WARNING: It may be a new year, but it's the same old spoiler warning: spoilers for DS9's "The Magnificent Ferengi" await below.
In brief: Dreadful. Awful. Annoying. Pathetic. Did I mention I didn't care for it?
Okay, it's a given that I generally dislike heavy Ferengi episodes. While there are exceptions (I liked The Nagus in season 1, and Little Green Men and Business as Usual more recently), most of them seem to be bad caricatures of society which aren't interesting enough to be good drama, and aren't remotely funny enough to work as farce. Given that, it'd be fair to assume that I went into "The Magnificent Ferengi" with low expectations.
They were surpassed: the show turned out even worse than I was anticipating. It didn't have the "we're making fun of Ferengi society" aspect that I've found disquieting for various reasons, but in its place there was nothing except boredom. We had lots of Ferengi yowling, lots of remarks from everyone about how they hate Ferengi, and entirely too many scenes consisting of nothing but crawling through conduits or running down a corridor. (Roger Corman, please call your agent.)
To start with, the entire show is based on two premises which make no sense. The first is that the Dominion would come out of Cardassian space and attack a transport ship on its way to Vulcan, then do nothing with the captives except hold them prisoner. This does not seem like Dominion-level activity to me; hell, this barely seems like *Ferengi-level* annoying activity to me. Unless this was part of some deeper agenda of theirs, which at the moment does not seem likely, the Dominion have basically just been used as straight men for a Ferengi plot. No, thanks.
But let's assume for the moment that the Dominion had good reasons for doing what they did. Does the story work now?
No, 'fraid not -- because next, what's required is that Quark be a complete idiot. Rom suggests early on that Quark hire mercenaries to help rescue his mother, and Quark ever so intelligently decides *against* it, on the grounds that "Ferengi can be as tough as anyone else in the galaxy" or words to that effect. There might well have been good reasons to avoid a mercenary band (not wanting to call attention, the fact that most mercenaries we've seen in Trek have all the subtlety of a constipated wildebeest, and so forth), but some sense of national pride *is not it*. With his own life and the life of his mother at stake, Quark should not be thinking this way -- and Rom certainly shouldn't be going along with it meekly, if what's passed for character growth in him is supposed to mean anything.
But let's assume for the moment that Quark had a whole bunch of good reasons in the back of his mind for making this choice, and simply didn't get around to voicing them. Is the show entertaining now?
No, 'fraid not -- because now, two previously good characters get put to exceptionally bad use. First, there's Keevan, the Vorta whom we previously saw in Rocks and Shoals. In his previous appearance, Keevan was arrogant and slimy in the manner of nearly all Vorta, but in a magnificently understated way. This time, Christopher Shea did everything he could to keep the same manner, but when the character's stuck with dialogue like "I *hate* Ferengi," there's not much to be done. Keevan had potential, and was instead killed for the sake of a few laughs. (This is relatively minor, however; the idea of using him as a prisoner exchange makes sense, though I'm surprised Starfleet hadn't already suggested that to get some other Federation prisoner back.)
The other character who was hurt by this show was Quark's cousin Gaila, whom we last saw in Business as Usual last year. In the former, he was excellent; unscrupulous and conniving, yes, but with a purpose -- and he seemed surprisingly ruthless and courageous for a Ferengi. What's more, the ending of Business as Usual suggested that Gaila wasn't all that likely to survive much longer -- and given the way Quark set Gaila up, Gaila's first move after eluding the "purification squads" should have been to make Quark very, very dead. The fact that he not only didn't succeed, but apparently didn't even *try* sits ill with me. No, here Gaila blended in with everybody else -- just another money-grubbing, cowardly Ferengi. Yay.
With all that said, there were a couple of things here and there in "The Magnificent Ferengi" that were amusing. I did appreciate the use of Empok Nor as a meeting place; I'm somewhat surprised Nog would agree to go back given what happened to him the last time, but at least it showed some vague sense of remembering the past. I also did like Rom's realization that the team had to approach this *as negotiators*, not commandos -- and Quark's initial negotiating skills were pretty decent as well.
That, however, is about it. Moving back into the episode's weak points, I have to say that seeing Iggy Pop as a Vorta was definitely *not* a highlight. Vorta have always been slimy, as I mentioned before, but they've always been a high-class sort of sleazy; from Eris to Weyoun, I've generally had the sense that Vorta chose their words and their tone very carefully. Pop did not manage to get this across; the overwhelming sense I got was "dude, what's my next line?" He might work quite well as a member of some other race, but not as a Vorta.
As for the attempts at humor, I wasn't impressed. For some reason, bad Trek humor often comes off as an attempt to ape "Animal House"; this time, it was Leck's litany of "let's do it for X" when psyching himself up. (I kept expecting John Belushi to jump into frame and yell "let's DO IIIIIIT!", followed by everyone storming out of the room.) The reanimated Keevan walking into walls wasn't exactly hilarious, either; beyond being a common gag, it reminded me just how much of Keevan's potential had been wasted.
Lastly, the ending left me very cold. Firstly, if the Jem'Hadar had been thinking, they would have shrouded themselves as soon as they were sent after Quark and Ishka. More importantly, however, is that Quark's actions should have ramifications. Quark basically just committed a serious act of betrayal, or at least that's how the Dominion should see it. As a result, the next time Quark leaves the station he should wind up very, very dead; we've already seen that the Dominion can kidnap people off transports, so unless Quark is *very* careful about how he travels from here on in, the Dominion is going to come off as stupid.
-- As vaguely entertaining as Nog's blood screening of Ishka was, you'd think that everyone would have realized by now that *blood screenings don't work*. Think about Martok; think about Admiral Leyton; think about Bashir. Blood screenings are not effective, and Nog should know that.
-- There were a few bits of dialogue here and there that I liked; Quark's statement about Rom deactivating the ship was one of them. "Then why did you bother chasing me?" "Because sometimes my brother gets things WRONG."
In a nutshell, then, I thought "The Magnificent Ferengi" was awful; far from being a clever parody of "The Magnificent Seven" the way Little Green Men cleverly mocked cheesy '50s B-movies, this episode just sat there and whined. If you particularly like Ferengi episodes, you *might* enjoy this one; if you don't, avoid this one at all costs.
Wrapping up, then:
Writing: Run out of actual ideas? Hey, let's mine old movies! So what if it makes characters and races look like buffoons? Directing: You'd think there would be better uses for film than lots of "let's run down the corridors" moments. Acting: For the most part, people did what they could (Iggy Pop excepted); it just wasn't enough.
OVERALL: 2. For completists and Ferengi fans only.
Sisko and Dukat meet again; should be interesting.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "A child ... an idiot ... a failure ... and a psychopath." -- Brunt, pitching his newest sitcom idea [other suggestions welcome; that line's too tempting!] 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.