Note: This episode was rerated from 3 to 2.5 stars when the season recap was written.
Nutshell: Silly, slight, and extremely low on plausibility, but a fresh and enjoyable comic piece nonetheless.
Every once in a while you've got to just turn off your brain and go with the flow. That seems to be the best advice I can give a viewer of "The Magnificent Ferengi," an amusing comic episode that's beyond any realm of conventional plausibility and exists in a universe of its own.
"The Magnificent Ferengi" is an amiable hour of television; the best "Ferengi outing" in years. Sure, it has some problems and doesn't always seem to know exactly what it's trying to say, but it's light, has some respectable zip, and proves genuinely amusing—a breakthrough considering past Ferengi outings like "Ferengi Love Songs," "Bar Association," ""Family Business," "Prophet Motive," et al.
The plot is scarcely believable. It involves the kidnapping of Quark and Rom's mother Ishka (Cecily Adams)—better known as "Moogie"—at the hands of the Dominion. The Grand Nagus then asks Quark to get her back (offering the reward of 50 bars of gold-pressed latinum), leading Quark to recruit an all-Ferengi "task force" to get the job done. The first question, of course, is just WHY the Dominion, unprovoked, would kidnap a Ferengi civilian in the first place. Sidestepping the rules of war by resorting to such a blatantly terrorist yet apparently fruitless tactic strikes me as rather silly—and inexplicable. What does the Dominion hope to gain by kidnapping Ishka? And even if they do stand to gain, why would they arrange meeting Quark and his band of Ferengi recruits for a prisoner exchange? Don't ask, because the story has no answers.
No matter. This is a comedy, and in comedies we're often asked to forego logic. That's fine with me if the show is entertaining in the long haul. "The Magnificent Ferengi" is a likable episode with admirable comic timing on the part of director Chip Chalmers. Although, I must admit that I'm not a comprehensive encyclopedia of westerns, so any reference within this show in homage to John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven (other than the title, I suppose) went right by me. Nevertheless, the intentions here seem to be good, and in and by themselves many of the gags are funny.
Who's to say what's funny, anyway? Is it enough that this show made me laugh? I think so, especially considering that the jokes in "Magnificent" worked for every reason that jokes in most Ferengi episodes don't. The cliche of the greedy, scheming Ferengi has been worn incredibly tired over the years, and for once we have a departure from the "Ferengi profit ideology" in favor of a more action-oriented plot. Sure, the lust for latinum still plays a part in the story, but this time it feels like incidental, true-to-character motivation rather than the driving concern of lackluster comedy. In small doses, the Ferengi greed and scheming makes sense and works; these guys are, after all, Ferengi.
Yet there's also another agenda working here—the sense that, yes, even Ferengi strive to be something more than they are. They want to be heroes, too. An early scene in the bar sets the stage nicely. Quark explains to his patrons how he discovered some beverage exporters who were cheating the market at the expense of customers. Quark's discovery, as a result, led to a moral victory and a free supply of a beverage called "syrup of squill." But when Dax, Bashir, and O'Brien walk into the bar after having completed a dangerous mission behind enemy lines, everyone's attention is instantly shifted away from Quark. People are more interested in heroes whose victories count for something important (namely the war effort) than they are in a fresh supply of some new beverage.
So what the meat of this story (slight as it may be) is really about is Quark wanting to be a hero—to prove that Ferengi can be as heroic as anyone else. So he recruits his task force from a number of familiar faces. His brother Rom and nephew Nog are the first to come aboard the mission; the former for a cut of 50 bars of latinum, the latter because he gets to call the shots as strategic operations officer (I was just waiting for Nog to say, "Something else I can put on my Starfleet resume!")—and also a cut of 20 bars of latinum. Why 20? Because by the time Nog is recruited into the mission, Quark and Rom have decided to lie to everyone else about the amount of the reward. (Like I said, Ferengi greed does figure into the story).
Quark recruits the rest of his team one by one in some mildly entertaining scenes, including Leck (Hamilton Camp), a knife-wielding assassin with "unique priorities"; the now-ruined cousin Gaila (Josh Pais), whom Quark bails out of jail in exchange for his help (he had been imprisoned for vagrancy); and of course "Brunt, FCA," or rather now just plain and simple Brunt (the Nagus fired him following his treachery in "Ferengi Love Songs"), who cons Quark into letting him in on the profit opportunity since he's the only one with a ship.
With the help of Major Kira's recommendation, the Federation grants Quark's team custody of prisoner Keevan (Christopher Shea), the arrogant Vorta captured earlier this season in "Rocks and Shoals." The plan is to trade Keevan for Ishka—but also to be ready for anything the Dominion might do to go back on the agreed trade.
First, a couple gripes: While I liked the fact that the writers remembered Keevan from back at the beginning of the season, I'm unsure about the way he comes into the plot here. I find it unlikely the Federation would be so willing to grant a non-Federation person custody of a Dominion prisoner of war for use in such a "dangerous" plot (even considering the plot itself bears little logical scrutiny on story terms). If this weren't war times, I could see it happening, but given the delicate situation I have some serious doubts.
But as I said before, it's probably not prudent to concern oneself with plot in an episode of physical humor where Ferengi run like madmen through corridors (watching Armin Shimerman sprint past the camera was one of the comic highlights of the show), rig a cadaver for strategic purposes (more on this later), and bargain with the most annoyed Vorta in the quadrant.
What this episode is about is comic set pieces. These Ferengi constitute the most inept action team I've ever seen, and the results are often quite funny. Take, for example, the scene where they engage in combat simulations in the holosuite. Rom runs into a wall. Brunt surrenders (all too easily). Gaila is shot. Leck shoots Moogie. And Nog is just a big pain as drill sergeant. Oddly, much like first season's "The Nagus," more Ferengi on-screen at once turns out to be more fun. I'm not sure why; it must have something to do with snappy, rapid-fire dialog and the manic energy of all the actors combined.
Some of the humor, like the sly scene where Quark and Rom roam the shafts of the station to suddenly and accidentally find themselves in Sisko's office, work because they're clever and understated. But more often than not, it's the go-for-broke banter and slapstick that is put to the test in "The Magnificent Ferengi." The plot takes the Ferengi to the abandoned station Empok Nor where they're to meet and negotiate with a Vorta official named Yelgrun (Iggy Pop)—a man with lots of Jem'Hadar at his disposal and not a whole lot of patience.
There's plenty of dialog between Quark and Yelgrun, much of it ending with Yelgrun making a reluctant concession and/or sarcastic remark. Some of this works, though some of it doesn't. While Iggy Pop delivers deadpan reasonably well (Quark: "Family. You understand." Yelgrun: "Not really. I was cloned."), he just can't keep up with the whimsically engaging performances of Shimerman and the other Ferengi players. A Vorta character portrayed more along the lines of Jeffrey Combs' Weyoun would've worked better in this role. At the same time, few of Yelgrun's concessions strike me as plausible for a member of the Dominion. He puts himself at so many disadvantages for the sake of driving the plot turns that it becomes very obvious that there's little in this episode that we should take seriously, let alone can.
Meanwhile, prisoner Keevan plays the part of the annoyingly keen observer—adding his two cents to the Ferengi problems whenever he feels the need. Much of his dialog is delivered straight, used to explain the plot rather than fuel the humor; but he is the central figure in many of the show's biggest laughs. He's the victim—in the biggest and funniest display of Ferengi ineptness in recent memory—of being caught in the crossfire of one Ferengi (Gaila) infuriated at learning he has been cheated by another Ferengi (Quark). Only Ferengi negotiators could inadvertently kill the prisoner they brought along to use as their bargaining tool.
In a move that borders on gallows humor (but which proves uproariously funny), Nog rigs Keevan's corpse with neural stimulators in order to create the illusion Keevan is still alive long enough for the rest of the Ferengi to gain the upper hand on Yelgrun and his two soldiers. The use of Keevan in an idea spawned by Weekend at Bernie's is about as low as the writer's probably could've gone. But I've got to hand it to them—it manages to work as portrayed. Seeing the dead Keevan standing like a statue with eyes wide open and head lodged at an unnatural angle was still a hilarious sight. (Yelgrun: "What have they done to him?" Indeed.)
But to end on a critical note, I think the biggest underlying problem of statement in "The Magnificent Ferengi" is the Catch-22 of the Ferengi ineptitude. Sure, everything works out for them in the end and the net result of the episode is a lot of laughs. But at the same time, the episode can't get past the reputation the series has built for the Ferengi—that they're still too light and silly to be taken remotely seriously no matter the situation. I liked the amusing characterizations and the initial sentiments of people trying to strive higher, but when all's said and done, are they really "heroes"? I still can't help but get the feeling that a better title for this episode might've been "The Cheerfully Inept Ferengi."
Next week: Sisko, Dukat, and The Truth. I'm already intrigued...