OK, I didn’t expect to like this episode, but… it hits a lot better in 2018 than I think it would have in 1998. I mean, the central conflict is that Quark accidentally reveals the aging, misogynistic, financial genius who rules the Ferengi as a senile fraud with no actual business acumen, and government functionaries are desperate to cover for him. Boy, does that resonate.
The Ferengi in general are more interesting to me now than they used to be, because I better understand what they represent. The “villain” races in Star Trek tend to represent motives that the Federation has (theoretically) divorced itself from. The Klingons are warlike aggression. The Romulans, isolationistic subterfuge. And the Ferengi were meant to be greed and cruelty. Unlike Klingons and Romulans, they didn’t stick because (1) they look and act ridiculous; (2) some ill-advised creature designer decided that the wealth-obsessed race should look an awful lot like the worst anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews; and (3) the Ferengi ultimately embody capitalism, which aaaaactually is kind of the entire thing that fuels Trek the franchise. It’s kind of tough to demonize the desire for profits when you’re selling toys of the bad guys… which, amusingly, is even lampshaded here. Turns out DS9 exists in some strange Mirror Universe in which Playmates’ Next Generation action figures have become valuable collectors pieces.
Hmm, yeah, that’s some loopy science fiction, alright.
Anyway, Trek has always been deeply rooted in the American version of imperial colonialism, peddling concepts like culture as an export and the transformation of one society into a mirror of the friendly conquerer. The parallel only goes so far, though; Trek also embraces communism, a post-mercantile society. The franchise has always played fast and loose with that rule, and sometimes you get the impression that it’s only Earth — or maybe only Starfleet — that has really “evolved” beyond commerce. Still, it’s the ideal.
Meanwhile, the Ferengi represent naked avarice and profit at any cost. Here, the ever-despicable Quark sells out his own mother’s happiness in order to get his business license back; meanwhile, his brother Rom almost destroys his own happiness after being goaded into pressuring his Bajoran fiancée into signing a traditional one-sided prenup. (Incidentally, I really like Rom and Leeta as a couple; Bashir’s relationship with her always seemed a little iffy, but Rom is more her equal — both intellectually, as they’re both a little dippy, and in terms of personality, because they’re both genuine and good-hearted.) Eventually, both of them manage to turn things around, but the whole episode is just a non-stop condemnation of the heartless and abusive excesses of late-stage capitalism.
Now I just have to wonder who on DS9 would be the outer space equivalent a Bernie bro. Probably Bashir.