Deep Space Nine catch-up post #3

Oh no.

“Profit and Lace”

I haven’t gone totally cold into my journey through the unknown reaches of Trek; for one thing, people keep warning me about Very Good episode… and Very Bad ones. I haven’t always agreed with the consensus. Like “Threshold” — not only was it not the worst thing I’ve ever seen (despite its reputation as the worst Trek episode ever), it was actually pretty solid up until the final, weird-as-hell 10 minutes of the story. Meanwhile, no one gave me a single word of warning about the TNG episode about Beverly’s haunted sex candle, which was one of the most dire episodes of any television I’ve ever seen.

I will say this, though. Everyone was right about “Profit and Lace.”

I think, at heart, this episode meant well. But good god did it screw things up at every conceivable step. In short: Quark’s mom convinces the Grand Nagus that the Ferengi would be wise to allow women to integrate fully into society… which is good! The conservative society then casts out the Nagus… which is believable! And Quark plots a harebrained scheme to trick a soda manufacturer into somehow reinstating the Nagus over recurring nemesis Brunt… which is, eh, well. At least we got some more Jeffrey Combs.

The big problem here is that the screwball comedy ends up with Quark donning a dress (and undergoing rather extreme cosmetic surgery) to make it happen. And it’s like a compilation of every stupid sexist Hollywood cliché that had been run out of town on a rail sometime in the ’70s brought to life. That’s not where the problems begin, though. No, things go bad in the cold open, where Quark sexually harasses and blackmails one of his employees, threatening her with termination if she doesn’t get with the program and start tending to his physical needs. The episode ultimately seems like it was meant to be comeuppance for Quark’s awfulness, a chance for him to rethink his wretchedness… which it kind of is. But the sexual predation scene is played as comedy (check out the zany music here). And in the end, Quark is chastened… but then his employee is like, “Actually, I’m really turned on by the fact that I have to nibble on your gross bat-eats if I want to remain employed.” Great message, there.

In between, there’s a ton of overacting, Rom’s sexuality being questioned due to his sensitivity and awareness of women’s behavior, ridiculous jokes about Quark’s hormones being out of balance due to being a woman for a while, and even a hiiiilarious rape-chase around a table. Yikes.

The table chase in particular makes me suspect that the creative staff was aiming for ’90s gender politics awareness in the format of a ’50s screwball sex comedy, but man, did that not work out at all. I couldn’t help but notice that the writers, director (our man Bashir, Alexander Siddig), and producers on this one were all men. It shows. It’s especially disappointing after “Far Beyond the Stars,” which undoubtedly owes its adroit commentary on racism to the fact that Avery Brooks was behind the camera.

Deep Space Nine has to this point been the best Trek series when it comes to handling meaningful social issues. I mean, one of the main characters is a Trill, a species that is basically a walking opportunity for LGBT commentary — and in fact, just this morning I saw someone retweeting screen caps of one of those elderly Klingons I mentioned recently accepting Dax’s transition from “old man” Kurzon to young woman Jadzia without missing a beat. And who can forget the way they secretly smuggled a gay parenting episode past the censors when Odo and that one scientist dude raised the wayward Changeling infant together? Deep Space Nine cares; even as it goes uncharacteristically dark, it manages to uphold Roddenberry’s clumsy aspirations of utopian acceptance like no other Trek show. So how did this disaster happen? “Profit and Lace” is bad on its own (lack of) merits, but it double-sucks in light of how capable Deep Space Nine has proven itself of doing better.

“Time’s Orphan”

Well, this was a relief after “Profit and Lace” — an episode focused on the O’Briens. I think it’s the one time we’ve seen Keiko all season, though she’s supposedly back on the station for good now.

I’ve always been fascinated by the O’Briens, because they’re the one Trek couple that’s ever seemed real. They don’t always get along perfectly in their marriage, but it’s never for Big Plot Reasons and the broad characterization strokes that cause problems for, say, Jadzia and Worf. It’s more things along the lines of… neither one of them being all that great about communicating their needs to one another, or having different ideas about how their relationship should work without checking in with the other. I’ve seen their marriage described as horrible or inexplicable by fans, but… not really? Over time, they’ve dealt with the sort of real-life issues a lot of couples go through, and they’ve overcome those problems because they love each other, despite their differences. Maybe people have trouble dealing with the uncomfortable little details of domestic life in their utopian space fantasy, but I appreciate the way their marriage grounds the Trek universe by revealing that the mundane still happens here. Two people in love can work together to resolve their complicated relationship issues, even amidst a backdrop of alien zealots trying to conquer the galaxy for a race of shape-changing self-proclaimed gods.

That facet of their relationship is fully on display here, as the two of them come together as a team to work through a terrible disaster: Their young daughter Molly falls through a time portal, and they retrieve her… after she’s lived on her own for a decade. Miles and Keiko have to overcome their daughter’s feral reversion in a story that could have been incredibly stupid, but somehow works. The handling of cave-Molly somehow rang true, and things didn’t magically resolve themselves… well, right up until they suddenly did — but that’s no surprise. It’s an episode where time travel caused the problem, so of course time travel fixed the problem. In the end, this was all just a return to the status quo as they eventually retrieve a young Molly. Still, it’s all a little moving, especially as older Molly willingly erases her own existence to send her younger self forward in time — an act her parents were unwilling to commit. Actually, as I think back on it, I realize this episode affected me more than I realized; I felt a little sad at the sight of feral Molly as I hunted for screen grabs to post here. She’s kind of a tragic character, lost in an accident, forced to fend for herself without human companionship, and ultimately erased from existence for the sake of giving another version of herself a better life.

Come to think of it, isn’t O’Brien actually an alternate reality version of himself? Must run in the family.

“The Sound of Her Voice”

And finally, a bit of a snoozer, but at least the ending has enough of a swerve to pack a little punch. This episode consists of the Defiant traveling through space to rescue a stranded Starfleet captain before the hostile environment in which she’s landed causes her to succumb to hypoxia. The entire crew takes turns chatting with her to keep her mind alert and stave off the effects of low-oxygen, so the majority of “The Sound of Her Voice” is a lot of people standing around talking to someone off-screen. I think it’s supposed to constitute a “therapist episode” by allowing everyone to put their neuroses on display for a stranger, but it doesn’t quite land… especially since we’ve already had one new character this season possessed of brilliant insight into others’ foibles in the form of Vic Fontaine. Oh well.

The final revelation that they’d somehow been talking with a woman who died several years prior due to a temporal distortion is a little heartbreaking… but coming immediately after “Time’s Orphan,” it feels a little like a well-worn idea. Not a bad episode at all, but it doesn’t quite have the substance I think it was meant to.