The Gamma Quadrant makes profit possible, and Vizzini, also known as the Grand Nagus, returns to make sure this happens - or does he?
I thought this episode was fun, so I liked it. But it wasn't serious, and it on first taste completely disrupted the whole serious tone of the last several episodes, so I didn't. But it had Wallace Shawn, and some great one-liners, so I did. But it reduced Kira to a buttock, so I didn't. So I slept on the episode and woke up and wrote this. Let's get to it:
Think about this: what would you do to start trading in a new region of the galaxy? Offer technology? New ideas? The Ferengi apparently favor the alcohol trade, according to this intimate look at the alien race. This shoddy reason for a business conference brings the Nagus to DS9; he wants Quark, for some reason, to take the lead in negotiations with a Gamma Quadrant race, the Dosi. This brings out the wannabes, and a high-achiever named Pel comes out to help Quark pull off the impossible. Except for one problem: Pel's in love with Quark. Well, maybe two: Pel's also a woman.
Everyone hates the Ferengi; at their worst they're stale and hokey. In TNG they appeared as another iteration of the proverbial male-only alien race; Terry Pratchett poked notable fun at the trope when he explored the habits of dwarves in Discworld, most notably in "The Fifth Elephant." Here, we explore the Ferengi side of femaleness. One woman puts on fake lobes (I'm thinking socks in trousers), escapes the bedroom, and stands up to negotiate with the best of them. No more sitting at home, naked and pregnant. This episode is at its best when it plays titillatingly with Ferengi (and therefore, human) notions of sexuality - at one point, Quark seems fine with just shrugging off a homosexual kiss, but faints when he finds out it was a woman's lips on his. (I note that Dax is perhaps also titillated by Ferengi sexuality: she initially thinks Pel is a male who loves Quark, and seems dumbfounded when she realizes Pel's a female.) And by the end we realize, male or female, everybody Ferengi wants latinum (in another parallel, for Pratchett, it was dwarves and gold.) I think opening up the internals of Ferengi society was a smart decision, and made them a lot more interesting (does this lifestyle appeal to ME? No, but it's... interesting.) The Nagus (Wallace Shawn) continually sexualizes women in high positions (he doesn't seem to target anyone but Dax or Kira, both part of the command crew) and while he does so hilariously, it cements the whole episode as a mockery of the same chauvinistic behaviors in a gendered society we see pilloried in Joanna Russ and The Female Man. One wonders how they ever managed to get out into space.
It soon becomes clear (instantly, for me) that the whole new-trade-routes thing is a bluff. What the Nagus is really after is information, and Quark finds it: the name of a race that can give access to the Dominion, what is, apparently, the most powerful consortium in the Gamma Quadrant. Doesn't sound like a healthy people. I mean, Dominion? You expect leather, wine, haughty looks, austere haircuts with extra hairspray. You want a happy consortium, look for people who call themselves the Cuddle. Is this information worth the cost of a fake conference on DS9, a bribe to Bajor presented as sexually as possible, and weird head games with Quark? From a business and a political perspective, you betcha. When I woke up I realized I now seriously respect Zek, because one thing Sisko hasn't done is present a focus on exploring what's on the other side; he's busy managing everything at home... and I'm starting to wonder if the rest of the Alpha Quadrant isn't getting a little impatient, or even worried, about that.
(Note: I do know the Dominion figure bigly in coming episodes, so I was excited to see them here–but I remain blissfully ignorant about the exact whyforhows of it all, although I know people are shooting at each other at one point. It's one of the few things I don't know about the whole Trek thing. So, please, hold off on the spoilers!)
Neither Quark nor anyone else on the station seems to realize what's going on; only Pel seems to have a clue, and interestingly enough, only through the study of the titular Rules of Acquisition. I kind of wonder what's running through Zek's mind. But yeah, as leader of the Ferengi people? This was damn smart, and I think he gets away with nobody realizing exactly how savvy he's been. He's just some idiot Ferengi, warbling about berries–but now he potentially knows more about the Gamma Quadrant political situation than Sisko himself. Berry interesting, no? When seen in this light, all the silliness in this episode takes a different tone, and the episode itself falls more into line with the episodes we saw in Season 2 up till now.
It's an interesting move: to give the suggestion that the annoying, clunky characteristics that everyone (cough cough, Billie?) rightfully complains about when it comes to the Ferengi are just cover. That underneath those gimlet eyes is a glittering intelligence constantly putting on a show. It might just explain how the species got into space while still maintaining a sexist, chauvinistic society. I don't know how far they'll take it–but as a writer, I respect it when someone opens the door to turning a cliché into something potentially greater. Here's to the follow-through...
Bits and Pieces
The opening shot with Pel and the thirst beans that got Quark to drink so much. I was waiting for him to say "I have to go to the bathroom now."
The scene with the Ferengi playing the poker variant (those four options were really bluff, call, fold, and raise, right?)
Dax throughout the episode struck a different, but not necessarily dissonant note. As a Trill she doesn't have the same sense of racial and cultural boundaries others do, and other races seem to note this. Interesting. Do you feel the same way?
I like Pel, but thought it was totally not in character for her to put so much to the wind out of love for Quark. I hope she wakes up. Quark may be more enlightened than the average Ferengi, but I don't think he's ready for a partner... even if Dax disagrees.
Inglatu and the Dosi are sooooo cliché weird-thinking race of the week I can't even.
Quark: Tell me, Lieutenant, how did you get to be so good at tongo?
Dax: Actually, it was Curzon that played it all the time.
Rom: Well, that explains it. It's Curzon who's beating us, not this female.
Dax: This female happens to be a better player than Curzon ever was.
Sisko: Why not consider the nitrate as a gift to the people of Bajor.
Zek: A gift? That doesn't sound very profitable.
Sisko: It depends.
Zek: On what?
Sisko: On whether you want to conduct business here or not.
Zek: Your negotiation skills aren't bad for a human. Your nitrate will be delivered promptly. Anything else you need, please come see me personally.
Kira: I don't understand your attitude about the Ferengi.
Dax: That's because you don't socialize with them the way I do. Looking back over seven lifetimes, I can't think of a single race I've enjoyed more.
Kira: Did anyone ever tell you that you have very strange taste?
Possibly hallucinating, or possibly liking the Ferengi more. Three out of four alien poker variants.