Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"False Profits"

*1/2

Air date: 10/2/1996
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by George A. Brozak
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Is he another Sage?"
"Have you ever seen a Sage give away money?"

— Lowly citizens, regarding the disguised Neelix-Ferengi

Nutshell: Silly? Yes. Funny? Sporadically. Plausible? Not even close. Forgettable? You better believe it.

"False Profits" is a show that initially looks like it could've worked on its own terms, despite its typical Ferengi premise. The plot and especially the ending, however, have so many ridiculous idiosyncrasies that the show falls apart and can never pull itself together to even be a decent Ferengi outing.

It's no secret: Those who read my DS9 reviews are probably aware that I don't particularly like the Ferengi. When considered alone, their un-Federation-like values and moronic actions have rarely been things that appeal to my sense of humor. Given the right circumstances, the Ferengi can occasionally be humorous or entertaining; certain Quark-oriented shows on DS9 have worked for me, like "Body Parts" and "Little Green Men" and others. These shows usually feature a character insight of some sort, or have plot workings that are more interesting than the usual Ferengi outing.

On the other hand, when a show like "False Profits" comes along—an episode that seems to say "Look! The Ferengi are greedy and manipulative and like to take advantage of others! That's funny!" and does nothing the entire hour but insult viewer intelligence by displaying Ferengi doing typical Ferengi-like things—then I don't expect such shows to be particularly entertaining or enlightening.

And for those who are aware that I don't particularly like Neelix either, you can imagine the feeling of impending dread I had when I saw the trailer featuring Neelix in Ferengi disguise. I'll freely admit it—my first thought was "Great, a Ferengi show combined with a Neelix show. Fourteen demerits for the price of two." I'll also grant that isn't a very fair attitude to go into an episode with, so allow me to say that I cleared my mind of cynicism before I viewed the show.

For a while this worked. I wasn't rolling on the ground with laughter, to be sure, but "False Profits" wasn't showing any evidence of being offensively bad either.

Plot summary, you ask? Voyager discovers traces of a wormhole that (of course) may lead to the Alpha Quadrant. They also discover a signal from an Alpha Quadrant-signatured device on a planet supporting a pre-industrial humanoid society. Chakotay and Paris beam down to find the signal is emanating from a replicator which two Ferengi are using. (These Ferengi were stranded in the Delta Quadrant because of their own stupidity in TNG's third season episode, "The Price.") With the seemingly magical properties of the replicator, these Ferengi have tricked the gullible society into believing they are the gods as described in a religious epic poem (Two Sages will descend from the sky on a trail of burning flames, etc.).

These two Ferengi, Arridor (Dan Shor) and Kol (Leslie Jordan), use their "divine" influence to con people into paying them unreasonable sums of money for pointless words of wisdom. The source of their wisdom: the Rules of Acquisition, of course.

This is wrong, Janeway notes when Chakotay and Paris return with their report. She decides that if the wormhole can be harnessed to return to the Alpha Quadrant, she will be taking the Ferengi back with them. When Tuvok voices that this might be a violation of the Prime Directive, Janeway cleverly answers it in a way that seems much less arbitrary than her choice in last week's "Swarm"—this proves to be among the show's better moments.

So she beams up the Ferengi, who promptly argue (albeit only to serve their own interests) that the sudden disappearance of the gods could have severe consequences on the culture. Seeing that some of their argument is true, Janeway beams them back, then begins devising a way to trick the Ferengi into leaving willfully and gracefully such that the people will accept the departure of their gods. As she puts it, the crew must "out-Ferengi the Ferengi."

It's about here where Neelix masquerades as a Ferengi, claiming to be the "Grand Proxy," sent by the Grand Nagus himself to seize the funds and recall Arridor and Kol to Ferenginar. Some of the dialog between Neelix and the Ferengi is whimsically amusing for brief moments, but nothing particularly memorable. (By the time I sat down to write this review I had already forgotten most of the gags.)

One confusing aspect about this entire idea is how much time passes between when the crew came up with this plan and when Neelix actually returns to the planet surface to confront the two Ferengi. There's one cut which seems to indicate merely a number of hours. But if the Voyager had truly temporarily stabilized the wormhole and made contact with the Alpha Quadrant as Neelix claims, ask yourself this: Would these two Ferengi really believe that a Ferengi official could or would arrive at the wormhole site so quickly?

I really doubt it, but, then again, these two characters are written with such unprecedented stupidity that I suppose even they could fall for such a far-fetched trick. These characters are indeed nothing new as Ferengi go. One is the smart one of the pair (comparatively speaking) and the other is a dimwit. Both are written and acted with the usual lack of subtlety characterized by most guest-starring Ferengi; "False Profits" ups the ante in Ferengi-as-cartoon-characters with Neelix's presentation of the Nagus' staff, to which they both exclaim "Grand Nagus!" with jaw-dropped surprise—a horrifically delivered line that seems like it should've been uttered by a nine-year-old.

What kills me is that (A) these two Ferengi have been able to survive all by themselves in the Delta Quadrant long enough to find this planet to exploit; and (B) the inhabitants of this planet are dumb enough to accept them as their real Sages. All these Ferengi do all day is sit around and con the citizens out of their money. Would a real society accept this, even from their supposed gods? One wonders, but "False Profits" never stops to consider this question thoughtfully. Sure, the story makes references to it when convenient for advancing the silly plot (like Janeway's agreement that kidnapping the Ferengi would be detrimental to the society, for example), but since the show attempts to be a fast-paced comic romp most of the time, the real issue is constantly buried under implausible (and more often absent) reactions on the part of the humanoid society, to the point that the entire message of the episode (if there is one) is simplified beyond relevance. The theme of Trek characters mistaken as gods has been done before...and I assure you it has been done much better (see TNG's "Who Watches the Watchers").

As a result, most of the characters in the episode come off looking awfully foolish. One of the most prominent speaking guest roles among the humanoid aliens is a character named Kafar (Rob LaBelle) who serves as the Ferengis' personal servant—and is performed with all the skill and hopeless mannerisms of the class clown in a high school play. Occasionally he's worth chuckling at, but more often he's just plain dumb.

Neelix comes off looking okay, surprisingly enough. His scenes with the Ferengi are watchable and even prompted a few giggles from me. Perhaps it's because he's surrounded by characters who act even sillier than him. (What good is all the "profit" that Arridor and Kol steal on this planet anyway? The planet has no contact with outside worlds, so where else could they possibly use the currency? What can this pre-industrial society possibly have that a Ferengi con man could want?)

I'd be willing to grant all of these inconsistencies if the show was consistently funny or had any real point or some sort of payoff. Unfortunately, the final act is so full of painfully convenient plot contrivances that it's appalling. You see, Voyager beams the Ferengi and the crew off the planet after the mission has been accomplished—just in time to get ready to go through the temporarily stabilized wormhole. Arridor and Kol are escorted to secured quarters, but they somehow overpower security (don't ask me how) and get to the shuttle bay where Janeway has stored their shuttle (in addition to also telling them in passing that their shuttle was put there). When Tuvok "seals" the shuttle bay, the Ferengi phaser the shuttle bay door and fly out anyway. None of these events are even remotely believable. The mere idea that these inept Ferengi can thwart Voyager's security is frustrating. It sure says a lot for Tuvok's measures.

What's worse, in attempting to elude Voyager, the Ferengi use some technical procedure to prevent unwilling transport. This procedure destabilizes the wormhole and renders it useless—but not before the Ferengis' shuttle is sucked inside and sent to who-knows-where. Surprised that Voyager was not able to use the wormhole to get home? I wasn't. I was surprised, however, at how crammed full with ridiculously unbelievable events this mishmashed conclusion was. It destroyed what could've been a passively entertaining show. The first four acts, despite being dumb, managed to chew through the hour without being unpleasant, but the fifth act sabotaged everything.

The biggest problem here is the entire subplot involving the wormhole. There is not nearly enough time devoted to it to be taken at all seriously, we all know it will fail anyway, it's wall-to-wall with technobabble, and for what it's utilized is so poorly conceived and executed that the entire show sinks with it. This subplot should've been seriously rethought or deleted during the script editing stages. Without the subplot the episode is mediocre and forgettable; with the subplot included it's a near-disastrous mess.

Previous episode: The Swarm
Next episode: Remember

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19 comments on this review

Dirk Hartmann - Sat, Apr 5, 2008 - 4:42am (USA Central)
I wonder where the one-and-a-half stars come from? With act 5 (at the latest) this episode dropped to zero stars for me.
Ken Egervari - Thu, Oct 8, 2009 - 2:51pm (USA Central)
Episodes like this are so frustrating in that the ship couldn't move while it was trying to deal with the ferengi problem? Of course, we know even at the start of the episode that the ship is going home, and it's so disappointing on how it happens.

Part of my problem with this episode is Janeway's character - how she bends rules and then doesn't bend them to suit the story. Honestly - Janeway had many opportunities to the ferengi in the brig and didn't do it. And they manage to escape. 2 Ferengi manage to escape. It's ludicrous.

And even worse, when it's time to bring the ship home, she can't do it. As we know from last episode, and future episodes... Janeway violates principals and steps on people's toes in the name of getting the crew home... but in this episode, she doesn't even try.

It's such a sad episode.
Nic - Mon, Nov 23, 2009 - 5:55pm (USA Central)
Although I totally agree with your review and rating, it may be worth noting that this episode was held back from Season Two, and as such was shot months before "The Swarm." So you could say that "The Swarm" marks Janeway's beginning to believe in bending the rules in order to get home faster.
Will - Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
Jeri Taylor described this episode and Remember as episodes which "didn't work". Personally, no matter what anyone says about how good Remember was, I'm with Taylor on this one.
Overthinker - Tue, Mar 22, 2011 - 11:44pm (USA Central)
A dreadful episode that is only memorable for some of the most revealing costumes on Trek since Angel One. And that only revealed Riker's hairy chest....

I suppose it does tell us what happened to the Ferengi from that DS9 episode, for the three people who actually cared.
Elliott - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 5:45pm (USA Central)
I can't decide whether this or "Coda" is the worst of this season--such a strange season which seemed not to know what it was or wanted to be--the best thing about it was the Torres/Paris relationship growth, and there are some good episodes (and of course a spectacular finale), but this was a complete waste of time. I think 1.5 is generous--I could feel the actors' frustrations with the silly dialogue and arbitrary and stupid actions the script required them to take. A definite low-point.
Nathan - Mon, Oct 31, 2011 - 4:45pm (USA Central)
"What can this pre-industrial society possibly have that a Ferengi con man could want?"
Females, at the very least.
Adam - Tue, Nov 15, 2011 - 10:55pm (USA Central)
The worst part of this show is Janeway's ineptitude in getting her crew through the worm hole. By this time in the shows run, she must be the most inept captain in Starfleet history. In order of ineptitude, from least to most:
Picard
Kirk
Archer
Sisco
Janeway
Joe - Mon, Nov 21, 2011 - 6:55am (USA Central)
Janeway yet again interprets the Prime Directive in a way to take her crew home with the slowest, longest, and most dangerous path possible.

She could've just spent the episode running simulations making sure nothing could possibly go wrong with manipulating the wormhole. But no! She has to play space police first.
Justin - Fri, Mar 23, 2012 - 5:27pm (USA Central)
How is it they didn't detect Ferengi life signs, but they did pick up the power signature of a replicator? No doubt a Ferengi replicator, so they should have been able to identify that the technology was Ferengi.

The only good thing about this episode is that it offered a bit of continuity with TNG with the Barzan wormhole, which was fun. But they blew it.
Justin - Fri, Mar 23, 2012 - 6:46pm (USA Central)
Oh, and nice Gilligan's Island ending, too.

What happens next week - does the crew of Voyager play the Harlem Globetrotters in a game of hoops?
Eithnepath - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 8:06am (USA Central)
"Exploitation begins at home", just ask any feminist.

The review is too harsh. There were one or two good lines. Anyway, it's a farce, so there's no point in nitpicking--within reason.

The final act and wormhole were tedious, but meh. It wasn't a boring episode. 3 star entertainment.
navamske - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 7:21pm (USA Central)
It's a simple rule: Any episode of any series that features Ferengi as prominently as this one did is guaranteed to suck. Also (kind of a non sequitur, but I want to say it), Neelix is hands-down the most annoying character in any incarnation of Star Trek.
Shane - Fri, Jun 28, 2013 - 5:51am (USA Central)
This episode could've been much better. I like the idea of continuity with TNG's "The Price". (Even though the chances of Voyager running into two Ferengi in the entire Delta Quadrant is slim). Then again Voyager's writers don't seem to grasp a sliver of logic.

Janeway really is a terrible Captain though. It'd have been fun if they revealed she was infected or under the influence of something that causes her to intentionally miss opportunities to get home quickly and safely. And for the finale I'd have liked very much to see her Court Marshal a la Seinfeld's finale with the final moment being Janeway sent off to a jail cell! :-)
Patrick D - Fri, Dec 27, 2013 - 10:05am (USA Central)
Ugh. The plot of this episode feels more at home with Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers than Star Trek. Ugh.
Paul - Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - 10:33am (USA Central)
I watched this one last night and was surprised at how poorly done it was. A few of the problems (that Jammer didn't note):

1) The aliens look just like humans. This was a bad cliche on TOS, but on Voyager it seems really strange. Couldn't the creators have put some sort of makeup on the aliens?

2) The guest stars playing the aliens are really bad and extremely goofy. The poor sandal maker looks like an extra from a Mel Brooks movie.

3) While it's understandable that the Voyager crew wouldn't want to disrupt the aliens by simply taking the Ferengi away, the fact that Janeway beams them back down to the planet was simply ridiculous. A much easier solution would have been to throw the Ferengi in the brig and have Neelix or another crew member head to the planet disguised as a Ferengi to explain to the aliens why their gods had left. This is essentially where the plot goes, anyway.

4) Jammer already noted this, but the incompetence by the Voyager crew in the final minutes of the show is just amazing.

It's funny, because this is a Voyager episode that makes an attempt at continuity and then, completely fails.
K'Elvis - Mon, Mar 17, 2014 - 1:41pm (USA Central)
The architecture didn't look bronze age at all, it didn't look like anything that could be made with stone or bronze tools. It also appeared to be a small village - why is it that in Trek, a small village represents an entire planet?

The type of greed that the Ferengi were engaging in was simply bad business. Conning people out of their money is one thing, but they would have made a lot more money setting up people in business and then getting a share of the profits. You go to the sages with a business proposal, they replicate what you need, you set your business up, and then pay the sages. This would make this village very prosperous, and it would shift the balance of power on this planet. The grifting they do is much less destabilizing than it would be if they were to actually try to modernize the economy of the planet.

Janeway's justification for intervention is weak, just because the Federation hosted the conference on the sale of the wormhole doesn't obligate them in the slightest. And the Ferengi did win the rights to the wormhole. The idea that it would be harmful simply to pluck out the Ferengi is hard to justify. Beam them out, and if you simply must make a magic show for the natives, have three crew members made up to look like Ferengi, do some hocus pocus and beam them out. The hatred for the sages seems to come out of nowhere. At the beginning of the episode the people love their Emissary ... I mean sages, and there isn't much of a sense that the people dislike them. The village seems pretty prosperous.

But there's no sense of urgency about the wormhole, it's like the crew knew they weren't getting home. They dawdled on the rather oddball scheme, and then had massive security failures in letting the Ferengi escape. Not only did they overpower the guards, they overwhelmed security in the shuttle bay. Security in Starfleet seems to be terrible, every time a script calls for it, security performs perfectly ineptly.

They could have let the Ferengi keep the wealth they had obtained. Put it in a secure cargo bay that wasn't near their shuttle, and they never would have tried to escape.
Ric - Tue, Apr 1, 2014 - 2:50pm (USA Central)
Having two Ferengi in the Delta Quadrant is ridiculous. It seems like Voyager meets people or stuff from the Alpha Quadrant with irritating frequency.

Being so easy for the Ferengi to escape from Voyager is infuriating. What sort of professional ship would be so easy to fool? Oh, yes, only these written by lazy writters.

Seeing again Voyager not being able to beam someone down or up is, really, so annoying that mad me laugh.

Having Voyager once again find a too-easy way home just to predictably lose it, is.... well, predictable. Boring. Blah.

What a waste of time.
Vylora - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 7:16am (USA Central)
This holdover from season two should have remained held indefinitely. Granted there were some genuinely entertaining moments, but a few scattered moments does not a good episode make. The last act unequivocally ruins any chance of salvation this showing may have had.

Mildly amusing, out of place characterizations, cringe-worthy ineptness in plotting, and a horribly botched ending. Kudos in making the first clunker of the season. And it wasn't even supposed to be here.

1 star.

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