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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S3E3)’

“A brave Ferengi. Who would have thought it possible?”
     — Chancellor Gowron

Memory is the Cliff’s Notes of the brain. I might be dating myself with that reference, but the point stands. It grinds experiences down to the highlights, smoothing out the rough edges (if you’re normal) or sharpening them to a mirror shine (if you’re like me). In many cases, all I have are vague memories of an episode, just enough to write those silly, little “Next Up”s at the ends of these reviews. This week’s episode, “The House of Quark,” stayed with me far better than most. It might be my favorite Ferengi episode in the series (possibly tied with Season 6’s “The Magnificent Ferengi”) for the way it re-contextualizes heroism through the lens of one species playing off another.

Long story short, Quark gets involved in Klingon politics. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I honestly don’t know what to tell you.

How does this happen? After accidentally killing a drunk Klingon in a bar fight, Quark takes it as an opportunity to drum up his business, which has been flagging in the face of the Dominion threat. He starts telling the harrowing tale of a struggle for survival against a Klingon warrior, when the truth is that the inebriated bastard tripped and fell on his own blade. Soon, it becomes more about the respect Quark sees in the eyes of his customers. I’ve talked before about how racism against Ferengi appears to be the only acceptable kind in the 24th Century, and Quark’s finally seeing the other side. Of course, it’s a little messed up that people respect killing more than running a successful business, but there you go. I feel for Quark sometimes. Then, he says something about “females,” and I think he should f–k off forever.

The Klingon Quark killed was Kozak, the wealthy head of a Great House who had fallen on hard times, through a combination of alcoholism, bad investments, and gambling debts. In a move that should not surprise anyone who knows about Klingons, Kozak’s brother D’Ghor shows up and forces Quark to confirm the fake tale, since if Kozak died honorably as a warrior, everything’s cool. If it was an accident, then Quark’s getting the business end of a bat’leth.

Things get even more complex when yet another Klingon shows up, demanding answers. This time it’s Kozak’s widow Grilka. Through the time-honored Klingon tactic of “wave a knife at it until it does what you want,” she susses out that there’s no way Quark beat Kozak in any kind of duel. She quickly shanghais him back to Qo’noS (that’s pronounced Kronos to all the non-Trekkies out there) where she marries him. See, if Kozak died in an accident, then Chancellor Gowron might have allowed Grilka to lead the house. If he died honorably, there’s no special dispensation granted. To make matters worse, D’Ghor is actually the head of a rival house, and most of those debts are owed to him. Grilka was in a tough spot, and her only solution via Klingon culture is to marry the man who killed her husband in honorable combat. Thus, the House of Kozak is gone. Now, it’s the House of Quark.

DS9 balances this A-plot with a similarly themed B-plot. While the Quark-Grilka match is a marriage of convenience, the relationship between Chief O’Brien and Keiko is decidedly inconvenient. With the Dominion threat, there are fewer children on the station, and Keiko closes down the school. Now, she has nothing and essentially is turning into a depressed, ‘50s-era housewife. Chief will not let his beloved Keiko transform into Betty Draper and fumbles through well-meaning, if ultimately patronizing, attempts to make it better. Bashir of all people talks sense to O’Brien, telling him that Keiko is a botanist. She’s not going to be happy until she can be a botanist. With that in mind, O’Brien tells her about a survey into some remote Bajoran mountains that needs a head botanist. It’s six months long, but only three hours away by runabout. I love this solution. Keiko is not a whiny shrew by any stretch of the imagination — she’s an intelligent woman who sacrificed her career and is now finding that it was too much. O’Brien loves her too much to hold her to some asinine deal and works on a solution. It’s not ideal, but solutions seldom are. These two recognize the most important thing: they love one another, and because of that, they will sacrifice, whether it’s six months away or a move to a space station.

Back in the A-plot, Quark becomes frustrated. Why? Grilka treats him like an object. I would have loved some realization from him that this is how he treats women, but that’s a couple seasons (and the worst Ferengi episode) away. He wants to see the ledgers of both Kozak and D’Ghor. She’s disgusted, but lo and behold, Quark instantly finds the answer. Turns out D’Ghor has been manipulating finances to bring Kozak down, and this is his final gambit to seize all of Kozak’s land and assets. Quark presents this to the council, and we’re treated to a bunch of confused and frustrated Klingons trying to follow an in-depth discussion of finance. Eventually, Gowron has had enough and boils it down to terms the Klingons are more comfortable with. A duel.

Quark and Rom (produced by D’Ghor as an 11th-hour witness that the honorable fight against Kozak was a fabrication) decide it’s time to sneak out. Grilka catches them, but she lets them go with a slathering of weary contempt. Quark, being a fundamentally decent guy, instantly starts talking himself into sticking around to help. The downside is that he’ll have to fight D’Ghor, and Quark can’t even win a fight against avarice.

This sets the stage for one of the best scenes in the series. Quark strides into the Klingon council chambers, with an “I am Quark, son of Keldar, and I have come to answer the challenge of D’Ghor, son of . . . whatever.” It’s the perfect counterpoint to his first entry into the great hall, where he opens with a Ferengi grovel (wrists together, fingers curled) and scuttles in with mincing child steps. I had read the Belgariad by the time this episode came out, and believe me, the mention of “Keldar” was a bit of a dog whistle. Even better, Quark says this line with such swagger, you almost think for a moment he’s about to reveal his mad bat’leth skills.

No. He’s a Ferengi, and he will be heroic as a Ferengi. The duel begins and Quark immediately throws his weapon aside and kneels. He tells D’Ghor that this isn’t a fight, it’s an execution. So, he’s not going to let any of the Klingons have any illusions about what’s really going on. D’Ghor will have to kill an unarmed Ferengi half his size, and there will be no honor, no glory, in the act. D’Ghor is cool with it, but Gowron steps in, chastising him for attempting to murder “this pathetic, little man.” Then, they do the Klingon excommunicate thing (arms crossed at the forearms, dramatic turn to show the back), which I’ve always wanted an excuse to do in a formal setting.

Gowron then turns to Quark, and with sincere, if bemused, admiration, delivers the episode’s quote. There is an art to kissing your own characters’ asses (Stracynski is the master of this.), where it has to be both a great compliment from an unlikely source and yet entirely earned. This is nigh perfect.

It gets even better as a grateful Grilka gives Quark a Klingon divorce (a swift backhand, some shouted Klingon, and a loogie) but then hauls him up for a real kiss. “Qapla’” she says to him with Klingon gravitas. And, in his best swaggery, ‘40s matinee idol voice, he gives her a “’Qapla’ to you too.”

Look, if I could marry this scene, I would. And, I would figure out a way to make it work, even if it wanted to be a botanist on a fictional planet.

Quark got the respect he wanted, but he came about it through his own deeds. Turns out he didn’t even have to kill anyone. He just had to haul a massive set of balls into the Klingon council and try not to trip on them.

Next up: The Dax symbiont has some skeletons in its closet. Literal ones.




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