WARNING: Seek not to acquire excess spoilers for ENT's "Acquisition," lest thee find thyself pummeled by small, bulbous aliens.�
In brief: Surprisingly fun.�
"Acquisition" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 18 Teleplay by Marie Jacquemetton & Andre Jacquemetton Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by James Whitmore, Jr. Brief summary: With the Enterprise crew incapacitated and a Ferengi raiding party aboard, it falls to Trip, Archer, and T'Pol to save the ship.
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that my expectations for "Acquisition" were, to put it mildly, on the low side. The overwhelming majority of DS9's "all Ferengi, all the time" episodes left me exceptionally cold (do classics like "Profit and Lace" ring a bell?), and the preview footage for "Acquisition" suggested that a change in production staff did not mean a change in the same tired jokes (such as the ever-classic "stroke my lobes").
No one's as surprised as I am, then, to find that "Acquisition" had me chuckling much more often than it had me groaning. There were certainly moments where the show dragged or where things veered to much into idiot comedy for my tastes, but the story as a whole hung together pretty well. (It helps when the comedy is actually *funny*, something Ira Steven Behr never quite seemed to grasp.)
Primarily, the show succeeded by focusing, not so much on the Ferengi themselves, as on the heroes' reactions to them and attempts to thwart them. That makes a lot of their inherent dopiness much more workable, since it turns into a question of "how can the heroes exploit the Ferengi's many weaknesses to best advantage?" rather than one of "okay, what new way are we supposed to laugh at supposedly- sympathetic characters this time?" Apart from Krem, there wasn't anybody here we were supposed to sympathize with, or even vaguely feel sorry for: they're violent, they're greedy, and for the most part they're idiots. What's not to root against? (This is, perhaps, not the best long-term approach for the show, since I also appreciate villains three-dimensional enough for us to sympathize with, but as an occasional break it can be fun.)
The show pretty much dumps us into the action mid-story. The Enterprise is disabled, and it's not clear why, and the teaser and most of the first act is not only from the Ferengi point of view, but with dialogue almost exclusively in Ferengi itself. That's a risk, as it means the audience isn't going to know exactly what's going on for a while -- but apart from running just long enough to start getting a little tedious, I think it worked. In part, that's because it deliberately left a lot of the details of the Ferengi takeover unanswered, rather than giving us details which might feel forced. (Anyone else remember TNG's "Rascals," where Worf had the advantage of surprise on two arriving Ferengi and still missed them both? That's a good example of feeling a bit forced.)
There were several examples where Marie and Andre Jacquemetton (or Berman & Braga, since it's not clear how much of this was figured out in story form and how much in teleplay) more or less succeeded simply by being clear-headed. For example, one aspect of the show that concerned a lot of fans was the very appearance of the Ferengi themselves. If the Ferengi were unknown until the TNG era, how could they be interacting with Archer and company here? The Jacquemettons made that easy enough: the Ferengi were simply never named as such in the entire show, and very few of the crew had any significant interactions with them. Now, presumably records were kept, which means that once our Enterprise-D friends met the Ferengi they should be able to go back and realize they weren't the first Federation ship to encounter them ... but that's a pretty minor issue, and one that's easy to assume happened off-screen.
Once we see that Trip is awake and free (in a scene forever to be known as, "damn, that stupid decon chamber has a practical plot use!"), the story quickly takes its final shape. From here on in, it's a battle of wits -- and whether it's four against one, two, or three, when the four are Ferengi there seems to be very little question as to which party is better armed. Archer, once awakened, is asked harshly about the location of the ship's vault -- and after seeing Trip sneaking around, decides his best bet is to play along. He tries negotiation, but not in the traditional Federation sense of the word -- no, he pretty much tries to meet with the Ferengi on their own terms.
Archer spends most of his time with Krem (Jeffrey Combs), who so far as I can tell is a twenty-second century version of DS9's Rom. Krem's put upon by his family members, isn't a particularly good businessman, and is presented as the closest thing to a sympathetic Ferengi we've got. The big difference, of course, is that I never felt particularly sympathetic towards Rom, and found the various attempts to make me feel that way manipulative at best. Here, thanks in part I'm sure to Jeffrey Combs' performance, I actually did manage to feel a little sympathy for Krem. Not much, mind you -- to quote Kira Nerys on a different character, he's still a disgusting little troll -- but enough to buy into the conflict and the ending, which is basically what matters.
(It might also help that there was no Leeta here adding insult to injury. Oy.)
One reason Krem works is that he's so new to the job. It's possible that Archer is the first non-Ferengi he's ever gotten to speak to, which makes some of his naivete feel right. When Archer, for example, says that the Ferengi ethic of "a man is only worth the sum of his possessions" nearly destroyed his world, Krem is surprised -- but not offended. He simply suggests that "you should have managed your businesses better," as if that's the source of the problem. Very naive, but somehow appropriate given how pathetic Krem is.
In any event, while Archer keeps Krem occupied (and begins planting the seeds of doubt about how well Krem's crewmates, particularly his cousin Ulis, are treating him), Trip revives T'Pol and the two begin scheming. The schemes start off small, but one gets the sense that first, it's leading somewhere, and second, they know exactly what they're working towards in nearly every detail. As a result, even things like T'Pol's smugness work beautifully here -- given what she's up against, she certainly ought to feel somewhat smug. (And besides, it was kind of fun to see how easily she could put the three Ferengi at each others' throats given just a few minutes.)
While Krem and Archer handle the menial labor, the other three Ferengi (Ulis, played by Ethan "I used to be Neelix, but I got better" Phillips; Muk, played by Clint "my brother just won an Oscar and here I am playing a Ferengi" Howard; and Grish, played by Matt "hey! everyone here has done Trek before but me!" Malloy) decide to look for this fabled vault of gold themselves, but come up pretty empty. Muk quickly decides that the vault's not worth his time, and starts collecting items he personally finds of interest: some scanners (which T'Pol later steals back and plants in Ulis's bag), something inexplicable from sickbay, and, of course, Porthos. Nothing makes a character villainous like having him kidnap a cute dog.
Eventually, the plan begins coming together coherently. Trip lets himself get captured (and lets us see the return of the Ferengi energy whip, which I've always thought was one of the few visually cool things about the species), then claims that he'll lead Ulis and company to the vault if they leave the women behind, especially his wife (!) Hoshi. He and Archer brawl, but Ulis separates them, accepts Trip's offer, and three of the four leave. Archer feigns a back injury, leaving Krem to finish loading the rest of the loot himself.
I'll admit here that I figured the Trip/Archer brawl was a way to let Trip palm something off on Archer for later use, rather than just a ploy to make Trip's case convincing. I think either works, but I'm glad to be a little surprised.
T'Pol overpowers Krem with a Vulcan neck pinch (after pleading with him to rescue her from these cruel humans, and trying a little oo-mox) and grabs the key to Archer's handcuffs, along with a phase pistol. Trip, meanwhile, leads the other three Ferengi on the wild goose chase to end all wild goose chases, walking them around in circles until he finally reaches his destination: "the vault," on which he's previously placed a lock. He unlocks it, suggests he go in first to check for booby-traps, is overruled, and the three Ferengi fall all over themselves trying to get in first to fill their pockets with gold bars.
Then, with the trio of transients tricked into traipsing into Trip's transparent trap, T'Pol trains her weapon and transforms the transaction into a travesty -- she stuns the whole trio in a trice, letting Trip's trap triumph. (Sorry, couldn't resist. Hope no one's trying to read this one aloud...)
The execution of Archer and Trip's scheme was solid enough, but I also particularly liked the zing at the end. Once the Ferengi are all safely under wraps, T'Pol returns to Archer with the key to his handcuffs. Archer eagerly awaits release, but T'Pol doesn't make it easy, instead repeating some of his earlier comments to Krem about her: "Not that interesting ... no sense of humor ... always complaining." Archer insists he'll make it up to her: "How?" "Five bars of gold?" I know that Archer/T'Pol/Trip are in many ways an attempt to recapture the Kirk/Spock/Bones dynamic, but I think that's very rarely been successful. This time, though, I could see Spock pulling almost exactly the same stunt on Kirk, and it just felt beautifully right. It's not often that I really enjoy T'Pol, but I did this time. Kudos.
In the end, of course, everyone's fine -- Krem is set free in his ship with his three crewmates shackled, and promises that no human or Vulcan will ever see them again. With the other Ferengi offering him bribes without measure to set them free, he heads off into the closing credits.
Is "Acquisition" perfect? No, not by a long shot. Aspects of the Ferengi got very tiresome very quickly, for one thing -- there was, for example, the "let's interrogate Porthos" scene, which even as brief as it was suggested that some Ferengi are entirely too stupid to live. The episode does, however, stand out as the series' first successful comedy outing -- and given some of its thematic ancestors, that's downright impressive.
Some other notes:
-- Considering that the Ferengi were never named as such, I'm left to wonder what someone would think had they never seen Trek in any form before. The entire episode seems like something of an in-joke.
-- The room Trip set up as the vault was actually labeled "Biomatter Resequencing," which to me suggested that the Ferengi were going to be caught in the waste extraction joke to end all waste extraction jokes. I'm actually rather surprised nothing came of that. (I'm not particularly disappointed -- I just figured the label was prominently placed for a reason.)
-- I'm also a big surprised that Trip could manage to get out of decontamination so easily. Since it's possible that someone could come back in a berserk state, one would think you'd make it tougher to exit. (He did, at least, have to do a little engineering wizardry; it wasn't all brute force.)
-- If I read the first scene in the mess hall correctly, even the Ferengi go for pecan pie now. Pecan pie: the Swedish meatballs of the Trek universe? (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please don't ask.)
-- For those keeping score: there are only 173 Rules of Acquisition at this point, not 285. This assumes, of course, that Krem remembers the number correctly -- not a sure thing, that. :-)
-- "Just because a guy's in his underwear, you assume the worst." A fun line, particularly because it doesn't look good for Trip right there: it's just him and half the female crewmembers, all unconscious. Eek.
That about wraps it up. I said last week that I hoped "Acquisition" would be an improvement over "Rogue Planet," but that I wasn't particularly hopeful about it. I've rarely been so pleased as a reviewer to have my expectations shot to hell. "Acquisition" is not something I'd necessarily want to see the writers make a habit of -- for one thing, I think it'd be ten times harder to do right a second time -- but this one was definitely fun.
So, to sum up:
Writing: Things hung together as much as they needed to in order to keep the comedy working: that's fine by me. Directing: The show got off to a somewhat slow (if gutsy) start, but pacing seriously improved later on. Acting: Apart from Matt Malloy, no real complaints -- and Combs was light-years better here than he ever was as Brunt.
OVERALL: Call it an 8. Not perfect, but lots of fun.
Enterprise meets the Haunted Spaceship.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Not that interesting ... no sense of humor ... always complaining."
"I'll make it up to you."
"Five bars of gold?"
-- T'Pol and Archer
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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