Quark’s employees, led by his brother Rom and Dabo girl Leeta, form a union and go on strike. Meanwhile, Worf moves off the station and onto the Defiant.
Plot Summary: An ear infection sends Rom to the infirmary, where he tells Bashir that he couldn’t take a day off to get it treated because Quark does not give his employees sick leave. Bashir half-jokingly suggests that Rom form a collective bargaining association to demand better treatment. After Quark announces that all employees will have their pay docked due to a decline in profits caused by a Bajoran religious holiday, Rom summons the waiters and Dabo girls to propose the formation of a union, which is strictly against Ferengi law. Though the waiters are fearful of punishment by the Ferengi Commerce Authority, Rom draws up a list of demands including paid sick leave and shorter hours. Quark laughs at them and the union goes on strike, leaving the bar deserted. Sisko refuses to break up the strike, but after Worf, O’Brien, and Bashir are involved in a brawl, he tells Quark that Starfleet will collect back rent on the bar if Quark doesn’t settle things. Quark offers Rom a bribe to end the strike, but Rom refuses, and Ferengi Liquidator Brunt arrives to threaten the union members. When they refuse to budge, Brunt has Nausicaan enforcers beat up Quark to set an example. Terrified that he may be killed for embarrassing the Ferengi, Quark agrees to meet the workers’ demands in secret if Rom pretends that he has disbanded the union. Rom agrees, but once the bar resumes normal business, he quits and goes to work on the station as a technician. Meanwhile, Worf complains first to Dax, O’Brien and Odo about the tumult, breakdowns and crime on the station. He receives permission from Sisko to live on the Defiant, where he feels more comfortable.
Analysis: Ferengi episodes work perhaps once a season, though even at that frequency, their enjoyment is the sort experienced by people who like hearing the same jokes over and over because they already know the punchline – they are, at best, a kind of retro, conservative humor, in this case enhanced because there are built-in excuses to stereotype women, mock men with small, er, lobes, and brag about capitalism and the men who are successful within the system – always men when Ferengi are in charge unless they’re outmaneuvered by a canny Moogie. Sure, it’s fun to see Brunt again, and sure, it’s amusing to hear Rom giving the “workers of the world unite” speech, but this all feels like a very thin B storyline in need of a proper drama…and instead it’s the main focus of the episode, while the B storyline involves Worf, whom the writers seem determined to construct as the straight-man outsider to all the wit and bonding on the station, literally exiling himself by choosing to live on the Starfleet ship he often gets to command instead of among Humans, Bajorans, Ferengi, Cardassians, and all the other races that must find ways to get along with and appreciate one another on DS9. Though I really miss the days when Kira, not Worf, would have been in charge of Defiant missions to the Gamma Quadrant (we’ll let this one slide only because it’s a Bajoran religious festival), I feel sorry for Worf, though I can’t decide whether I’d prefer that he become a team player or take the Defiant and go on a long, long mission away from the station. Neither alienation nor union problems are taken seriously enough for any points to be memorable, notwithstanding a few seconds of dialogue about O’Brian’s descent not only from Irish kings but from Pennsylvania coal miners.
The writers seem to be suffering from comparisons with The Next Generation, though whether they’re responding to fan complaints or just trying to work things out in their heads, I couldn’t guess. There are lots of jokes at the expense of Picard’s Enterprise from O’Brien’s pretty tame confession that he was often bored to tears in the transporter room waiting to be summoned for real engineering work to Odo’s running down a list of security failures on the Enterprise. That is a priceless moment – Worf storming in to Odo’s office to complain about lax security on DS9, only to have Odo pull out a list, as if he’s been saving it for just such an occasion, and start reading off some early lapses made by Picard’s crew when Worf was aboard. Sisko’s station is much more diverse and complex than Starfleet’s flagship, with avowed enemies of the Federation and Bajor occasionally showing up as well as a wide swath of Federation civilians who don’t have to live up to Starfleet standards of behavior…I’d have to say that Sisko and Odo are doing a pretty remarkable job by comparison even to Janeway with her Maquis troublemakers and secret agents. It’s just a shame that DS9’s strong points aren’t emphasized more in a storyline that really explores the show’s potential instead of giving us yet more Ferengi and Klingon trouble of the most predictable sort. I’ve never understood the point of having Ferengi on the series apart from comic relief. There may be a message about unions vs. management, but Sisko’s the real corporate kingpin here, not Quark, who is following his own Rules of Acquisition.
If anyone should have a problem with how the Ferengi treat their employees, it’s the Bajorans, since it’s their station. But Kira is missing for nearly the entire episode and Leeta is happy to go along with Rom’s interpretation of Marx and Lenin (which itself seems like a kind of cultural contamination, though it’s played for laughs). I wish she was more of a leader and less of a cheerleader during the strike, which may be against Rom’s cultural norms but makes sense at once to her – though perhaps it’s just Rom himself who impresses her. If there’s a pleasure in rewatching “Bar Association,” it’s not in the stories, but the small character moments that will soon lead to big relationships. It’s obvious in retrospect that Dax spends months throwing herself at Worf, not merely flirting to bring him out of his shell, and equally obvious that Leeta is less interested in Bashir than in Rom and his self-abused lobes (one of the more hilarious lines involves an embarrassed Rom explaining that he got the ear infection from having too much oo-mox with himself, though he promptly ruins it by asking if she’ll do it for him in typical skanky Ferengi style). Meanwhile Bashir scarcely seems to notice Leeta, for his bromance with O’Brien is in full swing as they go to the holosuites to fight the Battle of Clontarf (“You and me and a thousand stalwart Irish warriors against a ravening hoard of Vikings”). I expected the writers to go the traditional route with Trek relationships – Worf the lone surly Klingon, Dax available for flirtations with transparent-skulled aliens, Rom the lone goofy nerd, Leeta paired with Bashir to keep him safely heterosexual when Garak was around – so it’s fun to see the roots of the show’s lasting pairings all these months before the fateful trip to Risa that cements them. It’s not really enough to motivate an episode, but I was a lot more annoyed by “Bar Association” 15 years or so ago.