Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: The Last Outpost

The Next GenerationSeason 1
"The Last Outpost"
Airdate: October 19, 1987
6 of 176 produced
4 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is in pursuit of a Ferengi vessel which has stolen some equipment from a Federation outpost. The incident will provide the opportunity for the first face to face meeting with the Ferengi, a race that up to now is shrouded in rumor and hearsay. Chasing the Ferengi to a planet in the distant Delphi Ardu system, both ships become trapped in a mysterious force field that is draining the ships of energy. Does the planet below hold the key their predicament? Will the Enterprise be able to avoid combat with the Ferengi? Will the Ferengi turn out to  be TNG's answer to the Klingons?
Given the giant blue marital aids... I'm guessing no.


Kevin: There are two major plot elements here, and it helps to analyze them separately. First, we have the introduction of what is supposed to serve as the primary, Klingon-style enemy for TNG, and there's no way to sugarcoat this, but they failed. I'll get to the acting and styling choices later, and I think they do bear the lion's share of the responsibility for that failure, but the writing is not blameless. The Ferengi could have been portrayed as the alien from Alien as performed by Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds, and the Ferengi would still fail as arch-villains. They stole an...energy converter....oooh, that's some evil right there. Also, the Ferengi being described as Yankee traders was a little much. I understand that it makes sense to cast the villain for TNG's Federation as people obsessed with profit. Of all the Federation qualities to present an opposition to, this one probably had the most meat to it, in theory. In practice, it comes off as one more heavy-handed sermon about we stupid 20th Century humans and our foolish ways.

Matthew: The sermonizing aspect wasn't helped by lengthy conversations dissertating on how CAR-AAAZY the humans of the 20th century were, what with their nation states, flags, obsessions with profit, and that the Ferengi were "much like we once were." Putting your villain in the "old-fashioned simpleton" box right from the start isn't the best way to ratchet up the tension.

Kevin: The second plot element is the T'Kon outpost and the trapped Enterprise. I will say, with a few qualifications, that this part of the episode succeeds for me. Star Trek has certainly mined some good drama out of showing its characters think their way out of a fight and extol the virtues of a peaceful solution. I liked Riker's exchange with the Portal. It had a similar tone to Picard defending humanity to Q in Encounter at Farpoint, which helps establish humanity's personal as opposed to technological growth as a theme of the show.

Matthew: The T'Kon Empire should have been the main thread of the episode. 100,000 year-old extinct stellar empires? Sign me up for that story. Just the words alone conjure up visions of amazing sci-fi/fantasy adventures. The problem as developed here is one of consistency. If they were big and powerful enough that they could "move stars," how did a nova in their central system destroy them? Must be one of those galaxy threatening supernovae from the J.J. Abrams' Textbook of Dumb-Ass Astronomy... Maybe the T'Kon were behind the Dyson Sphere from "Relics?"

Kevin: The episode also had some nice character moments. Picard and Crusher in the family quarters was nice. Though I don't understand why she would leave her son to die alone, but that's just me. I think the Data fingertrap gag was labored, but I thought Geordi's reaction was pretty good. I thought Yar and Worf are still coming off as one-note. Nothing has tempered their "just shoot it" attitude, and it's starting to make them both look out of place on the bridge, since no one ever agrees with that suggestion.

Matthew: There is the question of how quickly a ship like the Enterprise would really see its crew die without power. Assuming that it is airtight, the air itself shouldn't go bad for weeks. Cold seems the more likely problem - which was depicted on screen. But less than a day? Come on. Just what do they have insulating this ship? And why are people huddled in rooms with windows? Seems like they should go to the stardrive section, or to sickbay, some sort of central location. Trek-Science-wise, I really question the whole "Geordi beaming upside down" thing. If a transporter beam were scattered, why would it stay coherent? It's not like a flashlight being reflected by a mirror. My understanding is that the computer disassembles the object on one end and reassembles it on the other end. Shouldn't it need to know where that end is?  Wouldn't people just die? Why would they all materialize within 6 feet of the surface, not above or below the surface? Why wasn't Geordi's leg cut off by the rock?

Kevin: And one more gripe. How do two kids get into the observation lounge? It's one door from the bridge, people. Is there no security on this ship?

Matthew: Yes, you would think that, even if there were an unwatched hallway between the turbolift and the lounge, that the turbolift would require a voiceprint or an executive key or something to get to the penthouse of the Enterprise Hotel. Also, I just want to point out the funniest line in the script: Worf shouting "Pygmy Cretins!" during the fight with the Ferengi. Half racist, half insensitive to the mentally challenged, half incongruous, 150% hilarious.


Kevin: The Enterprise crew does a pretty good job, all told. I think the presence of the fingertrap joke is stupid, but I think Spiner acted it perfectly. I get the impression the writers found in The Naked Now that Data was a pretty gifted comedian, and started writing jokes to serve that and not the story. Beyond that, nothing really stands out in either direction.

Matthew: The Data comedy here worked, as opposed to the Sherlock stuff in "Lonely Among Us." This was a good Riker outing. He is portrayed as both a man of action and a man of ideas, similar to Kirk. Frakes did a good job. I want to also point out LeVar Burton's silly line reading... "whoo whee!" Yet again, he gets to be chief engineer. I guess he has that sort of techie air and the ability to deliver Technobabble. I also liked Darryl Henriques as Portal. It was a very tropey sci-fi character, to be sure, but he played it well. There was an air of mystery and power about him.

Kevin: On the Ferengi side, eeesh. No two ways around it, this was a travesty. It pains me deeply to say anything bad about Armin Shimerman, who is arguably one of the most gifted actors of this age, but...yeah..."eesh" is all I got. The jumping up and down and hissing robbed them of any real threat. They are comical at best, and really not even that. Their scenes were painful to watch, particularly their interaction with the Portal. I was rooting for him to destroy them.

Matthew: Yeah, if the line readings hadn't done it, the hand gestures sealed the deal. Actually, Shimerman was the best of the three. He had a deviousness that would come back in later Ferengi he would play.

Production Values

Kevin: In the plus column, there was some clear effort put into the Ferengi Marauder. They must have intended to use it a lot, because the level of detail is obvious. Overall, I like the design. The only flaw I see is the neck extension thingy. It's too subtle for television. It wasn't until this most recent viewing I actually noticed the neck extend. It's a neat idea, but it needs to be bigger on the screen.

Matthew: Having had a poster of the Ferengi marauder up in my childhood bedroom, I am a fan of the design. Along with the Romulan Warbird, it's one of the better TNG "villain" ship designs. It has a dramatic reveal with the "saucer" posterior and the more feral front.

Kevin: As for the Ferengi themselves, I can only quote Armin Shimerman himself from a recent Star Trek convention I attended. It's not Westmore's best work. By DS9, they will soften everything a little, and when given the chance, Shimerman can act through the makeup and imbue with remarkable personality, but between the ears, the teeth and the, I'm just gonna say it, butt-head, these guys are not intimidating. They're not even comical. They're just odd looking. The Ferengi could have overcome a bad script to remain villains. The combination of the acting and the makeup sealed their fate as comic relief for the balance of TNG.

Matthew: You know, I kind of liked the makeup and costumes. Well, besides the blue dildo-whips, that is. I thought the look with the fur was pretty good. The makeup was a cut above the other Season One aliens (Anticans and Selay, anyone?), even if it wasn't up the the level of later headpieces. I think the main issue with the visual look of the Ferengi was simply the actors' diminutive stature. I get that they were trying to play against type, and I want to appreciate the choice. But they'd have to do everything else right in order to overcome the ultra-short villains.

Kevin: We get the first shot of what will become the pool table in Engineering, so that makes me happy. I also really liked the holographic display table, and wished they used it more often.

Matthew: The holo-display was an interesting novelty. It looked pretty good, especially for the time. They must have ditched it because it was too expensive to do regularly. Mike Okuda did some neat design work on the graphics and the T'Kon insignia, too. The not-to-scale diagram of the planet and ships wasn't as good, though.


Kevin: Overall, the episode kept me basically entertained. Once we got past the Ferengi stuff on the planet, the scene with the Portal was pretty well done, and some classic TOS storytelling. This episode squeaks into a 3 for me. There is just enough there to keep the disaster of the Ferengi from sinking the whole episode.

Matthew: I agree that this sneaks into 3 territory. But I actually think it is due to the unintentional comedy of the Ferengi. It might have been a bit on the boring side without the "so bad it's good" comedy. This episode  has enough good stuff to make the bad stuff laughable as opposed to excruciating, a la "Code of Honor." It's too bad that the Ferengi were a big whiff as an antagonist, but they turned out OK in the end. Anyway, that makes for a 6, a solidly average episode.


  1. I will say that this version of the Ferengi was the worst and that the Ferengi definitely develop the most over the course of the franchise.

    What always bothers me about Trek is the constant unwavering characterization of each alien species. What happens to the intelligent and competent Ferengis? Do Klingon artists and poets also carry a dozen weapons? What about the Romulan who could barely understand checkers let alone chess?

    I understand that Trek alien species have always set out to be metaphors of earth political and economic systems. But, it's nice to see that diversity and changes over time happen to other societies. Though, clearly there is an overtone that less dictatorial societies (like the Federation) are more apt to have significantly more change than empires do.
    This is also shown in lack of intra-societal variation in alien ship designs.

    That being said, the Marauder is an awesome ship, my understanding of which is that it can outrun the Enterprise D. It makes me want a Marauder Moe action figure!!

    Also, about the finger trap scene, I like it. I know that there is difference between what is said in the shows and what is said in the books, but there are moments in the books that suggest that data does things (like the finger trap) intentionally to come across less threatening which helps him engage socially.

  2. Oh, one more gripe. I LOVE stories wherein there are ancient societies far older than ours. But why is it that there are so little to no traces of the vast societies. The T'Kon are a prime example. Yes, not only does the nova plot not make sense, but like... EVERY T'Kon citizen vanished over time, no descendants??

    Look how much space is occupied by Humans, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, etc. after only something like 5,000 to 10,000 years. The Bajoran society is clearly well over 10,000 years old, yet they seem possibly to have never left their planet (or at least their system) until the Cardassians.

    But the T'Kon, the Dyson sphere builders, the Gateway builders - they've left almost nothing behind??

    I like to pretend there is another confederation of more-advanced societies that make first contact after say maybe, you learn faster than Warp 10 travel, and then you go with them to another part of the universe to let the rest of us suss it all out. Maybe that's part of what the Q do.

  3. There is nothing faster than Warp 10. You just turn into a salamander and do it with Captain Janeway.

  4. HD highlights from the Blu-Ray:
    1. the new compositing on the holoprojector scenes in the conference room. Totally clean and crisp, instead of muddy video compositing.
    2. The Ferengi ship. Wow! Movie quality.

    HD lowlights:
    The panning shot on the surface of Riker saying "anybodyyyyy..." It almost looks like they couldn't find the original negatives, but since they didn't say so, I guess the shot was just too challlenging for whatever film stock or camera they wewre using originally. It's muddy and juddery.