Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Family Business"


Air date: 5/15/1995
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Rene Auberjonois

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You know, the rate we go through Runabouts, it's a good thing the Earth has so many rivers." — Kira

The role of the Ferengi in the Star Trek universe is becoming a ponderous issue, as further demonstrated in this somewhat frustrating episode. When TNG began, the Ferengi were to be the major threat to the Federation. The idea was abandoned very early on and, over the years, the Ferengi have changed from their occasional lightweight threats (i.e., "Menage a Troi," "Captain's Holiday" and "Rascals") to the simple comic relief they have become on DS9.

When DS9 began, Ferengi Quark was to be a character that would presumably offer some depth to the primarily two-dimensional Ferengi culture while offering some comic relief. And occasionally Quark has some depth. Unfortunately, most of this season he hasn't. The high point for Quark this season came in "The House of Quark." There, he had the Klingons to play against and had the opportunity to supply some non-obvious, non-cardboard actions with motives less directed at his own benefit.

But with the recent Ferengi vehicles "Family Business" and "Prophet Motive," the Ferengi are beginning to wear quite thin—as is the character of Quark, despite Shimerman's always-lively portrayals. It's becoming increasingly difficult to sympathize with a character who cares about nothing but himself and his profit while exploiting the other characters in every B-story he can get the chance.

In this outing, Quark is investigated by the Ferengi Commerce Agency (FCA), who tell him he is responsible for the illegal actions of his mother Ishka. She's a female earning profit, and that is against the law. He must venture home with Rom to persuade Ishka to confess and return the profits she has made. (Quick aside: It's noteworthy that after eight seasons of Ferengi existence this is the first time Trek has visited the Ferengi Homeworld.)

Ishka (Andrea Martin) is rigidly stubborn on keeping the profit. It's a matter of principle. She is better at earning profit than most Ferengi males and believes it's downright wrong that the sexist laws of Ferengi culture prevent her from legally doing so. We are treading here on a rehash of "Rules of Acquisition."

She has a hidden fortune—a financial empire—with a startling number of false-fronts and laundering filters. If the FCA were to find it, Quark would be forced to pay for it and be ruined. Quark continues to persuade her to return it; she continues to refuse.

This leads to the true core of the episode—the family conflict. A lot of it runs like a cliche, such as Quark's line to Rom, "You always take her side." And although this apparently intends to be a character development episode of Quark and Rom, it does nothing for either character because both remain as rigidly transparent as usual. Quark only cares about his financial future. Rom is less selfish, but he says the dumbest things at the dumbest times that it's impossible to think of him as anything but an idiot. I for one was hoping Rom would be the type of character that looks like a dullard on the outside but through his actions proves otherwise. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Another problem with "Family Business" is its indecision whether to take itself seriously or simply go over-the-top. It's mostly lightweight and dumb. There's a scene where Quark and Rom get into a brawl on the living room floor, but it's so contrived and goofy that it's hard to see it as anything more than comic relief. (Then you have to ask yourself, comic relief of what?)

The episode is sporadically humorous, mostly due to Shimerman's facial and vocal talents, combined with the gags of gratuitously expensive Ferengi customs. (I also liked the throwaway line referencing the computer display of the Ferengi stock market.)

The intent of the episode seems to be to somewhat change the Ferengi to fit better into the Roddenberry universe. "Family Business," however, completely misses its own point. Through the arguing, fighting and eventual reconciliation with Rom and his mother, Quark learns nothing—leaving him as much an unsympathetic and cardboard personality as ever.

Redeeming the episode is the very agreeable B-story of Sisko meeting freighter captain Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson) at Jake's persistent insisting. The results of this time-restrained B-story are far better than anything in the main plot, as Sisko and Yates connect through—wouldn't you know it—a dead sport called baseball. If the writers choose to use her at a later date, it may prove to be the perfect addition to Sisko's continuously improving character. Kasidy Yates is definitely a character I would like to see return.

Previous episode: Explorers
Next episode: Shakaar

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29 comments on this review

Mark Oates - Sat, Sep 27, 2008 - 6:10am (USA Central)
If you can get past the silly platform which this episode stands - a look into the goofy Ferengi culture - it's actually quite charming. I think your review asks for too much Human morality. "Prophet Motive," "Rules of Acquisition," and similar episodes have established quite firmly that the Ferengi do not share Human morals. This episode shows how their culture is able to have love and family despite that we see them as culturally "dysfunctional".
Vince - Wed, Jul 15, 2009 - 10:30am (USA Central)
I thought the answer was 42. I find that the Ferengi represent a stereotype of people not uncommon in our own world, with their attitudes about greed and women. We all know, or know of, people who almost fit that stereotype. We also know that those types are also extremely rigid, so we should not expect, or for that matter, even want Quark to change. Quark sometimes mellows especially when he's forced to see the error of his ways, but by the next episode, he's same old Quark, because if he weren't, we'd miss him.
Nic - Fri, Nov 6, 2009 - 11:30pm (USA Central)
Ira Steven Behr has said that while most Star Trek fans do not like the Ferengi episodes, people he has met on the plane who aren't Star Trek fans (but obviously have watched DS9) love the Ferengi episodes. I find this hard to believe (though maybe I'm forgetting just how low-brow the average American audience is). I've tried to imagine episodes like "Family Business" or "Bar Association" being set on 20th century Earth with all human characters, and wondered if I would find it interesting. The answer is: no, I wouldn't because it would be too mundane. So maybe the problem with the Ferengi is that they're TOO MUCH like 20th century humans... they have nothing new to bring to the table.
Sexpun - Tue, Mar 8, 2011 - 9:04pm (USA Central)
I'm mentioned before that you seem to dislike Ferengis and episodes heavily featuring them purely on principle. What principle that is, I can't say.

Before I looked at this review, I knew you wouldn't have given this episode even 3 stars, though it's worth that at least.

Your recurring critique of all things Ferengi usually centers on the one-dimensional nature of their personalities. Cardboard cutouts of selfishness and greed, written obviously with little growth for the characters who play them.

First off, I would argue this interpretation to begin with. But, for the moment, assuming this is true, I can't understand why I haven't seen you lambasting Vulcans, Romulans, or even Klingons.

Replace Ferengi with any of those, and change the adjectives from 'selfish' and 'greedy' to fit the stereotype of any of those races, and if your point is valid for Quark, it's valid for Spock, a Romulan, or any individual Klingon (perhaps save Worf).

For example:

"The role of the [Vulcans] in the Star Trek universe is becoming a ponderous issue, as further demonstrated in this somewhat frustrating episode. When [TOS] began, the [Vulcans] were to be the [guiding force behind] the Federation. The idea was abandoned very early on and, over the years, the [Vulcans]have changed from their occasional [sage and professorial teachers] to the simple [rationality-above-all-else counterparts to humanity] they have become.

When ]TOS] began, [Vulcan Spock] was to be a character that would presumably offer some depth to the primarily two-dimensional [Vulcan] culture while offering some [interesting counterpoints to the typical human condition]. And occasionally [Spock] has some depth. Unfortunately, most of this season he hasn't. The high point for [Spock] came in "The Wrath of Khan" There, he had [death and self-sacrifice] to play against and had the opportunity to supply some non-obvious, non-cardboard actions with motives less directed at [pure logic].

the [Vulcans] are beginning to wear quite thin--as s the character of [Spock], despite Nimoy's always-[professional] portrayals. It's becoming increasingly difficult to sympathize with a character who cares about nothing but [logic] and his [intellectual superiority] while [critiquing and reminding] the other characters [of this fact]in every B-story he can get the chance."

I believe it is a matter of you not liking the a-moral attitudes of the Ferengi, rather than having any real problem with 2 dimensionality or lack of character growth.

As you yourself say 'its hard to sympathize' with such characters. From my perspective, they aren't there to be personally relatable, they are there as a cautionary tale, a reminder of our own human avaristic past, and to representative of the financial antithesis to the Federation, just as the Klingons were to be the representatives of violence, the Romulans showcases for Imperialism, and the Cardassians wore the human rights abuses suit. Each major power was cast in a way that diametrically opposed some core Federation value. The Ferengis are playing their part, and it's no more two-dimensional than the parts any other races play.

In sum, I would argue that your personal animus towards selfishness and greed (laudably so I might add) unfavorably color your judgement of Ferengis and Quark in a way that it does not for other similarly situated characters and races.
Brruceling - Wed, Apr 27, 2011 - 11:42pm (USA Central)
Sexpun makes an entirely valid argument. Regardless of this, I also find episodes centering on the Ferengi dull and uninteresting. At least so far in DS9, the only non-human species which have received as much attention as the Ferengi are the Bajorans and Cardassians, both of which have a lot more dimension than the Ferengi. This, I believe, is why DS9 is far superior to the other series. Klingons, Vulcans, and Romulans are generally more interesting to me than Ferengi, but the Cardassian/Bajoran element of DS9 blows all of them out of the water. In the context of DS9, Ferengi-centered episodes often seem uncreative and dimensionless.
Brruceling - Wed, Apr 27, 2011 - 11:50pm (USA Central)
Though this episode deserves some credit for finally introducing a female Ferengi to counter the mounting mental image of the females as mindless, submissive waifs as perpetuated by male Ferengi.
C - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 5:45am (USA Central)
I thought this episode was really funny
Arachnea - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 2:24am (USA Central)
I agree with the anylisis of Sexpun.
The Ferengi are money-driven (the Cardassians or Romulans are power-driven) and they have their own morality and set of laws. Quark is very in character: he believes in the rules of acquisition and Ferengi laws. While this isn't a stellar episode, it does give us some insight about why Quark is Quark. He's grown up with having to deal with taunting, a strong atypical mother and a feeble father and had to fend for himself while his brother was overprotected. We realize that Quark is being generous with the latinum he sends to his mom and without him his brother wouldn't have much to live on (however obnoxious he can be to him).

Now, his general misbehavior has everything to do with his culture (not that I agree with it). But he stays true to his cultural heritage.

On the other hand, I can't say the same about Sisko ! I often grind my teeth about his character: he blackmails, belittles and threatens Quark (if he doesn't like or respect Ferengis, he shouldn't have blackmailed Q. to remain on the station) and others. He dares critisizing an officer while he's disobbeying a direct order. His handling of his son is often very wrong (for example, making Jake feel guilty for preferring staying on DS9 to see a friend he can't see often. In the same episode (explorers), he's willing to risk his son's life on a handmade and non-tested ship, etc etc). This is not to mention the (mostly) bad acting of Avery Brooks. In a nutshell, Sisko is not a true Trek-Federation officer, at least, he's been badly written and appears to me like an hypocritical preacher. I much prefer Quark's character. Well... You understood: Sisko is my least favourite character :-p.

Dont' get me wrong, I enjoyed DS9 (even if not for the same reasons I liked the other Trek series) and I like your reviews, but I wanted to give a different point of view.
DG - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 6:42am (USA Central)
Arachnea, your assessment of Sisko is accurate. To put Sisko's interactions (and blatant bias!) against Feringi into perspective, consider this hypothetical:

"US Fort #11 in Turkey is run by Commander Smith. The President of Nepal, a tiny, ignored, irrelevant country, decides to pay a visit personally to the Fort to interact with a Nepalese bar tender. For sake of argument, let's say the man is obnoxious, loud, and a heavy smoker. Commander Smith ignores the President completely, belittles him in conversation, and snaps at anyone who suggests he should treat the President with any respect."

That is exactly how Sisko treats the Grand Nagus!

I picked Nepal specifically because it's tiny. Now substitute someplace like Switzerland.

And nobody questions this?!

Jack - Thu, Mar 28, 2013 - 1:57pm (USA Central)
Why is it acceptable to break into Quark's while he's not there? I doubt breaking into another facility would be tolerated, but here Odo and Sisko both even witness it and do nothing. And the excuse why they can't replicate another is stupid.
Sintek - Wed, May 29, 2013 - 1:25am (USA Central)

because even in the 24th century, Je- I mean Ferengi - get no respect. They're just so funny looking and are only interested in profit; it's almost like they're people!
Trent - Fri, Jun 7, 2013 - 7:22pm (USA Central)
This is a very good episode. Well paced, good camera work, it has a certain tempo to it, and everything is played lightly and for comedy. Some of the sets are also fantastic. I think Jammer is bugged about the trite plot, but the direction sells it.
T'Paul - Sat, Jul 6, 2013 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
Agree with sexpun's analysis... I think that Nog and Rom give a little more depth to the Ferengi as the series goes on, but it is a bit of a shame to see them become so shallow and irrelevant... I would have liked to see them have a more interesting geopolitical role with the Dominion for example, to have seen more Ferengi ships, more of a (serious) role for the Nagus... the Ferengi clearly have warships and some kind of empire, why couldn't they be more than a parody?
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 9:03am (USA Central)

So-so Ferengi episode.

NoPoet - Mon, Dec 9, 2013 - 5:14am (USA Central)
The discussion in this comments section is far more entertaining than the episode or its review. Sexpun's post is quite remarkable. It is true that many of the races in Trek are portrayed as a mono-culture (even humanity when you think about it) and there could have been a lot more depth to the Vulcans, Romulans and Klingons.

I like the Cardassians, they are as a race mistrustful and hostile, but we see how their society conditions them this way and they are clearly a military society who are perhaps forced into new conquests in order to provide resources for a struggling empire.

As for the Ferengi, I love Quark, Rom and Nog, they embody different characteristics of their species and therefore I feel the Ferengi are well-handled. It's only when other Ferengi come into it behaving like cartoon characters that I would admit their race isn't brilliantly protrayed; however the Grand Nagus is always hilarious and Quark gets some of the best lines in DS9. If only the human characters had been allowed more freedom of expression.

After that rambling discourse, I am always wary of Ferengi episodes as I like stuff that is intense such as the war episodes and the galactic politics. "The House of Quark" is the best Ferengi episode I can think of, it was really funny and very well-acted, but it is not what I'd like to see every episode.
kmfrob - Wed, Dec 18, 2013 - 3:30am (USA Central)
Seems to me that the much vaunted tolerance that the Federation, and by proxy humans, are supposed to show for other races and cultures doesn't quite apply to Ferengis...

There's not really much I can add to what has already been said above, but I neither find the Ferengis distasteful nor amoral. They are who they are.

A major test of tolerance is to maintain it when dealing with something which runs counter to your own way of being. And it seems to me that the Federation, and indeed many of the Hu-mans on this site have failed that test.

Don't worry though, I remain tolerant of you! ;)
Jay - Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
Of course Rom was just lying, but it was absurd that Ishka would expect Quark to change his mind when she hadn't budged at all...she was still insisting on keeping it all...how is that compromise, and why did she suddenly think Quark would agree to it, especially since he's legally responsible for it.
Bravestarr - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
The breaking in was played for humour. This whole episode was hilarious, especially the scene where the FCA agent see's their mother wearing clothes and is shocked as if an IRS agent saw your mother naked.

Personally I love Ferengi episodes, the sheer ludicrousesness of seeing unrestrained capatilism taken to the extremes is always fun.
Toraya - Sun, Mar 2, 2014 - 5:37pm (USA Central)
When I first saw this ep I dismissed it as the typical lightweight Ferengi nonsense - somewhat cute, somewhat dull, entirely inoffensive. Twenty years later, it enrages me.

Ishka is a female Ferengi who has a pretty good life. Widowed and living alone on Ferenganor, she bucks tradition, dresses as she pleases, speaks to males outside her family, does the profit-earning work she loves, and gets a stipend from her well-off son. The legal and cultural enslavement of Ferengi women is, therefore, cast as a lightweight concern: we viewers are encouraged to see her as a middle-class lady whining because she wants to play in the boys' league. Unlike famous Treks of old which used sci-fi to make us think seriously about real social problems of today, this ep determinedly wants us to laugh at those problems.

Ferengi women live under the following restrictions: They are kept utterly dependent on male family members. They are told how to dress. They are not permitted to speak to unrelated males. They are not allowed to travel. They are also the repositories of 'family honor' as we see in Quark's words to his mother ("our family's disgrace...our family's reputation...")

These are not the cute problems of big-eared aliens on a tv show. These are the very real problems of hundreds of millions of real human women: Muslim mostly, but also ultra-orthodox Jew and certain Christian sects and in parts of India and much of Africa etc etc. I wonder what happens to Ferengi women who don't have kind male family members to support them. I wonder what happens when a husband, son, or brother feels like hitting his (utterly dependent) woman. I wonder what happens in any society to a class of people who are kept powerless and thrown on the mercy of others? I wonder if every Ferengi female besides Ishka is - as Quark believes and no one contradicts - docile, obedient, without opinions and totally happy to be powerless.

Not every episode has to has a heavy social commentary. Personally I prefer the adventure outings and the DS9 geopolitics to the moralizing that characterized a lot of TOS and TNG. But to portray a real and huge social problem that enslaves countless women today, and recast it as a giggle-fest? That is shameful, and unworthy of the Star Trek legacy.
Garrison - Sun, Apr 27, 2014 - 8:50am (USA Central)
I don't mind the Ferengi episodes as much as I cringe from NextGen episodes when Picard and Riker basically say "Ewwwwww! Ferengis. Who let that thing on board?"
Quarkissnyder - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 10:04pm (USA Central)
Interesting discussion.

It's the details of the Ferengi episodes that make them so cringeworthy. What kind of culture builds doorways where everyone has to duck to get through? It makes the Ferengi look stupid, both visually (because they are bobbing up and down to get through the doors) and intellectually when obviously they are a relatively major power with an advanced civilization.

As the B plot: the baseball shtick totally bugs me. Sisko's love of baseball is the equivalent of . . . I don't know, it's late, something really stupid. It's pandering to say that centuries from now our hero is going to think that the most exciting sport is . . . gosh, it's our favorite sport! We are so cool! We will live forever!
William B - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 11:09pm (USA Central)
@Quarkissnyder (great name),

Michael Piller is the big baseball fan, and I think that was the reason he wanted to make the protagonist share something in common with him. Frankly, I like it better when Dr. Stubbs in "Evolution" loves baseball -- there's something a little touching about our national sport being beloved only by lonely, friendless oddballs (even if genius ones).
William B - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 12:06am (USA Central)
I mean to put quotation marks around "our national sport," since it's not even *my* national sport. Anyway...
Peremensoe - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 7:39am (USA Central)
"What kind of culture builds doorways where everyone has to duck to get through?"

Plenty of human cultures do or have done this... it reinforces each room as a *place*, and makes the act of moving into or out of it more meaningful.
Yanks - Tue, Aug 5, 2014 - 9:05am (USA Central)
Everyone (writers included) relates the Ferengi with capitalists and that of course is correct.

But what never seems to get mentioned is their treatment of women is pretty much Muslim. That has nothing to do with Capitalism.

Not a huge fan of this one, but I'll give is a 2.5. It's an average episode. Lots of comedy.

"Moooooogy"... god I hate that...
Edington - Sun, Sep 14, 2014 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
I generally hate the Ferengi stories, this one included, even though i am a capitalist. However you can usually find very impressive or humorous moments, often understated, such as the preces and ritual welcoming of Brunt into Quarks home, performed with the perfect amount of rote lackluster you'd expect from two people who don't like each other yet begrudgingly respect their shared traditions:

Quark (handing Brunt a towell to dry his head, and giving the Ferengi gesture of piety): "Remember, my house is my house"

Brunt (in response, returning the gesture): "As are its contents."

A very well done moment, and hilarious to anyone who ever performs routine social or pious rituals.
Don Joe - Sun, Nov 2, 2014 - 3:34pm (USA Central)
It seemed a little weird to me that jammer gave so much relevance to the Sisko b-story, but then I understand some people don't really like the ferengi stories. No offense but I think some of the comments are much more interesting this time.

I myself thought, as I watched it, that this would be a thought provoking episode, what with the ferengi woman wanting to be a person. But... in the end, there was nothing gained. Clearly she couldn't just win her rights in the course of a forty minutes comedic episode, but the result was that her (also actual) issue was only used to give a context to the comedy, as has already been pointed out. It's unfortunate the ferengi have turned out so funny, because the way their society is built makes for very trekkish stories.

Maybe someone already mentioned that the black commander hooked up with yet another gorgeous black woman, and what do they have in common? Oh hey, it's baseball!
Sorry, I've got nothing against those things. I just thought that, maybe, in the vast universe... Perhaps Andorians have colored people too.
Chris - Wed, Nov 5, 2014 - 8:53pm (USA Central)
If Ishka was being remotely truthful with Rom about it not being about the money, but about the pride, then she shouldn't have minded at all splitting the money with Quark. It was her generous stipend from Quark that made all of her dealings possible after all. Ishka came off so despicably here that I couldn't stand her in any of her later appearances, even though she was played by another actress.
Dimpy - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 - 3:50am (USA Central)
I think the hatred for the Ferengi is because they look so different from humans. You can't call it "racism", but in Star Trek, the human-aliens are always similar to humans, but the more bizzare ones are always evil. The Ferengi, because they looked comical, were downgraded from evil to greedy ( a type of evil ).

Therefore the real reflection of human nature is humans are still racist, but in a PC world everyone has to pretend not to be, so Star Trek is an outlet for racial aggression.

As follows:

Klingons - black coloured people are violent

Ferengi - jews are greedy and comical

Romulans/Cardassians/Borg - too controlling and not tolerant of "human" rights like americans.

Federation - The ONLY truly moral AMERICAN types, who lead other aliens ( or human races ) into the right path to morality ???

As Quark mentions later, if the Federation knew struggling, they wouldn't be so moral. As for humans currently, most of the problems are caused by Americans keeping slaves in China, yet we expect them to act moral, yet ship cheap goods to us ???

Or Americans saying Saudis are cruel, yet we expect their oil to support our monetary system ???

Yet without cheap chinese goods shipped to us by Saudi oil, suddenly Americans are immoral.

Quark = TRUTH

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