"Profit and Lace"
Airdate: May 13, 1998
145 of 173 produced
145 of 173 aired
A deposed Grand Nagus Zek arrives on the station to seek help for his political comeback.
Do you see that look on Armin Shimerman's face? That's not acting, folks.
Kevin: This is a bad episode. Worse than that, it comes uncomfortably close to Code of Honor and Angel One territory in terms of its staggering tone-deaf offensiveness. The attempt to do a riff on "Some Like It Hot" and "Tootsie" are obvious. The major distinctions being that "Some Like It Hot" is actually funny and "Tootsie" actually makes a point or two. Here, the gender politics seem beamed up from an episode of "The Honeymooners." I can't believe inside the four walls of the universe that Quark would be explicitly allowed to sexually harass his employees, and breaking the fourth wall, I'm bothered the writers thought that was a funny scene. There's not getting the nuance of the life experience you don't have, and there's treating it with casual disregard. This is the latter to an embarrassing point. The coda of her somehow coming around to the idea only makes it worse.
Matthew: Calling this episode a total mess does a disservice to messes everywhere. What in the Great Bird's Name was the point of this episode? Was it that Quark would learn sympathy for women by masquerading as one? The "hormones" make Quark overly sensitive and prone to mood swings, which is apparently how all women are at an essential level. So does this new perspective enlighten Quark as to the challenges that all of these benighted females suffer? I thought that's where the painfully unfunny intro scene you mentioned was going... but no... because any possible increase in knowledge and sensitivity was undone by the coda in which he decides to accept Allura's advances. OK, maybe the point was to show how a society could open itself to women's liberation? I find myself wondering how people would feel if Women's Rights pioneers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem were actually revealed to be dudes in drag.
Kevin: I have defended many a Ferengi episode, largely on the strength of Shimerman's acting, but I cannot do so here. I like the idea that Ferengi society would shift at some point. From a purely story standpoint, I'm annoyed that it's played solely as Ishka's influence. You can point to catalyzing figures, sure, but it felt like they were saying she crafted a movement out of whole cloth. Some finer grained analysis of a nascent but small movement for gender equality could have helped keep the episode's foot out of its mouth.
Matthew: I just don't get the story on its face. Nilva apparently is a king-maker of sorts in Ferengi politics. Fine. I can buy that. But then he is confronted with a pretty good claim that he is being duped. So Quark strips down to show his surgically enhances bosoms. Uh... OK. But how did the deception continue after that? Quark was surgically restored not a day later. Were Quark's arguments so sound that Nilva doesn't care that he has been duped (if so, how had they failed to occur to Nilva or any of the other billion savvy Ferengi business tycoons?)? Was the sex that good... and did they have sex? Is he actually a (look it up) Scoliosexual? Speaking of Nilva, I hated that this drink was called a "cola." It ripped me out of the episode (moreso) in the same way as an alien talking about a Chevy might. I will also renew my objection to episodes that focus almost exclusively on the Ferengi, without any plot element that ties into the main story or any of our other main characters. Worf sums it up succinctly, when averring that he can't think of any problem with Ferenginar just disappearing altogether from the quadrant. They've simply failed, at nearly every juncture, to make this culture interesting. This episode is basically an interminable watch as a result.
Kevin: I understand that there was pretty much zero popular understanding of transgender issues at the time this episode came out, so I'm certainly not assigning malice or anything, but the glib way they come up with and Bashir goes along with the idea to perform surgery on Quark is almost as upsetting as Bashir signing off on erasing Kurn's memory. Not that it would have fit in the episode, but the idea that technology would make gender reassignment almost effortless could have been a super interesting spring board to an actual exploration of gender dynamics. In the end, that's really the problem. The episode is basically functioning off of using the Ferengi to retell gendered humor from a decidedly human, Western perspective that was stale and dated when the episode came out. There are about a hundred ways to explore both Ferengi and Federation views on gender, and none of them are this episode.
Matthew: The tone deafness is strong with this one. If you're not going to take pains to explain that it is specifically Ferengi mores that are being subverted (say, by having a human character question why it's weird at all to be surprised at gender reassignment surgery), then all we can assume is that humans in this universe also think it is strange that anyone could feel as if they were born into the wrong gender. Then, we have the Quark-Nilva pairing, which, in addition to the aspects you point out below, disturbs me because the comedy hinges upon a man pursuing another man sexually. Ha ha. Two dudes? Kissing? OUTRAGEOUS!Well, I never (monocle falls into drink)!
Kevin: Lastly, and again, it's just the same tired jokes, but Nilva chasing Quark is actually upsetting. It bothers me that the writers think it's a joke. The joke centered around a lecherous man chasing a woman presumed by him to be feigning her protestations is super duper upsetting.
Matthew: Yep. I also think it's ridiculous to believe the idea that someone so lecherous, and apparently serious (he proposes marriage), would back down a mere day later.
Kevin: The one, and I mean the one, joke that actually landed for me was Acting Grand Nagus Brunt having his own Hupyrian servant. That's the kind of sight gag that actually lands because they didn't beat me to death with it.
Matthew: Nope. This episode went 0 for everything on humor with me. I didn't even crack a smile.It really had it all - bad Rom/Leeta humor, bad Moogie/Zek humor, bad sexual harassment humor, bad gender-bending humor.
Kevin: You can't accuse Armin Shimerman of phoning it in, can you? He is on the record as despising the episode, but that doesn't come through in the performance. He's really, really, trying, and that alone is the most damning thing I can say about the episode. If Armin Shimerman can't squeeze life from a joke, the joke is rightfully dead.
Matthew: I agree that there was a competence to his performance. It was not at a level that made the episode, bearable, however. I'd say that Jeffrey Combs was competent, too, though Brunt is by far the least interesting of all his recurring roles. I liked Henry Gibson as the Illinois Nazi in the Blues Brothers. He was competent here, too.
Kevin: Everyone else was...fine, I guess. Shawn was not overly shrill as Zek this time, and I liked the rapport that Cecily Adams and Shimerman have. Their argument was on the short list of enjoyable parts of the episode. Taken in a vacuum, the scene of teaching Quark to walk came as close as they were going to to replicate the high farce of "Some Like It Hot." It doesn't get there, but they were closer there than in the rest of the episode.
Matthew: Crappy Leeta/Rom stuff sabotaged that scene for me. Oh wait - maybe it was the horrendous writing that implied that all of Quark's emotional turmoil was simply part and parcel of the "female experience." Wallace Shawn lacked any interesting shading for me here. He was merely annoying. Cecily Adams was as competent as Shimerman, I agree.
Kevin: You can't fault them not committing, can you? The female clothing on both Ishka and Lumba was of a piece with Ishka's earlier fashions and Ferengi wear in general. The props for the Sluggo cola were good too.
Matthew: Quark looked terrible as Lumba. If they were going to hinge some humor on the notion that Nilva was not an imbecile and might actually fall for the deception, they needed to do a far better job on the makeup and clothing than they did here.
Kevin: This is a one. There's an interview quoted on Memory Alpha from Shimerman where he sums it up as the episode needed to be more serious or funnier and it's neither. I can think of no more accurate nor damning summation. This is a one.
Matthew: Yeah. It's tempting to try and goose this one up just a tad to reward a performance here or there. But the result in totality speaks for itself. Combining the twin sins of being boring and offensive, while adding no redeeming value to the overall DS9 (or greater Star Trek) tale, this one certainly rests in the bottom decile of episodes. I agree with the 1 for a total of 2.