Synopsis: Quark tries to solve the mystery of Grand Nagus Zek’s sudden turn to philanthropy, and realizes that he’s had an encounter with the Prophets. Meanwhile, Bashir is nominated for a major Starfleet Medical award.
As ever, Wallace Shawn is delightful as Zek — I’m really hard-pressed to choose a single favorite moment of his in this episode, though strong contenders include:
- The Nagus playing with Bashir’s little light in the Infirmary
- His delivery of the line “It might be fun for you and me, but it’s no fun for the beetles!”
- When Quark kidnaps him to go to the wormhole, and he’s humming cheerfully while stuffed inside a sack
And, of course, Armin Shimerman is just fantastic. I feel like “I note my increasing appreciation for Shimerman’s performance” is something you could make a drinking game of with this blog (that and my use of the phrase “missed opportunity”), but — as with the moment last week when Spotify informed me that I am among the top 1% of Kesha listeners in the world — I have no regrets, because he’s just so good, and truly elevates a role that could’ve been very one-note. And he gives this performance while wearing a mountain of prosthetics and artificial teeth, besides!
This was Rene Auberjonois’s first time directing an episode, and as with Avery Brooks’s episodes, I found myself struck by his eye — there are some really neat shots. Apparently most of the cast was more off-the-cuff and didn’t do a lot of rehearsing, but both Shimerman and Grodenchik liked to rehearse, as did Auberjonois, so they would come in to run through scenes on the sets, which he credits for some of the more striking shots in the episode. (Rom and Quark sitting on the window frame, poring over the Nagus’s book together, for instance, is specifically mentioned; they were initially just on the floor, but he loved the way the window framed them when they rehearsed the scene ahead of time.)
(I also love that Quark’s Orb vision and encounter with the Prophets are very deliberately set up to echo Sisko’s in “Emissary”.)
Prophets and Ferengi
I found Quark’s caution with the Orb, bordering on fear, really interesting, because really, that seems like a pretty sensible attitude to take! Gods or not, the Prophets are nothing to mess around with. As I said early in the second season:
Basically, direct communication with the divine is not necessarily an easy or safe experience! If the Orbs were only objects, physical relics, I would say restricting access to them is mostly a security/preservation thing. But even if you take the Federation point of view that they’re aliens, not gods, the Prophets still have minds that don’t work remotely like those of humanoids, and direct communication with them isn’t necessarily an easy or safe experience, either.
This is further evidence of that, and honestly, if you look past the comic trappings of the story, it’s unsettling as hell, even scary. I mean, I’m as critical as capitalism as anyone who’s had to deal extensively with America’s for-profit healthcare system. Objectively, yes, my little socialist heart is all in favor of the Ferengi moving past being a parody of 80s capitalism/antisemitic (if unintentionally so) caricature. But just going in and rewriting someone’s mind is…really friggin’ creepy. Which is interesting, from a show that deals so much with shades of gray and the question of what price one is willing to pay to achieve one’s goals. I feel like the episode doesn’t really dwell much on how disturbing the Prophets’ rewriting of Zek’s mind is, but it’s interesting, in light of, for instance, the time a Vulcan attempted to force a mind meld with the last character on the show I’m ever going to feel sorry for, and I was creeped out by it nonetheless.
Also, though, there are limits to one person’s power; Quark points out that even the Nagus is not going to be able to single-handedly change Ferengi culture, that it’s far more likely this will simply end in revolt and a violent change of leadership on Ferenginar. Again, an interesting echo of the first season or so of the show, when the sudden end of the Occupation left the devastated Bajor in a state of political disarray, leading to religious fundamentalist violence and an attempted ethnonationalist (ethnoplanetary?) coup. (Is the prospect Quark raises of political unrest and violence on his own planet a nod to Marx’s dictum that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce”? Probably not.)
(Although Rom does quote Marx next season, so perhaps we shouldn’t discount the possibility entirely.)
(Yes, we should.)
Speaking of Ferengi habits and culture, opening the episode with Quark’s sex face was…certainly a choice, Deep Space Nine. Although when Quark mentioned to Rom that Emi was also rich, I was far less grossed out by the whole thing than I might have been? Like, oh, he’s not actually exploiting some desperate woman for sex! She’s…just legitimately into Quark? Good for them, I guess? Sure, why not, good for them!
(It also made me a lot less annoyed by his charging inflated prices, because I’m all for swindling rich people.)
I was also reminded of something I’ve mentioned previously, a theme that will come up occasionally throughout the show: that in spite of himself and his own upbringing, Quark’s not quite as much of a traditional Ferengi as he thinks he is, or at least thinks he ought to be. (A bit like Worf with Klingon culture, really, in that regard, and the fact that both of those characters would be horrified by the comparison just makes it even more fun.) By the end of the next season, Liquidator Brunt will accuse him of having “gone Starfleet”, rattling through a list of acts that, by Ferengi standards, qualify as shocking acts of generosity. Here, Emi is surprised that he’d rather put off finalizing their business deal until after they’ve boned down, explicitly remarking that “that’s a very unusual attitude for a Ferengi”, and Quark agrees with her. He’s still sleazy, no doubt about it — but as the show goes on, it becomes clear that, by Ferengi standards, he isn’t the right kind of sleazy, and/or that he’s just not sleazy enough.
The B plot
I had inferred that the B plot, involving Bashir’s nomination for the Carrington Award, was in fact a meta joke; following its last season the previous year, The Next Generation had been nominated for an Emmy, and everyone involved in Trek was basically telling themselves that it wouldn’t happen, except then they did secretly start to think “OK but what if???” and while they didn’t win, it didn’t go to the favorite, either.
One minor thing I found interesting about this whole plot was the fact that everyone gathered around for a viewing party of the awards ceremony — indeed, the mere fact of the ceremony’s broadcast was surprising to me; Star Trek has never really explained much about how media works in its universe. Jake will occasionally write something, and Picard‘s first episode (mild spoiler ahead) has Jean-Luc sitting down with a reporter from the “Federation News Network” for an interview, but there’s not much discussion of, like, how these things get distributed to the wider audience, what kind of media infrastructure exists.
Generally, when it comes to meta jokes and stories, I feel like a little goes a very, very long way — there are a number of reasons I quit Community after a few seasons, but one of them was definitely that it seemed to have become All Pastiches All The Time. I also tend to feel that when it comes to “we are never going to win an Emmy and we have mostly made our peace with that but deep down we do still kinda want an Emmy” meta episodes, nothing will ever top It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award”. That one came twenty-ish years after “Prophet Motive”, so I suppose it’s not totally fair of me to compare them, but there it is. Maybe this episode needed an enraged Bashir yelling “I’VE HAD ORGASMS” at someone?
That said, I did enjoy everyone messing with Bashir as he tried very hard to be cool about the award. Even Odo was getting in on it, it was great. The only thing missing was Garak joining the fun.
On that note, I would like to point out that Hugo Award nominations are currently open, and my writing in this blog qualifies me for the “Best Fan Writer” category, so if you’d like to see this story play out in real time, consider nominating me!
- Emi and Quark, for each other, apparently, which…you know what? Good for them.
- Bashir, for praise and validation.
- Everyone on the station, for trolling Bashir.