Negotiating a deal for the Grand Nagus, Quark seeks the advice of Pel, who complicates matters by making a pass at him.
Plot Summary: Grand Nagus Zek summons Quark in the middle of a game of Tongo being won by Dax and a Ferengi named Pel. Zek wants Quark to negotiate to expand Ferengi business into the Gamma Quadrant and plans a meeting with a race called the Dosi, though Sisko and Kira are both wary about letting the Ferengi use Deep Space Nine as a base of operations. Zek wants Quark to buy ten thousand vats of tulaberry wine from the Dosi as a first step in monopolizing trade, but the Dosi are reluctant and Pel warns Quark that Zek may have set him up for failure. Rom tries to fire Pel for interfering, but Quark, impressed, hires Pel as his assistant, not realizing that Pel is a female in disguise. Zek then demands one hundred thousand vats of wine, leaving Quark panicked. Dax watches Pel’s skilled defense of Quark and guesses that Pel is in love with Quark, which leads Pel to confess that she is a woman who disguised herself to escape from a life of servitude. Pel suggests traveling to the Gamma Quadrant to meet with the Dosi on their own territory, but while she is on a ship with Quark, a jealous Rom goes through her belongings and discovers her secret. The Dosi initially resist Quark’s overtures and he goes to bed, where Pel kisses him before one of the Dosi interrupts to explain that only the Dominion can provide a hundred thousands vats of wine in the Gamma Quadrant. Realizing that that information will be more valuable to Zek than the wine, Quark goes back to the station, where he is promised a large percentage of Zek’s profits for making contact. When Rom reveals the truth about Pel’s identity, Quark offers to help her escape, but Pel is not content with leaving the station and the status quo: she confronts Zek, who realizes that he is just as guilty of taking business advice from a female as Quark. Zek agrees not to punish Pel as long as Quark gives up his stake in the Gamma Quadrant profits. Pel asks Quark to come travel with her, but he refuses to leave his bar, claiming that he couldn’t be happy with an independent Ferengi wife.
Analysis: “The Rules of Acquisition” is good fun taken at a superficial level, so I’m loath to try to analyze it, yet analyze it I must. I’m sure I’ve mentioned – repeatedly – that I am not a fan of anything about Ferengi culture, from the plaudits for cruel behavior to the thinly-veiled Jewish stereotypes…even putting aside the fact that, as Kira says, they’re greedy and misogynistic. It’s fun to see the writers mocking their own creation with this Yentl-in-space episode, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough; even knowing that Zek will eventually marry a woman who can out-negotiate him and that Rom will grow up doesn’t make them easy to like now. I’m also not comfortable with Dax, who reportedly had moments of similar skankiness as Curzon, being put in the position of defending the Ferengi and finding it rather adorable that Quark keeps trying to kiss her. It’s clear that Pel is smarter than Quark, much smarter than Nog, and just as manipulative as Zek without the advantages of power and diplomatic protection that come with his position (if anyone else had groped Kira’s bottom more than once, I’d expect him to lose his teeth). I don’t like the fact that abusive subjugation of women is used as fodder for comedy in Ferengi episodes – in this one, Rom repeatedly makes derogatory comments about females without any reminders that he was stung by a wife who had better lobes for profit than he did. Later on the battle of the sexes will lead to real economic consequences for the Ferengi, but the current lack of concern among Starfleet officers is troubling; members of a Federation that won’t allow android slaves surely must have something to say about slavery based on gender. I’d think that Kira in particular, the survivor of an Occupation involving forced labor camps, would have more to say about Ferengi behavior than mere disgust at having her bottom pinched.
I’d love to be able to laugh “Rules of Acquisition” off, but in some ways it’s the most important of the second season, because this is where we first hear of the Dominion. I’ve read that the writers had no definite plans for the Dominion when they tossed out the idea that business in the Gamma Quadrant was controlled by this ill-defined entity; the suggestion here is that they rule by controlling business, not with armies of Jem’Hadar controlled by genetically manipulated clones who in turn serve the interests of shape-shifting aliens that send untrained infants out to see what the rest of the universe is like. I remember groaning a bit when I first saw the episode, thinking that in the future trips through the wormhole might involve more Ferengi-like behavior, though in retrospect I’d rather meet a Ferengi than a Jem’Hadar coming through the wormhole. The plot with the tulaberries sounds insane all along, so it’s a huge relief when it turns out to be exactly that ridiculous: of course Zek doesn’t think he can take over business in a quadrant with a monopoly on wine that’s apparently being produced there in the first place! It’s odd to me what Quark will and won’t confront Zek about, since there are several moments when it seems like he’d earn more respect from Zek telling him what a stupid idea this all is and/or demanding to know what’s really going on than simply going along with Zek’s increasingly ludicrous demands. Zek keeps implying that he can take the bar from Quark, but I don’t see how, nor do I see Sisko allowing it; the Prime Directive may stop him from letting the Ferengi oppress their women at home, but I can’t imagine he’d let Zek have Pel arrested for wearing clothes and playing Tongo, either.
What I like best about the episode is not that it shows a woman’s successful rebellion – like Yentl, Pel nearly wrecks everything she’s achieved in the name of love for someone not worthy of her, and her accomplishments are dependent on her never returning home again. But Yentl made both the man she loved and the woman she married rethink how they thought about gender and recognize that they’d loved someone deemed sexually improper, and while Pel may be citing Rules of Acquisition instead of Talmudic scholarship, she shakes up the heterosexism that still seems rampant in the 24th century. Even the Dosi here are unfazed walking in on an apparent intimate moment between two men. The scene in which Dax observes that Pel loves Quark before Dax knows that Pel is female is more subtle and effective than any of The Next Generation‘s timid ventures into same-sex love, like Beverly Crusher’s rejection of a Trill lover in a female body and Riker’s politically charged relationship with a female-looking androgyne. The positive side of Dax’s ability to relate to Curzon’s womanizing is that no form of attraction repels her, even if it’s not her thing personally. Dax can love Quark and still see all his flaws as a potential mate, which ultimately proves to be true of Pel as well. I’m so relieved that she goes off on her own instead of trying to reform a Ferengi who harasses Dabo girls and suggests that, like Zek, he thinks Kira’s looks are her most valuable feature. I love the female Dosi calling Quark “this insignificance” and Kira, though unamused, feeling so superior that she can’t be bothered to give Quark or Zek what they deserve, though I wouldn’t complain if we’d gotten to see her stick those fifty thousand kilos of fertilizer Zek had been compelled to give to Bajor right up his…