Hello! Teacher on the Edge-ish has been generous enough to revive this feature and now that they’ve yielded it, I’ll be making my best, least awkward attempt to continue it. Uh, enjoy!
“Family Business” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 23)
Ira Steven Behr was the largest creative force behind Deep Space Nine and he helped drive the show (and franchise) to bold, new places. He had great instincts that I’ve gained a greater and greater appreciation for over time. Much of the behind the scenes process of conceptualizing and refining stories has influenced my own creative narrative projects. I could go on and on.
But instead, I’ll talk about the most head-scratching predilection of his that I disagree with the most, his fascination with the Ferengi. To his credit (and the other writers involved), Deep Space Nine did broaden and deepen the race in some interesting and amusing ways. But for me, the Ferengi episodes tend to be the ones I revisit the least. Whatever inherent appeal they may have had has diminished even more over time as the cultural conversation regarding women’s rights has gotten louder, more urgent, and more nuanced (as well as my own outlook).
Because one of THE defining traits of the Ferengi is unfortunately its criminal treatment of feeeeemales (ick). Not every Ferengi-themed episode deals with the race’s gross sexism exclusively, but they usually tend to jam some of it in (again, ick).
Unfortunately, this is one of those episodes. Again, I will give credit for deepening the story beyond basic misogyny and making it a smaller, more realistic story of family angst. The plot deals with Quark having to reign in his mother’s abhorrently independent activities to comply with Ferengi laws and customs, but it’s really about the familial tension between them. It doesn’t really make it not offensive, but at least there’s some dramatic, character-based complexity.
I guess another big issue is that nobody in this story (save for Rom perhaps) is really likable. There’s some minimal, perfunctory sympathy to go around for the players, but overall, everyone’s an asshole and it makes for kind of an unpleasant hour. Quark, a devoted true believer of Ferengi culture and law, is of course a big jerk for wanting to put the kibosh on Ishka’s wheelings and dealings in the name of keeping a feeeeeemale in her place. Ishka claps back at Quark with stubbornness and a great deal of personal venom that makes her fairly unlikable, too. Morally and logically, she is the hero/victim of this situation, but it just feels off (perhaps in part because she’s a character we’ve never seen before). Brunt (in his first but definitely not last appearance) is of course a slimy weasel. There’s really no one to root for.
Including Rom was a smart decision as he is always funny and adorable. It gives some welcome levity to the bickering between Quark and Ishka. The height of the episode comes during Quark and Rom’s argument, where the normally meek and subservient Rom lays out the blistering truth about their father (it’s always great to see him stand up to Quark). He shatters his brother’s hopelessly idealistic vision of their dad as a business genius. Although normally portrayed as a dummy, Rom shows an awareness of reality mostly unencumbered by cultural baggage. We will see him continue to buck the traditions of his culture in future episodes, similar to the way Nog had begun to.
Speaking of, Rom’s description of Keldar tracks well with Nog’s reasons for abandoning his pursuit of profit and is some good continuity. Keldar sucked at business, Rom sucks at it, and Nog does as well. But he is at least smart enough to seek a new path for himself. And in a satisfying turn of events, it seems to eventually inspire Rom to when he quits Quark’s and becomes an engineer.
Though harsh on her departed husband’s business acumen initially, Ishka affords him respect as a father and likens Quark’s instincts and abilities to hers. It’s a scene that’s almost touching, but it ends with Ishka relenting to Quark’s pressure to conform to feeeeeemale standards. I acknowledge the effort, but it doesn’t quite work for me.
Ishka seemingly complies with the FCA, but in reality, she has only admitted to a portion of her business (a lie that Rom is complicit to). Rather than feeling like a victory, it’s just… I dunno. It pretty much invalidates the understanding that Quark and her just came to. She’s lying to him, he continues to be a sexist, bootlicking dolt and… family is important, I guess?
The B-story is much more palatable and also introduces a character we’ll see a lot more of, Kasidy Yates. Mentioned a few episodes prior, Jake finally maneuvers his dad into a somewhat awkward first date with the freighter captain. The first meeting leaves something to be desired as Ben pretty much barges in on her and her crew and mansplains how to do her job. Giving a woman some really obvious and useless professional advice? Set love phasers to kill, Captain Charming! The subtle sexism is kind of an unfortunate dovetail with the A-plot. We’ll see Sisko commit a couple more boneheaded plays throughout their relationship. Cool cool.
But despite that, things work out. That Kasidy’s brother (on Cestus III, a nice reference to one of TOS’ most classic episodes) is a baseball player is like one of those funny details that come up on real dates. There’s always that initial awkwardness that will sometimes break when some mutual interest or experience comes up, and it’s fun to see Sisko’s dorky dad energy flare up when talking baseball.
- Brunt doesn’t feature heavily in the episode, but it’s a great performance by Jeffrey Combs that we’ll see many more times. He’s just such a turd.
- This is the first time we see the planet Ferenghinar, and I like its conception. The producers explained that there are so many desert planets in Trek and they wanted to buck that trend. They also drew inspiration from the Ferengi’s physiology and felt that a rainy, thunderous place seemed an appropriate home setting. All the muck and dampness seems to fit them.
- The world building is overall pretty good and we get lots of good details. Literally everything costs money – being told what you’re accused of, seeing the rules themselves, taking elevators, sitting, standing, etc. It’s a runaway capitalist nightmare. The sets are all greatly designed and have a nice Hobbit aesthetic. The big Ferengi stock market ticker is cool (refined dilithium is down???).
- I know Quark is suspicious and paranoid, but does he really need to shut down his bar when he’s not around? Doesn’t seem very profitable.
- O’Brien and Bashir trying to break into Quark’s is so silly. Hey guys: you have a transporter. Beam the fuck in, you dorks.
- How ‘bout that nudity, huh? I appreciate the logic of their reactions—Quark and Brunt react to the sight of a clothed Ishka the way we would to a naked elderly woman in a public setting. I get it. It’s just so supremely weird. You went there, guys. You definitely went there. Totally worth it (???).