“That’s the thing about love. No one really understands it, do they?”
Fanfic is the great engine driving all fictional writing. Stop laughing, I’m serious. Well, sort of. For one thing, fanfic is older than you think it is. Did you think the Holy Grail was originally part of the pagan Celtic myth that became known as the King Arthur stories? Do you think Homer intended that Aeneas be the founder of Rome? Did you think Alan Moore actually invented any of the characters he has written about for the last several decades? And, just to be clear, I’m not exempting myself from this. Would Undead On Arrival exist without the noir classic Dead On Arrival? (Answer: no. No, it would not.) Much of writing is taking a story you love, then bending it to accommodate the characters or ideas you always thought it should have. I’ve said it before, but sometimes Spock has to be a werewolf.
This week’s episode, “Profit and Loss,” is a riff on the classic Casablanca, a.k.a. that “Play it again, Sam” (never actually said in the movie) movie. This time, instead of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, we have a Ferengi and a Cardassian. Yep, it’s Quark who is caught at the center of (literally) star-crossed love, proving perhaps the episode’s strangest moment: someone actually had sex with Quark. It’s been part of the Ferengi conception from the beginning, that they were hardcore xenophiles, but they’re also one of the uglier races out there. And, it’s not like I’m being too human-centric in my viewpoint. Quark is consistently described as a troll, even by people who supposedly like him. Long story short, you get to see a Ferengi kiss a Cardassian, and it’s . . . it’s a little weird.
The episode just starts without preamble, a narrative efficiency I’ve grown to admire. A heavily damaged Cardassian ship limps toward DS9, refusing all hails, but in desperate need of repairs. When our heroes tractor her in, three Cardassians get out, and they’re all civilians, two women, one man. The women are wearing makeup, both where you’d expect, but also with blue on the spoons (the depression on the center of the forehead, also why the racist term for them is “spoonheads”), and on the first couple scales of the neck. Makeup is intended to mimic the byproduct of arousal: colors on the eyelids suggest wide open eyes, rouge on the cheeks says a flushed complexion, and red on the lips . . . well, I shouldn’t have to explain that one. So, when Cardassian women are aroused, the spoons turn blue. That’s . . . that’s something, right? It’s times like this I really hate my stupid sponge-brain’s need to soak up useless facts.
These three Cardassians turn out to be part of the Cardassian Dissident Movement. This is just DS9 adding more nuance to its current bad guys. The leader, Natima Lang, is a professor and former journalist. Her students, Hogue and Rekelen (the latter is played by Heidi Swedberg, most famous to me as George’s ill-fated fiancee Susan on Seinfeld) are two leaders of this movement. And, it makes no sense. These two seem to have the charisma of brick walls who are also somehow making creepy sexual overtures. Then again, Hitler’s charisma makes no sense to modern ears, to the point that there is a hypothesis that he mastered an obscure form of German rhetoric that has since fallen out of favor due to, you know, Hitler. So, maybe these two are just super good at obscure Cardassian logic puzzles? Hell, I’d believe it. The Dissident Movement doesn’t believe that the Cardassian military should be in charge anymore. Fighting a military dictatorship is one of the noblest things anyone can do, but it’s not good for longterm survival. Not a lot of retirees amongst that bunch, if you get my meaning.
Natima is Quark’s old flame. They had a falling out when Quark stole one of her access codes to buy a bunch of merchandise on the Cardassian Communication Services. Now, Quark thinks he’ll be able to reunite with the love of his life. That’s the fascinating turn here: Quark is genuinely in love with Natima, and she with him. Much like Casablanca, though, there’s this giant battle with a fascist government brewing. She’s committed to the resistance, while Quark’s only commitment is to profit.
A wrench gets thrown into the words in the form of plain, simply Garak. That’s right, everyone’s favorite tailor is back, and a few more puzzle pieces fall into place about his enigmatic origin. He and Bashir begin the episode arguing about philosophy, and Garak espouses his very Cardassian viewpoint that loyalty to the state is more important than loyalty to anything. This is the skeleton key to understanding Garak’s character over the next five seasons. Keep it in mind and all his actions make perfect sense, even as his alliances shift and the bodies start piling up. The best moment is when Bashir speculates, “Assuming you’re not a spy, then maybe you’re an outcast.” “Or maybe I’m an outcast spy,” Garak says flippantly. While Bashir instantly dismisses it, the hilarious thing is that Garak just told him exactly what he is, albeit in such a way that Bashir would miss the significance. Oh, Garak. Never change.
Garak spots Natima in Quark’s and not too much later, a Cardassian warship comes at DS9, guns hot. While they refuse hails, Garak just appears in Ops suggesting to Commander Sisko that they have a conversation. While Garak continues to deny that he has any formal relationship with the Cardassian Empire, he does relay the request that the prisoners be turned over to them. Sisko dismisses the request, but soon the realities of his position take over. DS9 is a Bajoran station, and when the Cardassians offer to trade some Bajoran prisoners for the Cardassian fugitives (a deal, it is later revealed, was suggested by Garak), the Bajoran Provisional Government agrees.
Unfortunately, the next part of the episode doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Quark goes to Odo to try to talk him into letting the prisoners go. (In a great, little detail, Odo is reading a Mickey Spillane novel loaned to him by Chief O’Brien.) Odo agrees, but points out that he is only doing this for justice. These prisoners will be executed on Cardassia, and nothing in their records say they deserve that. Odo coming to the same conclusion as Quark from a different direction is an undeniably fantastic character moment, yet when he lets the prisoners go, there’s never any blowback. I can’t see how the Bajoran Provisional Government was just cool with this. Or Sisko for that matter. Anyway, Quark’s plan is to use a semi-functional cloaking device he’s acquired to help them slip past the Cardassian blockade.
The episode gets a villainous face with Gul Toran, a Cardassian officer with boundless contempt for Garak, which is returned with Garak’s takedown of Toran’s promotion to Gul. Toran did everything he could to undermine Garak’s prisoner exchange plan, and in dialogue confirms Garak’s status as an exile. He tasks Garak with the new, true plan: execute all three of the fugitives. It looks like Garak is going along with it, when he gets the drop on them at their ship. Toran shows up, and this turns out to be an error in judgment. Quark manages to be eloquent, talking to Garak about the future of Cardassia, and that’s the exact right button to push. Garak murders Toran, and with a glib, “Some people should never be promoted,” waves the fugitives onto their ship. Quark and Natima have to separate — Cardassia is more important than them — and after the ship is gone, Quark and Garak have a short exchange. They both did what they did out of love, Quark for Natima and Garak for the state.
Sadly, neither Quark nor Garak will ever see their true loves again.
Next up: Curzon Dax is awesome.