The latest episode of my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rewatch shared some interesting characteristics with last week’s splendid ‘Melora’. Indeed, in some ways, though a rather slighter story, ‘Rules of Acquisition’ was a stronger, more confident turn than last week.
The title alone was enough to indicate that this was a Ferenghi-oriented episode, and therefore all about Quark. In the same way as Julian Bashir has been a peripheral character since the outset, long overdue the kind of development and focus he received last week, Quark has also been a one-note character, a mainly foolish and unserious villain: basic comic relief.
Now he got the chance to stand in the spotlight, sharing it with a guest star, as did Julian.
The Ferenghi are comic relief characters themselves, and the inimitable Wallace Shawn again made a spectacular meal of his role as Grand Negus Zek, looking for a foothold into the Gamma Quadrant for the profit of all Ferenghi-kind, and offering up Quark as his chief negotiator with the Dosi over the purchase of… well, wine.
Actually, there was more to it than that, as Zek was using Quark as a sniffer dog to identify a trail to the Dominion (first time these lads were mentioned in DS9, even I could spot that).
That was really no more than foreshadowing, however, because the meat of the story lay in the appearance of Pel, a Ferenghi waiter and a very eager, intelligent and profit-motivated young, er, man. The problem was that Pel wasn’t a he, but instead was a she.
I’m not sure how much of the deeply misogynist Ferenghi culture had already been brought out in their appearances on The Next Generation (whose seventh and final season ran concurrently with DS9 s02) so I can’t say how much this episode revealed of the cultural attitude to women: prisoners in their homes, not allowed to wear clothes or learn to read and forbidden at law to go into business. But the episode’s point was that Pel, despite being female under her artificial earlobes, was every bit as much a ‘good’ Ferenghi as the next man, and better even than Quark.
Unfortunately, the applecart was upset by Pel falling in love with Quark (it’s obviously a culture thing). And, despite his bluster to the contrary, Quark did at least develop feelings for Pel before the excellent Helene Roy’s guest star role ended.
By its very nature the episode was considerably less substantial than ‘Melora’, but to its credit it didn’t clog up the story with an unnecessary and unwanted dollop of drama. The episode was allowed to be a comedy throughout, especially with Dax’s amused, seven-lifetime experience with and tolerance of the Ferenghi, contrasted with Major Kira’s disgust at their misogyny and outrage at having the Grand Negus pinching her bum (lucky sod).
I gently enjoyed things, despite not really being in the mood for comic relief. Season 2 is definitely a big improvement over Season 1.