“Who Mourns For Morn?”
(Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 6, Episode 12)
Deep Space Nine pushed Star Trek’s storytelling envelope with its more serialized style and emphasis on long-running plot lines. The dramatic and serious narratives are the ones fans tend to remember the most – the Dominion War, Sisko’s Emissary journey, the rise of Damar, etc. But the show also used the same over-arching approach to running jokes and gags for memorable effect. Frequent references to the transparent-headed Captain Boday, Quark’s moon-owning cousin Gala, and the exotic biology of winged, hatching Lt. Vilix’pran were often used for background flavor or comedic effect in passing.
The most visible of these running joke characters is of course, Morn. A constant presence in Quark’s Bar, the character’s name was an anagram of the barfly Norm from Cheers, so he’s pretty much been a joke from the start. The conceit that he never speaks on camera is constantly contradicted by other characters mentioning how much he talks, as well as several other wacky references and details (in this episode we learn that he sparred weekly with Worf). There’s something delightfully sitcom-y about this approach; Morn’s voice becomes as elusive and gimmicky as Wilson’s face from Home Improvement. It sounds dumb as hell for a show as weighty and intellectual as Star Trek, but it always works, somehow. With these kinds of gags, a little goes a long way, and trying to inflate that to episode length is a risky prospect.
Centering an entire episode around Morn without betraying that sole gimmick presents a monumental creative challenge that “Who Mourns For Morn?” rises to with perfection. It really ends up being a Quark episode, and one that utilizes his personality and foibles to highly entertaining (and minimally problematic) ends. It’s not the best Deep Space Nine episode, but I would say it’s a perfect Deep Space Nine episode. Its concept could only work on this show, and it relies on a large body of work and plot threads that the show has built up during its run. Star Trek‘s attempts at joviality aren’t always successful (especially when they’re stretched out to episode-length), but this is a legitimately funny and successful hour of tightly-plotted situational comedy. It demonstrates the irreverent charm that Deep Space Nine cultivated (I love that the episode title is a play on a classic Original Series episode’s) and remains consistently fun throughout.
Cleverly, the episode is able to be about Morn without him largely in it because it takes place in the wake of his supposed death. The episode is rife with all sorts of clever script and visual gags, and every single one of them lands perfectly. For example, at the beginning of the episode Odo comes into Quark’s to needle Morn about a shipment of very ripe beets he’s neglected in one of the cargo bays, only to discover that Quark has replaced the lunk with a hologram. In a bit of meta dialogue, Quark explains that the sight of Morn is so integral to the atmosphere of his bar that sales actually drop when Morn is away on vacation, as he is at the start of this episode. Dax and Sisko enter to deliver the news that Morn’s ship was destroyed in an ion storm, and Jadzia jumps at the sight of what is suddenly a very ghoulish display (Sisko immediately tells Quark to shut the hologram off).
It’s a very funny scene (that turns darkly amusing), but also some clever plotting that helps set up the story. It establishes the importance of Morn to Quark – not as an actual person or friend, but as a source of income and a vital piece of his brand. And visually having Morn in the bar helps establish a connection to his character, a glorified background extra. The episode is about the lingering presence of the departed Morn, and there’s something clever about it starting off with a holographic ghost of him.
Any episode about Quark is ultimately about his unscrupulous greedy nature. He’s a scoundrel, and the story is a classic scoundrel story with a simple core premise that gets continually twisted with each new plot development. As it turns out, Morn left everything to Quark, who is only too happy to cash in. It’s a Quark episode primarily, but Odo also shines in every scene they share together. As much as Quark lusts after profit, Odo is equally eager to see Quark end up with nothing, and Auberjonis absolutely relishes every downturn the Ferengi runs into. There’s a fun sequence of the two of them investigating Morn’s assets that contains several visual gags – container after container of steaming ripe beets, and the empty contents of Morn’s quarters which contain a velvet matador painting and a big vat of bubbling mud that he apparently slept in. It’s so great.
Being a scoundrel story, we of course have Quark coming up against not one, but several other scoundrels – all acquaintances of Morn who suddenly pop up, one after another, each with their own convenient story of why Morn’s apparent cache of 1,000 bricks of gold-pressed latinum actually belongs to them. Their different tactics in trying to procure Morn’s fortune from Quark are varied and interesting – the woman uses seduction on him, the two brothers strong arm him, and the “cop” uses the law. Not only that, but each has a different story for why Morn has this huge amount of money, so it keeps us doubly guessing – not only do we wonder who these people are, but we also continue to wonder who Morn even is? Again, this type of story couldn’t work on any other Trek series but Deep Space Nine, and not with any other character but Quark. Shimmerman carries the episode superbly as he always does, and it’s fun to watch Quark’s mental wheels spin with each new fork in the road.
We’ve seen Quark up against visiting scoundrels before, like in Season 2’s “Rivals.” Just as in that episode, this story focuses on Quark’s passion for scheming, and it’s what makes him a compelling and endearing character. Ferengi culture is built around the idea of earning profit by any means necessary. It’s their religion, but Quark is a true believer. Not only does he believe in the ideals of being a scoundrel, but he loves it, and Shimmerman’s performance has always dripped with infectious glee for being a Ferengi. A key scene is during his and Dax’s tongo game. Structurally, it exists to do a little bit of info-dumping about what exactly gold-pressed latinum is (the first time it’s ever been explained in the franchise), but it also shows the reverence Quark has for money and the beauty he finds in it. It flies in the face of the utopian money-less future of Star Trek, but it just works because of the zeal the writing and actor puts into it.
Contrast this with the opposing scoundrels Quark has come up against. What separates him from them is the passion he has for money. The other scoundrels want the money too of course, and they’re willing to go to greater lengths to get it, including violence and murder. But there’s something bloodless and joyless about their greed. This is illustrated in the scene where Morn’s fortune is finally delivered and the container lid is popped. Quark is awestruck by the beauty of all that latinum; it’s almost a religious experience for him. But everyone else immediately points their guns at each other, ready to start shooting and take it all for themselves. A true Ferengi wouldn’t do that, because it’s blunt and guileless. They don’t hold people at gunpoint and steal their money – they user their wits and cleverness to swindle them out of it at the negotiating table. It’s honorable (in a twisted, Ferengi way). Everyone else understands the value of 1,000 bricks of gold-pressed latinum, but Quark is the only one to appreciate it.
Once the shooting inevitably starts, Odo and his staff swoop in and arrest all the other scoundrels. Quark is finally able to take possession of Morn’s fortune, only to find that all the latinum that’s supposed to be in the gold bricks has been removed, rendering the entire heap worthless. Odo is of course delighted by this, and Quark screaming as he realizes this cruel joke is a hysterically pathetic sight. As much as the episode (and the series) makes this con man into our hero, once all his adversaries are defeated, the one he’s left with is his own greed, and he loses to it. This is still Star Trek, and though our sympathies have been temporarily shifted, the episode (and universe) morally right everything back to how it should be. The grifter has been (deservedly) grifted himself.
But! As an angry and bitter Quark hilariously tries to tear out Morn’s favorite bar stool with his bare hands, Odo walks in with an unexpected visitor – Morn! The final twist of the plot is revealed in a superbly crafted scene that maintains Morn’s quintessential silence as Quark figures everything out (“I don’t want to hear it!” Quark snaps just as Morn is about to speak). After ripping off the Bank of Lissepia with the other scoundrels nine years prior (and with the statute of limitations now up), Morn decided to fake his own death and leave everything to Quark so that they would all track down his worthless fortune and get off his back. It’s all quite sublime.
Quark’s outrage is understandable, but also kind of faux, since Morn reveals where he’s been hiding the latinum he extracted from the gold – by regurgitating a small but very valuable amount of the metal into a glass for Quark. All is immediately forgiven by the Ferengi, and it’s nutty, but it makes total sense from a character perspective because of the work that the story and show has put into Quark up to this point. If profit is his religion, then money is salvation and forgiveness, and Morn just bought a lot of it.
Naked greed has been the defining characteristic of Ferengi since their first appearance, but Deep Space Nine was able to somehow humanize this trait in Quark. The appeal of anti-heroes and rooting for bad guys is not something that this show invented, but it did run with it successfully and memorably on a number of occasions. Quark doesn’t mourn for Morn because he’s too obsessed with lining his pockets, and the universe punishes him for that. But he is afforded a hefty reward for his troubles, which translates to a fun and entertaining episode and one of the best comedic entries in the franchise.
- “Gold-pressed latiunum” has been a mainstay on Deep Space Nine as seemingly the primary currency in the Trek universe (for those that use currency). We get the clearest explanation for what it is here, which is nice. Apparently the latinum part can’t be replicated like gold can, or at least not as purely as is desired. Not really sure how that goes, but I appreciate the effort.
- The guy who Quark picks out of the crowd to keep Morn’s chair warm is the actor who plays Morn.
- I could spend all day listing out the funny bits from this episode; there’s too many. Quark mentioning Morn’s second stomach and how watching him eat “was a beautiful thing” is just bizarrely hilarious. One of the brothers immediately whipping out a knife to cut Quark’s finger off (and of course, the whole picture gag). Quark leaping into the shipping container and reaching for the money only for a phaser blast to go right through it. And every delivery on Odo’s lines is A+.
- The tradition of leaving trinkets and foodtsuffs for the dearly departed (as well as the portrait) reminds me of Día de los Muertos altars and traditions.
- Jadzia makes the mistake of mentioning to Worf that she had a crush on Morn at one point. Interestingly, in the beginning of the show she told Kira she thought he was kind of cute but turned him down for a date. Of course, Worf has to have a meltdown over something that happened before they even met. Oh, Worf. Don’t ever change. Except please do, you insecure, jealous wuss.