Retro Review: Looking for Par’mach In All the Wrong Places

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Worf helps Quark court Grilka, Quark’s former Klingon wife on whom Worf has developed a crush.

Plot Summary: When Worf sees Grilka, who has come to the station to ask her onetime husband Quark to help with her House’s finances, he is immediately smitten, then devastated when Grilka’s adviser Tumek tells him that because of his House’s dishonor, Grilka rejects his company. Thus when Quark asks Worf for help courting Grilka, who has invited him to dinner, Worf agrees to offer suggestions, though he laments to Dax that he is so unappealing to Klingon women that even a Ferengi has better luck. The date goes very well, so Worf and Dax take Quark to a holosuite to act out the horrific battle that led to the marriage of Kahless. Quark impresses Grilka with his knowledge of Klingon culture, but Grilka’s bodyguard Thopok is furious to see a Ferengi pursuing a Klingon and challenges Quark to a duel. Knowing that to refuse is to look the coward and to fight is to be killed, Quark despairs until Dax rigs a device so that Worf can control Quark’s body during the combat. Meanwhile, Miles O’Brien’s efforts to help a pregnant Kira relax causes the two to become attracted to each other, a fact to which Keiko is oblivious. Worf is able to help Quark gain the upper hand in the duel, but damages the device with his bat’leth, making it necessary for Quark to stall, which he does by making a speech about his passion for Grilka. Meanwhile Dax helps Worf repair the device and suggests that he find someone more fun than a traditional Klingon woman. When Worf takes control of Quark’s movements again, he knocks Thopok down, allowing Quark to win the duel and costing Thopok his job. Both Quark and Grilka and Worf and Dax then succumb to passion so violent that it puts all of them in the infirmary. Meanwhile Kira tells O’Brien that she is going to Bajor without him and leaves him to come up with a cover story for Keiko.

Analysis: I disliked “Looking for Par’mach In All the Wrong Places” so much when it first aired that I put the details out of my mind for nearly 20 years. Yes, I know, ha-ha, all those couples and all that romantic comedy and so much cluelessness, hee-hee, and I am the first to admit that Worf/Dax ended up being a wonderful couple both in terms of their personal chemistry and for all the ways the pairing changed the dynamics among the senior staff. But as a study in interspecies or cross-species sexual dynamics, mostly what I get out of this episode is all the ways the desire to possess and control women is considered universal by the Star Trek writers. When they have a Klingon ritual begin with a line stolen from the incredibly misogynistic Vulcan tradition of men fighting to own their brides – “Challenge has been given and lawfully accepted; let no one interfere” – it isn’t just a reflection of Ron Moore’s lack of creativity and reduction of sophisticated social interactions to his own limited set of expectations; it’s a reflection on the part of the entire production staff about their impression of masculine honor and macho values, a theme that recurs again and again, whether it’s Klingons or Vulcans or Cardassians or shapeshifters at the center of the story. Over and over, the narrative focuses on men as players and women as objects of great value, to paraphrase both Quark and Worf here in talking about Grilka. If there’s a certain amount of hope for Worf, who could have had a relationship with Dax months earlier if only he’d seen her as a complete person instead of ignoring her as a potential mate precisely because of her greatest strengths, there’s really none for Quark, who at the height of passion can’t stop thinking of intimacy in transactional terms.

As much as I like Worf and Dax as a couple down the road, I loathe the way they get together – and I could say the same thing about Kira and Odo. There’s a fine line between creating an homage or a pastiche of expected romantic cliches and buying right into them, and in both cases, there’s a complete lack of scripted irony as the writers take a strong, independent woman and flip her professional and personal life around for the sake of her sex life. Dax is a truly fantastic character, the smartest and best-educated person on the station, with a wry sense of humor and the ability to get along with pretty much everybody all of the time. There’s a certain comfort in the fact that both Sisko and Worf seem oblivious to how knock-out gorgeous she is because she has so many other qualities to recommend her. Nevertheless, they both often seem to forget that she is also a young woman of deep feeling, Worf in particular. Her wit is never sharper than it is with Worf, and despite her long background with Klingons, she evidently relates to his position as an outsider. It’s quite entertaining to watch her roll her eyes rather than get angry or mopey as she watches him crush on a Klingon woman way out of his league. But I’ve never been clear why she likes Quark so much, let alone why she’d help Quark add Grilka to his collection of valuables; even if she doesn’t buy Quark’s crass equation of lovemaking and possession, I’d expect her to believe that if Grilka can’t see Quark’s worth on her own, then Quark deserves better. Okay, it gets Grilka out of Dax’s way to get to Worf, but isn’t she also demonstrating that Grilka is in her own way as unconventional and therefore intriguing as Dax herself?

I’ve always tried to be careful in talking about Klingon sex because I don’t want to sound like a prude; as a rule, there is far too little sex on Star Trek rather than too much, and most of what there is gets written like Miles and Keiko who after many years of marriage act like high school students. But the ending of “Looking for Par’mach” in the infirmary leaves me very uncomfortable. Of course different cultures have their own standards for what sex should be like – whether it’s about mating or purely for recreation, whether it’s more focused on power or pleasure – so I wouldn’t expect Klingons as a rule to pause before lovemaking in order to talk about things like contraception, even though Worf got a previous mate pregnant without meaning to. But these are non-traditional Klingons making love with very non-traditional partners, so even if they think they’re being safe, sane, and consensual by their cultural standards, I find it disturbing that there’s no discussion of the risks. In fact, a few weeks hence, Worf will try to break up with Dax because he’s afraid he might kill her during ordinary rough Klingon sex, something I would think might occur to him before any sex takes place. I’m willing to be persuaded that Worf figures the Curzon side of Dax knows all about what to expect, but it’s still discomfiting that it takes him so long to realize that he could badly injure her. And Quark is usually a total wimp when it comes to pain. The ending of this episode is written to be comic, so we’re meant to believe he’s oblivious to his black eye and broken ribs, but I find it more repulsive than amusing. Consensual or not, if one of those ribs had punctured a lung and he’d died, I’d expect Odo to bring Grilka up on charges. Hasn’t Quark lived among humans long enough to have heard of a safeword?

I’m of a double mind about Kira and O’Brien. On the one hand, TV writers so rarely acknowledge that pregnant women can be sexual beings that I want to applaud; here’s a woman so pregnant that every part of her body is sore, so pregnant that Keiko can’t seem to talk to her about anything but the pregnancy, yet Miles doesn’t want to stop touching her and Kira responds to him. I’m not comfortable with O’Brien’s proprietary attitude toward the body of the woman who’s carrying his child, something they argue about until they realize that proximity is creating other problems, so it boggles my mind that Kira starts to fall for someone so possessive no matter how good his backrubs are and it’s no wonder Odo mocks her about it, though there’s a mean edge to that conversation that doesn’t make me like Odo at all. Kira’s psychology here could be incredibly complex, but we never learn whether she’s becoming attached to the fetus she can feel moving now, nor whether that factors into how she feels about Miles and Keiko, if it draws her closer to them or makes her resent that she’ll have to turn over the baby to this couple. No wonder Keiko’s interactions with Kira are entirely baby this, baby that, getting to remind Kira with every word of her claim. Yet when it comes to Miles and Kira’s feelings toward one another, Keiko looks oblivious to the point of either being stupid, which we know she’s not, or willfully blind, which would be worth exploring – one minute she wants to have sex with her husband, the next she’s too concerned about the mother of her unborn child to care about her husband except as a protector of that woman and the baby – but Keiko and her needs are not of interest to the writers, so in the end she becomes a mere obstacle, something Kira and Miles need to work around.

Sisko is barely present this episode, either as station commander or friend of all these senior crewmembers, which is too bad because he always has great perspective on the excesses of Klingon macho posturing, Ferengi greed, and human craving for companionship. Since it’s a comic episode, I won’t ask questions like why Dax and Worf aren’t obligated to report that a Klingon has challenged someone to a fight to the death, something Sisko has expressly forbidden on the station before, nor will I wonder why Odo doesn’t go to Sisko to complain that O’Brien’s work is suffering from his complicated personal life, which is why Odo and Kira start talking about Miles in the first place. No one has ever adequately explained whether or when Starfleet has fraternization rules – why Archer thought he had to keep his hands off T’Pol and Kirk off Rand, why Picard shied away from relationships with Starfleet officers while Troi dated Riker and Worf – but when professionalism is being compromised, as it appears to be with both the DS9 couples (imagine a Dominion attack while Dax and Worf are in sickbay after a bout of too-hot sex), then it becomes the senior officer’s business. At the very least, using and damaging Starfleet equipment to help a Ferengi cheat to win a Klingon woman – something I’d think Worf would believe went against Klingon honor – seems kind of problematic to me. Maybe at the core my issues with this episode can be explained away as too many plot holes rather than too much icky characterization, but I’m still not laughing, and I find Cyrano de Bergerac more progressive than this futuristic version.

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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