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The Last Outpost

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 9, 2007 - 7:29 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Last Outpost' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While pursuing a Ferengi vessel believed to be carrying a stolen energy converter, the Enterprise loses all power in orbit of an uncharted planet. Believing that the Ferengi have weapons previously unknown to Starfleet, Picard at first tries to negotiate, then offers to surrender to save his crew, but the Ferengi mistakenly believe that Picard is asking for their surrender because they are suffering from the same power loss. Both ships send away teams to the planet, with the Ferengi initially promising cooperation but then attempting to ambush the Starfleet crew. When both groups find the energy from their weapons drained, a projection calling itself the Portal appears, identifying itself as the guardian of this outpost of the Tkon Empire, which is long extinct. Unimpressed by Ferengi bragging and threats to the Starfleet officers, the Portal asks Riker a riddle, and his impressive reply leads the Portal to free both ships and insist that the Ferengi return the energy converter stolen from the Federation.

Analysis: "The Last Outpost" isn't a particularly awful episode; it just isn't a particularly good one. Had it featured the original series cast, it would have fit right into that show's early third season, with special effects that look rather cheesy by modern standards but a fairly typical alien-misunderstanding plot. Since this is first season Next Gen, however, we are treated to two talky conferences in which Picard tries to figure out how each of his officers would solve the crisis, then an offer of surrender. When did Kirk ever ask Sulu how he would deal with an alien threat, let alone offer to surrender without a certain amount of posturing? If the writers' goals included demonstrating that Picard is a very different sort of captain than Kirk, they've succeeded by this point in the series, but we're not yet seeing the admirable negotiator and tactician; Picard mostly comes across looking skittish, and his failure to beam down with the away team doesn't help matters.

This is not a particularly laudable outing for the women on the crew. The female engineering chief remains invisible while LaForge comes up with a plan to get the ship up to speed. Troi is remarkably quiet, mentioning that the Ferengi are hiding something only after that's obvious to the entire bridge crew. Yar is yet again forced to prove that she's nobody's passive female, threatening to show those Ferengi who think women should be silent and naked exactly what she thinks of their innuendo. And Crusher's big scene involves trying to snuggle with Jean-Luc while the crew faces hypothermia. Then again, it's not a particularly laudable outing for anyone except possibly Riker, who shows a familiarity with the writings of Sun Tzu that I can't recall him ever citing in later seasons.

The Ferengi are the first aliens introduced on the series who seem likely to become recurring adversaries, since the Klingons are now allies and the aliens in the previous episodes have been mainly planet-bound. We're told first that they are famed capitalists like 18th-19th century Yankee traders, which Riker compares to his forebears, but then Data warns that they have the worst qualities of early Americans - let the buyer beware - rather than standing for the red, white and blue or Uncle Sam. (Funniest moment in the episode, despite Data's increasingly annoying attempts to learn humor by bringing a Chinese finger trick to a crucial conference: Worf growling, "Uncle Who?" Considering that Picard cannot tolerate children, it's remarkable that he lets Data get away with this.)

Riker must have studied records of Kirk challenging god-like beings by telling them that they and their ideologies are extinct, because he handles the Portal much the way Kirk handled Apollo, the Vians, etc. Worf is eager to try to kick the powerful alien's crystals, but Riker correctly knows who will triumph by knowing when to fight and when not to fight: he who knows that fear is the true enemy. He isn't intimidated by the Portal, nor does he try to negotiate with it, and for that, he is granted control of his ship and asked, "Arena"-like, what should be done with the Ferengi. Again Riker gives the right answer, in classic Kirk style, saying that if the Portal destroys the Ferengi then they will have learned nothing, and Federation values require that they be allowed to grow, even if they might grow into a deadly enemy.

It's a nice speech, but it doesn't really resolve anything in a satisfactory manner. The Portal, it must be noted, speaks like a Monty Python caricature ("What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?") and dresses like one as well, so it isn't hard for Riker to look impressive by comparison to him and to the subdued Picard. And what makes Riker think the Ferengi have learned anything from the encounter, since they refuse to return the energy converter until the Portal threatens them? Why no mention of Earth's own experiences with capitalism run rampant and Riker's own forebears?

There's a bit of witty "Trouble With Tribbles"-like ending, in which Riker asks for permission to give Data's Chinese finger puzzles to the Ferengi as a thank-you, but little to suggest that the Ferengi will ever grow into the kind of intriguing half-ally, half-adversary who will produce Quark, Rom and all the colorful Deep Space Nine characters. Here they just look silly, waving their whips around - there's a particularly amusing phallic moment when one whip sticks straight out, to its owner's surprise - and dancing like a caricature of monkeys. There's nothing really embarrassing about "The Last Outpost" as there is in "The Naked Now" and "Code of Honor" but there's nothing to suggest brilliance or originality, either.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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