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Retro Review: Family Business

Posted by Michelle - 11/01/13 at 05:01 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 23 (s03e23)

Original US airdate: 05/15/1995

After a Ferengi inquisitor comes to visit, Quark and Rom travel to Ferenginar to punish their Moogie for wearing clothes and earning profit.

Plot Summary: While Jake tries to persuade his father to meet freighter captain Kasidy Yates, Quark is visited by Ferengi Commerce Authority Agent Brunt, who informs Quark that he is being held accountable for the misdeeds of Ishka, known to Quark and Rom as Moogie. She has been charged with earning a profit, but since Ferengi women are not allowed to be prosecuted – just as they are not allowed to wear clothes or conduct business – her eldest son is being held responsible. Quark travels to Ferenginar, reluctantly taking Rom with him, to demand that Ishka confess, but a defiant Ishka greets them fully dressed and says that she will not sign the confession as she does not believe she has done anything wrong. To his horror, Quark discovers that his mother has amassed a fortune by successfully trading with dozens of businessmen. Since Quark will be required to pay the FCA the equivalent of his mother’s earnings, he will have to sell the bar and everything he owns. Ishka claims that Quark is jealous that she has the lobes for business, which his father never did; Quark storms out, planning to turn her in for all her transgressions until Rom intercepts him to tell him that their Moogie has agreed to split her profits with him. Meanwhile, Sisko and Yates meet in the cargo bay and later go out for dinner, discovering a common love of baseball, which her brother plays on Cestus III. Ishka tells Quark that she never promised to split her profits with him – it was a ruse on Rom’s part to bring Quark home – but because she loves her sons, she will sign the confession and give back the money she earned. Once she is alone with Rom, the two chuckle that it’s a good thing no one else knows that she turned over only a third of her profits, keeping the rest hidden from Quark and the Ferengi authorities.

Analysis: I try to make myself like “Family Business,” and it’s certainly easier during a rewatch after the end of Deep Space Nine, when Kasidy Yates has become such an important character and when we know that Ishka and Rom are going to triumph over Quark and his ilk. For a long time this episode was on my “never watch again” list, which has now changed because I love Yates, but that doesn’t make the Ishka storyline any easier to swallow. I’m sure the writers thought they were being progressive, setting up Ferengi women as an oppressed group and then allowing Quark’s mother to begin a liberation movement, but since the storyline is only ever written for its comic potential and bears no resemblance to the real struggles of women anywhere on Earth for independence – financial, familial, sexual – it ends up being worse than stupid, and as much as I love all the actors who play Ferengi on DS9, I find it even harder to watch than the institutionalized Klingon sexism which is generally portrayed as wrongheaded or the sanitized storyline about Bajoran women sent to entertain Cardassian men who are more porn fantasy figures then believable characters. The fact that Ishka is so much stronger than her sons doesn’t make up for Ferengi misogyny, it heightens it, since she’s portrayed as being literally the only woman on the planet who combines such intelligence, force of will, and fearlessness. Otherwise, Ferengi women would have put men like Brunt – and Quark – in their place long ago. Even knowing that Ishka will persuade the Grand Nagus to make sweeping changes isn’t much comfort, since it ends up being a benevolent dictator and not a revolution on the part of half the Ferengi population who ultimately makes the biggest difference.

It would help if there were actual character development of the Ferengi in place of human stereotypes. Nobody learns anything and nobody grows as a person. Predictably, Quark reacts to his mother like a little boy having a tantrum instead of like a grown man facing a serious personal and financial crisis, while Rom has one of the creepiest Oedipal moments on television, encouraging his mother to get naked and play with his teeth. There seems to be a moment when Quark may realize that his mother could be the biggest asset ever to his ambitions and that quietly supporting her would make much more sense than spouting human cliches about how a woman’s place is in the home. But then the writers turn to one of the oldest traps for women, having Moogie declare that preserving the family is the most important thing, far more than her own worth as a person or raising her children to be better men. What could be a revelatory moment, Quark’s realization that his mother and not his father always had the lobes for business – which by extension means there may be plenty of Ferengi women in similar situations – gets turned instead into a sappy “I love you despite your faults” scene. Has Quark forgotten Pel, the cross-dressing Ferengi woman who demonstrated business acumen that rivaled the Nagus, who would seem to be Ishka’s natural ally and successor? The thumbprinting confession scene is painful to watch because Quark thinks it’s the real thing, even if the confession itself gets invalidated when Ishka confesses to Rom that she kept most of her money. It’s an entirely private victory, like her entirely private choice to wear clothing in her own home. Not only won’t the authorities have to deal with the fact that a woman has repeatedly outwitted them, but her own elder son won’t have any reason to rethink his own attitudes and behaviors.

Though the Ferengi storyline is played for more humor – apparently we’re supposed to find jokes about big lobes an endless source of hilarity, though there are more of them here than there are wiener jokes in the average episode of South Park – the Sisko storyline has more genuine wit and charm, particularly the priceless moment when Dax tells Sisko that if she were still Curzon, she’d have stolen Kasidy from him before Sisko had even met her. (“That’s one of the reasons I’m glad you’re not still Curzon!” retorts Sisko.) It’s pretty sad that Sisko can’t meet a woman without help from his son, but he does work long hours and he’s probably uneasy about bringing home a potential replacement for Jake’s mother, which makes things that much simpler if Jake has already met and approved the woman in question. The fact that the entire command crew knows Sisko’s business is pretty funny considering they all knew Bashir’s business when his former classmate was arriving a couple of weeks ago and everyone always seems to know O’Brien’s business. I remember being irritated once upon a time that what they had in common wasn’t commanding crews or dealing with bureaucracy but baseball, but now that seems to make perfect sense, that his biggest concern wouldn’t be whether he could share all the tribulations of his work life with her but whether she’d appreciate his cooking and sense of humor and secret fanboy side. I’m also glad that the writers let him confront Jennifer’s ghost, as it were, in the alternate universe, which must have made him stop idealizing his marriage; now he knows that if circumstances had been different, he might not have been the right man for her, nor she the right woman for him.

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  • SJStar

    This episode is so shockingly awful that I surprised Michelle could write anything positive. (Well, congratulations for doing so.) In all this story it is a mish-mash of clearly ridiculous ethical and social practices being played to the hilt, mostly wanting to provoke or confront the viewer with its utter silliness. The anti-female attitudes are equally cringeworthy, which if I recall, was enforced so they could not keep or hide latinum in their pockets. (Inferring they are not trustworthy and likely to steal things.)

    This episode is plainly unfunny and quite embarrassing to watch. The only worse episode is the truly dreadful “Profit and Lace.” Groan. :(

    The only thing useful we learn about Ferengi homeworld is that it is a miserable, they eat bugs and insects, it rains all the time, and those who suffer destitution are thrown from the forty-story Tower of Commerce. (No wonder the Ferengi are so miserable most of the time!)

  • Bobby

    No kidding.

    The writers have explained that the “joke” is that the Ferengi are supposed to be us. (“Ferengi” is a word derived from the word “westerner” in some eastern language that I’ve forgotten now.)

    So they’re caricatures, and often they are extremely BAD caricatures. This episode is one of those times. At best the Ferengi can sometimes be somewhat amusing, but at worst they are extremely offensive and embarrassing. I would expect this episode to be offensive to nearly everyone, regardless of beliefs.

    I agree with Michelle that the Ishka storyline gets somewhat better later on, so that (maybe?) makes this one tolerable. Not very tolerable though if you ask me. Ugh.

  • Guest

    Ferengi episodes: Hollywood writers cashing paychecks for their scripts about how pursuit of profit is bad