Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn) comes to the station. He’s the aging leader of the Ferengi Alliance, and he names our buddy Quark as his replacement — to the shock of some gathered Ferengi who are much higher in the pecking order, including Zek’s son, Krax (Lou Wagner). Quark, initially thrilled at his stunning accession, spends the rest of the episode dodging attempts on his life, including one involving his doofy brother Rom (Max Grodénchik) that Odo stops. But it was all a ploy by Zek, who’s still alive, to test Krax to see if he’s ready to take over. Convinced he’s not, Zek resumes his post, and Quark congratulates Rom on his cunning. Or something.
Why it’s important
The Ferengi are a major Alpha Quadrant race. They, of course, were the aborted main villains on TNG, so DS9 took them and used them (mostly) as comic fodder for an episode or two for the next seven seasons. This episode is the first glimpse we get into the Ferengi’s government structure — essentially, a bunch of conniving businessmen plotting in a room — and Zek’s character shows up a lot over the next seven years. Quark’s odd standing as a bartender/shadowy character near the wormhole is sort of established here, too — as is his odd relationship with Odo.
What doesn’t hold up
What can I say? I largely hate the Ferengi.
While some characters (Quark and later, his nephew, Nog) become more than cliches over the years, most Ferengi are just annoying. Zek and Rom have moments where they’re acceptable in future episodes, but the obvious and weak plays for laughs just make me wonder how much stronger DS9 would have been if the 10-14 episodes devoted to Ferengi goofiness had focused on something else (like, almost anything else). In other words, if a Ferengi episode were anyone’s introduction to DS9, I can totally understand why they didn’t stick with the show.
That said, “The Nagus” is not an awful episode — particularly compared with most Ferengi fare — but it’s just not very good. Shawn actually makes Zek as acceptable as possible and the twist in here is somewhat unpredictable. So, I guess if you were to watch a Ferengi episode, this is one that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed like, say, “Ferengi Love Songs” or “Profit and Lace”.
My biggest problem is that the Ferengi just seem too dim-witted to have achieved as much as they’ve apparently achieved. How does a species of morons have a space empire? The only plausible theory I have on this — which we’ll discuss later — comes in my attempts to retcon poor writing. Stick with me on this …
Nog, who’s essentially illiterate in DS9’s first two seasons, learns enough in less than a year to make him a viable candidate for Starfleet Academy by the third season! Either the acceptance criteria really fell after Wesley Crusher’s failed attempts in early TNG or Ferengi can process information at an incredibly fast rate — which would explain how Nog got so learned so fast. It also MIGHT explain how a bunch of apparent doofs somehow built a large space empire. They’re socially awkward and act like morons, but they can absorb information quickly.
Oh, and one last thought: What the hell happened to Krax after this episode? We see a lot of Zek over the years and we see him eventually name his successor. Hint: It’s not Krax.
All that said, the Ferengi characters can be used effectively in non-Ferengi episodes. Quark and Rom were both actually pretty well used in “Sacrifice of Angels” — arguably DS9’s most important episode — and Nog becomes an interesting character in the later seasons. I don’t hate episodes that include Ferengi. I just hated the vast majority of Ferengi-centric episodes.
I guess we have “The Nagus” to thank for paving the way for all of them. And that’s unfortunate.
Last point, while the Ferengi had already been somewhat downgraded since they initially appeared as TNG’s main bad guys, this episode, I think, really made them into second-rate powers who are mostly used for “comedy”. It’s worth noting that there’s little talk of Ferengi warships or the Ferengi Alliance as a military organization after about the second season of TNG. In fact, there’s barely a hint of Ferengi involvement during the Dominion War in DS9’s final seasons — though every other Alpha Quadrant power’s involvement or lack thereof is addressed.
Coming next week …
We see Bajoran political angst and we meet a couple major players going forward.