OK, I know they are a divisive topic in the fandom, so I’m gonna come out with what may be one of my spicier Deep Space Nine takes: I…actually enjoy a lot of the Ferengi episodes? I know I complain a lot about the fact that, while conceived as parodies of 80s-style capitalist excess, a la Steve Castle/That Guy from Futurama, the decision to portray them physically as short troll-like people with oversized facial appendages means they also end up being really unfortunate antisemitic caricatures. But Nog, Quark, and Rom have such great arcs over the course of the show, in no small part due to the phenomenal performances given by Aron Eisenberg (ז״ל), Armin Shimerman, and Max Grodénchik, that, much like Dax, I really do enjoy the time we spend with them. (Also, Wallace Shawn as Zek is positively inspired.)
So, having said that, yes, I actually rather enjoyed this episode!
Where is my Pel spinoff?
Seriously, I want an entire miniseries about Pel. Like — she broke so many laws to get to where she is! That’s not something that just happens! How did she get into business? How did she even learn to read, since apparently Ferengi women aren’t supposed to? What was her family like? How much do they know? Do they support her? Who helped her get off-planet? How did she find her way to Deep Space Nine?
We find out later that Quark and Rom’s mother, Ishka, was the one doing most of the trading — she says at one point that Rom, who just doesn’t have the lobes for business, takes after his father, while Quark is her son through and through — and I kind of find myself wondering just how rare that really is, for a woman in a household to be doing most of the real work behind the scenes while her husband is the public face.
(Also, the passing comment about how Ferengi women aren’t supposed to learn to read raises the question of why the hell Nog couldn’t read. I had thought maybe it was supposed to be his mother’s job to teach him, and since his mother wasn’t in the picture Rom just kinda figured no one would ever do it, but if Ferengi women aren’t supposed to learn, then it would presumably have fallen to Rom to teach him anyway, or at least find a male tutor for him, or maybe send him back to live with his grandmother on Ferenginar and go to school there.)
And what happens to her next? Apparently part of the reason she never reappears on the show is that the actress, Hélène Udy, was claustrophobic, a fact which she only discovered during filming, when spending hours in her makeup began to get to her. Which, fair enough! (Udy’s experience also prompted the producers to start putting warnings into casting calls for actors who’d be wearing a lot of prosthetics, which is good.) But clearly that means we need several tie-in novels about her. She’s planning to go live in the Gamma Quadrant — what’s her experience during the Dominion War, for instance?
On that note…
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
Even though I’ve done enough rewatches to know it’s coming, when I watched this episode on Sunday, I still literally gasped when Zyree, the female Dosi, told Quark and Pel that if they wanted to continue, she’d have to put them into contact with the Dominion. Just full-on “OH SHIT IT’S ALL KICKING OFF” gasped. I love that this is the first mention of the Dominion that we get, tucked away in an episode that is, overall, pretty lightweight. And, within that episode, it comes in the middle of a scene based on the classic “oh no there’s only one bed” trope!
(Apparently Armin Shimerman was also delighted by this as well, because he is a treasure.)
Like. I feel like we’re meant to assume from this episode that the Dominion is, at worst, just some kind of crime syndicate, rather than, essentially, the anti-Federation and the primary antagonistic force to come for the show. The fact that it escalates like that — starting off as something relatively minor, just some local color, and then it eventually becomes clear just how powerful and widespread they are, how much damage they are capable of doing not just to Our Heroes but the entire Alpha Quadrant — just strikes me as a really interesting approach to take. In some ways, it almost feels like a response to the exploratory ethos of the original series (and, to a lesser extent, The Next Generation, although I think the Borg, especially, served a similar role there). I don’t think I’d go so far as to call it a rebuke of Federation hubris, but there’s definitely an element of “whoa, shit, we are really not as prepared for everything as we thought we were”, and I think taking some time to make clear just how great a threat the Dominion is capable of posing really helps with developing that element.
Some other things I enjoyed
I also loved Dax and Pel’s relationship! The vibe I got from Dax initially approaching her in the replimat was very much that of Dax looking out for her bro, Quark, and trying to make sure Pel wasn’t up to anything nefarious (well, relative to Ferengi, anyway). Like “let me vet this guy and make sure he is good enough for my bro before anything serious happens between them”. Which was a lot of fun — of course Dax doesn’t give a shit that Pel is a dude, she just wants to make sure this dude will be a good match for her friend. Given how much work the show did later to “no homo” Garak and Bashir, for instance, it was just…nice.
(Also, if Pel hadn’t left for the Gamma Quadrant, Dax definitely would’ve been like “Quark, if you don’t date her, I’m gonna, fair warning”, let’s be real.)
In general, this is is really one of the first episodes where Jadzia is the character we really get to know over the course of the rest of the series. I mentioned this during her scenes with Kira in “The Siege”, as well, but she hasn’t had a lot of screentime between that episode and this one — this season is really where they figure out how to write her in a way that plays to Farrell’s strengths. For a lot of the first season, they seem to be going for Space Galadriel, which ends up falling a bit flat. She and Melora talked a bit about the latter’s relationship with Julian, but she dives into the drama much more gleefully here, and having her bro around with Ferengi and generally baffle Kira further cements the characterization. It’s just a lot of fun.
Apparently this episode started as a TNG story, and would have involved Pel/Riker, which, while I enjoy this episode as it is, that would have been amazing, because let’s be real, Riker, bless him, would 100% have been up for it, even before finding out Pel was female. Hell, IMO Quark is going full Shang from Mulan and is kind of confused by his feelings for Pel before finding out she’s a woman, and Riker is way more open-minded than Quark (or, at least, more open-minded than Quark claims to be, because he is, deep down, really not as traditional a Ferengi as he wants to be).
A few other highlights for me:
- As always, because I friggin’ adore Sisko and Kira’s bromance, I loved their scene with the Nagus, in which Sisko was the good cop and Kira was the bad cop.
- Quark covering Pel’s ears when she reveals herself to the Nagus — for some reason it just read as, like, a very protective gesture to me? IDK, I am doubtless giving Quark too much of the benefit of the doubt with that reading, but I thought it was kind of sweet.
- The Nagus’s distraught “shame on you!” to Pel at the end. Like. Wallace Shawn’s delivery of that is so great??? He seems genuinely distressed, not just angry? It was just kind of a fun and interesting choice on Shawn’s part, I thought, showing, a bit, how shaken he was by having his worldview challenged and having been outwitted like this.
- Odo stirring the pot by egging Rom on. Odo is every bit as much of a messy bitch who lives for drama as anyone else on this station, let’s be real.
- Obviously, Pel for Quark, which, you know what, fine, I guess. I feel like she could do better! But also, fine, if it would make her happy, I’d be in favor of it.
- Possibly for #1 I was channeling Jadzia Dax, because I feel like Dax is at least moderately horny for Pel.
- Quark, for Jadzia, but also, definitely, for Pel, including before finding out she was a woman, IMO.
- The Nagus, for Kira, which, you know what, right up until he grabs her ass, I was just like “…honestly, fair enough, for a Ferengi he’s being pretty respectful”.