Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Bar Association

Quark: "Don’t 'Brother' me. In this bar, you’re not my brother. You’re my employee. And employees have no right to question the management’s decisions."
Rom: "If you don’t rescind the pay cuts, you’re – you’re going to regret it."
Quark: "The only thing I regret is not being an only child."

The episode in which the writers take several huge steps for Rom.

Rom is sick, but he doesn’t dare take off any time to go seek help – at least not until he faints in his brother’s bar. This despite the fact that it’s very quiet at Quark’s, as the Bajoran time of cleansing (basically Lent) is going on. The Bajorans take their rituals very seriously, so few customers are coming to Quark’s for a good time.

Bashir treats Rom and scolds him for not having come in sooner. Rom says he couldn’t take time off; time off for illness is not permitted in a Ferengi contract. Bashir suggests that Rom needs a better contract, and that the way to get a better contract is to create a union. Bashir's comment may be casual, but Rom takes it to heart; he has long resented his brother’s treatment of him. Then Rom puts it into practice when Quark decides (his excuse being the loss of profits due to Bajoran Lent) to cut everyone’s pay. Rom calls together the workers, and they organize a union. It’s great to see how revolutionary this is for the Ferengi; even saying the word “union” makes them queasy. First, they have all been trained to believe that they will at some point be the exploiter; second, they know that unions are strictly verboten on Ferenginar. Of course, they’re not on Ferenginar.

By the way, Quark does sort of have a point. The bar is almost empty, and an empty bar can’t run indefinitely with a full staff. On the other hand, I assume that Quark must have been aware of Bajoran Lent. He should have given some people leave for the period or used the time for renovations, or rented out the space for some other purpose. He was being a bad businessman and that’s not like Quark. So the workers were probably right in suspecting that Quark was just using Bajoran Lent as an excuse to improve his bottom line.

So, Rom and the rest of Quark’s workers go on strike, supported by some people on the station, particularly O’Brien and Bashir. I thought it was an interesting twist, to have the strikers pay people for not patronizing Quark’s. I also very much enjoyed Odo’s attitude. As a creature who loves order, he doesn’t like strikes, as he understands they are messy and mobbish. But Sisko has given strict orders that Odo is not to interfere as long as the strikers allow the customers to enter when they try a second time.

Brunt from the FCA arrives, not to help Quark so much as to protect Ferenginar culture. Brunt tries talking to the workers, and his threats unnerve at least one of the Ferengis, Frool, who drops to his knees. Brunt has no power over the non Ferengis, and most of the Ferengis realize that they have nothing in their bank accounts so they have nothing to lose. Still, being threatened is scary, and not everyone can handle it.

Furthermore, the threat is real. It may seem ironic (Brunt calls it so) that Brunt has Quark harmed, but it makes sense. Not only is Quark close to Rom, but Quark is the only person on the station who won’t press charges. Quark is terribly injured; he might even have been killed, except for Odo’s intervention. And Quark admits to Rom he is terrified of the FCA. This allows them to finally come to an agreement, to settle the strike, and to dissolve the union, at least officially.

The episode ends with Rom showing up at Quark’s and ordering snail juice. He has decided to work as an engineer; he is choosing no longer to be his brother’s employee – so that they can be brothers. Quark thinks this is a bad decision, but Rom insists he’ll be fine – and then ends by calling Quark “Brother,” as they re-establish their fraternal relationship on a more equal footing.

Title musings: “Bar Association” is the title of the episode, and it has a satisfying double meaning. Its first meaning is with the word Bar as a noun, in other words, an association (union) with respect to a bar (Quark’s). The second meaning uses the word Bar as a verb, in which associations (unions) are barred in Ferengi society.

Bits and pieces

The idea that Rom couldn’t go to Bashir, or at least to someone at the sick bay, is hard to take seriously. Rom wasn’t employed 26 hours a day, and both Quark’s and the sick bay are located on the DS9 Promenade. The sick bay was always staffed, and Bashir and Rom both agree that Rom can show up for his next visit before the bar opens.

The word ferengi means foreigner in Persian.

Rom has been giving himself oo-mox, possibly the only reference to masturbation in all of Star Trek. Although I’m not caught up on the more recent series, so perhaps it is just the first.

We learn about two ancestors of Chief O’Brien in this episode: the Irish king, Brian Boru, and the union guy, Sean Aloysius O’Brien, who for some reason was in Pennsylvania instead of Ireland. A descendant must have returned to Ireland, as the chief’s accent is certainly not Pennsylvanian.

One of the more enjoyable scenes takes place between Worf and Odo. Worf, as the former security officer of the Enterprise, has an understandable tendency to criticize security on DS9. Odo is prepared to hit back, and reminds us of two lapses that took place in TNG, on the flagship of the Federation – and that the DS9 space station is an open port with thousands of people on it.

Worf is also frustrated by perpetual mechanical problems on the station, caused by the incompatibilities of Bajoran, Cardassian and Federation technologies, while O’Brien enjoys the challenge.

I liked how the Nausicaans threw knives at each other. More violent than Klingons!

The word Nausicaan is derived from Nausica’a, a character in Homer’s The Odyssey. Aside from the name there is no resemblance, as Nausica’a is a beautiful princess who helps Odysseus when he is washed ashore.

I’m reminded of the quote by Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Note how these steps are part of Rom’s rebellion against Quark’s working conditions.

Another thought on Brunt's attack on Quark: If Quark were dead, Rom would inherit the bar, and he would pay the workers more.

This episode provides huge moves in the series, most obviously for Rom, but also for Leeta, and we see a crack in Ferengi traditions.

I loved how Sisko put pressure on Quark to settle the strike, with all the reminders of how much the Federation does for Quark.

Quotes

Dr. Bashir: How come you get to be High King?
Chief O’Brien: I am the direct descendant of King Brian Boru. Besides, it’s my program.
OK, I’m wondering if that’s where the name ‘O’Brien’ comes from?

Dr. Bashir: What you people need is a union. …
Rom: You don’t understand. Ferengi workers don’t want to stop the exploitation. We want find a way to become the exploiters.
Dr. Bashir: Suit yourself. But I don’t see you exploiting anyone.

Quark: It’s either a pay cut or a layoff. You decide.

Grimp: The FCA has ears everywhere. As soon as their lobes get wind of this, we’re all doomed.

O’Brien: You’ll have to strike, mark my words, and when you do, you’ll have to be strong.
Rom: Just like Sean O’Brien.
O’Brien: exactly. You know he had the biggest funeral in all of Pennsylvania.
Rom: Funeral?
O’Brien: they fished his body out of the Allegheny River a week before the strike ended.

Rom: Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. (Quoting Karl Marx!)

Grimp: What about our accounts on Ferenginar?
Rom: If your accounts on Ferenginar were worth anything, you wouldn’t be working as a waiter.

Rom: Remember, in unity there is strength.

Quark: If this strike doesn’t get resolved soon, both you and I are going to be tossed out the nearest airlock. You have to dissolve the union … at least officially.

Quark: But I gave you everything you wanted.
Rom: I know. But if the strike taught me anything, it’s that I do a lot better when you’re not around. Don’t worry. I’ll keep your holosuites running and fix your replicators when they’re broken. I think this’ll be really good for our relationship.
Quark: I don’t.
Rom: Think about it from my point of view. If I keep working for you, all I have to look forward to is waiting for you do die, so I can inherit the bar. Well, I don’t want you to die.

Overall Rating

When this first aired, I was only moderately impressed. I usually prefer episodes with the main characters, and this focused on Rom, who wasn’t a main character, and I wasn’t that impressed with Ferengis. However, this was the big step for Rom, and with retrospect, the episode feels much more important. Also, as I have matured and become more politically aware, I have learned to appreciate deeply the issues addressed in this episode, the bravery shown by the characters – not over-the-top, fantasy bravery, but the sort of bravery people have to rustle up to fight injustice every day – and how well all the facets were portrayed. Four out of four snail juices, straight up.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

2 comments:

CoramDeo said...

I'm not thrilled with Quark in this episode. As you say, many of his business decisions seem suspect. And I feel like he's developed as a character a little further than he is here. I guess this is where he's coming from, rather than where he's going? It just feels like territory we've already covered.

DK said...

Aspects of Ferengi culture are repulsive to sisco (and, i assume, the federation). Namely the exploitation of workers by employers. Sisco has used the power he has as the administrator of the station (and presumably as a representative of the federation) to coerce quark by demanding restitution for rent on the space he operates as a bar and for services not previously charged in order to force him to bargain with his employees - an act, if quark acquiesces, that is not only in violation of ferengi culture but ferengi law as well.
We all agree that what quark os doing to his employees is bad but the point is that sisco and the federation are now judging and demanding changes to ferengi culture or quark will be singled out for punitive measures.
Even though this is a place outside of the ferengi home world the point still holds.
This episode is an example of how star trek uses the guise of promoting acceptance of other cultures so long as they fall in line with values they judge worthy - which might be just fine except that they also preach how wrong it is for people to judge other cultures. Which is it? Is it ok to judge or must we make every effort to accept?