Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Valiant”/“Profit And Lace”
-

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Valiant”/“Profit And Lace”

-

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Profit And Lace"

Season 6, Episode 23
-

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Valiant"

Season 6, Episode 22

“Valiant” (season 6, episode 22; originally aired 5/6/1998)

In which we can be heroes, but just for one day...

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

There are explosions and space battles aplenty in “Valiant,” but the episode’s single most important effect is its casting; specifically, the casting of the under-age crew of the titular Federation vessel. While en route to Ferenginar to try and pitch a potential Federation/Ferengi alliance, Nog and Jake run afoul of a wing of Jem’Hadar ships. They try to escape, but a single Jem’Hadar fighter gives chase, leading to a battle the little runabout has no chance of winning. Fortunately, the USS Valiant arrives in the nick of time to take over the fight, destroy the the Jem’Hadar ship, and beam Jake and Nog to safety. Which is great news, but the first voice our heroes hear in the new ship is a young woman’s; the “woman” part is fine, but the “young” is unusual, since she appears to be running the transporters on her own. (This character turns out to be, I think, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer.) Even worse, when Nog and Jake are taken up to the bridge, they find a whole crew of teenagers running the show, from the captain on down. Everyone is highly efficient and dedicated to their tasks, but that initial shock from hearing a young voice when you expect an adult one never goes away. It’s wrong somehow. Like seeing kids play pretend, only with real bullets.

Like I said: It’s the casting that makes this work. Not in terms of specific actors. The episode’s guest stars are, judged individually, a mixed bag. Paul Popowich does well as the in-way-over-his-head Captain Tim Watters, and Ashley McDonogh is nicely understated as the aforementioned Chief Dorian Collins, but Courtney Peldon’s turn as Farris, Watters’ second in command, is strident and basically one note, and nobody else gets a chance to distinguish themselves. But that’s beside the point. The job was taken care of as soon as the casting director stuck to getting young faces in age appropriate roles, because as soon as you see them, you know they’re doomed. This is a story which gets most of its power from the sense of avoidable but inevitable tragedy that hangs over all these characters. The harder they work, the more they believe the lie—that they can do anything, that they are adults and ready for this and anyone who suggests otherwise is directly insulting their commitment—and the more doomed they become. Jake realizes it soon enough: he and Nog have been rescued by a ghost ship that doesn’t yet realize its dead.

“Valiant” gets a large part of its power from its directness, with an uncluttered storyline that manages to get the point across without ever stooping to lecture or pedantry. There are a couple of scenes that hand you the moral, admittedly; Jake makes a plea for common sense when Captain Watters first announces his foolhardy plan to take down a Jem’Hadar battle cruiser, and at the end of the episode, Nog, having briefly fallen under the captain’s spell, explains in broad terms why things went so badly. But neither of these scenes feel like lectures, and both are necessary. Nog is the only major character to go through any kind of arc, and having seen him fight with Jake over Watters’ orders, and then watched those orders misfire in spectacular and devastating fashion, it’s necessary to give him a chance to get back to himself. His decisions are understandable, even sympathetic, and speak to a subtle criticism of authoritarian systems that runs throughout the hour. After committing himself to following orders and striving to be his best (“best” here defined by what Starfleet considers it to be), why wouldn’t Nog jump at the opportunity to prove himself? Why wouldn’t any of those students—all of whom are members of the fabled Red Squad, the Academy elite we first heard of way back in Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Wesley was tarnishing his perfect record with student killing shenanigans.

Jake’s speech is equally important, because this story wouldn’t be so creepy and sad if there wasn’t at least one person around with a little bit of perspective. It becomes clear early on that Watters is in over his head; despite his calm demeanor and lack of overt twitches, the wrongness of a ship in war staffed entirely by young, inexperienced cadets seems to drive his every action. He needs to prove how good they are, how well they belong in the position they’ve stumbled into (the seven adults who were in charge of running the training mission all died in combat), not necessarily for ego or glory, but because that how his existence has been defined up to this point. I’m reading a little into things, as Ron Moore’s script never gets very heavy with the backstory, but there seems precious little overt ego in any member of the Valiant’s crew. They have the tense, slightly nervous look of students who study six or seven hours a night; students for whom an A- is really just another way of failing. Watters both exemplifies this and holds them together as a young man hellbent on becoming a hero through willpower alone. It’s a spell that’s easy to fall under, so long as you don’t catch him downing pills. Jake’s attempt to wake everyone up is a necessary counterpoint, to show us just how far the Valiant’s crew has committed itself.

What really makes this episode work for me is that it never strains itself to prove its point, and that it doesn’t blink when it comes time to demonstrate the consequences of Watters’ decisions. The captain’s use of amphetamines (or whatever) to hold himself together is an obvious clue, but it’s not something the script ever fixates on; there’s no scene of Watters sobbing or raging about the pressure he’s under. Dorian, the only character we do see break down, does so briefly, after Jake ask her a (completely innocent) question about home, and the captain and his second in command immediately clamp down on the incident, telling (well, ordering) Jake to stop upsetting people. But the only other time Jake disrupts anything is when he gets in a fight with Nog in Engineering, after which Watters has him thrown into the brig. Those few signs we get of weakness are all that are necessary; they’re like fine cracks in a windshield that’s just getting ready to break. This does mean that we don’t really get a sense of the personalities of the rest of the crew, which makes their fate arguably more a cautionary tale than a dramatic one. But watching Nog deal with what happens, and inferring just what’s going on inside of the heads of all these desperate, deluded young people, keeps the exercise from being academic.

Then there’s the ending, in which everybody but Jake, Nog, and Dorian die. It’s brutal, eased only slightly by the fact that Dorian represents about a third of the people on board the ship who we knew anything about; otherwise, it’s just seeing Watters and Farris and a bunch of (not wearing red) redshirts become toast. But it works, partly for its totality, and partly because of that horrible moment when they risk everything for their goal (targeting a certain part of the Jem’Hadar cruiser that’s made of a certain metal that makes it vulnerable to a certain kind of torpedo), using all their skills to out-maneuver the much larger, more powerful ship; how after taking several hits and sticking their necks out about as far as they can go, they get in close enough to launch the torpedo, hitting the target; and it looks like they’ve succeeded and they’re finally as good as they need to be—and it doesn’t work. It isn’t that Nog fails to engineer the torpedo properly, or that the helm misses, or that the crew didn’t want it badly enough. It just wasn’t a good enough plan, and because of that, because their need to prove themselves overwhelmed whatever better judgement they had left, they died. Because they were young, and lacked the experience to realize that failure is always an option, no matter how hard you study.

Stray observations:

  • The generally inexperienced performances add a lot to the episode, I think; everyone seems so quiet and serious and completely out of place. (The bridge shots are especially bizarre.) The brief scene near the end with Sisko and the regular crew of the Defiant is almost ridiculously comforting.
  • “He may have been a hero. He may even have been a great man. But in the end, he was a bad captain.”—Nog
  • I almost forgot; there’s a scene in the cold open in which Odo deduces that Quark is is secretly in love with Dax. And then Quark stares at Dax’s ass. Which is as good a segue as any into…

“Profit And Lace” (season 6, episode 23; originally aired 5/13/1998)

It’s just terrible, okay?

(Available on… look away. Just look away.)

Ugh. Okay, since someone suggested this in the comments last week, and since I don’t want to dwell on this anymore than I have to, we’re breaking out the old “notes style” review. If you’re worried this means I’ll go easy on the episode, or that I’ll fail to point out why it’s a giant piece of shit, take comfort in the fact that you are wrong. While it’s not wall to wall terrible (the middle 20 minutes, while not good, are largely just really tedious), the bad parts are bad enough to earn this hour its wretched reputation. Everyone should be embarrassed this even made it past the concept stage, and “Profit And Lace” threatens to undo all of the good work the show has managed in making the Ferengi race more than just walking punchlines.

Things get awful fast:
Quark is delivering a glowing employee performance review of a dabo girl. He’s so going to harass her. This is already creepy.

Most dud episodes reveal themselves soon enough, but few do so within the first minute. Here, we have Quark acting out a scene from a sexual harassment employee training video, except it’s not a video, and he’s not exactly acting. In later seasons, the show has wisely downplayed Quark’s “monstrous boss” side, avoiding overt suggestions that he takes advantage of the dabo girls, but there’s no subtlety to this at all. After telling the woman (Aluura, played by Symba Smith) that everyone loves her work, Quark proceeds to tell her that he himself feels like she could be nicer to him, and then offers her a book called Oo-mox For Fun And Profit. I guess everyone thought they could get away with this sort of thing because “oo-mox” is just ear rubbing, but basically, Quark—the story’s hero—just told this nice woman that either she gives him a handjob, or he’s firing her. Yay. (Given the later events of the episode, you’d think that this scene would be a set up to Quark learning a valuable lesson about respect and boundaries and whatnot. It is not!)

Rom can’t get ahold of anyone Ferenginar. This is a huge loss.

Yeah, let’s all have a moment of silence because whatever.

Rom is worried that the Dominion has invaded Ferenginar. His concerns are mocked, because they are hilarious.

They really are. I guess a more serious episode could’ve suggested that the Dominion might target Ferenginar in order to threat the universal economy or something, but that would require use to take the Ferengi seriously at all, which is something the story desperately needs us not to do. If we take any of this seriously, it would be less funny, right? Right?

Grand Nagus Zek and Moogie approach! The music tells me it’s fun.

Alexander Siddig directed “Profit And Lace,” and, well. I like Siddig a lot. The last episode he directed, “Business As Usual,” was quite good, so we’ll just assume he got the short end of the stick here and worked way too hard to compensate. Because this episode is full of aggressively “wacky” touches that  repeatedly draw attention to themselves, and only serve to underline how ill-conceived the story really is. I’ll admit it: before Quark got a temporary sex change, there were a couple of jokes I snickered at. And hell, even after, Nog is kind of goofily endearing. But no matter how many weird transitions (there’s this bit where Zek blows on his beetle snuff and there’s a huge cloud of smoke that leads into the next scene—which has no smoke in it—that looks like it belongs in a Disney sitcom) and camera angles and heavy-handed music cues, there’s no way to make this work.

Zek added an amendment giving females the right to wear clothes. Economy went into chaos with women wearing clothes.

I’m going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt here, because I’m like that: There’s a germ of a good idea in all this. Ishka’s push for a more enlightened Ferenginar has been a background runner for a few seasons now, and the idea that she might finally achieve her goal is, if somewhat simplistic, at least potentially exciting. Social change episodes don’t have to be inherently terrible, and there’s drama in the idea of Quark’s own mother spearheading worldwide reform. Except even acknowledging that this could’ve gone somewhere just makes the crap we got that much worse. Ishka doesn’t succeed by protest and powerful political movement; she succeeds by marrying the memory-addled Grand Nagus and comically forcing him to do what she wants. Just as bad, while the plot is kicked off by the Ferenginar suffrage movement, women have little to know involvement in the actual story. Ishka stands on the sidelines offering pep-talks and sarcasm until a fight with Quark puts her on bedrest for a week. Leeta (remember Leeta?) gives a few tips on how to be a woman, and not much else. Every other character is male. It’s absurd.

Zek was deposed. Brunt has taken over, because he is the only other Ferengi character we can remember. Huzzah.

How many Ferengi are there, anyway? Five? Six?

They have three days to get Zek’s job back.

And we care why? I guess it’s because if Brunt remains in control, he’ll find some way to get rid of the amendment giving women the right to do business, but it plays more like Brunt is threatening Quark’s business, which, whatever.

“Remember, she’s Rom’s wife.” “Meaning?” “Meaning she’s broke!”

Ha ha, it’s funny that the gross old man keeps hitting on the pretty lady who’s married to his son-in-law.

Commissioner Nilva, the chairman of Slug-o-Cola. Really? Everybody knows the Slug-o-Cola song, which is cute.

The sad thing is, when all the actors get together to plot their strategy (in this case, finding at least one investor to help Zek regain his position), they have great chemistry together. And the “Really” was because “Slug-O-Cola” is a stupid name. (Also makes me wonder if the writers of Futurama ever watched this.)

Okay, then Acting Grand Nagus Brunt shows up to give us something vaguely like suspense, there’s some squabbling, and Quark throws him out of the bar. Which makes it seem like Quark is a good guy or something until:

Quark blames his mom for her efforts at suffrage and equal rights. Our hero. “You’re the worst thing that ever happened to the entire Ferengi Alliance!” -Quark

Admittedly, this isn’t a new twist for the character; he’s been objected to Ishka’s efforts from the start, and this is a moment of very high stress. It’s also necessary for him to say something really awful to justify Ishka’s collapse. But man, what a maroon.

This isn’t really awful so much as boring right now.

True story: for about 20 minutes or so, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. The cold open was godawful, no question, but once I got past that, everything was just kind of stupid and goofy. Sure, the idea that the enfranchisement of females would throw an entire planet into chaos sounds like the most crazed of anti-feminist fever dreams, but that happened off-screen. It wasn’t a good episode, or even a passable one, but it wasn’t making me want to rip my eyeballs out or anything. But then...

Ah, Nilva’s expecting to meet a brilliant Ferengi female, so I’m guessing somebody’s going to end up in drag.

Past Zack sounds so young here. So full of life.

Called it. Quark is gonna be, I dunno, Quarkina.

Ha ha. You poor bastard.

Oh lord, he’s talking in a soft voice. And Bashir did a “procedure” on him. And he’s immediately uncertain about his looks. “There go his hormones.” Man, really glad we could get some weird-ass sexism in here. He’s worried about his hips!

Men in drag can be funny. I love me some Monty Python and Kids In The Hall and Tootsie. But the approach is important. With Python and the Kids, the drag work didn’t rely on the basic fact of “men in dress, ha ha!” to work; the performers took their characters seriously, even if we didn’t. Same thing with Tootsie, and there, the joke was almost never about the concept of drag, but about the failings of the man doing it (he makes an ugly woman), or the horrible sexism he never realized was happening all around him. Trying to make a joke around how outrageous it is for a man to wear women’s clothing has a limited appeal. You can get a few snickers about high heels and makeup, but it dries out quickly.

Quark is ostensibly trying to be as convincing a woman as possible, but the show goes about this in the worst way, relying on shallow stereotypes (women are emotional! women walk sexily! women are objects whose sole purpose in existing is to be desired by men!) to get the point across and never projecting much sense of danger or tension. After all, Quark isn’t turning into “Lumba” for fun; he needs to convince another Ferengi that he’s a woman, and that women have a valid place in commerce and represent a potentially vast consumer base. But the whole thing is so light and, again, stupid, that there’s none of the suspense a situational comedy like this really needs to work. And even if there was, it would still be terrible, because everyone involved seems to view women as some sort of exotic other, a mystery understood only by the mystics and, I guess, Nog. (There are some jokes about Nog knowing how to walk like a lady which suggest a very odd past, but those jokes primarily exist because ha ha, it’s funny when a dude knows lady stuff.) I can completely believe that Quark and Zek wouldn’t know a damn thing about being a woman, but Leeta is right there and she’s worse than they are.

Now Quark is hitting on Zek. What is this?

It’s the Elmer Fudd rule: The instant a male dresses up as a female, every other male around will find “her” irresistibly attractive. Only that gag gets whatever limited laughs it has in it from the fact that most males don’t make very attractive females (at least, most males dressing up as females for comedic purposes, excepting Dave Foley and honestly Jack Lemmon), and since “Lumba” looks just as freakish to our eyes as every other Ferengi female we’ve seen, the concept is even dumber than it already was. And hell, Zek’s apparent immediate attraction to lady Quark is too idiotic to be even remotely amusing because he clearly knows that Quark is a dude. Unless this is suggesting Zek has some kind of secret life.

Nilva arrives. (And this is Henry Gibson! I like Henry Gibson.)

It is, and I do. If nothing else, Gibson fully commits to the role.

This script is going to a lot of lengths to make sure Nilva has to meet with Lumba quicker than expected. It’s not particularly suspenseful.

Yeah, this bit is weird. Ishka collapses; Zek comes up with a plan; Quark has an operation; and Nilva arrives a day ahead of schedule, which gives Quark less time to research his role. Theoretically, this should all be a kind of madcap rush to disaster, but the pacing never really gets out of first gear, not even when Zek desperately tries to stall Nilva from having dinner with “Lumba.” I think they were going for farce, maybe? But it certainly doesn’t play like farce. Also, before Nilva arrives, we’re told he’s a hardliner for the old ways, which suggests that Quark has his work cut out for him; yet Nilva never seems anything less than friendly and open-minded. Well, friendly and open-minded and rapey, but ha ha, it’s Pepe Le Pew style rape, which makes it funny why are you looking at me like that.

The camera cranes up—ah, the group is looking down and eavesdropping. Weird shot.

Siddig strikes again.

Ah, the power of capitalism to foment social change.

Again, that’s an interesting idea, because it appeals to the cold profiteering nature of all great Ferengi business people. I could see it maybe working in a better episode, especially if a woman was saying it. You could argue that Quark, in making the argument for Ferengi females, is expanding his horizons, but it doesn’t really play that way. He’s oddly passive throughout the story, doing what others tell him and trying to carry out their plans and not his own.

Quark keeps up with a new slogan for Slug-O-Cola designed to appeal to women, which is about as bad as it sounds.

It’s like Don Draper, but in the future! And it makes you hate life!

They’re going to have dessert in Nilva’s quarters. Maybe Quark is going to learn a little less in boundaries and respect? Oh yay, they’re doing the around-the-table run. And now Quark is defending himself against sexual assault.

Finally we get to the climax of the pain parade. Nilva has fallen for “Lumba,” and is desperate to take their relationship to the next level. “Lumba” isn’t interested in his advances. So for what feels like ages, we get to watch Nilva chase Quark around the apartment, shouting and pleading all the while. The whole thing seems terribly, hideously familiar, right down to Quark’s “You have a wife” and Nilva’s “She hasn’t rubbed my lobes in years!” exchange. It’s supposed to be funny, and if you squint, you could see it as Quark getting a taste of his own medicine, but the whole thing is so overplayed that it has no resemblance to Quark’s earlier attempts to force himself on Aluura. In fact, it makes Quark look like a much more effective monster, truth be told. As humor goes, it’s not funny because it’s kind of offensive and deeply lame, and as offenses go, it’s too hollow to even be shocking. It’s just a miserable waste of time and talent.

Brunt knows that Lumba is Quark. How did he figure it out? The disguise was so perfect!

Did I miss a scene? I could have. I’m not sure how Brunt sees through “Lumba,” unless it’s the fact that Quark as a female looks basically like Quark. It’s just weird that Brunt shows up when he does, like the writers decided they needed a way out of the scene that wasn’t Quark beating Nilva to death.

Quark makes out with Nilva. Awesome. And then he opens his dress. This is happy!

What the hell surgery did Bashir do, anyway? The future is a remarkable place.

Quark, out of drag. Thank god. He’s enjoying the ring Nilva gave him. “There was a sweetness to him, and also a strength.” WHAT?

See, it’s funny because Quark is… no, but he’s still… and then there’s… fuck it. You know? Fuck it.

“And you’re being a little overly sensitive.” Just like a woman, hahahahahahaha.

There’s other stuff I could’ve done tonight, you realize. I could’ve read a book, or edited something, or played a video game, or sat in a corner facing the wall for a few hours. Lots of stuff.

Aluura again, and now Quark is no longer going to sexually harass her. So that’s nice. She thought oo-mox sounded like fun. Boy. Comedy is delightful. “What am I saying? Aluura, wait!”

To sum up: Quark threatens to fire an employee unless she grants him sexual favors. Then we spend a whole 40 minutes on Quark eventually kind of sort of learning to appreciate the female species, or something. Then he finds out Aluura is actually into the “oo-mox” thing (???), and while he’s briefly kind and apologetic to her, he immediately recants and, presumably, the fuckery commences in earnest. No one learned anything, no one changed, no one grew. Nothing meant anything. Glad we could share this together. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wall that needs staring. 

More TV Club