Nutshell: One of the most purely enjoyable "little" episodes of Trek in quite a while. Very amusing, and with some well-realized character work, too.
When Quark's Klingon "ex-wife" Grilka (see third season's "House of Quark" for a recap of the circumstances surrounding their constructed relationship) visits the station, her demeanor strikes Worf with a sudden case of "par'mach" (described by Dax as the "Klingon word for love with more intense overtones"). Worf's dishonor among Klingons, however, prevents him from pursuing any sort of relationship with her. Besides, the possibility exists that she is, in fact, here because she is interested in Quark.
"Looking for Par'mach in All the Wrong Places," in addition to having one of the longest episode titles in Trek history, is one of the most purely amusing episodes of DS9 I can remember. There's not much of anything here in terms of plot, but that's precisely the point and the reason why the show works so well.
Every once in a while DS9 needs to do this—just forget about storytelling with the usual plot workings and get back to the fundamentals of the characters. In essence, "Looking for Par'mach" is a lot like shore leave: the characters are always off duty, the bad guys are nowhere to be found, and the only concerns become our characters' personal affairs. Plot takes a back seat to human interaction, and as for special effects—who needs 'em when we've got quirky dialog?
For starters, this is probably one of the best comic vehicles Quark has ever had. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, unlike most Quark-oriented shows, this is not a Ferengi episode, so all the typical baggage that comes along with Ferengi episodes (see Voyager's "False Profits" from last week for a prime example of Ferengi baggage) is thankfully missing. Secondly, Quark is allowed an opportunity to act with motivations beyond exploiting people to make a quick buck. Such unending exploitation without consequence is one aspect of his character I have never found particularly impressive (it got really old really fast) and it's nice to see that profit isn't a motive for his actions here. The third reason "Looking for Par'mach" makes a good Quark show is because it, well, isn't really a Quark show; it's an ensemble show, with Quark playing a major part and interacting with the other characters in fresh and interesting ways.
Don't get me wrong, Quark is still Quark—cynical, sarcastic, and in pursuit of something he wants—but these aspects are nicely balanced in ways that make the character funny and likable rather than boorish and bland.
Then there's the Worf factor. I, for one, welcomed a romantic comedy (can I use that term to describe a Trek show?) for this guy, because if there's one character on DS9 that the writers have taken almost too seriously, it's Worf. When was the last time this guy laughed? Or even really smiled?
Don't get me wrong here, either. Worf is still Worf, too—grumpy, serious, and with a bit of a chip on his shoulder regarding his less-than-ideal personal situation—and I like him that way. But it's very refreshing to see him in a plot that isn't so crammed full with honor and duty and battle and personal torment. He instead receives something else—the opportunity to help Quark woo Grilka in the traditional Klingon way.
Worf doesn't exactly jump at the opportunity to help Quark, but once he realizes that his own attempts in pursuing Grilka are futile (which, incidentally, takes place after he tosses Morn off a bar stool as part of a Klingon courting tactic), he reluctantly decides to use his Klingon knowledge for Quark's benefit. There are shades of "Cyrano de Bergerac" here, in which one man helps another overcome his deficiencies such that he may win the heart of a woman that both men care for. The resulting situations from this setup rank among the series' funniest moments, mostly because they (A) are whimsical, silly, and bizarre and (B) resonate on the most basic level of the analysis of human differences.
There's humor to be found in much of the show's dialog, most of which is inspired by the real point of the show—that of a clash between cultures and how people relate through their differences; specifically, in this case, Klingon and Ferengi. Quark's recount to Worf of his dinner with Grilka is one of the episode's shining moments ("I listened to her family history: another long and bloody tale—what else is new? Then we ate this Klingon food that tasted really bad, and listened to some noise she called music.") The idea of Quark enduring what he personally considers distasteful out of consideration for (gasp!) another person is something that we don't usually get a chance to see. It makes him a better, more well-rounded character instead of a caricature—and that is most definitely a good thing.
For that matter, Quark's willingness to engage in these foreign rituals says something about his feelings for Grilka. Some may argue, based on some of the episode's more sophomoric yet humorous passages, that Quark is only motivated by sex, but this is really not the case; Quark does have an emotional commitment here, and one that appears more understandable, believable, and developed than any other relationship he's had on the series (say, for example, "Profit and Loss" or "Rules of Acquisition").
Another thing very right about "Looking For Par'mach" is its interaction between its three main characters. Quite simply, Worf, Dax, and Quark work very well together in all this Klingon milieu, and never once aren't they a pleasure to watch. Worf seems much more agreeable in his dealings with Quark than in past shows. It's almost as if there is a camaraderie building here, based on their common goals to prove their worthiness to Grilka (whether implicitly or explicitly). Dax pulls things together nicely with an occasional commentary or one-liner.
Most of Dax's scenes relate more to Worf than to Quark. She wants to know what it is Worf sees in Grilka in the first place, and she brings up some interesting points concerning Worf's ability to relate to Klingon women: living among humans his entire life has hardly made it easy, let alone plausible. In many ways, this show is about Worf and his problem, and everything the story encompasses is enjoyable yet relevant.
Aside from the compelling character statements made here about Worf and Quark, and the issue of cross-cultural affairs, the surface of "Looking for Par'mach" features some hilariously original gags and physical comedy. Take, for example, a sequence where Quark must practice Klingon "serenading" in the holosuites with the help of Worf and Dax. This scene features the pint-sized Ferengi fiercely yelling and grunting while battling an ancient fight and ineptly reciting historic phrases in the original Klingon dialect. Armin Shimerman goes for broke, and the scene nearly had me on the floor.
Then there's the ending, in which Quark must fight Grilka's unhappy bodyguard to prove himself. Since Quark doesn't stand a chance, Worf helps him out by being a sort of "puppeteer" with the use of a special technological brain wave gizmo. This way Quark can exactly mimic Worf's actions during the fight. I've never seen physical comedy quite like this; it's original and filled with punctuated moments of hilarity (like Quark's posturing once he gets into the role). And when things go wrong, Quark's improvisation is one of the silliest yet funniest moments in the last several seasons of Trek. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of the comic mayhem.
But not as surprised as I was at Dax's rather...aggressive move on Worf at the end, which I found rather...interesting.
In all honesty, I thought I saw evidence of some sort of prelude to a relationship between these two characters last season when Dax was giving Worf strange looks in "Sons of Mogh," but I certainly didn't expect this idea to manifest itself with such abruptness or straightforwardness. The idea is played almost solely for laughs here, and laughs it receives—the final scene in the infirmary where poor Bashir realizes he should think twice before asking "What happened?" is hilarious. The goofy tone of the entire scene, featuring Quark beat up by Grilka and Worf and Dax beat up by each other in bouts of rather violent, er, activity, is amusing to say the least—and I enjoyed it a lot.
The only thing I hesitate on is the motivation of everything here. Based on Worf and Dax's discussion, I don't think any of this can simply go away, but I'm also unsure where the writers should go with it from here (which is why they're writing the show and I'm not). It works fine here for comedy, but the creators have to be careful how they proceed with this (if they proceed) or they could miss some major character opportunities, or, worse yet, turn the entire thing into a trite little fiasco like the whole Worf/Troi thing in TNG's final season.
Turning to the B-story, the implications of Kira living with the O'Briens proved interesting. I, for one, welcomed this story, because the whole Kira/O'Briens situation seemed like something the creators could establish and then never address. Fortunately, the writers have not forgotten about this thread, and prove that their bizarre situation is not something that can necessarily be taken with a grain of salt (as demonstrated with some truly awkward, uncomfortable, and unexpected moments). Bashir toys with O'Brien about Kira living with him ("I bet you looked") while Odo, on the other hand, sends some of the most scathing, acerbic yet playful sarcasm in Kira's direction that it's even funnier than it is thoughtful.
A closing scene set in a Runabout should be commended—it shows both Kira and Miles in a state of weakness, and Kira is able to prod Miles with a reality check that also turns out to be one of the show's most well-realized lines: "Get out." She knows where things stand and forces him to understand as well. Nicely done.
But I think I've gone on far longer than long enough. "Looking for Par'mach" is an outstanding Trek comedy that works because it understands its characters. Permeating the goofy yet very amusing gags is a sense that it knows human behavior. What more can you say about an episode that ends with Worf laughing?