The Ferengi were planned to be the main villains of TNG, but they never took off. Now, Star Trek: Picard finally delivers a truly despicable Ferengi.
WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard season 3, episode 2, “Disengage.”The introduction of Ferengi gangster Sneed (Aaron Stanford) in Star Trek: Picard season 3 finally pays off the original vision that Gene Roddenberry had for Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s villains. The Ferengi were created by Gene Roddenberry and Herbert J. Wright as new antagonists for the crew of TNG‘s new USS Enterprise-D. As the Cold War came to an end toward the end of the 1980s, it was felt that TNG should have a new conflict to replace the tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire which had defined Star Trek: The Original Series.
To conceive the Ferengi, Wright took inspiration from the “greed is good” philosophy of Ronald Reagan’s America in the 1980s. The idea of capitalist barbarians in space felt like a logical choice of antagonist for Gene Roddenberry’s egalitarian utopia. Unfortunately, the Ferengi didn’t work as Klingon replacements because they came off as too comical to be taken seriously as a threat. The Ferengi were redefined thanks to Quark (Armin Shimerman) and the other Ferengi characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but Star Trek: Picard’s Sneed is the closest that Star Trek has come to realizing the potential of the Ferengi as serious villains.
Sneed Is The Villainous Ferengi Intended By Gene Roddenberry
The issue with many of the early Ferengi stories in TNG is that they’re very underdeveloped as a species. For example, in their second appearance “The Battle”, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is the victim of a Ferengi revenge plot hatched by DaiMon Bok (Frank Corsentino). Bok’s plot immediately raises suspicions because he offers Picard’s old starship, the USS Stargazer back to Starfleet for free. It completely robs the story of its jeopardy or intrigue. Worse still, it indicates that the TNG writers room didn’t fully understand the potential of villains that prize profit over all else.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 does understand this, however, as proved by the scene between Commander Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) and Sneed. The Ferengi gangster is utterly repulsive, and everything he does is to protect himself and his profits. He gets his customers hooked on the narcotics he provides to get a steady income stream, and also has no issues with murderously tying up loose ends that may jeopardize his business interests. Sneed decapitates the alleged Romulan terrorist behind the Red Lady attack to stop the investigation leading back to him. As a weapons trader, drug dealer, and murderer, Sneed is every inch the greedy barbarian first envisioned by Gene Roddenberry and Herbert J. Wright.
Picard Shows DS9 Didn’t Change All Ferengi
By the end of DS9, Nog (Aron Eisenberg) had become both the first Ferengi in Starfleet and a war hero. Meanwhile, the leader of the Ferengi Alliance, Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn) had introduced sweeping gender equality legislation on Ferenginar, thanks to the positive influence of Ishka (Cecily Adams), the mother (Moogie) of Quark and Rom (Max Grodénchik). At the end of DS9, Rom became the new Grand Nagus and continued his Moogie’s reforms. However, Sneed’s villainy proves that the changes made by DS9‘s Ferengi family didn’t appeal to everyone within the Ferengi Alliance.
It would be interesting if Star Trek went back to Ferenginar in the future to explore the divide between the more progressive Ferengi of DS9 and the more unsavory villainous contingent of profiteers and criminals. In Star Trek: Picard, Sneed’s business is located in District Six on M’Talas Prime, a veritable hive of hedonism and criminal activity, and presumably a prime location for any Ferengi seeking to make a profit. Sneed shows that while the Ferengi have made considerable cultural strides since their first encounter with the Enterprise in TNG, many of them are still as dangerous and conniving as ever.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 streams Thursdays on Paramount+.