Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Last Outpost”

“The Last Outpost”
Written by Herbert Wright
Story by Richard Krzemian
Directed by Richard Colla

Season 1, Episode 5
Original air date: October 19, 1987
Star date: 41386.4

Mission summary

Enterprise pursues a Ferengi starship to recover a stolen T9 energy converter, with the hope that they will also be able to establish first contact with the mysterious race of space traders. Things are off to a rocky start when they face off in the unexplored Delphi Ardu system and the Ferengi open fire on them.

Enterprise easily resists the attack, until they are inexplicably pulled forward and immobilized by what seems to be advanced weapons technology they didn’t know the Ferengi possessed. Power drains from the Federation ship at an alarming rate, possibly due to the fact that there’s no Chief Engineer minding the store. Picard sends La Forge down to Engineering to straighten things out, but only because Wesley is busy.

La Forge discovers that the forcefield holding them adapts to their power usage and counters with equal force; he and Riker come up with a plan to abruptly shift into warp nine and break free before it can respond. La Forge is very enthusiastic about it.

It doesn’t work.

They’re still stuck, but now someone is also illegally downloading every file in the ship’s database, even a copy of “Encounter at Farpoint.” On a hunch, the Enterprise crew turns its attention to a nearby planet as Picard hails the Ferengi ship and offers to negotiate their terms. DaiMon Tarr responds—and refuses to surrender. He throws in some insults about their appearance while he’s at it. The Ferengi aren’t much for diplomacy.

Realizing that the Ferengi are somehow trapped by the planet too, Picard bluffs them while they study the planet that holds them hostage. Their limited research reveals that the planet was an outpost of the Tkon Empire, an ancient and powerful civilization that supposedly was “capable of actually moving stars.” In an ironic twist of fate, the Empire was wiped out when their sun went supernova, and this planet is all that remains… their “last outpost,” if you will.

With both ships still losing power, and Enterprise life support failing, Picard proposes an unlikely alliance with the Ferengi to share their knowledge and investigate the planet together. Unsurprisingly, the Ferengi betray them and zapping the Federation away team with remarkably bad special effects from their energy whips. The Ferengi cavort around their captives for a bit until the planet wakes up and produces a humanoid guardian named Portal 6-3.

Riker breaks the bad news that Portal’s civilization is dead, and the Ferengi try to convince Portal that the Enterprise crewmembers are barbarians. Portal isn’t fooled by their convincing display of civilized behavior. Riker charms him by correctly answering a trivia question about Sun Tzu, which is less impressive since Portal pulled it from his mind. Riker’s new BFF restores power to Enterprise just in time to prevent everyone from suffocating and/or freezing to death. Portal and Riker bond over their moral superiority before the aged guardian goes back to sleep. Picard commends his first officer on his manly performance.

RIKER: One final request, sir. Permission to beam a box of Data’s Chinese finger puzzles over to the Ferengi. A thank you for all they tried to do.
PICARD: Make it so.


This episode is a marked improvement over the last two installments—about half of it is actually pretty good. The opening is interesting and the encounter with the Ferengi ship provides some genuine tension. Engaging a faceless enemy and making first contact with an alien culture in the midst of a dangerous situation is the stuff of good drama. In fact, the setup is reminiscent of some of the best hours of TOS, like “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “Balance of Terror,” without seeming too derivative. For the first time, TNG is starting to feel like Star Trek: The ship is in jeopardy from an unknown, incredible force in an unexplored region of space; Picard must negotiate with their opponents; and the crew works together to find a solution and unravel the mystery of the planet that holds them captive. I had forgotten all of these interesting elements of the episode, because it’s memorable (or notorious) for only one thing: the Ferengi.

And unfortunately the Ferengi is where this episode crumbles apart. From the moment the two crews beam down to the weird planet, the quality drops considerably. The episode feels drawn out as Riker tries to locate the missing members of the away team, and we discover that the grand new enemies of the Federation are ridiculous, sniveling monkey men. This is the first major race to be introduced to Star Trek in twenty years, and they pale in comparison to the Romulans, Klingons, and even the Andorians. It’s difficult to take the Ferengi seriously as a threat and they remained the comic relief of the franchise until DS9 fleshed out their culture a bit; even so, electric whips notwithstanding, it’s remarkable how many qualities of the Ferengi were established in this first episode, such as their distaste for “hew-mans,” extremely sensitive hearing, blatant sexism, cowardice, greed, and natural protection against Betazoid telepathy.

This is the first of many TNG episodes where Enterprise stumbles across the remnants of a lost and/or legendary civilization that possessed advanced technology, but it is far from the best. Portal does a fine impression of the Wizard of Oz before assuming the most cliched appearance possible. Then he presents a simple challenge designed to allow Riker to show his worth before handily solving Enterprise‘s problem–a problem that he caused in the first place. And all just to test the crew! Imagine that.

You can basically write off the last twenty minutes of the episode, but there are some nice moments in the first half. The crew’s reactions to Data throughout, particularly Picard’s, are priceless. The characters–and actors–are beginning to cohere into a functional and distinct group, but they still have a long way to go. One extremely laughable moment is Geordi’s exclamation over Riker’s suggested escape plan–some of the worst acting LeVar Burton will ever commit in the series:

Ah, I see where you’re going. We shift down and then kick hard into warp nine. Yeah! Come back fighting! Whooey!

One begins to see why he, Wesley, and Data are friends, since they’re the most pathetic nerds on the entire ship.

I liked the reminder that there are children and families on the ship; Riker shooing a little boy from the conference room feels realistic to me, as do the kids running and playing in the corridors. I actually did enjoy Data’s little struggle with the Chinese finger trap, however embarrassing it may be that he couldn’t a) figure out how it works or b) break the damn thing with his mighty android strength. At first I thought it was very clever to use the toy to parallel the situation Enterprise was in, something I had missed the first time I watched it. Then I thought perhaps it was too cheesy and obvious. Then I swung back around to thinking it was a slightly subtle and appropriate exploration of the theme. (Let’s face it, subtlety is not TNG’s strong point, especially this season.) I think the gesture of sending over the toys to the Ferengi doesn’t really make much sense, another example of trying too hard to be like TOS, since it was intended to mimic the end of “The Trouble with Tribbles.” On the other hand, it might have been funny if the Ferengi began trading the finger traps and this was their true introduction to doing business with the Federation.

There’s another odd, but strangely satisfying moment, when Picard responds to Dr. Crusher’s forced attempt at feminism:

PICARD: Is there anything else we can do, Doctor? Where’s Wesley?
CRUSHER: He’s in our quarters. I was tempted to give him a sedative.
PICARD: You shouldn’t.
CRUSHER: I know, but he’s my son. I love him.
PICARD: He has the right to meet death awake.
CRUSHER: Is that a male perspective?
PICARD: Rubbish.

But the biggest surprise of the episode is that Troi actually makes a good suggestion: to tell the Ferengi what they want to hear in order to open a dialogue with them. Even more noteworthy because it comes at a moment when she is unable to offer her usual Betazed “insights”!

But even if we ignore the Ferengi, and how I wish we could, there are so many other flaws. Picard continues to lapse into preachy moralizing:

Colors representing countries at a time when they competed with each other. Red, white and blue for the United States. Whereas the French more properly used the same colors in the order of blue, white and red.

But his bizarre French nationalism is totally worth it when he curses a bit later! In French!

It’s also  interesting that as early as this episode, the writers knew the lack of a Chief Engineer was a problem, and that they worked around it by using Geordi to fulfill that role in a limited capacity. It’s weird that this junior navigation officer is suddenly so adept at engineering. And there’s just no explanation for why no one is in charge in Engineering and why people aren’t running around trying to figure out why the ship is losing power. Ultimately, the episode is guilty of sloppy writing, embarrassing acting, and silly special effects, but it was not quite as bad as I recalled. It’s an important despite its weaknesses, simply because of its historic value as the first appearance of the Ferengi.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: TARR: We will return your worthless T9 device and we offer the life of our second officers as required by the Ferengi code.
DATA (to La Forge): Fortunately, Starfleet has no such rules involving our second officers.

Trivia/Other Notes: Armin Shimerman was one of the three Ferengi seen in this episode. He would later play the most famous Ferengi of them all, Quark, on Deep Space Nine and TNG–with a lot more depth.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 4 – “Code of Honor.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 6 – “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.