04. The Last Outpost

Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of Star Trek, Figuring It Out. On today’s episode, the crew of the enterprise try to figure out what they should do, the actors who play the crew try to figure out who their characters are, and the makers of Star Trek try to figure out what is and what isn’t racist.

How about: “The Last Outpost (spoiler alert: it’s a Chinese finger puzzle!)”

Funny Things

  1. What is going on with Geordi? I feel like he’s still drunk and living in the Naked Now. He’s sitting on the conference table, laughing cruelly at Data, talking to himself at ops, talking like one of the Dukes of Hazzard (whoo-ee, shift down and kick it into reverse), and smarting off to Riker (“Do I look conscious?”). This is not the Geordi I remember…
  1. Is it me or is every piece of Tasha Yar dialogue a variation on “Let’s attack”?
  1. How optimistic is Picard? He’s on a policing mission for Starfleet, chasing down Ferengi to retrieve something they’ve stolen, but he feels, this is a great chance for our two species to get to know each other.
  1. Portal is amusing. He starts out as the Wizard of Oz, transforms into Emperor Palpatine, then the old man from the Bridge of Death, and finally becomes Slartibartfast faster than you can say airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

 

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

I mined several morals out of the story that are kind of interwoven. However, I think it boils down to similar ideas from Encounter at Farpoint Station. That is this how should we  behave when we encounter the unknown. The answer is just be good by being flexible and humble, and give others choices.

Keep reassessing things – Picard never takes for granted that he knows what’s going on, so he is constantly gathering information, seeking opinions, and reassessing the situation. That’s why he can adapt to what is going on around him.

Don’t be arrogant – We see Picard and their crew fall short of their ideals and correct themselves twice. Their sin is arrogance. Riker’s trick to use a high warp burst to escape the energy field fails miserably despite their confidence. They prepare to surrender. When they realize the Ferengi are in just as much trouble as they, Picard is arrogant again, but realizes he shouldn’t be, that to get out of the mess they need to work together. Unfortunately, not everyone learns the lesson and Riker later seems arrogantly superior to the Ferengi.

Cooperate with others – We should help each other. Only through cooperation can we find the best possible way. That’s what the whole metaphor about the finger trap is about. The two sides have to move towards each other to resolve problems.

Greed and dishonesty are just bad – These are the opposite of cooperating with others. The two ships cooperating saved them. This is what made Portal interested in them. Their greed and dishonesty nearly undid the Ferengi. Portal was willing to destroy them.

If you believe something, you should act on it – Riker says as much to Portal when he is accused by the Ferengi, and then again in the end he says he is worried because given their technology, the Ferengi are different. But his beliefs require him to allow them to go on.

Fear is the true enemy – Fear makes us lash out at the unknown other, and that is the initial reaction of many of the crew when they encounter the Ferengi. Only Picard and Troi keep them from doing so. Fear prevents beings from cooperating and makes them greedy. Riker says to Portal, fear is the only enemy, which saves their lives.

Force is the last resort – The use of force takes choices away from others and is the opposite of cooperating, and while Picard is willing to use force if necessary, he makes sure that he’s exhausted every other option.

Size matters – This is a message that comes out and threatens to weaken the other messages. Clearly the crew of the Enterprise think less of the Ferengi because of their size. The Ferengi make themselves look huge because they’re ashamed of their stature. Thus the episode conveys the message being short is bad.

 

Does It Hold Up?

I’m going with an emphatic no. Again.

The special effects, directing, and music aren’t great.

Data isn’t subtle in this one, and that makes him unfunny.

Plus, what’s with the bridge crew chatting and criticizing the Ferengi during diplomatic negotiations? Talk about unprofessional.

The biggest problem I have is the racism. The Ferengi are criticized for what they are more than for what they do.

Plus, I think this is similar to Code of Honor for two reasons.

One because the production hired a bunch of short actors to play the aliens. What’s worse, they were insulted for being short (Yar called one “Shorty.” And Data holds one in the air and condescendingly says, “Be careful, they’re stronger than they look.”)

Two is I got the feeling the Ferengi were a standin for Japanese people.

Consider:

1) this episode was made during the height of the American anti-Japanese sentiments

2) the aggressive business tactics of some Japanese companies at the time were attributed to avarice

3) Daimon is a Japanese last name

4) the Ferengi embody the stereotypes Americans have of Japanese people: a) they’re short, b) they’re duplicitous, c) they’re sexist

5) The grammatical mistakes the Ferengi make have an Asian quality to them

6) The way the Ferengi on the planet moved are reminiscent of American propaganda posters that depicted Japanese people as either monkeys or snakes

I wonder if (hope that) I’m reading too much into this. This maybe a knee jerk reaction based on the fact that I live in Japan and am part of a Japanese family. Perhaps, I’m seeing insult where I shouldn’t.

What do you think?

 

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