Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Classics: DS9 1:10 – The Nagus

Plot Synopsis:

Grand Nagus Zek of the Ferengi mysteriously arrives on DS9. Convinced that Zek has come to buy him out, Quark prepares to say goodbye to his profits; imagine his surprise and delight, then, when he is named Zek’s successor at an impromptu Ferengi summit called to discuss emerging opportunities in the Gamma Quadrant. Quark enjoys his newfound power for a time – until he discovers just how dangerous holding the scepter can be. Meanwhile, Zek’s visit drives a temporary wedge between Jake and Nog.

The Ratings:

Overall: 6.3 – A bad premise relatively well executed.

Writing: 7

There is nothing inherently wrong with the writing in this episode once you get past the premise (see below). Indeed, in retrospect, The Nagus turns out to be one of the funniest and least annoying of the Ferengi-centered episodes. I believe this has a great deal to do with the subplot, which handles both the frustrations and joys of parenting an adolescent and the struggles of navigating a cultural divide in a manner that to me seems quite genuine and charming.

Acting: 7

Again, I saw nothing inherently wrong here. It’s very difficult to criticize the portrayal of the Ferengi characters who populate this episode because they are meant to be pretty absurd. And I can’t recall any moment when the regular cast did anything that struck me as seriously false.

Message: 5

I could write a whole essay detailing why the Hollywood capitalism of the Ferengi bears very little resemblance to either real-world capitalism or general logic, but let’s start with two issues that were broached in this episode specifically:

First of all, it is made quite clear – indeed, they even codify it in the sixth Rule of Acquisition – that a Ferengi feels no particular duty to their family members. But even a materialist devotee of Darwinism knows this makes little sense. Natural selection alone – without any moral or metaphysical addenda - requires that you be particularly solicitous to those bearing your genes.

Secondly, it is also made quite apparent – here and elsewhere – that the Ferengi are cheaters and swindlers. But cheating is a losing strategy in the long run. Societies that establish rules of fair play – capitalist societies like ours – do infinitely better than those that do not. A predictable and just marketplace is, as it turns out, a more profitable one. There are societies in which every man is looking out solely for himself (and possibly his relatives), but in these societies, life spans are short and poverty is endemic. These are societies that lack stable governments, let alone the imagination necessary to contemplate space flight. Such societies are not capitalist societies – they are anarchies. An entire alien race that behaves like a band of pirates and criminals is, in short, a race that simply would not have achieved faster-than-light travel.

But now to the positive: I do like that Jake’s response when he is presented with a cultural difference that others claim is irreconcilable is not to go his own way – that way lies multicultural relativism. Instead, he chooses to – dare I say – be a missionary, working to inculcate in his friend a human appreciation for education and knowledge (which, by the way, no good capitalist should go without).


“Let me get this straight: you would rather hang around a cargo bay with Nog than see the Bajoran fire caves with the old man?” – Sisko, boggling at Jake’s adolescence.

“Hold on – you’re saying Vulcans stole your homework?” – Bad excuses, Trek style!

“Besides, if I get between them now, it’ll become me versus Nog, and I’m not going to force my son to choose between us.”
“Why not?”
“Because I’d probably lose.”
“I doubt that, sir.”
“That’s because your daughter’s three. Wait until she’s fourteen.” – I love parenting discussions.

“My advice is to lock up the silverware.” – Kira on the arrival of the Ferengi. Hee!

“It is also customary to show respect by kissing. my. scepter.”
“Pah!” – Grand Nagus Quark and a singularly unimpressed Odo. Heh.

“Going through my own adolescence was difficult enough. Surviving my son’s is going to take a miracle.” – Yes, I think that about sums it up.

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