STAR TREK REWIND: “False Profits”

“We have to out-Ferengi… the Ferengi.”

Captain Janeway? Neelix? The crew of Voyager? Outwitted by a couple of Ferengi on a distant planet in the Delta Quadrant? Is this possible? The U.S.S. Voyager picks up what appears to be a wormhole and investigate a nearby Class-M planet where Chakotay and Paris discover something less than a primitive, bartering culture transformed into a capitalist nightmare. The two Ferengi, Kol and Arridor (last seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Price”) have used their Rules of Acquisition to influence the outwardly amiable natives to turn them into money-hungry peasants.

Even though this blatant exploitation would not fall under “interference” (at least as far as the Federation’s Prime Directive is concerned), Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) correctly reasons that the Ferengi presence in the Delta Quadrant is their responsibility. At first, she tries to intimidate them, but the Ferengi use some kind of circular logic trick, that if their arrival was heralded by the culture’s prophecies, Janeway would be persecuting an alien race’s religion. So Janeway lets them go back to the planet, which is unbelievable to me.

Next, she tries to trick them, by surgically altering Neelix (played by Ethan Phillips, who had played a Ferengi before and would go on to play a Ferengi after) to appear as a “Grand Proxy” sent to deliver Kol and Arridor to the Grand Nagus. Again, they outwit Janeway and Neelix by making up their own rules (“If no rules apply, make one up.”). They try to kill Neelix, who confesses his true identity to them. Luckily, the religion works for them in this instance as there were additional tales told of the arrival of the “Holy Pilgrim” who would take the Sages away with him.

Kol and Arridor’s scheming, somewhat bitter assistant, Kafar (Rob LaBelle), interprets “the wings of fire” passage in the prophecy to mean that they should tie up the three Sages and burn them at the stake. Funny how easily religious interpretation leads to setting people on fire. Adding insult to injury, Kol and Arridor manage to escape in their ship through the wormhole back to the Alpha Quadrant. This may, historically, be the first time in Star Trek our heroes are so easily and efficiently foiled by a lesser power.

Ferengi, while conniving, greedy, and, in my opinion, the most repulsive species ever introduced to the franchise, were never shown as being particularly shrewd and adroit. Motivated by capitalistic greed and a bizarre patriarchy, Ferengi seem more interested in the acquisition of wealth rather than theological and political power. Perhaps Janeway and her crew underestimated these Ferengi. “False Profits” would be a brilliant episode (in contending with god-like figures and the exploitation of primitive cultures) if it did not revolve around the Ferengi.

Perhaps the writers saw the Ferengi as an easy fit when it came to devious behavior and the fervor of greed, as well as a welcome respite from an overdose of drama after the first four humorless episodes that opened Voyager’s third season. The Ferengi, though selfish and materialistic, are considered comic relief in the 24th century. They were introduced as being formidable foes in The Next Generation’s first season episode, “The Last Outpost,” but they were very quickly made to be buffoons later in that same episode.

It’s somewhat embarrassing just how easily they outwit Janeway, Neelix, Paris, and Chakotay in this episode. If only it had been another race from the Delta Quadrant, but the writers wanted closure for Kol and Arridor as well as once again providing an easy exit for Voyager, only to remove it from them and put them back on a slow course for home. Sometimes these episodes remind me of Gilligan’s Island. Of course, if they had just offered up Gilligan as some kind of island sacrifice, they would’ve gotten off the damned island in record time.

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