Retro Review: Ferengi Love SongsPosted by Michelle - 10/01/14 at 07:01 pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season: 05 Episode: 20 (s05e20)
Original US airdate: 04/21/1997
Quark discovers that his mother is in love with the Grand Nagus and plots to sacrifice her happiness in order to regain his status in Ferengi society.
Plot Summary: Miserable at the news of Rom and Leeta’s engagement and his ongoing ban by the Ferengi Commerce Authority, Quark runs home to his Moogie (a.k.a. Ishka) on Ferenginar for comfort. His mother is sympathetic, though not so much that she is willing to have Quark live with her indefinitely – the reason for which Quark soon discovers when he finds Zek hiding in a closet and learns that the Grand Nagus and his mother have become lovers. Since Zek refuses to reinstate Quark’s business license, Quark joins forces with Brunt, who was responsible for the license being revoked in the first place, agreeing to try to persuade Zek to leave Ishka in exchange for a new license. After Quark suggests that Ishka is both after Zek’s fortune and planning a revolution to give females power on Ferenginar, Zek leaves her, then makes Quark his First Clerk. But though Brunt fulfills his obligation to allow Quark to conduct business with other Ferengi, Quark is horrified to find that Zek is growing senile and that Ferengi profits are collapsing. A heartbroken Ishka reveals that she has been helping Zek, which is the only reason he’s maintained the position of Grand Nagus – a job that Brunt covets. Feeling guilty, Quark coaches Zek to retain a position of economic dominance over Brunt, then claims that all his brilliant ideas actually came from his Moogie. A grateful Zek reunites with Ishka. Quark makes plans to return with his new business license to Deep Space Nine, where Rom and Leeta had briefly split up over her refusal to give up all claim to his profits upon marriage, though once Rom gave away all his assets to Bajoran orphans, he concluded that since he had nothing for her to steal, she couldn’t be a latinum-digger like his previous wife.
Analysis: When I talk about the greatness of Deep Space Nine and all the ways in which I think it’s the greatest of the Star Trek series, I should always remember to add an asterisk with the footnote, “…except Ferengi episodes.” While a couple of them are watchable and “Little Green Men” is pure genius, most of them are awful – at best, wallowing in sexist humor and smug jokes about capitalism; at worst, not even managing to be ironic. The most entertaining moment in “Ferengi Love Songs” is a joke that upon reflection seems to be at the expense of Star Trek fans, when Quark discovers that his mother has saved his childhood action figures and she points out that they’d be worth more if he had kept them in the original packaging. Sure, it’s amusing to watch Quark enjoy his Ferengi superheroes like Dark Helmet from Spaceballs playing with his dolls, but it’s not very smart for the writers to imply that they find the sort of fans who spend money collecting Star Trek toys to be avaricious and childish, and it’s even more dangerous to point out the ways in which the characters themselves are like action figures, seeming less like full-fledged characters than marionettes spouting weak jokes and condescending life lessons. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to do a comic Quark episode so soon after the overly earnest “Business As Usual” – it’s arguably even too soon after the more relevant prequel, “Body Parts,” though I can forgive that as part of the writers’ fifth-season project to reunite Quark, Odo, Worf, et al with the alien societies from whom they were absurdly severed in the fourth season. But wow, does “Ferengi Love Songs” need a B plot that’s not about Ferengi!
As misogynistic as Ferengi society is revealed to be in “Family Business,” I could tolerate it because we were given Ishka as a shining example of what women could achieve despite an oppressive culture, a lack of formal education, an unsupportive family, etc. Okay, I hated the fact that in the end Ishka decided to put up with making sacrifices because she was persuaded that preserving the family was more important than her worth as a person, but at least we knew the sacrifices were mostly for show. In “Ferengi Love Songs,” we get the old cliche about women sacrificing everything for love, not even for her children who remain loyal to her despite her clothes-wearing rebellion, but for a man who refuses to acknowledge how much he needs her personally or professionally until prodded by one of those children. Ishka may be retaining her integrity as a selfish Ferengi when she chooses to pursue her desire for love and sex from Zek rather than fame for her skills and accomplishments, but I’m really uncomfortable with how the idea of her starting a sexual revolution is treated as a joke, something Quark never stops to think might be a real issue and not just a ploy by Brunt to scare the Nagus, as if the right to wear clothing is a victory in itself and not a symbol of all the other ways Ferengi women are kept isolated, exposed, submissive, their only real power being the sort that Rom’s ex-wife exercised when she took his money and left him (something for which she is universally vilified rather than admired – there’s no discussion about how having the option to make her own profits might have prevented her from abandoning a husband and child).
As far as we can tell from “Ferengi Love Songs,” Ishka lacks broader ambition and doesn’t have the lobes that Brunt does, even if she wins this round by manipulating the men around her so that a failing Zek can keep his position. I’m a little biased because now we know that the sexual revolution Brunt fears will eventually come about, though largely because Zek and Quark want to smack down traditional Ferengi for personal reasons, not because of deeply held beliefs about equality or fairness. Evidently we’re supposed to find it just as pleasing when Zek returns to Ishka’s cooking and sexual favors as we’re supposed to find it when Rom does the unthinkable for a Ferengi, giving away all his assets to show his Bajoran fiancee how much he loves her. We’re supposed to cheer for Rom and hiss at Brunt, who’s really a perfect Ferengi in his selfish pursuit of profit and power. Thus the entire Ferengi species is reduced to comic excess and an excuse for pontificating – which is really all that conscience of Quark’s is good for. It’s predictable and plodding, with no character growth visible from anyone except possibly Rom who still needs a kick from O’Brien to acknowledge things he knows already are true about himself and his relationship with Leeta (who goes to Kira rather than her good friend Dax to discuss her breakup, though Kira isn’t exactly a relationship guru and rarely mentions Shakaar any more). All the smugness toward the silly Ferengi whose profit-motivated values cause such family strife makes any suffering they feel seem exaggerated and phony. I’m all for Star Trek developing relationship and family stories, but the stories have to come from a place of sincerity, or else they suggest that emotional connections are all ludicrous at the core. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Ferengi family farces.
Tags: Retro Review