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Retro Review: The Nagus

Posted by Michelle - 16/12/11 at 03:12 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 11 (s01e11)

Original US airdate: 03/21/1993

The leader of the Ferengi, the Grand Nagus, visits the station to check up on Quark’s profits.

Plot Summary: While Quark is berating Rom for returning a lost purse without stealing the contents, a Ferengi named Krax approaches and introduces his father, Grand Nagus Zek. Quark scrambles to impress the Ferengi leader while fearing that the Nagus has arrived to buy the bar from Quark and make his own profits with it. Meanwhile, Sisko can’t convince Jake to accompany him to a festival on Bajor and is told by Miles O’Brien that Jake has been covering for Nog at school; he tries to talk to his son about differences between human and Ferengi values, but Jake is annoyed at the interference. That evening Quark serves the Nagus a grand dinner, but Zek is disgusted that Rom lets a woman teach his son, causing Rom to tell Nog to leave school for good. Zek assures Quark that he only wants to borrow the bar for one day to host a conference about Ferengi trade in the Gamma Quadrant, at which he makes the shocking announcement that he wishes to retire and make Quark the Grand Nagus in his stead. Quark soon discovers that many people want to kill him to take over the job and becomes even more fearful when Zek dies unexpectedly of what seems to be natural causes, though Odo is suspicious and wants a Starfleet autopsy. A Ferengi bomb nearly kills Quark but he refuses all Federation assistance, feeling it would be a show of weakness. When Rom asks to take over the bar to ease Quark’s burdens, Quark becomes suspicious of his brother and “bodyguard” and soon discovers that Rom and Krax have a plot to eject him into space instead of escorting him to a ship to the Gamma Quadrant. Odo rescues Quark with the help of Zek, who faked his own death to test Krax’s worthiness to succeed him – something Zek now knows Krax does not deserve. Quark, however, is impressed that Rom tried to murder him for profit and makes him assistant manager of the bar. And Sisko discovers that the reason Jake is often with Nog is that Jake is teaching the Ferengi to read.

Analysis: I was never a fan of the Ferengi on The Next Generation – they had prominent roles in several terrible episodes and they often seemed like vaguely anti-Semitic stereotypes coupled with a deep misogynistic streak – so for many years I was not happy to see them in large numbers on Deep Space Nine, even though I liked Quark, Rom, and Nog as individual characters. Knowing how Ferengi society will be turned on its head by the end of the series, however, and how much heroism we will witness from the ones most closely associated with DS9 (including Quark and Rom’s as-yet-unseen mother, Ishka), I can enjoy the Ferengi stories with a new appreciation, even this introduction to their stuffy patriarch who has much in common with many of the conceited elder male leaders of other societies we’ve seen in the Star Trek universe. The humor of this episode is mostly based on misunderstood intentions – Quark thinks Zek is his enemy with plans to take over his bar when in fact Zek thinks more highly of Quark than of Krax, Sisko thinks Jake is up to no good with Nog when in fact Jake is epitomizing the values of the Federation – but we don’t know most of the characters well enough yet to have a full sense of what they might or might not do. Yet again we’re faced with the odd situation of the leader of an entire culture visiting the station while Sisko, apparently, has better things to do – even plans to visit Bajor while Zek is holding his conference about infiltrating the Gamma Quadrant – so we’re not encouraged as viewers to take any of the dealings all that seriously.

I can’t really blame Sisko for being concerned that if Jake hangs out with Nog, he’ll become a greedy, unscrupulous, self-centered womanizer like every other Ferengi we’ve ever seen. Rom doesn’t quite fit that mold – he does think of the good of others, he’s initially willing to let his son be educated by a female – but he’s quick to bend to Quark’s wishes and later to Krax’s, so it’s hard to believe that he could represent any sort of hope for reform. Yet I can’t help wondering whether Jake’s breaking Rom’s rules for his son could be interpreted as interference in a more serious storyline. Sisko tries to talk to Jake about how he’ll meet people from backgrounds that make real friendship possible, but he doesn’t address the fact that even when aliens choose Starfleet values over those they grew up with, they often find themselves nearly alone among their species, like Spock and Worf and increasingly like Kira. Of course, that’s not a conversation or a concept that can be wrapped up in a single episode, and later on it becomes a prominent issue of the series, which is one of the things that makes DS9 so exceptional. But the haphazard blending of comic Ferengi storyline with the beginnings of Jake and Nog’s development here doesn’t suggest that the writers have any plans to cultivate such a rich and powerful theme.

Let’s face it: the writing in “The Nagus” is pretty mediocre. Come on, writers, how many fake alien deaths do you think you can get away with in a single season of a series? How much father-son bonding with heavy-handed parallels to other duos can an audience be expected to take? Is learning that the Ferengi leader is even more unscrupulous than Quark supposed to give us new appreciation for Quark’s restraint, or to think that maybe he’s a loser among his own people, which is why he’s so happy running a bar in what was essentially the middle of nowhere until the discovery of the wormhole made the place important? Are we really supposed to get a giggle out of Rom’s attempted murder of Quark and Quark’s surprising reaction, being impressed rather than furious? There just doesn’t seem to be a great deal of thought put into the storyline and the laughs are cheap, even if “Vulcans stole my homework” may be the best excuse of all time, and “No studying!” the best parental admonition concerning school. Okay, and the visual references to The Godfather and the casting of Wallace Shawn – the latter in particular being a choice that will do well for the series in subsequent seasons. And I got a tiny chill hearing Sisko’s offhand reference to wanting to visit Bajor’s “fire caverns” which I assume must be the Fire Caves where he will meet his fate with the Pah-wraiths. But the first season writers get no props for that; it’s one of the many threads picked up by the geniuses who scripted the show’s final seasons and wove everything together as though it had been planned all along.

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  • Anonymous

    On the point of Sisko doing other things… well, he’s the station commander but DS9 is a port. The Ferengi event is a private, Ferengi event. He can’t involve himself with every person coming to the station because that would be intrusive. His job is to make sure the port works well – and later on he becomes more of a figurehead due to the Dominion War.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-OConnor/1455729587 Jeff O’Connor

    I think I only just now realized Michelle is rewriting these for 2011. At least I think she is, now that I read the reference to the Fire Caves at the end of the review. All along I’d thought these were simply re-posts of rather old reviews I’d long since digested.

    I suppose I should go back to the beginning, then.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    If you’ve been reading these reviews, how did you miss her direct allusions to the later Dominion War arcs and that sort of thing? Anyway….. lol

  • AdmNaismith

    I have to say that I always liked the Ferengi stories. On the face of it they were given a bit more dignity while bringing humor to the series.
    Considering the changes that the Klingons and Cardassians underwent, the changes in Ferengi society are no less sweeping.
    (And Nog went from illiterate to Starfleet graduate in what, 3 years? Say what you will, Ferengi are clearly not stupid)

    Yes, if you do a literary analysis you will find lots of ugly subtext. I don’t think that was put there on purpose (gods, I hope not), but something in the DNA of these characters was not going to go away easily, or at all.

    Wallace Shawn: Genius casting, or adding to the Ferengi problem?