the story: Quark's status as the premier gambling proprietor of the station is challenged.
what it's all about: "Rivals" is such an interesting episode. It's actually kind of the episode that represents what could only have been possible, in the best sense, in the early seasons when everything about the series hadn't been figured out. It's actually one of the few that just runs with one of the most famous elements of the original Deep Space Nine premise; the existence of Quark's bar and its importance to the Promenade, and the station in general.
What happens when...Oh, it's right there in the name of the episode: "Rivals." When it was still possible to merely introduce a random element and let it play out, without really wondering about, say, its significance to the Dominion or Bajor, which is to say, have a one-and-done adventure in the classic Star Trek sense, "Rivals" is probably about as good as any such story could get, especially because it does also play so well into the series itself.
Quark was clearly the MVP of the second season, the go-to character when other elements of the series weren't so easy to figure out. Not only was he easy to interpret, but he was also open to interpretation, in other efforts like "Rules of Acquisition" and "Profit and Loss." He also gave a valuable assist to "Necessary Evil," which "Rivals" is kind of an answer to, a lead story where he's getting up to the kind of trouble you expect of him. Only this time, the script has been flipped, and someone is using Quark's own playbook against him!
The other great thing about "Rivals" is that it helps develop another continuing element of the series, which is the friendship between O'Brien and Bashir. In fact, the name of the episode equally applies to the B- as to the A-story. That should always be the case. I understand the impulse to add a layer that some producer thought was missing from the initial one, but more often than not, the new layer sticks out like a sore thumb and threatens to ruin an otherwise pleasant experience ("Data's Day" over at Next Generation and "The Catwalk" over at Enterprise are two such examples, for much the same reasons, trying to shoehorn unnecessary drama into a situation that was already sufficiently complex).
Anyway, "Rivals" ends up being the last statement on the engineer and doctor's frictions that typified their relationship until "Armageddon Game" only a couple of episodes later; and actually, their later friendly competitiveness comes from "Rivals," too.
So it's an extremely satisfying episode for fans of the series, one of those potential entry points for skeptical viewers still trying to figure out the appeal of Deep Space Nine.
franchise- I don't think you need to like anything else in the franchise to like this episode.
- series - But it's a good one for series fans.
- character - Good for fans of Quark, Bashir, and O'Brien.
- essential - Good? Great!
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)