Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S01E05 – The Last Outpost

In the fifth episode of the first season of The Next Generation, the Enterprise chases a Ferengi vessel carrying a stolen Federation device, only to find themselves locked into a bizarre struggle with someone else. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

This is much more like it, y’all! I think the placement of the episodes I’ve seen has made it harder for me to get a grip on what The Next Generation can do as a show, particularly in how it differentiates itself from The Original Series. So far, I can’t say that the stories themselves feel all that different. They tread in familiar tropes, and even though “The Last Output” was the best episode I’d seen so far, it’s still pretty safe.

So what makes this unique? What I wanted from the first batch of episodes was an exploration of the crew itself. That’s the immediate way that this feel refreshing to me. The cast itself is so huge and so new! And unlike the last two episodes, this one gave me a chance to see how these people worked with one another. I wanted to understand the character dynamics at play here, and with a mystery like the one here, I was able to get a glimpse at possible storylines to come. That’s something a show like this needs to do, so I’m pleased that it’s finally starting to happen. A lot happens here to demonstrate that since the crew is faced with a task that forces them to think whether diplomacy or violence is the best solution. It’s through this that we get to see more of Worf, which WAS VERY SATISFYING TO ME. I got the sense that some of the Klingon characterization from The Original Series still works here, since Worf is the one person who wants to use violence as the first resort. That’s not to say he’s exactly like the Klingons of the past. He understands his role within the crew, and I don’t know that any of the original Klingons could have behaved this way. THIS MAKES ME WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN THE KLINGONS AND THE FEDERATION MORE THAN EVER. How??? How did these two groups make peace with one another?

I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Data and Geordie are like… total besties. RIGHT??? He’s the one person Data seems to revolve around, and it’s so goddamn adorable, y’all. Data is just so genuine, and it’s one of the most charming things about his character. I don’t know, I think it’s actually pretty hard to write and portray a character like this without Data coming off as irritating and childish, and yet, the show pulls it off wonderfully. Now, I think the Chinese finger trap bit, while amazingly funny, is a bit heavy-handed in terms of a metaphor, but hey, it works. It also establishes that Data can act as both comic relief and a serious character, and I appreciate that. It gives him depth.

Truthfully, there are a lot of small moments between these characters that just thrilled me to watch. Like the tender way in which Dr. Crusher touched Picard’s face at the end of the episode. Or Geordie’s infectious attitude when Riker comes up with a way to possibly escape the Ferengi ship. PICARD’S FACE EVERY TIME CHILDREN ARE AROUND OR MENTIONED. Who decided that this would be part of his characterization??? YOU ARE A BRILLIANT SOUL, I OWE YOU EVERYTHING.

As for the story itself, it’s definitely the strongest one so far, though I admit it kind of peters out by the end. I loved that this was the first chance for both the audience and the crew to meet the Ferengi, and shrouding them in mystery was a fantastic writing choice. There’s a lot of tension in the episode while we await the reveal, and initially, I wasn’t disappointed. The show’s production design team gave us a species that is so clearly NOT HUMAN, and it was a real treat, especially coming off of… well, that last thing. You know. Sticking a twist in the middle of the plot? Another great choice, especially since it forced the Ferengi and the Enterprise into a tough spot. They could choose certain annihilation or diplomacy, which was complicated by the third party – the Tkon Empire’s outpost, likely the only surviving one – holding both ships in place.

So, I was excited to see how these two groups would behave once they were required to work together to save one another. The characterization of the Ferengi as a pirate culture, one motivated entirely by profit, seemed like it had a lot of potential! It’s just… well, I’ve never seen a show deflate an antagonistic force so quickly. I don’t actually know if that’s intentional or not, but the Ferengi in person come off like petulant children who jump around like monkeys, and it is the least intimidating thing I could possibly imagine. I couldn’t tell if that was the point! But it made the interaction with the Portal a whole let meaningful or suspenseful because the Ferengi didn’t seem to pose any threat anymore. At worst, what could they do? Whip the Federation crew and then irritate them to death? It makes me wonder if they’ll be a long-term antagonist for the Federation on The Next Generation or if that was a red herring the whole time.

Anyway, I didn’t really understand the Portal’s test in the context of the greater message of the episode, which contributed to what I felt was a weak ending to the story. The Portal tests both parties and judges them, but for what? Who is a better culture? Who is nice? Who is smarter? I don’t know the answer to this question? So while I appreciated the journey itself, the ending isn’t all that satisfying. Still, it was a great chance to get to know the crew better, and I hope there’s more of that in the future.

The video for “The Last Outpost” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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