WARNING: DS9 has a new episode this week; as such, "Business As Usual"" is to expect a review of it below.
In brief: Surprisingly good; a few questionable moments, but pretty engrossing.
Brief summary: When Quark's financial status becomes precarious, he winds up going into business with his cousin selling weapons.
This is the second time in a row that Thompson & Weddle have surprised me.
Earlier this season, they wrote the script for "The Assignment", which turned out to be far better than the standard alien-possession story I'd been anticipating -- not perfect by any stretch, but more interesting than it really had any right to be given the premise. Now, they've managed it again: "Business As Usual", which I expected to be the usual bland hyuk-hyuk-hyuk Ferengi fare I've come to know and (usually) loathe, was instead a Quark-centered story that actually managed to be a bit grim. Now, admittedly, any story about arms dealers is probably not going to be the same let's-go-for-the-cheap-laugh type of story that Quark gets all too often; but even so, I was worriedly anticipating such.
A lot of that's because Quark (and even Gaila, mostly) avoided getting caught in the usual characterization of Ferengi, where "two-dimensional" is being generous by at least a factor of two. Sure, the two of them (and Hagath, but I'll get to him later) were unscrupulous businessmen -- but the fact that they were Ferengi wasn't particularly important. I much prefer that: it's far better characterization and more interesting viewing to just see a different cultural system in action rather than to be constantly reminded about how this is the Ferengi (Klingon, Romulan, Bajoran, etc.) Way of Doing Things. This way lets you follow the story instead of being thwapped on the head by it. This is something that DS9 has managed to do very well with Bajorans most of the time, Cardassians quite a bit of the time, and Ferengi and Klingons only very rarely; the fact that we're seeing it here with Quark is something I'd like to see more of with him and with Worf.
Instead of the usual Ferengi-centered plot, we got a very real story of Quark getting caught in a bind where the "lifeline" is possibly worse than the initial problem. Quark has occasionally been in situations where a sudden crisis of conscience pops up, but most of the time it's due to a horribly artificial situation ("Bar Association" comes to mind from last season as a recent offender); this time, given Quark's initial debts and desperation, everything else fell into place rather neatly. Gaila's offer of taking Quark on as a weapons salesman and Quark's repeated rationalizations that this really wasn't so bad after all seemed like something you'd actually see in that society, and it also made sense that once Quark started those rationalizations he was going to stick to them until a situation showed up that was so extreme he'd have no choice. Everything else fit, too: Quark's growing discomfort with Hagath, Odo's attempts to bring Quark in, and his complete ostracism by virtually everyone else on the station all led to a serious conundrum for him. Until the last act, I really wondered how Quark was going to resolve this situation he'd gotten himself into -- and the last time I felt that way about Quark was last season's "Body Parts".
Speaking of the past, "Business as Usual" also did a good job making this episode feel like part of a whole rather than an isolated incident. The reference to Quark's ostracism from Ferengi society (the FCA ban) were welcome, as I was starting to think it would simply be forgotten -- but the real shining moment for me was the reason Odo couldn't bring Quark up on charges. Kira's simple admission that Hagath sold arms to the Bajoran resistance both answered the question of "why can't Odo just toss Hagath off the station?" and made a lot of sense: after all, the resistance had to get weapons from somewhere. All too often, Trek tends to see continuity as a burden; this struck me as an excellent use of the past to make the story better constructed.
So, on the whole, "Business as Usual" set up a terrific problem. How about the solution?
Well, there I'm a little more mixed. On the one hand, I liked Quark's actual actions: his sabotage of the deal with the Regent of Palamar came off very nicely, even if I think Hagath was made out to be a tiny bit unobservant during it. (I also think Quark was lying through his teeth when he said to Sisko that he didn't expect anyone to start shooting; I suspect he was hoping no one would come out of that room alive.) On the other hand, though, I have a few problems with the response taken to it. Sisko said earlier on in the show that the times when he let Quark off lightly were over -- apparently, that's not so. That scene had me a trifle concerned, but the scene with Dax afterwards really got to me; after Quark's done everything he did this week, having everyone suddenly come back as though everything's fine is wrong. If it takes a while for things to come back to normal, that's okay -- but two scenes is not "a while".
On the directing side ... well, it may be a mainstay that all first-time directing stints for DS9 actors have to be Ferengi shows, but Siddig El Fadil got better material than most and made excellent use of it. The standard "odd lighting for a dream sequence" was nothing I hadn't seen before, but little touches like all the dream-figures' heads nodding in unison at the Dabo table made the unreal seem a little more so ... and I also particularly liked the symmetry of starting and ending the show with the Tongo wheel. That, plus the upside-down shot of Odo entering Quark's quarters, showed a willingness to experiment and to play with presentation that I quite enjoyed.
That leaves acting. I've sometimes been disappointed with Armin Shimerman, but a lot of that's been due to the material -- it's not exactly common for actors to consistently rise above rotten material, and Quark's had a lot of bad scenes and bad stories tossed his way. With good material, Shimerman does good work, and I think "Business as Usual" is a good example of that. I got a very clear sense throughout of Quark's feelings, no matter how the situation changed -- the initial reluctance, the easy acceptance (with a little wary caution), and the growing fear and pangs of conscience all felt realistic both because of the story and because Shimerman got it across.
The scene-stealer, though, was Steven Berkoff's Hagath. When a character is as bipolar as Hagath is, it could be easy to accent only one way, or to play it so over the top as to make everything a caricature. I never really got that sense from Berkoff: Hagath's easy transition from talking with Quark about successes and failures to "terminating" his relationship with Farrakk and back again was extremely unnerving, but only in the sense that it said "let's try to stay far away from this guy..." the performance itself was wonderful. Even in a bad story, I think Hagath would have been fun to watch -- given this story, he fit in beautifully.
That does not mean, however, that I need to see him back in a sequel, and that leads to the other thing I found worrying about the ending of "Business as Usual". The fact that Gaila and Hagath are still alive (if on the run) leaves open the possibility of seeing them again, but I don't really think we should. If Hagath does survive the rebels' "purification squad" (whatever that may be), it makes sense that he's going to feel horribly betrayed by Quark and want revenge -- but it does not make sense to me that that means we'd see him again. Hagath seems very intelligent, as I suppose one would have to be to survive in his business as long as he has -- if he survives, I expect to see Quark dead. I don't expect Hagath to come back personally, and if he does I'm not sure it'll make any sense. (Now, Gaila I could theoretically see returning, but I'm not sure there's much use to bringing him back without Hagath.)
The only real thing left to talk about is the subplot of O'Brien and his baby son Kirayoshi. I've no real complaints on this end. Yes, O'Brien apparently has no realization that occasionally you have to let a baby cry if you're not going to be at its beck and call for the rest of your days -- but I can live with that. We saw just enough of the situation to chuckle at it (especially with Kirayoshi in "the pit" in Ops -- that was a treat) and then moved on, which is exactly what a subplot like this ought to do. (I was also worried for a moment that we were seeing the prologue to a Worf-as-nanny series, which wasn't all that effective when it was Worf's own son back in TNG; fortunately, that isn't what happened.)
That about covers it. A few shorter takes:
-- If you're wondering where you've seen the Regent of Palamar before ... no, he's not Daniel Benzali from "Murder One", though he sure looked like him to me. The actor (Lawrence Tierney), however, has been sighted in Trek climes before -- he played Cyrus Redblock way, waaaaaaay back in TNG's "The Big Goodbye". Strange -- he liked killing people then, too. :-)
-- I absolutely adored the O'Brien/Bashir conversation in the infirmary. Those two are dangerous.
In the end, then, "Business as Usual" was a very pleasant surprise for me. The ending hurts it a bit, but it was both engrossing and realistic -- I'll take that, to be sure. So, wrapping up:
Writing: The ending, as is all too frequent, brought things back to normal too quickly -- but the rest of it was extremely well constructed.
Directing: This El Fadil guy, he's pretty good. Where'd he come from? :-)
Acting: Quite strong.
OVERALL: 8. Not too shabby.
Kira unearths some old secrets about the Cardassians.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"What are you telling me? My baby's just sad?"
"Perhaps he's become prematurely aware of life's existential isolation."
"You're sure it's not a rash?"
"Look on the bright side: he'll probably be a great poet."
-- O'Brien and Bashir