Nutshell: Weak. A predictable Ferengi melodrama with very few laughs. A season low point.
Two weeks ago in my review of "Business as Usual," I pointed out that Quark episodes that treat his character seriously rather than simply going for the obvious "comedy" of a situation are usually, if not always, better. While there have been lighthearted exceptions like "Body Parts" and "Little Green Men" that have worked, most Quark-centered shows that take this comedic approach are shallow, nondescript, unfunny, or all of the above.
"Ferengi Love Songs"—by far the weakest episode all season (again, aside from "Let He Who Is Without Sin ", which doesn't count as a real episode)—fits the description of Yet Another Standard Ferengi Outing [TM]. It's goofy, annoying, trite, and all-too-sparsely amusing. I must admit that when I saw the preview featuring Quark's mother Ishka (a.k.a. "Moogie," recast since third season's Andrea Martin and now played by Cecily Adams) I wasn't particularly enthralled. And when the episode began, I tried to clear my mind of impatience and cynicism so I could enjoy myself. Alas, it was not to be.
"Ferengi Love Songs" is akin to the same sort of tiring pointlessness that third season's ponderous "Family Business" and last season's by-the-numbers "Bar Association" were. Again, the story doesn't really have a legitimate theme, it's just More Ferengi Farce, but without any solid laughs. In fact, I'd put "Ferengi Love Songs" on or near the bottom of the Ferengi episode list.
Surprisingly, unlike many Quark- and Ferengi-centered outings, this episode doesn't shove the joke of "Ferengi are greedy and economy-driven so they're funny!" down our throats. Instead, Behr and Beimler have scripted a Ferengi melodrama in which Quark runs home to Ferenginar to stay with his mother because he has hit a streak of bad luck and realizes his life is in shambles. Once he returns home, however, he discovers that his mother (apparently the only female Ferengi on the planet with any aspirations to tear down the sexist society a la "Family Business") has fallen in love with Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn, reprising a role that is really beginning to wear thin).
Ishka and Zek together are extremely annoying. Have you ever known a couple that was so syrupy and cute in public that it made you just want to walk really far away from them? Well, magnify that times ten and you get Ishka and Zek. Their cuteness emanates from the television screen in such farcical extreme that I wanted to walk away from my television. Fortunately, these scenes are in small, barely-tolerable doses.
But then again, that's hardly the fundamental problem with the show, although it sure doesn't help. One major problem with "Ferengi Love Songs" is that, as a Ferengi melodrama, it's predictable to the extreme. Just about everything that happens in the course of the episode can be called several scenes in advance. There isn't a single surprise or original idea to be found in the show. Does Quark try to take advantage of the Nagus' relationship with his mother to get his Ferengi business license back? Yep. When Zek refuses, does Brunt the FCA guy show up to offer to restore Quark's license in exchange for sabotaging Zek's relationship with this "troublesome female"? Yep. Does Quark lie to Zek about his mother's intentions and scare Zek off? Yep. Is Ishka crushed? Yep. Does Quark feel guilty afterward? Yep. Once it's revealed that Ishka is the key behind Zek's financial leadership (since he has chronic memory losses) does Brunt try to label Zek incompetent and seize power? Yep. Was this all Evil Brunt's master plan? Yep. Has Quark caused the mess of all messes and must now fix it by repairing his mother's and Zek's relationship? Yep.
Nothing in the plot has any sense of sincerity. It's 100 percent perfunctory. Is the conclusion to any of this in doubt for a second? Do we even care? No, and no. The storyline of a typical Ferengi show doesn't usually matter when it comes down to it; instead, what I look for is something amusing in the characterizations. It doesn't happen here. The only one who comes close to surviving the uninvolving mayhem of the plot is Armin Shimerman, who plays Quark just as adequately as usual. Quark isn't deep, but he's not really unpleasant to watch, either. Ishka, Zek, and Brunt, on the other hand, are puppets in a useless plot that has no need to give them any character beyond what little cardboardedness they need to fuel the useless plot.
As far as an analysis of Quark, Ishka, and Ferengi culture goes, "Ferengi Love Songs" leaves me somewhat perplexed. I thought the point of "Family Business" two years ago was to demonstrate how much the Ferengi don't fit in the Roddenberry universe, and that Ishka represented a wave of change. At times, this installment appears like it could've veered in that direction and followed things up. But it doesn't happen. All possibilities are abandoned as Ishka agrees to continue acting as Zek's secret financial advisor and the two live happily ever after. The "troublesome female" Quark lies to Zek about early in the episode is actually the Ishka that seemed to come out of "Family Business," and, quite frankly, that Ishka was a hell of a lot more interesting than this character, who promptly settles for status quo on Ferenginar so she can live out her days with the true love of Zek. Or something.
It may seem harsh the way I'm comparing Ishka with the Ishka that could've been; but, really, that's about all here that's worth scrutinizing. And scrutinizing leads to this conclusion. Other than the aforementioned, there's nearly zero substance. (I will add, however, that the Ferengi architecture and decor is terrible. No points for the production design department this week.)
Oh, yes. Then there's the B-story involving Leeta and Rom and their intentions to get married. Do I need to comment here, or is what I'm about to say as predictable as how this subplot unfolded? (I'll comment anyway, because that's my job.)
In brief: Please, no more. No more Rom, no more Leeta, no more any of it. This subplot was as much akin to shallow melodrama as was the main story, if not more so. And it was just as predictable, if not 100 times more so. I was practically reciting the lines before the actors.
Naturally, we get plenty more of Leeta being, well, Leeta. And plenty more of Rom being, well, Rom. I've had it with Chase Masterson's hollow performances. And I've had it with the writers' portrayal of Rom as Idiot of the Year. In this setting, a single (and complimentary, by the way) remark by Dax to Rom saying that he's the most un-Ferengi-like Ferengi she has ever met sends Rom on a hopelessly obvious attempt to suddenly become more Ferengi-like and begin treating Leeta in the sexist ways that a typical Ferengi man would treat any given "female." He begins by asking her to sign a prenuptial agreement. Give me a break. The handling of this is so terribly superficial and completely lacking in the behavior of real people (and more the behavior of cartoon characters) that it's practically agonizing to watch unfold. The only character to survive this aspect of the story is O'Brien (because Colm Meaney can work magic even with the worst material—then again, O'Brien's part in this is only peripheral). As long as Leeta and Rom are portrayed as cartoon characters, I have no desire to see them on Deep Space Nine.
I've said all I feel like saying about "Ferengi Love Songs." To the episode's credit, there are some amusing lines scattered throughout the show, but they're not nearly enough to overcome the bulk of the story's deficiencies. This installment is an average example of the DS9 Ferengi show and nothing more—but perhaps plenty less.