In which we meet a new expy, User Interface Design is not intuitive across humanoid species, and the Enterprise sends a box of tribbles to the Klingons.
The Enterprise is in pursuit of a Ferengi starship which has stolen a macguffin from an unmanned listening post. In “Encounter at Farpoint,” The Ferengi were mentioned as a rival power to the Federation and used as a bargaining chip, and here we see that they are not on close speaking terms. This would, in fact, be an opportunity for the Federation to make close contact with the Ferengi. Wonder how that’s gonna go. They catch up near a solar system with 11 unexplored planets and the Ferengi drop to subluminal speeds. Ferengi technology is estimated to be approximately equivalent to Federation tech, so when the Ferengi unleash a weird blast from their engines the Enterprise shields take the hit and keep on trucking.
The shields hold, but the EMP may have done something to the electronics and fusion power plants aboard the Enterprise. The Ferengi ship turns to fight, and suddenly all the power systems aboard the Enterprise begin to fail. It seems that the Ferengi ship has a distinct advantage in tech.
I say seems here for a couple of reasons. First, I know stuff because this is not my first rodeo. Second, the plot structure and timing of the break. Third, because in-universe Starfleet and the Federation are the Science Faction. They go around making alliances and learning about everyone’s tech and incorporating it and getting all super awesome. What bothers me is that the ship has insufficient power to fire torpedoes. How, exactly, does that work. Torpedoes, as we learned in, if not earlier, “The Undiscovered Country,” torpedoes are physical objects that have a warhead, a small sensor suite, and their own engine. On the Constitution refits, photon torpedoes could be launched by two guys and a good shove. This is an instance of the Enterprise D being over-engineered for its tasks – how much energy does it take to push a pod out of a tube compared to how much it takes to keep a ship that size breathing and the gravity on?
The Ferengi are, apparently, merchant traders, and Federation scholars also point out that the Ferengi embody the very worst quality of capitalism. They’ll sell whatever they can and let the buyer beware. No regulation – an entire society of Randian Objectivists. I’d worry more about offending my readers but if there are any Randian Objectivists who like Star Trek I would like to pick your brain because I have trouble believing you exist.
Down in the engine room, Geordi and Riker talk through the problem of the force field. There’s enough of a feedback delay between the ship moving and the force field responding that they can shift back and fort. Like a car getting out of deep snow. Or like putting too much air in a balloon! They get the maneuver ready, and Picard opens hailing frequencies and makes some demands and the ship gets ready to go. They engage, shake for a bit, and nothing seems to happen.
The Ferengi, or at least someone, is apparently downloading the entire Enterprise database. Troi suggests that they actually examine the planet at this time. With the Enterprise rapidly running out of power, Picard looks to his senior staff for options. Predictably, Yar and Worf recommend an all-out attack, and Picard doesn’t like this option because it’s aggressive, crazy, and, let us not forget, the kind of thing Q would gloat about humans still being barbaric. Instead, Picard requests terms from the Ferengi, though he doesn’t actually say the words “we surrender.”
The Ferengi open their hailing at last, and the Ferengi state that they flatly refuse to consider unconditional surrender. Proof, therefore, that the Ferengi are in just as bad a position as the Enterprise. The Ferengi apparently have customs that require them to forfeit the lives of their lieutenants when surrendering. It seems odd at first, but I can see where that came from in context. After all, when companies produce a product that kills a few hundred people, someone has to get fired for it.
Data does some research and determines that the planet once belonged to the Tkon empire, which has been extinct for 600,000 years. He talks about his research as he gets his fingers stuck in a chinese finger trap. They display a holographic image on the conference room table, and they discover that the planet is emitting a field that’s holding both ships. Also, as a bit of flavor, the Tkon empire was capable of moving stars but went extinct when the home star went supernova. This is another one of those things that you should read those books I mentioned and have linked to several times. But of course you already did that.
After much beligerant chatter, the two agree to beam a joint team down to the surface to examine the source of the power drain. Troi senses deceit, or at least obfuscation. The Enterprise beams down Yar, Riker, Geordi, Data, Worf, and possibly some goldshirt cannon fodder, and due to the force field there’s no guarantee they can make it back.
The planet is barren, storm-wracked, and the away team arrives in separate locations, split up by the storm or the local geography. Riker finds Data first, then Geordi, who’s hanging by his foot from a rock. Then they all get stunned by Ferengi with taser-whips. Which, how do you aim a taser whip?
Six hours later, the Enterprise is bleeding power, heat, although it’s not clear where they’re radiating it to, exactly.
Back on the planet, the Ferengi are stealing the commbadges and seem impressed that they’re made of gold. They don’t like the loud thunder, and the away team takes the opportunity to initiate a tussel. Ferengi are strong enough to give a good fight even when it’s Riker, Data, Geordi and Worf against only three of them. Then Yar shows up with a phaser. The Ferengi are at least as threatened by crazy Oo-mons who force their women to wear clothes as they are of the phaser. Yay gender and sexuality themes!
Unfortunately, it seems like all the energy weapons no longer work. The phaser blasts and taser whip charges get collected by the crystals, and Geordi’s VISOR lets him figure out that the whole planet is an energy accumulator. With hologrpahic Ghost-O-Vision, apparently. The specter is apparently immigration control. It demands to know why Riker (who was volunteered by the Ferengi when the specter demanded to speak to the champion) seeks admittance to the Tkon empire. It then spawns a corporeal body that’s pleased to be a biped. Sounds like a lot of people really wanted to join the Tkon. The guardian is a bit behind the times, even for an ancient civilization. It doesn’t even know the aeons, or leaders, or ‘ages’ up until the death of the empire. With quick thinking, the Ferengi accuse the Federation of coming to loot the Tkon empire, of withholding technology from backward worlds, and of clothing their females.
For all that they’re supposed to be interstellar traders, the Ferengi are notably lacking in any ability to incorporate multiculturalism into their worldview. Ever notice how, to a certain kind of mind, ‘my way’ is not just the right way, but the only sane way? Whatever that particular way happens to actually be. I mean, one could say the same for the Federation, but we have the advantage of having gotten to watch Kirk agonize over things. I’m given to wonder how much of this portrayal of the Ferengi reflects their actual society in 2364 and how much is Fundamental Attribution fallacy. Or at least I would if we didn’t get a really good look at society society inside and out in DS9. Ds9, by the way, is just an amazing deconstruction of everything TOS builds. I love it because it appeals to the cynic in me.
I digress. The guardian issues a challenge which is something of a riddle. It’s also a Sun Tzu quote. “He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” Picard and Riker were talking about it earlier on the bridge. It’s not really a question, but Riker manages to come back with an appropriate rejoinder. The guardian apparently likes the wisdom of Sun Tzu, which meshes well with the Tkon philosophies. The guardian releases the Enterprise and Riker kind of sighs and convinces it to release the Ferengi too. And in the finest spirit of an episode about multiculturalism, Riker beams a box of chinese finger puzzles over to the Ferengi ship as an allegory for… nah, out of pure spite, basically. Hey, at least finger puzzles don’t eat all your grain and fill every cubic centimeter with more finger puzzle. Unlike some other parting gifts I could name.
Counters: The Enterprise D is a hulking monstrosity of feature creep: 1
An alien species is a monoculture that shows off how flawed a modern philosophy is: 1