|Quark dabbles as a sportscaster.|
Martus Mazur (Chris Sarandon) is an El-Aurian, a member of a race of listeners. El-Aurians have a gift: People like to talk to them, to share their secrets with them. It makes Martus a natural con artist. When a complaint is filed against him by an elderly couple he fleeced, Odo is happy to throw Martus into the brig. The couple drops the charges - but not before Martus receives a gift from a cellmate. A simple game, what looks effectively like a child's toy. A game of chance, which Martus finds produces a win every time he plays it.
Soon, Martus is having an incredible run of good luck, much to Quark's personal annoyance. That rises to the next level when Martus bumps into a widow who is vacating her shop. Martus takes over the shop, turning it into "Club Martus." Now Quark has a rival - and Martus' luck is such that he apparently cannot be beaten!
Commander Sisko: As improbable accidents and coincidences occur throughout the station, Sisko has the sense to take it seriously. He has Dax investigate the situation, and assists her in tracking down the source when it becomes apparent that this isn't just a run of "bad luck."
Quark: Despite the gag of Quark ignoring O'Brien once he gets his great idea, Quark is quite right when he says that he listens. Doubtless there's a Rule of Acquisition that covers keeping one's eyes and ears open to opportunity, and it takes little time for him to turn a random gripe from O'Brien into the answer to his problems. You have to give him credit for ingenuity. What he does is essentially moral blackmail. He would never get O'Brien and Bashir to agree to a match for a cut of the profits, or some similarly venal motive. But promote the match as a charity match, with half the profits benefitting Bajoran orphans? The two Starfleet officers are stuck, and they know it. It's a slicker and smoother move by far than anything Martus pulls during the episode.
O'Brien/Bashir: I had thought Season One's The Storyteller had reconciled the differences between these two. But this episode returns them to that point, with O'Brien's previous resentment of Bashir fully in evidence. They at least set aside their differences when it becomes clear that something is going wrong with regard to the luck of their final match, which in turn leads Dax and Sisko to the solution.
Villain of the Week: Chris Sarandon's slick presence makes him a good fit for the sleazy Martus. He's convincingly silver-tongued to make it believable that some people might be taken in by him, but with Sarandon's ever-present sense of being thoroughly corrupt. It's no stretch for Sarandon, who's played this same role for basically his entire professional life... but he's good at it, so there's something to be said for that.
An in-between episode. Rivals is not bad, and it is entertaining, but it's also not particularly good. It's just about the definition of "average."
Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. It's refreshing to see a comedy episode that doesn't go for outright farce or slapstick. Instead, this episode provides a nice run of low-key, genuinely engaging comedy moments, almost all of them rooted convincingly in the characters. I do wish the O'Brien/Bashir subplot had been made to work without resetting their relationship to Season One, but it still provides several amiable moments. And Keiko's supportive preparation for O'Brien's match, with the Japanese handkercheif that she ties around his forehead and an insistence that they will celebrate whether he wins or loses, is a genuinely sweet moment, well-played by both actors.
It's all very predictable, of course. It also rests on us rooting for Quark over Martuk, despite Martuk never doing anything in the episode that's any sleazier than behavior we've witnessed from Quark. None of Martuk's relatively minor cons even approach Quark selling out the station to Klingon bandits, for instance. But it's all quite amiable and pleasant. Very average, and not one to linger in the memory. But for all of that, not a bad time-killer.
Overall Rating: 5/10.
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