“The House Of Quark” (season 3, episode 3; originally aired 10/10/1994)
In which Quark faces down the Klingon version of a shotgun wedding…
Here’s something I never thought I’d be writing: This Quark-centric episode is funny, well-paced, and has easily the best depiction of marriage I’ve ever seen on a Star Trek series. That the last point has actually nothing to do with everyone’s favorite Ferengi is beside the point. The episode’s main plotline—Quark gets kidnapped and brought to the Klingon homeworld by a Klingon woman desperate to maintain control of her house—sounds like it should’ve been a disaster, given that it allows for any number of opportunities for the show to play up the traditional Ferengi cowardice and greed. But while those elements are nominally present, the hour does Quark and itself the service of treating everything with a straight face. The jokes are there, no question, but the conflict is played seriously; the humor comes from the contrast between Quark’s common sense approach to life, and the Klingon’s pompous, violent determination to fixate on the honor in everything. This serves the rather neat trick of having us laugh with Quark far more often than we laugh at him (an important distinction for a show regular), even going so far as to leave him triumphant in the face of seemingly impossible odds. All this, plus a subplot with Keiko and O’Brien that, again, is hands down the most honest and least histrionic view of a long-term romantic relationship that the franchise has managed, makes for good times.
All of this may have something to do with Ron Moore joining the DS9 behind-the-scenes crew, both as a supervising producer and frequent contributing writer. He wrote the teleplay for “House Of Quark,” based on a story from Tom Benko. And in addition to Moore’s usual fondness for the intricacies and challenges of Klingon culture, the plotting is smart and well-crafted, an essential and often overlooked element in this kind of comedy.
It all starts out simply enough: With the threat of the Dominion scaring away his clientele, Quark’s bar has fallen on hard times. When a drunken Klingon falls on his own knife one evening, the quick-thinking Ferengi decides this is just the opportunity he needs to liven up the place, and he tells an elaborate lie to Odo to make it seem like he killed the dead Klingon in actual combat. Business gets better for a while, as everyone wants to hear about Quark’s turn as a powerful warrior (presumably most of these folks are either new to the station or looking for chuckles), but this exaggerated version of events quickly creates new problems, as the dead Klingon, Kozak, was the head of a powerful Klingon house. Soon enough, Kozak’s brother, D’Ghor, shows up to threaten Quark, but not in the way you’d expect. D’Ghor claims he doesn’t want revenge—he’s just there to make sure that his brother died in combat with honor, and not in some ridiculous accident.
This is clever, as it goes against expectations, but in a way that makes sense. The Klingon lust for honor has been one of the species’ most consistent characteristics (well, at least since they were reintroduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation), and while it’s obvious Quark will face some consequence for his lies, the idea that Kozak’s brother would actually want him to stick to his story is unexpected and intriguing. And it gets more complicated from there, because a scene or two later, Kozak’s widow, Grilka, shows up. Turns out that D’Ghor isn’t exactly trustworthy, and the reason he wants Quark to stick to the lie about Kozak is so that he can gain control of Kozak’s house. If Kozak died by accident, Grilka can apply for (and most likely receive) special dispensation, allowing her to take over. But if he died in combat, there’s no wiggle room, and D’Ghor can step in. So Grilka knocks Quark out, takes him back home, and marries him before he realizes what’s going on. Comedy!
And entertaining comedy at that. One of the reasons “House Of Quark” works is that it never gets bogged down in over-explaining itself or trying to force farce when it’s not really necessary. Just the idea of Quark as the head of a Klingon household is amusing enough, especially under Gowron’s bulging glare; there’s no need to force the humor, and no need to make Quark look even more foolish than he already is. In fact, the Ferengi comes off as very much the hero this time around. When Grilka explains her predicament, Quark approaches it from a practical perspective, asking for a chance to look into the finances of both Kozak and D’Ghor’s houses over the past few years. He proves that D’Ghor has been manipulating the books into order to put himself in a position to attack his brother, and while this evidence of fiduciary misconduct doesn’t exactly impress the Klingon high command, it does show that Quark is resourceful, and puts us firmly on his side. For a long time, the joke about the Ferengi was that they were corrupt, cowardly, and stupid. DS9 has done its best to turn this around by making corruption and cowardice into a philosophy, one which most of us would be hard put to deny has a part in our own lives. They aren’t cartoonish stereotypes; they’re just practical.
Rom is becoming more and more of an inadvertent conscience to Quark. I love how their relationship plays out in this episode, with Rom so completely convinced that he’s in the wrong, but not being able to help himself from speaking up anyway. (And he’s nearly always right, of course.) Through his ingenuity, his wit, and, yes, his courage, Quark manages to impress any number of humanoids including Gowron, most of the Klingon council, and, as seems to be a running joke with the Ferengi episodes, Grilka herself. (The joke being Quark is somehow a ladies man.) But, in a coda I didn’t see coming and was honestly, no kidding, moved by, the most important person Quark ends up impressing is his brother. The episode starts with Quark pretending he’s a great warrior to drum up business, and it ends with him using the fact that he isn’t a great warrior to win the day. Even though he’s still suffering from a drop in profits, Rom wants to hear the real story one more time. It’s very sweet, but it earns its sweetness.
As much as I like Quark’s adventures, though, I think I’m most impressed at the episode’s B-story, which deals with a quiet but serious crisis in the O’Brien marriage. We’ve talked before about how DS9 has done a good job to rehabilitate this relationship; what had been mostly played for laughs on TNG (Poor O’Brien, his wife is a nagging shrew!) has been turned into a more believable partnership—and a less cringe-worthy at that. Keiko, a prickly character who can be initially off-putting, has gone from caricature to fully developed person, and her struggles aboard the station, first to open a school for human and Bajoran (and other) children, and then to keep on teaching science at the school in spite of the objections of religious fanatics, have been among the highlights of the first two years of the show.
It isn’t just Quark’s bar that is suffering low occupancy due to Dominion fears; most of the Bajoran families who were living on the station have relocated to Bajor, which means that Keiko’s school is down to Jake and Nog. So she decides she has no choice but to shut the place down, an inevitable decision that leaves her understandably depressed. (In a nice touch, she mentions that she’s still tutoring Jake and Nog, although given what happens at the end of the episode, God only knows where their education will end up.) O’Brien tries to cheer her up with some romantic dinners and general O’Brien-being-awesome-ness, but while Keiko appreciates the efforts, and clearly enjoys the intimacy, it doesn’t clear away the fundamental problem.
What I love about this storyline, and what so impressed me that I actually found myself more looking forward to it than to the Quark plot, is it treats Keiko’s despondency as a serious and important concern. She isn’t being irrational or selfish or crazy or “a woman,” which was pretty much the go to explanation for any female behavior, sane or otherwise, for too long in the Trek-verse. She’s simply unfulfilled, and really, as interesting as the school was, it was always going to be a temporary measure. Through O’Brien’s conversations with Sisko and Bashir (who, surprisingly, offer the best advice), the episode gets into the way couples make sacrifices over the course of a long-term relationship, and how those sacrifices, even when made with the best of intentions, don’t always work forever. While Bashir’s comment on how much smiling time various gifts and promises will earn the troubled suitor isn’t the most sensitive way to put things, I like how it at least tacitly acknowledges that Keiko’s sadness is something deep and important, and not just her suffering from a case of “I refuse to cheer up!” flu. And while it’s weird that the two people O’Brien turns to for advice are Sisko and Bashir, which gives the whole thing a kind of “Gotta figure out these wimmen!” vibe, the conversations are thoughtful and respectful on the whole.
Maybe what I really feel here is relief to a see a storyline that could’ve so easily been a mistake, full of unrecognized sexism and cheap conclusions, handled in a way that feels adult. O’Brien realizes that Keiko needs a chance to go off on her own and be an actual, no-kidding-around botanist. Now, okay, Keiko could’ve figured this out on her own, and the fact that O’Brien arranges her trip to Bajor on a science expedition means she’s a largely passive entity throughout the hour. Still, her dilemma is driven by the fact that she believes she owes it to O’Brien to see things through, and it makes sense that she’d need encouragement from her husband—encouragement that isn’t so much “I’ll save you” as it is “I love you, and I realize what you did for me, so let me give you something back.” I like that, and I like the light it shines on O’Brien, Keiko, and their marriage. Episodes like “House Of Quark” serve a variety of purposes—when done well, they’re fun, a bit of breather between serious stuff, and, in a stealthy way, deepen our emotional investment in the ensemble. This one was done well, and has me even more excited about the upcoming season.
- The implication of the cold open is that Morn is going to get lucky with one of the Dabo girls. Let’s never speak of this again.
- Great use of minor serialization, with the Dominion references in both plots. The war hasn’t started yet, but the effects are ongoing.
- I’m glad Keiko mentions Molly near the end of the episode. I was wondering if she’d been lost in a transporter accident.
“Equilibrium” (season 3, episode 4; originally aired 10/17/1994)
In which Dax loses her balance…
Well, the buzz had to end sooner or later. While “Equilibrium” is far from bad—it gives us our first glimpse of the Trill homeworld and some interesting insights into the symbiont selection process—it lacks the drive and revelations of “The Search” or the tight scripting of “The House Of Quark.” This is an hour that gets by on mystery, and the resolution to that mystery, while conceptually a big deal, it doesn’t really justify all the buildup, because it’s essentially static. Everything important in the episode happened before it began, and the actually character drama is relegated to our heroes staring at computer screens or shouting at administrators we’ve never met before. Dax has some hallucinations, and they are deeply creepy, so that’s something at least. Again, this isn’t bad, and if it had popped up in the previous seasons, I would be a lot more effusive in my praise for the things that “Equilibrium” gets right. But it seems as though DS9 has turned a corner, and that means higher expectations.
One big part of the problem is that once again, this is a Dax-centric episode that goes out of its way to put Dax on the sidelines. Jadzia gets more screen time than she has in past outings, thankfully, only really disappearing for a big portion of the climax, but it is frustrating to see a character whose humor and competency have become her defining traits reduced to a frightened victim. During a dinner party at the Siskos’, Jadzia picks up a keyboard and starts playing a song she swears she remembers. She quickly becomes obsessed, humming the tune constantly without even realizing it, and her temper worsens to the point where she picks fights with Sisko and Kira over imagined insults. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Dax has a vision that she’s being followed by a masked stranger who looks like he (or she) just stepped out of a Dario Argento film. On Bashir and Sisko’s advice, Dax decides to return to the Trill homeworld to see if anything can be done.
So far, so good, although Dax’s mood-problems separate her from a story that should be told primarily through her eyes—that’s the way character-centric episodes tend to work, after all. (It’s certainly how Quark’s worked.) The mystery is intriguing, the masked stranger effectively unsettling, and the possibility of seeing Dax’s home is at least conceptually intriguing, even if it’s not what I’d call a huge draw. Thankfully, while the “civilized” part of Trill-land is generic, the reveal that the symbionts live in underground pools, where they float in milky fluid and communicate via electrical signals, has an appropriately Cronenbergian feel. Dax struggles through a few more hallucinations, then collapses, and it’s up to Bahsir and Sisko to save the day.
Which is problematic. Much as I love Bashir and Sisko (and I definitely do), character-centric episodes don’t come every week, and Sisko tends to be the center of attention for a large portion of the rest of the show. I certainly wouldn’t object to Bashir having adventures (which he’s had), but shouldn’t “Equilibrium” belong to Dax? Jadzia has come a long way since the first season, but there’s still a distance to her character, in a way that sets her apart from the rest of the group. Yes, her alien-ness makes her distinct, but Odo is, if anything, even stranger than she is, and the show has never had any problems helping us relate to the shapeshifter. The premise of the hour is that the Dax symbiont was once joined with a host named Joran Belar, a composer who turned out to be unstable (and a murderer to boot), so the symbiont was forcibly taken from him. Unfortunately, the fact that Joran was joined with Dax at all indicates a serious flaw in the host selection process. The standard assumption is that only a small portion of Trills are capable of joining with symbionts, and that a joining with a host who was mentally unsuitable would result in quick rejection—hence, the selection committee has to weed through thousands of applicants, accepting only handful, for everyone’s well-being. However, because Joran survived the process, despite being psychotic, his short candidacy exposes the assumption for the lie it is.
This is complicated, and also something that’s clearly supposed to be a big deal. Given what we’ve seen of the rigors of the selection process, it makes sense that the Trill society would be rocked to the core by such a discovery, but it doesn’t have much impact in the episode itself. Really, the cover-up exists to justify why Dax is having such a lousy time, and the reveal about what’s actually going on exists so that Sisko and Bashir can have leverage over the Trill counselor who wants to see Jadzia dead. Which means that all these expository discoveries deflate the tension, rather than pay it off.
It’s especially problematic that the one person whom is most affected by all of this is unconscious when the truth is presented—Dax’s decision to merge with the Joran-memories rather than die is too obvious and inevitable to carry much weight, and it even happens offscreen. There’s a lovely scene of Dax getting into a milk pool and hugging Joran (either a dream or another hallucination), and then she and Sisko chat, to give us the sense that Dax is on the road to recovery, even though it won’t be the easiest journey. And that’s it. There’s a hollow place in the center of all of this, because the show keeps refusing to let Dax work through her own problems. People keep having to rescue her, and she tends to be unconscious when this happens.
Still, there are effective scenes throughout “Equilibrium.” The dinner party is delightful, especially Odo’s forced attempts at whisking, and it’s great to see how far Bashir has come in terms of his relationship with Dax. He cares about her a great deal, but the creepy, predatory aspect of his affections has subsided, to the point where Dax is able to visit Bashir in his quarters on the Defiant (on their trip to Trillville) and he doesn’t hit on her once. In fact, he invites her to spend the night without any sexual overtones at all (well, there’s some vague awkwardness, but it’s never vocalized). It’s great seeing Bashir and Sisko working together, and I would love an episode that gives us more adventures of both characters. It’s just a shame that, once again, Dax is stuck as the damsel in distress.
- The question is, Dax now knows the truth about why these memories were hidden from her, and the con that’s been put over the majority of her race—so how does she take the news? The episode just elides over the issue; first she’s unconscious, then she’s warmly accepting Joran as a part of her past, then she’s dealing with her anger issues. I can accept that she wouldn’t want to expose the lie, but it would’ve been nice to actually see her reacting to it and making her own decisions.
- Again, we see how far Sisko will go to protect his people.
Next week: Kira goes full Cardassian in “Second Skin,” and Odo deals with “The Abandoned.”