Quark is reunited with the great love of his life, a Cardassian woman who is now a fugitive.
Plot Summary: A damaged Cardassian vessel docks at the station carrying three passengers – two students, Releken and Hogue, and their teacher, Natima Lang, whom Quark is frantic to see, interrupting Odo’s attempt to learn whether he is really trying to sell a cloaking device. O’Brien tries to repair the Cardassian ship and finds that it was damaged by Cardassian weapons. Garak spots the group talking to Quark and warns Sisko that they are Cardassian terrorists; he has alerted the Cardassian authorities, who send a warship to take custody of Lang and her students. Quark promises the students his cloaking device if they will escape while leaving Lang behind with him, which they are willing to do, but Lang insists that although she once loved Quark, she now knows that he is purely a mercenary. When he persists in begging her to stay, she shoots him with a Cardassian weapon, then is remorseful and admits that she still has feelings for him, though she cannot abandon her fight for a free Cardassia. Odo interrupts them to place Lang under arrest; the Bajoran government has agreed to a prisoner swap with Cardassia, and Sisko has no choice but to obey the terms. An old friend of Garak’s, Gul Toran, arrives on the station to take custody of Lang and the others, telling Garak that if he wishes to end his exile, he must kill the terrorists. Quark persuades Odo to let the prisoners escape since they are already slated for execution, but as the group rushes to Lang’s ship, Garak appears, followed by Toran, who is ready to kill the fugitives himself if Garak won’t do it. Garak shoots Toran instead and lets the others go. Quark asks Lang to let him go with her, but she insists that she would rather know he’s safe on the station and promises that she will always love him.
Analysis: It’s impossible to take “Profit and Loss” seriously, which is its biggest selling point – even more than Mary Crosby, an actress most famous for shooting J.R. on Dallas, playing the great love of Quark’s life. There are a lot of problems with its logic, the biggest being that Bajor agrees to a prisoner exchange with Cardassia when supposedly the last Bajoran prisoners were released when Li Nalas was found to be alive in a Cardassian prison camp – assuming that the Cardassians were probably lying about that, I still find it very hard to believe that the provisional government would agree to turn over three Cardassians who oppose military rule without even speaking to them, and who told the Bajorans that the Cardassians were on the station anyway? We’re not supposed to be thinking about logic, though; we’re supposed to be thinking about the parallels with Casablanca, which sadly do not include a moment in which Quark tells Odo that his help in securing the fugitives’ escape could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Quark is an even more unlikely hero than Rick Blaine, his bar is more seedy than Rick’s nightclub, and he’s even more apathetic politically than the secretly anti-Nazi American from the legendary film. Thankfully, Lang has no illusions about him, which makes their chemistry believable; apparently she once thought he had sold food to Bajorans during the Occupation so they could feed their children, but since his act of selfish heroism, helping his love escape so he could save her life, she has realized that it was all about making a profit. She tells him she’s stopped drinking her favorite drink from his bar, she insists that she never wants to hear a Rule of Acquisition again, and she shoots him when he won’t take no for an answer!
What gives the story teeth is not the revelation that Quark once had an altruistic, politically motivated, Cardassian lover whom he’d do anything to get back, but the subplot and its parallel revelation that Garak will do anything to get home. It is he who alerts the Cardassian authorities about the presence of Releken and Hogue – who don’t, in fact, seem to be terrorists, and it’s doubtful that even Garak believes they are, but we learn next to nothing about them, since Sisko and Kira never bother to question them or do any investigation of their activities prior to the attack on their ship. Garak is hopeful that simply exposing the renegades to Cardassian authorities will get him back into the good graces of the Cardassian government, but a sneering Toran insists that he must prove his loyalty by killing them himself. Considering that the episode starts with Garak seeming quite cheerful at one of his regular meals with Bashir, flirting as they discuss the limits of loyalty and Bashir’s suspicion that Garak is a spy, it’s surprising to see him turn vicious so quickly. I’m quite shocked that Sisko isn’t angrier at the discovery that the plain, simple tailor has brought a Cardassian warship to the station, and I’m truly astonished that Kira doesn’t call for Garak to be kicked out of yet another place. I suppose some other Bajoran working in security or Ops could have alerted the provisional government to the Cardassian government’s demands, but I would think any such discussion would get back to Kira if not go through her, and it’s pretty appalling that she doesn’t make a case for the lives of these resistance fighters no matter who the Cardassians have offered up in trade.
Though it’s a pleasure to hear Quark spout self-interested optimism instead of Rick Blaine’s weary cynicism, the love scenes are rather too talky and go on too long. Maybe we’re supposed to be impressed that Quark can be articulate and passionate as well as lustful and greedy, but all the talk about sacrifice and happiness starts to drag down the action, considering that at the time no one is stealing letters of transit or even an illegal cloaking device – something else that I’d think would be a much bigger deal to both Sisko and Kira, considering that its presence on the station could bring in a Romulan fleet. I approve of Odo letting the fugitives escape because his sense of justice means he can’t allow them to be executed without a trial as would surely happen on Cardassia, but it’s odd that he doesn’t express outrage to either Sisko or Kira about the planned trade and it’s preposterous that neither immediately calls him in after the escape to demand to know how it happened. In good film noir of the Humphrey Bogart era, loose ends are tied up much more neatly. The Cardassian rebel students are annoyingly one-dimensional and we never do learn what they’ve done at such young ages to make them such a threat, but I’d be willing to overlook that for a stronger sense of how the command crew would respond to such a crisis since they, not Quark, are usually the ones who behave heroically rather than pragmatically. The lovely moment in which Quark first encounters Lang and in typical overstatement tells her that she’s as beautiful as ever, to which she retorts that he’s as big a liar as ever, seems more real and grounded than the love scenes, and I really adore Quark’s goading of Odo to free Lang, taunting that Odo has all the emotions of a stone. It seems as if these small moments will have to serve as the emotional highlights of this romantic drama…at least, until Garak steals the show at the end.