Because DS9 was wildly experimental when it came to genre, it was probably inevitable that it would tackle a light show with deeper meaning. Writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (the numbers 1 and 2 at this point in the show) wanted to tell a difficult story: that of a child estranged from his mother, but they didn’t want to get all mopey with it. The answer, of course, lies with the Ferengi.
Ferengi episodes are the comic relief of DS9, and how much you like them really depends on your tolerance for that sort of thing. Me, I’m a fan. Armin Shimerman is excellent no matter what you put him in, and he and Max Grodénchik have a lived-in chemistry that helps sell their relationship. Throw in greats like Wallace Shawn or SCTV’s Andrea Martin, and I don’t see how you can’t love them.
It’s rare when a title is as perfect as this one. This is an hour about literal family business, figurative family business, and, of course, Ferengi families, which are all about business. It begins with Quark’s bar stuffed with patrons, so I guess people aren’t quite as nervous about the Dominion anymore. The party comes to an end when an officious Ferengi marches in, puts up a sticker, and declares that Quark is getting audited.
This is the introduction of Brunt, Quark’s arch-nemesis, played by one of my favorite actors, Jeffrey Combs. His first appearance was in the series-worst “Meridian,” and later, he will play another reoccurring character in the Vorta Weyoun. That’s just how good Combs is. Brunt works for the FCA, the Ferengi Commerce Authority, as a Liquidator. This basically means that the terrifying secret police for the Ferengi, their equivalent of the Obsidian Order, is the IRS. I will fully admit that this sort of detail I absolutely love -- when something manages to be both ridiculous and make perfect sense.
This entire episode is full of great moments of Ferengi culture, as this is the first time we see Ferenginar, the Ferengi homeworld. For example, one pays an entry fee to enter a Ferengi home, and the traditional greeting is, “My house is my house,” acknowledged with, “As are its contents.” Ferengi pay for everything, from rides in an elevator (Stingy Quark chooses to climb forty flights of stairs instead.), sitting in a waiting room (Quark haggles for a better price.), and even tipping/bribing Brunt for information on what Quark’s being charged with.
That crime is the impetus for Quark and Rom to head back to Ferenginar. It seems that their mother Ishka (Andrea Martin) has been acquiring profit. A whole three bars, and Quark must get her to sign a confession and then repay that as a fine. When he arrives, he sees that it’s worse than he thought. Ishka scandalously wears clothes and even speaks to Brunt. This, it turns out, was a source of shame for young Quark, as he later reminisces about being teased: “Your mother won’t chew your food,” he singsongs, “your mother talks to strangers.”
Ishka is utterly unrepentant (as she should be), and Quark soon learns that it’s a lot more than three bars. Ishka, in the words of Rom (though he calls her Moogie), has the lobes for business. Long-simmering tensions explode. Quark, resentful that Ishka always loved Rom more, speaks for traditional Ferengi values of horrifying sexism. Ishka throws in Quark’s face that she always had the mind for business in the family and his father was a failure. The essential problem is that Quark and Ishka are too alike (while Rom takes after his father), and as is nearly inevitable, people who are alike sort of hate each other a little. Oh, they love each other, but it’s never going to be an easy relationship.
Really, it’s a pretty deep story -- albeit one with a ridiculous brawl, an electric ear cleaner, and a scene where men avert their eyes from a clothed woman. It’s about a relationship between mother and son, irrevocably damaged by the demands of culture. They have to find a way through it simply because no one else in the entire galaxy will understand them as they understand one another. This necessitates a little deception, but that’s the name of the game. As Rule of Acquisition #266 states, “When in doubt, lie.”
Over in the B-plot, Sisko is getting fixed up with that freighter captain Jake mentioned. This is Kasidy Yates, played by Penny Johnson (now Johnson Jerald), who is probably most familiar as Mrs. Palmer on 24. It’s a nice, slow plot, mirroring the first as it’s all about a son’s concern for his surviving parent. While Quark treats his mother with anger and contempt, Jake wants his dad to be happy. Jake’s matchmaking bears fruit, but I’m pretty sure he knew what he was doing. Kasidy, as it turns out, has a brother who is a colonist on Cestus III. If that name sounds familiar, you are a giant nerd like me, and we should hang out more. It’s the planet from the classic episode “Arena,” where Kirk fights the giant lizard man.
Anyway, they’re playing baseball on Cestus III. Since baseball’s been largely extinct outside of the Sisko family for 200 years, this is pretty big news. A date which had been going well, but not great, suddenly turns into an electric connection when Kasidy mentions this. The two of them go off to listen to the game via subspace while Jake happily looks on. Kasidy Yates ends up being a very important character, and I appreciate how gently they’re introducing her to the show.
Whatever you think of Ferengi episodes, don’t completely dismiss them. After all, it’s the biggest truths that make us laugh.
Next up: Kai Winn needs a favor.