11/20/12

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Last Outpost"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S01E05
Air Date: October 9, 1987
Written by: Herbert Wright and Richard Krzemien
Directed by: Richard Colla

Premise
While chasing down some Ferengi, the Enterprise gets stuck over a dead planet and is forced to interact with the big-eared pirate gerbils.

Review
The Enterprise is playing cops and robbers, chasing down a Ferengi vessel suspected of stealing an energy converter from a UFP world, Gamma Tauri IV. It doesn't take long until the Ferengi get stuck. They drop to sub-light speeds and then turn around and fire on the Enterprise... she suffers minimal damage. Atta girl. Picard doesn't fire back 'cause he's all diplomatic and such, but soon the Enterprise also gets stuck and systems start going offline. Was it the Ferengi weapon that did this or what? Only one way to find out... open hailing frequencies.

First Data summarizes what the Federations knows about the Ferengi since this is the first time the Federation will have ever made visual contact with them. (Though not the first time an Enterprise has encountered them...) As far as the Federation knows, they are most likened unto the Yankee traders of the 18th and 19th centuries, and they value profit above all. I say they're pirates. Geordi has a plan to bolt out of the trap, so Picard intends to distract the Ferengi by asking for their stuff back while Geordi prepares.
"Ferengi vessel; can you recommend a good dentist?"
Well, the plan doesn't work. And what's more, their databanks are being accessed from an unknown source. Clearly there's something bigger than the Ferengi going on here. And that planet over there is a lot bigger than a Ferengi. (Although, that's not saying much.) After shooing away a couple of kids (because there are families on the ship now, lest we forget) the senior officers have a meeting about the planet and Data gets his fingers stuck in a Chinese finger trap. Picard helps the logical android out of the children's toy and then he goes on to describe how the planet used to belong to the Tkon Empire which existed 600,000 years ago, but was destroyed by a supernova. A probe confirms that both ships are being held by a force field emanating from the planet.

Picard contacts the Ferengi and tries to convince them to come together to help solve their mutual problem. Teams from each ship end up beaming down to the planet, but crystals on the planet surface scatter the transporter beams and separate everyone, leaving Geordi hanging upside down from a nearby tree. As they slowly come together, the Ferengi show up and whip the Starfleet officers into shape. Or into unconsciousness. Whatever. They have these crazy phaser whips that stun them.
Yes, use your whips on the black guy hanging from a tree.
That'll show 'em how progressive you are.
So the away team gets in a fight with the Ferengi and the Ferengi show surprise that Yar, a female, is working together with the males. While they're bickering, thunder claps from above and the Ferengi with sensitive ears go crazy. A strange energy builds up and gathers around a couple of pillars. It forms itself into a face and speaks. It introduces itself as Tim Portal 63, a guardian of the Tkon Empire. He takes a more human-looking form and then accuses both parties of being barbaric and stupid. The Ferengi try to defend themselves by saying how the Humans don't use money and ignore profit and work with females. You can imagine how these arguments fall on deaf ears.

Portal 63 then turns to Riker and gives him a riddle to solve. He waves around his magical spear thinggie around and stops it two inches from Riker's face and Riker doesn't even flinch. Clearly Riker isn't afraid of razors. He tells Portal 63 that Fear is the only enemy and Portal 63 says "I like you." They go for a quick walk while the Ferengi bounce around them like rabid gerbils. Portal 63 says he can kill the Ferengi if Riker wants, but Riker opts for the non-killing route so that they'll "learn something". Instead, Riker asks Portal 63 to return power to the ships and he does.
Looks like Picard was in the middle of something...
When all is said and done, the energy converter that the Ferengi stole is returned to the Enterprise, as the Chinese finger traps that Data had such a hard time figuring out is sent over to the Ferengi as a thank-you. I suspect they were a much lesser nuisance than the tribbles were to the Klingons.

Overall Thoughts
This episode functions well as an introduction to the Ferengi, even if they didn't turn out how it was originally intended for them to turn out. The Ferengi were to be the new Klingons - the main bad guys of the series - but no one took them seriously, so they were demoted to an occasional antagonistic comic relief. It's a shame we never hear anything more about the Tkon Empire or find any more Portals, but I guess such is the nature of episodic stories. This episode was actually pretty good and a welcome relief from the stumbling around in the first couple episodes. Thumbs up all around.