The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
Janeway gets rolled, outguessed and otherwise flummoxed by a couple of stranded Ferengi on a planet of simple-minded folk who consider the big-lobed schemers their gods.
Jump straight to the Analysis
After discovering evidence of recent wormhole activity, the ship journeys to investigate. They find what appears to be the history of a non-regular but semi-predictable wormhole. Janeway orders a search for life in the system to see if they can ask someone for more information on it. Tuvok reports a planet with Bronze-age technological advancement--but also possible evidence of Alpha Quadrant influence...namely, the recent use of a replicator.
Harry Kim, of course, gets all excited and posits that the wormhole might lead to a way home. And as usual, Janeway squashes his enthusiasm before it gets contagious. "Let's get some proof first, okay?" she smiles. She's no doubt as optimistic as Kim, but her years of Starfleet and scientific experience have taught her never to let an ensign have a little good news for long.
There are three projects to consider. First, figure out where the wormhole leads. Second, figure out how to make the wormhole stay in one place long enough to enter it, if it leads somewhere they might want to go. And third, find out what's happening on that planet. Harry and B'Elanna get the first two assignments. The third goes to Chakotay and Paris.
One probe and a costume change later, Chakotay and Paris are wandering through a small town square, populated by quite human-looking folks (not even nose or ear or hair weirdness to give them the patented Trek Alien look). Most immediately try to sell them something. A traveling bard with a patch over his right eye sings "the song of the sages"--first verse free, but he clearly wants to sing for some supper. The bard is shooed away by a merchant who is quite taken with the shoes of our intrepid crewmen. "You can tell a lot about a man by the shoes he wears," says the merchant, quoting the Sages and offering them everything from cattle futures to development property to sweeping health care legislation before finding something they actually DO need.
Chakotay and Paris want to enter the "sanctuary," but are told that if they don't have their ears on they could be fined or even arrested. Paris asks if this is Smokey's idea, but the poor medieval merchant never owned a CB radio and rewards him with a blank look. (Okay, not really.) The "ears" in question are a selection of pins, necklaces, earrings, belt buckles, etc. They manage to pick up a nice ear ensemble in exchange for (guess) Paris' shoes. Paris grumbles about how little he likes this place, when...
The bang of a gong. The appearance of three scantily clad spokesmodels. "On second thought..." Paris says, amending his first impression, knocking up his review by a star or two. Then appears an official looking guy, announcing the Sages. We pan down to two pair of elegant footwear, then pan back up to see two smirking Ferengi dressed to be worshiped.
For those of you for whom Voyager is your first taste of Star Trek, Ferengi are a species of Ross Perot People -- short, capitalist, aggressive profiteers with really big ears who speak in homilies that make sense only to them. (Can you tell this is an election year? I don't much like any of the candidates this year. My vote will likely be cast for the "Pinky and the Brain" ticket. Narf!) They are aggressive in pursuing the only thing in life that matters to them--profit, which is their reason for living and the basis of their society. But rather than operating like a Chamber of Commerce, they're more like pirates and robber barons. Only in the TNG universe they were never very effective villains--too short, too monomaniacally greedy, too comical in person, too easy to outwit. At least for the hyper-diplomatic Picard and the son-of-a-restauranteur Sisko.
"Greed is good!" They decree, and the crowd chants the words back at them. This continues a few times, and it takes a poke in the ribs from Chakotay to get Paris to chant along. Notably, the people don't seem all that enthusiastic about the words either. But they do stare in awe at the "something from nothing box" -- the replicator.
The two Ferengi soak in the forced adulation, then they hear petitions from the crowd. A man approaches, wishing to ask for assistance. His shop, he says, is failing. The Ferengi scold him. "How many people are in your family? You don't pay them, do you?" The man, seeking mercy, gets only Rules of Acquisition for his efforts. "Exploitation begins at home." A replicated copy of the Rules, for which he is forced to pay a few credits.
It's clear to Paris and Chakotay that the Ferengi are robbing these people blind. They report this to the Captain in a briefing. Janeway doesn't like it much, either, and she is determined to do something abut it. Tuvok points out that the Ferengi are not members of the Federation, and are therefore not bound by Federation codes of conduct. And the planet is not technologically advanced enough for the crew to be mucking about in their affairs.
Does Janeway get involved? You betcha.
The wormhole is known to the Federation as the Barzan Wormhole, which was discovered--and was the object of a bidding war for access rights--by the local alpha quadrant race, which negotiations were conducted on board the Enterprise-D in "The Price." It was determined that the wormhole was fixed in space on the Alpha Quadrant side, but that it was unstable on the Delta Quadrant side when Geordi LaForge and Data in one shuttle, and two Ferengi in another, went through the wormhole to investigate.
Data and LaForge returned. The two Ferengi did not.
Tuvok reports this, only getting a few of the facts wrong (there were three Ferengi at the negotiations; only two went through the wormhole, for example). But the fact that the negotiations were held aboard a Federation ship, and that the Ferengi had been accompanied by a Starfleet shuttle through the wormhole, is enough for Janeway to make the Ferengi presence on the planet "our problem." She words it in a way that Tuvok can't argue with her, though you can tell he's still not all that happy about it. (Vulcans and Ferengi are almost as poor a combo as Vulcans and Talaxians. They just don't have that much in common.)
As to the wormhole itself, Kim and Torres tell Janeway they think they've solved the first problem, figuring out what causes the wormhole to have the "wagging tail" phenomenon. She asks for the solution to the second problem--stopping the wagging long enough to jump through and get home--and they tell her "we're not there yet."
We see the Ferengi in their Holy Vault, surrounded by gold and other precious and valuable stuff. The taller and smarter of the two Ferengi is working on the books. The shorter and less business oriented one (the "lesser sage," as he is known) is enjoying the fruits of their enterprise--getting a lobe rub by the half-nekkid servant wimmen attendants.
Another trivia bit for those playing the Home Game: The Ferengi have earlobes that run from ear to ear, over the forehead. The ears and lobes are a big part of Ferengi culture, and are also the Ferengi Male Pleasure Center, analogous to the human male's...er, family jewels. To question a Ferengi's manhood, insult his lobes. To incapacitate a Ferengi, pinch the lobes--hard. Stroke a Ferengi's lobes in public and you're virtually engaged. The jewels are in the crown, as it were.
Oh, one other Ferengi cultural quirk: they prefer their women to be naked. All the time. In their culture it is indecent for them to be otherwise. But for the purposes of network television, you can't exactly show this principle in action, so we instead have women prancing around with as much showing as possible, without showing anything that gets the FCC mad at you. By any standards--Ferengi or Hewman--these two Ferengi are perverts--violating human decency by giving them the skimpiest outfits allowed by law, and violating Ferengi decency by letting them wear anything.
Sometimes, you just gotta love Gene Roddenberry. He managed to make nudity an integral part of several cultures (most notably Betazoid and Ferengi).
But I digress.
The two Ferengi argue, causing the Lesser Sage to abandon the lobe rub and fret about lower profits. They call in their native assistant, who gets smacked around with a fluffy pillow wielded by the Lesser Sage, who smacks him around some more for calling him "lesser sage." The guy seems to be of mixed emotions--he's surrounded by wealth, but he doesn't seem that fond of the two "gods". As they yell at him for their lower-than-expected profits from some far-flung continent...
They disappear in a shimmer of sparkly stuff.
The assistant is ecstatic. He lies down on the Lesser Sage's couch and enjoys the moment of blissful solitude, hoping it will last.
* * *
The Ferengi find themselves onboard a starship, looking at some unfriendly security types and an even less friendly (fully-clothed--gasp!) female Captain.
"We're shutting you down," she tells them.
The lesser sage is bummed. The greater sage isn't about to let go so easily. He argues passionately that they are the fulfillment of the Song of the Sages, that to take them away would harm the natives irrevocably. He argues so passionately that the Lesser Sage is almost convinced. "You mean we ARE the sages?" he asks, earning a HeyMoe (think Three Stooges) for his troubles. They fulfilled the prophesy by their arrival--their broken shuttle, leaking plasma, looked like them riding to the planet's surface on wings of fire; they performed miracles with their replicator; they dispensed wisdom, or at least rules of acquisition. The songs seemed to point to them, or could at least be argued that way.
Insanely, Janeway orders them to be transported back to the planet. It is at this point that I declare publicly that the Janeway I know and yearn tragically for has been kidnaped and replaced by Pod People. If she's willing to send them back completely unhindered from their efforts, she is out of her bloody mind. The Greater Sage's oratory was not that persuasive. And since they're not known for leaving the Vault that often, holding them for a while would have done no harm whatsoever.
But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
So...as they prepare to return to the planet, they share a look. "We've won!" they exult.
* * *
Of course, Janeway's not done trying, even though she's blown the element of surprise--among other things. The officers consider options. Paris and Chakotay are dead set against allowing the Ferengi outrages to continue--they've seen first hand what harm has been done to the populace. They've walked a mile in the natives' shoes--well, Chakotay has. Paris walked a mile barefoot because one of the natives traded his shoes for some ears. (Do you get the feeling this is one of those "farce" episodes yet?) Janeway gets an idea--"we need to out-Ferengi the Ferengi," she says deviously, little knowing that in the school of deviousness, she's an incoming freshmen trying to outwit the guys who wrote the textbook. She looks at Neelix as she says this.
Trivia note: Ethan Phillips once played a Ferengi, in the TNG episode "Menage a Troi" (no, I'm not making this up.) So he gets to play one again, this time as an undercover Ferengi.
The two Ferengi tweak their matter/antimatter thingie to shield the area from any other no-warning beamouts. They enjoy their victory only briefly; the door knocks, they tell their native assistant to get it, and he rushes to comply. "Who has the audacity to disturb the Holy Sages in their divine vault?"
and are greeted by the all-too-familiar (to DS9 fans, at least) golden-headed staff of the Grand Nagus (the putative ruler/CEO of the Ferengi, played by the guy who was the whiny Sicilian in "Princess Bride"--a guy no Ferengi wants to get on the bad side of). It's Neelix, of course, in full Ferengi commando mode.
"Grand Nagus!" the two Ferengi yell in synchronous horror, then let their jaws drop in the precisely defined slack-jawed gesture of respect common to Ferengi in the Nagus' presence.
"No, you idiots, I'm the Grand Proxy." This is just as bad for the Sages.
Neelix--er, the Grand Proxy--tells them they've been recalled back to Ferenginar with their booty. The Greater Sage tries the same sob story about prophetic destiny that worked so well on Janeway. Geared, of course, for Ferengi ears this time. But Ferengi--even fake ones--are not so easily swayed. The Grand Proxy tells them to pack up, and prepare a speech to the people thanking them for their generosity, because the Nagus may want to send other Ferengi later on.
He quotes the 299th rule of acquisition: "Always thank the people you exploit; it will be easier to exploit them next time." The Greater sage complains that there are only 285 rules;"You've been gone a very long time," Neelix responds. "You have twenty minutes."
He grabs two sacks of profit and instructs the native stooge to follow him. "Of course...GREATER Sage!" he says enthusiastically, thrilled at the prospect of getting rid of the two lesser sages--who remain in the vault and shudder at the same prospect.
It would seem that Neelix makes a convincing Ferengi; he certainly fooled these two. They look to the Rules of Acquisition for a loophole. They don't. Dealing with the Grand Proxy is listed under "hopeless causes." So they move to the unwritten rule: "when the written rules don't apply...make one up." So they do: "When a messenger arrives with unprofitable news...kill the messenger."
Meanwhile, Neelix is outside, distributing some of his ill-gotten profits as the stooge looks on, speaking softly with the guy who petitioned the Ferengi with business troubles a few scenes earlier. "Is this another sage?" "Have you ever seen a sage give away money?" He's suspicious, but he's not complaining; I think he's generally a decent guy, looking to help his people. Paris and Chakotay look on as well, noting that Neelix is really getting into the role.
When the money is gone, Neelix returns to the Divine Vault, only to be attacked by the Ferengi, now wielding swords, intending to use them. When maintaining the Grand Proxy facade fails, Neelix admits he's not the Grand Proxy, and isn't even Ferengi. The Lesser Sage savages Neelix's lobes, Neelix says he doesn't feel a thing. "He's not Ferengi." They decide not to kill him; they tell him to go and tell Janeway to leave them alone. Neelix departs, and they gloat to each other about winning--again.
* * *
Chakotay, Paris and Neelix--still in disguise--walk the streets, unsure how to proceed. The one-eyed Bard approaches them again, yammering the Song of the Sages, asking for payment again. Paris tells him to go away, when he notes that the patch is on the wrong eye. The bard "discreetly" switches the patch back, offering his best pathetic entreaty. Tom still wants to shoo the guy away, but Chakotay has a better idea--"tell us, how does the song end? What happens to the Sages?" It costs him a pair of shoes, but Chakotay gets what he wants--the song tells how the sages leave, on wings of fire, called up by the Holy Pilgrim as three new stars appear in the East.
In the darkened square, Neelix ascends the steps, strikes a pose, and announces in his best beatific voice, "I am the Holy Pilgrim!" The response is underwhelming. Neelix is unsure what to do next, so he just stands there and continues the pose. Paris and Chakotay look at each other, shrug, then Paris gets an idea. He wakes up the nearest native. "Hey, look, the Holy Pilgrim is here!" Chakotay follows his lead, and soon the square is awake and attentive to the Holy Pilgrim, who says he's here to fulfill the rest of the prophesy.
The two real Ferengi experience lobe rubbus interruptus by the outside commotion. They rush outside to see the crowd believing the Holy Pilgrim. They argue forcefully that he's a fake and a fraud, but Neelix announces the arrival of three new stars in the east (three photon bursts), and when they instruct the stooge to arrest Neelix, he bangs the gong, fulfilling yet another part of the prophesy. The Era of the Sages is ending. And the stooge announces in an impressively theatrical voice that the Sages and the Pilgrim must ascend by the song, on wings of fire.
In other words, tie 'em up and build 'em a bonfire. Neelix too. He tries to amend the song with the postscript, "don't burn the sages," but the stooge will have none of it. You can tell he's been looking forward to this day for a long, long time. Seven years, perhaps? The people reverently bring firewood, flame and kindling. The lesser Sage says to the greater sage, "we had seven years of pure profit." "We did, didn't we?" says the greater Sage, and they take comfort in this. They're headed for the Divine Vault for sure. Neelix isn't so happy about it.
The dampening field set up by the Ferengi prevent beamout by Voyager. Paris and Chakotay enter the vault and--failing to disable it--blow it up with their phasers. As soon as the field is down, everyone beams up. The stooge looks at them, knowing the sparkly effect doesn't necessarily mean they're gone forever--he saw them wink out before, and later return. He clenches his fist, swallows his disappointment, and then puts on a brave face. "The Holy Ones have Ascended!" he shouts, and the people cheer.
On Voyager, the Ferengi are livid--never mind their hides are saved, they want their accumulated profit. Chakotay orders them taken to quarters--their shuttle, he says, is in one of the shuttle bays, and the rest of the stuff will stay behind with the people it belongs to. The Ferengi threaten to sue as one security guard leads them away. Chakotay and Paris head for the bridge.
The wormhole is open, and they prepare to enter it in seven minutes (what are they waiting for?!?!?) Holodoc calls from sickbay; the security guy sent to escort the Ferengi is there with a concussion, but without the Ferengi. Tuvok announces the security in the shuttlebay has been breached. Janeway orders the barn door closed after the cows have fled. The Ferengi plot a course to the planet, in their undamaged shuttle (you mean they lied? Gasp!) To get their profit and move on. Janeway orders them to get the little lobe boys back by any means necessary, but after being outmaneuvered all episode, the superior cunning of the Sages aren't likely to be outdone anytime soon. Every measure is met with a countermeasure. The Ferengi do get a little crazy, though, and use a graviton pulse to thwart a beamout--which affects the wormhole. The wormhole grabs the Ferengi before they can reach the profit, and they're sucked in with only the clothes on their backs. They're not happy about it.
The graviton pulse also knocks the wormhole off its axis--both ends are now unstable. It is now unknown where the Ferengi will end up. This side of the wormhole starts jumping around; Paris does what he can to enter it, but they are too far away and moving too slow. Soon, the wormhole is completely gone.
"Options!" Janeway barks. The looks on everyone's face says it all. Harry Kim finally breaks the silence. "There are none," he says, and his voice says it all--this wormhole is closed for good. Janeway grimly orders Paris to set a course for the alpha quadrant, at warp 6.
The Stooge has thrown open the vault, and is distributing the profits back to the people (see, I
told you he was a good guy, the attempted decide notwithstanding). "Look! The sages are going
home!" They look to the sky as a bright light streaks into hyperspace.
This episode is a holdover from last season, and it shows. This is The Crew that Luck Forgot I'd hoped we'd left behind when the Kazon finally skulked off into the sunset.
Ferengi have traditionally been poor villains. Not that they don't have their skills, but it seemed that Picard and Sisko were quite adept at "out-Ferengi-in the Ferengi." Janeway tries, but she doesn't have the stuff. The two little weasels roll her every single time. It's pathetic. I'm angry about it. I know Janeway is capable of better than this. Especially against these two, who are not exactly Ferengi profit scientists. Quark would have been franchising Sage planets after seven years, dangit.
This little rant aside....
It was a funny episode. The acting was quite good among the natives, nicely fitting the tone of the episode. The stooge and the Bard, in particular, shone. I got a few belly laughs out of this episode, and the Ferengi were fun to watch--I happen to like the little entrepreneurs, Rules of Acquisition and all.
Neelix made a decent Ferengi, while he was Playing Ferengi. When he slipped into "Holy Pilgrim" mode he wasn't nearly as convincing, but as the Grand Proxy he had the rhythm down. Kudos to Ethan Phillips.
Paris and Chakotay seemed to work well together. I must admit I was surprised. If they have buried the hatchet since last season's Bad Paris thread (and I could see this episode following "Investigations" as a show that all is now generally well between them), this is the first evidence of it. I'm glad to see it, but I wish they'd shown this episode last season; it would have been a highlight of last season, but compared to the other episodes we've seen in Season 3, it fell short.
My big disappointment was Janeway. I don't mind if they try and fail to get home because of circumstances beyond their control. But there is NO dang excuse for her to be so dang stupid in so many ways. If it weren't for the Ferengi they'd have gotten home. If Janeway had conceded defeat they'd have gotten home. If Janeway had taken the "sages" and the consequences be damned (they would have worked out just fine on the planet, methinks), they'd have gotten home. Had the Ferengi not been eggregiously underestimated every time, they'd have gotten home. If they'd been closer to the dang wormhole, if they'd entered it as soon as everyone was aboard...
If, if, if. I can accept a couple of miscues. But this is not the Janeway I've come to respect. She was just plain stupid here, and worse--she didn't know it, and apparently neither did anyone else.
I blame the writers.
I hate to say that, because this was an episode with some stellar, hilarious moments. But in terms of the needed "Voyager fails to get home" resolution, their solution was to lobotomize the entire crew. The fact remains that they didn't get home because they were stupid. And if there's one thing I can't stands, it's when they fail because of uncharacteristic stupidity. And they're stupid here only because the writers wrote them that way.
So I'm frustrated with this episode, all the great humor and performances notwithstanding. In the end, the crew did rescue the planet from the Sages, ensuring that the Ferengi will never bother them again. That's a good thing, but since the effort to get home was their primary goal, they're too bummed about messing up that opportunity to enjoy the small victory. The episode ended on a very depressing note, and for a comedy that's a huge disappointment.
On a 0-10 scale, I'm giving this one a 6.5, or (* * 1/2) stars. The first real disappointment of the season, all the more so because it could have been a great one.
Next Week: Torres has an erotic adventure...in her dreams.