Friday, November 26, 2010

"The Last Outpost;" The First Ferengi Flounder!

The Good: Plot is interesting, Effects aren't bad
The Bad: Pacing, Character Inconsistencies
The Basics: An inconsistent episode that pits the Enterprise against the Ferengi, "The Last Outpost" is the alien race's first on-screen appearance; could have been better.

"The Last Outpost" is something of a necessary evil episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. In case you're not a regular reader of my reviews, a "necessary evil" episode is one where something that is needed - in terms of plot or character development - occurs because it is time to progress a larger story arc. Necessary evil episodes are usually the type that serves its purpose at doing what it must, but adds little beyond that. Star Trek The Next Generation had remarkably few necessary evil episodes, or at least they didn't feel like the "evil" part (which is where the episode fails in and of itself outside the context of accomplishing a certain goal in the larger body of works).

"The Last Outpost" falls into the exceptions. What the episode must accomplish is the introduction of the Ferengi. They had been rumored for the first several episodes and it was time they showed up. "The Last Outpost" is the episode where they finally come onto the scene.

"The Last Outpost" finds the Enterprise chasing an unidentified vessel that has stolen a piece of equipment from a Federation outpost. Right away, it begs the question, "If StarFleet can replicate anything and material goods are not considered as important by them, why is the Federation sending their best ship after some petty criminals?" The Enterprise pursues the alien vessel to a planet where both ships are disabled. The crew learns that the other ship is Ferengi and finally sees a member of that race. When the ship begins to lose power abruptly, they bother to explore the planet they are in orbit of and discover that its secret.

Unfortunately, much time is wasted between the crew beaming down and actually discovering the purpose of the planet. It's a problem with the entire episode; the pacing is off. It is is either very slow (the bulk of the episode, especially while the Away Team is on the planet) or pseudo action packed, also on the planet.

The episode largely sacrifices sensibility for effect and it hurts the episode. The make-up for the Ferengi is pretty cool, their energy whips are very cool and the planet is constructed in such a way that is does not appear to be the same soundstage most Star Trek The Next Generation planets are actually on. But things don't make a lot of sense in several cases. A perfect example is aboard the ship. While the Enterprise is losing power, the crewmembers are brought together to keep warm. That makes sense. What doesn't is that they are put together near the outer hull, not in the core of the ship which, presumably, would be the last place to have its heat bleed out into space. Why? I don't know, except that perhaps they wanted to get their money out of the planetary graphic used in the background. And that's another place effect was sacrificing sense. A three dimensional model of the planet is holographically produced. Wonderful! And yet the same technique is almost never used again in the series.

None of the acting in "The Last Outpost" is extraordinary. Either way. Which means no one gives a knockout performance, but no one gives a truly bad performance either. Armin Shimerman would later apologize for his performing the Ferengi as barbarians, but they were written that way and Shimerman does not have anything to apologize for. His performance is very physical and it feels very alien.

Parts of the episode are just plain silly, even on the plot front, though. For example, Data's playing with a Chinese finger puzzle seems a pointless attempt to add humor to an episode that tries to convey a rather serious threat. And the episode works when it tries to be dangerous.

Riker has his first chance to shine in a while in "The Last Outpost" and despite the male posturing that goes on, he does what he needs to. In fact, the whole episode does what it needs to. The Ferengi are introduced. There is not much beyond that that occurs.

So, the Ferengi are introduced and they are not terribly well defined. Fortunately, their next appearance gives them more direction than the interstellar barbarians they appear to be here. A must for a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, but little to recommend it for others.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. I'm reading your reviews because your wife is posting them on IMDB's Star Trek message boards.

    I think this is a pretty accurate review. But an important element you left out (in my opinion) is the reaction most viewers will have to the Ferengi. The Ferengi were supposed to be "the new Klingons," the Federation's main rivals with which war could break out at any time. They were supposed to be dangerous and scary, and the vague references to them in previous episodes were supposed to build up to this climactic reveal.

    And what do we get? We get annoying little trolls who act like children. We all end up laughing at them because they're totally ridiculous and impossible to take seriously as any kind of threat to the Federation.The role they were supposed to play has to eventually get passed on to the Borg and Cardassians, because the Ferengi are so tainted after this episode that there's no way the writers can still use them again as a serious threat to the Federation. In fact, if the writers hadn't thought to retconn them into a metaphor for the dangers of unchecked capitalism on steroids, we probably would have never seen them again at all. This is such a letdown and failure on behalf of the writers that I would have knocked off a whole extra point from the episode's total score.