The first appearance of the Ferengi! Wow! Oh, how they’ve changed since this episode. Their characterisation as (in Data’s words) “traders, mercantile… caveat emptor” has remained, with their aggressively capitalist nature transformed from a “violent thief” to a “sneaky thief”. Their stooping, clawing, twisted movements disappeared over time too. One of the poor Ferengi on the planet acted like a cross between a monkey and the Wicked Witch of the West.
A nice part of the episode was the senior staff going through their options – not least because Troi, who I always found annoying with the confused face and “I am sensing… frustration?” nonsense, provided the solution to their dilemma. Even if that solution wasn’t the one that they wanted, or after being given new information, the one that they needed.
One of the most confusing parts of the episode was that upon entering the conference room, Riker had to shoo out two children. Maybe it’s because I’d forgotten how much the children are hanging around on the first season (reminding us that it’s a bigger ship than the original, that things are different?) or maybe it’s that certain areas – for example the conference room attached to the bridge – should probably be off-limits to civilians. Cruise ships today manage it, DS9 managed it, Babylon 5 managed it. Why can’t the Enterprise keep it’s children under control? Did the children leave the finger puzzle behind for Data to find? Or did they actually have no purpose at all for this episode?
I’ll have to try and remember the families on board the Enterprise when they are given a dangerous mission. So far, they’ve been on a routine negotiation (and kidnapped by Q), an investigation (and all contracted a dangerous virus), another routine negotiation (and Tasha was kidnapped) and this, chasing a thief. This is probably the most dangerous mission given so far, since the Ferengi are known to be vicious and their technology is unfamiliar to the Federation.
Viewscreens and Computers
I liked the way that the Ferengi used the viewscreens. Either they are trying to intimidate by having it so close-cropped to the face, or they are so unaccustomed to visual communication (as they say in the episode) that they don’t have it displayed on the main screen (as I would presume that they have) but instead on a small screen by the captain’s chair somewhere. The way that the Ferengi in their first communication always seems to be looking down and to one side, I’m inclined to believe the second. Maybe they only have visual communication for showing off merchandise for trade.
On the other hand, Data’s console flashed rapidly when someone accessed the Enterprise computers. I still don’t remember if it was confirmed that it was the Ferengi or the T’kon, but either way – why Data? Why not every computer console on the Enterprise? Why should a screen flash at all, who is looking at it? This really winds me up in film and television. It gets a bit of a pass in this episode because writers in the 1980’s are not necessarily as computer-literate as they are today.
I also noticed that the conference room had a table hologram in it to show what was going on with the planet and the power drain. I know that in Voyager, everyone was huddled around a relatively small monitor. Did the Enterprise crew break their table hologram? I’ll have to watch out and see when it was used again.
So power was draining out of the ship, and they prioritise life support. That makes sense. But life support appears to include artificial gravity and exclude heat. I would posit that regardless of relative energy consumption, people would last longer with the radiators on and floating around than they would sitting on the floor at minus 100 degrees. I would have guessed that artificial gravity would have taken much more energy than a bit of heating – especially if they were able to shut down levels of the ship to concentrate the life support on a fraction of inhabited decks to conserve power.
It’s a little hard to imagine how Sisko would deal with this situation, since he has so much more experience with the Ferengi – dealing with Quark, working with Rom and the whole spectrum from strong disapproval to mentor and sponsor for Nog. It’s a little unfair to Picard since the Federation at this point was only just encountering the Ferengi and preparing for some major friction. Janeway would probably have done the same as Picard. I can imagine Neelix, Kes, Paris or even Tuvok to provide Troi’s insight into first communication with the Ferengi. I would expect them to try and capitalise on the bluff with some impressive light shows, however doubt it would be too effective.
I think both Sisko and Janeway would have tried to go to the planet to investigate and regardless of whether the Ferengi joined them, encountered the Portal Guardian.
It all comes down to whether or not the Guardian mentioned Sun Tzu accidentally, dredged it up from deep in Riker’s memory (implying he scanned a lifetime in seconds) or read it off of the top of Riker’s mind, since the crew had only just been discussing Sun Tzu.
If Jadzia had been on the planet, I expect her long history and wisdom would have helped get past the Portal Guardian. Maybe he would even see some of the Emissary in Sisko? Tuvok might have provided the calm and wisdom for Janeway’s away team – she has a far younger crew than Sisko.
So this episode is noteworthy for the first appearance of the Ferengi, even though they will change a little over the course of The Next Generation before we end up with Quark on Deep Space Nine. The Ferengi were clearly never intended as an ‘alien of the week’, they were teased in the first TNG episode (Encounter at Farpoint) but this is the first appearance (Picard even notes that they don’t know what the Ferengi look like).
There’s a couple more things to add to my episode tracking…
- Number of almost complete power drains: 1
- Hackers advertising themselves: 1
- Number of surrenders: 1
There’s a couple of things that I hope to keep a track of over the series – whether or not the table hologram in the conference room ever comes up again, for instance. The Ferengi are surprisingly strong in this episode, although possibly that’s unique to the ‘marauder’ culture of Ferengi. Also, the Ferengi are keen on gold. As a big DS9 fan, that surprises me because the key currency there is gold-pressed latinum – “the valuable and unreplicable latinum encased in worthless gold”. Possibly increased contact with the Federation and other ‘post-scarcity’ cultures with replicator technology instigated this change in Ferengi values. Gold coating adorns all of the indicators of wealth we see later in Ferengi culture, it can’t be merely a container for the latinum that is the real prize.