TNG 1×5: Lessons from The Last Outpost

The Enterprise and a Ferengi ship face each other.

In The Last Outpost we meet the Ferengi for the first time. The Enterprise is chasing down a Ferengi vessel to get back some technology they stole, and both ships end up near an unexplored planet.

Suddenly, the Enterprise starts to lose power, and Picard thinks he may have severely underestimated this new race – who, despite being among the biggest traders in the galaxy, they know nothing about. Maybe the Ferengi need to up their marketing game a little.

Anyway, Picard learns that the power drain is coming from the planet, and the Ferengi ship is actually in the same predicament as they are. They join forces to on a mission to the planet (a charming place, if you like lightning and crystals) to try to figure out what they hell is going on. There they meet a portal from an ancient civilisation, who materialises in the form of an axe wielding old dude. Riker makes friends with this maniac, and persuades him to let the Enterprise go. They get their technology back, and it’s a good ol’ happy ending. Hurrah.

To fight, or not to fight

One theme that appears in this episode is the virtue of not diving into a confrontation, but to look for other options. When Picard still thought the Ferengi had him trapped, Yar and Worf both suggested fighting. They had enough power to fire off a few shots, and even if it didn’t work, Worf’s opinion was that there’s no shame in being beaten by a superior foe. Which is true, I guess.

But Picard, true to character and again setting himself apart from his predecessor, tries to avoid this at all costs. He opts to try to go to high warp, to break free. This doesn’t work, but it was a good effort. He later essentially opts to surrender to the Ferengi, and asks to discuss terms.

Later on the planet, the axe wielding portal asks who will be challenged, and Riker is volunteered by the Ferengi. The portal says it won’t tell him how he will be challenged, but gives him a clue – know when to fight and when not to fight. Which seems like a pretty obvious hint to not fight, if you ask me. Riker gets the idea, and stands perfectly still as the portal swings for him – but then stops just before the moment of impact.

Riker stands still while the axe stops just next to his head.
“I never flinch.”

In both cases, we see that heading directly into a confrontation would have been the wrong choice. If Picard had fired on the Ferengi, it would have hampered any future diplomatic relations with them – they weren’t the source of the energy drain, after all.

If Riker had chosen to fight, he would have lost the challenge, and probably failed to convince the portal to release the ships.

This doesn’t have to only refer to physical violence – sometimes it’s better to keep your cool before heading into a confrontation or argument of any kind. Usually, you’ll just end up escalating a situation to the point where open dialog becomes much more difficult, and you’ll find it harder to resolve whatever issue it is you’re trying to resolve.

Honesty is the best policy

Another theme in this episode is honesty. Picard learns about the source of the energy drain before the Ferengi who, for their part, thought the Enterprise was draining them. Instead of sharing this information, Picard plays along, letting the Ferengi believe that the Enterprise is indeed draining their ship.

This is what you might call strategic deception (aka lying your ass off). There’s a time and a place for this, and Picard may have had good reason to do it – the Ferengi were an unknown quantity at this point, so he couldn’t know what they would have done with that information – perhaps they might capture the source of the energy drain device and use it against them.

Still, it worked against him in the long run, as the Ferengi soon learned that information for themselves, and were unhappy with his deceptiveness. This may have influence the actions of the Ferengi towards them on the planet, who attacked them with their silly laser whip thingys (and would have taken them all down were it not for Yar showing up – even Worf gets his ass kicked – the first, I believe, of his many on-screen beatings).

Later, when the portal appears, we see the Ferengi acting deceptively, trying to bad mouth Riker and the away team to the Portal. This absolutely does not work for them. Some of what they say is were valid (withholding technology from certain planets, for instance), some of them not so much (they force their females to wear clothes). Riker, in response, is completely open about the flaws that the Ferengi point out. This earns the respect of the Portal.

So while there may be a time for strategic deception, generally speaking it is better that we deal with one another in a fair and open manner. Otherwise, misunderstandings and misconceptions can easily arise. By being honest and fair, we set the groundwork for trust, mutual respect, and understanding – which is the foundation of any good relationship.

We can hardly hate what we once were

Riker talking to the Portal man.
“Are we friends now?” “We’re BEST friends!”

After becoming besties with the axe portal man, Riker gets a little philosophical towards the behaviour of the Ferengi. They remind him of the human race, at a previous point in history, and “We can hardly hate what we once were.”

He’s giving himself too much credit there. Actually, I think we humans find it easy to hate people who remind us of our past flaws (and our present flaws, too) – especially if these are issues that we haven’t come to peace with.

But Riker is totally comfortable with that, and as such bears no grudge towards the Ferengi. On the contrary, what he expresses is probably more a form of empathy and understanding.

Is there another person that just gets under your skin for some reason, some flaw in their character that annoys you? Could it be that, deep down, you perceive of fear that you possess this trait yourself, and your projecting your unhappiness with that onto them?

It may not be. There can be a million reasons that people annoy us. But it’s worth pondering. The more we can overcome or accept things about ourselves that we don’t like, the less hate and angst filled we might expect ourselves to become.

Other Lessons

  • Deep thoughts: Sun Tzu gets a few mentions in this episode, in particular the quotes “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy,” “Know your enemy, and know yourself” (we saw a bit of this philosophy in the last episode too), and “The best way to fight is to not be there,” a philosophy also famously endorsed by Mr Miyagi. The portal also comes out with a good one, “In life, one is always tested.”

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