It wasn’t just the viewers noticing this. Quark does, too. When one of his business stories gets interrupted by the heroic Starfleet personnel returning from a top-secret recon mission into Dominion space, Quark feels about two feet tall. “There’s nothing heroic about earning profit,” Odo reminds him. It’s an interesting example of one culture’s values being entirely out of whack with those of nearly everyone around them. There’s a bit of tragedy there, an alienation from almost every other race in the galaxy.
Quark gets a chance for some redemption when the Grand Nagus contacts him for a special mission. Quark’s own moogie (and the Nagus’s girlfriend) Ishka has been kidnapped by the Dominion. Quark seizes the chance to prove that Ferengi are just as tough as any other race, and, sure, to get a reward of fifty bars of gold-pressed latinum. He sets about recruiting his team, and he does it in my favorite way: by gathering up old guest stars.
He starts in the obvious place: with family. Rom joins up without discussion, because she’s his moogie, too. Nog takes a little more convincing. He’s a Starfleet officer now. Ironically enough, this is why Quark wants him. Nog might be a black sheep, but he knows how to fire a phaser, he understands military tactics, and he has an excellent knowledge of modern technology. Nog isn’t interested until Quark dangles the perfect offer in front of his face: “You can be Strategic Operations Officer.” Nog instantly brightens. “Like Commander Worf?” That Nog should have a certain amount of hero worship for the Klingon makes perfect sense, but it also underlines the cultural inferiority complex that spurred Quark along in the first place.
Next, they recruit Cousin Gaila, who was sleeping off a vagrancy conviction in a Federation jail. Quark’s little adventure in Gaila’s arms dealing venture (in season five’s “Business as Usual”) has managed to financially ruin his moon-owning cousin. Gaila’s itching for some payback, and since he’s Ferengi, it’s literal payback, as in latinum.
Leck will likely be the favorite for most viewers, because we, as a culture, love badass psychopaths. Though the character only had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in “Ferengi Love Songs,” here he’s given a personality and motivation. Leck is an “eliminator.” That is, an assassin. He likes profit, but he really signs up for the chance to kill a few Jem’Hadar.
The final member of the team shows up as Quark and Nog begin the briefing. It’s Brunt, also ruined somewhat from Quark’s actions. Brunt is looking for a way back into the Nagus’s good graces, and rescuing his girlfriend is a great way to do it. Brunt is also the only one of them who owns a ship, resolving one of the first major concerns of the group. And the team is absolutely wonderful. Despite all being members of what could be seen as a one-note race, they’re all very distinctive characters. It’s obvious in every frame that the actors are having an absolute blast.
When the simulations of springing Ishka from a Dominion prison camp go pretty much how you’d expect, Quark comes to a realization: he’s not playing to his strengths. I’ve talked a lot about how the Ferengi often embody the positives of capitalism, namely supplying two different sides with something they want. This is what Quark is going to do. Why go in shooting when he can go in negotiating? No one dies and everyone walks away richer.
The first step is getting something to trade. Kira pays Quark back for the jailbreak (in “Sacrifice of Angels”) by personally petitioning Sisko and Starfleet for Keevan, the Vorta PoW captured in “Rocks and Shoals.” The second is a place for the exchange, and they select Empok Nor. Why? Nog points out that he’s been there before (in season five’s “Empok Nor”), and the layout is familiar to anyone who has been to Deep Space Nine -- home field advantage for the Ferengi. Yeah, this entire episode is a continuity junkie’s fantasy. The continuity nods are done entirely organically. They make logical sense and appear in service to the story rather than the other way around. It’s continuity done right.
When the Dominion arrives in force, Quark manages to negotiate them down to only one Vorta and a bodyguard of two Jem’Hadar. Incidentally, the Vorta is played by certified legend Iggy Pop, giving one of his trademark bizarre performances. He’s at turns irritated and baffled by the Ferengi, even dropping a tiny bit of foreshadowing in an irked aside with, “I thought the Breen were annoying.”
For as much as the Ferengi want to be ruthless badasses, they are Ferengi. So, when Rom accidentally lets slip the real reward amount (Quark had been telling his team the reward was twenty bars because of course he was.), things turn violent. Gaila manages to kill Keevan in the fray, suddenly trapping the Ferengi in an impossible situation. Or it would be, if Nog hadn’t rented Weekend at Bernies 2 the night before. He manages to jury rig a system of electrical charges that will force Keevan’s corpse to walk around. The prisoner exchange can go on as expected.
Except not, because it’s painfully obvious something’s wrong with Keevan. Especially when he won’t stop running into bulkheads. The same bulkheads. Quark wisely realized this wasn’t going to go as planned and executes a perfect ambush, killing both Jem’Hadar and capturing the Vorta. “Starfleet gave us a Vorta, we give them one back,” Quark reasons.
The real button on the episode, though, is the newfound respect Quark has achieved both from his comrades and for himself. Rom asks Quark what it feels like to be a hero. “You tell me,” he says. Look, if that doesn’t warm your vacuum-cooled heart just a little, I don’t know what to tell you. This is probably my favorite Ferengi episode in the entire series, as it connects well to the overarching plot, allows a bunch of fun actors to run amok, and brings back some of my favorite guest stars. It’s a great blend of comedy and action that also holds onto deeper motivations in some beloved characters.
And, c’mon, Iggy Pop.
Next up: Dukat loses the rest of his marbles.