Friday, February 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x18 "Business as Usual"

rating: ****

the story: Quark finds that arms dealing is a heck of thing on the conscience.

what it's all about: This is what the season really comes to, when even the Ferengi aren't immune to the heaviness of the mood that has begun to descend on Deep Space Nine...Quark had certainly found himself in plenty of bad situations in the past, but he was always able to find a clever way out, prevent himself from, y'know, growing, or anything unprofitable like that.  But he finally meets his match.  He finds out that he does have limits, that he's not the shameless Ferengi he always thought he was.

That's the real trick, and perhaps a good way of characterizing the season: being confronted with a situation that challenges every previous assumption.  The situation that provokes this is actually Quark being forced to accept that the weapons he's been selling will eventually end up in the hands of genocidal maniacs, which is to say, people in the business of war.  This is the true irony of the situation, because it's a war-is-bad story on the verge of the biggest war story ever told in Star Trek.

Now, no one has to be told that war is bad.  There's plenty of human history behind us at this point to know exactly what war is like.  But in the past century, we've made a whole cottage industry of trying to explain this.  Actually it's kind of baffling, and it's mostly because there's less of it engulfing whole populations like it used to.  We tell ourselves this in case it ever comes home again (more's the pity for anyone still experiencing it, of course).  And yet, we also tell ourselves war stories because they fascinate us.  A century ago no one was crowing about the American Civil War.  It nearly destroyed the country.  Yet today we fall all over ourselves praising the likes of Robert E. Lee, or the relative merits of a Ulysses S. Grant.  The reality of it, as anyone who has ever actually experienced war, is that it takes a real toll. 

Star Trek has a rich history of participating in this narrative, but until Deep Space Nine it was mostly a problem Starfleet officers came to solve on someone else's world, a backwards culture they could feel free to judge.  Very enlightened.  Not to mention convenient.  Yet with the Dominion War looming, this would no longer be possible.  At this point the producers absolutely knew it was coming.  Viewers probably had an inkling, but there was no guarantee until the end of this season.  Even the Klingon conflict that immediately preceded it was more discussed than experienced.  So "Business as Usual" was a way of testing the waters.  Obviously using someone other than a Starfleet officer (it was Jake, who never joined Starfleet, who experienced Klingon warfare in "Nor the Battle to the Strong" earlier in the season) was the logical way to go, and who better than Quark?  Who better to think there was nothing wrong with what he was doing, until he started to think about it?

So the series that examined war as never before, and its characters as never before, had a moment where this happened.  Of course it did.  If there's anything fun about the proceedings, it's that we finally meet Quark's cousin Gaila (whom he memorably referenced as "the one with the moon" back in the third season), and thus arguably the most successful Ferengi entrepreneur outside of the government in franchise history.  Anyone who ever paid attention to all the Rules of Acquisition dropped every now and again knew that one of them states, "War is good for business."  Well, maybe, but it's not good for the conscience, as Quark finds out.  So after losing his brother (Rom) and his nephew (Nog) to the Federation way of thinking in the past few seasons, and being utterly disgusted with the both of them, Quark finds out how much he's been affected, too, doing business on a space station run by Starfleet.

Which turns out to be good for the conscience. 

Contrasting all this is a B-story in which O'Brien contends with his newborn son, who's demanding the kind of attention O'Brien doesn't think is in him to give.  He nearly drives himself crazy trying to deal with it, but then discovers that it's just a phase.  For those keeping score at home, this is exactly what happens to Quark.  No, not the phase of being a weapons dealer, but believing that he was so different from his family.  He'll certainly question that conclusion the rest of the series (actually, this is the only time we really see him consider such a revolting prospect out loud; he's the only character at the end of the series doing exactly what he was doing at the start of the series, but fans will know that he did change), but it's absolutely true, and "Business" is the episode that proves it.  Deep down, he'll know all his protesting the contrary is just a phase.  I think the first episode of an eighth season will probably find Quark closing his bar to become, I don't know, the Ferengi ambassador to the Federation, brokering the biggest deals of his life.  For no money at all...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Examines the famous Star Trek line about war.
  • series - Prelude to a war.
  • character - The facts about Quark laid bare.
  • essential - Never before or again will Quark allow himself to be so vulnerable.
notable guest-stars:
Josh Pais (Gaila)
Lawrence Tierney

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