The Ferengi first appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation as straight up villains…and they sucked as villains. Was it the height? The ears? The blatantly sexist attitudes that made them more jokes than intimidating? Who can say?
Regardless, Deep Space Nine essentially rehabilitated the characters into something a lot more usable, a more comedic species whose hyper-capitalism are better played for laughs than anything else. And episodes like “The Nagus” go a long way to rehab the Ferengi.
For one thing, this episode is almost entirely about the Ferengi. I believe this is the first time Quark references the Rules of Acquisition. For one, it seems “no refunds” is in there somewhere, and Rom broke that one somehow. We also learn it’s OK to screw over a relative in the name of profit, so that goes a long way to explain the ending.
Likewise, Nog may be struggling in school, and while I get the show maybe didn’t want to have to bring the actress who plays Keiko back for budgetary reasons, it sure does seem weird that when she’s gone for a long period of time that her husband is the substitute teacher. Do they not have teacher certification in the 24th century? And did they really expect the Ferengi to write an essay on ethics?
I mean, the Ferengi have ethics, but it probably wouldn’t match up well with, say, everyone else’s.
Oh, and Vulcans stole his essay? Wow. Clearly that excuse sucks.
But I’ll say something about Nog later. Most of this episode is about Quark and his first of many encounters with the leader of all Ferengi: Grand Negas Zek. Who decided to cast Wallace Shawn as Zek? That’s a stroke of genius right there. And the make-up for this guy? The hair in his extra-large, even by Ferengi standards, ears is rather cool. The Ferengi-headed staff, the robes, the sneering looks he gives everyone, it’s all appropriate.
And then he names Quark his successor since he wants to retire. Why Quark? Good question. Quark has a bar by a stable wormhole. And…that’s it. He doesn’t seem to be a very high-ranking member of Ferengi society. Heck, he was picked as a host because Zek wants to expand business to the wormhole and Quark’s place was right there. He isn’t even given a seat at the literal big table.
And then Zek dies just as Quark is starting to realize how dangerous being Grand Negas is. When the only Ferengi Quark can even come close to trusting is his brother Rom, and he keeps insulting Rom when Rom asks to run the bar, well, is it really a surprise Rom and Zek’s son Krax (who sounds a lot like Zek in the voice, so another smart move there) try to kill Quark in the end?
The real surprise may be Zek isn’t dead. Odo found him. Zek really wanted to retire and was testing Krax to see if the lad could figure out how to be the real power behind Quark’s throne before eventually taking it. Moving so quickly to violence means Krax failed and Zek has to take his title back.
And Quark was so impressed by Rom’s assassination attempt, he gives Rom a new title at the bar, which works for Rom even if it doesn’t actually mean anything.
That’s actually something of a theme to this episode in the form of fathers and sons. Sisko is struggling to keep Jake away from Nog, Rom punishes Nog by sending him to bed early with instructions not to study, and the whole Zek/Krax thing. Heck, Dax mentions she’s been a parent, both a mother and father, multiple times and wasn’t very good at it at any time, and O’Brien’s own parenting advice makes Sisko smile a little since O’Brien’s daughter is still a toddler.
But the difference is striking at the end. Jake is sneaking off to see Nog after Rom pulls Nog from the school. Sisko eventually tracks his son down, only to see Jake is teaching Nog how to read. And Sisko, being a good man, opts to let Jake continue seeing his friend. So, if nothing else, there’s one good father to one good son on the station. And there’s probably nothing in the Rules of Acquisition about that.