Finally, we get to what I consider to be the very first good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation! A story for all ages! After all, who would not want to take a peek at the competitive economics of the future, examine long lost civilizations, and gaze upon the power of the fearsome space fries? How about a tale where a Federation ship, in pursuit of an alien ship, is incapacitated by a superior alien race and battle on the surface while the crew waits helplessly? A tale of a man fighting a lizard… oh, wait… wrong one...
Anyway our story opens upon the Enterprise in hot pursuit of a Ferengi vessel who stole a T-9 Energy Converter from a Federation Outpost. If the name “Ferengi” looks familiar to you, it’s because it was mentioned a couple of times briefly in “Encounter at Farpoint” where the administrator was threatening (without meaning) to offer the base to the Ferengi if the Federation was not interested in occupying the base. Picard mentions that this will be their first actual encounter with the Ferengi, however, so they have no knowledge beyond rumor of what they may be getting themselves into.
As the Enterprise finds the Ferengi vessel, it arcs into the system Delphi Ardu, which is an unexplored system of 11 planets. The Ferengi drop out of Warp without notice, and the Enterprise follows along cautiously. Data theorizes that the Ferengi may have had issues with their engines, and as they examine the design of the ship, also mentions that the Ferengi are supposed to be at roughly the same tech level as the Federation.
The Enterprise sensors then register an energy surge in the Ferengi vessel, and a bright flash encompasses their screen. Worf believes that the Ferengi are firing upon them, though the only noticeable effects are a 30% drop to their fusion generator and battery systems, along with some instability in their own impulse engines now. Yar gets weapons systems ready for fire, but Picard believes it to be a natural response to how close the Enterprise has been pursuing their prey. He orders the ship to back off a bit as the Ferengi swing around to confront the Enterprise.
Despite his orders to the contrary, Picard notices that they’re actually still closing on the Ferengi vessel. It turns out that they’re being dragged forward, with power systems, deflector systems, and phaser failures following closely with this revelation. They are soon completely immobilized, much to Worf’s chagrin. Riker notes that they appear to have been very wrong about the technological advancement of this species, and Picard agrees.
Picard then makes his rounds with his officers and he faces down this immensely powerful vessel. Worf is scanning all frequencies with no sign of a message, Yar has weapons up but insufficient power to fire them, and Engineering is unresponsive as to the status of when their power is going to be online. Picard sends Geordi down to Engineering to get a full report… they really should just station a guy down there to be Chief Engineer already! But who?....
Riker freaks out a bit about the fact that it is impossible to drain all power from all systems, while Troi admits that she can’t get any feeling on their opponents. Finally, as a last resort, they turn to Data for information. Data admits that they only know rumors, many of which appear to contradict, but those that do not seem to indicate that the Ferengi are traders… the closest comparison being the “Yankee Traders”.
Now, if you don’t know what that term is referring to allow me to help! In an effort to provide you the most accurate and detailed account of this episode, I turned to our Lord and Master “Wikipedia” to discover the ancient and hidden mysteries of this forgotten sea masters. Here is the full article for your enjoyment:
Yankee traders is a term used historically to refer to American merchants and drug smugglers, particularly around the turn of the 19th century. Many of the Yankee traders came from Boston, Massachusetts or other New England ports—hence the appellation “Yankee”. They were reputed to be particularly shrewd and independent
Wait… that’s it? Wha-? Why have you forsaken me Wiki Gods???
Well, here’s what Data gives us:
“A comparison that modern scholars have drawn from Earth history likens the Ferengi to the ocean-going Yankee Traders of 18th and 19th century America, sir. Who in this case sail the galaxy in search of mercantile and territorial opportunities. 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, caveat emptor— ‘let the buy beware’“.
With their systems shut down and a potentially powerful and hostile vessel holding them at their mercy, Picard seems to feel that now is a time to talk about competing nations and the fact that they used colors and flags to differentiate one another (much to the confusion of Yar). Thank goodness they’ve moved beyond a time where that is any concern!
Riker has since joined Geordi in Engineering and is looking for a bottom line on what is going on. Geordi… who apparently is running Engineering now… explains that they’re basically in a game of tug of war. No matter what they do, an opposing force seems to kick in and prevent them moving nearly instantaneously. There is enough of a delay that they believe they can go from slow reverse into Warp 9 quickly enough to make their escape before they come back fighting. Geordi issues orders to the Engineering crew while Riker reports the plan to Picard. Man… if only they could think of someone who could be in charge of these Engineering knuckleheads….
While considering options on what to do after they escape, Worf surprises everyone by speaking up and suggesting that they come back fighting. Picard, who we were just reminded was French, responds to Worf’s suggestion that there is no shame in going down fighting with “There is no shame in a strategic retreat”. Boy… those guys are never going to live that stereotype down…
Geordi returns to the Bridge to let the command crew know that everything is ready, oh, and that communication is now restored to the bridge. Boy, isn’t that convenient? It’s almost like the Ferengi planned this entire attack just to allow anyone who was watching these events unfold from home in seeing a little variation in the sets! Those wacky Ferengi! Worf, who had been manning Geordi’s station while he was running Engineering, now goes back to the science stations to work in obscurity. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, why not get Worf to run Engineering? It would give him something to do instead of just suggesting attack every 5 seconds”. It’s not a bad idea, I agree… but as we move through these seasons you will see just how important it will be in having someone man those stations. They really really start to lean on it heavily in season 3, which is why most people consider that to be the worst season of The Next Generation. Though I suppose they could bring back that irascible Miles O’Brien back… he’s shown he can pilot the ship… let’s keep an eye out for him...
Picard, bolstered by the idea that he will soon be able to run away, decides the best thing to do now would be to thumb his nose at those superior Ferengi before dashing to safety. He opens communications, introduces himself, and then demands the return of the T-9 Energy Converter. Yeah, they’re really foreshadowing how important that damn T-9 energy convertor, but like the Ferengi we’re not going to see this come back up again for a few episodes. In the worst episode of the season, Picard finally has his long standing race in his T-9 Airdancer against Luke Skywalker’s T-16 Skyhopper. It’s way too full of macho grandstanding because Luke stole Picard’s girlfriend, but the end result is that they both bond over the fact that they had trouble getting their power converters. Yes, it is just as bad as Superman and Batman bonding over their mother’s name. I’m not even going to review that episode on here… we’re just going to skip it.
Anywhom, Picard then tells a bit French wisdom “The best way to fight is not to be there”, to which Riker responds with the Sun Tzu phrase “He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight”. I just want to pause here and comment on how vastly different those two phrases are. There is a big difference between choosing your battles strategically and winning by being absent. Picard remarks that he is glad the academy is still teaching the strategies of Sun Tzu, though seems to forget that two of his youngest officers who were both graduates of the Academy continue to only argue for fighting (Yar and Worf, of course). Guy jumps to conclusions…
They slowly prepare and then execute the plan, and Picard warns Geordi that this plan had better work (you know… despite the idea being Riker’s). Geordi, eager to earn himself some glory and a chance at promotion, let’s him know that it will. We’re 10 minutes into the episode at this point, so it fails utterly. Picards says “Shit” (actually “Merde”, which translates into “shit”) while the camera also has Geordi in view. Any hopes of that promotion have now vanished Geordi! You’ll be lucky if the Captain doesn’t send you to Engineering with the rest of those loveable nitwits!
As they’re going back to the status quo, they notice that their entire database is being read which seems to surprise them far more than anything else that has transpired thus far. Troi, needing to be useful, suggests that they shouldn’t be focusing on the Ferengi so much but take an eye at the planet they’ve been hovering near. Picard orders Data to dredge up this information, realizes that they’ve again spent far too much time this episode on one set, and orders his command crew to abandon their stations to go into the conference room despite a potential hostile face to face with them. Well… surely there will be some new contribution by his staff in this far superior room…
Upon asking for suggestions, Yar and Worf immediately advise that they take all power and attack the Ferengi to disrupt whatever has them captured. Since this runs counter to Picard’s french stereotypes, he dismisses this as impractical and provocative. Troi, meanwhile, suggests that they try talking to them. Picard brings up the fact that they have tried to do so, but Troi suggests that perhaps they’ve said nothing the Ferengi wanted to hear. Apparently she is under the impression that the Ferengi are throwing a tantrum and refuse to speak? I guess?
Picard looks desperately for other opinions, but gets none. He holds Riker back afterward for his advice, but Riker has nothing to add. They return to the bridge, proud that those assholes Chuck and Steve at the other sensor stations weren’t in on their secret meeting, and Picard opens up communications to grovel and surrender to the Ferengi. Worf and Yar and in a fit and talk further about attacking the Ferengi vessel as it elongates its neck (Fun fact: This is the only time in any episode that a Ferengi ship does this), and Picard sates them by telling them they can get ready to fire, but can’t do anything more. Picard opens up hailing frequencies as Yar urges violence once more, and she cautions that they only have 63 seconds of power left for their shields. Worf joins and even Riker speaks up that they might not be out of their minds to try something before surrender is considered as an option, but Picard tells him to be patient.
DaiMon Tarr takes this time to actually respond to the Enterprise and suggests that it would be favorable to come to terms quickly. He warns that unconditional surrender would be… totally unacceptable to the Ferengi people and that they would die before they accept such dishonor. Picard look around wildly confused, gives a great big “turn off sign” to Yar, and realizes aloud that the Ferengi are in the same the same predicament as themselves. He orders that a sensor probe be sent to determine the source of whatever is holding them (by the way, other than having Data research the planets they have completely ignored Troi’s advice that some attention should be given to the nearby planet) and quickly returns to talking to the Ferengi, asking for visual communication. The Ferengi claim this is against their “custom” (again, something that we never hear or see again from the Ferengi) and Picard claims that it is against Starfleet regulations to accept a surrender without seeing them. One might wonder how the Ferengi would attempt to remain visually concealed if they were to actually surrender…
The Ferengi relent and request a visual feed as well, to which Picard obliges. Despite admitting to being at the mercy of the Enterprise, DaiMon Tarr goes on to speak about how ugly the “hoomans” are, describes Picard’s precious T-9 energy converter as useless, and offers the lives (plural) of their second officers (again plural) as required by the Ferengi code. Data, the second officer of the Enterprise, quietly admits relief that Starfleet has no such code. Picard says that the offer may be inadequate, but that he will discuss it, and tells DaiMon Tarr they will be in touch.
Deciding that those major jerk-wads Chuck and Steve should be as out of the loop as possible despite working on the bridge, they retire to the conference room which is so secure that a couple of children have gotten in to play games. After Riker ushers them out of the room, Data picks up a chinese finger puzzle and describes the planet. It has only been scanned from a distance and is devoid of all life, but appears to have been a part of the Tkon Empire. The planets in this system were apparently outposts to this huge space empire, and when Picard (who will never show any interest in archeology in the remaining seasons) asks why he has never heard of them Data admits that they’ve been extinct for the last 600,000 years. Data, who has superior strength and intelligence to humans, gets his fingers caught in the puzzle and is unable to think of a way out. Geordi helps him out while Data continues that this species was rumored to have the ability to actually move stars (and use planets as defenses). They get back telemetry from their probe that confirms that an energy source is reaching out from the planet and trapping both ships.
When discussing the end of the Tkon Empire, Data brings up the fact that it was destroyed by their sun going supernova. When Picard asks whether this planet could have escaped the fate of the rest of the empire, Data admits that while it is the furthest outpost there is no sign of life on it. So, I can only assume that when the Trifecta of Fools that is Abrams/Kurtzman/Orci were making a half-hearted attempt to catch up on episodes when making the first movie they stopped here. In that movie, the Romulan homeworld of Romulus was also destroyed by a Supernova that “endangered the entire galaxy”. Here, another technologically superior species can actually move planets and stars and they too are killed off by a Supernova. These are described as vast empires with the ability to travel faster than the speed of light or actually move planets and stars! Make it a paper towel tube that is pissed because it can’t find Romulan whales… don’t give me this Supernova nonsense! The reach of a supernova is minimal (relatively speaking) and these species have the tech to discover and avoid it! BLARG!!! (Rant over)
Picard decides to send an away team to the planet to research, and decides to invite the Ferengi along to play. The Ferengi have discovered they’ve been lied to and are pissed… but decide to team up anyway. They begin spouting on about profit (because this has been largely ignored in their characterization up to this point) and then get defensive about being called uncivilized and thieves. Then, because they’re traders, they have to have the term “swap” explained to them. It is… the low point of the episode.
The bridge crew begin to discuss how they don’t trust the Ferengi and Troi (who couldn’t sense anything from them nor will she ever again) senses that he is being dishonest. Riker asks if Picard can spare Worf for this away team, and Picard is only too happy to oblige. They’re also going to be unable to communicate or beam back onto the ship until they can deactivate the force field. They all beam out together….
And Riker is shown arriving on the planet alone. The planet can only be described as a foggy place populated with glowing french fries. No, I am not kidding. Unfortunately, they are not a delicious food but crystalline in nature (and my childhood dreams are crushed once again). He comes upon Data, and they both find Geordi who is hanging upside down. The three Ferengi who were sent on this mission find this group and knock them out with a single shot of a blue energy whip.
6 hours later Picard is making a log entry about how that lazy Riker got one over on him and has escaped to live on the world of French Fries while he is stuck on a ship that is losing life support. The Ferengi finally get around to examining their prisoners, and have captured Worf as well. They then decide to get their story straight and come up with a plan where they basically just say the humans were preparing an ambush of their own, and are sure to be believed.
The ringleader is none other than Letek (played by Armin Shimerman, who will go on to play a few other roles in Star Trek, but is most notable as the Ferengi Quark in Deep Space Nine). He strips off the communicator from Riker’s uniform and examines it. He believes, and is told by Riker later, that it is made of Gold (which he will also later claim is a valuable metal… this also never shows up again in Star Trek… in fact, Quark describes it as “useless” in Deep Space Nine). While Riker is distracting the Ferengi, Worf and Data wake up and pounce. A battle equal in silliness to the aforementioned “Kirk vs. Lizard” battle takes place as a warrior, a super strong android, and our second in command take on 5’2” gremlins who somehow hold their own. Thankfully, Yar shows up and (despite being outnumbered 3 to 1) gets the Ferengi to toss away their weapons (which they had not been using during the fight).
Then, out of nowhere, the Ferengi begin to ask questions about human females. Letek is surprised at the fact that Humans work with, arm, and force their females to wear clothing (despite the fact that almost all other species seem to follow the same principals in Star Trek). The Ferengi, understandably, are sickened by this.
Speaking of gender differences, Picard and Beverly discuss Wesley and the predicament they are facing. Beverly was tempted to give Wesley a sedative to spare him the pain of dying (if that is their actual fate), but Picard replies that he has the right to meet death awake. Beverly asks if that is a male perspective, to which Picard replies “rubbish”. Very odd bit of gender commentary on humans in the midst of this crisis from away team and on-board personnel alike.
Now that the rest of the humans are armed, the Ferengi decide that now is the best time to pick up their weapons again despite Yar’s warnings. Yar opens fire, but it is collected by the crystal french fries. The Ferengi, seizing the opportunity, fire back… and it is also collected by the french fries. Confused, they talk about the fact that it appears that the fries are “energy accumulators” before a being’s face forms in the mist and challenges them.
The Ferengi volunteer Riker, who is asked by the guardian of the Tkon Empire (named Portal 63 by his loving parents) if he wishes to petition for entry into the empire. He forms into a Emperor Palpatine looking fellow with a spear, and Riker asks why they would want to join an empire which no longer exists. The Guardian doesn’t believe Riker, so he gets Data to relay the information because… he has such a trusting face I guess? It doesn’t work and the Portal calls them liars. The Ferengi, always looking to get in trouble, agree that humans are deceptive and that they would gladly petition for entry. They then continue on that they would like to serve the Tkon, destroy the Humans who attacked them without provocation, and that the Humans came to loot the Tkon empire. He goes further to say that the humans destroy legal commerce, selfishly withhold vital technology and defensive weapons from backward worlds, and adorn themselves with gold. They… uh… then make a pass at Yar by claiming that the human perversion extends to clothing their females which only serves to invite others to unclothe them. It’s… awkward. But kinda great? In an awkward “what the hell am I watching???” kind of way?
Riker then adds to the list saying that they’ve allowed several civilizations to fall and let the strong and violent overcome the weak. The Portal calls them out as barbarians and savages, and challenges Riker. He has one chance for life, which is to answer the Guardians challenge.
“I offer a thought. He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight”. He then calls Riker by name and asks for the answer to the challenge, then spins his (spear? pike?) about. Riker responds that “Fear is the true enemy. The only enemy.”.
Well… that’s good enough for the Guardian! Portal 63 now wants information on Sun Tzu, and submits to Riker’s request to have power restored to the Enterprise. Power comes back up on the Enterprise, interrupting nap time.
Portal 63 discusses the Ferengi and the situation he witnessed between the two ships, and asks if he should destroy the Ferengi… who hop about while claiming that the humans took the answer to the challenge from their own minds. Riker responds that the Ferengi remind him of how humans were only a few hundred years ago (Us. He’s talking about us.) and that if they are destroyed they will learn nothing. They will risk the fact that they could learn of a way to destroy the human species because of our values, and the Guardian says that he will sleep until needed once more.
The away team returns to the Enterprise and let the Captain know the T-9 Energy Converters are on board and ready to be fitted to his Airdancer, but that before they head for Tatooine they should send some Chinese finger puzzles to the Ferengi. Picard, still ticked that he could have lost the race because of these creatures, happily agrees.
- The cast and crew were majorly disappointed with the Ferengi, who (according to Rick Berman) were ruled out as a major adversary due to the “silliness quotient”. Armin Shimerman has often said that one of the reasons he took on the role of Quark was to repair a lot of the damage done to the Ferengi in this episode, in which they were apparently told to “jump up and down like crazed gerbils”. In my honest opinion, they went too far in the other direction. The Ferengi change a great deal over the course of the Next Generation, and you learn far more about the internal politics and drives of the species… but Deep Space Nine turned the entire species into a one note joke. In The Next Generation profit drives the Ferengi but there are some other interests (including love and revenge) which were looked upon slightly unfavorably by their crews. Some Ferengi on TNG are brave, passionate, vindictive…all Ferengi on DS9 are massive cowards. There is an episode where they get together a bunch of Ferengi to save Quark’s mother (whom is being held hostage because the Grand Nagus is in love with her) and he sends Quark. Where are the Ferengi ships? The DaiMons? They even bring on a Ferengi Assassin to help who is as cowardly as the rest! The only exception could possibly be Nog in the later seasons, but I feel that they both improved and vastly undermined the entire species in DS9.
- Beaming the finger traps onto the Ferengi ship is similar to what Scotty did in “The Trouble with Tribbles” to the Klingons. The Federation really antagonizes their enemies! Paris sent an entire crate of skin cream to the Borg, Kira sent some urinal cakes to the Founders, and Tucker sent the babies he was unknowingly impregnated with back to their mothers. Tucker... never really got how to do the joke...