Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 18
As problematic as the Ferengi could be, I still appreciate their inclusion and greater emphasis in Deep Space Nine (even if the episodes that focus on them weren’t my favorites). They broadened and deepened the colorful universe of Star Trek and provided some new and interesting story angles. This was typified in having one of the main characters be a Ferengi and played with stellar aplomb by Armin Shimmerman. He played a good and fun scoundrel, and his presence expanded the moral dimensions of the show. All of these dramatic potentials come to a head in one of the most memorable and disquieting tales of Deep Space Nine.
What’s great (and also unsettling) about this episode is the true darkness that the material flirts with. Although Star Trek has gone darker and more disturbing than this episode, this one gets pretty bleak. Like many of Trek’s best, it ultimately boils down to a test of morality. What makes it unique is the subject of the ethical parable, the one wrestling with the difficult choices is… Quark.
The unscrupulousness of Quark is a variable thing that shifts from episode to episode, mostly based on the requirements of the plot. He’s a schemer, a con man, even a thief in a roundabout way. He’s a sexist, boorish prick, and even a sexual harasser. He almost killed Dax, profited off Bajoran slave labor… I could go on. Again, it’s a credit to Shimmerman’s infectious portrayal that his character is likable at all (it also doesn’t hurt that Quark often gets what’s coming to him in the end). But generally, he’s just a greedy businessman whose religion is money. He’s not a good person, but because there are limits to how far he’ll go, he’s not a bad person, either. “Business As Usual” tests the boundaries on how far Quark will go to make a buck.
As we learn while an absent-minded Quark plays tongo with Dax, things aren’t going well in his financial empire. His stocks have been wiped out, he owes tons of money to creditors, and because of his ban from the Ferengi Commerce Authority, he’s a business outcast among his own people. It’s partially relatable, because who doesn’t have money troubles in real life? Dax cares very little though, since the Federation doesn’t use money. She understands the Ferengi better than most, but this aspect of their existence isn’t something she can relate to.
In walks the oft-mentioned but never-before-seen cousin Gala, who Quark envies for his ownership of his own moon – oh, and who tried to kill him one time (but what Ferengi hasn’t tried to off a family member?). Deep Space Nine had many of these unseen-but-talked-about characters, usually based around a single joke/gimmick (Morn’s supposed loquaciousness, Captain Boday’s transparent skull). That an entire, weighty episode is built around one of these walking jokes is both wacky and impressive.
Quark shooes Dax away so that they can talk in private, and Gala surprisingly wants to do business with his cousin, despite being radioactive as far as the FCA is concerned. As we know from previous episodes, Gala deals in weapons, and there’s something appropriately scuzzy about his demeanor. As Quark has stated before, not only does he not want any part in the weapons industry (because he’s a people person!), but legally he can’t do that on DS9. Gala insists that no weapons will come onto the station and that he wants Quark specifically for his people skills. In exchange he’ll get 5% of profits, which doesn’t sound like much. But when Gala shows what a typical deal for him is, Quark is quickly silenced. It wouldn’t take long to erase his debts, for the FCA to beg him to come back, and to get his own moon. “What could I have to lose?” Quark wonders aloud, practically begging for the universe to answer.
We’ll find out on this week’s episode of Holy ShitBalls!
Gala soon introduces Quark to his terrifying business partner Hagath, played by Steven Berkoff (who appeared alongside Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange). He gives an absolutely spellbinding and unforgettable performance here, and is one of the most memorable one-off characters in the series. Hagath oscillates from soothing affability to tempestuous fury at the drop of a hat, with all the drama and bombast of a Shakespearean actor. His mercurial demeanor is completely (and purposefully) unnerving, and the intensity of his crazed eyes and buzzed head give him a vicious quality (and passing resemblance to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter). He quickly proves himself to be a cold, ruthless, unhinged man who has nary a trace of any moral compunctions whatsoever. Gala notes that he would make a perfect Ferengi, but he’s much, much scarier than any Ferengi ever seen. He’s a bloodthirsty shark who gives the impression he will bite anyone’s limbs off at any time just to prove a point. Hagath greets Quark warmly upon their first meeting, but hauntingly tells him (as his voice drops to an unsettling low), “Don’t ever cross me.” Yikes.
Hagath and Gala’s scheme is to use Quark’s holosuites as a virtual showroom for their merchandise – no weapons will pass through the station and thus no laws will technically be broken. It’s clever, and soon Quark is using his facilities (and people skills) to close deals with alien customers. There are a couple of cool scenes of the weapons showroom in action. Hagath grabs a simulated weapon and shoots Quark in the guts with it. It’s just a hologram, but it’s still a frightful act of violence from a crazed man. We also get to see a customer trying out the weapons on some simulated targets, which is neat. It’s some nice world building and helps fill out the seedy and violent part of the galaxy that exists outside the Federation utopia. Hagath and Gala gleefully boast about selling weapons to both sides of a conflict, a risky but profitable venture. Cool, cool.
Quark seems to enjoy the work, and says that selling guns doesn’t feel any different than selling sanwiches. You almost get the sense that Quark is trying to convince himself of that. He quickly racks up tons of sales, but Hagath diverts the money to his creditors first. His debts are paid, though he feels a little cheated. “Do forgive me,” Hagath says as he outstretches his arms, immediately switching to a weirdly seductive apologetic tone and showering Quark with an expensive gift. Berkoff is just nuts here and is so fun to watch. Hagath has the demeanor of a crazed Roman Emperor, a 24th century Caligula.
However, Quark soon hits a bump in the road when Odo hauls him into his office. Quark defends what he’s doing, as no actual laws are being broken. Odo is unimpressed with the technicality, and everyone knows what he’s really up to. Instead of bringing the hammer down on him, Sisko and Kira reluctantly tell Odo that Quark is free to go. In an intriguing twist of fate, it turns out that Hagath had sold weapons to the Bajoran resistance in their fight against the Cardassians. Without him (and people like him), they might have never achieved victory and freedom. Because of that, the Bajoran government doesn’t wish to hamper any of Hagath’s activities.
It’s a really fascinating and clever plot twist, illustrating the complex and grey nature of Deep Space Nine’s world. Hagath is clearly a villain and a bad person who does bad things, but his actions helped the Bajorans and ultimately contributed to their survival. Who is a hero and who is a villain depends on perspective and timing – a theme that DS9 carried through with several of its characters throughout its run.
So Quark is legally absolved of his activities, but Sisko angrily tells him that he’s cut him a lot of slack over the years (indeed!), but if he so much as litters on the Promenade he will nail his ass to the wall. Quark’s bar soon suffers a significant drop in business as Starfleet (and Federation) customers boycott. Gala reminds him that the bar doesn’t even matter anymore as the money coming from weapons is more than enough, but Quark is still glum about it. He really is a people person, and despite how much he fetishizes money it all feels kind of empty without people around.
Hagath reflects that selling to the Bajorans (presumably at a significant discount) was a calculated risk, but one that paid off. Their conversation is interrupted by one of Hagath’s employees Farrakk. Turns out the guy was too busy vacationing to close the deals he was supposed to and one of their competitors got the business instead. Hagath gives a noteworthy performance of ferocious indignation as he dresses him down (“AND THAT! INSTEAD! OF! DOING! YOUR! JOB!”) Immediately switching to his (even scarier) inside voice, Hagath fires him in the spot. “You still there?” he nonchalantly asks, as Farrakk turns and leaves. God, I love this guy. Gala waves goodbye with a malicious, toothy smile.
Gala is impressed with how well Quark has done, and says he wants to retire and have his cousin take his place. He’ll work directly with Hagath and earn much more money, both of which Quark seems fine with. That is, until Gala casually mentions that Farrakk’s ship suffered an accident and he’s dead! “That Hagath, what a temper!” he says. Oh, such a card. A real prankster! Ha ha, holy shit.
The subplot of the episode provides some tonal whiplash that’s still somewhat charming, although kind of dumb and not really necessary. It’s a pretty low grade sitcom level idea, that O’Brien’s newborn baby won’t stop crying unless he’s holding him. Anytime he puts Kirayoshi down or hands him to someone else he immediately starts wailing. It’s just the exact same joke over and over again. Keiko is off somewhere botaning, so he’s Mr. Mom. On one hand, I do like seeing Miles being an engaged parent, and though there’s a whiff of the classic, dumb “overwhelmed dad” trope, I think it’s just that looking after a newborn by yourself is taxing no matter what. I’m not a parent, so I can’t say whether this is true to life at all. It seems like the writers are just guessing at it, as well. Some of them have to have kids, right? Maybe they’ve never actually taken care of them, though. The writers of Star Trek are very good at writing Trek, and not that great at writing anything else.
The amusing climax is when O’Brien places the baby inside of the pit in Ops (I love everyone crowding around to watch), which Sisko is less than charmed by. He forcefully suggests (in a whisper, so as not to wake the baby) that O’Brien just take a few days off, then grumbles at everyone to get back to work.
And in the charming denouement, Worf visits O’Brien for something. He asks the Klingon to briefly hold the baby while he gets something, and is gobsmacked to see that Kirayoshi seems to like Worf. Dorn is great here, and I like the immediate resistance when the Chief tries to take the baby back. Worf admits that he regrets never seeing his own son as a baby (while leaving out that he apparently was fine not seeing him as a teenager, and loves not seeing him as an adult). But an exhausted O’Brien is already asleep. Heh. The End.
But back to the harrowing main plot of murder and death!
The Weap Boys are courting a new big client, the Regent of Palamar, played by the late, gravelly-voiced Lawrence Tierney (who is a terrifying guy himself, just ask Jerry and George… or Quentin Tarantino). In a lavish dinner scene that wouldn’t be out of place in The Godfather, the Regent speaks bitterly about his former protege General Nassuc who betrayed him. Quark asks how they can help, and he replies that he wants to make an example of her and her followers. Gala asks for the number of casualties he’s looking for, and the Regent answers he wants 8 million dead to start. But over time he wants the death toll to rise to 20 million people. Gala and Hagath bandy back and forth about the best way to do that, landing on biological weapons.
It’s absolutely insane, but the only one who seems to think so is Quark. He’s thunderstruck by 28 million casualties and can’t help but voice his concern, only to be shoved aside by Hagath. The scene is terrifying and puts into stark relief exactly what Quark is helping Gala and Hagath to do. The particulars of the clientele up until now have been left to speculation (and I’m sure the customers aren’t exactly forthright with what they need their merchandise for), but the Regent removes all doubt as to exactly what the weapons will be used for – to kill tons and tons of people. And not just soldiers – if you’re aiming for 28 million people, you’re talking specifically civilians, children, the elderly. Everyone.
After the dinner, Quark broods at a window on the Promenade – the shadow he’s bathed in is a visually appropriate lighting choice for his mood. Gala appears behind him, irritated at Quark’s pesky conscience. This scene builds on the horror of the previous one in a much quieter, but still impactful way. It’s one of my favorites of all of Star Trek. Gala wants to retire, but if his replacement can’t control his conscience, he won’t be able to. “The Regent is insane!” Quark hisses, and Gala insists it’s his wallet that matters, not his mental state. Quark repeats the amount of people the Regent wants dead, “That just seems wrong!” Well yeah, because it is, Quark. Of course, any number of murdered people is bad, but the sheer scale of what the Regent wants is too large for Quark’s greed to overcome. It’s civilization’s worth of dead bodies, even an entire species’ or planet’s worth.
Gala has Quark gaze out the window, at all the twinkling stars – millions upon millions of worlds. Half of them are fanatically dedicated to destroying the other half. If one of those lights went out, would anyone notice? I love this scene precisely because of how fucking bleak its morality is, and how disgusting its ideas are. The actor’s delivery drips with contempt for all living beings in the cosmos. It’s about the most anti-Star Trek dialogue ever uttered in one of the shows, and displays how jawdroppingly cynical and callous Gala’s worldview is. Trek was founded on the idea that the universe contains all sorts of cool stuff and life forms to discover. But for Gala (and people like him), it’s just a bunch of fighting savages that are going to kill each other anyway, so might as well make some money off of them.
The frightening thing is how prevalent and even seductive this attitude is. It’s not always embodied with the outright bitterness and greed of Gala, but this kind of moral apathy and willful ignorance is all too common. Just because something horrible is happening far away and out of sight does not reduce its impact or objective immorality. If a civilization falls and no one is around to hear it, it still makes a sound. Gala has convinced himself that it doesn’t matter who lives and who dies, so long as it’s happening away from him. But even well-meaning people can fall into the trap of not caring if a moral catastrophe is in the distance, or happening to someone different from them. His moral calculus also de-prioritizes life simply because it’s so prevalent – who cares if you only kill a tiny percentage of everyone? But that’s a completely incoherent and awful way of looking at things. Every single life has meaning and value, and multiplying the losses of them doesn’t reduce the impact.
Again, these are completely odious ideas, but at the same time I love that they’re being expressed by a character here, and it contributes to the more three-dimensional world of Deep Space Nine. If anything, it highlights the upstanding ethics our heroes normally have. You can’t appreciate the light without the dark.
Gala switches tactics and offers Quark ten million bars of gold pressed latinum to assuage his guilt. It’s an insane amount of money, more than we’ve ever heard uttered in the series before. Quark is simply silent in response. We’ve seen him salivate at far less amounts, but he’s so conflicted that it barely registers. Shimmerman is so great here, and Quark has never been more grim; all that infectious zeal for profit has been washed away by the horrors of what is required to earn it.
The internal struggle of Quark is personified in his conflict with Dax – like every other Starfleet person she has scorned him, and she angrily resists his attempts at courting her friendship again. Quark responds with annoyance that she doesn’t understand the bad financial situation he was in – he was drowning and Gala was the only one to throw him a life line. Dax, despite her more than generous (and somewhat inexplicable) fondness for the Ferengi, doesn’t really care.
Quark has a requisite TV Dream that encapsulates his whole internal conflict – arriving in his bar, he’s greeted by the zombified crew of the station who have all been killed by the weapons he’s sold. “Why did you kill my baby, Quark?” O’Brien demands, holding the corpse of his infant. Dark!
Having decided that he has to do something, Quark tries to give his tongo wheel game to Dax, but she’s not impressed by his self-pitying gesture. He leaves and reassures himself that the worst Hagath can do is kill him.
It’s quite a heel turn for our Ferengi Finagler – Quark intends to sabotage Hagath’s deal with the Regent, and not only that, fully expects to die because of it. This is the kind of self-sacrificing bravery we’ve come to expect from our gallant Starfleet heroes (that’s the way Kirk went out, after all), but Quark?! The guy’s normally a total coward, but because 28 million lives potentially hang in the balance, he’s prepared to sacrifice his own so that none of them get hurt. It’s all the more impressive given his nature.
Quark lies to Hagath and says he can’t get the biological agents they wanted, so they will have to go with an experimental alternative. He proposes demonstrating the destructive power of this stuff on some random planet’s lifeforms (which is itself a horrible notion, but good thing it’s not true). He then gets General Nassuc onto the station, and proposes to Gala that they do the ol’ “sell weapons to both sides” dealeo. Gala is incredibly wary, but hesitantly goes along with it. Quark lures them both into the same room and wacky sitcom hi-jinks occur – AKA, everyone starts shooting. Problem solved?
Sisko later dresses Quark down for instigating a violent riot that destroyed the cargo bay. Quark feigns ignorance about wanting to cause a fight; he just wanted the deal to fall through. Sisko informs him that Hagath and Gala barely escaped the station (more on that below), and Nassuc has sent a “purification squad” after them. That sounds, uh, lovely? Also, the Regent was killed by one of these squads, so good riddance. At any rate, Quark probably won’t be hearing from any of them ever again, although the repairs to the station will be costly. He meekly suggests a payment plan, and Sisko barks “Works for me!” I love Brooks’ line reading, and you can see Sisko’s suppressed smile. Quark’s been on his shit list because of all of this weapons stuff, but he made the right decision and Sisko can’t help but be proud. It recalls his similar yelling (and furtive smile) at O’Brien for freeing Tosk back in Season 1’s “Captive Pursuit.”
Dax is also removing Quark from her shit list as they play a game of tongo on his wheel. He demands it back, but she’s adamant that he gave it to her so it’s hers now. Womp womp. Quark has always been mostly a lecherous creep towards Dax but their scenes here are thankfully bereft of that. This episode emphasizes that he respects her opinion of him (and by extension, Sisko and the rest of the Starfleet personnel). It’s what helps Quark to listen to his own conscience and make the right decision here.
Quark’s inclusion among Deep Space Nine provided some interesting color to the show’s world and he often fulfilled an entertaining “wild card” aspect to many episodes’ plots. He (among other non-Starfleet characters) opened up new storytelling possibilities into richer, more interesting, and darker places. None of that is more apparent than in “Business As Usual,” which sees the scoundrel flirt with a truly Faustian bargain and wrestle with how far he is willing to go to get rich. The episode deftly allows him to prove that although he’s a slimeball, he’s still a decent person underneath all that grime.
- So there’s a big fire fight between the Regent and the General, after which Gala and Hagath barely escape. Also, the Regent gets away, but an assassin squad are on their tails (as well as on Gala and Hagath). How did any of of these bad actors just “slip away?” The station has tractor beams and a formidable weapons array – not to mention several runabouts and uh, the Defiant. We’ve seen the station clamp down on ships to prevent them from leaving before, too. If there’s a gang shootout on the station, then shouldn’t everyone be held and sorted out legally? All of these criminals just slipped away from this massive fortress after a huge fight???
I realize that to a certain extent all the tech of Star Trek would realistically prevent a lot of plot stuff from happening and it’s a challenge to write around all of that, but the way everything resolves here is a little conspicuous.
- It’s a disturbing thought that with all the planets teeming with life, someone could just snuff them all out and none might be the wiser. Unless there’s some sort of interstellar environmental protection agency.
- We’ll see Gala again, but we don’t find out what happens to Hagath. He’s gotta be dead though, because Quark lives for the rest of the series (and beyond). And if Hagath were alive, there’s no way that would be the case.
- Interestingly, Rom doesn’t figure into the plot at all. At this point in the series he had mostly morphed into a sweetheart, and definitely would have been aghast at the machinations at play here. But it’s better to have Quark be the one to come to the right decision on his own, rather than be needled into it by his more ethical brother.
- Deep Space Nine gave The Original Series a run for its money in visual artistry. The lighting in this episode (directed by Alexander Siddig) is especially rich and lovely.
- We don’t hear about Gala’s moon at all! That’s like, his whole thing. The content of this episode is much graver and more interesting than that, which is impressive.
- Lawrence Tierney also played the holographic gangster Cyrus Redblock in the Season 1 TNG “The Big Goodbye.” It’s a goofy and mostly skippable episode, but he’s by far the best part of it.
- I was tickled when I heard the title “Regent of Palamar.” That was the community college I went to before transferring to university (named for the nearby mountain and its stellar observatory, also once featured in a Calvin and Hobbes strip). Also the fictional Central American setting of Gilbert Hernandez’ half of the long-running Love and Rockets comic.
- I like that little submissive curtsy gesture that Ferengi do. Dax does it back to Quark, which is cute.
- I always like when they have exotic alien food on Trek. Imagine an entire galaxy’s worth of cuisine to sample and get sick from. It’s my fat boy dream.
- Did Hagath’s alien babe make it out OK?