andraste: The reason half the internet imagines me as Patrick Stewart. (Default)
Andraste ([personal profile] andraste) wrote2004-10-31 01:38 am

DS9: The Nagus

The Nagus, as the very first Ferengi episode, has the task of setting the tone for all those that would follow throughout the seven seasons the show was on air. I gather that a substantial number of fans dislike them, but being introduced to DS9 by [livejournal.com profile] selenak has, shall we say, encouraged me to see them in a positive light *g*. The Ferengi are often there to provide a counterpoint and commentary upon the more serious events going on in the rest of the show, which provides a welcome variation in tone. Not that their outings don't have some weighty themes of their own, but they arrive wrapped up in comic packaging.

At their heart, the Ferengi features often turn out to be about family and tradition, and the conflict between staying true to those things and forging an independent identity.

A less clever collection of writers might have made the chief Ferengi protagonist in the series someone drawn to the bright lights of the Federation, caught between the lure of Starfleet and their own sometimes stifling culture - Nog or Rom, in other words. But no. Although they're both important characters, the Ferengi we get the most insight into is the family's put-upon traditionalist, Quark. Taking the point of view of the conservative who is often horrified by his relatives' actions, denies his own rebellious streak, and resents the influence Federation culture has on him was a truly inspired choice.

Not all of these elements are present in The Nagus, but it serves to establish Quark's character, his relationship with his brother, and his devotion to Nagus Zek. In addition, we get our first serious look at Ferengi culture here. (Somehow, I haven't seen any Ferengi eps of TNG. I hear that this is not a bad thing.)



It says something about Armin Shimmerman's performance that this really doesn't feel like a 'let's establish Quark's character' episode at all. This is only episode ten of Season One, but already the audience has a strong sense of him and what he stands for. (Kira would no doubt protest that he doesn't stand for anything, but that's really not true, as we will soon find out.)

The story plays on both Quark's pessimistic tendencies (when he initially believes that Zek is there to buy him out) and his longing for wealth and status, which he always hopes might be just around the corner. This episode sets the pattern for his later interactions with Zek, who appears as a father figure in metaphor long before he becomes one in a more literal fashion. Quark will do anything for his Nagus, and always does his best to carry out his plan or get him out of a dangerous predicament. In return, he gets little for his trouble but danger and death. It's a great irony that the most outwardly selfish of the DS9 regulars spends so many of his feature episodes helping a man who gives him nothing but trouble - although the hope of a great reward is of course ever-present. Zek himself comes across strongly here, and he's a rather shrewder person than he'll become once his relationship with Ishka is introduced. (Behold, and canon example of a romantic relationship weakening a male character.)

The episodes' main flaw is probably that the other Ferengi characters we're introduced to are pretty forgettable, which is probably why we don't see any of them again. (Wonder what happened to Zek's son ...?) Or maybe I was just missing Brunt. Still, with so many regular and recurring characters to shed light on it's not surprising that some minor players got a bit lost in the shuffle.

The interaction between Rom and Quark here is also neat, and the last scene between them is a great illustration of alien values *g*. Quark applauding his brother's murderous attempt to gain ownership of the bar is a nice illustration of his genuine commitment to Ferengi tradition and philosophy, even when it puts him in personal danger. This fits in well with the way this episode demonstrates his commitment to his people and their leader.

My favourite part of this story, though, is the relationship between Jake and Nog, which is arguably the greatest interspecies friendship established during the show. (Sisko and Dax are friends already when we meet them. Quark and Odo are best enemies, which is not quite the same thing. And we all know Julian and Garak and only friends in inverted commas ...)

One thing I appreciate greatly about early DS9 is how realistically strained the interspecies relationships sometimes get. Sisko has serious misgivings about his son's friendship with a Ferengi, and doubts that they can ever really communicate across the cultural divide. O'Brien even suggests that the captain try to separate them, something Sisko is reluctant to do. But not because he thinks it's a bad or wrong idea - he just doesn't think he'd win the fight.

Ultimately, of course, the influence mostly works the other way. Nog absorbs enough Federation ideas from being around Jake and others on the station that he decides to join Starfleet with Sisko's assistance. Throughout this process, he'll manage to stay friends who helped him take the first step on that path by helping him learn to read.

My reaction to Jake teaching Nog is more or less identical to Ben's - I just want to give him a big hug. Lucky his dad does it for me *g*.

[identity profile] selenak.livejournal.com 2004-11-01 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
Taking the point of view of the conservative who is often horrified by his relatives' actions, denies his own rebellious streak, and resents the influence Federation culture has on him was a truly inspired choice.

Yes. As you say, love them as we do, picking Nog or Rom as the main Ferengi protagonists still would have been predictable. Besides, ST covered that territory with Worf and Odo already. It also allows the writers to use Quark as an outside pov and Greek chorus on the goings-on in a way they couldn't have done with the unreservedly pro-Federation Rom & Nog.

Quark will do anything for his Nagus, and always does his best to carry out his plan or get him out of a dangerous predicament. In return, he gets little for his trouble but danger and death. It's a great irony that the most outwardly selfish of the DS9 regulars spends so many of his feature episodes helping a man who gives him nothing but trouble - although the hope of a great reward is of course ever-present.

See, if Quark were played by James Marsters, the fandom at large would have noticed that and started to declare him their chief woobie and complained about the writers hated him and how he didn't need a soul to... err, anyway.

Behold, and canon example of a romantic relationship weakening a male character.

To quote one of Quark's angrier remarks to Ishka: I want the Nagus back the way he was before she met him!*g* Though to be fair the writers justified the weakening of the character by his increasing loss of memory and senility as well.

My favourite part of this story, though, is the relationship between Jake and Nog, which is arguably the greatest interspecies friendship established during the show. (Sisko and Dax are friends already when we meet them. Quark and Odo are best enemies, which is not quite the same thing. And we all know Julian and Garak and only friends in inverted commas ...)

How true.*g* And yes, they are. Jake & Nog, that is, and I love the way the writers balance things between them. You have episodes in which Nog is the more mature (In the Cards), you have episodes in which Jake is the wiser one (The Valiant), and in each case, it's true for their character arc at that point. We watch them grow up and change, and their friendship has all the realistic points of a strong bond on the one hand and the occasional getting-on-each-other's-nerves thing on the other.