The role of the Ferengi in the Star Trek universe is becoming a ponderous issue, as further demonstrated in this somewhat frustrating episode. When TNG began, the Ferengi were to be the major threat to the Federation. The idea was abandoned very early on and, over the years, the Ferengi have changed from their occasional lightweight threats (i.e., "Menage a Troi," "Captain's Holiday" and "Rascals") to the simple comic relief they have become on DS9.
When DS9 began, Ferengi Quark was to be a character that would presumably offer some depth to the primarily two-dimensional Ferengi culture while offering some comic relief. And occasionally Quark has some depth. Unfortunately, most of this season he hasn't. The high point for Quark this season came in "The House of Quark." There, he had the Klingons to play against and had the opportunity to supply some non-obvious, non-cardboard actions with motives less directed at his own benefit.
But with the recent Ferengi vehicles "Family Business" and "Prophet Motive," the Ferengi are beginning to wear quite thin—as is the character of Quark, despite Shimerman's always-lively portrayals. It's becoming increasingly difficult to sympathize with a character who cares about nothing but himself and his profit while exploiting the other characters in every B-story he can get the chance.
In this outing, Quark is investigated by the Ferengi Commerce Agency (FCA), who tell him he is responsible for the illegal actions of his mother Ishka. She's a female earning profit, and that is against the law. He must venture home with Rom to persuade Ishka to confess and return the profits she has made. (Quick aside: It's noteworthy that after eight seasons of Ferengi existence this is the first time Trek has visited the Ferengi Homeworld.)
Ishka (Andrea Martin) is rigidly stubborn on keeping the profit. It's a matter of principle. She is better at earning profit than most Ferengi males and believes it's downright wrong that the sexist laws of Ferengi culture prevent her from legally doing so. We are treading here on a rehash of "Rules of Acquisition."
She has a hidden fortune—a financial empire—with a startling number of false-fronts and laundering filters. If the FCA were to find it, Quark would be forced to pay for it and be ruined. Quark continues to persuade her to return it; she continues to refuse.
This leads to the true core of the episode—the family conflict. A lot of it runs like a cliché, such as Quark's line to Rom, "You always take her side." And although this apparently intends to be a character development episode of Quark and Rom, it does nothing for either character because both remain as rigidly transparent as usual. Quark only cares about his financial future. Rom is less selfish, but he says the dumbest things at the dumbest times that it's impossible to think of him as anything but an idiot. I for one was hoping Rom would be the type of character that looks like a dullard on the outside but through his actions proves otherwise. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
Another problem with "Family Business" is its indecision whether to take itself seriously or simply go over-the-top. It's mostly lightweight and dumb. There's a scene where Quark and Rom get into a brawl on the living room floor, but it's so contrived and goofy that it's hard to see it as anything more than comic relief. (Then you have to ask yourself, comic relief of what?)
The episode is sporadically humorous, mostly due to Shimerman's facial and vocal talents, combined with the gags of gratuitously expensive Ferengi customs. (I also liked the throwaway line referencing the computer display of the Ferengi stock market.)
The intent of the episode seems to be to somewhat change the Ferengi to fit better into the Roddenberry universe. "Family Business," however, completely misses its own point. Through the arguing, fighting and eventual reconciliation with Rom and his mother, Quark learns nothing—leaving him as much an unsympathetic and cardboard personality as ever.
Redeeming the episode is the very agreeable B-story of Sisko meeting freighter captain Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson) at Jake's persistent insisting. The results of this time-restrained B-story are far better than anything in the main plot, as Sisko and Yates connect through—wouldn't you know it—a dead sport called baseball. If the writers choose to use her at a later date, it may prove to be the perfect addition to Sisko's continuously improving character. Kasidy Yates is definitely a character I would like to see return.
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