Retro Review: The House of Quark

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Quark is accused of killing a Klingon and claims that it’s true to bolster his reputation…until the dead man’s widow comes looking for him.

Plot Summary: On a slow night in the bar, Quark demands that his sole customer pay up. The drunken Klingon, Kozak, pulls a knife, but before Quark has time to panic, Kozak collapses on the blade and dies. Dozens of people come to the bar now that it’s a crime scene and Quark brags that he killed Kozak in self-defense. Odo warns that Kozak’s family may demand vengeance, but Quark is proud of his increased earnings, at least until Kozak’s brother D’Ghor arrives and threatens him. Quark is about to confess the truth when he learns that D’Ghor will spare his life if Quark maintains his story that Kozak died in honorable battle. So Quark continues to brag, and Kozak’s widow, Grilka, comes to tell him that his skills at lying make him useful. While she abducts Quark to Qo’noS, Miles O’Brien learns that Keiko has had to close her school for lack of students and is unhappy at her lack of job options on the station. Miles asks Sisko for permission to create an arboretum in an empty cargo bay, but Bashir warns him that this will not keep Keiko occupied for long. On Qo’noS, Grilka forces Quark to marry her in an attempt to claim control of her House, which D’Ghor is trying to take over under Klingon laws that favor men. Because Kozak died honorably in combat, Quark has the right to marry the widow and take Kozak’s place even though he is Ferengi. Gowron agrees to consider the matter; while he does so, Quark persuades Grilka to show him her husband’s financial records and discovers that D’Ghor has been draining Kozak’s assets for years. When Quark and Grilka present this information to D’Ghor, who has forced Rom to deny Quark’s story of an honorable death for Kozak to discredit Quark, D’Ghor demands combat in front of Gowron and the High Council. Though his instinct is to flee, Quark appears before the Council, setting aside his bat’leth and telling D’Ghor that to kill a defenseless Ferengi would hardly be an honorable victory. D’Ghor lunges to kill him anyway, but Gowron stops him, strips him of his position and grants Grilka the right to lead her own House. She gives Quark her thanks and a divorce. Back on Deep Space Nine, Rom tells Quark that he’s still a hero, and Miles suggests that Keiko join a Bajoran agrobiology expedition which will take her away from the station but make her happier.

Analysis: I really hated “The House of Quark” when it first aired. I’m not particularly a fan of Ferengi episodes or Klingon episodes, and this one combines the worst elements of both, putting an undue emphasis on honor (which for Klingons means it’s okay to lie to save face) and wealth (which for Ferengi means the constant cheating we’ve seen since Next Gen). But what really bothers me is the sexism. I don’t mean just the patriarchal expectations of both Ferengi and Klingon culture, though I’m dying to know what happened to the Klingons Kirk knew, who let women be second-in-command of their husbands’ ships, presumably meaning that in the event of Kang’s death, Marta could take over as head of his ship as well as his House. I also mean the mess that is the O’Briens’ marriage, which appears to have been dreamed up by a bunch of men who’ve never been in long-term relationships and understand neither what makes marriages last nor how mature, well-adjusted women behave. Either Keiko O’Brien is suffering from depression – perhaps seasonal affective disorder, I’m surprised more humans living on the station aren’t ill from lack of any natural sunlight for months at a time – and Bashir doesn’t spend enough time with Keiko to recognize it, or she’s become a whiny passive-aggressive manipulator with little vivaciousness or self-motivation, which is something I simply refuse to believe given her record of accomplishment on the Enterprise and presumably at the Academy before that. Miles seeks help not from Dax, who’s clearly itching to give it (and who, as she points out, has been a husband and a wife), nor from Kira, who must be one of the strongest women he’s ever met and who is also in a complicated relationship with a guy devoted to his career, nor from Sisko, who had a long marriage and a child, but from Bashir, who can’t even get his own dating life in order. And Keiko would rather sit around sulking than look into her own options – hydroponics, long-distance research jobs, cultivating medicines, greening the Promenade. If Keiko had discovered the job on Bajor on her own and Miles had to make the decision to let her go, I’d be far more impressed by the strength of their marriage than watching him take a paternalistic position that not incidentally gets him off the hook from having to come home from a hard day’s work without having to deal with a wife and child every evening.

But enough about the subplot. The main plot, which feels largely like an excuse to show the Klingon High Council and Gowron again, has its amusing moments, more than I had remembered. Yet it’s so contrived that it makes Klingon honor seem like a joke. A drunken Klingon falls on a knife, though Bashir apparently can’t tell this is the case since he allows Quark to pretend it was a stabbing, and Odo decides to let Quark get away with this claim despite knowing it may cause a threat to station security. Are we to believe Odo is too stupid to have prevented two Ferengi from being kidnapped, or that he gleefully chose to look the other way? The villain D’Ghor, who is pretty delightful, manages to convince Quark that lying about the death brings his family more honor than telling the truth, which I have no trouble believing. But then we find out that while Klingon custom would let the widow of a disgraced man continue to run his House – since apparently Klingon women are only allowed to be independent when their men are too pathetic to live – the widow of an honorable man has no power whatsoever if there are male heirs, brothers if not sons, with new husbands trumping brothers. I’ll buy that the system will favor any male claim over a wife’s, but I bet there’s lots of spousal murder and forced marriage. If I were Odo and I learned that Quark killed Kozak, then married his widow days later and claimed his estate, I’d immediately suspect that Quark might actually have stabbed a Klingon in cold blood. In the insanity that is Klingon honor, however, while it’s all right to elope with a Ferengi days after losing one’s husband, it is not all right to try to kill that Ferengi when he declines lawful battle. So Quark wins, and D’Ghor is disgraced, not for the years of growing rich at his brother’s expense (though Kozak apparently cultivated those gambling debts entirely on his own), but for doing what Klingons do best and demanding vengeance against the person challenging his integrity. I’m going to assume that Gowron likes Grilka, that he’s already decided to use his magic calculator to her advantage. Otherwise it all seems contradictory.

The brightest point of the episode is Grilka herself. She’s confident and resourceful; she has limited legal options, but she makes the most of them. She’s clever enough to see all the ways in which Quark might make a valuable ally, first because he’s a good liar, later because he has a trained Ferengi’s skill with numbers. Since the kidnapping and forced marriage are played for laughs and there’s no attempt at sexual coercion, she never seems villainous, and since she takes so much initiative to improve her situation, she never seems like a damsel in distress. Contrast that with Keiko, who fiddles with plants and sulks and waits for Miles to ask how school was so she can drop the bombshell “I closed it” as if she’s doing him a favor by withholding this information while he gripes about his day. The “we agreed to come here together” routine, which Keiko brings up repeatedly while he’s lamenting her limited options, doesn’t make her sound more devoted to the closeness of their marriage but less so, since resentment underlies this sacrifice. They seem less suited as partners than Quark and Grilka, though the latter only know each other for a few days and though Grilka frequently threatens violence if Quark doesn’t do exactly what she wants. I didn’t think so when I first saw the episode, yet “The House of Quark” showcases the latter’s appeal as well. Quark may frequently admit to being a coward but he’s brave for Grilka, putting his life on the line once Rom points out that nearly everything that matters in Grilka’s life will be taken away if D’Ghor triumphs. Despite Quark’s terrible behavior toward Dabo girls and his ostensible approval of the Ferengi practice of keeping women naked and ignorant, he seems to prefer women like Grilka and Natima, who can both out-think and out-fight him. Quark is endearing here both for the ways in which he is stereotypically Ferengi and for the ways in which he is not.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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