Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Unicorner. Her continuing mission to recap every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To seek out new lulz and new fun times. To boldly go where many have recapped before but nobody as cool as she.
The Rules, you know the drill:
- For every heartfelt and affecting moment in Data’s quest to be human, there’s way too many painfully awkward/unfunny ones.
- The competence of the Enterprise crew varies greatly depending on plot requirements.
- For a scifi show, some of this tech is dated as fuck.
- Wesley is the Gary-est Stu to ever Stu.
- Pop culture ended in 1987.
- Though TNG is a feminist show in many ways, it has some hella sexist moments.
- As progressive as Star Trek usually is, there’s some racist ass shit up in here.
- TNG writers should never, ever attempt humor. Ever.
- When it comes to distancing this utopian future from present day, holy overcompensation, Batman!
- Star Trek is kind of a mess when it comes to LGBT representation or lack thereof.
One more thing: if you’ve decided to watch TNG and follow along with my recaps, a) congrats on this excellent life decision b) beware potential spoilers, as I may occasionally comment on developments later in the series.
You might remember the Ferengi from the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint.” They were only mentioned briefly, but were made to sound menacing. I didn’t recap this, but Picard told Zorn, “Let’s hope they find you as tasty as their last associates.” Of course, he might’ve been bullshitting as a negotiation tactic, but the point is the Ferengi were being positioned as a mysterious new alien and possible big bad. Remember this, because in “The Last Outpost,” we meet the Ferengi for the first time.
We’re off to a Treknobabble-heavy start as Picard’s VO informs us of the Enterprise’s latest mission: to intercept a Ferengi vessel and recover a “T-9 energy converter” that the Ferengi stole from a monitoring post. Not exactly the best first impression. At this point, the Federation know nothing about the Ferengi outside of rumors and should the Enterprise catch up to them, it could be first contact.
The chase brings both vessels to an unexplored system, where the Ferengi vessel slows due to a malfunction in their engine. LaForge says sarcastically, “Breaks my heart.” I guess LaForge feels really strongly about stealing. He’s kind of all over the place in this episode, as you’ll soon see. I forget how hammy and cartoonish the early episodes are until I do another rewatch. Apparently this characterization thing was tricky for the early season writers.
Picard is impressed by the design of the Ferengi ship, and our resident infodumper Data infodumps that the Ferengi are estimated as about equal to the Federation in technical advancement. The Ferengi vessel fires on the Enterprise a few times, but the shields prevent it from doing any real damage. Picard recommends falling back but the ship keeps moving forward. Picard’s like “The fuck? Who’s asleep at the switch?” and LaForge is like “Lemme quote Shaggy and say it wasn’t me!” Given the quality of the dialogue in this episode, if I didn’t know Shaggy’s opus dropped 13 years after this was written I could believe LaForge actually said that.
The ship’s systems all start powering down, leaving them adrift. Riker believes they may have underestimated the Ferengi’s technological capabilities, and Picard fears they may have flown into a trap. Ruh-roh!
Credits roll, and we’re back on the immobilized Enterprise. Picard attempts to contact engineering and gets no answer, so he sends LaForge as his messenger boy. Troi senses nothing, suggesting that the Ferengi may be able to shield their thoughts and emotions. Picard solicits more info from Data, even if it requires sifting through all the rumors for any common thread. Eventually, Data does find one—the Ferengi are traders, compared by “modern scholars” to the “ocean-going Yankee traders of of 18th and 19th-century America.”
RIKER: And are these scholars saying the Ferengi may not be unlike us?
DATA: Hardly, sir. I believe the analogy refers to the worst quality of capitalists. The Ferengi are believed to conduct their affairs of commerce on the ancient principle of caveat emptor. “Let the buyer beware.”
So the answer’s yes, then.
RIKER: Yankee traders, I like the sound of that.
DATA: Well, sir, I doubt they wear red, white, and blue or look anything like Uncle Sam.
I’m calling a #1 here because honestly? That is a bizarre description. Furthermore, how would Data know about a pop cultural figure like Uncle Sam and not what “snoop” means?
LaForge still isn’t back from engineering, so Picard sends Riker to go get him. Worf asks who Uncle Sam is and Yar wants to know what “bright primary colors” have to do with anything. White’s a primary color now? I see public education is still in shambles in the 24th century. Picard explains that the flag colors came from a time when nations competed with each other, sup #9. It’s time for Data to take a (info) dump again, and he rattles off a laundry list of flag colors until Picard tells him to shut the fuck up. #1, #8
In engineering, LaForge explains to Riker how the force field is holding the Enterprise in place. There’s a lot of Treknobabble before LaForge breaks it down:
LAFORGE: See, we push, and they push back with equal force, sir.
Science at its finest.
According to LaForge, there’s a 0.372 millisecond delay as the Ferengi force field compensates for increases in the Enterprise’s power. Riker asks LaForge what the ship’s acceleration delay is between “slow-reverse impulse and top warp speed,” and the dramatic music playing in the background assures us that this is going to be a Plot Point. Shit, I’m going to add another rule:
11. Dramatic music always informs us when we’ve hit a Plot Point.
This is a stupid rule, I admit, but I’m easily amused.
LaForge answers that it’s 0.300 milliseconds. Once he figures out where Riker is going with this, he basically loses his shit.
LAFORGE: We shift down, then kick hard into warp 9. Yeah, come back fighting. Whoo-ee!
He punctuates this declaration with an emphatic fist pump. Geordi, bro, I think it’s time to lay off the space weed.
LaForge starts barking orders at a peon, leaning over him and putting his hands on the guy’s shoulders like he’s going to give him a back rub or some shit. I see sexual harassment in the workplace rules have relaxed a lot by the 24th century. LaForge is just way too excited. Here I was thinking Wesley had too much time on his hands.
Riker returns to the bridge to explain LaForge’s plan to Picard.
PICARD: I wish I knew what they were thinking over there.
I feel like he’s mentally adding, “We would if SOME Betazoids could read Ferengis’ thoughts!” Because I’m too impatient to explain this shit when it actually comes up, we eventually learn that some species, for whatever reason, cannot be read by Betazoids. So it’s not like it’s Troi’s fault or anything. The way her initial comments were phrased, though, sounds like the Ferengi are canny and sophisticated enough to shield their thoughts from empaths, but… we’ll see.
Riker suspects the Ferengi are wondering what to do next. Well, shit, son. We got ourselves a new counselor! Worf wants to fight, but Picard says there’s nothing shameful in a strategic retreat, either. Speak for yourself, asshole. I said I’d recap every TNG episode and you don’t see my ass retreating from the shitty ones, do you? LaForge returns to the bridge, having restored communications to engineering. Picard hails the Ferengi demanding the return of their T-9 thingamabobber, then turns to Riker as if to ask approval or something.
PICARD: Sometimes, Riker, the best way to fight is not to be there.
RIKER: Yes, sir. “He will triumph who knows when to fight and not to fight.”
The quoting of Sun Tzu is a recurring motif in this episode, but contributes very little and is never brought up again.
So they try LaForge’s plan and it fails. Picard is like, “merde.” No, I’m not making shit up, he really says that. I guess it’s better than the goofy made-up cuss words scifi shows usually use to get around the censors. Though it would’ve amused me if everyone on here swore in French like the characters in Firefly swore in Chinese, except at least this show has an actual French character.
Data’s console starts freaking the fuck out. Data calls Picard over and tells him that someone’s reading every bit of info in the Enterprise’s memory banks. Riker’s probably sweating right about now because if anyone has some kinky shit on his computer, it’s him. Troi gets a brainwave and is like, “We’re so busy with the Ferengi, what about the planet?” Picard orders Data to find all the info he can about this planet on galactic wikipedia while he gathers the remaining crew into the conference room.
Picard opens the floor to suggestions. Yar and Worf want to muster up all the firepower they have and fuck some Ferengi shit up, but Picard vetoes the idea. Troi suggests talking to the Ferengi. Picard’s like, we did that. Troi replies, “But did we tell them anything they wanted to hear?” Shit y’all, the Ferengi really are Americans! Picard should tell them he’ll make the galaxy great again. The meeting ends soon after but Picard detains Riker, asking his input on the option that “leads to total annihilation.” The Drumpf jokes really write themselves at this point. Riker’s like “the fuck?” and walks off looking disturbed. I honestly have no idea what this bit of dialogue was all about, and it’s never visited again.
Picard returns to the bridge and hails the Ferengi again, pretending to surrender. Yar and Worf suggest Picard fire on the Ferengi ship with their remaining power before the shields lower. Picard tells them to hold off for a bit longer. Just before the ship runs out of juice, a goofy voice broadcasts over the comm that he wants to discuss terms. Picard’s like, “who dis?” and the voice replies, “I am Tarr, daimon of the Ferengi.” Apparently, daimons are their answer to captains. Tarr seems to think the Enterprise is negotiating the Ferengis’ surrender, which means that the latter are actually in the same predicament. Picard puts Tarr on hold and has LaForge launch a sensor probe.
Getting back to Tarr, Picard is like, “Visual or GTFO.” Tarr tells him visual communication is against the Ferengis’ custom, but Picard’s like, “Bitch you’re on my turf now, do you wish to withdraw your surrender?” Tarr reluctantly agrees to switch on space Facetime if the Enterprise does the same. Picard agrees, and suddenly a huge image of Tarr’s face shows up on the viewscreen.
TARR: The ugliness of the human was not an exaggeration.
Clearly, someone must’ve shown Tarr that really embarrassing US president elect from a couple centuries back that nobody ever talks about anymore.
Tarr says he’ll return the T-9 whatever and offer the lives of the second officers as per the “Ferengi code.” Troi looks appropriately horrified, while Data mutters, “Fortunately Starfleet has no such rules involving its second officers.” Hurr hurr. I won’t #8 this though because while it’s stupid, it’s not flat-out painful like the Uncle Sam convo. I’m still having war flashbacks to that. Picard says he’ll discuss the terms with his crew and tells Tarr to stand by.
Riker enters the conference room and quickly shoos a couple of kids out before the rest of the crew walk in. Um, why are a couple random kids playing around in a room so close to the main bridge? Where are their parents? I don’t want to make another galactic Babysitter’s Club joke but where is the galactic Babysitter’s Club? And why is there so little security presence on such an important part of the ship, for that matter? Yar, you slackin.’
The bridge crew gather in the conference room where Data briefs them on the planet, all the while getting his fingers stuck in some Chinese finger trap. Because Data the walking wikipedia can’t figure out a Chinese finger trap, hurr hurr! #1, #7 This planet used to be the center of a massive galactic empire called the Tkon, but they’ve been extinct for 600,000 Earth years. This is kind of cool, actually, in the sense of the vastness of the universe. Like this entire civilization that once numbered in the trillions is now gone, and all that’s left is some holographic map thing Data calls up from a computer console. It’s quite humbling. Almost as humbling as the fact that we’re really supposed to be amused by an android messing with a fucking Chinese finger trap.
Picard seems about as amused by all this as we are, which is not at all, and tells Data to knock that shit off and continue the briefing. Data can’t figure out how to free himself, so Picard finally reaches over and gets Data’s fingers out of the trap. Data infodumps that the Tkon Empire was highly advanced, even having the ability to move stars. And holy shit, Brent Spiner’s eyes are red here. I can’t imagine those primitive 80s contacts were very comfortable but my eyes are stinging with sympathy pain. Data believes this planet might have been a Tkon outpost.
Yar interrupts this little powwow to inform Picard they’ve received a signal from the prob. Picard has her route the signal into the conference room. A holographic image of the planet and the two ships appears, with lines indicating that the force field holding them both originates from the planet’s surface. LaForge whistles and says, “Incredible!” I’m genuinely starting to wonder if there are narcotics in that VISOR.
Picard asks Data how the Tkon Empire ended, and the latter replies that their sun went supernova. Picard asks if this planet could’ve escaped that, but Data replies that the ship’s sensors give no life form readings. Picard wants to send an away team down to the planet. Riker’s like, “But what about the Ferengi?” Picard suggests teaming up with the Ferengi to investigate the planet. This should end well!
Picard hails the Ferengi vessel to float the idea of joining forces. To the surprise of absolutely no one, it does not go smoothly. Data whispers “Yankee trader,” and Tarr is like, “Da fuck is a Yankee trader?” and then LaForge whispers to Data, “He heard that!” Uh, no shit, LaForge. What are you all, twelve? Picard and Tarr bicker back and forth about the T-9 doohickey until Picard steers (or more like forcibly yanks) the subject back to their mutual predicament. Tarr eventually agrees to a joint exploration of the planet surface, end transmission. The bridge crew confer. Riker doesn’t trust the Ferengi, and Data mentions that the visual transmission was “somehow distorted.” I don’t know, it just looked hella zoomed in. Troi senses that Tarr is hiding something.
Nonetheless, the mission continues as planned. Data warns that with the Enterprise’s power drain, communication might be difficult. They are also unable to beam back due to the force field. So wait… how do they plan to get back? Did they think that they, along with the Ferengi, will manage to disable the force field once they were on the planet surface? I guess Picard could send someone in a shuttle if they can’t beam back but it seems like kind of a big gamble to take.
The away team beam down onto a gloriously fake-looking planet set. It’s a desolate landscape save for random clumps of giant glowing crystals scattered around. When Riker materializes, he’s alone. He yells off the edge of a cliff and searches a bit before he eventually finds Data standing on one of the giant crystals. Data assumes that the force field was fucking with the transmitter coordinates, hence the away team ending up in random locations. Riker and Data resume the search. Riker asks Data his opinion on the crystals, which appear inert and harmless. The latter describes them as “nothing to write home about” in an attempt to work human slang into his repertoire. Riker seems less than impressed. #1
Eventually, the dynamic duo find LaForge hanging upside down.
RIKER: Are you conscious?
LAFORGE: Do I look conscious?
Your mouth is moving and sound is coming out, so unless you’re in the habit of sleep talking, I’d say your ass is conscious, Geordi.
Turns out LaForge materialized with his foot stuck in a rock formation or something. While Data helps him get loose, we catch our first glimpse of the Ferengi. They’re little and goofy-looking, holding these funky electro-whip looking weapons. However, they’re scrappier than they appear, and use the whips to stun the three amigos.
Back on the Enterprise, Picard’s VO informs us that the away team’s been gone for 6 hours while conditions on the ship are going downhill. The force field is draining all the ship’s reserve power, which I guess affects climate control, so it’s getting really cold on the ship. A bunch of the families are gathered in a big room where Dr. Crusher sees to people’s medical needs and Troi passes around shiny space blankets.
On the planet, the Ferengi discuss what to do about the Enterprise away team while trying to determine if Riker’s communicator is made of gold. Riker comes to and is like, “It is gold. Motherfuckers.” OK, he didn’t say the last part but that’s essentially what he meant. The rest of the crew wake up and a fight breaks out. The Ferengi have confiscated the away team’s phasers, so it’s an extremely awkward brawl. There’s an amusing bit in which Data holds a struggling Ferengi with one hand while his legs kick at air, and Worf calls them “pygmy cretins.” Yar and her phaser make a timely entrance, putting a stop to this clusterfuck. The away team take the opportunity to grab their own phasers, but the Ferengi are busy being awed by the fact that humans let their women have jobs and wear clothing.
I know some might dispute this as a #6 because the Ferengi are supposed to be the universe’s buttmonkeys, so it’s clear that misogyny is bad. In fact, it’s so cartoonishly exaggerated it’s almost comedic. However, I maintain it’s still lazy writing to fall back on misogyny just to show how evil a character or society is. Women can be evil too, you know. Men don’t get to have all the fun.
We check back in to the Enterprise to see that conditions haven’t changed. Picard and Dr. Crusher have a weird conversation about Wesley, even though he’s not even in this scene and has not appeared in this episode. Dr. Crusher had considered giving him a sedative in the event that they all freeze to death but ultimately decided against it.
PICARD: He has the right to meet death awake.
DR. CRUSHER: Is that a male perspective?
Honestly I’m not even sure I can call a #6 because this exchange is so bizarre I have no idea what the fuck it’s getting at. So I’m adding a new rule:
12. This shit don’t make a damn lick of sense.
Back on the planet, the Enterprise crew and Ferengi fire weapons at each other, but the crystals draw their fire away. When not lit up with CGI, the Ferengi whip things actually look more like those foam floatation toys little kids use in the pool. I guess I know where the prop people cut corners!
Data helpfully remarks that the crystals are energy collectors, because it’s not like that isn’t completely obvious or something. Hey asshole, I thought you said they were nothing to write home about. This energy collecting is a new development, seeing as the Ferengi whips were working when the away team first beamed down. LaForge informs his crewmates that with his VISOR, he sees “patterns of force everywhere.”
LAFORGE: I think this entire planet has been turned into a power accumulator.
This would explain what’s been draining the Enterprise and the Ferengi vessel of power.
Suddenly, CGI shoots around the screen and holographic cross between the Eye of Sauron and the Wizard of Oz appears. “Be you barbarians?” it asks. Something it does hurts the Ferengi’s ears, because they cover them and writhe in pain. “Who meets the challenge?” the Sauron-Oz thing booms. A Ferengi points at Riker and yells, “Him!”
SAURON-OZ THING: You have awakened Portal 63. Do you petition to enter the Empire?
Uhhhhh, I think you might be about 60,000 years late, my dude.
Riker is like, “who dis?” and the Sauron-Oz thing replies, “A guardian of the Tkon Empire.” On that note, he takes the form of a robed humanoid carrying a spear. So he’s Gandalf meets the Grim Reaper now. Riker’s like, “Bro, your empire deader than the Ferengi’s weirdly phallic weapons.” And the Portal’s like, “The Empire is forever!” Data info-dumps that the Empire fell prey to a supernova during the age of Mahkto, yada yada. The Portal’s like, “You lie! This is the Age of Bastu!” Data keeps regurgitating proof to the contrary but the Portal won’t hear any of it. The Ferengi jump in like, “Yeah, these humans full of shit, we’ll make a petition!” They try to cut a deal with the Portal claiming the humans were trying to loot his Empire.
All the while Riker’s standing there looking like he smelled a particularly noxious fart. The portal asks Riker if he will accept judgement, and Riker just stays cool as the Enterprise probably is right about now. Encouraged, the Ferengi continue their smear campaign, accusing humans of withholding tech from less developed societies and, horror of horrors, letting women have jobs and clothes.
FERENGI DUDE: And they shamelessly clothe their females, inviting others to unclothe them, the very depth of perversion.
Well, with that kind of logic, the Ferengi can expect an appointment on Drumpf’s cabinet any day now.
The Ferengi dude tries to get handsy with Yar, but she kicks him and basically tells him to fuck off. Riker is like, calm the fuck down. Yeah, how unprofessional of Yar, defending herself against gross men invading her personal space. Riker and Data cop to some of the Ferengi’s accusations, most notably those concerning the Prime Directive—withholding technology, allowing some civilizations to fall, etc. But the Portal’s had enough of this bullshit and pronounces them all barbarians. He then issues Riker a challenge. Worf protests, volunteering himself instead, but Riker orders him back.
PORTAL: What is the answer to my challenge? I offer a thought: “He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
The fuck is this, space Jeopardy? I expect to hear the music in the background any minute now.
The Portal addresses Riker by name, and the latter is like “How do you know my name? Did you read the script?” The Portal starts twirling his staff around like a baton before thrusting the blade right next to Riker’s head. Riker doesn’t even blink. Oh hey, the fart face is back!
The Portal praises his composure, but demands the answer to his challenge. Riker replies, “Fear is the true enemy. The only enemy.”
PORTAL: Unlike these little ones who close their minds, your mind holds interesting thoughts.
Why, because Riker quotes the kind of saying you’d find on a t-shirt in an athletic store?
The Portal quotes, “Know your enemy and know yourself, and you will always be victorious.” He starts chatting Riker up about Sun Tzu like he’s gonna ask Riker to do lunch any day now. Riker’s like, “Cool, but what about my ship?” The Portal is like, “It is released” with a little hand-flick, no big deal or anything. Accordingly, the lights all go on in the Enterprise and everyone wakes up. Dr. Crusher feels Picard’s pulse even though he’s clearly awake and conscious.
The Portal’s still chatting Riker up like, “I watched all y’all squabbling over a T-9 blahblah and was like, meh, I’ll blow these fuckers up, but then I was like, wait—first y’all ready to throw down and then y’all want to work together.” The Ferengi butt in like, “What about us?” The Portal asks Riker all casual like if he should fuck up the Ferengi and Riker’s like, “Then they would learn nothing.”
PORTAL: But what if they never learn, Riker?
Then they’d truly be Americans!
Riker says, “I see them much as we were several hundred years ago.” You might call this a #9 but honestly, he’s not lying.
RIKER: But possessing the technology they now have, they’re very dangerous.
This shit is too real. I can’t even make dumb jokes anymore.
Riker says it’s hard to hate what we once were and that the Ferengi may learn and grow. The Portal points out that they also might destroy the humans.
RIKER: Well, our values require us to face that possibility.
SHIT IS TOO REAL.
Riker asks the Portal what he’s going to do with his empire gone, to which the latter replies, “I shall sleep until needed again.”
The away team return to the Enterprise, and the next scene finds us on the bridge. Picard tells Data and LaForge they’ve done well, and Data replies, “Something to write home about.” Picard frowns and walks off, while LaForge tells Data that what he said is “very human.” Speak for yourself, bro. Riker informs Picard that the T-9 whatsitsname has been beamed aboard after the Portal cowed the Ferengi into cooperating. Riker then asks permission to beam a box of Data’s Chinese finger traps to the Ferengi as a thank-you gift. Picard smirks and is like, “Make it so.” OK Riker, that’s some A+ trolling. Picard orders LaForge to set a course, but Data has to do it since LaForge’s fingers are stuck in a finger trap. Ahh, a good ol’ #8 to end the episode.
So we’re 5 episodes in and so far, this is the strongest one (admittedly, it’s a low bar). It didn’t rip off ToS, wasn’t full of racism, didn’t have Wesley and his science projects, and didn’t have Q. Of course, there was still too much ham-fisted “comedy” and the dialogue was godawful, but the misdirection re: the Ferengi made for an amusing reveal, and the stuff about the Tkon Empire was pretty cool. Most importantly, the social commentary punched up instead of down, although its relevance to the sociopolitical landscape in 2016 is more than a little unsettling.
And now I, like Portal, must sleep until I’m needed again for next week’s recap.