Welcome as always to the latest ‘Final Frontier Friday’! This time around, we’ll be closing out 2018 with a look at ‘The Battle’.
So I know that I sometimes have a habit of falling into patterns here, and I’ll promise you right now that 2019 is not going to be the Year of the Ferengi in this column. Actually, to pull back the curtain a bit, I had something entirely different in mind for this week (no, I won’t tell you what it was), and changed those plans in favor of a direct follow-up to our look at ‘The Last Outpost‘ because, frankly, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. See, I’ve seen all these shows before (many times, in fact), but in covering them for this column, I often find there are things I don’t really think about when watching the episodes for fun that affect the way I react to them. In this case, it was the realization of just how quickly the ‘Next Generation’ team abandoned the Ferengi.
I went into more detail last time, but if you recall, the galactic “Yankee traders” were meant to serve as a recurring antagonist in the vein of the Klingons. That… didn’t exactly pan out, thanks in no small part to the fact that for a variety of reasons (including their tendency to jump around like coked up hamsters and not actually being the actual threat faced by our heroes in the episode that was supposed to set them up as, well, a threat to our heroes), they were impossible at this early stage to take seriously.
And yet, the producers were quick to try again. The Ferengi made their first return appearance in ‘The Battle’, which aired just shy of a month after their inauspicious debut. You certainly can’t blame them for trying, especially since they had invested so much effort behind the scenes in these would-be villains. And it wasn’t as if they didn’t learn a thing or two from ‘The Last Outpost’, as director Rob Bowman was reportedly given a “what not to do” list with regard to the handling of the Ferengi. And yet, this also marked the point at which they were effectively abandoned. After ‘The Battle’, the Ferengi would not be seen again until nearly two years later (‘The Battle aired on November 16, 1987), when they made a minor appearance in the season two episode ‘Peak Performance’ (aired on July 10, 1989). So what happened? If they were willing to try again so soon after the disaster that was ‘The Last Outpost’, how bad did ‘The Battle’ have to be to effectively render the Ferengi radioactive for two years? Because as minor as their role in ‘Peak Performance’ was, it wasn’t until the third season (following two years of near constant behind the scenes turnover) that the Ferengi began to appear semi-regularly and started finally started on the road to some sort of redemption. A road that eventually led to ‘Deep Space Nine.’ But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Starfleet has sent the Enterprise to rendezvous with a Ferengi vessel in the Xendi Sabu system. Despite having requested the meeting, the Ferengi have spent the three days since the Enterprise’s arrival saying nothing but “Stand by, Enterprise.” As they, well, standby, Picard complains of a headache which he attributes to stress over the Ferengi situation. As he discusses this with Crusher, they are interrupted by a signal from the Ferengi ship. It’s Commander DaiMon Bok. Bok claims to know Picard, though the captain doesn’t recognize him. Bok asks to meet in person, and a wary Picard invites him aboard the Enterprise.
Ahead of Bok’s arrival, Crusher manages to get Picard down to sickbay. She is unable to find a physiological cause for his headache and gives him a painkiller, saying that she’ll expect him back for follow up scans. Wesley arrives on the bridge to warn the officers that they’ll “soon be getting an intruder alert.” When the alert goes off as predicted, Wesley identification the source as an incoming Constellation class starship which LaForge confirms from sensor readings. Wesley begins to explain that he had been toying with long range sensors in main engineering when Picard – his headache seeming to spike – chastises the acting Ensign for reporting this to the bridge personally rather than using the handy-dandy intercom they just had installed.
Data alerts Picard that it’s time for the meeting, just before Bok and a pair of officers – Kazago and Rata – beam to the bridge. As they exchange what passes for pleasantries, Yar interrupts to report that the unidentified starship is still approaching. Bok assures them they have nothing to worry about. You see, the vessel is under Ferengi control and they intend to present it as a gift to Picard, whom Bok refers to as “the hero of Maxia.” Picard is puzzled, though Data quickly surmises that Bok is referring to an incident nine years previous the in the Maxia Zeta system. There, Picard – then in command of the Stargazer – destroyed an unidentified vessel (which Bok indignantly informs the Starfleet crew was a Ferengi ship) in self-defense. As the ship approaches, it appears on the main viewer and Bok’s associates are appalled when he informs Picard that the ship – which he now recognizes as the Stargazer – is to be returned to him at no cost.
After Bok and his people return to their ship, the Enterprise prepares to formally take possession of the Stargazer. Picard is back in sickbay for his headaches, this time with Troi alongside. As he describes the headache intensifying during the Ferengi meeting, Troi adds that she felt something too, “like a thought, but rather mechanical in nature.” Picard tells them that at that moment he had been recalling a battle he experienced on the Stargazer.
Later, in a briefing, Picard recounts the so-called Battle Of Maxia to the senior staff. The Stargazer was traveling through the Maxia Zeta system at warp two when an unidentified ship came out of nowhere and opened fire at close range, crippling the Stargazer. With the enemy ship coming in for the kill, Picard took the helm and made a brief jump to high warp, the effect of which was to make it appear the Stargazer was for a few seconds in two places at once. This technique – now known in Starfleet as the Picard Maneuver – allowed the Stargazer to catch the enemy vessel off guard and hit it with everything they had. But while they survived the battle, the Stargazer was adrift, her crew limping along in shuttlecraft for weeks before they were rescued.
As he tells the story, Picard at times seems a bit too caught up in it, briefly appearing to address his former tactical officer, for example. After taking possession of the ship, a team including LaForge, Worf, Data and Yar inspect the Stargazer and give it the all clear, at which time Picard and Crusher beam over. After a few nostalgic moments on the bridge, Picard excuses himself to his old cabin to look over his personal effects. While there, he is struck by another headache. As the captain doubles over in pain, we see a glowing red orb among his possessions. Bok is then shown with a matching orb, with which he is seen to control the other. Crusher then walks in and orders Picard back to the Enterprise, telling him that she’ll have his things beamed over.
He returns briefly to the bridge of the Enterprise, but is still visibly uncomfortable, and soon heads for his quarters, leaving Riker in command. While Picard dreams about the battle, Data meets with Riker in the ready room to deliver some disturbing news. He has been reviewing the Stargazer logs, and in doing so has come across an account of the battle that differs starkly from Picard’s. According to the log, the Ferengi vessel had been flying a flag of truce when the Stargazer attacked and destroyed her without provocation. The damning entry is logged in Picard’s voice, no less.
Riker plays the log entry for Picard, though he refuses to believe his captain would do such a thing. Despite his conviction that the Ferengi faked the log entry, Riker nonetheless has a duty to report this development to Starfleet. At best, it has the potential to be a serious embarrassment for the Federation, particularly in the face of friendly overtures from the Ferengi, unless the Enterprise crew can get to the bottom of things. Riker reaches out to Kazago, hoping for a frank, first officer to first officer conversation with the Ferengi. Kazago is indignant at Riker’s insinuations about the possibility of some ulterior motive on Bok’s part but does nothing to allay Riker’s suspicions. Picard confides in Crusher that he’s beginning to second guess not only his actions at Maxia but increasingly, his sanity. Crusher gives him a sedative, places a cortical monitor on his head, and leaves. Bok, meanwhile, manipulates his device and declares that Picard is ready to relive the past.