The Last Outpost
Meet the newest alien race with expensive latex make-up! But try not to laugh (yet)
It's the first opportunity for the Ferengi to disappoint the audience, but don't worry for it shall not be their last. Quite why the Federation have never met a species that is this committed to interstellar trade was never dealt with adequately anywhere in the franchise history, to my knowledge. What a relief that Troi cannot read their emotions - although she still somehow manages to sense they are hiding something. Lucky guess…? And how bizarre that Picard cares so deeply about flag colours, although nothing here is quite so odd as the glacial pacing of the plot.
About halfway through we get to see Riker slapped down into the sand by a Ferengi energy whip, which is probably the highlight of the episode. There's a B-plot about the crew on the Enterprise suffocating, but unfortunately, Wesley survives.
'Ferengi' is the key word here, of course, glossed as 'Yankee traders', and along with the species we get terms like 'DaiMon' for 'Captain'. It’s one of those delightful situations where the universal translator opts not to translate just for the fun of it. Does anyone really think that ‘Captain’ isn’t an adequate synonym for ‘DaiMon’…? But we really have to ensure this species comes across as an alien species, and that’s the sole purpose of the forced error of the universal translator in this and other episodes. At least the use of 'hoo-man' and 'fee-males' are a matter of accent and not translation, and boy does that hang around in the franchise for a long, long time!
The 'Tkon Empire' also comes with all sorts of nonsense words too. Isn't it impressive how much Data knows about this long extinct culture, when he has never heard of a Chinese finger trap...? Given the number of times that the show needs a long extinct empire (we’re going to meet dozens more in the episodes ahead), it’s actually slightly surprising that the writers never found a reason to dig up the Tkon again. Perhaps it is just a humble sign of embarrassment regarding this episode, which surely could be nobody’s favourite.
This is LaForge’s first time hanging around in engineering, as the writing team swiftly undermine the idea that they can get by without a Chief Engineer in the core cast by having the helmsman nip downstairs for a bit of nonsense before coming straight back up to the conn. That’s the efficient staffing assignments we’ve come to expect from Starfleet! Still, LeVar Burton is never less than enjoyable when he provides technical exposition so I won’t complain too much.
About the lack of permanent Chief Engineer in season one… although this is oft discussed by fans, all we really know is that the original plan was to avoid engineering entirely. Then, Roddenberry got scared during the pilot shoot, fearing that they’d need the set, so added a scene to ensure it was built. (The pilot episode gets a bigger budget, with the expectation that the assets made for it are an investment in the show that will get reused in further episodes). It seems the general idea was that engineering would be fully automated so no engineer would be needed… we should all be very glad this idea was swiftly nixed.
The attempt to play Data for comedy with the finger puzzle doesn't exactly pay off, and in retrospect serves as an uncomfortable reminder that Brent Spiner has not really got Data's emotionless façade down pat yet. Needless to say, he gets much better at this as the show progresses, but in season one his performance is still rough around the edges, although always enjoyable to watch. Note also the extensive use of difficult-to-film holographic Okudagram composition shots rather than the far cheaper to produce LCARS terminal versions. Guess which we’ll see the most of going forward!
And let's say hello to Armin Shimerman, who will go on to play many roles in Star Trek, most memorably and extensively the bartender Quark in Deep Space Nine. His "angry gerbil" performance (his own words!) arguably led directly to the realisation that these enemies were never going to work as a surrogate for the Klingons. This set them off on the path to the much more plausible comedic role they would eventually excel at. There's a lot of mutterings about the Ferengi being a nasty anti-Jewish stereotype, but I find it hard to believe Shimerman would have taken the role if he thought this was the case... However, they were intended to pastiche 1980s cutthroat lawyers and Wall Street investors. There's more than a handful of stereotypes coming into confluence here.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Say hello to the Ferengi Marauder (supra-fanonically, the D'kora-class Marauder), which just as Herbert Wright's script requested, looks like a horseshoe crab without any legs. It's a three-foot long model, fully articulated, and it seems like it was an absolute pain to work with. I believe I can say with confidence that this ship is nobody's favourite design, but at least it's highly distinctive.
The same can be said for the Ferengi make-up, a nightmare in latex that took three hours to put on after the make-up team had refined their technique. For this episode, nobody seems to know how long it took, but it's fair to say it was more than half a day's work. I'll say this about the design - it's distinctive, it's memorable, and whether you love it or hate it, you can never forget it. If I eventually came to love the Ferengi, this has much more to say about the actors who donned the latex, and much less to do with the original design.
Note the green tattoos on the Ferengi's lobes - we'll see these on all the Ferengi episodes right up until the point that Deep Space Nine started airing... then we'll never ever see them again. Michael Okuda's green 'dog-eat-dog' symbol that appears on the ships (see the ship picture above) and as part of the tattoo design is perhaps my favourite aspect of the Ferengi production design, although it never quite gels with the rest of the aesthetics this species brings to the table.
Still, this is one of those episodes where the excellent work by the make-up team and a shiny new spaceship studio miniature very nearly compensates for a story that is otherwise just angry gerbils bouncing around Sound Stage 16 with some giant polystyrene crystals.
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