#DS91sttime: Season 3, Episode 23, “Family Business”

July 10, 2013 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

Rom and Ishka, S3, Episode 23, "Family Business"

Rom and Ishka, S3, Episode 23, “Family Business”

In the great ocean of the Trek universe, the Ferengi are so much flotsam, their culture so different from the obviously-honorable Klingons, the ever-conflicted Bajorans and the stalwart Federation. Sometimes, the franchise doesn’t know what to do with them. It’s a rare writer that treats them as anything other than a caricature of capitalism; a kind of uber-libertarian endgame so many believe would result if market regulations were relaxed. There are many fans that find the Ferengi just as horrible as the Cardassians. Then there’s the second camp, which I belong to, that adore the hidden depth they’re capable of when someone comes along and uses them the right way in an episode.

As I’ve said before, the Ferengi are so much more interesting when they’re not treated like clowns, or relentlessly-greedy thugs. I like it when the show gives their unique culture greater respect.

We get that in “Family Business”. Mostly.

Quark and Rom get notice that they’re in real trouble because their own mother, Ishka, has made business deals. In a subtle move, the writers–via the Ferengi Commerce Authority–label this as “making profit”, touching on deeply-revered Ferengi belief systems and suggesting a comparison to the likewise-prosperous Saudi Arabia of our own time, which suppresses women. Whether the nod was accidental or not, this was a clever way to work in social commentary without dominating the story. It was appreciated.

Quark has a million problems, but Mom won’t be one, or so he thinks. He and Rom, facing nasty fines to the tune of bankruptcy, travel to the rain-saturated world of Ferenginar to set things straight. Note that Rom and Quark’s responsibility for their mother’s actions again mirrors the philosophy of many ruling regimes around our modern world. And again, this is clever.

DS9’s designers and sets teams run away with solid groundwork provided by the episode’s script. Ferenginar is lovingly detailed, right down to the doors that require visitors to enter homes hunched-over (no doubt to give the resident any lead in pending negotations), and the tills awaiting a customary entry toll. Ishka’s quarters are alien and inviting at the same time, with a green/blue/gold color scheme that made me think I could spend a night there with no problem.

I could have gone for a few other pieces of eye-candy, such as a closer, exterior shot of the Tower of Commerce, and maybe a view of the Ferengi space port or landing facilities, but overall the world-building was nice. Populating these sets, Andrea Martin almost steals the show as Ishka, portraying the character with appropriate spunk and compassion, and I completely bought her patience and love for her sons, even as Quark repeatedly tried it.

On the other side of the quadrant, Commander Sisko is set up by Jake to meet a freighter captain, and the crew has a lot of fun with it. I’m almost hesitant to get attached to Kasidy Yates, because this show has spawned relationships for its main characters before and sometimes discarded them without much thought. Still, this actress–Penny Johnson–is more genuine and comfortable in her role than Felicia M. Bell as Jennifer Sisko, so I hold hopes that the show will do these two justice and continue what it started here.

It sounds like we’re set up for a great episode, right? Here’s where “mostly” rears its ugly head.

Family Business can’t stick the landing, where it divests the audience of any belief that Ishka was ever in real danger. You’ll know the moment, if you’ve seen it. It comes completely out of left field, and suggests that plot took a back-seat to character development. While the performances and events up to that point are strong enough to still make this episode quite enjoyable, this botched conclusion to Ishka’s dilemma is a cop-out, undermines its chief villain, and suggests nigh-sacred Ferengi societal law is being subverted at every turn. That’s inconsistent. The writers probably expect us to write that off of the ledger as just another humorous Ferengi deduction.

I didn’t.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

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