Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Profit and Lace” (part 1 of 6)
Okay, okay. It totally would have been awesome to just leave it at that, but I can’t have my readers left totally in the dark. So here’s the real summary.
|SUMMARY: Grand Nagus Zek, the wizened leader of the Ferengi Alliance, arrives at Deep Space Nine seeking help from Quark the bartender. Zek has been deposed as Nagus after declaring that Ferengi women—long treated as inferior beings—can finally wear clothes and leave their homes. In order to regain his position, Zek intends to have his lover Ishka (who also happens to be Quark’s mom) hold a meeting where she’ll demonstrate that a Ferengi woman can have just as good a head for business as any Ferengi man. But when Quark accidentally causes her to suffer complete heart failure (yuk, yuk!), the only option left is to have Quark disguise himself as a woman and take his mom’s place. In idea, script, and execution, truly one of the most unpleasant episodes in Star Trek history.|
I’m sure this is obvious by now, but I’ll say again that my initial plan for the Worst of Trek section is to recap two episodes each from every Trek series, in chronological order of when the series premiered. As explained previously, this is to avoid making it look like I’m unfairly picking on any particular series here. (And let me just tell you, nothing draws the ire of Trek fans like seeing their favorite series being unfairly picked on.)
So after two recaps of the original series and two of The Next Generation, it’s time to take on the black sheep of the franchise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Because this is my first look at the series, and because DS9 when it aired was relatively unseen, the intro to this recap is going to be something of a long winded overview of the series as a whole. Those who are only interested in what I have to say about “Profit and Lace” can just skip to the next page, but for the rest, here’s my take on Star Trek’s redheaded stepchild, Deep Space Nine.
Confession time: Up until a year ago, I had seen maybe three episodes of DS9. Back when the idea for the show was first announced, I clearly remember making fun of it with a college buddy of mine. We were under the misguided impression that because the recurring TNG character Chief Miles O’Brien was moving to a new show meant the spin-off would be about him, i.e., it would be Star Trek: The Chief O’Brien Comedy Hour. I think it goes without saying that neither of us were really into Trek at the time, so between my cluelessness and the show’s unusual (for a Trek series) premise, I was never inspired to watch it.
Now fast forward nearly ten years. It’s fall of 2001, and for the first time since my college days, a brand new Star Trek series is premiering. Say what you want about the current incarnation Star Trek: Enterprise (god knows I’ve said them all myself), but even despite all the scorn from Trek fans, sci-fi fans, and TV viewers in general, I can think of at least one positive thing to say about the show: It’s the series that got me interested in Trek again.
Seeing this shallow copy of a copy of Star Trek on the air made me want to go back and re-watch the original series and TNG, to read about these shows online, to learn more about the franchise and reminisce about the times when it had actually been, well, good. The Worst of Trek feature grew out of this desire to reconnect with a fictional universe that I had once enjoyed a lot.
After spending some time on Trek websites and message boards (most notably the extreme time killer known as the TrekBBS), I was surprised to learn that a lot of fans ranked Deep Space Nine as their favorite Trek series, even on par with the original. As someone of the opinion that only a handful of TV shows have ever come close to the appeal of the original Star Trek, I was understandably intrigued.
Thankfully, in this post X-Files world where every TV show that ever was or will be is on DVD, I didn’t have to wait long to get acquainted with DS9. Over the past year, I’ve seen dozens of episodes spanning the entire series run, and I can now admit that I was completely remiss in not keeping up with this show while it was still on the air. The Chief O’Brien Comedy Hour, indeed.
Before his death in 1991, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was involved in the very early stages of developing Deep Space Nine, and it’s said he hated the idea of a setting a Trek series on a space station. His attitude, which echoed that of a surprising number of fans, was that Star Trek wasn’t really Star Trek unless it was about exploring, and you couldn’t do that unless you were on a starship.
If he was that reluctant to veer away from the starship formula, even in those very initial stages, then something tells me he would have loathed a lot of what actually happened on the series. Deep Space Nine shook up the Trek universe in ways no series had done before or since, and for the first time in the franchise, audiences were regularly presented with complex, conflicted characters who sometimes did morally ambiguous things. Roddenberry in his twilight years probably would’ve fought it at every turn.
But speaking for myself, it’s these layers of complexity that make DS9 the most fascinating Trek. To be completely honest, I enjoy the original series and TNG more, in the sense that I have more fun when I watch those shows. But DS9 is the only Trek series that makes me keep watching simply to find out what new plot twists are in store for its characters. TOS or TNG rarely had episodes with repercussions that would affect its characters for months or years down the line. On DS9, that was par for the course.
In some ways, you could say all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine were one complete story, with several major plot threads and story arcs that (incredibly) shared equal time, and frequently converged upon each other in unexpected ways.
Initially, the show was about the efforts of Commander (later Captain) Benjamin Sisko to rebuild the planet Bajor after the withdrawal of Cardassian forces (a plot thread that actually started with TNG). Sisko presided over a combined Starfleet-Bajoran crew on Deep Space Nine (formerly Terek Nor, a Cardassian space station in Bajoran space), with the hopes that one day Bajor would join the Federation. At least, that’s what the show was about at first. But it quickly became about a lot more than that.
A stable wormhole existed near the station that provided an entranceway to the distant Gamma Quadrant of the galaxy. Originally, the writers used the wormhole as a plot device to drive several forgettable Alien Of The Week episodes, but with the discovery of the Dominion, the wormhole suddenly became of crucial strategic importance to the Federation.
The Dominion was a Gamma Quadrant force to be reckoned with, an alliance that included the godlike shapeshifting Founders, the scheming Vorta, and their ruthless footsoldiers known as the Jem’Hadar. Over the course of the series, the Dominion allied themselves with Alpha Quadrant bad guys like the Cardassians and the Breen, and fought against the Federation as well as the Klingon Empire and the Romulans. Late in the series, they even staged an all-out invasion of the Alpha Quadrant, occupying Deep Space Nine for a remarkable six-part episode arc.
On top of all that, other story arcs changed the political and spiritual landscape of Trek. The Maquis, a band of Federation rebels (many of them former Starfleet officers) waged a guerilla war to wreck the treaty between Cardassia and the Federation. And then there was Captain Sisko’s (unasked for) anointing as Emissary to the Prophets, a race of non-corporeal, non-linear beings that lived in the wormhole and were thought of as gods by the Bajoran people.
Got all that? And there’s still tons of plot threads I’m leaving out. DS9 was the densest, most involved, complicated version of Trek that ever existed. While I admire all hell out of the show, it’s surely this complexity that hurt it in the long run. It simply was never as accessible (hence, never as successful) as TOS or TNG or even Voyager. Heck, I even have to admit that Enterprise is a lot more accessible to the casual viewer than Deep Space Nine.
But given all the various story arcs mentioned above, it’s only fitting that the worst episode of Deep Space Nine has absolutely nothing to do with the Dominion war, the Prophets, the reconstruction of Bajor, or the Maquis. This, my friends, is a dreaded Ferengi episode.
I couldn’t tell you why the writers insisted on cranking out episodes focused on the Ferengi bartender Quark and his family and associates. At least twice a season, and sometimes more, viewers would have to endure these outings, and with only a handful of exceptions, they were all terrible. But, nevertheless, they persisted, probably because they felt the Ferengi characters provided the dark, moody, intense Deep Space Nine with the occasional—grrk—comic relief episode.
The Ferengi were introduced all the way back in an early first season TNG episode, “The Last Outpost”. Back then, they were meant to be the Big Bad to Picard’s Enterprise the way the Klingons were the Big Bad to Kirk’s Enterprise, but the producers of TNG quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. It was felt that the Ferengi, overall, were just plain silly. Perhaps this had something to do with the giant ears, or the goofy plasma whips, or the fact that their ambitions seemed less about conquering the galaxy than going planet to planet selling vacuum cleaners.
To fill the void, the TNG Powers That Be developed the Borg instead, and slowly but surely transformed the Ferengi from violent, marauding pirates into comic foils. The tradition of Ferengi-as-comic-relief was handed off to DS9, which ran with it all the way to Sitcom Hell.
See, there are a lot of things Trek does well. Comedy, I’m sorry to say, is not one of them. Outside of “The Trouble with Tribbles” and The Voyage Home and parts of “The Naked Now”, I don’t think Trek has ever had a genuinely funny outing. (And don’t even get me started on Data’s “comic” attempts to become more human, because I don’t think anyone needs reminding of how horribly wrong that went.)
While there are plenty of moments in Trek that have made me chuckle, there’s one thing the franchise is good at: Drama. You can keep the wacky antics out of my Trek, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, every Ferengi episode on DS9 was nothing but wacky antics, a chance to pollute the series with more forced, juvenile humor. It took them six seasons, but eventually they hit rock bottom with “Profit and Lace”, a spectacularly awful episode that is bad on every possible level.
The entire script is based around a single gag that hasn’t been funny since the 1950’s (and even then, it was bordering on creaky): a man disguising himself as a woman. But not just any man: a Ferengi. Specifically, Quark. Armin Shimmerman, the actor who played Quark, is obviously a talented guy with great comedic timing, but he’s no Tony Curtis or Jack Lemmon. And when it comes to putting Shimmerman in drag, it’s fair to say that some like it. Not.
I can’t claim to know what writers Hans Beimler and Ira Steven Behr were thinking, but if I had to guess, I’d say that they believed the very idea of “Quark dresses in drag” to be so hilarious in and of itself that they didn’t need to actually write a script around it.
So instead, we get an unending supply of strained, tedious, and just plain repulsive jokes from two guys who really should have known better. Hans Beimler contributed to first-rate scripts like “Rapture”, “The Sword of Kahless”, and the now-legendary tribute to TOS, “Trials and Tribble-ations”. And Ira Steven Behr, in addition to writing several great episodes, created the whole damn show in the first place. So we really had every right to expect more from these guys than Mrs. Doubtfire in Space.
Later on, Armin Shimmerman went on record saying he hated the script, so obviously he doesn’t bother to show up for this episode. Even worse is the cloying gang of character actors who play Quark’s Ferengi relatives. They’re all talented to one degree or another, and they can be funny when they have funny material, but this episode brings out the worst kind of hammy, Borscht Belt performances in all of them. The acting in this episode is so broad, I’m completely convinced you could watch it with the sound off and still understand all of it. And still be just as grossed out by it.
As has been pointed out by many recappers before me, there truly is nothing more painful than recapping a bad comedy. After all, there are only so many ways to say “This is not funny. This sucks.” So going forward, I won’t tell you how unfunny this stuff is. I think that will be blindingly obvious to you. The non-funniness of this material will leap right off the page and maul you like Roy Horn’s white tiger, only in this case the white tiger is made completely out of turd.
There’s just one last thing to mention before I get to the recap itself, which is that I’m recapping it thanks to a poll I ran in my forum. I asked forum visitors to vote on the worst episode of Deep Space Nine, and “Profit and Lace” won by a wide margin. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I’ll recap something based on the results of a poll again, and no, that’s not just bitterness because the episode is completely fucking horrible. It’s simply that, being the first episode of DS9 I’m writing about, and considering the (relative) lack of exposure that DS9 got, it doesn’t do much for the show in the minds of my readers to be plunged into a episode that has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the series.
But, without a doubt, it’s the worst of DS9. And that’s why they call it the Worst of Trek, baby.
Okay, I’ve stalled long enough. Wish me luck. If this recap stops abruptly at the twenty-minute mark, you’ll know I went out in a blaze of glory.