Nutshell: Not bad. Not outstanding, but quite respectable.
"Business as Usual" is a very respectable Quark vehicle that uses Quark's values reasonably and intelligently to mold a story that has a seriousness that we usually don't get to see from stories crafted for the character. I welcomed that. As the resident Ferengi, Quark has been saddled with more "comedy" episodes than probably any other regular character in the Star Trek universe, and I think that's an unnecessary and even misguided approach. There's plenty of potential for milking relevant drama out of Ferengi greed and profit—in fact, I've found drama about these topics much more effective than comedy, because with comedy they're treated with such one-joke superficiality that the joke has long since become quite old.
In "Business as Usual," Quark loses his shirt when his last stock hopes fail. He's in trouble. He's in debt. And since he put the bar up as collateral, he stands to lose everything he owns—and drown in debt as his brokers foreclose. Quark may even be in danger of receiving broken legs if his brokers run out of patience.
Suddenly, Quark's infamous cousin Gaila shows up and offers him an opportunity: If Quark helps Gaila and Gaila's gun-running partner Hagath (Steven Berkoff) deal weapons through the station, then Quark will profit enough to pull himself out of debt, and then some—Gaila promises that Quark would make enough profit to own his own moon within a year.
To sidestep the legal technicalities, Quark and Gaila devise a rather clever holosuite program of weapon samples. Quark's line of logic is that since all he's dealing are "holograms," Odo and Sisko can't touch him since he isn't really breaking any laws.
Well, needless to say, that's not the point. Once Odo discovers what Quark is up to, he hauls him in for questioning. In a scene that sets the tone for the episode, Sisko and Kira realize that they can't press charges (the Bajorans owe Hagath a favor because he offered them weapons during the resistance)—but they aren't going to let Quark off easily. They both come down hard on him, and once Quark realizes what he's done in the face of the people of DS9, the message becomes clear. In perhaps the most perfect touch in the episode, Quark looks at Odo with a blank stare—and all Odo can do is stare back with an expression that says all without using a single word: "Now see what you've gotten yourself into, Quark?"
The rest of "Business as Usual" is a morality play of how Quark deals with the fact that he's trapped in a sinister situation while he suddenly finds that he's developed scruples. Before long, Quark realizes that he cannot simply distance himself from the fact that he's selling items that are helping people kill others—and in mass volume. "They're only used for defensive purposes!", Quark tries to rationalize on more than one occasion. He tries to draw pity from Dax, who is quite disgusted with the Ferengi's willingness to indirectly cause death for the sake of his own profit motives. It doesn't work—no one wants to talk to him, no one cares about his troubles, and no one visits his bar.
And yet the beauty of "Business as Usual" is that it puts Quark in a totally sympathetic position. Quark doesn't want to sell weapons, but he had no choice when he started—Gaila's option was the only way out of his predicament. But once Quark makes enough money to pay his creditors, he finds himself in a new bind. Hagath does not take betrayal or disappointment well, and there's a very uneasy sense that if Quark "crosses" Hagath by wanting out of the partnership, Hagath may suddenly cause a mysteriously fatal "accident" upon Quark. Such things have happened by Hagath's will before.
Steven Berkoff's rendition of the Hagath character is amusing to watch at times, and I think that he was perfectly cast in this comedic sort of villain personality. But, at the same time, Berkoff sometimes goes just a little too far over-the-top, to the point that his scenery-chewing becomes a little annoying. Berkoff's performance is very evidently stylized—he should've scaled it back just a bit. I couldn't help but constantly think of Hagath as an interstellar version of Beverly Hills Cop's Victor Maitland. (I was endlessly awaiting the line, "Goodbye, Mr. Quark.")
Still, it's very easy to see why Quark—or anyone, for that matter—could be intimidated by Hagath's always-conveyed "Don't cross me" evident behind that salesman's smile. It's when the stakes really start getting high that Quark truly realizes what he's gotten himself into and decides he has to do something to get himself out. The regent of a warring, non-Federation government (Lawrence Tierney) comes to Quark and Hagath, asking for a biological weapon that would help him achieve a death toll in the range of oh, about 28 million.
Quark's conscience knows where he needs to go, but his Ferengi greed tries to talk him into rationalizing that his peripheral involvement in this deal doesn't make him responsible.
But that's the point of "Business as Usual"—and the "episode moral" is nicely realized because it's obvious, yet not spoon-fed for the most part. (Although, Quark's dream sequence was a tad excessive and probably unnecessary) What the show understands—and Quark, as well—is that if you have involvement in something that kills 28 million people and you could've prevented it, then you helped kill 28 million people. Both Quark's conscience (something we all know he has) and the greed that tries to dissuade him from doing the right thing are within the parameters of his character. Armin Shimerman's performance is on-the-money, and some of his grim facial expressions (apparent through the prosthetics yet still subtle) show that the character is really thinking hard—particularly in one extremely serious scene where Gaila tries to convince him that 28 million "anonymous" deaths is a small price to pay considering the number of warring worlds in the quadrant bent on destroying each other. Gaila's argument strikes me as a realistic notion. No, I don't agree with it, but I can see how a weapons dealer would come to live by it being in the business for 40 years.
"Business as Usual" was written by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, the team who also brought us the teleplay for "The Assignment" earlier this season. Both stories are effective in that they center around individuals who are trapped alone in difficult, high-pressure situations. Both also end with the protagonist using sleight of hand to escape, but I definitely like the cleverness written for Quark's solution here better than the standard ending supplied for O'Brien's problem. Quark's solution is a rather underhanded trick on his partners and prospective buyers. He invites the regent's enemies to the station as prospective buyers and then sets all of them up to meet unexpectedly in a cargo bay. The way Quark goes about this is fairly amusing. Of course, we all knew Quark would get out of his situation in a way that would preserve his image, dignity, life, and values—but since it was all inevitable, at least the ending was amusing in its chaos while also serious in the gravity of its implications. (Gaila and Hagath flee the station after the resulting mess and will likely not be heard from again; the regent is subsequently killed by his enemies.)
"Business as Usual" is nothing particularly audacious or original; it's mostly just decent and respectable. Woven into the plot is some standard but amiable fluff concerning Chief O'Brien's baby—lightweight, but at least an acknowledgement that the kid exists. As a Quark show it has unprecedented seriousness, which is a welcome change of pace. For the most part, everyone and everything comes off well. Not too shabby at all.