“Rules of Acquisition”
Written by Hilary Bader and Ira Steven Behr
Directed by David Livingston
Season 2, Episode 7
Production episode 40512-427
Original air date: November 7, 1993
Station log: It’s late at night. Quark’s is closed, but he’s hosting a tongo game that includes a bunch of his Ferengi employees—and Dax. Among the Ferengi is the bar’s newest hire, Pel, who introduces Quark to sand peas, which make one thirsty without realizing it, thus making them drink faster and get refills sooner.
Their game is interrupted by Grand Nagus Zek, who assigns Quark to be his chief negotiator in the Gamma Quadrant. He’s opened relations with a race called the Dosi and wishes to meet with them on the station. Sisko and Kira are worried about whether or not they’ll be treated fairly, and Zek responds with a bribe: some fertilizer that Bajor could really use.
Zek’s plan is to get the Ferengi foot in the Gamma Quadrant door by buying tulaberry wine from the Dosi and setting up distribution for it. Rom is thrilled for Quark for getting this opportunity, but Pel preaches caution, as Quark is set up to be the fall guy if the negotiations fail. Quark decides to make Pel his assistant when he talks to the Dosi.
Later, Pel returns home to remove her ears. Pel is a female in disguise.
The Dosi announce their arrival by hurling their shuttle pilot through the airlock (“A minor disagreement”). The negotiations go tensely—the Dosi are very aggressive, and Quark is very much not. Zek makes it more complicated by raising the stakes, changing his request from 10,000 vats to 100,000 vats. Meanwhile, the Dosi are only offering 5,000 vats.
Dax sits down with Pel in the replimat. She sees that Pel is in love with Quark, but is surprised to learn that she’s a woman. Their conversation is interrupted by Quark, who takes Pel to continue the negotiations. But the increased offer scares the Dosi off, and they leave the station. Zek castigates Quark, but then Pel offers to chase the Dosi home and force them to sign the contract, using Zek’s ship. Impressed by the audacity, Zek agrees.
An overwhelmed Rom, left running the bar, decides to find out more about Pel (indirectly inspired by Odo). He tears apart Pel’s quarters, and finds her fake ears.
Quark manages to talk one of the Dosi, Inglatu, up to 10,000 vats, but he refuses to accept a deal for 100,000. Quark decides to stay the night and try again in the morning, which sends Pel into a tizzy—eventually resulting in a kiss. They’re interrupted (to the relief of them both) by the other Dosi, Zyree, who explains that Inglatu doesn’t have 100,000 vats, and neither does anyone else. For that much tulaberry wine they have to deal with the Karemma, one of the important races in the Dominion. Zyree makes it clear that if they want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, they’ll need to deal with the Dominion.
Quark sees it all now: Zek wanted to find the real power in the Gamma Quadrant, hence the unreasonable demands for more tulaberry wine than it would be possible to fulfill. Zek is thrilled, having only heard rumors about the Dominion, and offers Quark a share of all Gamma Quadrant profits.
Then Rom tells Quark that Pel is female, and Pel herself confirms it. Quark bribes Rom to forget about it, because if Zek finds out he was fooled by a heretical female (she wears clothes! earns profit! quotes the Rules of Acquisition!blasphemy!), Quark will be ruined. He fires her, sending her as far away from the station as possible, giving her ten bars of latinum so she can start a new life.
Pel, however, hasn’t left, instead intruding on Zek’s dinner with Quark and Rom and ripping her ears off. Zek is disgusted, and threatens Quark and Pel with imprisonment for taking financial advice from a female. Quark points out that Zek would share the cell with them, as he also took financial advice from the same female. Zek is willing to let Pel’s true identity remain a secret, but at the cost of Quark’s Gamma Quadrant profits. Pel leaves after a kiss goodbye, and Quark pretends that he doesn’t have a care in the world. Dax, however, sees through it and knows that Quark will miss her as much as she will miss Quark.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko has to talk Zek into making the fertilizer a gift to Bajor, rather than 25% off (his first offer) or at cost (his second). Sisko makes it clear that the alternative would be to be forbidden from doing business on the station. Zek compliments him on his business acumen (“for a hoo-man”).
Don’t ask my opinion next time: According to Zek, Kira’s eyes “shine with the brilliance of Kibberian fire diamonds.” According to Kira, Ferengi are “greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls.” I’d say they’re both right.
The slug in your belly: Dax plays tongo with the Ferengi. It was Curzon who first learned the game, and who played quite a bit, but Jadzia is a much better player than Curzon ever was.
Rules of Acquisition: Fittingly, given the title, we get a whole mess of Rules: #21 (“Never place friendship above profit”), #22 (“A wise man can hear profit in the wind”), #33 (“It never hurts to suck up to the boss”), #48 (“The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife”), #59 (“Free advice is seldom cheap”), #62 (“The riskier the road, the greater the profit”), and the beginning of #103 (“Sleep can interfere with—”) but Pel was interrupted before she could finish quoting it.
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Once, Quark invited Dax to the holosuite, where he re-created her childhood bedroom, based on an overheard conversation between her and Kira. He got most of the details wrong, and tried to kiss her, but she still thought it was sweet.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Pel is in love with Quark, and kisses him. He tries to forget it, but then when he finds out she’s female, he faints (a beautiful fall by Armin Shimerman).
Meanwhile, Zek hits on Kira throughout the episode, including sending her a gift of a latinum earring. Kira is, to say the least, not interested, but her disinterest bordering on revulsion doesn’t even slow him down. When she returns the earring, he asks, “I suppose a night of wild, passionate romance is out of the question?”
Keep your ears open: “Let me remind you that taking business advice from a female is a violation of Ferengi law.”
“I didn’t know she was a female.”
“Stupidity is no excuse. Now one more word out of you and you are going to share her cell.”
“Then you’d better make sure it’s big enough for three.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I wonder what your associates will say when I tell them you allowed a female to represent you in a business negotiation.”
“I didn’t know she was a female.”
“Stupidity is no excuse.”
Zek threatening Quark and Quark giving Zek the exact same threat back at him.
Welcome aboard: Hélène Udy does a fine job as Pel, while Max Grodénchik, Tiny Ron, and Wallace Shawn all return as Rom, Maihar’du, and Zek, respectively. Emilia Crow and Brian Thompson play the two Dosi, the latter making his second of five appearances on Trek, the first being as Klag on TNG’s “A Matter of Honor,” his next being Lursa & B’Etor’s helm officer in Star Trek Generations; he’ll be back as a Jem’Hadar in “To the Death.”
Trivial matters: This is the first mention of the Dominion, the great power in the Gamma Quadrant, a nation that will become somewhat important as the show progresses. (Ahem.) The Karemma are also mentioned for the first time. “The Search, Part 1” will establish that the Ferengi do commence a tulaberry wine trade with the Karemma after this episode.
Zek and Maihar’du make what is now set as their annual appearance, having appeared in “The Nagus” in season one. The streak will be broken only in the fourth season (but made up for by two appearances in the seventh). They’ll be back in the third season’s “Prophet Motive.”
We get our first look at the Ferengi game tongo, which is part card game, part roulette, and in which players can acquire, confront, evade, or retreat. (Amusingly, the word tongo is a term in Spanish for cheating in a sporting event. I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence.)
The Dosi are never seen again, though they’re mentioned occasionally, and are fleshed out in Last Unicorn’s DS9 Core Game Book. Michael Westmore based the Dosi makeup on the colorations used by tribes in Borneo and the South Seas.
Pel is also never seen again onscreen, but she shows up in the novella “Reservoir Ferengi” by David A. McIntee in Seven Deadly Sins. However, Quark will take her advice and start stocking sand peas in the bar, as we’ll see Bashir and O’Brien eating them in “The Way of the Warrior.”
The first time this episode aired in November 1993, the title was spelled “Rules of Aquisition,” without the C. It was corrected in all subsequent reruns and on various home video releases. But I still have my VHS tape from 20 years ago with the typo....
Walk with the Prophets: “Shame on you!” There’s a lot to like about this episode: the triumphant return of Wallace Shawn as Zek, Brian Thompson playing Inglatu basically as Brian Thompson, the entertaining contrast of Kira’s and Dax’s responses to the Ferengi, Dax seeing that Pel loves Quark without realizing that Pel’s a woman (possibly the most gay-friendly moment in Star Trek screenhistory), and the sheer audacity of introducing so important a thing as the Dominion in a Ferengi comedy episode—but it doesn’t really cohere very well. The plot just sort of meanders from one point to the next.
The episode wants to address the absurdity of sexism, but it never really commits to any particular notion. Pel is an interesting character, who earns Quark’s respect (and Rom’s ire), but she ruins all of it by letting her infatuation with Quark get in the way of her mission, which is to earn profit as a female. It cuts the episode off at the knees by not letting her be what she can be because of a romance. Meanwhile, you have Dax—with the benefit of three hundred years of experience—taking a philosophical attitude (they’re assholes, but once you accept that they’re assholes, they’re kinda fun to hang out with), and Kira, who is repulsed by Zek’s advances. Indeed, we see Quark do this all the time, too, and Zek does it here: flirting heavily with women who are nothing like Ferengi women (Dax, Kira, the dabo girls, etc.) because their own society has rendered their women uninteresting. But the script never really commits to that, either, just sort of letting it lie there. (The show will do a little better with this when we meet Quark and Rom’s mother in “Family Business” next season.)
But the worst sin is the neutering of Quark. Armin Shimerman deserves so much better than this, and while he does have one shining moment (when he defends Pel to Zek and points out that Zek also took business advice from a female), he mostly spends the episode being utterly ineffective, mostly in order to make Pel look good. Even though we’ve seen Quark close plenty of deals, he falls apart in the face of the Dosi, and we never get any good sense of what his true feelings are toward Pel. He gets rid of her as soon as he realizes she’s female, and cares enough to defend her to Zek, but does he love her or does he regret losing a good advisor? Again, the episode doesn’t commit to it. Shimerman does do a great faint, though....
Warp factor rating: 5
Rewatcher’s note: There’s only a few days left for my Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel based on the universe of my novel Dragon Precinct and its sequels. Art will be by JK Woodward (the artist on the Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover comic book). Please check it out and spread the word!
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Shore Leave 35 in Hunt Valley, Maryland this weekend. His schedule is here, including a self-defense workshop Saturday evening at 6pm. Among the other guests are fellow Star Trek prose stylists Lorraine Anderson, Christopher L. Bennett, Kirsten Beyer, Greg Cox, A.C. Crispin, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Allyn Gibson, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Jim Johnson, Paul Kupperberg, William Leisner, David Mack, Marco Palmieri, Aaron Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Schoen, Melissa Scott, Amy Sisson, Howard Weinstein, and Richard C. White, among many others. Oh, yeah, some obscure Canadian actor named Shatner will be there, too…