Nutshell: Uneven, but it does well for setting us up for the grand finish while bringing closure to Quark's character arc.
There's a moment in "The Dogs of War" when Quark has had enough. He has watched as Ferengi society around him has become, in his view, a travesty. And he realizes he hasn't been immune from the changes over the years; he sees that he has gone "soft." He launches into a histrionic tirade that continues to build in amusement as Quark's disgust is unleashed. Then he yells: "The line has to be drawn here! This far, and no further!"
I couldn't stop laughing.
It perhaps helps to know that the line was lifted almost directly from the speech Picard made in First Contact, and that First Contact co-writer Ron Moore probably had it in mind when he co-wrote "Dogs of War." It's refreshing to see an inside joke taken to such a blatantly over-the-top, self-referential, take-us-none-seriously extreme. But despite the fact the jokes aren't meant to be taken seriously, there's something about the character undercurrent that can be. Quark's story—undoubtedly DS9's last visit to Ferengi society—is without a doubt comedy, but behind it is a bizarre ring of truth.
I've never been a big fan of Ferengi episodes. More often than not, I haven't enjoyed them. ("The Emperor's New Cloak," "Profit and Lace," "Ferengi Love Songs," "Prophet Motive," the list goes on.) The biggest problem is that Ferengi shows simply aren't funny, and they prove too obvious and overplayed. Some of the common Ferengi episode problems find their way into this episode. But the difference here is that we see now where Ferengi society has gone, and where Quark is standing when the music stops.
Quark's tale revolves around Zek's announcement of retirement and the fact Zek intends to name Quark the next Nagus. Quark is of course overjoyed. He looks forward to a new life of unending wealth, avarice, and indulgence. His mischievous planning begins. About this time, Brunt shows up. I must admit I laughed when Brunt instantly recited Rule of Acquisition number whatever: "It's never too early to suck up to the boss." Subsequently, Quark comes to realize how out of touch he has become with Ferengi society the past couple years. The entire social structure has changed under Zek and Ishka's new initiatives, and now we have a Ferenginar replete with social services, taxes ("Did you say the T-word?"), and regulated trade. None of this is remotely groundbreaking drama, but I was surprised at how unannoying it was compared to the average Ferengi episode. Perhaps the jokes were a little lower-key than most Ferengi shows—and I'm sure the limited screen time for Zek and Ishka helped matters as well. This storyline was actually relatively pleasant.
What makes this hold up is the character undercurrent. Even though developments in Ferengi culture in the past have been so badly handled that they cross into offensiveness ("Profit in Lace" especially), I think I finally see a payoff here to all the changes made, never mind their previous implausibility. That payoff is simple: Ferengi society has changed ... and Quark hasn't.
The full extent of the changes are what causes Quark to go on his tirade, and it's in Quark's comic fury where the storyline works best. It's almost as if the writers have finally figured out a usable joke for the Ferengi—the fact that the joke is really all on Quark. What he upholds as "what made Ferengi society great" has been erased and replaced with a new era of budding socialism. True, it's hopelessly oversimplified and unlikely any of this would happen within a two-year period, but that's not the point. What we have is Quark, a product of his time unwilling to go boldly into the future with the rest of Ferenginar. And, dammit, his bar will be the last standing representation of what made Ferenginar great—a society that is now being turned into a travesty.
Is this a great joke? Maybe not (and it probably doesn't make up for years of bad Ferengi shows), but it is a good joke that sends the Ferengi out with some dignity. As closure for Quark, it seems very appropriate. He's always been the type who sticks by his guns, and if it means being the last Ferengi to hold onto a dying system he believes in, so be it. Armin Shimerman pulls off this role with great adeptness, walking the line separating comedy and genuine dramatic urgency in a way that proves both amusing and sincere.
Of course, the joke upon the joke is that the whole notion of Quark becoming Nagus was a misunderstanding; it's Rom who Zek planned to make Nagus—which seems somewhat fitting under the notion that "a new Ferenginar needs a new type of Nagus." And besides, Mom always liked Rom best. (Well, maybe not overall, but in certain ways.)
There's plenty more to talk about in "Dogs of War," so I'll move on. The other pieces are in tune with the "Final Chapter" structure, paving the last mile heading to next week's series finale. The Kira/Damar/Garak plot takes a turn for the worse as the three narrowly escape capture when their ship is destroyed and a resistance force on Cardassia is betrayed and eliminated. With nowhere to turn, the three seek refuge in the cellar of Mila (Julianna McCarthy), Enabran Tain's confidant from years ago, and Garak's only remaining trustable contact on Cardassia. Subsequently, Weyoun delivers news over planet-wide viewscreens that all the resistance cells have been eliminated by Dominion forces, and Kira & Co. suddenly realize they may be spending the rest of the war in Mila's basement.
I enjoyed the Orwellian atmosphere in these scenes of a totalitarian state spreading the wonderful news ("This is a great day for the Dominion," Weyoun says with an impassioned sincerity) to the citizens of Cardassia. I also enjoyed the notion that rumors persist Damar is alive, even though Weyoun has assured the population he was killed when his ship was destroyed.
The ongoing Cardassia/Bajor parallels are proving incredibly interesting. Sisko once told Li Nalas, "Bajor doesn't need a hero; it needs a symbol." And now Cardassia needs just that from Damar, such that with the organized resistance destroyed, perhaps the civilian population will revolt. A key act of sabotage might help provide a spark; when Kira & Co. blow up a Jem'Hadar facility, Damar attempts to feed the legend by making a speech to the Cardassian people in the streets. Though the sequence itself was a tiny bit stilted (there's got to be a list somewhere of all the film characters who have shouted "Freedom!"), the idea is powerful. The Cardassia storyline is easily among the best things about these final episodes.
Another issue involves Odo learning Section 31 infected him with the disease. Odo is not happy. And when he calls Sisko on the Federation's willingness to look the other way, we see a difficult situation emerging that is bound to play into the finale. Starfleet now has the cure, but they aren't offering it up to the Founders. And they'd probably be foolish to do so. But the convenience of the situation certainly is interesting, and Odo unhappily points it out. Now what? Odo and this cure will obviously be a factor in the final equation, but how? Will Odo keep his word of not taking matters into his own hands? (I'm glad to see the issue hasn't been dismissed following "Extreme Measures," which failed to raise the important questions.)
Sisko also has some good moments, like his introduction to his new starship, the USS Sao Paulo, a Defiant-class ship that, naturally, Starfleet allows him to rename Defiant. While the addition of a new Defiant might seem to lessen the impact of the previous Defiant's death, the evident awe of Sisko settling into his new ship (including the nice, simple line, "Hello, ship") really makes the scene work.
Of a more foreboding nature for Sisko is the announcement that Kasidy is pregnant, and her understandable worry about the Prophets' warning. The pregnancy wasn't planned (which itself has me wondering about ominous prophecies), but Ben and Kasidy are both very excited about it, which makes me fear for the happiness and well-being of both of them. Does tragedy await? With the large-scale attack against the Dominion being planned by the end of the episode, anything is possible. Tune in next week, as they say.
Given all that's right with this episode, I almost hate to mention what's wrong. The biggest problem with "Dogs of War" is the sometimes-awkward, uneven structure. It's a bit jarring to move back and forth between the Ferengi comedy scenes and the starkly darker themes on Cardassia. And while it would've been wrong to forego closure for Quark, it's still pretty hard to look at the Ferengi story as a necessary part of this arc. Although it was successful, it pales in comparison to the other rich material we've seen the past two months, and when there are two stories as there are here, with such different priorities and tones, they tend to get in each other's way. I hope I'm not overstating the case. "Dogs of War" is good work—but it's disparate in its thought process, perhaps by definition, considering its various subplots.
Which reminds me (I nearly forgot, there's so much going on), we also get some resolution to the ongoing Bashir/Ezri soap operatics. While the mutual pursuit game was amiably portrayed here, it's simply not that interesting—unless you are one who has been anxiously awaiting the pairing of Dax and Bashir for the sake of itself. Unlike with Worf/Ezri earlier in the arc, Bashir/Ezri doesn't have dialog that offers anything new about the characters. It is what it is and nothing more. (At least we'll no longer have to wait around for this payoff.)
But never mind. We've got two hours of this series left, and this episode works as primer on some fronts and closure on others. It's a winner—even as a Ferengi show.
Next week: All good things must come to an end.