Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) believes that some remnant of the Tkon Empire -- extinct now for 600,000 years -- may be responsible for the force draining power from the ship.
Portal issues a challenge to the intruders in his Empire, and Riker answers it.
Then, down on the surface of a planet, the two forces are confronted by a highly advanced alien with the power to destroy either competitor. Here the Tkon's sleeping guardian stands in for the Metrons, but in both cases, the advanced race is impressed by human values, and relents in its hostile pursuits.
And once more in The Next Generation, the Starfleet characters learn nothing from their adventure, but are all too happy to share their disdain for those less advanced than they are (in this case, the Ferengi).
So, just think, if you were watching these shows sequentially in 1987, at this point Captain Picard had a fifty percent surrender rate when contending with danger. That's not good.
Here, for instance, Portal reads Riker’s mind, sees the brilliance of Sun Tzu’s philosophy, and takes the side of the humans in the conflict with the Ferengi. Then, Portal and Riker talk together about how they shouldn’t kill the primitive Ferengi, and that some day the Ferengi might grow up, or mature out of their foolishness.
If the original Star Trek functioned as a Cold War allegory with Starfleet representing the United States and Klingons representing the U.S.S.R., then the Ferengi represent a daring risk for the 1980's. They represent America in the age of “greed is good” Gordon Gekko. I think that in concept and execution they are ambitious, even genius. They are a mirror to who we were, as a nation, in the Age of Trickle Down Economics.
Star Trek redeemed the Ferengi in later seasons, and later series, and with outstanding characters such as Rom and Nog. The writers could have looked at “The Last Outpost,” deemed it a failure, and never featured the aliens again. Instead, the Ferengi remain, today, one of the most fascinating and well-developed races in Star Trek lore.
I remember the preview for this episode airing on WPIX Channel 11, out of New York. The narrator breathlessly spoke of the Enterprise crew fighting alien “predators,” and that description set up the belief for many viewers that the Ferengi were going to be a terrifying alien race and a real threat to Starfleet.
And of course, none of that materialized. The extremely negative response to the Ferengi n “The Last Outpost” could be, simply, a matter of high expectations quashed.
Also, the hologram read-outs in the Enterprise briefing room look terrific, and I wish they had been used throughout the series.