Monday, May 25, 2015

6-23. Profit and Lace.

Quark as a Ferengi female...
Some things you just can't unsee.


Quark is surprised at the arrival to the station of his mother, Ishka (Cecily Adams) and the Grand Nagus, Zek (Wallace Shawn). He's even more surprised when they tell him Zek has been deposed. At Ishka's prodding, he decided to revoke the Ferengi ban on women wearing clothing, thus allowing them full access to Ferengi society. The response was panic throughout the Ferengi Alliance, which has turned for deliverance to Zek's rival, the loathsome Brunt (Jeffrey Combs).

Zek and Ishka have a plan. They will contact every member of the Ferengi Commerce Authority, counting on gratitude for past aid to make them throw their support behind Zek. There's only one flaw: Ferengi society isn't built around gratitude, and most of the dignitaries hang up as soon as Zek's name is mentioned.

One influential member does agree to come meet with them, however: Nilva (Henry Gibson), founder of Sluggo Cola. His voice and profit margin are such that his support alone will be enough to return Zek to the throne. They are certain that a meeting with Ishka will convince Nilva of the wisdom of letting females into society. But before Nilva can arrive, Ishka gets into an argument with Quark - which ends in a heart attack, leaving her alive but in no fit state to meet anyone.

Which leads them to Plan B: If they don't have a brilliant Ferengi female to meet with Nilva, they will make one... Out of Quark!


Capt. Sisko: Just one episode ago, we saw Sisko trying to enlist Zek's help against the Dominion, yet here he doesn't even appear to notice that both Zek and his rival have arrived on the station. One can imagine an alternative, smarter version of the episode in which Sisko makes the pragmatic choice to try to win the support of Brunt, the apparent new Nagus, forced to ally with this loathsome toad in his scheming against Quark and Zek - Sort of a comedy counterpoint to In the Pale Moonlight. As it stands, Sisko is limited to a single scene in which he does nothing of interest.

Quark: As with all Quark-centric episodes, Armin Shimerman's performance is the greatest asset. The moment in which he stands up the gloating Brunt, kicking him out of his bar with the only effective repetition of the episode's "acting Nagus" gag, sees him genuinely heroic... Just before he disappears into his quarters to lie in the fetal position. He trades venomous barbs with his mother, whose feminism he blames for Zek's downfall and his likely impending ruin - but when she collapses under the weight of his anger, he is horrified (though equally eager to hide his own culpability).

Brunt: Jeffrey Combs is deliciously malignant as Brunt, and one of the few genuinely good things about Profit and Lace is that it returns Brunt to his former status as a proper adversary. Watching Brunt swan around with the Nagus' stick in hand, gloating to his enemies as he plots their future ruin, it's obvious that the worst possible man has been put in charge of Ferengi society.

Grand Nagus: At least Zek isn't quite as pathetic here as he was in Ferengi Love Songs. Ishka may be the centerpiece of the plot to restore his position, but he's an active part of the plotting and scheming, rather than just a muddle-brained figurehead. I could have lived without the scenes of him leering at Leeta and, later, at Quark-as-a-woman, and anything that ever worked about this character has long since drained away... But he's easier to take here than in his last appearance.


As can probably be seen by this point, I do not in any way agree that Profit and Lace is the "worst episode ever" of Deep Space 9. It's not good, and more gags miss than hit. But it does offer a couple good performances, particularly by Shimerman and Combs, and at least reps an improvement over the previous Zek/Ishka horror, Ferengi Love Songs.

If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement... Well, it isn't. But I've only liked a couple of episodes featuring Zek, and I haven't like any in which Ishka had more than a cameo. So when I say I found this episode to be reasonably watchable... Well, let's say that was enough in itself to exceed my expectations.

The show does open on a particularly bad note. The teaser sees Quark sexually harass a pretty young employee, threatening to fire her if she does not perform Oo-Moxx on him. The scene has nothing to do with the plot, its only payoff an extremely feeble joke at the very end. It's there only to make Quark unlikable enough so that we'll want to see him humiliated - And since this isn't Quark's normal behavior, it feels as wrong for the character as it is uncomfortable to watch.

That scene aside, the first half is passable. The scene in which Quark, Rom, and Nog try to get members of the Ferengi Commerce Authority to come to the station, only to have every contact insult them and hang up, is briskly-edited and quite amusing. Brunt is presented at his most obnoxious, putting us firmly on Zek's side by default, and each scene manages to stack the odds just a little bit higher against Quark & company.

The second half is quite bad. I'm not sure there was much comic mileage out of "Quark in a dress" to start with, and there's not one fresh or original moment. Between Zek hitting on Quark and Nilva chasing Quark around a table in a way that was tired in silent comedies, it becomes borderline embarrassing.

So, yes: I'm definitely giving Profit and Lace a below average rating. Still, given its extraordinarily poor reputation, I was pleasantly surprised. As an hour of Deep Space 9, it's mediocre at best, and "mediocre" is generous - But it isn't torture to watch, and is very far from the the series' worst.

Overall Rating: 3/10.

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