Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 4: Little Green Men

Deep Space Nine, Season 4
"Little Green Men"
Airdate: November 15, 1995
78 of 173 produced
78 of 173 aired

Introduction

Quark has finally gotten the ship his cousin Gaila owed him and has decided its maiden voyage should be taking Nog to Starfleet Academy. What could possibly go wrong? (Spoiler alert: Lots.)

On closer inspection, these ears are clearly FAKE!

Writing

Kevin: So, this is a comedy episode, and I think it is a successful one. It works on two levels. First, the comedy is funny. The closest we get to over the top is the head slapping scene, which I still think is pretty good. Beyond that, all the humor lands, and no one has to be stupid or break character to do it, which brings me to the other reason the episode works, character. The story is driven by Quark's response to the events, and his response is entirely keeping with his established character. Rather than hand-wringing about the timeline, he's gung ho for putting himself at the top of a newly formed Ferengi Empire. Likewise, most of the humor flows from previously established dynamics amongst the Ferengi characters, so nothing really felt forced or stupid or both.

Matthew: Comedy episodes in Trek have to do a few things not to suck. Firstly, the humor has to be intentional. Check. Second, as you say, it has to leave the characters respectable and admirable. Check. The third aspect is the trickiest if you ask me. It has to really be a comedy break for a given series, not taking itself too seriously. This episode treads the line and almost goes over the edge, when it starts sermonizing about cigarettes and atom bombs. These were pretty easy targets by 1995, and so neither the humor nor the sermons were very fresh or interesting. Thankfully, however, they are not terribly integral to the plot and were quite brief. So all in all, the jokes worked and did not violate any of these three tenets of good Trek comedy. I disagree on the head slapping, though. I don't think humans were ever that stupid. Why would smacking your head make a universal translator work, anyway?

Kevin: I also like this particular time travel story. I think it succeeds because it avoids the drama of timeline preservation that tend to drive other tales. Rather than worrying about stepping on butterflies or making sure Marty's parents fall in love, we can focus the story on characters we know and are interested in. The other major element of the story that just sings is the practical love letter to mid-century science fiction movies. The guest characters are tropes not due to lazy writing, but because of the conscious homage to the genre. The naive professor, the empathic nurse, the tough-as-nails general, they are all there. Adding in set design and costumes, which we will discuss below, and you get, much like Big Goodbye or Necessary Evil, a lovely field trip to another genre. The set up even solves the contrived nature and solution to the time travel puzzle, since it too feels part and parcel of the modus operandi of these types of movies.

Matthew: This is the most enjoyable aspect of the show for me, as an aficionado of stuff like "The Day The Earth Stood Still," The Twilight Zone, and other classics of the genre. What usually marks the best genre experiments in Star Trek is that the alternate story is good enough to work on its own, stripped of Trek elements. And I think it is. I liked those characters, and I wanted to see them interact with Quark and Company. This is also where I think the treatment of the main characters worked the best. Like you say, it is fresh and interesting to have time travelers who just want to profit from their experience. Time travel tropes have been worn pretty threadbare by this time in Trek (especially by DS9's own "Past Tense"), and this angle actually makes it worth watching.

Kevin: I do have complaints. The shock at tobacco and atom bombs is a little unbelievable from Quark. His life is selling addictive pleasures to people. They may be less uniformly dangerous than smoking, but he can't be stunned people use it. I did like that everyone was portrayed as smoking like chimneys. Like Mad Men, it is appropriate for the time. Even the gesture of lighting two and giving his girlfriend one, in context, is a very sweet gesture. The writers in commentary, have acknowledged leaning too hard on such an easy critique of the the twentieth century, but at least it's only two minutes of the episode, not forty, like the much less successful "Past Tense." Also, Odo's presence was a fun twist for a moment, but he was really just there to make sure there was a reason for Quark to go back, so it's narratively a bit of a let down.

Matthew: Most of my logic issues were ameliorated by the plot being intentionally tongue in cheek, and not resting any serious story weight on the events depicted. My only overall thematic problem is the idea that the Ferengi, who were intended to be a lampoon of the aggressive capitalist mindset of the late-20th century USA, end up thinking those crazy humans are just nuts. I just don't think that's a very interesting point to make any more. I think the episode would have been more interesting had the Ferengi characters learned something about themselves in their journey.

Acting

Kevin: No shocker, but Shimerman was great as always. He really does a superb job of infusing Quark's deviousness with a point of view. He's not evil or vicious, just greedy, and when Quark talks about it, you can understand it as a point of view for him and his people. Grodenchik and Eisenberg turn in good performances as well. The comedy in oo-mox scenes, and the different tactics in the interrogation scene were all really funny.

Matthew: At the end of the day, and the series, I think it will turn out that Shimerman's was the deepest, most interesting performance among the main cast. This episode shows us many of the reasons why. His face and his eyes just express so much of interest to an astute viewer. I paid a lot of attention to Quark's eyes in this episode. Shimerman's Quark is always seeking an angle, but he is also deeply intelligent, and he is absorbing ideas and extracting wisdom (at least Ferengi wisdom, anyway) from the things he's involved in.

Kevin: The stars of this show for me were the guest actors who all nailed the tropes they were playing. Meghan Gallagher just looked to the part down to a T. Charles Napier played Adam in TOS' "The Way to Eden," so it's extra fun to see him playing such a Herbert now. Like I said above, they were tropes, but they were homages, not cheap copies. Especially important for guest characters, I actually found myself caring about them and their relationship.

Matthew: Meghan Gallagher should have been a regular, or at least a semi-regular. She seems like a perfectly adaptable actress who can imbue her character with inner life.  And she's pretty and charming and I just love her hair in this episode. I'm straight, I swear. Agreed on Napier, I was wishing there had been one little wink to Adam, but I assume the script was written before it was cast. James MacDonald was also very good as the aggressive, bigoted soldier.

Production Values

Kevin: These were solid effects overall. The interior of the Ferengi ship was fun, though a few of the shots had slightly off lighting, like when Dog/Odo has his hands on Quark's shoulders or when the ship breaks through the roof. They aren't bad, they just aren't great either.

Matthew:  A lot of the ship shots seemed like re-uses to me, and they were only passable, but the interiors looked nice. The kemocite effect was pretty average, too.

Kevin: The highlight production-wise was the 1940s set pieces. The uniforms and doodads all over the place looked great. I am reasonably certain that the map in the interrogation room had no inset for Alaska or Hawaii, and that was a nice touch. Star Trek rarely falls flat in a period piece and they don't do so here, and it certainly helps my enjoyment of the episode.

Matthew: As an admitted fan of pieces from this period, the period details felt right to me. They weren't exorbitant, but little things like period medical supplies, table fans, and desk lamps really sold the look. The costumes were lovely all around.

Conclusion

Kevin: I am going with a 4. This episode always cracks me up, and I really enjoy watching Quark play cavalierly with the timeline where Starfleet crews are cautious to a fault. We mention this in the podcast, but part of what works here is that only Quark and the others could be here and tell this story. In "Past Tense," you could have subbed Dax and Bashir for anyone else on the Defiant and the story pretty much plays out the way it did. Quark and his character and worldview actually drive the story in the past, so that puts the story on firmer ground. Add on the genuinely funny comedy and the loving tribute to sci-fi movies of a bygone era, and I think you get above the fat part of the bell curve.

Matthew:  This wasn't a great time travel story, and it wasn't a great revelation of character ("The City on The Edge of Forever" hit both of these marks, and was a well-deserved 5 as a result). But it wasn't bad at those things, and it was quite effective comedy. I think it is entertaining at an above-average level. As such I agree with the 4 for a total of 8.

Podcast


2 comments:

  1. I had never seen this episode before. I agree this is a really fun episode. I of course was wondering how just one person with a universal translator works for everyone but alas it is not worth worrying about. Matthew I agree though about the time issue. I wonder where they were sleeping and bathing cause that might have been a smelly ship after a while. Also where did Odo put his pail?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I dont think showing Quark is surprised that humans do tobacco and atom bombs was out of character. I think the point is that Quark is surprised that the hyumans he's gotten to know as these upright, moral people had such a sordid, fucked up past. Quark is not not believing it because he cant imagine _people_ doing this kind of stuff, he is "not believing it" because he cant imagine HUMANS would.

    He is almost gloating. Like "ha ha, I knew it. Deep down you are just like the rest of us. Take away their creature comforts and they are just as primitive as the next guy.

    Anyway, I love episodes that take Trek characters back in time and plant them into non Trek world every day scenarios and how they have to then learn to adjust so as to not stand out and the clash of te past and the future. They are always fun and fascinating for me and this one was no different.

    The things Quakr says are comedic gold like "there is something about this female that bothers me. She is so....cheerful," or "if they buy poison they buy everything."

    I read once a Trek writer (Behr I think) commenting on how the Ferengi are the most human characters in the Trek universe because they are just so much more real; they sort of present the humans of the 21st century, the ones the viewer can identify with. Sisko and Kirk and all, they are the future humans, they live in Paradise and it is easy to be a saint in paradise. But the Ferengi, they are kind of like us humans today.

    That is why Quark says that these are finally the kind of humans he can understand: crude, gullible and greedy. Like him. He even admits it.

    So transplanting a Ferengi in the form of Quark into his element, so to speak (which is Earth in the 20th and 21st century) was brilliant and really a perfect set up for the comedy to follow.

    I mean obviously the Ferengi are exaggerated with the amount of greed they exhibit. They are the uber capitalist pigs. I personally always thought they reflect Republican ideology of greed and predatory capitalism, including a complete lack of empathy for anyone but the wealthy, pretty accurately wondered if the writers maybe had Reagonomics in mind when writing Ferengi society. I mean "The Vault of Eternal Destitution" where the poor go after death? Bidding for your new life? Selling your remains to pay off your debt after you die...? Come on. That is like every Republican's wet dreams come true - amplified.

    I swear all of the things I hear Quark spew about the Rules of Acquisition and unions and all, are the kind of shit you hear from Republicans and Tea baggers. It is their ideology. So whether intended or not, I love that Star Trek created an entire species based on the Republican credo - though the Ferengi are comical, not evil.

    ReplyDelete