Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: Voyager 3.5: False Profits

Previously, on TNG: The USS Enterprise supervises negotiations over a stable wormhole. Two Ferengi, Arridor and Kol, attempt to hijack the proceedings by crossing over to the other side. Unknown to them, the wormhole is unstable at one end, and they are stranded - in the Delta Quadrant. The story continues...

Arridor and Kol.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Five - False Profits
Written 13/8/15

The Ferengi are the first of many recurring aliens introduced in Star Trek's revival in the late Eighties. Originally intended to be The Next Generation's overarching villains, they were later reduced to comic relief when the producers realised that they were ridiculous. Deep Space Nine gave them some room to flesh out and really examined their philosophy in all lights, balancing comic relief and fascinating sci-fi ideas. This is the first of two Ferengi episodes in Voyager (not counting the Quark cameo in Caretaker), and it's clear from the off that this show is definitely not ready for that kind of approach. So instead, in place of that, we have a continuity-driven comic relief episode! Yay.
     Voyager finds the opening to a wormhole which appears to lead to the Alpha Quadrant, but which will only open at their end for a limited period of time. Nearby they find evidence of Alpha Quadrant aliens, and upon landing on the planet they discover a culture in reverence to the two Ferengi, Arridor and Kol. While usually The Prime Directive would stop them from interfering with primitive societies, Janeway decides in her infinite wisdom that it's partially the Federation's fault that The Ferengi are there in the first place. After using the tried-and-tested "dress Neelix in a disguise" method, they eventually exploit the local culture's own creation myth in order to beam the two Ferengi out. However, to Voyager's chagrin, the two are easily able to escape their custody and fly off in a shuttle through the wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant, destabilising it along the way and once again stranding Voyager.
     The Ferengi were Gene Roddenberry's caricature of venture capitalists - vicious goblin-like creatures whose entire society (and religion) surrounds the aquisition and maintenance of capital. In TNG this wasn't really explored much, with the Ferengi usually just sitting in a traditional villain role (usually with some comic relief surrounding their appearance and beliefs), but in Deep Space Nine we had Quark as one of the focus characters, and we were able to fully explore their society. That show's blend of moral greyness meant that the show's three main Ferengi characters became some of the most sympathetic characters in the cast. This episode went out in the middle of said "Ferengi renaissance", and quite disappointingly it uses them as bland, one-note villains.
Neelix makes a surprisngly good Ferengi. Who knew?
     There is something to be said for the way that Voyager attempts to remove the Ferengi from the planet. Neelix's impression of "The Grand Proxy" is surprisingly convincing, with Ethan Phillips having previously played a Ferengi scientist in TNG's Ménage à Troi. I also enjoyed the way that Janeway, now free of pesky rules, was able to manipulate the local mythology in order to afford the people their freedom from Ferengi tyranny. In true Voyager style, the main issue that the actual crew have with doing this is whether they can pass it by their own Federation rulebook, and this is a clear case where Janeway decides its applicability as she goes along.
     It's was a logical move to carry on the events of TNG's The Price into Voyager, especially as that episode was the first one to clearly define the idea of "Quadrants", the idea which more or less allowed Star Trek Voyager to come into being. I'm just not sure that it was a sequel that anyone particular asked for - even with the recap within the episode's exposition, it isn't the smoothest transition in the world. That combined with a fairly standard Voyager plot and a disappointly boring use of the Ferengi, and False Profits turns out to not be of any profit after all.


NEXT WEEK: B'elanna is forced to experience life in a dystopian world... well, more dystopian than usual. It's Remember.

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