Believing that he has a fatal illness, Quark sells his body parts to pay off his debts, then is unable to break the contract when he learns that he’s going to live.
Plot Summary: Quark returns to the station from Ferenginar with a diagnosis of Dorek Syndrome, a rare Ferengi illness that gives him only a week to live. Since he is required by Ferengi law to pay off all debts before he dies, Quark puts his dessicated remains up for auction, where they are purchased for an exorbitant sum that Quark believes could only have come from the Grand Nagus. Believing he will die a winner, a jubilant Quark then receives the even better news that he is not dying at all. But he is visited by Ferengi Liquidator Brunt, who reveals that he purchased Quark’s remains and intends to collect them within the week even if Quark is not ill. Meanwhile, Bashir returns from a Gamma Quadrant expedition and orders an immediate emergency transport for himself, Kira, and Keiko O’Brien, whose pregnancy threatened her life after a serious accident. Because it was the only way to save the fetus, Bashir and Kira agreed that Kira would carry the unborn child to term. This is a difficult prospect for Miles and Keiko, who invite Kira to become a member of their family and eventually to share their quarters. Quark offers to pay Garak to come to his own quarters to kill him quickly and painlessly rather than breaking a Ferengi contract, though he is fearful of all the possible methods of death that Garak offers. Then he finds himself in the Ferengi afterlife and believes that Garak has done the deed, only to realize that he’s having a dream of meeting the first Grand Nagus, Gint, who tells Quark that the Rules of Acquisition are really only guidelines and that he should break the contract with Brunt. Though the consequences include exile and the liquidation of all his assets, Quark lets Brunt take all his property and is touched when his friends on the station arrive to help him restock the bar and his quarters with gifts.
Analysis: Speaking as a Jewish fan, attempts to make Ferengi-Jewish parallels have always bothered me. Yes, I know that many of the writers and actors involved with the creation of the Ferengi are Jewish, and no, it isn’t as creepy as the Jewish overtones to certain incarnations of Batman‘s Penguin, but when DS9 does something as explicit as rewriting The Merchant of Venice, it’s hard to pretend that I’m only seeing my own fear of stereotypes and not something explicitly built into the franchise. The fact that Quark in essence converts to a kinder, gentler version of his religion and is helped by good Samaritans at the end doesn’t make me feel any better. Of course, it’s possible to interpret the episode without any of that – to take the Ferengi as the comic relief for which they typically serve, to assume that the vision of the Divine Treasury is Quark’s way of letting himself off the hook psychologically for wanting to live outside Ferengi law, to put Quark along with Odo and Worf among the collection of aliens for whom the DS9 writers have created vibrant cultures, only to have them decide they prefer human values (which is also a big philosophical problem for the series, but a separate one). It’s not hard to read Quark’s storyline as symbolic of that old axiom about how your real people are the ones who love you, not the ones to whom you are related by blood. But then what’s it doing paired with a storyline that suggests exactly the opposite, that biological ties are so strong that people from different races, cultures, even planets, who previously shared mutual respect but not deep friendship, can become instant family by virtue of sharing a physical connection to an unborn baby?
It’s probable that I’m taking the entire episode too seriously, even if its tone is surprisingly somber for a Ferengi episode once it gets past the shrill, over-the-top beginning in which Quark loudly bemoans his impending doom while Rom hysterically considers life without his brother (though at this point it would seem more in character even for Rom to start planning immediate changes to the bar employment structure). The sequences in which Quark plots with Garak for a painless death are genuinely funny and utterly ridiculous, with Quark refusing neck-breaking as a means of death because he doesn’t like the noise, hanging takes too long, he’d be too suspicious for poison, etc. And I don’t believe for a minute that Garak really intends to kill Quark no matter how much money is in it for him, since I don’t believe for a minute that Sisko would let Garak stay on the station after such an act even if both Ferengi and Cardassian culture allow mercy killings in such circumstances, something I’m sure Garak is smart enough to realize. If the episode intended to make a statement about suicide, Quark would have gone to Bashir instead, since the doctor is certainly capable of painless euthanasia when he doesn’t have his hands full dealing with cross-species surrogate pregnancy. We know that Quark’s life is never in danger and it’s all an elaborate set-up to teach him generosity, the same way Worf, Odo, Garak, Dax, and now even Kira are being forced by the writers to fit into life on what looks increasingly like a Federation station. With Brunt as outsider Shylock demanding his pound of flesh from Quark (about whom “You’re a philanthropist” is the worst thing Brunt can say), we’re being smacked over the head with a specific subset of human values that seems to be culled from TV versions of “The Gift of the Magi.”
In addition to the half-hearted debate about values, there’s a serious discussion about intercultural notions of bodily integrity that never happens. Kira’s insta-pregnancy is a problem for the writers due to the fact that Nana Visitor and Alexander Siddig were expecting a child together while the fourth season was filming, something the writers felt they couldn’t hide with long coats the way they hid Roxann Dawson’s pregnancy on Voyager. So they can be forgiven for cobbling together this underdeveloped scenario in which Kira carries Keiko’s pregnancy to term. It’s harder to forgive a storyline in which it seems to be more something that happens to Bashir and Miles than something that happens to Kira and Keiko. The former, who has never expressed the slightest interest in being a mother or being pregnant, suddenly finds herself facing several months with a baby growing inside her, while the latter, who was looking forward to feeling her child move in utero, suddenly finds herself with what I assume to be the equivalent of post-miscarriage hormonal depression on top of great physical discomfort. I don’t have any trouble believing that Kira would find the value of a much-wanted birth worth the discomfort of a pregnancy, but the ease with which she settles into the situation seems artificial, like the writers assume that all women can snap into self-sacrificing mother mode with just a bit of stimulation to their maternal instincts via hormonal enhancement. This is a monumental change she’s facing, no less complicated than putting up an infant for adoption by strangers and more complicated than modern contracted surrogacy-for-hire since she had no time to consider or prepare.
I feel robbed of getting to see the decision, not just the results but the moment when Bashir tells Kira that he can only save the fetus if she is willing to volunteer her body, the moment when Kira chooses to accept the risks both physical and psychological of attachment to a baby whom for all she knows the O’Briens will take away from her and whisk off to Earth after its birth (as indeed they eventually do). Beneath the matter-of-fact way that Kira accepts the necessity of bearing the child lies a wealth of emotional baggage about how parenthood is constructed, not to mention the implications of the medical technology. Is abortion a non-issue in the 24th century because the woman’s life can always be saved by transplanting a fetus into another willing host or a machine? Do other issues (population explosions, fetal genetic damage) ever become reasons for terminating pregnancies? How do paternal rights work in an age of artificial wombs, where a mother is not necessary to have a baby, only an egg donor? What happens if a birth mother decides, as in our own century, that she doesn’t want to relinquish full custody of a child to whom she gave birth? Much of this season has been devoted to questions about what makes a family – now that Kira is a member of the O’Brien household, now that Quark has discovered that Dax and even Sisko consider him a relation, now that Worf has no family but the people he works with, and soon enough Odo’s ties to the Great Link will be shattered. What are we to make of the creeping Federation takeover of the lives of so many aliens – are we to celebrate the solidifying of a community or mourn the loss of individual cultural differences?