Monday, January 26, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: False Profits

Voyager, Season 3
"False Profits
Airdate: September 25, 1996
43 of 168 produced
46 of 168 aired


Voyager happens upon the remnants of a wormhole and then discovers something exqually unusual - two Ferengi dominating a pre-warp society in the Delta Quadrant.

So... why are they clothed again?


Matthew: First and foremost, my impression of this episode is "cool, that's great continuity!" There is just something undeniably satisfying to a nerd in having a relative throwaway from a lesser TNG episode ("The Price," if you're keeping score at home) become the plot driver of an episode of this show, which of course is going to the same quadrant of the galaxy. Add to that the nice sci-fi idea of subverting primitive religion with future technology, and things are off to a good start. Is it executed perfectly? No, and we'll get to that. But I want to applaud the ambition here.

Kevin: I agree with the idea, generally, that picking up a random thread from a TNG episode has a lot of potential to be fun, and since it didn't unnecessarily involve the main cast, it avoids feeling like cashing in on a parent series. I will also agree that at least for the intro parts of the episode, the Ferengi appear competent and greedy as opposed to stupid and greedy which is not entertaining. I will say that once we get on the planet, my interest in the episode wanes. I never find myself caring about these people and their exploitation and the mass of mediocre poetry wasn't exactly setting me on fire.

Matthew: The portrayal of the Ferengi here is actually pretty good. There is certainly a comic relief aspect to the pairing, and they have a good character dynamic between them, but they also represent a relatively serious portrayal of Ferengi ideology. One gets the impression that Arridor and Kol, although certainly taking advantage of the people around them, actually believe the ideology they propound to them, and expect their own takings to increase as the people become more economically sound (thoughts turn to the likes of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but that's a discussion for another day). That said, I have some problems with the way the relationship is portrayed. For one thing, what does the replicator use for fuel? I'm totally on board with matter-energy transference, but from whence comes the energy? Do they mine it? Also, given how miserable these people seem, it would have been nice to see the Ferengi be a bit more political, actually pleasing people some of the time, or using force to quell dissent. I really enjoyed the scene with Arridor subverting Janeway's utilitarian values with regard to destroying their religious faith, but because it lacked that nuance, it rang a tad hollow overall in the story.

Kevin: I have two issues with this episode. First, I don't quite get the motivation for the Ferengi. What could these people provide that their replicator couldn't? Even if there were some unique resource they were monopolizing, they certainly couldn't spend it off-world. I suppose mere worship is enough, but I suppose I don't find that entirely sufficient as an end in itself. If all the Ferengi want is a life of comfort, their technology would provide that. I also have an issue with the slipshod handling of the Prime Directive issues. Choosing to remove the Ferengi via some piece of the extant mythology may be the least immediately disruptive, but it also provides conrete proof for the mythology, and that will have an effect on these people and the potential impact of that is not really discussed. I just rewatched Who Watches the Watchers recently, and I can't help but make comparisons. I think Janeway beaming someone up and giving the same speech Picard gave to Nuria would have been a little on the nose, but I can't help but think that deciding the damage had been done by the Ferengi and treating these people as being able to handle accurate information about what the Ferengi actually were should have at least gotten a discussion. I mean Neelix ends up consciously impersonating a figure from their mythology, some Picard vehemently refused to do for a very good reason. It just feels odd to have a Star Trek episode focus on successfully fooling primitive people rather than being honest with them. Even in an episode like Homeward, they would consider wiping Vorin's memory or telling him the truth, but at no point was the option to attempt to portray the Enterprise as an actual part of Boraalan myth.

Matthew: At the end of the day, the Gilligan ending is rather irritating, but mostly because it requires a stupid security guard yet again. This is not a sin exclusive to Voyager, but it is worse when it's done here because of the premise of the show. I'd rather have had the wormhole disappear entirely, or strand the Ferengi in the Gamma Quadrant, or something. Maybe another Caretaker-style dilemma, like they have to destroy the Ferengi shuttle to prevent them from staying, which will destabilize the wormhole.

Kevin: That is definitely the most annoying part of the episode, especially since you could see it coming from the teaser. There are episodes that will play much better with subverting expectations or making the eventual failure feel more meaningful, but this felt like the worst form of whatever the opposite of deus ex machina is.


Matthew: Dan Shor was really terrific as Arridor, better than his initial appearance in TNG. He was both funny and wily. The way he portrayed his dominance over the Kol character was really nice, too. Leslie Jordan as Kol was fine, and provided good comic relief, but little more. Ethan Phillips reprised his Ferengi role, and did a good job. And he modulated between the two "roles" in the episode well.

Kevin: I agree, especially for Ferengi acting like the worst of the TNG stereotype, they actually managed to give the characters some shading. Shor did a really good job with his scene crowing over his victory. It had the right notes of comic book supervillain.

Matthew: The main Voyager crew members who had big roles were Beltran and McNeill. They actually had a pretty decent chemistry on the planet, with Chakotay appearing moderately annoyed by Paris at any given time. Kate Mulgrew did a nice job in her big scene with Dan Shor, and Janeway's reticence to take Arridor and Kol from the planet was believable as a result. Michael Ensign as the "Bard" is one of "those guys." You think you know him from somewhere, possibly (but not really) Monty Python. Anyway, he was funny.

Kevin: I agree overall. The eye patch bit was good for a chuckle.

Production Values

Matthew: As per usual the town was too small, with a dearth of extras. This gave no indication of a greater planet beyond what we saw, which was detrimental to the story. Not even a matte painting? The costumes were pretty good generally, although footwear as usual looked anachronistic (I mention it because it actually figured into the story).

Kevin: We certainly didn't get any awful civilian wear, but nothing really excited me either. I agree that everything felt pretty small and confined. Even a few lines of dialogue could have been a fun way around the problem. Their vault was pretty solidly tacky, much in the vein of what they give Armin Shimerman over on DS9.

Matthew: The wormhole effect was OK from space, but not so good when the Ferengi shuttle enters it, it looked really hokey there. The Okudagram showing it was neat, though. The replicator was too small. The force field effect on the planet was pretty decent, as were the torpedo effects in the atmosphere. 

Kevin: I don't really have anything to add to that. My one quibble was that ship got HUGE in the off-season. It was a small shuttle pod in The Price, and is now a ship apparently bigger than Quark's shuttle that we see in Little Green Men. It's a little thing, but if you're trading on episode continuity, I'm going to look for stuff like that.


Matthew: All told, despite some very fine features, I still have to land on a 3 with this one. The ending was so annoying and the basic flaws of the planet setup detracted from the great continuity and the interesting elements of ancient religion.

Kevin: Overall, this episode doesn't really do anything for me. Once we get past the initial continuity buzz, I find myself never really invested in the story. That being said, the acting alone keeps this out of a 2, and I think my lack of connection is as much personal taste than any specific defect, so I agree with the three for a total of 6.

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