Star Trek: Voyager
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.