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Retro Review: The House of Quark

Posted by Michelle - 31/08/12 at 08:08 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 03 (s03e03)

Original US airdate: 10/10/1994

Quark is accused of killing a Klingon and claims that it’s true to bolster his reputation…until the dead man’s widow comes looking for him.

Plot Summary: On a slow night in the bar, Quark demands that his sole customer pay up. The drunken Klingon, Kozak, pulls a knife, but before Quark has time to panic, Kozak collapses on the blade and dies. Dozens of people come to the bar now that it’s a crime scene and Quark brags that he killed Kozak in self-defense. Odo warns that Kozak’s family may demand vengeance, but Quark is proud of his increased earnings, at least until Kozak’s brother D’Ghor arrives and threatens him. Quark is about to confess the truth when he learns that D’Ghor will spare his life if Quark maintains his story that Kozak died in honorable battle. So Quark continues to brag, and Kozak’s widow, Grilka, comes to tell him that his skills at lying make him useful. While she abducts Quark to Qo’noS, Miles O’Brien learns that Keiko has had to close her school for lack of students and is unhappy at her lack of job options on the station. Miles asks Sisko for permission to create an arboretum in an empty cargo bay, but Bashir warns him that this will not keep Keiko occupied for long. On Qo’noS, Grilka forces Quark to marry her in an attempt to claim control of her House, which D’Ghor is trying to take over under Klingon laws that favor men. Because Kozak died honorably in combat, Quark has the right to marry the widow and take Kozak’s place even though he is Ferengi. Gowron agrees to consider the matter; while he does so, Quark persuades Grilka to show him her husband’s financial records and discovers that D’Ghor has been draining Kozak’s assets for years. When Quark and Grilka present this information to D’Ghor, who has forced Rom to deny Quark’s story of an honorable death for Kozak to discredit Quark, D’Ghor demands combat in front of Gowron and the High Council. Though his instinct is to flee, Quark appears before the Council, setting aside his bat’leth and telling D’Ghor that to kill a defenseless Ferengi would hardly be an honorable victory. D’Ghor lunges to kill him anyway, but Gowron stops him, strips him of his position and grants Grilka the right to lead her own House. She gives Quark her thanks and a divorce. Back on Deep Space Nine, Rom tells Quark that he’s still a hero, and Miles suggests that Keiko join a Bajoran agrobiology expedition which will take her away from the station but make her happier.

Analysis: I really hated “The House of Quark” when it first aired. I’m not particularly a fan of Ferengi episodes or Klingon episodes, and this one combines the worst elements of both, putting an undue emphasis on honor (which for Klingons means it’s okay to lie to save face) and wealth (which for Ferengi means the constant cheating we’ve seen since Next Gen). But what really bothers me is the sexism. I don’t mean just the patriarchal expectations of both Ferengi and Klingon culture, though I’m dying to know what happened to the Klingons Kirk knew, who let women be second-in-command of their husbands’ ships, presumably meaning that in the event of Kang’s death, Marta could take over as head of his ship as well as his House. I also mean the mess that is the O’Briens’ marriage, which appears to have been dreamed up by a bunch of men who’ve never been in long-term relationships and understand neither what makes marriages last nor how mature, well-adjusted women behave. Either Keiko O’Brien is suffering from depression – perhaps seasonal affective disorder, I’m surprised more humans living on the station aren’t ill from lack of any natural sunlight for months at a time – and Bashir doesn’t spend enough time with Keiko to recognize it, or she’s become a whiny passive-aggressive manipulator with little vivaciousness or self-motivation, which is something I simply refuse to believe given her record of accomplishment on the Enterprise and presumably at the Academy before that. Miles seeks help not from Dax, who’s clearly itching to give it (and who, as she points out, has been a husband and a wife), nor from Kira, who must be one of the strongest women he’s ever met and who is also in a complicated relationship with a guy devoted to his career, nor from Sisko, who had a long marriage and a child, but from Bashir, who can’t even get his own dating life in order. And Keiko would rather sit around sulking than look into her own options – hydroponics, long-distance research jobs, cultivating medicines, greening the Promenade. If Keiko had discovered the job on Bajor on her own and Miles had to make the decision to let her go, I’d be far more impressed by the strength of their marriage than watching him take a paternalistic position that not incidentally gets him off the hook from having to come home from a hard day’s work without having to deal with a wife and child every evening.

But enough about the subplot. The main plot, which feels largely like an excuse to show the Klingon High Council and Gowron again, has its amusing moments, more than I had remembered. Yet it’s so contrived that it makes Klingon honor seem like a joke. A drunken Klingon falls on a knife, though Bashir apparently can’t tell this is the case since he allows Quark to pretend it was a stabbing, and Odo decides to let Quark get away with this claim despite knowing it may cause a threat to station security. Are we to believe Odo is too stupid to have prevented two Ferengi from being kidnapped, or that he gleefully chose to look the other way? The villain D’Ghor, who is pretty delightful, manages to convince Quark that lying about the death brings his family more honor than telling the truth, which I have no trouble believing. But then we find out that while Klingon custom would let the widow of a disgraced man continue to run his House – since apparently Klingon women are only allowed to be independent when their men are too pathetic to live – the widow of an honorable man has no power whatsoever if there are male heirs, brothers if not sons, with new husbands trumping brothers. I’ll buy that the system will favor any male claim over a wife’s, but I bet there’s lots of spousal murder and forced marriage. If I were Odo and I learned that Quark killed Kozak, then married his widow days later and claimed his estate, I’d immediately suspect that Quark might actually have stabbed a Klingon in cold blood. In the insanity that is Klingon honor, however, while it’s all right to elope with a Ferengi days after losing one’s husband, it is not all right to try to kill that Ferengi when he declines lawful battle. So Quark wins, and D’Ghor is disgraced, not for the years of growing rich at his brother’s expense (though Kozak apparently cultivated those gambling debts entirely on his own), but for doing what Klingons do best and demanding vengeance against the person challenging his integrity. I’m going to assume that Gowron likes Grilka, that he’s already decided to use his magic calculator to her advantage. Otherwise it all seems contradictory.

The brightest point of the episode is Grilka herself. She’s confident and resourceful; she has limited legal options, but she makes the most of them. She’s clever enough to see all the ways in which Quark might make a valuable ally, first because he’s a good liar, later because he has a trained Ferengi’s skill with numbers. Since the kidnapping and forced marriage are played for laughs and there’s no attempt at sexual coercion, she never seems villainous, and since she takes so much initiative to improve her situation, she never seems like a damsel in distress. Contrast that with Keiko, who fiddles with plants and sulks and waits for Miles to ask how school was so she can drop the bombshell “I closed it” as if she’s doing him a favor by withholding this information while he gripes about his day. The “we agreed to come here together” routine, which Keiko brings up repeatedly while he’s lamenting her limited options, doesn’t make her sound more devoted to the closeness of their marriage but less so, since resentment underlies this sacrifice. They seem less suited as partners than Quark and Grilka, though the latter only know each other for a few days and though Grilka frequently threatens violence if Quark doesn’t do exactly what she wants. I didn’t think so when I first saw the episode, yet “The House of Quark” showcases the latter’s appeal as well. Quark may frequently admit to being a coward but he’s brave for Grilka, putting his life on the line once Rom points out that nearly everything that matters in Grilka’s life will be taken away if D’Ghor triumphs. Despite Quark’s terrible behavior toward Dabo girls and his ostensible approval of the Ferengi practice of keeping women naked and ignorant, he seems to prefer women like Grilka and Natima, who can both out-think and out-fight him. Quark is endearing here both for the ways in which he is stereotypically Ferengi and for the ways in which he is not.

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  • Guest

    “I also mean the mess that is the O’Briens’ marriage, which appears to have been dreamed up by a bunch of men who’ve never been in long-term relationships and understand neither what makes marriages last nor how mature, well-adjusted women behave.”

    Or perhaps it was dreamed up by men who deliberately chose to depict a deeply flawed marriage, and who wished to leave the audience uncertain if that marriage would, in fact, last.

  • Zeo Ranger IX

    Agreed. Resentment over the other’s career leading to unwanted relocation, compromise, opposing political views, happy about a second child but annoyance that the baby-care cycle was starting again… these are all problems married couples have. Miles and Keiko had a marriage that faced real hurdles and bumps in the road. It showed how mature people handled those problems.Sisko/Jennifer was always portrayed as idyllic. Worf/Dax was played for laughs most of the time. Unlike the rest of DS9′s couples, we were invited into the O’Brien home to see the ups and downs. Well done for the writers, and disappointment for the reviewer, who would clearly rather Keiko never have existed so she can focus on her Miles/Julian/Garak slash.

  • AirElephant

    I’m going to side with the author on this one. Though Keiko and O’Brien’s relationship is bumpy, most of the sympathy is given to Miles while Keiko is continually portrayed as a bitter, carping woman who has little tolerance for her husband’s foibles. Only in the episode, “Armageddon Game” do I actually feel that Keiko has a deeper love for Miles, when she is the only one pushing for further inquiry based upon her knowledge of Miles’s habit of drinking coffee. That episode alone showed me that Keiko cared enough for her husband to worry about the little things.

    In most episodes, she was griping about Miles’s inability to grow up, or his habit of glossing over problems with their marriage, or her problems with her job, or that Miles was a workaholic, or Miles’s friendship with Bashir. I saw little evidence of what, besides their child, held the relationship together. I’m not convinced, either, that the writers had a definitive plan for the O’Briens’ relationship. Had it been an honest attempt to portray two people working at a flawed marriage, they would have created stories to show Miles’ growth and maturity, but instead we got a one-off at the end with him bequeathing his toy soldiers to Bashir.

    I don’t mind the portrayal of a flawed relationship, but when it falls to one adult to behave in a mature fashion while the other is asked to do nothing in return, it’s unrealistic. Keiko would have, were she a real woman, given Miles an ultimatum and if that had failed to change we would have seen a Star Trek divorce. But in the utopia that is Star Trek, we don’t see real problems addressed in such a manner. I feel sorry for the actress that had to play such a one-note woman, where she could have been a catalyst to a character arc that saw Miles becoming less of a manchild and more of a man.

  • Mike

    Miles can relax and have a good time with a friend in escapist entertainment… I hardly think that qualifies him as a manchild. Sure, he spends time with Bashir doing things that aren’t generally thought of as particularly adult. Then again, is role playing on the holodec any less mature than anything else on the holodec? Or the plays the TNG crew put on? The time they spent in the holodec was an emotional release they needed because of the dire war they were in. They were constantly playing out no-win scenarios (I always wondered why they didn’t portray them in the Kobayashi Maru) as a catharsis while facing what seemed like an unstoppable enemy in the Dominion. They felt they were in the Alamo, and pretending that literally was helpful to them.
    With that said, sure, Miles didn’t do a perfect job of satisfying his wife. Nor did Keiko do a remotely perfect job of satisfying her husband. They both agreed to go to DS9. It was a choice for Miles’ career.
    Sure, was that a sacrifice for Keiko? Absolutely. Does that mean that doing it meant that Miles was insensitive or a manchild? Hardly. It was realistic. And that’s where the reviewer goes off the tracks. Star Trek has always been a vehicle whereby real issues can be looked at in a way that they otherwise couldn’t because of current societal expectations. Whether that’s Frank Gorshin in TOS as a half black and half white guy, or whether it’s a woman being unhappy because she’s put herself and her career on hold for her husband, these are more real than real stories… Michelle wants to be upset by it… but that suggests that as the audience we were supposed to feel Miles was without fault. I can’t see anyone coming away with that idea. Yeah, he blows off steam in the holodec because he needs to, but he’s also ignoring his wife and kid to do so… so, yeah, it’s a balance, and yeah, that’s more real than if we saw a perfect relationship start to finish.
    Can anyone name a marriage on TV in the last 25 years that portrayed things as realistically as DS9′s O’Brien’s? Can anyone show me where a woman has been forced to give up her career for her husband in the last 20 years on tv? Or, rather, has tv come to be a place of idealism… where that doesn’t really happen… but in real life, that happens all the time. So, which is better? To pretend marriage is easy and easily navigated, or to provide some sense of realism to the current generation by showcasing a relationship set 3 centuries hence facing similar problems to today… but today we ignore them because the point would be missed and the people that should be pleased with the portrayal are nagging it… This reviewer should have appreciated that the modern struggle of a career woman was showcased so well, and not glossed over.

  • AirElephant

    Where I struggle is with your final point about a “modern struggle of a career woman.” I don’t necessarily disagree, but the issues were never dealt with head-on. We saw Keiko whine about Miles spending too much time with Bashir, and Miles looking sheepish. We saw Keiko complain about not having anything to do around the station and Miles finding a job for her as a schoolteacher.

    I didn’t see a relationship that put Keiko in any positive light, but rather as a harridan that hounded her husband into making concessions. She came across to me as selfish, critical, and uncompromising. I just felt the writers, if they had an understanding of women, could have approached her with more sympathy. Perhaps it was the actress who portrayed Keiko that rubbed me the wrong way, but I would like to point some of the blame at the writers.

    She could have been written as a strong woman who had a great deal of success before she met Miles, but who willingly took on the role of his partner on DS9. We could have had side conversations with other DS9 personnel who noticed Keiko’s aimlessness as a way to reveal to Miles that she was unhappy rather than having Keiko herself confront him. I just think that there was a lack of subtlety that put the character in the wrong light and, honestly, I dreaded every time I saw her on screen because I knew that she’d be sniping and snipping at Miles throughout their scenes together.

  • Mike

    I don’t disagree with most of what you said, but I do with regard to a couple points. First, you suggest that the issue was never dealt with head-on… Secondly, you say should could’ve been portrayed as a successful woman who willingly took on the role she did on DS9… It was, and she was. We first met Keiko on TNG, where she was obviously brilliant and accomplished. You don’t get to be the head of your botony team aboard the Federation’s flagship as a civilian scientist without being at the top of your field. And, from the start of this series, we see that Keiko has agreed to this, even if it means she’s taking a back seat in terms of her career for Miles. That Miles has undergone something of a change from his time aboard Enterprise is pretty apparent. As the Transporter Chief, he had an important role, but it was nothing like being Chief of Operations of DS9. So, he had a much harder position. Meanwhile, Keiko, even though she agreed to the move, has realized that the reality of living aboard this Cardassian space station wasn’t exactly what the brochure had suggested… in other words, the reaction Keiko has to being trapped with nothing to do aboard this monstrosity, while her husband is making new friends and seemingly having a great time would wear thin. But we know that the actions Miles was taking weren’t because he was a juvenile stuck in a man’s body… He was getting close to Julian because he had come to trust and appreciate the Doctor, and his friendship in the increasingly difficult position they are all in. He shares his feelings with Julian because he can’t with Keiko… not because she’s a harpy, but because he knows he’s caused her a lot of pain with all this… Ironically, if he would have opened up to her instead of Julian, she would’ve understood the feelings he was having and probably wouldn’t have felt isolated… But the Chief was swamped… We know the station undergoes massive refits throughout the entire series. Who do you suppose is in charge of those? They don’t deal with that storyline in particular detail either, but it’s there, and it informs who the Chief is… We don’t see a lot, but what we do see isn’t quite so anti-woman as you’re suggesting… it’s more human than that.

  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    I don’t think the character of Keiko was well-served by the DS9 writers. I liked what they were trying to do (showing a determined relationship under stress) but too often it ended up a little obvious; & yes, whiny at times. From her first (non-) appearance in Emissary, she never finds a clear place on the station & the show; & sometimes seems to have been reduced to a context against which the Chief’s narratives can be played

    Maybe part of the problem was Ms Chao’s unwillingness to have a lead role in the show; so the writers had to compress their determination to tell this story into a series of intense snapshots. Maybe the writers themselves were a little young to tell these (although subsequent work by the gang generally hasn’t suggested greater skill)….

    Odd that the B-story has attracted so much attention in this episode. I rather like the titular story of the House of Quark – there were something operatic – both touching & funny – in seeing Quark announce I am Quark, son of Keldar to the disbelieving council. Grilka is a fine character, wonderfully realised; & the combination of her with Quark is fun (it was to see the character return in Looking for par’mach…). The transformation of Rom continues here, too. The plot may be silly – & there are obvious flaws – but a nice episode nonetheless

  • seventhbeacon

    I really enjoyed this episode. I always treat the Ferengi episodes as a comedic departure, and therefore don’t mind the out-of-character elements that happen with the other main players and the Klingons. It’s all a bit of tongue-in-cheek.
    On the issue of Keiko, I’m inclined to agree with Michelle, AirElephant and Robert. For one, whether intended or not, the portrayal almost always leads to more sympathizing with O’Brien, and she becomes the ‘carping scapegoat’. Not that spouses can’t nag or get on each other’s nerves, but that it happens to the viewer was a disservice to what she could have represented. I don’t think O’Brien is a manchild, though. If I had to guess where the flaw is, maybe the writers were 1) not in successful relationships or solid marriages, or 2) misfiring in their limited opportunities to portray the relationship.
    As to whether or not it’s wrong to portray Keiko that way, that becomes a substantive argument. While I think it’s okay to portray people like that, as carpy women and manchilds do exist in the real world, it did feel very one-sided in how sympathies were played. I won’t accuse the writers/directors of an undercurrent of misogyny – even if that may be a possibility – but we have to remember that most TV and movies are produced in the bubble of Hollywood culture and are therefore always going to have skewed perspectives on peoples’ sexuality, marital relations, and other social inconsistencies.

  • Mike

    Some of that has to be a result of Keiko not being a main character while O’Brien is… We’re not meant to dislike Keiko, but I think we are meant to see it from O’Brien’s perspective and that of his friends, and thus, it’s somewhat skewed. Afterall, how often do friends approach you to bemoan their own shortcomings in a relationship? Probably not as often as the inverse…