The mysterious Ferengi steal a T-9 energy converter From the Federation. The Enterprise follows in pursuit, but they'd like to avoid starting a war. Both ships are then caught in a power drain above planet Gamma Tauri IV, and at first both believe that the other is draining their ship. Both send landing parties to investigate, and the landing parties battle each other until Portal appears to stop all that nonsense. Riker convinces Portal the humans aren't all bad, and not to kill the Ferengi even though they're not all that great. He also catches Portal up on the fact that the Tkon Empire were wiped out by a supernova forever ago. Portal offhandedly releases the ships just before life support gives out, the Ferengi return their stolen property, and everyone goes their separate ways.
Ok, I have a problem with the ancient advanced civilization being killed by a supernova. Supernovas are when giant G stars explode, and yes they do wipe out a huge area, but they're a surprise like a jack in the box is a surprise. You get to the end of the song and Pop! You'd think the ? Would have started some colonies out of the reach of good ole jack. The home base of their empire would still be wiped out and it would be tremendously difficult to evacuate everyone from there, but for goodness sakes, there would be some descendants who might retain some of their knowledge and technology. And yes, a lot of time has passed, and maybe those descendants would dwindle and die off anyway... But the episode makes it sound like the supernova took care of it all, like everyone decided that if they couldn't be the biggest and the best any more, they'd just let themselves be killed. Maybe that fits Portal's attitude after all.
Anyway, the episode was mostly about the Ferengi. They're mentioned in the first episode, and in case you didn't guess it then, captain Picard clarifies that hardly anything is known about them. Seriously, the Federation knew more about those Code of Honor dudes. Even seeing a Ferengi is a big deal, and boy are they ugly. They also think that we're barbarians for making our women wear clothes. Heh heh.
The Ferengi are kinda jumpy and believe strongly in "buyer beware," which is why the encounter doesn't go very well. Luckily they're not very good at lying to Portal. They don't seem like very promising acquaintances, but they at least don't manage to kill anyone. I'm sure we'll see more of them in later episodes, seeing as how prominently they've been mentioned.
What I hope we don't see is much more of the politics expressed in this episode. If you're thinking of captain Picard's unexplainable obsession with the French, you're close, but not quite. I'm talking about all the boo-hooing about capitalism in the form of the admittedly dastardly Ferengi. Buyer beware? In a truly free market, with the kind of cheap mass communication we have today, "buyer beware" companies tend to get blacklisted by consumers. Some dishonesty will always manage to thrive, but only just as it does in any market, either because the dishonesty is low level and mostly harmless, or because it takes time to get caught. A free market isn't necessarily free of morals as this episode strongly implies. It would be true, though, that a free market likely would not share a value such as the prime directive.
I've never thought of the Federation as an exemplar of Libertarianism, but it was annoying to have limited market values shoved in my face as an oh-so-advanced civilization. He Ferengi are so bad that they're almost a parody of themselves, for goodness sake. Our one ray of hope for them, where we can see a glimpse of Deep Space Nine Ferengi, is Captain Picard's exchange with their captain.
"all civilized societies agree..."
"are you calling us uncivilized?"
Way to go, Ferengi. Even if humans are advanced in many ways, that's no reason to let them belittle you without at least calling them out. Also? Captain Picard totally lied to you because he was too chicken to be honest from the get-go. They're not perfect, either.
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