Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Profit and Lace"
Air date: 5/11/1998
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by Alexander Siddig
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Drink Sluggo Cola, and keep your teeth that lovely shade of green." — Ferengi sales pitch
Nutshell: Watch this episode, and then promptly pray to the porcelain god.
DS9 has been anywhere from simply middling to good to great this season, so I guess the series was about due for a loser. Still, I'm not so sure if it was due for a LOSER, which is what we got this week. "Profit and Lace" is a loser with a capital everything.
Considering I've gone the entire season without a strong negative reaction to any DS9 episode, it seems only fitting that the Annual Ferengi Outing [TM] would finally spark that strong negative reaction. True, we had "The Magnificent Ferengi" earlier this season, which was silly and contrived, but at least it had a some amiable zip and was somewhat entertaining—not to mention the fact that it was an episode that revolved around inoffensive cornball action instead of the grating, tired, cliched Ferengi "profitics."
I tried, tried, tried not to prejudge this episode. After I saw the preview last week, I mentioned that I felt sick. But I still went into "Profit and Lace" with as open a mind as humanly possible. Unfortunately, I left the episode with an unmistakable desire to vomit.
This duller-than-dirt makeshift excuse for an episode is certainly the worst DS9 of the year, and ranks right alongside fifth season's abysmal "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." in the race for worst DS9 ever made. It's an all-too-obvious example of high concept ("Quark in drag!")—but why on earth anyone would want to see a high-concept premise fitting such a description is completely beyond my comprehension.
I've never bought into the idea that a man dressing in drag is inherently funny. In my not-so-humble opinion, it's not. Sure, I've seen it done time and time again—whether it was Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, or Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, or Nathan Lane in The Birdcage—and often the situations or the actors pull it off to make it work, but that certainly wasn't the case here. This episode was intended to be funny because Quark was dressed as a woman. I suppose maybe the premise could've worked if there had been any decent material to accompany the general idea, but there simply wasn't anything fresh in the writing. Heck, there wasn't anything in this story that didn't deserve to be hauled straight off to the nearest landfill. The story plods along from scene to scene, devoid of any shred of inspiration or even decent taste. If you're the type of person who likes Ferengi-induced silliness and stock gender-bending jokes, you might, maybe enjoy parts of this episode. As for me—count me out. I'd be content to play tic-tac-toe for an hour rather than watch this again. Or stick sharp objects into the palms of my hands.
If you care about the plot (I certainly didn't), I'll summarize the "essentials." Grand Nagus Zek, at the request of his true love Ishka, makes it legal for Ferengi women to wear clothes, therefore allowing them to engage in Ferengi business. As a result of this controversial initiative, the Ferengi government promptly votes Zek out of office. Brunt (formerly "Brunt, FCA") is named the successor. Zek and Ishka come to DS9 to ask Quark for help in some clever plan to remove Brunt from office before it's too late. Brunt follows them to DS9 for no other reason than to gloat. (Yeah, there you go—a brand-new leader of an entire world travels all the way from his home planet to stand around and poke fun at Quark, Zek, and everyone else. Uh huh.) Quark, Rom, and Nog convince a single Ferengi financial commissioner named Nilva (Henry Gibson), who has some political pull, to come to the station so that he can be convinced that women do indeed hold an important role in the future of Ferengi society. He's supposed to meet the well-versed, financial expert Ishka, but because Ishka is recovering from a heart attack suffered during a heated argument with Quark, it's all up to Quark to go through with the meeting—dressed in drag, of course.
It's a minimalist plot that is built upon cliche after mind-numbing cliche. And once Quark has been transformed into a woman, oh-so-awful and unrestrained mayhem ensues.
The underlying "story events" are a series of rehashes of rehashes. Zek and Ishka come to the station. Check. Quark expresses his irritation. Check. Zek and Ishka play lovey-dovey. Check. Rom and Quark argue over Whom Mom Likes Best. Check. Ishka and Quark argue about Ferengi sexism. Check. Zek (whose role is growing so old that I don't care if Wallace Shawn—as much as I like the actor—ever returns again) yells and hollers with that goofy voice of his. Check. Rom whines "Mooooogie" again and again. Check. Brunt shows up to scheme against, threaten, and mock Quark. Check, check, check, and just throw the clipboard away, already.
It's like a nightmarish smattering of every Ferengi episode cliche imaginable. And save maybe two lines the entire episode, I didn't so much as crack a smile.
And this is coming from someone who actually somewhat enjoyed "The Magnificent Ferengi."
Just about every scene in "Profit and Lace" was utterly annoying and humorless. Eventually, I was just hoping for a surprise, like perhaps a big explosion caused by a Dominion bomb (maybe as an act of revenge upon all those pesky Ferengi, who had double-crossed and captured their Vorta back in "Magnificent Ferengi"). Lesson of the week: When a viewer starts waiting impatiently for all the story's main characters to get blowed up real good, that's probably a telling sign that the story isn't working. (My preferred version of one scene goes something like this: Quark: "How do I look?" KABOOM! Scene over. The rest of the episode is about finding out how Dominion sabotage has penetrated the station, and why the saboteurs opted to take out a bunch of Ferengi rather than the entire ops staff. How little they all know what the Dominion's hidden strategy is ... that they're really working for me.)
Even the jokes are especially stale this time around. Take, for example, the whole gag of Brunt. I mean Grand Nagus Brunt. Oh, excuse me—I mean Acting Grand Nagus Brunt. I'm not sure how I could forget the "acting" part, seeing as the joke was repeated at least a dozen times in the course of an hour. The dialog was typical and hopelessly shallow, and scene after scene was utterly uninteresting ... until, of course, the "payoff" sequence, which simply turned downright unwatchable instead.
The last scene between Nilva and Quark in Nilva's quarters is so awfully executed that I was embarrassed to even be watching it. It consists of a lot of running around tables and ducking behind drapes, accompanied by a lot of growling, yelling, and other unintelligible noises. Thank you, Mr. Siddig, but I'll pass. I prefer my farce with a trace of humor, not simply unrestrained, anarchic stupidity. Henry Gibson, often an amusing and low-key character actor, is so far out of line as Nilva that the results are jaw-droppingly horrific.
And, by the way, the constant lobe references/entendres haven't been funny for a very long time, assuming they ever were. It's time for a new joke, because watching this one is getting to a point of redundancy comparable to playing that knock-knock joke—"Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Banana." "Banana who?" "Knock Knock?" "Who's there?" "Banana." "Banana who?"—where you repeat the repeating part 50 times or until the other person decides to stop being your friend.
The plot, such as it is, is resolved under a contrivance so transparent and unfunny that I just threw my arms in the air in defeat. Can someone tell me how one official can make the difference of whether Zek is reinstated or not—especially seeing that at least 400 other Ferengi wanted nothing to do with Zek's initiative? Besides, if Nilva is supposed to be a believable microcosm of Ferengi negotiators, it's a wonder that all of Ferengi society hasn't been conned out of everything it owns. I know, I know; I'm not supposed to think about any of that—I should just "enjoy" the comedy—but what's the point of using the Ferengi society as a quasi-allegory of progress if it can't be taken remotely seriously—and if we can't care in the slightest what happens to them? For all I care, their whole planet could be laid to waste by the Dominion next week. I probably wouldn't bat an eye.
I think I have little choice but to go with the dreaded zero-star option. I'm trying for the life of me to think of a redeeming value somewhere in this episode that might be worth even half a star, but I honestly can't think of a single moment worth even lukewarm praise. I thought "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." was the lowest of the low, and would never be approached again. To my dismay, I was wrong. "Profit and Lace" has given it some company.
I feel sincerely sorry for everyone involved in making this episode that it turned out as the terrible travesty that it is. All are certainly talented people who have enjoyed great success on this series. But here, they tried, and they failed. Miserably. I have no desire to look upon the likes of this episode ever again.
Next week: Deep Space "Nell."