Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Nagus"


Air date: 3/20/1993
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr
Story by David Livingston
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn), the leader of Ferengi commerce, holds a Ferengi meeting to plan business expansion of Ferengi culture into the Gamma Quadrant. But first he chooses a successor to fill his shoes when he retires: Quark.

The first of what has since become a long-standing tradition of unfortunate annual Ferengi outings proves surprisingly entertaining. It's goofy and lightweight, and it knows that without shoving the fact down our throats. As a result, the episode finds the right tone of comedy and, consequently, finds some laughs. As an establishment of the greed that has typified the Ferengi on the series, this show works. One amusing scene features a roomful of cackling Ferengi sitting around a table. I don't believe we've seen so many Ferengi at once, and this time more is merrier.

Once Quark is (temporarily) labeled the new Nagus, the show becomes a comic take on organized crime, as Quark slowly realizes that dodging assassination attempts comes with the territory. The idea of Rom conspiring to kill his own brother wryly utilizes Ferengi greed and treachery (though watching Quark grovel for the second episode in a row might've been pushing it). The show begins to lose its comic zip near the end, but Zek's unexpected reappearance is one of the show's highlights; particularly Wallace Shawn's hilarious delivery of the line, "You failed. Miserably!"

Keeping in tone with the series' evaluation of the Federation's affairs with other cultures, there's a relevant B-story featuring Jake and Nog and each of their parents' concerns about the cross-cultural friendship. The heavy-on-optimism ending to this subplot is a bit schmaltzy, but also quite respectable.

Previous episode: Move Along Home
Next episode: Vortex

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12 comments on this review

William - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 11:27pm (USA Central)
Once again, I completely concur.

DS9 rescued the Ferengi, and this was a big step in the rescue effort. This is probably my favorite one-hour, self-contained episode of DS9 up to this point.

Call me schmaltzy, but I was touched by the Jake/Nog part.
Van_Patten - Tue, Oct 9, 2012 - 5:14am (USA Central)
Difficult to add much to the summary above. The first of what would become an annual Ferengi outing and this one works better than most, if not all of its successors, with the writers' predilections for these episodes culminating in the Only episode of the series that, 13 years after it finished airing, based on Jammers Review, I refuse to watch on principle!

The Nagus is very lightweight but does at least recognise that. It moves very quickly and, as mentioned the subplot does intertwine nicely with the main one (although the Ferengi must learn quickly if Nog goes from illiteracy to potentially going to Starfleet Academy in 2 years, but that could be nitpicking)

For the main plot, Armin Shimmerman gives a very strong performance. Also worthy of note are Wallace Shawn, as Zek, who is excellent, and also Max Grodenchik as Rom, wholly admirable as the brother trying to collude in his on- screen brother's downfall. On of the greatest disappointments was that the writers, with both characters' turned them into parodies of what they were here, adding inappropriate relationships and making them two of the most annoying characters on the show. Lou Wagner (as Zek's son, Krax) is also good, and I wish they had had the nous to use him, rather than the increasingly over acted character of 'Brunt- FCA' who became arguably the worst character in the series over the last three seasons.

An amiable, eminently watchable romp - 3 stars from me.
MrCase - Wed, Feb 6, 2013 - 4:31pm (USA Central)
This was first Ferengi centered episode of any Star Trek show that i didn't hate. Actualy, i enjoyed it quite a bit.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
I've never cared much for the Ferengi--does anyone?--but this didn't make me want to poke my eardrums.

But not much to it, other than the nice moments between Jake and Nog. I don't think I'll remember much.

I kept waiting for the Nagus to say something like "Never get involved in an acquisition war on Bajor," though. A bit distracting.
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 30, 2013 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
I agree, probably the most substantial part was the Jake - Nog story, that sets the background for Nog's starfleet future.

For me there is a rather dramatic change in Rom's character throughout the series... a favourable one to be sure, but a big one, from Ferengi goon and sidekick to engineering genius married to a dabo girl
azcats - Mon, Sep 9, 2013 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
CHief: that nog is a bad influence.
Sisko: i am not going to make Jake between the 2 of us.
Chief: oh i doubt that.
Sisko: that is because your daughter is 3, wait until she turns 14.

lol, that was a great line. and i loved the look on Sisko's face!

yes, i liked the nog.jake story. it was like a bro-mance of Romeo and Juliet.

probably the best ferengi episode in Star Trek.
Snitch - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
It works well for a Ferengi story, what always puzzled me was the fact that Quark would just forgive his brother.

2 1/2 Stars
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 1:51pm (USA Central)

A fun episode with some important development for the Ferengi story-lines to come.

Jack - Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 9:56pm (USA Central)
The fire caverns Sisko wanted to visit...aren't those where the Pah Wraithes are?
Elliott - Tue, Aug 12, 2014 - 2:52am (USA Central)
Teaser : ***.5, 5%

First things first : a real score!! Composer John Debney brings some real emotional subtext to the ambiance. What a difference that makes. Anyway, we are introduced to Zek and the Fire Caves via another understand Ben/Jake scene.

We are also (unfortunately) introduced to Rom 2.0, his permanent incarnation as the idiot savant, although the savant part plays a subservient rôle to the overwhelming idiot part.

We also get a laugh from Morn--who I believe is hereafter completely silent.

So anyway, Zek makes his enigmatic entrance, requesting the use of a holosuite. End teaser on his signature goofy laughing.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

O'Brien returns, filling in at Keiko's school which has about twice as many students as last we saw. So we get a little bit of after school special sitcom bullshit with the 24th century equivalent of "the dog ate my homework" ("Vulcans stole my PADD)"). This marks another return, that of the DS9 banality indulgence (DBI) last seen in "A Man Alone." Jake is going to learn some trite lesson about honesty, blah blah blah. Moving on.

Quark continues to lick Zek's shoes, worrying all the while that he's after the bar. In spite of the blandness of the B plot, one nice aspect of the episode's structure is the interconnectedness of the two plots--already in the first act, Zek's presence begins to affect Nog's behaviour. Appearances to the contrary, Nog does want, at least on some level, to do well by O'Brien, but Ferengi cultural norms are prohibitive to such ends.

Sigh, again we get this "Federation do-gooders" line (like Q said in "Q-less"). Why do the DS9 writers see the Federation as a bunch of comic book wienies? I really don't get it.

Anyway, Zek finally reveals his purpose, holding a conference at Quark's to suggest capitalistic exploits in the Gamma Quadrant.

Act 2 : ****, 17%

In a funny bit, poor Morn is turned away from the bar. At this point it's worth mentioning that, although there's an air of levity throughout the scenes, the Ferengi are, for the first time since "The Battle," given some reasonable weight and taken seriously as a race (other than passing mention in dialogue).

One minor issue--how can school possibly be "bad for business"? Granted, Ferengi priorities are different from Federation, but surely being a good capitalist requires knowing things like, um, math, and politics, sociology, psychology. Not to mention, didn't Nog not know how to read earlier this season? How is he writing essays about "Ethics"?

In a very well-directed following scene, Zek declares in front of the leading Ferengi that Quark is to become the new Nagus.

Act 3 : ***.5, 17%

Wait, Nog really can't still read--then how is he in the same class as Jake? I can understand gaffs between episodes, but in the same episode? Anyway, there's a brief discussion between Jake and Ben about how Ferengi and human values might be prohibitive of a sustainable relationship between the two cultures (and microcosmically between Jake and Nog). There's a lot to say about this, but most of it can wait for a later episode. For now, let me say that the Ferengi, Cardassians and the Bajorans serve similar allegorical functions on DS9. All possess exaggerated traits which humanity left behind, thus becoming mirrors for the Federation in a similar way to which alien cultures in Trek had always been mirrors for modern humans. Bajorans are religious, Cardassians are militaristic and Ferengi are capitalist. Having to deal with these cultures was a brilliant bit of design on the writers' parts. It's too bad they so royally fucked most of it up in later episodes. But, for now, it works.

Quark begins parading around in Nagus robes and the visiting Ferengi begin to offer their "protection" against jealous threats (let me help you or I'll kill you). So Zek starts spouting some Ferengi-avelli in advice, only to die mid-sentence. Heh. Maybe a Medici poisoned his tube grubs.

Odo shows up at Zek's wake to investigate his death. We here learn that high-status Ferengi are desiccated, cut up and sold. It would be more "alien" to me if I hadn't once had a very uncomfortable conversation with a woman who wore her dead husband around her neck in jewel-form (yes it's a real thing). {shudder....]

So Jake and Nog patch up (we're back to the DBI sitcom mode for this unfortunately).

I must point out that the Quark/Odo banter is exceptionally funny this go 'round: full of innuendo and genuine chemistry.

There's an attempt on Quark's life, but the music lets us know it's really in good fun. Had this been scored in typical fashion of this era, we'd get the generic ominous cut to commercial. What a welcome change!

Act 4 : ****, 17%

So, Sisko and Odo begin investigating the assassination attempt and the suspects are lined up--all Ferengi and one um "Upirian?" I will say that Behr's conception of parent/child dynamics is so much better than Michael Pillar's seems to be. The Ben/Jake interaction is so very much more realistic and earnest that has been previously shown.

Meanwhile, Shimmerman does his best Marlin Brando (with a genius bit of homage directing) to hilarious effect, complete with stroking some sort of Ferengi cat.

Anyway, it's revealed that Krax and Rom are conspiring together to kill Quark. Yeesh.

Act 5 : ****, 17%

Dax and Sisko have a reasonable conversation about parenting teens, while helping herself to some dinner (this is a great way to demonstrate the familiarity between the characters, by the way). Sisko storms out to find Jake and we get a really touching scene where it's revealed he's been staying out to teach Nog to read. I can honestly say that this is the single most emotional moment of the series so far. Who'd a thunk it?

In his pursuit of Zek's manservant, Odo inadvertently discovers Zek to be alive.

Rom and Krax lure Quark into an airlock to pull a Laura Roslin on the poor Nagus only to be stopped at the last moment by Zek and Odo. Apparently, Zek was just testing Krax the whole time.

We get a bit more Ferengi-avelli from Zek and a thematic tie-in to the B plot, with a father's dissapointment juxtaposed with Sisko's well-earned pride in Jake. We also get a comedic twist wherein Quark shows Rom some genuine affection in *admiration* for Rom's ruthlessness.

Episode as Functionary : ****, 10%

Who would have guessed that the most enjoyable episode of the series so far would be a Ferengi outing? A great balance of serious thematic commentary, strong cultural and character development and superb comedic inspiration make for a truly rich hour of television. Although the B plot occasionally meanders into banal territory, the payoff is really special and provides the perfect counterweight to the raucous hilarity in the A plot. The direction is stellar--everyone puts in a great performance, even Ferrel, and the music is such a breath of fresh air in what had previously been a tremendously stuffy season. Full marks.

Final Score : ***.5
Black_Goat - Thu, Dec 4, 2014 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
The Nagus: B-

This episode was about as good as it could have been considering the subject matter, as the Ferengi are, I think, inherently hard to take seriously. It’s definitely a lightweight affair, but far less muddled than the previous episode.

The Good:
- I really enjoyed the Jake/Nog subplot. It tackles the difficult subject of what happens when species with different core values are gathered in one place. Is it fair to hold Nog to the same standard of “ethics”, for example, as his human classmates considering that the concept of ethics may be a distinctly human one? Jake and Nog’s friendship is a bit saccharine, but both characters (and Sisko Sr.) show a deal of maturity in their handling of the situation.
- Wallace Shawn!
- The Rom we see in this episode is quite different than the one from “A Man Alone,” but I found the character kind of interesting, especially the way he channels Quark’s anger toward him into his son. And he returned the woman’s purse in the beginning, which points to him having a slightly different standard of greed than most Ferengi. It seems his decision to flush Quark at the end was inspired more by feelings of disrespect than of greed, though it strains credibility that Quark would forgive him so quickly (even considering the Sixth Rule of Acquisition).
- Dax has been a parent five times! Interesting.
- Fun to watch Quark go from nervous to arrogant to desperate, though I’m not sure if we needed another episode of Quark’s begging so soon after the last.

Noting overtly negative about this one. It interested me less than some of the other episodes, but it was a solid if trifling entry to the season.

William B - Thu, Jul 2, 2015 - 9:45am (USA Central)
This is indeed a lot of fun, and a great addition to the Star Trek universe, even if the second-order effects (i.e. most other DS9 Ferengi episodes) suffer badly. The episode functions as sort of a parody of "The Godfather," filtered through Ferengi values -- one of many occasions in which Quark is chosen to be the centre of one of the classic American films. ("Profit and Loss" -- LOSS, not Lace -- is essentially a low-quality "Casablanca"; Harry Lime's monologue from "The Third Man" is repeated to Quark close to verbatim in "Business as Usual.") The most explicit "Godfather" reference is of course in the darkly lit scene with Quark stroking the Ferengi cat thing, which sets up the pattern: Quark enjoys the feeling of power and demands personal loyalty, like the Don, but unlike Don Corleone the second a sufficient amount of profit is offered to him he drops the act, so to speak:

QUARK: A very lucrative opportunity. Tell me Nava, when Zek announced I was to succeed him, were you pleased?
NAVA: No, Nagus.
QUARK: Did you come to me and offer your support?
NAVA: No, Nagus.
QUARK: Yet, now you call me Nagus. But is it out of true friendship? No. You only pretend to show me respect so I will grant you this immense opportunity.
NAVA: Which I'm willing to split with you. fifty-fifty.
QUARK: Well, in that case, let's hope the Gamma Quadrant develops a taste for synthehol.

Ha. The same pattern is repeated at the end of the episode. (Major spoilers for "The Godfather, Part II" in this paragraph.) Rom, as Quark's "idiot," put-upon brother, who complains that Quark has so much and he, Rom, has so little, can't help but fall into the orbit of an ambitious man who makes promises to Rom which he will likely overturn the moment Rom's usefulness has been outlived. So Rom plays Fredo Corleone to Quark's Michael. The episode ends with what seems to be the start of a "You broke my heart!" scene of Quark unleashing his anger on Rom, perhaps with some sort of threat; or maybe, like Michael, Quark would wait until their mother dies but all the time be planning to dispatch Rom. Nope: Quark sees that Rom had it in him to kill his brother, and suddenly recognizes that their relationship needs to be realigned. On the one hand, Rom is better for profits if he is put in a position where he can use some of his ruthlessness (which up until now Quark didn't even believe existed), and I think Quark also recognizes on some level that, yes, Rom's actions were extreme, but maybe Quark had it coming just a bit for the constant abuse and threats to send Rom out an airlock.

(I guess on Rom nearly killing Quark, I do find it hard to believe Odo would simply let an attempted murder slide like that, even if Quark would. And I do think that Rom's hard edge here is inconsistent with later characterizations, but it works here -- Rom as a mostly soft-hearted man who is easily manipulated and who also responds to his brother's constant mistreatment.)

Anyway, the episode's humour doesn't depend directly on the knowledge of "The Godfather," but I think familiarity with gangster narratives definitely helps. And the episode, ultimately, points to something interesting about what Ferengi society maybe has to teach us. Quark, Zek, Rom and Krax all want profit, but Zek comes out of the episode as a triumphant mastermind, Krax as a miserable failure, Rom as an idiot, and Quark as -- well, as Quark, but not much the worse for wear, and somewhat regarded by Nagus Zek as a guy with potential. Putting morality aside, I think the big difference amongst these guys has something to do with pride and ego. Quark lets the Nagus-ship get to his head, but one thing that is to his credit is that with, say, that Nava scene, Quark is either just pretending to be angry that Nava didn't show him respect, or genuinely is bothered but drops it the moment he stands to gain. Similarly, he doesn't react to Rom's betrayal by angry demands that he will destroy Rom, which one could imagine lots of other people doing -- I mean, for an example from later in series, compare Quark's reaction to Rom's betrayal to Sisko's reaction to Eddington's; by any reasonable standard, Rom's betrayal was far greater, but Sisko becomes twisted up with rage. Quark is greedy and Quark is ruthless and Quark's moral compass doesn't often point in the right direction, but Quark doesn't actually hold grudges; Quark may get angry briefly, but he gets over it and moves on to enjoying life. Quark doesn't really do that revenge thing. Quark's main downfall in this episode is his somewhat pompous behaviour as Nagus, believing the thing is legit and being unable to fully come forward to Odo out of a sense of stubborn pride, as well as his refusal to see Rom's treachery coming (or to start treating Rom better) because he is so used to being the good brother. But ultimately the ego dissipates when confronted with the possibility of major profit or loss; Quark is not so full of himself to be blind all the time, which is what distinguishes his moderate failure/moderate success to Krax's failing MISERABLY -- Krax, who seems to want the Nagus job for the prestige and out of a sense of entitlement and so makes risky, obvious plays rather than, as Zek suggests, be content to acquire profit and influence gradually and in a less flashy way. Quark's willingness to discard pride at a moment's notice means he grovels an awful lot, but it also means that he doesn't actually go out of his way to injure others when his ego is wounded; I'm reminded of the exchange in "The Battle," that there is no profit in revenge, and nor is there in a straight power-grab that is bound to backfire.

The Jake/Nog subplot is sweet, though, yes, I have a hard time understanding why Nog doesn't know how to read at his age; Rom must really be an idiot if he thinks that ability to read couldn't help Get Profit. I do like how the opening sequence gives a pretty good description of how privilege operates, with Nog's failure to do his homework being a direct result of the living conditions he has, being currently at the bottom of the food chain below Rom (below Quark), whereas Sisko's nurturing parenting gives Jake plenty of time to do homework. The subject of the paper -- "ethics" -- ties in with the main plot, in which the seemingly unethical Ferengi end up demonstrating a sort of code, wherein placing one's pride above other benefits is an automatic downfall. In general, Jake and Nog's friendship develops nicely in this episode, which is also the first show to get under Jake's skin a little bit; Jake's unwillingness to see Nog as A Ferengi whereas Sisko can't help but see Nog's uncle when he looks at him creates some nice interpersonal conflict that is delivered in an appropriately low-key way.

I think this earns 3.5.

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