Nutshell: Quite enjoyable, but also wholly forgettable, with characterizations and plot turns that can be predicted a mile away.
Over the years, Morn has become something of a DS9 icon—a "mascot," as Quark even calls him early in the episode, for the promenade bar. He's the resident barfly with an obscure life and past; about all we really know is that he's a guy who sits around, drinks, and talks a lot. At least, we think he talks a lot. He talks a lot off-screen.
It makes one wonder what the always-uncredited Mark Allan Shephard, who "plays" the popular seen-but-never-heard figure, thinks of his own role on the series. He's become almost a legendary figure of the Trekkian mythos, yet he has never spoken a single line. By the rules of the screen actor's guild, the producers are only required to pay him as an "extra."
For a while in DS9's early run, this guy didn't even have a name. He'd loom subtly in the background of shots until he gradually became a familiar, recognizable figure. Finally, the producers gave him a name (many say with the understanding that he is an interstellar version of Cheers' Norm, from whom his name was derived), and then, of course, the single joke that has become the embodiment of who Morn is: a guy who supposedly talks to everybody, yet a guy who's never permitted to say anything while the cameras are present.
I've always found the concept of Morn itself amusing and intriguing. His presence is "fourth-wall breaking"—he exists in that area that separates the self-aware television audience from the fictional DS9 universe. More specifically, Morn has become a running gag of permanence. No matter what is going on, there's Morn, sitting on that bar stool. Years later in the alternate future of "The Visitor," after the station was no longer under Federation control and Quark had moved on to other things, who was still in that bar? Why, Morn, naturally.
The legend of Morn as a piece of this series is what makes "Who Mourns for Morn?" an infectious hour. But what keeps the story grounded in the pedestrian is its surprisingly unimaginative plot—in which Morn is presumed dead when his ship is destroyed, following which Quark inherits Morn's mysterious fortune of gold-pressed latinum.
This episode is really a Quark story surrounding the plot device of Morn's death—and as Quark stories go, it's more or less routine. It's performed with a light hand of amicability, but there's just nothing here worth getting excited about. Quark finds out that Morn had 1,000 bricks of latinum stashed away somewhere (he's not sure where, so the hunt begins), but things get complicated when others show up on the station staking claim to part of the loot.
The plot itself is quite predictable, and so are the various characters' actions. Consider, for example, the first person who comes looking for Quark: Larell (Bridget Ann White), who claims to be Morn's ex-wife. As with all female seductresses, she makes an appeal to Quark's libido, hoping to con him out of a substantial part of the loot. This is a very, very tired slant on the material. In fact, I think just about any other slant would've seemed fresh in comparison. It's pretty obvious that she's lying through her teeth (and even Quark has his suspicions about her)—but he plays along because there's a chance he might get laid. Yipee. Bridget Ann White, alas, didn't impress me much; she fills the stock role capably, but certainly doesn't make it memorable.
The plot makes another predictable turn with the introduction of the two "heavies"—a couple of brothers, Krit (Brad Greenquist) and Nahsk (Cyril O'Reilly), who tell Quark that Morn owed them money, and that Quark has now inherited the debt. These two were substantially more interesting than Larell, mostly because they were portrayed with more amusing quirkiness. I particularly liked Nahsk, the "slower" of the two, who makes Quark "wear" Morn's favorite painting—and then later tells him how "sorry" he was for doing so.
The other guest character, Hain (Gregory Itzin), shows up claiming to be a security officer who intends to seize the latinum in the name of a distant royal government, to which Morn was apparently connected in unfathomable ways.
So what's really going on here with this myriad of characters and their alleged premises? The bottom line is hardly surprising. Really, I don't see how anyone couldn't see that all parties were playing Quark from the first step. It turns out they're all Morn's ex-partners in crime, who were long ago involved in a cooperative heist of—you guessed it—1,000 bricks of gold-pressed latinum.
Their plotting against Quark and each other comprises a series of watchable if not completely engaging cons. Quark plays the role he has played a dozen times before: the guy who has gotten himself in over his head, and just wants to get out while hopefully turning a respectable profit in the meantime. Shimerman plays this personality with his typically likable shtick, but his actions and reactions can nevertheless be predicted far in advance.
"Who Mourns for Morn?" is at its best when ... well, when everyone is mourning for Morn. Early in the episode Quark holds a service in his bar which is good for some affecting, low-key laughs. And the notion that "Morn's bar stool must never be empty" was particularly appropriate and thus reasonably amusing. Quark walking the line between sincere grief and canned melodramatic speeches for the sake of inducing his profits seemed pretty real—and even pretty sincere in a Quark kind of way. Similarly, hearing the bogus stories about Morn's secret lives from his old partners also made for amiable dialog, as the story toys with unlikely premises such as, for example, the notion that Morn was a prince.
Ah, but who watching this episode really believed Morn was dead, anyway? In my mind, the likelihood that Morn had actually been killed was about as probable as the likelihood of Bajor blowing up. You simply don't kill off your resident in-joke symbol of permanence for a comedy plot involving a bunch of greedy people holding out for a treasure. Since Morn is obviously not a guy who just goes away, I knew the plot was a con from the outset. That in itself isn't bad, but the use of Quark and Morn's old pals just wasn't enough to keep me interested. Diverted, yes, but hardly compelled. Ultimately, this episode could've benefited from more analysis of Morn as a symbol (or "mascot" or whatever), and fewer predictable money-grabbing schemes and double-crosses.
(Also, was it me, or did anyone else see elements similar to "The Nagus"? In both instances everyone wants something from Quark, but they also want him dead; and in both cases Quark finds himself alarmed when the supposedly deceased party turns out to be alive. Just a thought.)
So, while "Who Mourns for Morn?" scores points for its likability, there's very little unexpected that comes along with it. The Quark angle is absolutely nothing new, and as for Morn, I wouldn't make this show out to be character development for him, because Morn isn't really a character. He's an icon, or maybe just a mascot.
Next week: Speaking of fourth walls coming down, Sisko is a 1950s writer who invents a place called DS9 ... and then encounters a very un-24th-century evil: racism.
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