The Enterprise makes first contact with the profit-obsessed Ferengi over a planet that was once part of an ancient and powerful empire. Commander Riker and his away team must deal with the aggressive Ferengi on the planet while convincing the remains of this empire not to destroy the Enterprise.
Teleplay by Herbert Wright. Story by Richard Krzemien. Directed by Richard A. Colla.
This is an all right episode whose main contribution to the Star Trek mythos is to introduce the Ferengi, who it seems were intended to be Klingons of the new series – an unfriendly race, newly encountered, who we could confidently consider to be morally superior to. Unfortunately, there is no one among the Ferengi who holds a candle to Kor, the first real Klingon to appear back in Errand of Mercy. Kor really held his own as a character, and helped to define the Klingons for a long time. Here, the Ferengi we meet are all pretty interchangeable, and thus unmemorable.
Obviously, there was effort to create a race who could be enemies but didn’t fall into the same pattern as the Klingons – big and war like, and the Ferengi were given a unique look and motivation. But the out-and-out dopiness with which they are portrayed here, whilst amusing, doesn’t necessarily lend itself to establishing them as consistent and believable threats. In spite of the fact that they are shown to be dangerous fighters, they appear more like annoying pests. It’ll take several years of Quark and Deep Space Nine to give this species nobility to go along with its laughability.
The Portal with its “within-its-scope omnipotence” being won over by the semi-enlightened values of the Federation and humanity in general is very Roddenberry-ish sort of story telling. It sort of has aspirations to be profound, and it’s okay in this context, and does indeed put Riker into a very good light, but it makes one a bit antsy for some of the more exciting bigger-scope war stories of later seasons and spin-offs.
Shout Outs to the Past
I don’t know how intentional it is but this episode does hearken back to Errand of Mercy from the original series. Both episodes introduce ongoing enemies, and both have the two species encountering another race or being whose power dwarfed them, causing them to have to do more than just fight it out.
Anticipating the Future
A lot of the famous and established qualities of the Ferengi that will be seen a lot in the future are introduced here, including their commitment to profit as well as their treatment of their females (who never wear clothes).
Armin Shimmerman plays the leader of the Ferengi away team. He is of course better known as Quark, the Ferengi barkeeper, over seven years of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Darryl Henriques, who plays the Portal, later appears in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as Romulan ambassador Nanclus.
• This is the first time the Federation has met the Ferengi close up, although they clearly have heard many rumors about them. They were referred to a couple of times in Encounter at Farpoint.
• There is a relatively rare and wide angle shot of the bridge from the back of the room, with Worf’s station in the foreground. It’s interesting to see.
• Because of the power drain on the ship, Picard isn’t able to get through to engineering, so he sends Geordi and Riker to find out what’s going on. This allows the episode to have a couple of main characters down there rather than to having to introduce a new chief engineer.
• This episode has the series’ first “conference room” scene, although unusually (for later stories) they have this discussion standing up rather than around a table. Predictably, Tasha and Worf recommend an all-out battle strategy.
• At one point, Riker kicks a couple of kids out of the conference room. I remember hearing about a contest for children before the show premiered, which gave the prize-winners the opportunity to appear on the show. I’ve always wondered if those kids were the winners.
• The Ferengi use some sort of “energy whip” as a personal weapon. I don’t remember if we ever saw these again.
• Wesley doesn’t appear in this episode.
• Dr. Crusher calls Picard, “Jean”, as opposed to “Jean-Luc” – I don’t know if that ever happened again either.
• Apparently, commbadges are made of gold. I wonder why? I understand with replicators it may not be a big deal in terms of value, but it seems like a heavy thing to have on hanging on your shirt.
• The Portal is the second super powerful alien to look specifically at Riker and see a lot of potential – the first being Q in the first episode.
• Funniest Awkward Data Moment (not really awkward, but funny nonetheless): Data turns to Geordi after hearing that the practice for the Ferengi is to sacrifice their second officers as part of a surrender offering to a conquering vessel, and says, “Fortunately, Starfleet has no such rules involving it second officers.”
• Again, I’m not sure, but I wonder if that’s the first “Make it so” for Picard at the end, regarding beaming Chinese finger puzzles over to the Ferengi.
Dialogue High Point
The Portal speculates with Riker that allowing the Ferengi to live may lead to them growing more powerful and attacking the Federation. Riker responds,
Well, our values require us to face that possibility.
Perfect summation of the semi-enlightened Federation.