Armin Shimerman shines in this fun romance as a Cardassian dissenter arrives on the station – and turns out to be Quark's ex-girlfriend, creating a framework that lets us explore the question of whether Ferengi really can love–and in the process, let us learn a little more about our friend Garak.
Up til now I felt Quark could associate with women for mercenary means, and thought that this was somewhat progressive for people of the Ferengi persuasion in the Trek universe. But love? I figured the race was just more concerned about money. I never thought his affection for latinum could have competition from anything more than a "bitter, bought caress." I mean, look how he interacts with Dax and Kira. This episode seems to show differently; when Natima Lang, a Cardassian professor-cum-priest flanked by student-disciples is rescued by Sisko and enters Deep Space Nine, the first thing Quark does when he sees her is leave the bar, the source of his profit, to convince her to come back to him. This wasn't enough to convince me entirely, however, and throughout the episode Shimerman plays with the line between love-as-possession and love-as-sacrifice, and manages to do it well even from behind a mountain of thick makeup and false, pointed teeth-and makes me think very powerfully of a George Santayana sonnet.
Counterpointing this I was intrigued by the 'development' surrounding Garak; Andrew Robinson feels like he's almost competing with Shimerman in keeping us uncertain about his character. Is he a Cardassian loyalist? Concerned with power? What was his role, exactly? And what does he want his role to be? If Garak is like anyone he reminds me somewhat of Varys from Game of Thrones: sometimes seeming benevolent, sometimes antagonistic, never trustworthy, never clear. When Natima and her students turn out to be wanted by Cardassia, Cardassia sends Gul Toran to Puppetmaster Garak into confronting Sisko and killing Natima's students, and from the first scene I'm trying to decide what Garak really wants.
The scene in quarters was amazing. When Natima accidentally shoots Quark, her reaction convinces me of her feelings for him... but I'm still wondering whether Quark sees her as a person, place or thing. It's when Quark turns to shoot Garak that I'm finally convinced of the depth of Quark's feelings for Natima. His willing to commit to the irrevocable–murder; to support her goals and leave his business, instead of engaging once again in self-protective prevarication turn out to be what I need to convince me of Quark's ability to love. I don't become similarly enlightened about Garak. When he shoots Toran, we obtain no clarity about Garak's sense of purpose. No: as he says, that's a conversation for later. What we know is that he's someone who plays both sides and has just shot an unapologetic political opposite in a way that preserves his status onboard DS9, if not strengthens it. As much as I like the character, I can't quite classify him as a white hat. Maybe there's a new category? Maybe Garak's a red hat?
I hope Quark can love, though, and that he's not the only Ferengi with the power. I want him to have the same glory Santayana visioned, not just to love 'as do the flesh-imprisoned' but to love the 'formless and eternal Whole'; and the only way he can do that is to let Natima go, to show the depth of his love by releasing instead of smothering it. I almost think the writers based this episode on the sonnet: it too ends with "bid them not to stay: for Wisdom brightens as they fade away."
Bits and Pieces
Seven years ago, Quark was smuggling food to Bajorans. Interesting to speculate - was Quark the Garak of his day?
O'Brien and Odo are developing some sort of friendship; O'Brien's loaned Odo his Kindle, and Odo is reading one of Spillane's more racy, violent mystery novels, which, by the way, Quark seems familiar with.
Garak: Personally, I find this style a bit too radical, but your friend seems the sort who appreciates that kind of thing.
Quark: Different tastes for different people. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
Garak: Oh, you'd be surprised how detrimental a poor choice of fashion can be. Take this dress. It may be all the rage now but in a very short time it can become tiresome, an affront to the eyes. Certain people might even think it's objectionable. And then-[Garak rips the dress]-nothing but rags.
Quark: I see.
Garak: Mister Quark, might I offer you some free advice?
Quark: As long as I'm under no obligation to follow it.
Garak: I've been in this business a long time and I know there's nothing worse than following the wrong trend.
Natima: I've missed you. I've missed you so much. Being with you was the happiest time of my life.
Quark: And now we're together again, and we have the rest of our lives to be happy.
Natima: I wish it was that easy.
Quark: It can be if you let it.
Natima: I'm not the same person I was seven years ago. I have responsibilities.
Quark: I'll share them with you.
Natima: The movement is my life now. I don't have time for anything else.
Quark: We'll make the time. You're a woman, Natima, believe me, I know. It's not right for you to be alone.
Natima: I'm not alone. I have my students, my dreams for a better Cardassia.
Quark: But are dreams enough? Can dreams make you laugh? Can dreams hold you close at night?
Natima: No. But my life demands I make certain sacrifices.
Quark: And you've made them, but it doesn't mean you can't be happy.
Note: While I don't agree with Quark's politics here - women can certainly be alone if they choose to - the way this exchange worked felt so right!Quark: Look at me. I'm on my knees. I'm begging you. I don't care why you do it. Pick any reason you want. But please, let Natima and the others go.
Odo: All right. I'll do it.
Quark: You will?
Odo: But not for you. Turning Hogue and Rekelen over to the Cardassians would mean their deaths. I've read their files and nothing they've done warrants that kind of punishment. I'll free them, Quark, but only in the name of justice.
Quark: Justice. That was going to be my next suggestion.
This feels like a one-off but I hope it isn't; I like Natima, and what she has with Quark feels earned somehow. Four out of four faulty cloaking devices!