the tags doesn't automagically, erhm, 'make it so'. HOW IS BABBY FORMED
posted by mwhybark at 9:52 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I'm now envisioning a great bird of the galaxy with Cortex's face on it. About the episode I just could not. with the last one. The greatest gen ep was good because for 2 white guys Ben and Adam were more than capable of just fully articulating how shitty last ep was- and they savage the savagable in this one too- but as mentioned, this one actually isn't too terrible. The Ferengi are a good example of one of Roddenberry's terrible terrible ideas actually being sorta salvaged in later years by good writers and actors, and awww baby Shimmerman. Hey at least the Ferengi don't have giant codpieces hiding giant dongs which was what Gene wanted to do with the characters originally! I highly recommend the Greatest Gen ep for this one because Ben and Adam are filmmakers so they also critique how each episode is shot and uh there was some... choices made... in direction this time. If you're gonna watch a season 1 ep, this one's not half bad.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:52 AM on April 17


[Added the Rewatch toggle! For future reference, you set it at post time from the "Discussion type" drop down on the new post page; if you miss it then, can't fix it afterward, just poke a mod as done here.]
posted by cortex at 9:54 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


THANK FOR HOPE MODMAN
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


In the conference room, they use one of those 3-D holographic projection effects that they'll quickly abandon. See also DS9's holo-communicator.

I comPLETEly forgot about Tkon Guy until this rewatch. I also found it awfully strange that Tkon Guy seems to have no reaction whatsoever to Riker's big reveal that "your society has been dead for thousands of years." Somehow he seems much more interested in validating the egos of these Humans. I can only infer that he's a leftover computer program, and not an actual dude.

Also, his makeup makes him look like a Son'a.

The directorial choice of presenting DaiMon Tarr’s head in extreme closeup but behind the Enterprise crew echoes some of the techniques used in both The Prisoner and in the tunnel sequence in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to represent dislocation and propagandistic dominance. I don’t think this is ever used again in TNG; I found it both effective and silly.

I had a similar response to it, and while it's never used again in quite this extreme of a fashion, the bigness of the screen is often used to suggest the person on it being intimidating—which, now that I think of it, DS9 and VOY very rarely did.

I also noticed pretty extreme closeups on Picard himself in this, and IIRC extreme close-ups on the main cast aren't too common in the rest of TNG either. There was one very striking example late in the show where Picard and Riker are in the ready room trying not to discuss something very tense, I think somebody they both care about who's in danger, and the extreme close-up look that they exchange says it all without dialogue. I wanna say it's "Lower Decks" and yet I'm almost positive that's wrong. Maybe "Face of the Enemy"?

Anyway, yeah, the Ferengi were off to a good start with their cool-looking ship and the Big-Headed Big Brother thing on the viewscreen… until they got to the planet and we saw their style of physical movement. I retcon it thus: Tarr's crew were all addicted to some kind of physically and cognitively debilitating narcotic. Even TNG gives us far more dignified Ferengi in the future.

Recycled plot elements from TOS include the timeless guardian

And a recycled plot element from the TNG pilot is the Enterprise being at the mercy of a super-powerful entity until a senior officer can prove the value of humanity to inspire their release. Kinda soon to go back to that type of story, but, I mean, it's Star Trek.

And, hey, it's leaps and bounds better than the last two, so.

For future reference, you set it at post time from the "Discussion type" drop down on the new post page

For me, it appears after I click the "Add Special Spoiler Considerations" text, which enables a "Rewatch" radio button.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 11:21 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


The Great Bird Of The Galaxy is for sure not Gene’s face on a parrot’s body. The toes are wrong. I think it looks more like a pigeon (if you look at the painting it’s based on, the colors are good for pigeon too.) This has been your Bird Accuracy in Pop Culture lesson for the day.
posted by oomny at 11:37 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Is this the instance of the catchphrase ‘Make it so?’ We’ve had ‘engage’, wonder how long until we get a ‘Tea, earl grey, hot’ now.

There’s is a thing going on with the Ferengi here that we also see in the last ep where you have technological sophistication paired with weird cultural backwardness in a way that that doesn’t really feel believable. These Ferengi are space-faring traders, they’ve never met a species with gender equality before? Even the portal guy is all like “win my challenge or be destroyed!” before deciding that actually, these guys are alright. It’s a real Trek, maybe Gene specifically, thing.
posted by rodlymight at 7:07 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit less sanguine about the episode; yeah, the big giant head on the viewscreen (oddly reminiscent of some of the Zoom sessions that I've had over the last few weeks, TBH) was different, and cool ship design, but... the dudes capering around on the planet (and, irritatingly, seeming to have plot armor in their fight, given that there's fewer of them and their gimmicky "energy whips" take just enough wind-up to use that they should have easily been outgunned by the Starfleet officers) swiftly and permanently yanked me out of the story. Armin Shimerman was right; they were "jump[ing] up and down like crazed gerbils." (Incidentally, the link to the Memory Alpha page above just takes me back to this FF page.)

The real problem, though, is some of the background behind the Ferengi. Supposedly, humans have never seen the Ferengi (we know that they actually have, only they just didn't associate the name "Ferengi" with them... ugh, thanks, S1 ENT), but then the Ferengi get compared to "Yankee traders"... I don't know much about the actual historical Yankee traders, but did they always act through intermediaries and refused to show their faces? That's another TOS repeat, really, because it's the same set-up for the Romulans in "Balance of Terror", and in that episode, the revelation works, excellently, because there's only one guy on the ship who looks like them, and he's the first officer. The approach that really works for the Ferengi is that used in DS9, where Quark is outwardly deferential, even friendly, toward customers and potential business partners, although that conceals a rather jaundiced (and often deadly accurate) attitude toward others, especially humans. (I know that it's become something of a cliche in FF Trek threads to hold up DS9 as the sine qua non of Trek series, and they certainly had some stinkers--particularly "Profit and Lace", talking about the Ferengi--but in this case it's certainly justified; they took some pains to think about what the Ferengi would be like as hyper-capitalists, splitting the difference between serious world-building and straight-up satire.) It's totally believable that Shimerman meant Quark to "undo the damage done to the Ferengi in this episode."

I will grant that it wasn't another "Code of Honor" or "The Naked Now", and I have a weakness for stories involving elder races who leave some of their stuff around in working condition.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:02 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Pretty terrible, but not "top 5 worst" terrible.
posted by sugar and confetti at 6:18 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I know that it's become something of a cliche in FF Trek threads to hold up DS9 as the sine qua non of Trek series [...] but in this case it's certainly justified; they took some pains to think about what the Ferengi would be like as hyper-capitalists, splitting the difference between serious world-building and straight-up satire.

Very true, and yet, it seems to me (with the admission that this could be influenced by my sociopolitical leanings) that a hypercapitalist species could have been established as truly scary and reprehensible villains, in the Charles Augustus Milverton or Wilson Fisk sense. I mean, I doubt even DS9 could have evolved the Ferengi to THAT extent—there'd be a vast gap between something like that and what TNG established. But maybe a future season of PIC could do something like that…play off current tensions & make the Ferengi as zeitgeist-y as possible.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:11 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


OK, leaving aside the whole antisemitic stereotyping, is anyone else going to tackle the elephant in the room? The hyper capitalist approach of the Ferengi doesn't work in a world with replicators.

I mean, what are they going to sell? Gems? Food? Cars? All of those are easily duplicated. I mean even in the old series Kirk looked contemptuously at a handful of diamonds and said "We can replicate a ton of these." the basis for cash exchange breaks down quickly in that case.

There are probably a very few raw materials where you can't replicate them- antimatter or strangelets for instance. But as for the rest, I suppose information would be the primary good, and possibly charging use fees for a process or reference. But that quickly breaks down when people are like, well, the Ferengi. Alternatively, one-off cultural artifacts or artwork could be traded, where the actual value is the authentication. And in Trek, there's special problems- one transporter mishap and now there's two Mona Lisas, or she's painted with a goatee.

I mean they had to go and invent a non-replicatablecurrency, just for the Ferengi to have something to covet. Which still doesn't make much sense.
posted by happyroach at 9:51 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


(Incidentally, the link to the Memory Alpha page above just takes me back to this FF page.)

Huh, the other link up there was malformed in the same way. cortex! Hey, cortex! halp!

I composed this in gdocs on an iPad, guess I need to run them through a straight text editor next time. How could inbound links pasted into the post-composition box have the URL of a post that has yet to be created prepended? A preview bug maybe?

No, no, must be time travel.
posted by mwhybark at 9:59 AM on April 18


[Fixed!]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:03 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Not every culture had replicators. I can't quote you chapter and verse, but it was made clear that the galaxy had cultures at all stages, and even some of the ones with warp capability didn't have replicators yet. Humans didn't yet during the era of Enterprise – they've become aware of them (they visit a space station that has one, and somebody guesses what it is – can't recall the details) but they don't have them, so the NX-01 has a galley and a cook.

Also, some cultures may have produced things that couldn't be replicated. Sisko gives his girlfriend a piece of Tholian silk, which he says (again, from memory) he acquired after doing someone a favour. Presumably he didn't just magic it up out of a replicator.

So I think it's fair to guess that basic food and functional objects could be replicated, but there would've been a whole other trade in rare objects, delicate handicrafts, medical supplies, fancy food and drink, that would've been exchanged for favours, or in barter between cultures, or bought and sold for latinum.
posted by zadcat at 10:13 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


The hyper capitalist approach of the Ferengi doesn't work in a world with replicators.

The subject of Trek economics has come up often enough in the blue that there have been multiple FPPs about it; here's one, and here's another more recent one. The short version of the explanation:

1) You were correct that not everything can be replicated, and generally speaking any element or particle that Trek makes up is probably in that category, including the stuff that makes warp drive work. Thus, there are still planetary mining operations (DS9 is based in a former ore-processing station), trade in strategic materials, etc.

2) Replicators themselves have limitations; most replicators can't be replicated (with the exception of self-replicating mines in DS9, presumably an exception because they are simply replicating the same thing over and over again), and the larger industrial replicators (about the size of a walk-in closet) are considered strategic resources.

3) They don't have an effectively infinite energy supply.

4) That doesn't really address the service economy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:33 AM on April 18


5) P.S. It also doesn't address real estate, aka Why Does Sisko's Dad Get to Have a Restaurant in the French Quarter, Aside From the Likely Fact That He's a Really Good Cook.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:47 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


It’s totally reasonable to be concerned by and aware of how problematic the Ferengi are over the whole arc of their appearances on the show, specifically from the standpoint of concern about how they function as a collection point for antisemitic tropes. In this episode, the script telegraphs an awareness of that concern via misdirection likening them to the waspiest of WASPs, a group noted for historic antisemitism themselves (sorry, WASPs). But the only time I noted a specific image associated with antisemitism being deployed was the cringe-worthy shot of a Ferengi hand creepily grasping toward a comm badge. Someone who is of Jewish cultural heritage and/or more attuned to the deployment of antisemitic tropes may well note more instances in this episode.

Since those were the only two instances where I could see this specific problematic aspect of the characterization of the Ferengi referenced in this episode, I felt maybe we could hold off on a deeper examination of that until the next Ferengi appearance, “The Battle”, the season’s ninth episode.

I don’t think we ever really attempted an analysis of them from that perspective in depth in the DS9 threads, although I do remember discussing it in the context of Trek’s problematic conceptualizations of and use of the term “race”, which is often used interchangeably, and with rhetorical inaccuracy, to mean “species” on the show, with respect to sentient beings. This was common usage in the US all the way through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and I am sure is still employed unselfconsciously by many.

So it’s reasonable to note and acknowledge this problematic aspect of the characterization of the Ferengi. Yes, they exhibit antisemitic tropes, and it is a failing of the show.

I do also want to look at Worf and Klingons from a similar perspective, and we’ll have to look at Geordi too, but there will be episodes devoted to these topics and that seems like the right place to initiate those discussions.
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I would have been more impressed with the Ferengi if they hadn’t been portrayed as reflexively duplicitous capering goons who can’t read a room when there lives are on the line. You could do something interesting with a group of aliens who had an ideology so different from that of the Federation (ie Capitalism) where the sides can’t understand each other. The Ferengi would assume scarcity and conflict, where the Federation would assume plenty and cooperation. They should generally feel dangerous, but Riker at least went from fear and wariness to easy condescension in one episode. Poor Ferengi! Well, if the stink of antisemitism didn’t hang about them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:22 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


happyroach asked:

OK, leaving aside the whole antisemitic stereotyping, is anyone else going to tackle the elephant in the room? The hyper capitalist approach of the Ferengi doesn't work in a world with replicators.

In August 2000, I was reading someone's blog and I saw that he'd asked that question -- specifically, he asked:
On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, did they ever deal with the fact that gold-pressed latinum and all the other goodies for which the Ferengi sweat and cheat and lie can simply be obtained from a replicator for the trouble of asking for it?
I had not previously emailed this writer, whose blog I had enjoyed for a while, but here I actually had something potentially useful to tell him. And so I sent him a note telling him that a branded novel had said: if you try to replicate gold-pressed latinum you just end up with regular latinum.

Today I was sitting next to that writer on a couch because we are now married -- in fact, today is our wedding anniversary. We were looking at FanFare together and came across this question and laughed and I said "[happyroach] wants to marry me!" and Leonard said "can't; you're snapped up!"

So: this is a fruitful line of inquiry, but possibly not in the way you expect. Be aware.
posted by brainwane at 4:10 PM on April 21 [13 favorites]


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