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Bob Bobness
Thu, Feb 20, 2020, 2:30pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S2: Rules of Acquisition

@William B
I'm five years late to the party, but I just want to express my appreciation for your excellent analysis of what is possibly my favourite episode in -- obviously (I mean, let's get real) -- the best Star Trek. And before all y'all get your knickers in a twist, that's *favourite* episode, not greatest (similarly, my favourite Buffy is Beer Bad).

The only significant refinement to your argument that I would suggest is that frailty and -- from the point of view of the writers -- vulnerability play an even bigger role in how the characters behave than you give credit for.

Let's go down the list:

Odo -- Odo's self-image is essentially as the uncorruptible lawman, but he tends to break his own self-defined character pretty easily if it's Kira or -- as it turns out here -- family. And his comment about his imaginary brother is a BFD, because it's that part of him that's going to be tested to the limit. I draw a straight line from this first spur-of-the-moment, possibly-not-even-previously-considered notion of family by Odo to his finest moment (and I'd say *the* most powerful moment) in the entire series, in The Die Is Cast): "I want to go home."

Inglatu/Zyree -- Why doesn't Inglatu just try to set himself up as a go-between and skim off the middle? Why does Zyree have to go behind the scenes to get a one-time score, instead of getting in on the action on a permanent basis? Answer: the Dosi aren't just serious about profit like the Ferengi, they're also serious about their entrenched gender bias. Inglatu lets his toxic masculinity get in the way of his capitalism. He's too damn proud to be the middle man! He's got to be the big man.


Quark -- Why does Quark kiss Pel? Please. Quark is seriously sex-deprived. He is already getting turned on by her way early in the episode (I'm betting his sense of smell is telling him things the rest of him doesn't want to hear). And while he doesn't appear to be particularly bothered by the *idea* of homosexuality, he is still VERY uncomfortable when supposedly-male Pel comes on to him. Why?

He's straight, that's all. If you want a really good analogue to this episode, it's Black Adder II: Bells (and yes, @Diamond Dave, you're damned right that DS9 is Shakespearean). And I suspect that -- just like in England -- it's common knowledge on Ferenginar that half the elite is on the down-low. What else do you expect is gonna happen if you deprive the whole female population of education?


Pel -- One of the absolute best characters to only appear once. If she were just a 2-D shoulder-padded super-capitalist, her once-in-a-generation business acumen would be the same sort of facile hand-waving that makes (all that I could stomach of) Voyager and most of Pepsi Generation so unwatchable. No, the reason she is so impressive is that she is totally believable. So strong, so determined, so amazingly talented, and consequently so completely isolated. She knows what she wants, and crucially, it's not really that much -- a thriving business, and a sexual partner that she can respect.

The scene with the Grand Nagus is only unrealistic if you expect her to have limitless ambition. She is in a very good position to infiltrate his circle and make some serious latinum. But that would mean a hell of a lot more stress, and much more dangerous consequences if she is exposed: palace intrigues, blackmail opportunities, and -- remember, this stuff is filmed in LA -- sexual exploitation.

That's too much. That's not what she's after. She just wants a normal middle-class existence like your average Joe Ferengi. And she came to DS9 in the first place because there was a business that would hire Ferengis, but not so many of them that she'd have to spend all her energy worrying about being outed. Unfortunately for her, Odo's vigilance has already impelled Quark to force Nog to take that locksmithing course.

So she gets there and she gets hot for Quark. She calls it love, but is it? Maybe, maybe not. But then, something extraordinary happens at the Dosi market: Quark dumps the vat of wine.

***
Think about it. Under normal circumstances, that would be laughably out of character. Quark just does not have the stones for that sort of thing. But what if this isn't just a throwaway episode to slyly introduce the Dominion, but a real labour of love, meticulously- and brilliantly-written. I said Rules wasn't the greatest; I didn't say that it wasn't great.
***

Quark is used to living on the fringes, and being denigrated for not being man enough, in a commercial sense by his own people, and otherwise for lack of height. Pel gives him a shot of confidence, and also models really effective -- frankly, ballsy -- negotiating technique. And Quark picks up on it! After being embarrassingly obsequious to Zek, and needing Pel to rescue him every damn time, he handles the (massive, violent) Dosi like a pro. He is a total badass.

And I don't think that it's just that he's learning from Pel, and encouraged by her confidence in him. I think he's got that new relationship energy going. He might not know what's happening to him, but his nose does. And it's not a one-off either. When her gets back to DS9, he handles Zek easily. Twice.

But getting back to Pel:

How encouraging must this all be? Maybe it was a crush at first, but now it's an intoxicating mix of hormones, respect and opportunism (she is still Ferengi). If she can seduce him before they get back to DS9, she's won. In fact, she has hit the jackpot: just the right amount more than exactly what she wanted, with the unexpected bonus being that her partner is the shit, and she *makes* him the shit.

That's about as much as anyone could or should ask from life.

And then it doesn't work out. Thankfully, this *isn't* Shakespeare, so there aren't any corpses. But how should she proceed? Back to nudity and subservience? No effing way. Become Zek's grand vizier? Like I said above, a very bad move, and Pel has already shown that she just doesn't make those. What's left? Exile. She's already gone to the back of beyond by coming to DS9, and that wasn't far enough. Now she'll have to go further.

Is she pissed? Damn right she's pissed. But she is also in a position that she will never be in again. She's got personal access to the Grand Nagus (and it may be that she has already gamed out exactly what happens; remember, she's good at this). So she makes a scene, because it is the best opportunity that she is ever likely to have to influence Ferengi politics and culture. She's not going to see the change, but she just might plant that little seed, that will one day be the change.

Now maybe if she were a different person, she would have taken a different path. Gotten married, exerted indirect influence, maybe even found herself recruited into a crypto-feminist cell. But she isn't. She is an adventurer, an intrepid.

Good on her.


Zek: Unlike the people above, the Grand Nagus is completely secure in his position. When he puts the moves on Kira, he probably rates his chances at an optimistic 1%. But what's the downside? It doesn't work, he gets in a pinch for fun, but he knows exactly how far to push his luck -- he is the Nagus for a reason.

But his last line, that's different. It's not just funny because Wallace Shawn has a silly voice. He's really shocked, and it's that moment where he is both a ludicrous old letch and the supreme leader of his people that let's us glimpse the profound wrongness and disconnect that lurks at the heart of all the best jokes.

His job isn't just to be the richest Ferengi. The Nagus must also be the paragon of Ferengi virtue. Pel strikes at the heart of his identity, both personally and as head of state. It's a moment he is going to remember, one way or the other. I think that if Quark wasn't standing right there, Pel would be smirking with satisfaction once Zek left the room.

As it is, she just has to be content with mercilessly lifting Quark's latinum, and
YES YOU BET YOUR SWEET BOOTS THAT'S A DOUBLE-ENTENDRE.

***

There is only one character who really doesn't have these issues, and that's Dax. And since she is not susceptible to the main driver of the whole damn episode, that means that she can stand outside it all, and see what's going on. To go back to the Shakespeare comparison, she is the herald, and -- solidly in that tradition -- she is given the last word: "Nice try, Quark, but I know you better than that."

So, to conclude:
If you look at the characters' weaknesses, you end up further elucidating the writers' stance on the corrosive effects of societal gender imparity. Neat, huh?

+++++

Finally, a side point to the general viewership round these parts: quit your hating on the Dosi. Inglatu and Zyee are awesome, in the true DS9 way. Why do we all like Weyoun ? It's not just that he's funny, it's that he's indestructibly, looney-tune-cartoony funny ("My, that really is toxic!").


Booyah.
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