The most subtle and yet stunning point made in all of the Star Trek spinoffs is displayed by the fact that a villain of a previous series gets cast as a regular. TNG featured a Klingon, Voyager had a Borg, and of course DS9 had a whole extended family of Ferengi. It makes the point that the Federation turns enemies into allies, the terrifying other into trusted friends. While the Ferengi never really worked as convincing foes the way the Klingons and the Borg did, they found a second life on DS9.
The irony is, by this point, the Ferengi were no longer the other. They were us. The name derives from an Arabic and Persian word that likely came from “Frankish,” and meant, broadly foreigner. Or, more specifically, the kind of foreigner that comes from the north. You know, Europeans. It’s a fitting name for the Ferengi, who are foreigners to the Federation, yet their belief in a Randian utopia makes them completely recognizable to modern Americans. If you dropped a Ferengi onto Wall Street any time in the last fifty years, the general reaction would be something along the lines of, “That Broink guy’s got funny ears, but he knows his way around a leveraged buyout.” A movie about it would be a fish-in-water comedy.
As guiding Randian principles like volatile markets, a non-existent social safety net, an absence of available healthcare for the majority, a lack of concern for the poor, a general contempt for women, and the self-evident virtue of hoarding vast sums of wealth have entirely taken one half of the political divide and seem to have a sizeable lease on a chunk of the other, the Ferengi are even more recognizable to a modern viewer. When a Ferengi starts talking, it might as well be Paul Ryan. Their political stances are identical.
The Ferengi, though, have been moving steadily away from the modern Republican ideal. Quark notes with disgust that it’s even happening to him – he was honestly considering not making his waitstaff kick a percentage of their tips back! That root beer conversation with Garak grows ever more relevant for both of their characters by the episode and is an excellent demonstration why there is already a Ferengi in Starfleet and will likely be a Cardassian in the next generation. This change has been the direct result of Ishka, Quark and Rom’s mother, and her relationship with the Grand Nagus. Ishka is probably one of the most important people in Ferengi history (something that would drive the misogynistic Ferengi absolutely insane) and has used her influence to push through a series of socialistic reforms into the Ferengi Alliance. You know, things like income tax (which Quark learns of only after Brunt asks for a receipt on a bribe – those are tax deductible), a social safety net, and healthcare. And no, this episode wasn’t written yesterday about what’s going on right now.
This hour wraps up the stories of the Ferengi cast. They’ve never been the most integrated of characters, with Nog, of all people, becoming the most important to the rest of the main characters. It’s always fun to have one character in a workplace show that is only tangentially related to the workplace, but it becomes a stretch to involve them in plots. Quark’s been entirely absent from large swaths of the finale (filming Principal Snyder’s death on Buffy), and his absence hasn’t really been noticeable. Quark has always had his own life and operated at lower stakes. While Sisko and company saved the Alpha Quadrant, Quark was just trying to make a buck, woo a Klingon widow, or break up his mom’s new romance. Ferengi episodes were vital to stave off the dark, but they weren’t advancing the plot in big ways.
The first Ferengi episode was season one’s “The Nagus,” and the writers filled this one with callbacks to it. In fact, the entire episode could be seen as a love letter to older moments, as they get repurposed from Starfleet drama into Ferengi comedy. In that episode, Grand Nagus Zek briefly (falsely) retires and names Quark Nagus in order to root out a plot against his life. In this episode, over a heavily garbled transmission, he names Quark the new Nagus. As Quark looks into his new position, he discovers, to his dismay, that the Alliance is beset with socialism! If something isn’t done, it may turn into a post-scarcity utopia, and no capitalist will have that. Quark bemoans that things like institutionalized sexual harassment will be going away and finishes up with Picard’s “this far and no further!” speech from First Contact. For Quark, this really is like the Borg assimilating his people.
Turns out, no, the Nagus wasn’t talking to Quark. He was talking to Rom. For this new, “kinder and gentler” Ferengi Alliance (That’s how you know it was written in the ‘90s.), they need a new kind of Nagus. It’s perfectly foreshadowed in that previous scene where he complains about all the predatory parts of perfect Randian capitalism that are going away. Rom quietly points out that non-sexually harassed workers tend to be more productive, and that a lack of volatility in markets helps everyone rather than just the ultra-wealthy, but in true conservative form, Quark isn’t listening. He’s too frightened of the world he knew going away.
For Garak and Damar, that world is already gone. Their Cardassia vanished the instant Dukat made his selfish and short-sighted deal. A deal, I might add, he no longer has to worry about. The Resistance travels to Cardassia Prime in hopes of obtaining a vast infusion of new recruits, but it was a trap. Only the important people make it out alive, with Kira, Garak, and Damar beaming down in time to witness the Jem’Hadar massacring a Cardassian order while a Breen ship destroys the captured Jem’Hadar fighter that brought our heroes to Cardassia Prime. They flee to the capital, where Garak is able to put them up in the basement of the house he grew up in. “Isn’t this Enabran Tain’s house?” Damar asks. And yes, it totally is. And the woman hiding them, Mila, Tain’s elderly housekeeper, is heavily implied to be Garak’s mom. In the family obsessed Cardassian culture, an illegitimate son could never be acknowledged.
It’s a pretty stunning defeat for the Resistance. One day they were doing real damage to the Dominion, and the next they’re hiding in a cellar, watching Weyoun announce a series of Dominion victories over the Resistance. Damar, Garak, and Kira are ready to throw in the towel, when Mila informs them that Damar is still whispered about on the street. People believe he’s in hiding in some secret mountain fortress and will return. Kira realizes that, without even trying, they accidentally turned Damar into a legend. And now, they have the chance to turn the Resistance into a revolution.
To that end, they strike the closest Jem’Hadar barracks with a bomb. Damar plays his part to the hilt, first grandstanding against the Jem’Hadar, then tackling a few Cardassian civilians when the bomb goes off, then launching into a stirring speech. To his credit, he believes every word. He might not believe in himself (his best quality, and the one that implies he is most fit to rule), but he does believe in the cause. Kira watches the whole thing swathed in a cloak, an ironic grin playing at her features.
Meanwhile, the show needs to put a few pieces in place for the grand finale. They wrap up the Ezri/Bashir romance with a few mildly cute scenes. I like both performers and have come around on the characters, but this still feels wrong. In any case, it’s done.
More importantly, the crew gets a new ship. It looks exactly like the last one, and they’re even allowed to rename it, from Sao Paolo to Defiant. While it’s a weird decision to destroy the Defiant in part 4 of the finale only to replace in part 8, I get the reasoning. They established the Breen threat with the destruction, and the defining ship of the series needed to be involved in the final space battles. Trust me, it’s good to see the Defiant wrecking shop in that last episode.
In addition, the Federation and the Romulans have both found a way around the Breen weapon. This explains why the Breen didn’t erupt out sooner. The advantage provided by their weapon only buys you so much time against Starfleet engineers (“who can turn rocks into replicators” Kivan the Vorta once said), and without the Dominion fleets to capitalize, it wouldn’t have ended well for the Breen. The Dominion has decided to pull back into Cardassian space, shortening their lines, thickening their defenses, and taking the time to build more ships and clone more Jem’Hadar.
Sisko sees the problem right away. They need to attack now. I like that the show barely even has the characters debate. The Romulan hesitates a bit longer than Admiral Ross, but he’s in, as well. The Dominion needs to be defeated now. And for a series that became increasingly defined by its show-stopping space battles, this promises to be a fitting capper.
Sisko then returns to his quarters to receive an unexpected announcement from Kasidy: She’s pregnant. He’s stunned but overjoyed. Kasidy is concerned about the Prophets, but Sisko’s faith in them is reflexive. This is a long journey for him, but one we’ve watched every step of the way. Sisko’s journey to faith is so organic that you barely see it happening. And when he says the Prophets wouldn’t allow anything to happen to the baby, the audience knows he’s right.
And he is. The Prophets have other things in mind.
Next up: The end.