If a race makes it past their first appearance, their characterization usually gets more nuanced. You have to establish the race’s hat before you can show one wearing it in an unusual way. Imagine how confusing it would have been if the very second Klingon we met had been a pacifist. Now, you could make that work because we’ve known Klingons for so long that an atypical Klingon makes a lot of sense. DS9 explored this with the Klingon lawyer in the fourth season episode “Rules of Engagement.” By defining Klingon values in the arena of the courtroom, the writers made a Klingon lawyer not just acceptable, but downright inevitable.
I can already hear the hardcore Trekkers howling. They will (correctly) point out that Klingons were a hell of a lot different when they first appeared, only taking on their modern mien in the films. This is a big part of the evolution of most Trek races. Because the franchise spans such a long period of time, so many different formats from film to RPGs, and has enough writers to comfortably fill out a cruise ship, you’re not looking at a pre-planned universe. Go ahead and watch TNG’s “The Wounded” for the first appearance of the Cardassians and get a load of the weird, fu manchu bro-thing Marc Alaimo has on his face.
Ferengi are no different. When they debuted on TNG, they were intended as the show’s Klingons. Roddenberry wanted to make short actors menacing, which is an interesting (if failed) experiment, and also wanted to critique the prevailing greed of the decade (“The Last Outpost,” the first episode featuring Ferengi, aired in 1987). For a number of reasons, the Ferengi didn’t work as antagonists. You can go back and watch that episode if you want, but even Armin Shimerman, who played one of those Ferengi, characterizes his own performance as “bad, bad acting.”
DS9 tended to use Ferengi as comic relief, though there was always a delicate balancing act. This week’s episode, “Ferengi Love Songs,” is the most outright cartoonish the Ferengi ever get on DS9. I’m not pulling that word out of a hat, either. Both the writers in the form of Ira Steven Behr, and the director Rene Auberjonois, referred to the Ferengi as cartoons. Behr meant it as an insult, Auberjonois as a compliment. Me, I like this episode mostly because characters have the bizarre habit of popping out of Quark’s closet.
Quark is still down in the dumps ever since Brunt tricked him into breaking a contract in last season’s “Body Parts” and stripping him of his Ferengi business license. A vole infestation sends him scurrying home to the perpetual rainstorms of Ferenginar and the arms of his moogie. She’s been recast (Andrea Martin hated the prosthetics, so Cecily Adams took over and does a great job.), but it’s the same old Ishka. She’s not earning profit, but she is wearing clothes around the house, and she is still defiantly feminist. She also has a bit of a secret: she’s seeing the Grand Nagus romantically, something Quark discovers when he finds Zek and Maihar’du hiding in his closet.
Liquidator Brunt of the FCA is less than pleased (and later found in Quark’s closet), believing that Ishka will infect Zek with her radical feminist ideals. You know, of allowing Ferengi women to wear clothes and acquire profit. He enlists Quark to do his dirty work, promising a valid business license in exchange for breaking the lovebirds up. Quark pulls it off in record time, telling Zek that Ishka is a manipulative female out to rule from behind the throne, and the only surprising thing is that Brunt actually lives up to his end of the deal. The Nagus is so grateful for saving Quark from his mother and makes Quark his First Clerk. That’s when Quark learns that Zek’s mind is going, and Ishka was essentially running, or helping run, the booming Ferengi economy. This was Brunt’s plan all along: expose the Nagus as a fraud, oust him, and seize power.
The plot is resolved almost perversely quickly, with Zek nailing a test put on by the FCA. Somehow, Ishka fed him answers through Quark. We’re never privy to the planning stage or the test itself, making the resolution a bit of a handwave. While this might upset some viewers, it does fine with me since the story is fundamentally about love, so the real struggle is whether or not Zek and Ishka will end up together. They do, and Quark gets to return home with a valid license.
The main story is nicely counterbalanced by Rom’s difficulties with Leeta. The two of them are getting married, and Rom has happily embraced Bajoran culture because it’s important to his bride. Leeta, however, hasn’t done the same, and can you really blame her? This might not be a problem if not for two things. Dax innocently remarks that Rom is an atypical Ferengi, and Rom already was taken advantage of by Nog’s mother. This leads to a short-lived breakup, with the main crew serving as cupids for the estranged lovers. The best moment is Leeta unloading on Kira who calmly refutes every last complaint. It’s fun watching two Bajoran woman, who could not be more different, hanging out like this. It shows the versatility of the Bajoran race who have come a long way from their original hat as mere trauma-wracked survivors.
The love stories in the title refer not to any of the main characters, but to two minor characters. This showcases just how deep the cast of DS9 has gotten, that we not only accept a show about the love lives of Quark’s mom and brother, but they turn out to be an unexpected treat.
Next up: Martok gets his groove back.