Thursday, July 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-"The Last Outpost"

With the Klingons tolerating--what better term is there?--a peace treaty with the federation, a new, formidable enemy was necessary. The ferengi were not it.

We are not entirely clear what the status of the Klingons are at this point, mind you. Worf is supposed to represent the new alliance, but he and his situation are the least developed aspect of TNG. He was not even in the previous episode. It is not known whether the Klingon Empire still exists or has been absorbed into the federation. It will still be a few episodes before we do.

But the fact of the matter is that if the Klingons originally represented the Soviet Union, then it is reasonable to assume by the late ’80’s there should be a d├ętente between them and the federation. A new enemy has to reflect the times the same as the Klingons did at the height of the Cold War. But what to choose? If you arean unreasoned liberal like Gene Roddenberry, you logically choose Reagan Era capitalists.

Casting aside the sheer stupidity of snaggletoothed capitalists serving as the mortal enemies of the socialist utopian Federation, the Ferengi were just awful all around. The were short, grotesque critters who moved around likea bad Gollum impression. Worse, their heightened sense of hearing made them afraid of lightening. So was my great-grandmother’s Chihuahua. He was just about as intimidating, too. With few exception, the Ferengi made terrible characters up until DS9 when they became greedy, but relatively affable characters.

But that is the future. For now, they are being pursued by the Enterprise as thieves. Both ships get trapped over an explored planet which begins draining their power. They suspect one another of treachery, but eventually figure out power is being drained from the planet. The audience guessed that right away, but whatever. Both ships beam down an away team to investigate.

Much of the rest of the story plays out like a typical TOS episode, save for one aspect. Storms cause the away team to beam down in awkward predicaments. Geordi, for instance, is hug by his feet in mid air. In TOS, an anonymous crewman would have beamed down as well and been killed by the process. While TNG had its share of sacrificial lambs, I appreciated it did not see the need to kill three union scale actors every week to prove space was dangerous.

The away team does get knocked out by the ferengi energy whips for a time. It is about the last time Ferengi have the upper hand in anything. Tasha Yar overeats as usual and threatens to kick one of them. Threatening is all she does this time instead of just randomly pounding one of them. By TNG standards, that is considered character growth. The Ferengi seem more interested in the gold communicators than anything else. Just like a Republican. Bah.

The planet turns out to bean outpost for the old Tkon Empire. Its guardian, Portal 63, stands to judge the worthiness of the Federation and Ferengi to explore space further. Somehow swinging an ax at Riker’s shoulder goes a long way towards this end. Portal 63 eventually determines the Federation has peaceful intentions, but dislikes the Ferengi. Riker convinces him to let the ferengi go along with them, and he does so. The ships part ways as enemies.

“The last Outpost” is not a auspicious introduction for the Ferengi. Nor is it a particularly good episode for TNG in general. It is too much like a run of the mill TOS episode. The ship is in peril because of a powerful alien who wants to judge their worthiness, enemies accuse each other for their dire situation, the federation is found worth after exploring a sound stage with Styrofoam rocks and paper mache flowers scattered about, and they deem their adversaries also worthy, which the powerful alien accepts without question even though he was ready to kill both of them a few minutes ago. You have seen it all before and do not particularly care to see it again.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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