There are those fans who will tell you this is the worst episode of the entire series. I don’t agree with them, but they are not wrong. “Profit and Lace” is terrible. I still think third season’s “Meridian” is the worst of the worst, but somehow, “Profit and Lace” gets worse with each passing year. It’s probably offensive too, but as a cisgender man, I am not comfortable calling it out as offensive to a community to which I don’t belong. That’s not my role; my role is backing up the trans-community when they say something’s insulting. So, yeah. In addition to being a dire hour of television, this thing might also be a hate crime.
Basically, Ira Steven Behr and the rest of the writing staff wanted to do a light, character-based comedy focused around the treatment of women in Ferengi society. On the surface, that’s a great idea. Ferengi sexism makes zero sense in the context of pure capitalism. Why on earth (er... Ferenginar) would you remove half your consumer base from the market? In the grand tradition of men-dressing-up-as-women-and-getting-into-hijinks, it would somehow revolve around Quark putting on a dress. I’m on board here. I like Some Like It Hot. I like Tootsie.
And besides, Quark’s misogyny is the one part of his character that’s impossible to sympathize with. He’s supposed to be relatively sympathetic comic relief, yet this episode opens with him extorting an employee for sex (something Sisko expressly forbid him to do way back in one of the first season’s better episodes, “Captive Pursuit.”) Gross, right? The only reason to have this scene is for the character to grow and change, by the end realizing that what they did is wrong. Me, I don’t know that you can rehabilitate a character from something that loathsome, but I suspect this is one of the dangers of an all-male writing staff. There’s no woman to be like, “Guys? You need to knock this off before I go full Sarah Connor on you.”
This was essentially Armin Shimerman’s problem with the script. Quark learns absolutely nothing from his experience in this episode. Ironically enough, Nog had just gotten a great episode with “Valiant” (and his arc in the seventh season is one of the better ones), but the show’s regular had to make do with this half-baked thing.
Director Alexander Siddig wanted to make a story about a damaged relationship between mother and son. The takes he uses are leaden, so that what should be the airy ratatat of screwball dialogue becomes a dirge. Jokes that should be onscreen for tenths of a second linger far beyond their welcome, filling up the pauses around them. This sounds like I’m blaming Siddig for everything, but I don’t think the script was dense enough as written to run as fast as the writers needed it to in order to work. And although Shimerman is as reliable as always, it’s obvious he’s not as committed to this episode as he would have to be.
Grand Nagus Zek has come to the conclusion that the Ferengi should have worked out thousands of years ago: women -- sorry, females -- should be allowed to wear clothes. If they’re allowed that, then they can go outdoors, which means they can get jobs, which means they can earn profit. The Ferengi Alliance is in an economic panic, having deposed Zek and installing (who else) Brunt in his place. The insistence of “Acting Grand Nagus Brunt” is a good example of a running gag that should work like a piece of the sublime “Who’s On First,” and instead feels like an exhausted government worker barking at you in line at the DMV.
The plan is to get a group of commissioners behind the idea by letting them meet Ishka. Only one agrees, Nilva (played by the great, and ultimately wasted, Henry Gibson), the CEO of Slug-o-Cola, “The Slimiest Cola in the Galaxy.” The problem arises in a scene that should have been played to the rafters and instead has an uncomfortable realism; Quark and Ishka get in an argument which ends in Ishka’s near-fatal heart attack. Now, Zek’s minus one female. His solution? Make one. Out of Quark.
With the assistance of Dr. Bashir and the tutelage of Leeta and, most importantly, Rom, Quark does what he can. He’s spectacularly unconvincing. The writers apparently intended him to be crying a lot here, which Shimerman refused to do, astutely calling it out as sexist. Nilva arrives and promptly falls in love -- or at least lust -- with Quark’s alter ego, Lumba. Brunt shows up, as well (with his own version of Maihar’du, in yet another potential joke that utterly fails to launch, let alone land), loudly insisting that Lumba is a man while Nilva pursues poor Quark around a room like Wile E. Coyote. And... it just kind of ends. Suddenly, Quark’s a man again and everything is fine.
The kicker is the final scene where the employee Quark was threatening with termination if she didn’t have sex with him returns, having read his book, Oo-mox for Fun and Profit. Turns out she’s into it. Quark can presumably continue preying on his employees. This scene would catapult an otherwise good episode straight to the bottom. As the exclamation point on this pile of garbage, it’s merely a final insult.
“Profit and Lace” was so bad that it effectively killed the Ferengi episode as a concept. The only real Ferengi episode after this one is “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” which is more of a Mirror Universe show, intended to send that concept off into the sunset with what amounted to a parody. Remember, the last Ferengi episode before this one was the show’s best, “The Magnificent Ferengi.” That’s how bad this thing was. It went from the peak of the form and killed it off with one lumbering step.
Next up: Remember Keiko and Molly? The show finally did, too.