April 25 2024

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Retro Review: False Profits

5 min read
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Voyager encounters the Barzan wormhole and two Ferengi who left Picard’s Enterprise to disappear into it.

Plot Summary: Voyager finds evidence of a nearby wormhole that is moving through the Delta Quadrant, yet seems to be fixed on the far end in the Alpha Quadrant. When Chakotay and Paris visit a nearby planet to find out whether there is local lore about the wormhole, they discover that two Ferengi who arrived through the wormhole have used replicator technology to pretend to be gods. The planet’s mythology predicts sages arriving from the skies, so the residents willingly exchange their valuables for Rules of Acquisition. Janeway learns that these Ferengi are Arridor and Kol, who disappeared into the Delta Quadrant while the USS Enterprise hosted negotiations for the rights to the Barzan wormhole. While Kim and Torres try to attract the wormhole’s entrance back to the area using verteron particles, Janeway sends Neelix in disguise as the Grand Nagus’s proxy to demand that Arridor and Kol return home and hand over their profits immediately. The locals capture and nearly kill Neelix as they try to help the Ferengi “ascend” to the sky by setting them on fire, as in the local songs of lore, but Voyager beams all three up in time. Arridor and Kol escape from their Starfleet security guards and retrieve their ship from Voyager’s shuttle bay, taking it into the wormhole. When Arridor uses a graviton pulse to stop Voyager from beaming them back aboard, the wormhole destabilizes, sucking in the Ferengi ship and causing the Alpha Quadrant opening to jump through space like the Delta Quadrant opening. Now unable either to enter the wormhole or to exit near Federation space, Voyager resumes its slow journey home.

Analysis: I’m sure that, on paper, “False Profits” sounded like a good idea. We learned almost nothing about the Delta Quadrant during previous Star Trek shows, so since one of the few things we did know involved a pair of Ferengi getting lost there after a disastrous negotiation that made Deanna Troi look foolish, it must have seemed inevitable that despite the vastness of space, Voyager’s crew should encounter those Ferengi. Yet I’d bet that the only people who like this episode either enjoy greedy, scheming Ferengi in general or really appreciate when Star Trek ties up loose ends whether the resolutions are realistic or not. Were some fans really dying to know what happened to those two Ferengi from The Next Generation‘s “The Price,” to which “False Profits” is a direct sequel? And even if they were dying to know, since some fans obviously relish Ferengi stories more than I do or we wouldn’t have seen so many Ferengi-focused episodes on Deep Space Nine, didn’t they deserve something less obvious? “Naughty outsiders try to exploit less advanced natives” plots are much too common in Star Trek and in movies in general, whether it’s Klingons using advanced weaponry to possess natural resources on idyllic planets in the original series or Cardassians enslaving entire populations to work in their mines in second-generation shows. (In fact, “False Profits” uncannily predicts The Road to El Dorado, in which two silly Europeans lost in the New World pretend to be gods to try to steal Native American wealth.)

Since this is Star Trek, it’s entirely predictable that after Ferengi disappear in their little scouting vessel into the Delta Quadrant while trying to secure the rights to the wormhole in the Alpha Quadrant, they immediately find a nice planet to settle instead of dying slowly in the aforementioned vastness of space. And since this is Voyager, any time we get another wormhole drama that starts much like “Eye of the Needle” with the crew happy and excited at the possibility of a quick trip to the Alpha Quadrant, their hopes must be crushed despite everyone’s efforts to make it work. I’ll buy that no crewmembers blamed Janeway after a previous wormhole made contact with a Romulan from several years in their past, since she managed to persuade him to pass on their messages even if she couldn’t find a way to get them home. This time, though, Janway’s so busy being inconsistent in applying the Prime Directive that she lets two Ferengi repeatedly get the jump on her, obliterating any chance of a trip home and possibly allowing the Ferengi to exploit another indigenous population somewhere else. After listening to her rethink the value of the Prime Directive in the Delta Quadrant over the past several episodes, I can’t fathom why the writers decide to have her enforce it in a situation where even a greedy creep can persuade her that a local population is adapting to outsiders who aren’t part of the Federation and therefore not her responsibility. Sure, the Ferengi have selfish motives, but their behavior isn’t as meddlesome as the Prophets were to Bajor, and no one ever lectures those wormhole aliens about that.

So Janeway is swayed by Ferengi logic to postpone following her instincts, then decides to get involved – with Tuvok objecting, which is pretty much Tuvok’s only useful job these days, since security on the ship is clearly disastrous – and in doing so blows a chance to get her crew home, all in the name of a principle she doesn’t always seem to believe in, let alone to apply consistently. She really doesn’t have a choice, or rather the writers can’t give her one, since Voyager must blow this opportunity in order to remain in the Delta Quadrant and maintain the show’s hung hero premise. The fact that viewers know the crew must be doomed to fail makes it really hard to sell a fun, fluffy Ferengi story like Deep Space Nine‘s “Little Green Men” even for those who aren’t already sick of Rules of Acquisition. The enjoyable moments of “False Profits” like Chakotay and Paris trading their shoes for information, Neelix doing a fine impression of a Ferengi authority figure, Tuvok and Kim describing an incident on Picard’s Enterprise, even a bit of commentary about how churches co-opt local legends to consolidate power, all get undercut by the knowledge that we’re watching a failure in progress, since there can’t be a happy ending with the crew reaching the Alpha Quadrant. Since we know what’s coming, we can’t even feel sorry for them when they’re too slow to keep up with Ferengi machinations. For all their faults, Arridor and Kol have done a fine job of accepting and adapting to their fates after being stranded 70,000 light years from home. It would be so nice to see Janeway’s crew do the same.

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