Plot Synopsis: In pursuit of Ferengi marauders, the Enterprise and its quarry become trapped by a mysterious planet that is draining both ships’ energies.
Plot A and B Analysis: This episode gives us our first chance to meet the Ferengi, mentioned back in the pilot as dangerous enemies. The initial sight of them is pretty cool: the ship is pretty impressive in design like Picard says, and since the Enterprise’s power is suddenly being drained they must have some kick-ass technology too. It’s actually a good teaser for the episode, maybe the first one that’s really worked. Plot A is the one dealing with the Ferengi and the T’Kon planet, there is no plot B for this episode. Problems set in quickly after the commercial break: Riker comes across as an impatient, demanding douche–this happens often in the first season. This episode also sets up a dynamic that bugs me throughout much of the series: Data as the answer man. Instead of drawing on the characters’ knowledge they simply ask Data and he exposits the answers. This happens time and time again, and it gets old. The plot slows down so we can hear about different countries’ flags as the French joke is attempted to be resurrected here, only to fail again. This episode does give us a taste of Geordi in engineering planning their escape, which is nice as he takes over there full-time in season 2. We also get to hear Picard swear in French, saying “merde.” I’ll let you look that one up. They have a conference, the decision of which is to–for the second time in four episodes–surrender the Enterprise. Now yes there’s a ship of over 1,000 people with families and children Picard has to look out for, but he comes across as a wuss at a time when the audience is figuring out what kind of people this crew are. After finding out the Ferengi are in the same predicament, they go back to the observation lounge again to discuss the probes findings of the planet and Data, the super-smart android, gets outsmarted by Chinese finger cuffs. They talk to the Ferengi and then everyone goes to the planet. Here is where the episode really starts going to hell. First we have lines like, “Are you conscious?” “Do I look conscious?” Yikes. Of course following this they’re all knocked unconscious. When everyone wakes up the Ferengi are portrayed as complete losers. They’re short, annoying, hop around like lunatics with high-pitched voices and quickly become the least threatening of just about any Federation enemy ever. What’s worse is that the ‘fight’ that follows just comes across as comedy, rendering the audience incapable of taking them seriously. As ridiculous as they are Worf, Riker and even Data start to lose the fight, Tasha the only one appearing competent. The last scene with Portal is alright, in that it didn’t suck as much as most of the preceding 30 minutes. And this episode is over with.
Favorite Scenes: The only scene that really worked was the teaser, which was nice. I’ll take my cue on this from Wil Wheaton who liked the conference room scene, as it shows that TNG is starting to depart from the classic series. Kirk usually just figured out everything himself, but here Picard elicits information and opinion from his officers. Even this scene is spoiled though because while this collaborative framework will be one of the hallmarks of the show, here it just serves to make Picard look weak. He refuses the option of fighting and decides to surrender.
Use of Cast/Characters: This is another episode where Troi is useful, being the first one to suggest they look at the planet instead of just the Ferengi. I mention this because as stated in previous reviews they will become less and less frequent, and she later becomes one of the most underused characters on the show. Geordi comes across as the most likable character in this episode, injecting his own personality into his character which humanizes him further. He even makes some of his bad lines bearable, like “Woowee!” He actually says Woowee. Picard, Riker, Worf, and Data don’t have any character development and Wil Wheaton had this episode off. We at least do see the crew working together to solve a problem though.
Blu Ray Version: The planet in this episode looks beautiful just like the ones in previous episodes. It will become a staple so I’ll mention it less and less. But I love it!
Nitpicks: Uh, how can a single supernova wipe out a huge star-spanning empire? Okay, so it takes out a solar system or two, what about the rest of them? And what’s with all the asides that Data starts pulling while in the middle of his Captain’s negotiating during a crisis? Also, the finger cuff stuff just didn’t work for me: it’s a kind of odd, light humor that was part of the original series, but this one hasn’t got it down yet.
Overall Impression: You’d think after three episodes TNG was ready to make an episode that didn’t suck. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. The tragedy of this episode is that it could have been good. The Ferengi could have been made into deceptively menacing adversaries of the Federation, but it would take some major re-working of the plot. This is an episode that has a promising beginning, but after the first 15 minutes descends into a mess. The Ferengi become such a laughingstock that they can’t be taken seriously as a species until Quark appears in DS9 years later. Think about it, these guys were supposed to take the place of the Klingons as major adversaries! I give this episode a rating of 1 out of 5 stars. Thank goodness Richard Colla only directed one TNG episode in the entire run.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: As we’ll see going forward, the production order (the order in which they were made) of these episodes is very different from the order they were aired for some of the first season. For example, this is the four episode we saw, but it was actually the 6th episode made. This is from Wil Wheaton and I checked it out, it’s true: if you pause the show during Picard’s walk across the back of the bridge in the first act (before minute 6 begins), you can see several black cards just stuck onto the science stations to block reflections of lights and C-stands. You can also see them at 14:30, but probably only in the Blu Ray version. Wil was present on the set and also recalls the actors being unhappy with the lame idea of finger cuffs as well as the ludicrous behavior of the Ferengi. Armin Shimerman, who played the lead Ferengi (and later Quark on DS9) said the director instructed them “to jump up and down like crazed gerbils.” Indeed he said one of the reasons he decided to play Quark was to undo some of the damage done in this episode. This is also the episode where I learned what the phrase ‘caveat emptor’ means. Not many 12-yr olds know Latin, but I did! Because of Star Trek.
Missable/Unmissable? Mostly missable. You’re not going to be missing out on anything by skipping this episode and going straight to the next one, which is the first episode of the series that actually works. Having said that, this episode has had more influence on how we see the Ferengi than any other; if you are a Star Trek buff it’s sort of mandatory viewing. Sorry.