It’s yet another episode that posits the idea that peace, love, and understanding actually is possible between people from fundamentally different cultures. All it takes is a little trust, a pinch of stubbornness, and the optimism of children who haven’t yet quite caught on that they’re not supposed to have anything in common, let alone forge an unshakeable friendship that will profoundly affect both of them in ways their 14-year-old selves can’t possibly imagine.
Yet, as traditional as the sentiments expressed in the episode are, it does so in a way that’s completely unique to the Star Trek universe. In episodes past, it was Federation adults teaching this lesson to non-Federation adults. In this episode, it’s the Federation adults who’ve got to re-learn the lesson, and discover that sometimes “boldly going where no one has gone before” without ever leaving your home is the hardest thing you can ever do, especially if you're hobbled by a touch of prejudice and enough experience that reinforces that prejudice.
This episode…this one right here…is the one that made me fall madly in love with one of DS9’s unique signatures: Jake’s and Nog’s unsinkable and enduring friendship and how that friendship makes these two characters grow in surprising, yet completely logical, ways over the course of the series.
Episode 10: The Nagus
Ferengi episodes tended to cause fans to groan, mostly because they’re not usually the best in the bunch. I never had the hate for them that some fans had, but I’ll be the first to say that they’re traditionally weak episodes.
The problem with this episode is that there’s a strong story hidden in here, but unfortunately it’s in the B story about Sisko finally coming to grips with the fact that Jake has a Ferengi friend and that, for better or for worse, they’re going to remain thick as thieves no matter what he says or does. The A story about the future of the Ferengi trading empire is comparatively weak to the point where the B story overwhelms it.
The A story manages to be ridiculously complicated while having no substance. Grand Nagus Zek (think of him as the Ferengi chairman of the board and head of government) comes to Deep Space Nine to make a startling announcement: He’s retiring and he wants Quark to take over as Grand Nagus. The captains of Ferengi industry are pissed that a “lightweight” gets the nod, Zek’s son (who’s never seen again after this episode) is pissed that he doesn’t get to inherit the title, and Rom is pissed that Quark won’t sign over the bar to him now that Quark pretty much owns a piece of every Ferengi business that exists.
By the time it’s over, Quark gets to tell Odo and the Federation to buzz out of his business because it’s now “an internal Ferengi matter,” Zek “dies,” Rom and the Zek’s son try to kill Quark twice, and Zek re-appears and admits that his death was a ruse to see if his son was ready to take over. Needless to say, sonny-boy failed the test (Zek, it appears, prefers brains over brawns…and his son showed more brawn than brains, thus making him an unsuitable candidate for Nagus), Zek reclaims his title, and Quark remains stuck with his bar.
Where the episode really shines is in the B-story. The tension between Sisko and Jake over Jake’s friendship with Nog is at an all time high, and is exacerbated by the fact that Jake’s 14 and starting to assert his own independence. This episode brilliantly builds on previous interactions Sisko has had with Jake over his friendship with Nog while subtly bringing in the Federation officers’ overt and not-so-overt racism when it comes to Ferengis.
Meanwhile, Nog is going through a mirror situation with his own father, Rom. As Nog slowly takes to actually attending a school and learning things (even though Nog — as we find out — cannot actually read), Rom yanks the reigns on his own son, berating him for taking on “Federation values” and pulling him out of school.
And in the center of at all are two boys who really can’t understand why everyone seems to have a problem with the two of them hanging out. They get that their parents aren’t all that happy about it. They just don’t get why.
Although the tension between Nog and Rom isn’t resolved in this episode (actually, one might say the tension was resolved because the character of Rom fundamentally changed in Season Two, thereby negating the issue), how that tension is resolved between Sisko and Jake is both realistic and satisfactory.
The short answer for how it all goes down?
In the end, Sisko realizes that he’s the one who has the problem and that he should just stop pushing his issues off on Jake.
The only sour note in the B story is the character of Rom himself. As of this episode, he’s halfway to the Rom we know and love. The shuffling, hunched over walk is there. The way of talking is there. Even the dim-bulb brain to an extent. They even have a scene that shows that Rom has an unfortunate (for a Ferengi) tendency to play honestly with the customers. However, the Rom of Season Two and beyond on would never do anything that would make Nog unhappy — like pulling him out of school and telling him not to be friends with Jake any more. And he certainly wouldn’t take it out on Nog just because he’s had a crappy day. And he most certainly wouldn’t try to kill Quark because he wants the bar. Wish him dead, maybe, but not actively try to kill him.
Some stand-out points:
- The very first appearance of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, created specifically for DS9 and used in every single Star Trek series that came after. Sheesh. DS9 created a lot of firsts, didn’t it?
- Wallace Shawn (aka, The Sicilian from The Princess Bride) makes his debut as Grand Nagus Zek. Even though I knew he wouldn’t say it, I still kept hoping he’d say, “Inconceivable.” That said, a lot of the reasons why I don’t mind the Ferengi episodes (despite their reputation as weak episodes) is because Shawn is just so. damn. good. It also helps that you can see on screen that Armin Shimerman is so positively delighted to be working opposite Shawn that he has a hard time keeping a straight face (quite a trick given the amount of makeup Ferengi actors have to wear). I was thrilled to see in one of the actor interviews on the DVDs that my impression was dead on. Shimerman cannot simply say enough good things about Shawn to the point where he totally fanboys him.
- In a related tangent: What I call “the evolution of Ferengi society” (aka, the retcon to end all retcons). Although chaotic in its own way, it’s very definitely a highly evolved society where survival of the fittest business mogul/robber baron is elevated to near-worship. Whatever the Ferengi were on Next Generation, they’re most certainly a very different sort of species here.
- The fact that Quark’s holosuites are nothing more than high-tech brothels is underscored with an exclamation point when Zek takes his famous sexual appetite up for a “visit” and gets rowdy. Guess the writers were so thrilled that they got away with it that they couldn’t help themselves.
- The overt and not-so-overt homages to The Godfather in the Ferengi scenes. Quark going all Don Corleone when he starts wielding his power as Nagus is a complete hoot. Not to mention the ever-shifting alliances between the different
mob familiesFerengi business leaders, and the opening meeting of the different heads of Ferengi industry in a restaurant. I mean, seriously! It’s a total homage and it actually works on several levels, especially in this particular episode.
- First mention ever of the Bajoran Fire Caves. Good thing Jake nixed the trip, hunh? Otherwise, Sisko would be in a shitload of trouble if he went now. Plus, there’d be no show.
- Revelation that Jadzia has memories of both being a mother and a father, although she admits that she was never any good in either role.
- Although Sisko has before now mentioned that he’s a big ol’ foodie, we now get proof that Sisko is one hell of a chef. When Jadzia stops by at dinner time, she practically does a little dance of joy when she sees that Sisko made dinner. Then when Sisko leaves after their conversation to find Jake (who’s very late despite the fact that daddy-o told him to show, or else), Jadzia digs right in and starts eating Sisko’s food without asking permission. Heeeeee!
- Sisko’s and Jake’s relationship hits the perfect notes. Sisko comes across exactly like a father who doesn’t want his son to grow up. Jake comes across as a teen who’s ready to start exerting his independence. What’s more, Sisko’s view of the situation is actually realistic. When O’Brien says that maybe Sisko should forbid Jake from hanging out with Nog, Sisko points out that if he made Jake choose between him and his friend, he’d lose. When O’Brien laughs it off, Sisko points out, “It’s easy for you to say. Your daughter’s 3. Come talk to me when she’s 14.”
- The racism exhibited by the Starfleet officers against the Ferengi as a species is well-played. Given the Ferengi track record, they have every right to be concerned when a whole bunch of them show up on the station to pay their respects to the Grand Nagus. So when the order goes out to Odo to keep a close eye on the group, it’s reasonable (past experience) while still being unreasonable. Most of them are just docking with the station and haven’t committed any crimes. What’s more, most of them won’t be committing any crimes while on the station. Can you say racial profiling?
- Equally well-played is Sisko’s concern over Jake’s and Nog’s friendship. We already know that his primary problem with Nog is that Nog is Ferengi (not to mention that the first time Sisko ever met Nog, Nog was up to his ears in a breaking and entering scheme). However, there are hints sprinkled throughout the episode that Nog can be a bad influence. Certainly we see Jake doing a questionable thing or two to benefit Nog in this episode. The slight of hand is absolutely forgivable when the twist in the plot points out the obvious: Maybe Sisko needs to trust Jake a little bit more.
- The conversation between Jake and Sisko about, believe it or not, Federation principles. Sisko learns that, yeah, sometimes children really do listen, and that they have a nasty habit of using your own words against you at inconvenient times. While Sisko tries to argue that humans and Ferengi are fundamentally different (“We’ve got different values. We’ve never been able to find a common ground with them.”), Jake actually pulls his own version of the Vulcan IDIC (Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations) on Sisko. After all, Jake points out, if we, as humans and Federation citizens are supposed to learn about and respect different cultures, then why is it a problem that he’s doing just that? Watching Sisko sputter through a half-hearted answer to that question, which can be best summed up as “Yes, but…”, is a wonder to behold.
- Nog is also fantastic in this episode as well. He’s fighting the same battle as Jake is. The difference is that he not only has to go against his father, he also has to go against his Uncle Quark and the Grand Nagus himself. He has to listen to everyone in his circle telling him that hanging out with a human and wanting something different for himself is wrong. And Nog, who evolves over the course of the series to become one of the bravest of the inhabitants of Deep Space Nine, shows his first sign of courage by ignoring them and doing what he thinks is right, all for the sake of preserving his friendship with Jake and bettering himself.
While I’m not usually fond of stories where the adults are all wrong and the kids are all right (‘tis the stuff that treacle-y family sitcoms are made of), in this case the version of that story hits all the right notes. The adults are wrong for all the right reasons, and the kids are right for all the wrong ones.
Certainly, the adults in the B-story have every right to be concerned, given past history and the traditional tension between Ferengi cultural values vs. Federation cultural values, and that makes their wrongness both forgivable and understandable.
And the kids, with their limited experience of the universe, have no idea just how wrong things can go and how severe the consequences can be if their judgment is in error. For that reason, you end up with a very satisfying B story that simply makes you happy to watch it unfold and leaves you with a stupid grin on your face.