Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x23 "Profit and Lace"

rating: ***

the story: Quark is forced to defend everything he stands against as Ferengi society prepares to undergo a massive revolution.

what it's all about: Well, here we are, the "Ferengi episode" of all "Ferengi episodes."  Frequently cited as the worst episode of the series.  What I can never quite decide is how badly it betrays Star Trek fans to fall horribly below their own standards.  No, not on what makes a good, or bad, episode, but the social standards the franchise always represented.  With twenty years hindsight, the extreme hate for this episode actually kind of represents the most extreme bigotry the fans ever expressed.

For one episode, Quark becomes transgender.  That's perhaps the one-sentence summary I should've used above, and every fan would know instantly what I was talking about, and come up with their own summary of its worth: "Profit and Lace" is a farce.  That's exactly what they've been saying since it originally aired.  I've tried to come up with the reasons why the pejorative term "Ferengi episode" came into being, but it's probably because of "Profit and Lace."

The huge, huge irony is that this is not even the first time in Deep Space Nine featured a Ferengi posing as a member of the opposite sex.  Way back in the second season, "Rules of Acquisition" featured a female struggling to be taken seriously.  It was actually the foundation of the arc Ferengi society would take across the series as a whole, ratcheted up considerably when a different female, Quark and Rom's mother Ishka, took up the struggle in "Family Business" in the third season, the more obvious predecessor to "Lace," which follows the effects of Ishka ending up in a relationship with Grand Nagus Zek, the leader of the Ferengi.  In "Rules," the female poses as a male, and much like the ending of "Lace," it's unwanted sexual advances that end the experiment in discomfort.

"Lace" is about a lot of things, but it's kind of the episode where Quark must really decide how much he wants to struggle against the tide of history.  Tellingly, it begins and ends with him interacting with one of his hired girls at the bar, and how he decides to treat her, which in itself has nothing to do with the few scenes where he's a woman (except from his firsthand experience fighting off unwanted advances).  True, by the end of the series Quark is the one character who seems to be in the same place he was at the beginning of the series, but he's also the one character who had settled into his new life well before the end, when massive change had already rocked the foundations of his world.  As in, this episode.  As in everything that preceded and followed it, but mostly this episode.  Quark stops being such a desperate man after this.  That's really the best characterization of the bartender, previously; he was always so desperate to validate his existence, trying to be the ideal Ferengi when everyone around him kept telling him it was a horribly backward mistake.  If he didn't make the outward advances his brother Rom and his nephew Nog did, Quark still managed to make peace with the universe.

What, you were expecting it to look different?

But getting back to the transgender thing, I still find that shocking.  Of course the scenes of Quark as a female will be hard to take seriously, if you're already predisposed to the idea of the "Ferengi episode."  Quark's basic character, again, remains entirely consistent.  Complaints about this concept stem either from problems with Ferengi in general, or a failure to take the concept of changing one's gender seriously.  It could be one or the other, or both, but I'm inclined to believe the hate is really directed at the gender issue.  I'm fully aware of how complicated this concept is, how it's not any closer to being mainstream now than it was in 1998, when "Lace" originally aired.  Today we see transgender people as visible for the first time ever, but they haven't even begun to approach the level of acceptance of the homosexual community, which still faces its own hurdles.  Star Trek did analogies for years, but didn't begin incorporating gay characters themselves until 2016's Star Trek Beyond

But fans consider "Lace" an abysmal episode, for the scenes of Quark as a female, and for those scenes alone.  They don't seem capable of incorporating those scenes into the rest of the episode, or the rest of the series, for that matter.  And maybe that's a good thing.  Maybe that makes them more powerful.  I don't know.  I just know that it makes the episode more important, for being impossible to ignore, one way or another.  And probably not even what the producers remotely had in mind when they conceived it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A groundbreaking episode still ahead of its time.
  • series - I'm inclined to knock it here, as it does seem to reiterate previous material.
  • character - Unlocks the course of Quark's development.
  • essential - Became the definition of must-see when fans insisted that it was must-miss, for all the wrong reasons.
notable guest-stars:
Cecily Adams (Ishka)
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)

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