The Nagus was a much harder episode to watch than I remember. Wallace Shawn is as amusing as ever, but the multiple levels of racism in the episode is disturbing. There are obviously redeeming values in the episode, but they have to do mostly with the subplot.
You don’t have to look back far in human history to see other cultures similarly vilified, with statements like “they just don’t share our values”. What a farce. In some ways, the regular Ferengi characters are more human than the other crew members, even if Rom is still woefully underdeveloped.
Maybe this was intended to be about the values present in the Star Trek world, which has long been sanitized of the more negative aspects of the human condition. The idealized Roddenberry vision did away with money and greed, something integral to the Ferengi. Just because they weren’t in Roddenberry’s dream of the future doesn’t immediately divorce them from human values though, especially when presented to a modern audience. This is what bothers me.
The other Ferengi are cardboard cut outs, and their council meeting to discuss the Gamma quadrant is cartoonish. This is the danger of relying on comedy at the expense of character development. Sadly, we don’t really see much character development in Quark, despite many opportunities to do so. He gains great power (among Ferengi) but abuses his friends. He suffers treachery, including from family. He remains unwilling to ask for help. He fails to show gratitude. His pride and stubbornness match the Ferengi greed.
While I suppose there is value in showing how a character remains steadfast in refusing to change, it’s far more interesting to show how events can cause changes. In this episode, we end where we began (the sign of an episode of the week) rather than drive forward on an important story arc.
Where we do see character development this episode is in the arguably more important subplot, with Jake and Nog. While the primary “Quark as Nagus” plot is a plot-of-the-week, interactions with Nog are of far greater value. We see the lengths that Jake Sisko goes through in order to remain friends with Nog, even after Rom pulls him from “that hew-mon school”. Their friendship, the act of bridging their differences is an important story arc in its own right, and is further developed as the series progresses.
I can’t understand why Chief O’Brien is allowed to teach the kids while Keiko is away from the station. It’s not that he’s incompetent, although he has little experience interacting with teenagers. The thing is, the station seems to always be on the brink of breaking down. How can he dedicate time to instruction when the station may finally fall apart? What this does bring us, is a reason for O’Brien to interact with Nog, and form some strong opinions. O’Brien dislikes Nog, and disapproves of his influence on Jake. In time, we will see his opinion change drastically. It’s a good way to start things off.
The way that O’Brien states his opinions to Commander Sisko, that he dislikes Nog’s influence on Jake, is also important, as it frames the episode’s conclusion, where Sisko learns of Jake’s influence on Nog. Jake’s relationship with Nog is what redeems this episode for me. There are some good moments from Commander Sisko, when he says that he trusts Jake’s judgement (although later he checks up on him, you know, just in case), and the final scene, where he accepts that his son is friends with a Ferengi, but the momentum in this episode is all about Jake and Nog.
The Nagus first aired March 21, 1993. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, story by David Livingston. Directed by David Livingston.