Sunday, January 26, 2014

5-18. Business as Usual.

Quark goes into business with ruthless
arms dealer Hagath (Steven Berkoff).

















THE PLOT

A feldomite strike has sent Quark's investments into freefall, effectively wiping out what little he had left in the wake of the ban by the Ferengi Commerce Authority. "I'm up to my lobes in debt," he frets, with no apparent way to maneuver himself out of his predicament.

Enter Gaila (Josh Pais), Quark's cousin who tried to kill him the previous year. Gaila is here not to bury Quark, but to offer him a lifeline: A 5% cut of a string of lucrative arms dealers brokered on behalf of humans arm dealer Hagath (Steven Berkoff). "Weapons is a growth industry," Gaila tells him. "In a month, all your debts will be paid. In six months, the Ferengi Commerce Authority will be begging to reinstate you. In a year, you'll have your own moon!"

Out of desperation, Quark agrees, only to find himself in very treacherous territory. The station personnel shun him in disgust for his career switch, while it quickly becomes apparent that Hagath is not just ruthless, but downright murderous to anyone who crosses him. Quark tries to ease any pangs of conscience by clinging to the notion that he is selling defensive weapons... Until a crazed Regent (Lawrence Tierney) demands bio-weapons, wanting a final body count of about 28 million!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Hagath's connections are such that he can't touch Quark for arms dealing, not so long as the Ferengi avoids breaking any actual station laws. But he makes it clear that this marks a firm end to his former tolerance for the Ferengi's activities. When Quark ultimately does the right thing, Sisko extends his forgiveness - but only at a rather steep price.

Quark: Quark is given everything he supposedly ever wanted. His debts are rapidly repaid, and the very deal that troubles his conscience is the one that will give him the kind of profits he's always dreamed of. All that is required is for him to be the person he's always pretended to be: A grasping, soulless being who cares for nothing but profit. Instead, he is stung at being shunned by all Federation personnel. The end of Body Parts showed that, though his own people may have cut him off, he was anything but alone. This episode dangles the prospect of ending the FCA ban - but at the cost of isolating him from people he's come to see (whether he admits it or not) as friends. Quark's final choice is predetermined; this isn't a show that's going to turn one of its regulars into a quasi-villain. But the way in which that choice is portrayed feels very true to who Quark is, which is why the episode works as well as it does.

Dax: Acts as the voice of Quark's conscience. Sisko's may be the official rejection, but Dax's disgust is the rejection he truly feels. This fits, as Dax behaved as a friend to Quark from fairly early on. When he decides he cannot live with the Regent's demands, Dax is the person he chooses to visit before he takes action.

O'Brien: In subplot land, he gets a sitcom story involving his baby's refusal to stop crying unless he's holding him every second. It's dispensable fare, but it's painless enough. The situation is one most parents in the audience will be able to relate to, as O'Brien becomes ever more desperate for his son to stop crying. The final scene of the subplot, as Worf reflects on how he never got to see his own son as a baby and how lucky he thinks O'Brien is, represents a nice character scene. Completely unrelated to the "A" plot, but easy to take in spite of that.

Villain of the Week: Steven Berkoff was a "go-to villain" of the 1980's and early '90's. His Hagath isn't at all far removed from his role as Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop: a soft-spoken businessman whose reptilian presence makes him sinister even when he's behaving in a relatively friendly manner. Hagath is shrewd, knowing when to sell to both sides in a conflict, when to sell to the stronger side, and when to sell to the weaker one. He supplied arms to the Bajorans during the Occupation, choosing to make a friend of Bajor as a business calculation." I knew the Cardassians would eventually lose... They underestimated the Bajoran thirst for freedom. I didn't."


THOUGHTS

"Look out there. Millions and millions of stars, millions upon millions of worlds. And right now, half of them are fanatically dedicated to destroying the other half. Now, do you think if one of those twinkling little lights suddenly went out, anybody would notice? Suppose I offered you ten million bars of gold pressed latinum to help turn out one of those lights, would you really tell me to keep my money?"
-Gaila, bluntly laying out the stakes for his cousin Quark.

When I put in a Ferengi episode, I still go in expecting a comedy. By now, I should know not to pre-judge. Last season's Bar Association and Body Parts both offered Quark-centric plots with serious underpinnings, milking decent drama out of episodes that I expected to be mediocre comedies. Business as Usual takes that further, offering an episode that is very clearly not a comedy. This episode puts Quark into a genuinely serious situation, and then cuts off all support from the remaining regulars. He is left entirely to his own devices to extricate himself, one of many excellent choices made by writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle.

One thing I appreciate is that this entire story is a consequence of a previous story. The FCA ban levied against Quark leaves him in a desperate situation. All Ferengi are barred from doing business with him, which cuts deeply into his options. Quark can cross one of his few lines, and deal in weapons sales, or he can lose everything. Little surprise that he makes the choice he does.

I've already discussed Steven Berkoff's Hagath. The other notable guest star is Lawrence Tierney, an actor with a long history of playing crime figures. He's probably best remembered for Reservoir Dogs, though his career stretches back considerably further than that (he also previously guest starred in TNG's The Big Goodbye, playing - you guessed it - a crime boss). The Regent is a very small role, which is likely why Tierney was even up to playing it in the wake of a severe stroke. He only has one major scene. But his presence adds a sense of menace and, yes, insanity that makes Quark's decision to risk his life to sink this deal entirely believable.

Business As Usual is a good episode, one which takes a character often at the center of lighthearted shows and puts him in the middle of a genuinely clever suspense plot. For Alexander Siddig, who directed this episode under his real name (Siddig El-Fadil), it's a strong directorial debut, one which leaves me hoping we'll see more episodes helmed by him in the future.


Overall Rating: 8/10.

Previous Episode: A Simple Investigation
Next Episode: Ties of Blood and Water


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