The Last Outpost

On a whim, I decided to watch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation today. There was no particular reason; I just found myself thinking about it and the fact that I’ve only seen bits and pieces of TNG over the years as a result of watching it on the arbitrary demands of cable television. How did we ever function without instant streaming? How could we follow the complex and nuanced plot development without watching back-to-back-to-back episodes on season DVD binges?

The episode I selected was season 1’s “the Last Outpost.” I think this was the fourth or fifth episode in the series and promised “the introduction of the Ferengi.” Now, I’ve seen enough Star Trek over the years to know about the Ferengi. I know Quark, even if Deep Space Nine was my least favorite series of the three that I watched primarily (TNG, DS9, and Voyager, although now Voyager would probably be more annoying to me). I thought I knew what to expect about the Ferengi.

Except, not really. I didn’t realize (or else had forgotten) that they were intended to be an antagonistic race, like the Klingons or the Romulans. This blew my mind to a group described as “18th century Yankee traders” were intended by the writers to be a major antagonist. Was the original plot of the social meant to be an allegorical battle between communism and capitalism? Actually, it probably was, now that I think about it.

Also, it seems that that standards for writing dialogue in 1987 for television shows were a lot lower. This can only mean that pop culture and the Internet have made us all smarter. There can be no other possible interpretation of this single piece of anecdotal data.

I was very surprised to see that the Ferengi were meant to be scary. I mean, they did have the sharp teeth, which always seemed to be a little weird for a comedic character in the later shows, but really? That’s your effort at a space monster? I really want to know the “behind the scenes” reasoning for this; it’s not like this episode was made befoer we knew how to make scary aliens. We’re already in a post-xenomorph world in 1987, we knew how to make scary aliens.

Okay, maybe the xenomorph was a little too scary for a television show, but still. There’s a middle ground between the most nightmarish avatar of destruction and sexual imagery ever imagined and a race of stunted, vaguely goblin things that bounce around too much, wave their hands around for seemingly no reason, and have all the terror factor of . . . actually, I can’t think of anything less scary. I was going to say the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, but honestly, those were pretty creepy when I was a kid.

It was an interesting little experience. I might pick out more episodes and random and see what it’s like. I suppose I could watch all seven seasons (they’re on Netflix, after all), but honestly, I think that would probably take me the better part of a few years. We’ll see how it goes.

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