While taking Nog to Starfleet Academy, Quark’s contraband causes a temporal rift that puts him, his brother and nephew on Earth in the twentieth century at Roswell.
Plot Summary: As Nog prepares to leave for Starfleet Academy, Quark’s cousin Gaila gives Quark the ship he owes him. Quark volunteers to take Rom and Nog to Earth to test the ship, bringing a shipment of illegal kemacite to deliver on the way back to the station. But Gaila has had the ship rigged to malfunction, and when Rom uses the kemacite to stop it from breaking up at warp speed on the approach to Earth, the ship is flung several hundred years in the past. The Ferengi awaken in a compound in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. General Denning orders Professor Carlson and his girlfriend, Nurse Garland, to observe the Ferengi and try to communicate with them. Rom manages to convince Garland to loan him her hairpin to fix their universal translators, which Quark then uses to offer Denning a business proposition, threatening to take his technology to the Russians if the Americans won’t pay. While Denning consults with his superiors, a guard dog morphs into Odo, who suspected that Quark planned to use the trip to Earth as an excuse for smuggling and hid aboard the Ferengi ship. Quark wants to stay in the past and create a Ferengi empire using technology from the future, but Rom believes he can use the kemacite to return to their own time and Odo promises to repair the ship. Since truth serum doesn’t work on Ferengi and the needles are painful, Nog tells the inquisitive humans that they are part of an invasion fleet, but Carlson and Garland suspect he’s only trying to stop their interrogation and help the Ferengi escape. Rom says that they can create another temporal incident by bringing the remaining kemacite into contact with radiation from an atomic bomb blast, so they fly it over the test site during an explosion and arrive in their own century. Quark leaves Nog at Starfleet Academy, though once they arrive back at the station, Odo arrests him for smuggling.
Analysis: “Little Green Men” takes everything that’s good in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (even the line that becomes the title) and improves upon it. As in that original series episode, the core of the story is a family drama – then, Kirk and crew had to return a human inadvertently abducted from 20th century Earth so that he could father a son to lead a mission to Saturn, while now, a young Ferengi must save his doltish father and scheming uncle from themselves on 20th century Earth, but the gimmick is the same, a chance to laugh at human limitations and prejudices in an era familiar to Star Trek’s viewers. It’s the kind of episode each series can get away with doing only once, and it needs to come at the right moment; this one, after several dramatic character episodes and before the Dominion arc gets going for the season, is the perfect time for such a comedy. What works so well here is the way “Little Green Men” not only has fun at the expense of greedy Ferengi, paranoid humans, and the entertainment genre that grew up around legends of Roswell and similar alien sightings, but nods to the way Star Trek changed such stories, developing extraterrestrial allies instead of fleets of invaders, championing those who believe in exploring new worlds instead of building armies to defend against them. It’s amusing that an episode pointing out Ferengi differences also humanizes them; the fact that Rom tells Quark he discovered the kemacite while Quark was in waste extraction, possibly the first acknowledgment on Star Trek that anyone still uses a toilet. And the writers even laugh at themselves, having Nog discover in a guidebook to Earth that the leader of the Bell Riots looks exactly like Captain Sisko, something Sisko himself feared would come back to haunt him at the end of “Past Tense” (though in this case, Quark replies that all Humans look the same).
There are plenty of great lines to make up for any possible anachronisms or breaks with Star Trek’s version of history, and some nice character moments despite all the silliness. Since the episode starts with Nog selling off his childhood treasures to start his adulthood, we see such lovely moments as Dax buying Bashir a naughty holoprogram and Worf – initially scornful of the idea of a Ferengi at Starfleet Academy, despite having had the experience of being the first distrusted Klingon – deciding he likes Ferengi tooth sharpeners. There’s even something sweet about watching Quark’s family bond over his illegal activities, and a total surprise later when Odo turns up, seeming more bemused than horrified to be trapped on old Earth with them. As over-the-top as it is to hear the humans guess that Quark must be the female of the family because he’s such a shrew, it’s utterly hilarious to listen to Rom sobbing for his Moogie when the humans torment him with injections of truth serum. As is to be expected, Quark gets most of the best lines, such as discovering that humans pay money for tobacco even though it’s a poison and realizing there’s huge profit to be made at human expense. The Ferengi reply to being told that humans built nuclear weapons, calling humans savages for irradiating their own planet, is delightful too, though Quark’s funniest moment is a silent reaction shot while Rom is trying to explain how to use the kemacite to save them all from certain death, speaking technobabble that’s too complicated for Nog and utter nonsense to Quark.
As entertaining as the script may be, stealing cliches and characters from many bad movies of the late ’40s and early ’50s, the directing pulls everything together, looking less like a bad old thriller than like a bad ’70s science fiction rip-off of bad old thriller. Kudos to all the Ferengi actors for making their nonsense dialogue sound believable and convey a certain amount of meaning in the pre-universal translator scenes. I love that when Rom explains that all women on Ferenginar are naked, the professor looks curious while the nurse announces that she won’t be visiting that planet any time soon and neither will he; I love that when Quark threatens to kill the woman with his death ray, the general deadpans, “Looks a lot like a finger to me.” This isn’t supposed to be Earth as it was, but Earth as it looked in the movies, with the perky, sweet nurse engaged to the idealistic professor, the trigger-happy captain giving full rein to his xenophobia, and Quark in the role of the sleazy used car salesman, a comparison made explicit by the frustrated general hedging his bets until he can figure out whether this is a dangerous alien invasion or a chance to get tech the Soviets don’t have. Hence we get such moments as the professor romantically lighting a cigarette for the nurse, the spaceship bursting through a warehouse roof, and Nog fusing the plot of many it-came-from-outer-space stories with a speech about the fictional planned Ferengi takeover of the world. In the end victory goes not to the military but to the nerds, as the nurse exclaims to the professor, “We could travel the galaxy and explore new worlds and new civilizations!”