Deep Space Nine: s02 e18 – ‘Profit and Loss’

With a title like that, this could hardly be anything else than about Quark, could it? I’d say this was about 75% a much better episode than the last few I’ve watched, but that there was one primary element that blew a great hole in the story for me, and below the waterline too.

The story featured the arrival on the station of a badly-damaged Cardassian ship with three people aboard, Professor Natima Lang and her student Hogue and Rekela. The Professor is eager to get her ship repaired and to move on. Initially, this seems to be because she’s aware that Cardassians on DS9 go down like a cup of cold sick but, of course, there’s more to it than that.

And it’s not necessarily to do with Quark going bananas the moment he sees the lovely Natima again (and Mary Crosby is lovely, even under full Cardassian make-up, down to her cleavage), though she does slap him across the face the moment he shows up.

Then there’s the mysterious Garak, who Bashir suspects is a spy, or an outcast, or maybe a bit of both as the tailor enigmatically suggests. Garak notices his fellow Cardassians, which is a prelude to his getting involved.

Essentially, what it’s about is that Hogue and Rekela are Cardassian rebels, working towards the overthrow of the military control of Cardassia and the establishment of a free and open democracy in its place. They’re being hunted: Natima’s ship was not damaged by meteorite strike but Cardassian disruptors, and, oh look, a fully-armed Cardassian warship pops up, its disruptors pointed at DS9, wanting them back.

So, on one side we have Quark, who was once deeply in love with Natima and she, somewhat incredulously, as deeply in love with him, until he betrayed her so as to make a profit. Quark still loves her and wants her to stay, but she doesn’t love him, has changed, has a duty to her ‘students’ and basically wants out.

And on the other, we have Garak, doing his best to dispel the element of mystery about whose side he is on, first by shopping Natima and co’s whereabouts to Central Command, warning Sisko and Quark off and suggesting that Sisko’s refusal to simply hand them over can be overridden by a prisoner exchange deal with the Bajoran Provisional Government.

Quark does have one thing up his sleeve: a buckshee cloaking device that he’s prepared to give away to Hogue and Rekela to facilitate their escape, absolutely free, gratis and for nothing. Except for Natima staying with him forever, that is. The lovely Professor pulls a phaser on him but Quark is confident that she still loves him and wouldn’t shoot him. Until she does.

At which point the narrative torpedo blows the story to hell and back because it turns out that Natima does still love him, can’t stop thinking about him, worships the ground he slithers over and only shot him by accident. Flipping heck, she’s even prepared to kiss him, with all that make-up all over both of them.

And it’s about the most unbelievable thing Deep Space Nine has tried to sell me ever. Listen, I was already having problems with Quark being in love in the first place, especially outside his species – I mean, he’s short, ugly, consummately greedy and self-centred, a liar, a cheat, untrustworthy, not to mention that he’s been nothing but comic relief for a season and three-quarters, so he’s not been the poster boy for meaningful relationships – and after all that well-established anger, dislike and mistrust Natima had displayed, such a total volte-face was completely unbelievable.

It was a cheap story-telling short-cut, a lazy cliche with no grounding plausibility that they could ever have been in love and a cheap ‘hero’s always got it’ move than fatally wounded a till-then intriguing set-up.

Meanwhile, Garakis visited by the contemptuous Gul Toran, a former rival well-trained in gloating. The prisoner exchange isn’t good enough: if Garak wants to end his exile, he has to ensure Hogue and Rekela don’t make it aboard the Cardassian ship.

In order to manufacture the intended climax, the story takes another unsupported turn. Quark visits Odo, prepared to promise nearly everything if the Constable only releases his Cardassian prisoners in direct defiance of Sisko’s orders, not to mention those of the Bajoran government. He discloses that he has the afore-mentioned cloaking device, the very thing that Odo, in the open, is quizzing him over, threatening 50 years penal colony if Quark is caught.

So, refusing all of Quark’s blandishments but ‘in the name of Justice’, Odo releases everyone. I mean, there is no convincing explanation of why Odo should turn against everything he stands for, but the writers can’t come with anything plausible, and we need that climactic scene, dammit, just get it done already.

That climactic scene is at the airlock, where, oh surprise, Garak is waiting with a phaser. With two, actually, once he takes Quark’s. He’s surprisingly open about his motive, his desire to please Central Command and end his exile from the Empire. Until Gul Toran steps out of the shadow, having followed Garak in order to take care of things himself, claim the glory and sneer at the tailor for believing that one act could get himself back in the military’s good books.

So Garak vapourises him with Quark’s phaser. He’s such an enigma, isn’t he?

Hogue and Rekela scarper. Natima reaffirms her deep love for Quark, who has already declared that he can’t live without her, can’t lose her again, etc. etc. etc., but she has a job to do (“…it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”) But don’t worry, all he has to do is wait until Cardassia has a free and democratic government and she’ll come back to him – and make the wait worthwhile, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Natima legs it on out of there whilst Quark and Garak do the Casablanca exit, as does the episode, completely unconcerned about such minor issues as the Cardassian reaction to the rebels’ escape, the Bajoran response to losing their prisoner exchange deal, not to mention the minor matter of one dead Gul.

This was, as I said, about three quarters of a decent episode, a good, interesting story with strong issues at its heart and a well-created moral dilemma. Then it blew itself up with some of the cheapest, laziest and idiotic writing I’ve seen for a long time. I mean, Quark’s now lost the love of his life for a second time, this time knowing she loves him and wants to be with him: overall effect upon him? Absolute Zero. Mary Crosby doesn’t appear again in the rest of Deep Space Nine, she won’t get mentioned, her effect is less than negligible.

I’m starting to say  this every week, to the point that it’s boring me, but this was the state of episodic TV in the early Nineties. Twin Peaks had already been and gone, defying that mould, and there had been several successful series that had defied the notion of having separate episodes, completely unlinked: Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street all developed stories and arcs over successive episodes.

Deep Space Nine, which was yet to hit its prime, represents an older and decidedly lesser tradition. How did we ever put up with it?


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