Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 3: Family Business

Deep Space Nine, Season 3
"Family Business"
Airdate: May 15, 1995
68 of 173 produced
68 of 173 aired


Introduction

Quark and Rom are called back to Ferenginar when their mother's under the table financial dealings come to light. Meanwhile, Commander Sisko meets someone he'll become quite close to in the years to come.
Usually, a scene like this is a clear-cut indication of a bad episode. Usually, but not always.




Writing

Matthew: I've been clamoring for an actual, full-bodied look at Ferengi society for a while now. This isn't maybe as full bodied as I'd like, but it's a great start. I like very much the look we get at a Ferengi home, Ferengi customs, and the relationships these create for Ferengi like Quark and Rom. Showing that people like Rom and Keldar aren't focused entirely on profit goes a long way towards resurrecting the Ferengi from dumb caricature status. I will say that I wish we had gotten a bit more of an explanation of how and why such cultural mores regarding women could persist. I would think that a rabidly capitalist society would tend towards monetizing women as consumers, as opposed to shutting them away from commerce. I also wanted to see more of the FCA and the Tower of Commerce.

Kevin: Well, given recent events in legislatures around the country, and in Texas in particular, I don't have to look too far to imagine a facially capitalist, even vehemently anti-government regulation society that still uses governmental authority to regulate a portion of the population. My wish was that they had developed that into a broader point, that how despite the Ferengi profess a kind of laissez faire system, it's actually a bit more of an oligarchy, where a powerful and well-resourced class actually holds firm to power. Especially since the episode was about Ishka bucking those norms, it would have been nice to see some grander commentary, but I digress. I love this episode. The glimpse into Ferengi civilization was fun on a lot of levels. There were the larger elements of the rules and regulations of Ferengi society. I also adored the little touches like paying an entry fee and signing a waiver when entering a home and the motto, "My house is my house." The idea of non-profit-driven Ferengi is great. It makes the Ferengi a real people, because there is no actual society on Earth where every person equally and completely adheres to its stated cultural norms.

Matthew: The emotional story about Quark and his family works. Showing how two brothers are different, how expectations in a rigid culture can weigh on people, is really good stuff. Quark's scenes in particular are written really well. I liked it a lot that the brothers fight about their father's memory - Quark wanting to maintain a traditional gender-role vision of his childhood, and Rom seeing things closer to reality. The "age of ascension" was repetitive of Klingon culture, but I like how Quark left as soon as he could, as if escaping what he knew on some level wasn't his ideal vision of a family. It adds lots of layers to his character.

Kevin: You can tell they wrote "age of ascension" as a placeholder then never changed it. It bothered me too. But for the overall character growth, you can't beat this episode. Seeing Quark idolizing a retouched memory of his father, and combating the mother who he has far more in common with than he would be willing to admit is great. It also pays dividends in later DS9. Quark is not, despite his protestations, driven solely by profit. He has an internal code, like Odo, and follows it, but also like Odo, it brings him into conflict with Ferengi culture as often as not. Best of all, the family interactions all felt real. The scenes just dripped with the sensation that this fight had happened a hundred times in a hundred ways. As much as the more fully realized society helped redeem the Ferengi, so did the fully realized family.

Matthew: The Kasidy Yates stuff was fine. It didn't really relate to the A story, except that it maybe kind of fit the "family business" theme with Jake setting them up. It was a pretty decent romance setup, given that it was awkward initially but a common liking of baseball helped break the ice. I liked the continuity note of mentioning Cestus 3 (the planet attacked by the Gorn in TOS "Arena"). I was just sort of annoyed by the lock picking scene. Why not just beam into the bar to get the dartboard, or beam it out? It was pointless filler whose run time could have been put to better use fleshing out either story.

Kevin: I've said it before, but Star Trek is not great at romance, but here I have no complaints. Everything was very "meet cute" to borrow a phrase from the late Roger Ebert, but everything works and feels organic. I do get a tad bothered at points at how invested Jake seems in setting his father up, but overall, the scenes work, particularity the baseball conversation. I would have loved to see them listening to the recording. It would have been a lovely juxtaposition of a scene of a couple in the twenty-fourth century doing something that looks like a date out of the early twentieth, listening to the radio together. The dartboard scene was silly, but I did like the continuity touch of Rom's apparently being a lock savant from Necessary Evil. Beyond that, my only other complaint is the writers leaned a little too hard on the inversion of female modesty joke. If they asked Ishka to get naked one more time, I was going to have to change the channel. We get it, and it's a nice reminded that modesty and cultural norms are subjective, but still...eeesh.

Acting

Matthew: Armin Shimerman gives a tour de force. He has been called on to be devious and comic, and it has definitely worked in past episodes. But here, he doesn't play anything for laughs, he's serious about every scene. It creates a lot of pathos and makes the Ferengi culture seem much more real than it ever has. I still have questions that are unanswered, but I believe that Quark believes in it.

Kevin: Yep. Even at his most ridiculous (cough***Profit and Lace***cough), he never lets it show. He commits. Not to reach too far for a reason to bash J.J. Abrams, but this is kind of what we're talking about when we talking about internal veracity. The Ferengi are a sillier invention of a fantastic universe, but when treated with internal respect by the cast and crew, you still end up with real-seeming place, no matter how far-out it appears. It's also one of the best and most difficult kinds of comedy, where the characters aren't in on the joke, and making them so ruins the punchline.

Matthew: Look. I just don't like high-pitched shouting, and there is a fair amount in this episode. Max Grodenchik was the principal offender here. It's not Zek bad, but his shouting and simpering got on my nerves. On the other hand, his dramatic scenes were really well acted. The writing failed him in spots. After a great scene, "and no shouting!" undercut his seriousness for a laugh. Andrea Martin was quite good as Ishka. She had a real life to her character, and she played really well off of the other Ferengi character actors. Speaking of which, Jeffrey Combs was adequate, but will not reach his full greatness until Weyoun and Shran in ENT.

Kevin: It's an arc for Combs. His initial character shows promise in the acting, and he gets some good moments here, but Weyoun, and even later Brunt will give him more opportunity to shine. I laugh at Rom's "no shouting" line every time, so I can't be too mad at it, and I agree that when he is puncturing Quarks revised memories, he was really good. It worked both for the internal character and as a very real "brother" relationship. I watched Andrea Martin pick up a Tony Award for the revival of Pippin last month on Broadway, and I should have watched her pick up an Emmy for a guest star. She did not come back because the make-up was too much, but she is a gifted comedienne, and particularly in the scenes with Shimerman, they were just really there for each in the scene. For most of there more serious scenes, I forgot I was looking at the makeup and just saw the very real portrayal of a mother and son with a complicated relationship.

Matthew: Penny Johnson was absolutely Penny Johnson here. The actress has a certain warmth and charm that sort of obviates whatever role she is playing. I'm not saying she didn't fit the universe. But she didn't really have to. Avery Brooks has terrible cooking technique, by the way. Anyone who's watched even five minutes of a cooking show knows that's not how you cut a carrot, or toss a salad, for that matter.

Kevin: I adore Penny Johnson. As much as any character to date, she just nails the portrayal of an everyday Federation citizen living comfortably in this universe. She has a job she cares about, that is not Starfleet, and relationships she nurtures, just like our main cast. I agree on the sense of warmth and charm. I was immediately rooting for this to work out, and not have her be a one-off.


Production Values

Matthew: I really liked the interior sets on Ferenginar. The architecture had a great look and feel to it - somewhat similar to the (later) Hobbit homes in LOTR, but very real looking generally, especially for a weekly show. The rooms were decorated with lots of knick knacks and looked rich. The interior of the Tower of Commerce was clearly a reuse of the home living room, but it still looks nice with new dressings and control panels. The matte of Ferenginar was really cool and made me more curious about the place.

Kevin: I'm left wanting to go back in time and tell TNG this is how you portray the Ferengi as a comically tacky, but still fully realized people. The tchotchkes were great, as was the color scheme. The matte of Ferenginar was well achieved, and best of all, unexpected. I liked the explanation offered  in one of the books that Ferengi doors are too short for them. After gaining spaceflight and realizing they are shorter than other humanoids, the trend for small doors emerged as a way to make them feel taller in the same spaces. I kind of retroactively assumed that's what the designers were actually thinking. If I ever find one, I want one of latinum slip boxes with the Nagal head, and use it hold loose change.

Matthew: The cargo bay, ship, and shipping logo for the Kasidy Yates scenes looked nice. I couldn't help but feel a little cheated by the mention of baseball and subspace communication, and not getting to see any of it. Yates' outfits looked nice and realistic enough, they certainly weren't bad sci-fi clothes.

Kevin: I always wondered whatever the hair band piece was, but I did like the conversation about the equipment and life a cargo hauler, and I agree that the jumpsuit was a flattering color and cut, not something that civilian fashion has always achieved.

Conclusion

Matthew: I'm vacillating between a 3 and a 4. I'm a big fan of a cultural focus on a truly foreign society (albeit with allegorical aspects). I don't think it went far enough, though. The Sisko/Yates romance was fine for what it was, but might have benefited from a fuller development elsewhere. So I think this uneasy marriage is another 3. I wish DS9 would stick with one story per show as a general rule, especially when the stories are so potentially interesting.


Kevin: There's a vitality to the family story and a degree to how funny the episode actually is, not just tries to be that this makes it into 4 territory for me. It's not perfect, but there's so much good, and I love watching it so much that I think this is in the top 25% of the series. That makes a 7 from us.

14 comments:

  1. I also meant to say this in the review, but I'll say it here, once DS9 goes whole hog into serialized story-telling, the discord between A and B plots becomes less of a problem for me. Like a soap opera with multi-multi episode arcs, it makes more sense that not every thread is related all the time. Freeing themselves from having to come up with a related B-plot may actually be a part of what makes the show so much better in later seasons. They have to stop trying to do something they kept failing at.

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  2. I must admit that when I first started watching DS9 over 20 years ago as a kid, I didnt much care for the Ferengi. The story lines they were in never really interested me somehow. I found them annoying. I dont know why.

    I recall finding Quark amusing but I still didnt care for Ferengi themed episodes and skipped them.. But as I have been getting back to the Trek world over the past 7 or 8 years, I have developed a lot of appreciation for them and, in fact, Quark is one of my favorite characters and I especially look forward to the Ferengi episodes when rewatching a season.

    Things like "Friends? Community? You sounds like some sniveling hyooman." Or "Bashir? How good can he be, he doesn't even charge" totally won me over. He is hilarious and the episodes that are about him are both hilarious but also endearing and intelligent.

    I read somewhere that the writers believed the Ferengi were, oddly enough, the most human of all the species they had created as they possess a lot of the human traits so inherent in us. In Little Green Men Quark says something in the lines of "these hyuumans I do understand. They are greedy, primitive" etc. because as a Ferengi he really was how humans used to be before they grew out of their infancy.

    I love that in DS9 we really learn more about the Ferengi and their way of life. In TNG they were nothing but caricatures - these annoying little trolls that you just couldnt take seriously.

    The Ferengi in DS9, on the other hand, really breathed life into the species, especially with Quark who is, despite his Ferengi greed, an intelligent, thoughtful if he wants to be, fully fleshed out and multi-layered individual. And throughout the course of the show we find out more about them as a species. I love the direction DS9 took them.

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    Replies
    1. Very much agreed! DS9 is what resurrected the Ferengi from joke status in Trek. It seems obvious the writers planned it, but I wonder how much that plan was augmented or changed by Shimerman's acting ability.

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