Quark takes a job selling weapons for an arms dealer, but when he realizes that the man is supporting a holocaust, his conscience begins to bother him.
Plot Summary: After confessing to Dax that he’s broke and in debt, Quark is relieved when his cousin Gaila arrives with an unexpected business offer, asking Quark to join him in selling weapons. This would be illegal if the weapons were actually shipped to the station, but Gaila has come up with a brilliant strategy: he wants Quark to wine, dine, and show potential customers a good time while showing off holographic replicas of the weapons in the holosuites. Because the profit margin is so high, Quark agrees to this scheme and soon finds himself working with Hagath, an arms dealer who seems friendly yet warns Quark never to cross him. Though Odo discovers the scheme and wants to arrest everyone involved, Kira informs him that because Hagath sold weapons to the Bajorans during the Cardassian Occupation, Bajor will not allow him to be prosecuted. But Quark discovers that Hagath is ruthless, having an associate murdered for failing at his work and making a deal to sell weapons of mass destruction to the Regent of Palamar. Because millions will die in the Regent’s war, Quark tells Gaila and tries to tell Dax about his ethical qualms, but the latter is angry that Quark is involved in any weapons trade and the former warns Quark that Hagath will kill him if he interferes with the deal. Unable to think of another way to stop the massacre of millions, Quark invites the Regent’s military adversary General Nassuc to the station, promising to sell her arms as well, telling Gaila that this will double their profits. Quark then makes sure that Gaila and General Nassuc encounter the Regent and Hagath; the Regent is killed in the ensuing confrontation, and both Hagath and Gaila are chased off the station by Nassuc. Throughout this potential genocidal crisis, O’Brien tries to deal with the fact that Kirayoshi cries every time anyone but his father is holding him, ultimately discovering that the baby is comfortable with Worf, who regrets that he didn’t get to hold Alexander as an infant.
Analysis: A strong performance by Armin Shimerman can’t save “Business As Usual,” which seems constructed less to build on Ferengi lore than to demonstrate the inherent problems with Ferengi episodes. When an entire race of people is written to be used primarily for comic relief in a universe that’s getting more serious all the time, stories about such people tend to seem frivolous and trivial, showcasing their greed, amorality, and casual mistreatment of women, which become less forgivable with each successive outing, and when the stories turn serious, trying to find a way to redeem individual characters without removing the bad-joke aspects of their backgrounds, they easily cross the line to become offensive. The first time I saw “Business As Usual,” I found it disgusting; this time, nearly two decades later, I’m afraid I found it more boring than anything else, a bottle show without a strong enough script or visuals to make its scenes entertaining and saddled with a painfully predictable secondary plot whose juxtaposition with the excesses of the main plot serves to trivialize it even further. The things that might make it all somewhat tolerable – an exploration of Quark and Dax’s unlikely friendship, a development in the relationship between Quark and Rom, some bonding among all the fathers on the station who’ve raised a newborn – never take place. We’re left with a story about a holocaust-in-progress that’s of no concern to the Federation, in which Bajor deliberately refuses knowledge or culpability, leaving a single Ferengi to act as hero…mass murder on a global scale as a dramatic device to demonstrate that under the greed and womanizing, really Quark’s not such a bad guy.
Except, of course, that what we’re really seeing is exactly the opposite. We’ve been shown repeatedly this year that Quark has friends among his Starfleet colleagues, people who will help him keep his bar when his own people abandon him, yet Quark prefers the values of the Ferengi to those of the Federation and jumps at the chance to make money with a cousin who’s already tried to kill him, though it’s obvious from the very beginning that Gaila is using Quark to protect his own ass(ets). From the beginning, Quark’s major concerns about using the holosuites to sell weapons are that he might get caught by Starfleet or he might inadvertently wind up on the wrong side of the not-very-rational Hagath; though Quark tells Sisko and Odo that the weapons he sells will only be used for defensive purposes to maintain a balance of power that will prevent wars, he has no reason to believe that. No one’s overseeing how the weapons are used, no one’s asking what happened to all the arms sold to the Manchovites during a civil war whose armistice has cut off a lucrative business proposition for archetypal James Bond villain Hagath – surely someone like the so-recently-discussed Orion Syndicate would love to get ahold of such weapons. Quark is appalled when he learns the Regent wants to kill 28 million of his enemies, yet he hardly blinks when it seems that only a few hundred thousand may be in the line of fire from his arms dealing. The idea that Quark is noble for stopping the slaughter of tens of millions when he was willing to profit from the deaths of mere thousands is vile; I find myself longing for Captain Kirk to show up and make a speech about escalation and brutality.
But we’ve only got Captain Sisko, who apparently bends to the will of the Bajorans without even notifying Starfleet and who doesn’t think to take advantage of Quark’s position by asking to be informed in case of just such an atrocity as Quark discovers in the planning stages. The scene in which Sisko, Kira, and Odo are forced to leave Quark to his arms dealing is played for humor, with Sisko snarling and Kira growling about how they have to tolerate this little scheme of Quark’s like it’s a game. One of the reasons I’ve never felt that the Dominion War was inherently in opposition to everything Roddenberry’s Star Trek stood for is that it never glorified war in any way – not the violence, not the heroism, not the nobility of sacrifice, even as the series was targeting an audience demographic of young men who purportedly love entertainment that does just that. Yet “Business As Usual” wants to have it both ways. Just imagine if you got to trade holographic weapons just like in a video game, and hang out with hot Dabo girls and play Tongo with hot nerd-girl fantasy Dax! Why does Quark start dreaming about all his friends dying when he hears an expected death toll in the tens of millions, not when he first discovers that Hagath will kill anyone for being in his way or even for being careless? It’s hard to believe that Quark turns on Hagath for moral reasons so much as a combined terror of what Hagath will eventually do to him for any minor slip-up and a (possibly mistaken) belief that if millions of people start dying, Starfleet and the Federation may not remain so neutral concerning the Regent.
In the end, it’s not the Ferengi behavior that disturbs me in “Business As Usual.” I don’t find them all that entertaining at the best of times, but they’re not the focus of this series or this franchise. It’s a lot more worrisome that Kira is willing to back an arms dealer who supplied weapons to the Bajorans without attempting to learn whether he, like several former terrorists she knows, has only escalated his violence even though the struggle with the Cardassians is over; that Dax, who is rightly appalled when she learns how Quark plans to pay his bills, would rather shut him out than try to learn why his conscience is belatedly so troubled; and that Sisko, learning too late of the extent of Hagath’s dealings, lets Quark off with a minor financial slap for arranging an assassination right on the station that could conceivably drag Sisko and Starfleet into a war, with casualties higher than those the Regent has planned. Suppose that just a few innocents were to be threatened by the weapons being sold through DS9…suppose that those weapons were aimed at Jake and Nog and Alexander Rozhenko and Kirayoshi O’Brien, whose father adores him so much that he’s willing to forego sleep and take him to work rather than listen to him cry. Would Sisko, Kira, Dax, et al still believe they’d made the right choice in ignoring a self-serving arms dealer? Would they say, oh well, it’s just a few lives, not 28 million, and go back to playing Tongo? Of course, I don’t believe that they would, which just demonstrates how badly “Business As Usual” is written. It’s a weak excuse to make Quark look good that falls flat in every way.