Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn) comes to the station. He’s the aging leader of the Ferengi Alliance, and he names our buddy Quark as his replacement — to the shock of some gathered Ferengi who are much higher in the pecking order, including Zek’s son, Krax (Lou Wagner). Quark, initially thrilled at his stunning accession, spends the rest of the episode dodging attempts on his life, including one involving his doofy brother Rom (Max Grodénchik) that Odo stops. But it was all a ploy by Zek, who’s still alive, to test Krax to see if he’s ready to take over. Convinced he’s not, Zek resumes his post, and Quark congratulates Rom on his cunning. Or something.
Why it’s important
The Ferengi are a major Alpha Quadrant race. They, of course, were the aborted main villains on TNG, so DS9 took them and used them (mostly) as comic fodder for an episode or two for the next seven seasons. This episode is the first glimpse we get into the Ferengi’s government structure — essentially, a bunch of conniving businessmen plotting in a room — and Zek’s character shows up a lot over the next seven years. Quark’s odd standing as a bartender/shadowy character near the wormhole is sort of established here, too — as is his odd relationship with Odo.
What doesn’t hold up
What can I say? I largely hate the Ferengi.
While some characters (Quark and later, his nephew, Nog) become more than cliches over the years, most Ferengi are just annoying. Zek and Rom have moments where they’re acceptable in future episodes, but the obvious and weak plays for laughs just make me wonder how much stronger DS9 would have been if the 10-14 episodes devoted to Ferengi goofiness had focused on something else (like, almost anything else). In other words, if a Ferengi episode were anyone’s introduction to DS9, I can totally understand why they didn’t stick with the show.
That said, “The Nagus” is not an awful episode — particularly compared with most Ferengi fare — but it’s just not very good. Shawn actually makes Zek as acceptable as possible and the twist in here is somewhat unpredictable. So, I guess if you were to watch a Ferengi episode, this is one that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed like, say, “Ferengi Love Songs” or “Profit and Lace”.
My biggest problem is that the Ferengi just seem too dim-witted to have achieved as much as they’ve apparently achieved. How does a species of morons have a space empire? The only plausible theory I have on this — which we’ll discuss later — comes in my attempts to retcon poor writing. Stick with me on this …
Nog, who’s essentially illiterate in DS9’s first two seasons, learns enough in less than a year to make him a viable candidate for Starfleet Academy by the third season! Either the acceptance criteria really fell after Wesley Crusher’s failed attempts in early TNG or Ferengi can process information at an incredibly fast rate — which would explain how Nog got so learned so fast. It also MIGHT explain how a bunch of apparent doofs somehow built a large space empire. They’re socially awkward and act like morons, but they can absorb information quickly.
Oh, and one last thought: What the hell happened to Krax after this episode? We see a lot of Zek over the years and we see him eventually name his successor. Hint: It’s not Krax.
All that said, the Ferengi characters can be used effectively in non-Ferengi episodes. Quark and Rom were both actually pretty well used in “Sacrifice of Angels” — arguably DS9’s most important episode — and Nog becomes an interesting character in the later seasons. I don’t hate episodes that include Ferengi. I just hated the vast majority of Ferengi-centric episodes.
I guess we have “The Nagus” to thank for paving the way for all of them. And that’s unfortunate.
Last point, while the Ferengi had already been somewhat downgraded since they initially appeared as TNG’s main bad guys, this episode, I think, really made them into second-rate powers who are mostly used for “comedy”. It’s worth noting that there’s little talk of Ferengi warships or the Ferengi Alliance as a military organization after about the second season of TNG. In fact, there’s barely a hint of Ferengi involvement during the Dominion War in DS9’s final seasons — though every other Alpha Quadrant power’s involvement or lack thereof is addressed.
Coming next week …
We see Bajoran political angst and we meet a couple major players going forward.
The Enterprise is chasing a vessel of the mysterious Ferengi, who may have stolen some energy doohickey. The chase takes them to a star system, and the Ferengi ship seems to have a weapon that is draining all the Enterprise’s power. Picard contacts the Ferengi to surrender — second surrender in the first four episodes! — and learns the Ferengi are being affected in the same way. The two ships determine something on the planet’s to blame, so they beam down away teams. After Riker and Co., are assaulted by the Ferengi, an automated ‘portal’ left behind on the planet from the long-dead Tkon Empire appears to pass judgment. Riker uses some Kirk-style verbal tricks to impress the portal (yawn), saving the away team and the ship (which was about dead in orbit). Riker also asks the portal to spare the Ferengi, which he does.
Why it’s important
Well, the Ferengi were supposed to be TNG’s big enemies. They’re mentioned in “Encounter at Farpoint”, and Picard implies that they’ve been known to eat their past business associates. Of course, the Ferengi we see in this episode are far from intimidating. They’re really just incredibly annoying.
Essentially, the creators gave themselves a mulligan on the Ferengi — an alien race they clearly spent time developing but one that didn’t work out. In the first and second seasons, the Ferengi are made out to be adversaries on par with the Romulans, Klingons — and later, the Cardassians and the Breen. But by season three, they’re not seen as a major threat. They’re really just a nuisance. When the Dominion War breaks out in the latter seasons of DS9, the Ferengi Alliance doesn’t rank as high as the other Alpha Quadrant powers and doesn’t appear to get involved in the war.
The best thing that this episode did was to lay the groundwork for the character of Quark in DS9. Armin Shimerman, who plays one of the Ferengi on the planet, brought a level of depth to his portrayal of Quark that almost made sitting through the two Ferengi episodes a year on DS9 doable. Almost …
What doesn’t hold up
It’s been said that early TNG isn’t just bad TNG. It’s more like bad TOS. This episode could have fit right into the original series, with Riker playing the part of Kirk on the surface, leading the fight scenes against the bad guys. Picard, on the ship, plays the part of Scotty. Later in TNG, the roles are reversed, with Picard and Data taking on the Kirk/Spock roles and Riker often left behind to mind the store. In some ways, this change helped make TNG a better series — but the marginalization of Riker gets pretty ridiculous in the sixth and seventh seasons. More on that in later reviews.
The solution in this episode, meanwhile, is also vintage TOS. Riker, as Kirk, tells the portal some enlightened human ideas, impresses him and then shows mercy. I’m not saying that’s a particularly bad approach, but it wasn’t particularly well done here — and it certainly isn’t in the stylings of TNG at its best.
The informal attitude on the bridge and among characters is strange here, too. The attempts at witty dialog are pretty bad. It’s clear that the writers were still getting their sea (space?) legs.
There’s also something odd about the scene where Riker materializes on the planet without the rest of the away team. It’s a really dull scene where he walks around looking for everyone (“Annnyybodddyyyy?!”), eventually finding Geordi and Data. What’s also odd is the way Riker asks who the Ferengi are before they attack. I guess he wouldn’t know their names — but wouldn’t he know that they’re the Ferengi away team?
I’ve always wondered if the idea when the scene was shot was for it to begin the episode. Much of first-season TNG was re-written on the fly, so maybe that scene was filmed and then the scenes on the Enterprise leading up to it were added. Even if it’s not the case, the early stuff on the planet is pretty weak.
Perhaps the episode’s goofiest notion, though, is that Crusher would spend what she thought were her last moments alive — on the bridge WITHOUT WESLEY. She tells Picard that Wesley is in their quarters (Wil Wheaton doesn’t appear on camera) but why wouldn’t she be there, with her only son? Sometimes TV shows have to work around the availability of certain actors, but here, the conceit is just ridiculous. The real problem (other than the lack of Wheaton in the episode) is that Riker takes the entire bridge crew (other than Picard and Troi) to the planet, so having Crusher on the bridge keeps Picard from spending what might be his final moments with some nameless ensign. But still …
Oh, and it’s a small thing, but this is the first time we see the inconsistent treatment of gold in second-generation Trek. The Ferengi take communicators off several members of the away team and make comments about their worth. In later episodes, we learn that gold — on its own — is somewhat worthless, but that gold-pressed latinum is a major galactic currency. The matter is pretty inconsistent even on DS9, where the presence of Quark brings latinum into the conversation like 20 times an episode.
This episode, like “The Savage Curtain”, is another that we don’t really recommend for quality — but still is sort of essential viewing. The Ferengi are a major race in Trek going forward, even if their standing changes a lot over the years. And the Ferengi whip weapons are pretty cool in a retro sort of way.
Arguably, there are just two other episodes of TNG where the Ferengi are villains in the classic Klingon/Romulan sense — “The Battle” later in the first season and “Peak Performance” in season two (and perhaps “Bloodlines” in season seven). Mostly, they’re more like conniving cheats, like in “The Price,” “The Perfect Mate” or “Captain’s Holiday.” That change probably made a lot of sense, as taking the Ferengi seriously was never very easy. But why the creators didn’t simply choose to move on from the Ferengi — like, never show them again — is perplexing. Episodes of Ferengi mischief made some sense on DS9 with Quark and his antics. But inserting them into Voyager and (especially) Enterprise? It’s almost as if the creators couldn’t believe that the Ferengi weren’t well-received, so they kept going back to the well.
Coming next week …
Holodecks and the people who recreate in them — even though the damn things are 24th-century death traps.
On the Enterprise-D’s maiden voyage, a mysterious and powerful entity calling himself Q (John de Lancie) blocks the ship’s path to Farpoint Station, accusing humans of being a “savage, child race” and telling them they must stop exploring the galaxy. After some verbal sparring with the ship’s commander, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Q puts the crew on trial for the crimes of humanity and then decides to judge them based on their ability to solve the mystery at Farpoint (natch). The new station seems almost magical and the station’s builders are loathe to answer any questions about it. On the clock with Q’s impending judgment and with a mysterious ship in orbit attacking the planet’s inhabitants — but not the station — Picard and Co. learn at the last moment that the station is actually a space lifeform forced to become the station by the planet’s inhabitants. Picard helps free the lifeform, and it leaves with its mate, which was actually the ship in orbit. Q declares the puzzle as too easy — which it really was — and leaves, but does not promise never to return (thunderclap). Then, the new crew decides to “see what’s out there,” and begins the 7-year run of the Enterprise-D.
Why it’s important
As Trek’s first television foray since 1969 — other than “The Animated Series” — “Encounter at Farpoint” establishes the new Enterprise, the crew (with surprisingly detailed backstories for many of the characters and only a smidge too much exposition) and, of course, Q. It’s hard to evaluate, all these years later, just how groundbreaking the episode was at the time, but it was clearly a reimagined version of Starfleet and the Federation we knew and loved — a version with a lot of spark and creativity. Next to the release of the original series and “Star Trek — The Motion Picture”, this is probably Trek’s most important premiere, from a real-world perspective.
Within the Star Trek universe, this episode shows that humanity and the Federation have made some major headway since last we saw Kirk and Co. In real time, the last Star Trek available prior to TNG in fall 1987 was “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” in 1986. We last saw the original crew on the bridge of the new Enterprise-A, which we learn later was 80 years before the events of this episode. Starfleet technology has notably advanced in the intervening time, things are at least somewhat better with the Klingons (with Worf on the bridge and all) and the high-sounding words of Picard and others clearly advance the idea that humanity continued to evolve.
We also learn that the Enterprise carries families and can separate when going into battle. The saucer section, carrying the families, presumably would run for cover while the star drive goes to kick some ass. It’s kind of an odd concept (more below).
We also meet Q, who is noteworthy as Trek’s first truly recurring villain. Khan might qualify, but he only appears in one episode and one movie, while Q makes regular appearances on TNG, shows up once on DS9 and three times onVoyager. Q, of course, introduces the Enterprise to the Borg in TNG’s second season — though it’s pretty clear that the Borg had dealings with the Federation (that weren’t apparent or possibly public knowledge) prior to Q’s actions in “Q Who?” In other words, it’s more than likely that the the Borg would have become a big thing to the Federation at some point, even if Q accelerated the timetable.
Lastly, we hear the name of a fairly important alien race for the first time in this episode: the Ferengi. Of course, they’re made out to be far more intimidating than what we see a few episodes later and throughout most of second-generation Trek. Picard actually says they’ve eaten their past business associates. Not sure the Brothers Quark would agree with that …
What doesn’t hold up
As this is was a pilot episode and the beginning of second-generation Star Trek, some rough spots were understandable (but worth noting):
— The technology is weird. Picard mentions use of computer printouts (!) and the bad science of TOS continues in a few spots. How did the Enterprise separate the saucer at warp if the saucer has no warp engines? And how did the saucer escape the encounter with Q and make it back to Farpoint on impulse? Were they that close to the planet when Q attacked? If so, was there really any advantage in removing the saucer?
— The saucer separation idea was a bizarre item in the first place, considering how rarely the move was made (just “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “The Best of Both Worlds”, and “Star Trek: Generations”). In only one of those instances was the saucer separated so the kiddies could get away before possible battle, despite multiple occasions where it could have been used. One that always stood out was the encounter with the Lore-led Borg in the “Descent” two-parter — where the ship uses a subspace corridor to follow the Borg into space that the crew knows will be hostile. I’m sure the initial idea was about a “gee-whiz” factor made possible by improved effects. Either that wore off, or the creators decided they didn’t like the headless-duck look of the star drive that much. Or both.
— Some of the characters weren’t quite right. Picard (as he does for most of season 1) seems officious and unnecessarily harsh. Data, much like Spock in early TOS, is too human (and he uses a lot of contractions and apparently can’t read a calendar). Troi’s emotive behavior when sensing emotions was just WAY over the top (not surprisingly, considering Marina Sirtis was probably Trek’s weakest regular actor). Everyone else was more or less on target with at least the first-season versions of the characters (Riker is stiff, Yar is overly earnest, Worf is too willing to pull a phaser, etc.).
— While Q generally fits with what we see later, it’s odd that he would need to throw force fields up in the middle or space or have the weird flaming-globe ship that pursues the Enterprise. It was probably another example of the creators wanting to flex their effects muscles, but if Q is all powerful, why would he need to have a vessel (or whatever that thing is) travel at warp in pursuit of the Enterprise? Was it a matter of further intimidating Picard and Co.? We only see the force field once more, after which Q’s powers are far less effects-driven.
— Lastly, it seems like Picard doesn’t know that much about how his officers were assigned to the ship. His line about how he was “informed” that “a highly experienced man” would join the ship at Farpoint seems like Picard didn’t actually pick his first officer, which runs counter to what we learn later (notably in “The Pegasus”). Same sort of goes for Picard’s discussion with Crusher late in the episode. How didn’t he know that Crusher asked for the assignment? More on that in a moment …
Again, “Encounter at Farpoint” is a pilot episode and should be given some slack (probably as much as any Trek episode other than “The Cage” and maybe “Where No Man Has Gone Before”). But there were clearly some editing issues. Why, for example, did Riker and Data formally meet on the holodeck when Data was at ops when Riker rejoined the saucer and the star drive? For that matter, why didn’t Riker just summon Data using his communicator? I know it allowed for the introduction of the holodeck, but it sure seems off. It feels like the holodeck scene was added later.
Also, why did Picard (in a scene often cut for time) take a few minutes in the middle of a crisis to go to sickbay and apologize to Crusher for the weird encounter with Wesley on the bridge? It would have made sense after the crisis was averted — but during, with a ticking clock and humanity’s future at stake? It almost feels like that scene was moved up for the sake of pacing everything else.
In fact, the entire situation with Picard and Crusher makes little sense. Surely, Picard would have known that his best friend’s widow had a son who was going to live on the ship, and would have pieced together that the boy in the turbolift — if not the boy dripping wet from the holodeck a few minutes earlier — was Jack Crusher’s offspring.
Granted, Picard and Crusher’s relationship prior to “Encounter at Farpoint” is pretty murky. But they clearly had some shared friends — e.g., Walker Keel, whom we meet in “Conspiracy” — and had enough interactions where Picard had strong feelings for Crusher (“Attached”). But here, it’s almost as if they’re nothing more than acquaintances connected by Jack Crusher.
The whole thing with Admiral McCoy inspecting the Enterprise was odd, too. How did Riker — whom we learn later came to the Enterprise from the Hood, where he was first officer — not know that a Starfleet legend was on the Hood to be transported to the Enterprise (and back) for an inspection? Or was McCoy on the Enterprise the whole time during the encounter with Q and transported to the Hood only after? Or was McCoy at Farpoint? Regardless, how didn’t Riker know about McCoy? I’m not against the “hand off” moment between McCoy and Data, but it could have been done a lot better. And, really, I wasn’t a fan of the fact that McCoy acted more like a redneck in this episode — his decision to call Data “boy”, etc. It’s almost like DeForest Kelley was doing a spoof on McCoy. Did he have too many Georgia Mint Juleps on the Hood?
Beyond that, was the Hood in orbit of Farpoint the whole time Riker was playing gumshoe before the Enterprise arrived and until McCoy was transported to the Hood in a shuttle? If so, we never see the ship or hear it mentioned. The natural assumption, too, is that Crusher, Wesley and La Forge were transported by the Hood to Farpoint (though this is never made clear).
Lastly, the post-atomic horror court scene created by Q is probably the low point of the episode. A lot of the acting — both by Patrick Stewart (surprisingly) and Denise Crosby and Sirtis (not all that surprisingly) — was pretty awful. The little person with the bell and the Asian announcer dude are straight out of the Book of Bad 1980s Sci-Fi Crutches — not shockingly, they aren’t part of the court’s recreation in “All Good Things …” — and there’s no blood when the guard attacked by Yar is shot repeatedly with automatic weapons just inches from Picard. Oh, and what’s with the conn officer (whom we learn later is Miles O’Brien) acting as if nothing had happened when Picard, Data, Yar and Troi returned to the battle bridge? He says they’ve been on course and acts as if the ship wasn’t in battle — despite the fact that the ship had separated. WTF, Miles? If everything’s cool, where’s the rest of the damn ship?
It’s also worth noting that things apparently didn’t get rosy on 21st-century Earth until well past the events of “Star Trek: First Contact” in 2063. Q says the courtroom is depicted from 2078, and Troi is very clear to Picard when she says the entire situation was “very real.” I suppose you could argue that Earth (or all parts of Earth) didn’t set course to be paradise immediately after the Vulcans landed in central Montana. But that leaves a lot less time for Earth to be as ship shape as we see it in the 2150s in “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Remember that we’re talking about a planet that, in 90 years, supposedly went from being ravaged by a world war to a society that’s totally eliminated hunger, conflict, etc.
Coming later this week …
We’re not sure you have the lobes needed for us to tell you, hu-man.
What if a site focused on the really important Star Trek episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?