Star Trek never got very far out with its medical alteration of the humanoid form. When they did, it was usually mined for horror, such as with TNG’s signature antagonists, the Borg. This was probably done at least partly for budgetary reasons, but the most you ever saw was Picard’s artificial heart and Nog’s (spoiler) prosthetic leg. Dr. Bashir never showed up with half his skull replaced by a portable CAT scanner. Let’s be honest, it would have messed with his racquetball game.
Star Trek was always more comfortable with positing this changing relationship through the lens of an alien species. Human culture was frozen in the Roddenberry idea of utopia (and to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), and any differing ideas would be from other cultures. This renders the Federation recognizable to the modern viewer, though its realism likely varies widely and is probably at least somewhat connected to one’s political outlook.
The two plots this week are both about how bodies can be changed, used, and altered. In the future, the body is a tool, and here Star Trek acknowledges that unavoidable and alienating fact, with Kira and Quark.
The Kira plot is a bit of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prepare for the unavoidable. Nana Visitor had become pregnant by Alexander Siddig. The two would marry in 1997, and the kid’s name is, no kidding, Django. His godfather is Andrew “Garak” Robinson, making me even more jealous. Some people get all the luck. With Visitor pregnant, the writing staff had three choices. 1. Have Shakaar knock her up. 2. Shoot her from the chest up for about a year. 3. Get creative.
The Shakaar thing just feels wrong. The two actors didn’t lack chemistry the way she and Bareil did, but Shakaar always worked better when he was more of a legend than a character. Shooting around the pregnancy is a bad thing to do to one of your show’s most reliable action heroes, as well. Ira Behr’s wife was the one who came up with the workaround, thus helping bring home the fact that spouses can be super important and unsung heroes of the creative process. Keiko O’Brien was pregnant in the show, Nana Visitor in real life. It’s like Strangers on a Train -- you criss-cross.
This isn’t even really the plot of the episode. The first time we see Kira and Keiko, the swap has already happened. The rest is just Chief and Keiko getting Kira to move in so they can be with her the whole way. Kira really reacts well to what’s already a pretty crazy intrusion. It does make sense -- she and Chief have been in battles together, he loathes Cardassians as much as she, and he lacks the ego that Bajorans (and others) find distasteful in humans. I think it also has to do with the way her family was taken away bit by bit during the Occupation, making her more willing and able to form new familial bonds on the fly.
The A-plot centers around Quark. After receiving a fatal diagnosis on Ferenginar, Quark needs to get his affairs in order. As is appropriate for the money-obsessed Ferengi, this involves settling his outstanding debts -- at least, those owed to other Ferengi. Since Quark’s credit is less than stellar (No pun intended.), his only recourse is to attempt to sell his body on the futures market. Remember, Ferengi remains are vacuum desiccated, then sold in 52 collectible pucks. While Quark is a former Grand Nagus (for like a day and a half), Rom reasons there might be some interest.
There is, from Quark's nemesis, Brunt. The whole thing was a Brunt setup from jump street. He made sure to get Quark the bad diagnosis, and as soon as the body went on the market, he bought all 52 pucks. The problem is Rule of Acquisition #17: A Contract is a Contract is a Contract. Quark already sold the body and when Brunt refuses a refund and demands his merchandise, Quark has nowhere left to turn.
There is a pretty easy solution for a human to see, but we generally view selling our dried corpses, in collectible pucks or not, as being ghoulish. Quark, however, is facing two things. First, the practical: If he goes through with it, he will be shunned from his culture. No Ferengi will be allowed to deal with him, which means his avenue to profit got a lot more twisty. Second, the spiritual: These are the rules he’s based his life on. If he breaks them now, he’s essentially admitting to himself that they are not what he thought they were. It puts his entire life in doubt. This is the kind of reasoning that keeps people in cults, and here it looks to cause Quark to either die or break the precepts he has spent his life upholding.
Which is Brunt’s entire motivation. Brunt sees Quark as a festering cancer on Ferengi society. Quark has been part and parcel to a female wearing clothes and acquiring profit, and the successful formation of a union. To Brunt, a Ferengi conservative, this is the departure of thousands of years of beautiful tradition. We learned, back in “Little Green Men,” that Ferengi culture is nearly twice as old as human, but did not advance as quickly, with Quark snitting that “Technological advancement is not nearly as important as short-term quarterly gains.”
Quark chooses life and exile in a nice parallel to the choice his nemesis, Odo, made when offered a similar deal. The end of the episode has his friends, Sisko, Dax, and Bashir, helping him re-open the bar with donations and “chair storage.” There’s no word in Ferengi for “charity,” I imagine, but Quark benefits all the same. Brunt was right, in his way. Quark’s a lousy Ferengi, but he’s getting better at being a person.
Next up: Odo has the grippe.