WARNING: Neither profit nor lace will be found in this article, but spoilers for "Profit and Lace" will be.
In brief: Aaaaah, read the review. Why spoil it
Believe it or not, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this week's episode. The characters were well represented and well presented, right down to the subtle nuances; the plot was real and engaging, with enough twists to keep me on the edge of my seat in quite a few spots; and Armin Shimerman did a fine job with the role he was given. To say that I'm eagerly anticipating next week's show is quite an understatement.
But enough about this week's "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"; I suppose I should actually discuss that wretched excuse for celluloid that called itself "Profit and Lace". (C'mon, you really thought I'd like this?)
It took a little while for me to decide where "Profit and Lace" stood in comparison to "His Way" three weeks ago, but not very long: it's definitely worse, but for very different reasons. "His Way" annoyed me because of what I considered gross lapses in characterization, but I can see how some people might enjoy it if their view of Odo and Kira happened to be vastly different from mine. "Profit and Lace" didn't have any such characterization problems, but in their stead were enough offenses against the very fabric of humanity to make my opinion of the latter far, far lower.
To present at least a slightly balanced view, however, there were two scenes that had me vaguely entertained or interested. The first one came when Quark, Rom and Nog were calling up FCA commissioners in an attempt to plead Zek's case; while it was pretty much guaranteed that they'd fail in the attempt, it was well enough directed to make a respectable effort (although it ran on a bit long). The second one, which was rather stronger, came along when Quark faced down Brunt in the bar. When Quark told Brunt ever so quietly, "Get out before I kick you out," I actually warmed to the guy for a minute -- what's more, I thought for a very, very brief instant that there might be hope for the episode.
I should've known better. Over the years, Zek has managed to get less entertaining and more annoying with every appearance; Brunt was always adept at making me want to lob a brick through the television; and the less said about Ishka, the better. Given that this episode featured all three in prominent roles, and that we were faced with yet another "threat to Ferengi society as we know it", the premise was well-worn to say the least. Me? I'm with Worf; I can't think of a single drawback to Ferenginar falling to the Dominion, or even to a well-placed supernova. (In fact, that I might even want to watch, provided it weren't a 2-parter.)
But back to the specifics of the episode. Despite the fact that Ishka is probably the single most hated figure on Ferenginar at the moment, Zek ('scuse me; "Zekky") is going to have her convince the FCA commissioners that letting females wear clothes is a good idea. Apart from the fact that it shouldn't work worth a damn, it's a nice concept. Naturally, then, we have to have the usual complication in a Ferengi show: Big Bad Quark steps in and blames somebody, usually his mother, for the recent collapse of his life and the imminent collapse of Ferengi society. If it weren't so abundantly clear that things would reset back to normal and Quark would be his usual semi-lovable rogue in very short order, that might be interesting; as it is, it's treading water and engaging in the pretense that "character conflict" means people yelling insults at each other rather than honest disagreements. We deserve better as viewers -- and frankly, Quark deserves better as a character. (Unfortunately, there have been so many Ferengi shows that he may be a lost cause, but hope springs eternal.)
The overriding point to the episode, such as it was, seems to have been to turn Quark into a female. My general reaction was initially, "Yes, and?" Although there have been movies or shows featuring people in drag which were wildly entertaining ("Tootsie" kept me laughing for two hours, for instance), they were well enough written that you could often lose sight of the fact that you were looking at a man in drag and just pay attention to the character. Whether you're talking about "Tootsie", "Victor/Victoria", or any number of more recent releases I haven't seen, the keys to making that sort of story work are a character you can empathize with (at least partially), a good deal of honest from-the-heart humor, witty dialogue, and a terrific performer in the main role. "Profit and Lace" failed on three out of four counts; Quark as scripted in any Ferengi show isn't empathetic in the slightest, there was no honesty in the show whatsoever, and the dialogue wouldn't recognize wit if it wandered up to them wearing a sign saying [WIT ALERT]. On the fourth count ... while Armin Shimerman would probably be the first to say he's not Dustin Hoffman (among other things, he might not make a crude joke at the Oscars that would go over badly), he's certainly capable enough. Unfortunately, without the other three factors present his ability, along with those of anyone around him, is completely wasted. (He was good in "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer", though.)
Speaking of wastes, let's all stop for a moment and show a little sympathy for poor Henry Gibson (Nilva). Gibson is often a comic delight; from "Laugh-In" to "The Blues Brothers", he's often had a dry persona that can be hilarious, particularly when contrasted with someone else. Unfortunately, all he got to do here was spout slogans and leer after Quark; poor man.
More importantly, however, it was when Quark became a female that the show went from merely being a waste of time to being something utterly offensive. First, is there any stereotype about being a woman that the show didn't manage to get across as crudely as possible? Quark gets an operation and a few hormone shots, and he immediately starts exhibiting all the classic bad-sitcom-style "female tendencies": he obsesses about his hips, he starts crying hysterically, he starts saying that facts and figures are way too much for him to remember, and so forth. (He also winds up in heels for no apparent reason; given that females didn't wear clothes before anyway, there's no way that would be an expected part of the look. Why lose your balance? Oh, I forgot; we had to be able to make fun of Quark.) Could we possibly be any more offensive? Well, yes; later on, Quark-as-"Lumba" suggests that Nilva market Sluggo Cola to females by suggesting it'll keep "your teeth that lovely shade of green". Obviously most females lack the intelligence to consider anything but their looks when buying products; even given that Nilva wasn't likely to look upon females as equal, the fact that Quark could propose this with a straight face and be accepted by everyone, including Ishka, suggests that no one wants to actually admit females can be intelligent.
(The sad thing is that Behr & Beimler probably thought this episode and others like it are making a statement in favor of women's equality; after all, they've advanced. Sure they have, as long as they don't tell anyone about it. What a remarkable message for women: be smart, as long as you do it in the home and don't make men feel inadequate. Bah.)
We were also treated to the spectacle of Quark-as-Lumba passionately kissing Nilva, then stripping down to prove his femininity to Brunt and Nilva. What on Earth was the point of this, except to further debase a character we're supposed to care about? Is there some segment of the audience out there saying "DAMMIT, we want to see Quark get naked as a female?" (If there is and you're part of it, please don't tell me; I'd just as soon not know.) I suppose one could argue that it's slipping in a homosexual kiss past your usual television censorship, but that strikes me as exceptionally cold comfort.
But hey, it all worked out, right? Brunt's Evil Plot (TM) was foiled, Zek will be reinstated as Nagus, and Ferengi society has made a bold leap forward: females can wear clothes. Joy. Oh, I almost forgot -- Quark's reset button was not only pushed, but explicitly mentioned in the process: after he tells Ishka what he's learned, Zek reassures him with "Don't worry, I'm sure it won't last. You'll be back to your old self in no time." In other words, this is the usual Quark-centered tempest in a teapot with no real lasting consequences to the character we see most. Just what we need.
The crowning achievement of the show, however, and the one that moves it into serious Worst Ever of Trek contention, involves Quark and a Dabo girl named Aluura. (See, she's alluring. It's symbolism, natch.) At the show's outset, we see Quark proposition her rather crudely, in an out-and-out threat to fire her unless she's ... "nice" to him. Okay, fine; Quark's a jerk and we're supposed to anticipate some kind of future comeuppance. Sure enough, at the end he repents and tells Aluura to forget he ever said anything of the sort. Her response? "Too bad ... [it] sounded like fun."
Ah. So it's okay to be a sexually harassing boor of a boss, because deep down most women will eventually enjoy it if you give them time to "come around". After all, they're working for you, right?
Let me be blunt: Were I a woman working in the Star Trek offices right now, I would be very, very worried by the message being given out by this episode. I'd like to think it's unintentional, and that, like "The Outcast" back in the TNG era, everyone was simply too clueless to realize what message they were sending -- however, there is so little evidence to that effect right now for me to take it for granted.
That's about it. Instead of a "short takes" section this time, I figured I'd get the jump on those people about to write me nasty letters in response to this review by quoting them in advance. So, here goes:
1) "Lighten up. The episode was funny. You always seem to knock Trek shows with humor and romance in them. I think you need therapy, or at least a life."
2) "I can't believe how much you read into the show that wasn't there. It was typical Ferengi bonehead fun, that's all. They're Ferengi -- of course they don't have the same values we do. Geez, take a chill pill."
3) "You critics are always slamming good shows for no reason. Could YOU do better? If not, shut up."
I think those are the three basic types of disagreement I'm likely to get. I'm always interested in reasoned perspectives that are different from mine, so any disagreements beyond the level of those three are most welcome. If you're simply going to send something along the lines of those three, however, you can save yourself the typing and just tell me which one you're using. Please make sure to refer to them by number. :-)
Writing: Interesting for about ten seconds; ranging from trite at best to deeply offensive at worst the rest of the time. Directing: There's really no way to judge in a show of this caliber. Siddig certainly didn't make any major gaffes, aside from accepting the assignment in the first place. Acting: Poor Rene Auberjonois; he looked so embarrassed in the last scene, and not in any way that was in character. Not that I blame him.
OVERALL: 0.5. Very, very bad. Avoid at all costs.
O'Brien and a feral Molly; hard to say, but Colm Meaney's presence should all but guarantee a higher rating than this one.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "Just give me one good reason to kick you out, Summers. Just one." "Because you're a short, impotent Nazi with a bug up his butt the size of an emu?" -- Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) and others, "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"
Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
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