Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Prophet Motive"


Air date: 2/20/1995
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Rene Auberjonois

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You better hurry. I got the dampening field on this ship for a substantial discount." — Nagus Zek, regarding turbulent wormhole passage

A lightweight Ferengi comedy that plays its hand with jokes that are far to obvious and quite often hokey. Highly uneventful, "Prophet Motive" further demonstrates its trivial nature with a subplot involving Dr. Bashir and his nomination for a prestigious medical award—some strictly standard filler.

Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn) comes to the station and moves in with Quark. He brings with him a gift (that's right, a gift, not a sale)—a Bajoran orb he obtained from one of his contacts on Cardassia. Zek acts very strangely for the Nagus—he's way too nice and cheery—and before long, Quark and Rom realize he's lost all interest in profit. Zek gives them a copy of his Revised Rules of Acquisition. Rule #1: "If they want their money back, give it to them." The entire rules list goes much like that, 180 degrees from conventional Ferengi thinking. Zek has apparently gone insane.

At first, Quark believes that the Nagus is doing this as some sort of master plan to harvest a killing of a profit. But as the episode progresses, Zek's actions consistently prove Quark wrong. Maybe the Nagus is crazy after all.

What we have here is a predictable comic trifle that fails because we know Quark all too well. We know how he will react to almost every situation to arise in the story, and what he will say when prompted for a one-liner by another character. This episode doesn't work for every reason "The House of Quark" did. In that installment, at least Quark had Grilka and the other Klingons to play off his dialogue, and at least he did something somewhat impulsive and selfless while remaining true to his character. Here, Quark is cardboardedly transparent.

Meanwhile, Zek comes across annoyingly goofy since, as Quark later learns, he has been converted by the wormhole aliens into a fun-loving philanthropist. This leads Quark to take the Nagus back into the wormhole, hoping he can persuade the inhabitants to change Zek back. This standout scene somewhat redeems the episode, giving Quark some much more subtle—and more effective—one-liners. It's also nicely photographed and completely consistent with Sisko's encounter with the wormhole aliens in "Emissary," now over two years old. It's a refreshing change of pace, giving Quark a chance to take a stand for good old-fashioned galactic greed. His exaggeration on the repercussions of eliminating greed is hilarious. Unfortunately, it takes until the final act for this to happen.

The B-story lacks urgency and does very little for Bashir's character. He is nominated for an award that most accomplished doctors can only hope to be nominated for after a lifetime of practice. The entire thread consists of little more than Bashir telling everyone that he has no chance of winning. And in the end when he does indeed lose to another contender just as predicted, it's hard not to wonder what the point of the whole idea was.

Previous episode: Destiny
Next episode: Visionary

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27 comments on this review

Todd - Sun, Jan 6, 2008 - 9:15pm (USA Central)
The bashir subplot was intended as a rib by the writers regarding TNG being nominated for an emmy for best dramatic series that year. They explained it in the ds9 companion book.
Sexpun - Mon, Mar 7, 2011 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
So you're not a fan of this episode because Quark acts like Quark? His responses are predictable.

Well that's not a bad thing, I mean, characters do have to act like themselves every once in a while.

I would argue Sisko is always going to do something self-sacrificial and noble, given the chance, Kira will always be hot-headed and aggressive, especially regarding Cardassians. Dax will always be calm, slightly bemused, and ready with a wise-beyond-her-years piece of advice.

So you can, in some episodes, say Quark will be selfish and greedy, farcically so. That's who he is. As Dax said to Sisko, once you accept that's who they are, they're fun to be around.

You seem to dislike most episodes centering on Ferengis on principle. I encourage you to not be so myopic in your reviews of these little republicans, and be satisfied with what is, rather than yearning for character evolution and growth in every single episode.
Jay - Sat, Oct 22, 2011 - 9:22am (USA Central)
The very notion behind the B-story seems like it was barely thought out. and just thrown in at the last minute. If we take what Bashir says to be true, the Carrington is the preeminent medical prize in the Federation, so I would think that there would much more pomp and circumstance for it, and that the nominees would make every effort to travel to Earth for at a banquet or something. Here it's an admiral (no indication that its even the head of Starfleet Medical) very unclimactically reading the results in about a minute's time. Also, if it really is, again as Bashir says, meant to be the culmination of a lifetime of medical research and work, then Dax (who in 7 lives should have known that too) was incredibly presumptuous nominating a 29 year old for the award, and that 29 year old thinking he had a chance at it (which he clearly did if he "wasn't taking it well" at the end) was about a hundredfold more presumptuous.
Diamond - Thu, Dec 22, 2011 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
I can't say this was my favorite episode (though I do tend to agree with an above poster that I don't look for major character developement in every episode). But for me Zek's actor very nearly made the whole epidode worthwhile. In particular, though there was hardly any particular reason for it, I could not stop chuckling during the scene where Zek was being carried around in a sack, humming merrily the whole time.
TMLS - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 7:46pm (USA Central)
Opportunity missed in the B story, could have been a nice cameo for Diana Muldar.
Cail Corishev - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 2:50pm (USA Central)
It's not that Quark reacts predictably; it's that it goes on too long. Ok, we get it, the Nagus turned altruistic. We don't need to hear two dozen reversed Rules of Acquisition to drive the point home. After a while, I could recite them as soon as Rom said the first couple words. But with such a weak B story, I guess they had to spend some time on something.

I was a bit disappointed in Quark's little speech to the prophets, because he didn't have to go to the "greed" place. Less "Wall Street" and more "John Galt" would have been better. There's a valid point to be made that if people can't profit from their work, they're much less likely to strive and be productive. That doesn't require that they be greedy; it just requires that they want to provide for themselves and give their families a good life.

It's one of those (many) times when Trek sets up an alien society to look stupid in comparison to the mature, wise, secular humanism of the Federation. But if the Ferengi way is so stupid, how did they develop a space-faring civilization with billions of people spread across many planets? (In TNG, they were said to be about as powerful as the Federation, but that seems to have been toned down by this point. Still, they have a thriving civilization.) Same thing with the Cardassian legal system, and other examples: if their society is so obviously broken in such-and-such a way, how did they build cities and develop space travel and art and culture and so on? Maybe there are other ways of doing things, and maybe those ways are valid (at least for them) despite not fitting the human/Federation mold.
flixx - Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - 2:38pm (USA Central)
I just keep hearing 'Inconcievable!' over and over and over again in my head when I hear Zek speak...so anytime Zek is in an episode, I think of 'The Princess Bride'...(or sometimes 'My Dinner with Andre')
ProgHead777 - Thu, Jul 18, 2013 - 2:44am (USA Central)
I find myself very much in agreement with Jammer's reviews most of the time. I might quibble with a detail here or there and occasionally disagree more strongly on a point or two in a given episode, but for the most part, I consider his evaluations to be well thought out and they often open my eyes to details and ideas I hadn't thought of myself. But we definitely part ways when it comes to these "fluff" episodes. DS9 in particular could be a quite heavy and dark series, ever more so as it evolved. I look at these comedic fluff episodes as a tonic to prepare you for the heavy shit that's about to rain down, and I usually welcome them. Was this the funniest Trek had to offer? Definitely not. Not by a long shot. But criticizing it too harshly seems a bit like "kicking a puppy" to me. Take it for what it is worth. It's not going to ruin the series and it sure as hell isn't going to kill you. 3 stars.
Paul - Sat, Aug 10, 2013 - 4:15pm (USA Central)
In light of later revelations about Julian Bashir, the B story is fascinating.

He's initially decidedly unenthusiastic about being nominated for the award, and explains that it's normally reserved for great scientists at the end of their lives. Then he explains it away by saying he won't win. Is it that, or is it possible that winning could lead others to discover his secret origins? This explains his relief when he doesn't win and his insistence to Dax that he isn't taking it well - he doesn't want her to suspect anything either.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:56pm (USA Central)

Not the greatest Ferengi episode.

Cheyne - Fri, Nov 22, 2013 - 12:37pm (USA Central)
I'm not usually a big Ferengi ep. fan, but I thought this was amusing enough.

The Quark orb scene with Zek was good, as was the scene with the prophets.

I also agree with Paul above, in light of later revelations about Bashir, perhaps this is an early hint at the direction his story is about to take.

Plus the crew ribbing him is enjoyable to see.
Jack - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 4:34pm (USA Central)
Not sure why Bashir was working on an acceptance speech, since, as Jay pointed out, the ceremony to announce the winner didn't seem very elaborate.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 1, 2014 - 12:23pm (USA Central)
Agree Jammer.

Below average episode that except for jotting these reviews is a skipper for me.

2 stars.
Sean - Fri, Aug 8, 2014 - 12:09am (USA Central)
Quark had an orb experience. And he talked to the Prophets. Quark. Effing Quark. So of all the people who have gone to the prophets and talked to them directly, we have to include Quark. And Zek for that matter. Just let that sink in.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 8, 2014 - 5:59am (USA Central)
lol .... thanks Sean.
Scott - Mon, Sep 1, 2014 - 9:05pm (USA Central)
Sisko had to explain time and corporeal existence to the wormhole aliens. Now we have Quark having to explain the simple concept of profit to these beings. Shouldn't this have caused some major questions on Bajor about their faith? We know that bajorans pray to their Gods. We can assume they pray about everyday things such as finances. Now Bajorans learn that since the beginning of their existence until quark went into the wormhole the wormhole aliens didn't know about earning profit. It took a ferengi to teach their Gods about earning profit. I wanted a scene where Quark told Kira that he had to teach her Gods about profit so they would evolve the Nagus. The fact is the writers couldn't have created that scene without making Kira doubt her faith because it's so silly. It would make people wonder if the wormhole aliens even hear their prayers or if they would even understand their prayers considering Sisko and quark just taught them about basic things such as time, existence and aquiring profit. The show should have shown a bajorans reaction to hearing about the ferengi bartender teaching their gods about profit
Caleb - Thu, Oct 16, 2014 - 8:50pm (USA Central)
Really hokey and lightweight, but I gotta say, I really enjoyed it - mostly for the scene with Quark and the Prophets. Silly, but it worked.
Carl - Fri, Feb 6, 2015 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
Scott wrote:

"Now Bajorans learn that since the beginning of their existence until quark went into the wormhole the wormhole aliens didn't know about earning profit."

You're forgetting that the wormhole aliens don't exist in linear time. They might be learning about profit 'now' but they had just as much access to this knowledge in Bajor's past as they will do in its future.
Dimpy - Tue, Feb 10, 2015 - 4:30pm (USA Central)
Sisko - Emissary of the Prophets and first to communicate with the aliens of time.

Zek - Emissary of the Profits and second to represent humanoid species.

Quark - 3rd Emissary and proof that humanoids are annoying.

What have you learned from these three, oh great ones in the hole ?

P.S. - No Bajorians have directly met the prophets in the celestial temple. Hmm ?
MsV - Thu, Apr 30, 2015 - 8:46pm (USA Central)
That is very odd Dimpy, that no Bajorans have directly met the prophets in the celestial temple. But Zek meeting them is even more odd.
William B - Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - 11:08am (USA Central)
The Prophets do their first act of divine-ish intervention since "Emissary," and transform Zek into a philanthropist. The horror! Anyway, there are a few funny bits in this episode -- I liked the joke of Quark trying to read the first words of the Updated Rules of Acquisition for a code, at least at first -- but they are spread a bit too thin for the episode's farce to be, uh, funny. The episode's thematic material is largely building toward Quark's Gordon Gekko-style greed-is-good pitch to the Prophets, which I think is meant by the writers et al. as a kind of we're-joking-but-not-entirely sort of message. It is good to want things, so that people achieve and don't sit around lazily, which ties the main plot in with the subplot about how awards recognition does (or doesn't) play into Bashir's achievement. And, well, Quark sort of has a point; remove greed *entirely* and there could be dire consequences, if the ability to find personal drive is removed entirely. However, the episode doesn't actually show most of those dire consequences. Quark's pitch about the Nagus is indeed a specious argument; not only does Zek not starve to death, he seems bursting with energy all episode long, acting with enthusiasm to make the galaxy a better place for everyone and at no point actually running into any real trouble. The biggest flaws of Zek's new outlook are 1) that he looks kind of silly (which he did before) and is a bit annoying at times, and 2) that he unreasonably intrudes, upending Quark's life unfairly just because *Zek* has been born again. And, well, (1) is minor, but (2) is a real problem -- just because Zek is now enlightened does not mean he has the right to reorder everyone else's life, let alone steal Quark's quarters away from Quark so that he can live a monk lifestyle in *Quark's* quarters. Still, Quark, um, doesn't make those arguments.

Zek's interfering in Quark's life is a microcosm of what the big problem with the Prophets' behaviour is. Because Zek seems completely happy all episode long and no ill befalls him and he is helping people, it's hard to say that the enlightenment the Prophets provide is *per se* wrong, though one could imagine a scenario in which Zek became exploitable because his newfound good nature overrided his business sense. The real problem is that the Wormhole Aliens rewrite Zek without his consent, with extremely limited understanding of the species or even the *type* of species they are dealing with. Zek's piously selling all Quark's stuff is the minor version of the Wormhole Aliens' huge transgression, and whether the new Zek is indeed improved or not is rather not the point -- they can't just rewrite lesser beings as they see fit. They need their own Prime Directive. Or, I guess, this episode sort of seems to suggest they can't, though it mostly dodges that argument and instead settles on Quark's reasoning, which goes counter to how the episode actually works. Still, taking the long view of the series (spoilers), Ferengi culture in general and Zek in particular eventually come more or less to the same point as this episode (i.e. in "The Dogs of War") perhaps just less extremely -- even this episode's Zek is still capitalistic, just capitalistic with a bigger emphasis on the role of charity, family and fairness. The Prophets fail to get their own lesson: Zek's failing which started this whole episode off was trying to see the future before it happened, and the WAs rushed Zek to become the enlightened man he is becoming at the series' end, rather than allowing him to develop as himself.

The message that it's important to let things happen at their own pace and not to leapfrog important developmental steps extends to the B-plot, where Bashir tells everyone that he should hardly even have been nominated so early in his life, and tries to maintain that he holds no hope of winning and that he can look forward to a possible Carrington win half a century hence. His maturity is mostly a disguise; Bashir still badly wants to win, and can hardly handle the waiting even as he puts on a front; the kind of maturity that requires waiting for things to develop in their proper time can be maddening. I suspect Bashir is especially conflicted because of (spoiler) the genetic engineering thing, but even without the knowledge that there is something artificial about his brilliance, it has got to be scary too to be standing at a prestigious nomination at 29 with the possibility that that may be one of those people who peak extremely early in their professional lives. While some of the needling Bashir gets from his friends is amusing, I did find myself pretty annoyed that people kept on Julian's case, particularly since he genuinely did nothing to bring about the nomination and tried all episode to tell people to leave him alone; payback for his earlier-in-series arrogance, perhaps? It is thin, but has some nice moments.

Unremarked on but interesting is that while there is some self-interest to Quark acting to restore Zek, especially his fear that the other Ferengi will murder him for being part of Zek's entourage, Quark, Rom and Mai'har'du also seem quite genuinely invested in Zek's welfare, and Quark takes great risks without an unambiguous reward because he...wants the Nagus to be himself? He...cares about Zek?

I don't dislike this episode exactly, and it has some nice thematic stuff, but I do think it's way too thin and not that funny or satisfying -- probably 1.5 stars.
William B - Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
I've got to add, that Zek *immediately* upon acquiring an orb thinks to try to make contact with the Wormhole Aliens is one thing; that he succeeds well enough that Quark can repeat the experience is another. This retroactively damages "Destiny," by the way, in addition to most future episodes in which people guess about what the Prophets want. "Can we get in touch with these aliens? What is the deal with those Orbs?" are questions Sisko and Dax largely forgot about after "Emissary," and it takes the Nagus and Quark no time to come up with contact strategies. I'll grant that the WAs being unpredictable and temperamental and rewriting people on a whim is a reason to avoid them, but that is a point that should be discussed, and the use of the WAs as comic foils one episode after a show that would fall apart if the crew considered asking the Prophets whether that vedek is reporting their word and what his metaphors actually mean is another instance of really poor episode placement (along with the "Life Support"/"Heart of Stone" issue) and generally frustrating.
Easter - Sun, Sep 27, 2015 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
@William B
I think the show is trying to say that contacting the aliens is a terrible idea. The Bajorans won't do it because they see it as disrespectful. Sisko won't do it because last time he barely made it out alive and then only by arguing for his right to exist and they made it pretty clear they don't like or want visitors. A message he probably relayed to Starfleet. The prophesies are not from the wormhole aliens directly as much as from the orbs which are some sort of nonlinear time message system realted to/created by the WA but not controlled or monitored by them directly. I imagine if you went and asked the WA "hey, are the serpents from this one prophesy the cardassians?" they'd be all "What's a cardassian? also what's a prophesy? also what's a serpent? also how dare you speak to me?"
William B - Sun, Sep 27, 2015 - 5:48pm (USA Central)
@Easter, that's a really good point. It does bother me though that the "Gods" are *right there* and yet Bajorans persist in making claims about what the Prophets want of them, most of which seem to contradict what little information is available at this time, and that this is so rarely discussed. I think I understand the general psychology of it, but I wish that more of the non-Bajorans (or, better, some but not all Bajorans and some but not all non-Bajorans) would talk more openly about which of their religious traditions make sense in light of the actual discovery of the WAs right there, scientific study of the orbs, etc. That Sisko barely escaped in "Emissary" does help make sense to some degree of why everyone then stopped visiting the wormhole, though I'm not sure why Dax had to drop her "Emissary" task of doing a scientific investigation of the orb.

Thinking about how the orbs are not directly related to the WAs does help make more sense of why the prophesies are treated as completely nonverifiable except through faith (or waiting around and seeing).
Easter - Sun, Sep 27, 2015 - 6:35pm (USA Central)
@William B

I completely understand that frustration. The orbs are kind of just written off as "foreshadowing plot device X" pretty early despite the fact that they realistically should be a HUGE avenue of study. There is a joke floating around the internet that goes "If you ever feel lazy, just remember that the Ancient Greeks believed their gods lived at the top of a completely scalable mountain but never bothered to go check" and I suppose this may be a similar line of reasoning.

Maybe the idea is that the Bajorans won't because they're too religious and the church (which we've seen have considerable legitimate political power at times) forbids it and starfleet doesn't out of respect to the Bajorans and everyone else doesn't because the wormhole is being held by starfleet and the Bajorans.

A cult of Bajorans deciding to go visit would probably make a pretty cool episode/story arc though. A shame they never followed up on that opportunity.

Ultimately I think the real reason is that the writers didn't want to have to actually explain how the orbs/WA work since they frankly don't know. It's one of the problems with mortals writing a being beyond mortal comprehension, it's creators can't properly comprehend it.
Grumpy - Sun, Sep 27, 2015 - 11:30pm (USA Central)
Easter: "The orbs are kind of just written off as 'foreshadowing plot device X pretty early despite the fact that they realistically should be a HUGE avenue of study."

Indeed, the pilot episode implied (or anyone with story sense inferred) that the Orbs and their recovery from Cardassia would be a series-long arc. Instead, they pop up randomly and play no role in the resolution of the series. We're told there are nine, which suggests a "catch 'em all" angle that went unexplored. Heck, they're not even orb-shaped! DS9 dropped the ball here, as surely as VGR quit counting shuttlecraft.

(Story that should've been told: Bajorans discover a sister race in the Gamma Quadrant, keepers of orbs ejected from the other side of the wormhole. They might even have been the Founders, who rose to power by manipulating the orbs.)

"If you ever feel lazy, just remember that the Ancient Greeks believed their gods lived at the top of a completely scalable mountain but never bothered to go check"

Heh. Never heard that before. :D
JMT - Wed, Oct 28, 2015 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
Quark represents the exact opposite of Starfleet ideals、and so he makes for an excellent comic foil in which to parody Trek as seen in both in this episode and House of Quark. Shimerman's performance is excellent, and manages to keep these potentially disastrous (these episodes have the potential to be as horrible as a Lwaxana episode) Quark-centric episodes entertaining.

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