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WARNING: Well, it wuz rainin' the night I sold my momma for two strips of latinum ... oh, wait, that's "Ferengi Country Songs". Spoilers for DS9's "Ferengi Love Songs" are below.

In brief: Anyone got a magnet? A tiny bit better than some all-Ferengi shows, but not much.

Brief summary: Quark returns to Ferenginar to find his mother in love with Grand Nagus Zek, while Rom and Leeta have a spat over their impending marriage.

Sometimes I get surprised. Even when there's a Ferengi-heavy show, which I generally tend to dislike, I can find myself enjoying the show quite a bit, as I did with "Business as Usual" two weeks ago. It's a strength of DS9 that even those characters I generally don't care much for, such as Quark, can occasionally shine when given the right material.

"Ferengi Love Songs", however, is not one of those shows. It's a return to the cheap-laugh, let's-throw-everything-out-of-proportion Ferengi shows that makes me think I'm watching either a bad propaganda film, a bad cartoon, or both. I'm sure there's a market and a viewership for these episodes out there somewhere -- but it most assuredly doesn't include me.

I have to ask that alleged viewership, then: what's the appeal? Does watching Zek and Ishka (two grotesqueries of character and of makeup if I've ever seen them), coo sweet nothings into each other's ears really make anyone's heart swell with affection? Does the sight of Brunt (excuse me; "Brunt, FCA") make anyone fear for Quark's health? Does the recognition of yet another threat to "the very fabric of Ferengi society" worry anyone? In short, is there anything we're actually supposed to take seriously or care about in "Ferengi Love Songs"?

That's the fundamental question. The answer, I think, is troubling either way. If I am supposed to care about these characters and their troubles, then the show's falling down hard -- because I don't. Ferengi society holds no appeal for me; it's not something I want to see, let alone take seriously. As such, any threat to it generally has me hoping for something that will bring the society down, just so I don't have to see another hyuk-fest set on Ferenginar. And after a show which really does get at the idea of Quark's conscience and the ways in which unscrupulous people can get marginally more scrupulous people in over their heads (namely "Business as Usual"), to see Quark relegated to "oh, I just broke up my mother's romance and got my business license back -- but wait, is this Right [tm]?" cheapens the character immeasurably.

And speaking of Quark's business license ... somehow, whether he gets it back doesn't seem to carry a lot of emotional wallop. Why? Because, aside from "Business as Usual", there has been absolutely no trace it was ever gone. We don't really see Quark suffering, either financially or emotionally, from the FCA ban -- and as such, we don't really have much of a reason to care whether it gets lifted or not. "Business as Usual" did a good job of starting to make us care -- but that's not sufficient for something that's supposed to be such an earth-shattering event. (Compare it to Worf's discommendation back in mid-series TNG; there, we saw a lot of emotional and practical effects on Worf, so it did matter to us when he got it back.)

From a plot standpoint, it's also not clear how Quark and Ishka managed to pull Zek's fat out of the fire at the end. The FCA was going to ask Zek a lot of things which required him to have full command of his faculties -- and regardless of how much good advice he got beforehand, I'd be really surprised if he didn't slip somewhere.

On the other hand, if we're not supposed to care about the characters or the situation, then I have two questions. The first would be "what's the point?", and the second would be "then why isn't this funny?" A lot of the all-Ferengi episodes, I think, are intended to be farce -- the problem is that farce isn't funny unless all the pieces are handled in just the right way. "Ferengi Love Songs", like most of the Ferengi shows before it, didn't pull that off. Zek, in my opinion, was funny once, in his first appearance -- and I've never cared for either Brunt or Ishka. As a result, I found myself strongly tempted on occasion to fast-forward through the episode and watch the commercials: not a good sign.

That said, "Ferengi Love Song" turned out to be a little bit more amusing in spots than I expected. Occasionally little exchanges or moments brought out a chuckle, and I'd credit that primarily to Rene Auberjonois, who by virtue of having directed so many Ferengi shows seems to have learned how to extract as much out of them as possible. In particular, I liked Quark discovering Zek in his closet; it's a telegraphed joke out of a zillion different comedy routines or Marx Brothers movies, but it was arranged really well, which in humor often makes all the difference. Similarly, the continued appearance of Brunt in Quark's closet was a cute running gag, and the "you're a manipulative, self-centered conniver!"/"Thank you!" exchange was cute, even if it reminded me of first-season "Mystery Science Theater 3000". Auberjonois knows how to set up a situation, and Shimerman has enough comic skill to pull it off if the material permits -- the problem is that usually, the material didn't.

That leaves the ever-marvelous Rom/Leeta romance. The best thing I can say about this week's installment is that at least it was paired with Quark stuff so that it didn't ruin an otherwise powerful show like "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." The rest? Garbage. I don't care whether they get married (though a good, lengthy honeymoon off the station would suit me fine), I don't want to see their little spats, I don't care to see Rom cry like a whipped puppy, I don't want Kira relegated to the role of Leeta's confidant, and it's not as though we care enough about Rom's profits to see him giving them up as anything remotely interesting or noble. Let's put it this way: my distaste for this pair is starting to approach Neelix-level territory on "Voyager" back when I was still watching it. That should be all I need to say about that.

All things considered, then, I'm back to my usual question about these shows: what's the point? It's trying to be too serious to actually be funny, and it's too stupid to be taken seriously. The net result is a long, drawn-out mishmash of grotesqueries that's basically an hour-long waste of time. I really wish Ferengi society had fallen or Brunt had won, because that might put an end to these shows -- at the very least, it would have put them on a new footing where someone could potentially tell an interesting story. As it is, they're entertainment for Ferengi fans and endurance tests for most everyone else.

A couple of short notes:

-- "Marauder Mo action figures"? Okay, it's nice to see Quark had toys as a child, but in Ferengi society wouldn't the big craze be business types rather than action figures?

-- This is the third episode in a row directed by a cast member, in case anyone's keeping count.

That about does it, then. It seems that we're faced with a Ferengi-society episode at least once a year, and this one's it. Maybe next year will skip one -- or Ferengi society will fall.

Wrapping up:

Writing: Nothing to write home about; a good moment or two here and there, but the usual one-dimensional Ferengi stuff on the whole.
Directing: Auberjonois's game, I'll give him that.
Acting: Shimerman did his best; I'm more than willing to skip everyone else.

OVERALL: 3; a slightly better main plot than "Bar Association", but no redeeming subplot. Better luck next time.

NEXT WEEK:

General Martok -- a coward?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*>
"Congratulations, Quark -- you're a Ferengi again."
"I always was!"
-- Brunt and Quark

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