|Roswell, New Mexico: The Martians have landed!|
The time has come for Nog to leave for Starfleet Academy. The young Ferengi expects to leave on a transport ship, but his uncle Quark has a surprise for him. Quark has finally received the ship that's been due to him for years, and Rom has pronounced it in perfect working order. Nog's trip to Earth will make a perfect test run - as well as giving Quark a chance to smuggle some illegal kemocite to Orion on the way back.
But the ship is a trap. They are unable to disengage the warp drive - a deliberate attempt to kill Quark and make it look like an accident. Rom is able to use the kemocite to take them out of warp. However, a miscalculation brings them to mid-20th century Earth. Roswell, New Mexico, to be precise.
Faced with a paranoid military in the midst of a Cold War with Russia, Quark can scent something in the air: The sweet smell of opportunity!
Capt. Sisko: In a nice continuity nod to the series' last time travel episode, we see Nog reading up on the Bell Riots - with Sisko pictured as Gabriel Bell. No wonder he shaved his head and grew the beard: He has to try to cover things up lest the Department of Temporal Investigations starts poking into things.
Quark: Armin Shimerman is always good, even when the material isn't. Given a canny script that plays perfectly to Quark's character, Shimerman is brilliant. Quark is constantly looking for a way to turn every setback into a chance for profit. Stranded on 20th century Earth? Well, these humans are nothing like the Starfleet humans he's used to. As he says, they are venal, paranoid, and greedy - ripe for manipulation. However, he lets his greed get the better of his own judgment, ignoring the Rule of Acquisition that warns of the capriciousness of new customers. If it weren't for Odo stowing away, Quark and his fellow Ferengi would have almost certainly ende dup dead as a result of his "hard sell."
Rom: "I've always been smart, brother. I just lacked self-confidence." The development of Rom's character continues, as we see him out-swindle Quark at the start of the episode, then use his technical expertise to save them from certain death. Both for comedy effect and to keep Rom consistent with the hysterical fool of the first three seasons, he does begin crying and groveling when threatened by the military near the end. Still, I hope the series remembers and builds on Rom's newfound confidence and shrewdness. After the events of Family Business and this episode, it would be very hard to buy into a return to "Rom the Idiot."
Nog: With Quark driving the comedy and Rom tackling the Technobabble, Nog is left to play the straight man. He is the one who has to give voice to why they shouldn't tamper with history. Still, he does get a few fun Ferengi moments, particularly when he tricks pretty Nurse Garland (Megan Gallagher) into giving him oomox.
Hot 20th Century Earth Babe of the Week: Nurse Garland is your standard issue science fiction nurse. She's gorgeous, patient, starry-eyed about the idea of exploring the galaxy, and engaged to a semi-nerdy scientist. In short: a sci-fi nerd's wish fulfillment. Gallagher, a good television actress, lends a bit of humanity to the stock role, but she's really just there for eye candy and to balance out the testosterone of the otherwise all-male guest cast.
Though comedy Trek tends to be hit-and-miss at best, Season Four has been very serious up to this point. It really was time for a change of pace. With a sharp script by stalwarts Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Little Green Men turns out to be an unexpected gem.
One thing it gets right that so many comedy episodes get wrong: It realizes that the characters don't know they're in a comedy. Quark's huckster persona is funny, all the moreso when he's trying his angles on a 20th century general (Charles Napier). But this isn't an exaggeration of Quark - it's Quark being himself in an environment that makes that even more comical than usual. Nor is the general made out to be a complete idiot. He quickly recognizes Quark's style, comparing it to that of a "car salesman - and not a very good one."
Rom and Nog want to get home, while Quark wants to maximize the opportunities provided by their situation. All of this is perfectly in keeping with their characters, with the comedy arising naturally from the situation. Even the one big slapstick moment, with the Ferengi smacking their own heads and the humans following suit, makes sense in context. They aren't just slapping themselves to "be funny." The Ferengi are trying to get their universal translators working, while the humans are mimicking them in an attempt at communication. It works as comedy, but also as storytelling.
The script also isn't afraid to take a darker turn near the end. Quark is stabbed with needles, and he and the others are threatened with knives by a man who is obviously willing to use them. This raises the stakes, giving a genuine sense of threat - one which is turned on its head as a quick-thinking Nog uses the man's paranoia to his advantage, leading to another very funny bit of verbal comedy that, once again, also works as good storytelling.
Balancing good comedy and good science fiction is hard, as the long list of failed attempts vs. the short list of successes will attest. Little Green Men strikes the balance just right. This is hardly the weightiest episode of Deep Space 9. But the script is clever, sharp, fast-paced, and holds together. Most important of all, it's just a delight to watch from start to finish.
Overall Rating: 9/10.
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