WARNING: This article contains spoiler information regarding "Rules of Acquisition", the most recent DS9 episode. Proceed at your own risk.
In brief: Lightning doesn't strike twice. "The Nagus" was fun; this was sledgehammer moralizing combined with not-all-that-funny comedy.
Last season, we had "The Nagus", which never fails to be a polarizer: everyone I know either thought it was hilarious or thought it was one of the worst Treks ever made). I loved it, but it had several saving graces. First, the Ferengi side didn't try to be anything other than a complete farce, and poked fun at behaviors without being tasteless about it. Second, the Ferengi side was only half the show -- we had something "real" to balance it out.
"Rules of Acquisition", unfortunately, didn't have either of those two influences on it, and suffered quite a bit as a result. I don't think the show was particularly bad; bits of it made me wince, yes, but it wasn't as downright rotten as "Melora" was the previous week. I just found myself wondering when it was over "so, why was this made?" I was left feeling a strong sense of indifference.
Let me cover the bright spots of "Rules of Acquisition" first. First of all, the Dax portions were probably the highlight of the show. It's interesting, and a bit disheartening, that Dax seems to get the best treatments in shows that aren't directly about her (here, "The Circle", etc.). Just seeing her interact with the Ferengi socially at all is a nice side of her to see (the "I don't particularly care what people think -- I've outlived opinions that were in vogue before you were born" idea), as is her skill at probably any game of chance she's had the chance to play in seven lifetimes. :-)
Second, there were some bits that were well done. The end of act four was one of them, where Quark gets to do a dead man's faint after finding out about Pel. Telegraphed or not, it was fun. Pel's reinvention of peanuts was cutely done, if somewhat implausible -- I have difficulty believing that such a simple thing hadn't been invented by the Ferengi several centuries back. In addition, the depiction of the Dosi center wasn't bad, and the more scheming aspects of the plot were nice: the "you weren't really after the tulaberries" scene and the bits of the final "confrontation" between Quark and Zek that weren't over the top, for instance. There was enough energy in the good scenes to keep them flowing nicely.
Alas, there was also enough energy to make the scenes that were off extremely annoying at the same time. In particular, the whole "Zek goes after Kira" subplot had me cringing at virtually any available opportunity. The one saving grace of it was the Kira/Dax conversation, but it wasn't nearly enough to make up for more leers than anyone should know what to do with. In addition, there's the general observation that every single major character in the episode spent virtually the whole time sneering, snarling, smirking, or whining. All the Ferengi, the Dosi, even Kira for most of the show -- all of them were simply unpleasant people to be around for the duration of the program. There's a difference between keeping characters imperfect and making them people you want to put a gag on, and this episode appeared to blur that boundary rather considerably. Oy.
All the foreshadowing about the Dominion as the new heavy race in the Gamma Quadrant was actually done fairly well. My main concern about it is the very premise: why does this new quadrant need to have not only one single major power, but one single major power that seems belligerent? Given all the different powers we've seen in the Alpha Quadrant (the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Cardassians, just for starters), it seems overly simplistic to create a One True Gamma Quadrant Power. I'll wait and see what happens, though -- for now, the foreshadowing was good.
As for the whole issue of "Pel, the Fantastic Ferengi Female", I was rather underwhelmed. Let's put it this way: it was a way to handle the issue of gender equality, but did so with all the grace of "The Outcast" handling gay rights or "Melora" handling issues about the disabled, and only slightly better than "Angel One" from TNG's first season handled gender issues. In other words: I don't care for being hit with a sledgehammer once ("I'm as capable as any man."), and when the powers that be feel a need to do it twice on the same point, I have to wonder when they think I had myself lobotomized. Thanks, but no thanks.
One final large point: I find it very interesting that Dax realized Pel was in love with Quark without even considering the idea that Pel was a woman. That was a very offhand "oh, I thought you were gay" line, and was done so with more subtlety than I think Trek has ever dealt with the issue. It probably didn't get by the average nitpicking fan, but it might have slipped by the average viewer. Most intriguing.
That's about it. Now, a few short takes:
-- Apparently, the FX for Ferengi transporters have changed recently. Too bad: I enjoyed the swirling transporters we saw for them in early TNG.
-- It was rather amusing to find that, for a change, the "alien but humanoid" Dosi appeared to me to be completely human, with the differences being purely ornamental for a change. Cute. It does rather make them look like overgrown Oompa-Loompas, though...
-- Where did that Odo/Rom scene come from, and can we please put it back there? I don't know what pod person Rene Auberjonois was playing there, but it definitely was not Odo.
-- I have to admit that I got a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I noticed that they'd misspelled the title of the show on screen. You'd think that would be the sort of thing they'd make sure to check if they
cared at all about the episode...
In closing, then, "Rules of Acquisition" was something with a few moments here and there, but mostly a failed attempt to recapture the hilarity of "The Nagus". Next time keep it to the fluff -- the Ferengi as a race simply are not geared for anything even remotely resembling a serious show.
So, to wrap up:
Plot: Solid, but also extremely heavy-handed. The foreshadowing was cute.
Plot Handling: The Dax scenes had a nice touch to them, but for the most part this was direction by sledgehammer.
Characterization: Good on Dax, and actually fairly decent Quark, but everybody else was a one-note except Odo, who wasn't even that strong.
OVERALL: Call it a 4. Mostly nondescript, with a slight lean to the bad. I hope this and "Melora" aren't an indication of the average quality we should expect for a while...
Kira's past catches up with her, and we apparently see what it was like when the Cardassians ran the station. Looks mighty interesting...