Dec 13 2013 4:00pm

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Prophet Motive”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive“Prophet Motive”
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Rene Auberjonois
Season 3, Episode 16
Production episode 40512-462
Original air date: February 20, 1995
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Quark’s deal with a woman named Emi—who is giving Quark oo-mox while they finalize a deal for self-sealing stembolts—is interrupted by the arrival of Grand Nagus Zek and Maihar’du, who have decided to move into Quark’s quarters, which means that Quark has to live with Rom.

Bashir has been nominated for the Carrington Award, the most prestigious medical award in the Federation. Everyone is thrilled—except for Bashir, who isn’t making a big fuss about it, mainly because the Carrington is supposed to be a lifetime achievement award, and he thinks he’s too young. Dax is impressed with his maturity.

Quark and Rom are having difficulty living together to say the least. Quark is fed up with Rom’s sloppiness and the many items from his store room in Rom’s quarters, and Rom is fed up with Quark’s constant mumbling. They go to Quark’s quarters to confront the grand nagus—

—only to find Zek in a happy, friendly, voluble mood. He’s gotten rid of all Quark’s furniture, as it distracted him from his work: revising the Rules of Acquisition. Quark and Rom are excited right up until the part where they read the revised edition, which turn out to be a repudiation of the previous Rules, from the first (“If they want their money back, give it to them,” a reversal of “Once you have their money, you never give it back”) to the last (“A good deed is its own reward,” replacing “No good deed ever goes unpunished”). Quark and Rom pour over the new Rules, hoping against hope that it’s a trick or a code or a test or something. Quark says they should play along with what they figure has to be a scheme by Zek, and act as if they know nothing. (“I can do that!” Rom says enthusiastically.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

Zek arrives at the bar and buys drinks for everyone. He says he’s given up Hupyrian beetle snuff (it’s fun for him, but not so much fun for the beetle), and he also turned Emi onto a new source for stembolts at wholesale. Quark is devastated to say the least (he’s now stuck with a butt-load of stembolts and probably won’t be getting any oo-mox), while Zek insists that he’ll eventually sell the stembolts at a fair price.

O’Brien and Bashir play darts in the cargo bay. O’Brien says many of the same things to Bashir that Bashir said to Dax about how he has little to no chance of winning the Carrington. Coming from someone else, it grates more on Bashir....

Zek has formed the Ferengi Benevolent Association and made Rom and Quark both senior administrators. At this point, Quark is convinced that something is horribly wrong with Zek, but Bashir gives the grand nagus a clean bill of health. So Rom and Quark try to break into Zek’s shuttle before they’re caught by Maihar’du—only to be caught by Maihar’du. Luckily, Maihar’du is just as disturbed by Zek’s behavior and he opens the hatch for them to reveal a gift that Zek plans to give (not sell to) the Bajoran people: the Orb of Wisdom, one of the Orbs of the Prophets that had gone missing.

Quark accidentally opens it and has an Orb experience. He’s in the bar with Zek, and it’s revealed to him that he got the new Rules from the wormhole aliens. According to Zek’s personal logs, he obtained the Orb from a contact on Cardassia III, then went to the wormhole, made it about halfway, then reversed course and came to Deep Space 9. Quark needs to fix this....

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

Odo comes to Bashir with a bit of gossip he got from a friend in Starfleet Intelligence that the person everyone thinks is most likely to win the Carrington isn’t going to win it—which means it could go to anybody, even Bashir. Bashir insists it doesn’t change anything and he doesn’t care all that much—which leads Odo to ask why he’s working on his acceptance speech. The chagrined Bashir doesn’t have a good answer for that.

Quark’s plan is to kidnap Zek, which he does with help from Rom and Maihar’du (well, mostly Maihar’du, who grabs Zek and puts him in a sack). Quark then flies Zek’s shuttle, with Zek in the copilot seat (still in a sack) to the wormhole. He opens the box with the Orb of Wisdom, and then he meets the wormhole aliens. They ask if “The Sisko” sent him—Sisko taught them about linear time and corporeal life—but Quark wants to know about “The Zek.” They found Zek adversarial and intrusive with his requests to learn the future “before the game is played” (yes, they remember Sisko’s baseball analogy from “Emissary”). They de-evolved Zek to a type of Ferengi that existed before they were as avaricious as they are now. They find Quark annoying and wish to do the same to him—but Quark convinces them not to. If they de-evolve him, too, more Ferengi will come to the wormhole to find out what happens—but if they restore Zek and leave Quark alone, they’ll never deal with the Ferengi again.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

That’s good enough for them. They send Quark back, Zek is now ready to sell the Orb to the Bajorans, and Quark couldn’t be more relieved. Zek orders all copies of the revised Rules destroyed and all evidence of the FBA eradicated. Quark is happy to have Zek back, he’s just disappointed that he didn’t earn any profit. (It’s never made clear whether or not he got any of his furniture back...) However, Rom was the chief administrator of the FBA—a prime position from which to embezzle funds.

Speaking of being disappointed, Bashir doesn’t win the Carrington, as expected. But it still stings….

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

The Sisko is of Bajor: This is the first time the wormhole aliens refer to “The Sisko,” and they credit him with teaching them how to deal with corporeal linear beings. Not that they do all that stellar a job with it this time ’round....

The slug in your belly: Dax is the one who put Bashir’s name into the Carrington Award pool.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: For the first time ever, we see Odo indulge in gossip-mongering, which is actually kind of hilarious.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

Rules of Acquisition: Among Zek’s revised Rules of Acquisition, created after the wormhole aliens de-evolved him, besides the two mentioned above: “Greed is dead” (#10, a reversal of “Greed is eternal”), “Never place profit before friendship” (#21, a reversal of “Never place friendship above profit”), “Latinum tarnishes, but family is forever” (#22, replacing “A wise man can hear profit in the wind”), and “Money can never replace dignity” (#23, replacing “Nothing is more important than your health, except for your money,” which will be established in Enterprise’s “Acquisition”).

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Quark finds someone who will not only pay absurd prices for his self-sealing stembolts, but she’s willing to give him all the oo-mox he wants. It’s the perfect deal until Zek shows up to, er, blow it.

Keep your ears open: “It must be some kind of code. Read me the first word of every Rule.”

“If. Never. Keep. Profit. A. Good. Smile. Honesty.”

“Aha! If never keep profit a good smile honesty.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means—absolutely nothing.”

Quark and Rom’s desperate attempt to find a secret meaning in Zek’s revised Rules.

Welcome aboard: Wallace Shawn and Tiny Ron are back as Zek and Maihar’du, as is Max Grodénchik as Rom. Juliana Donald plays Emi.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

Trivial matters: This is Rene Auberjonois’s first time in the Trek director’s chair (he did previously direct two episodes of the short-lived Marblehead Manor). He will direct seven more, including two other Ferengi episodes, “Family Business” and “Ferengi Love Songs.”

Auberjonois and director of photography Jonathan West used the same technique to show communication with the wormhole aliens that director David Carson and DP Marvin Rush used in “Emissary,” which would continue to be the style used for such scenes moving forward.

This episode was inspired by a story by William N. Stape, who received no credit. Stape similarly inspired the story for TNG’s “Homeward,” for which he did receive a closing credit; it’s unknown why he didn’t receive a like credit here.

One of the empties in Rom’s quarters is Aldebaran whiskey, first seen being drunk by Scotty and Picard in TNG’s “Relics.”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

This is the first appearance of O’Brien and Bashir’s dart board, which will eventually become a fixture in Quark’s. After the racquetball court from “Rivals” proved too difficult to reconstruct, they needed a new game for the two of them to play that would allow conversation. Voyager already had a holodeck pool table, and TNG had done cards with Riker’s weekly poker game, so they settled on darts.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

Another Carrington Award nominee, Chirurgeon Ghee P’Trell, appears in your humble rewatcher’s Articles of the Federation as the head of Starfleet Medical, and also appears in the Star Trek Online game. The award itself is also mentioned in the novels Crucible: Provenance of Shadows by David R. George III (which establishes that Dr. McCoy won the award once) and Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno, and in the Slings and Arrows eBook The Insolence of Office by William Leisner.

Tiny Ron gets to speak dialogue for the first time in this episode, but only when he plays one of the wormhole aliens using Maihar’du as an avatar. Ron will get dialogue in his two appearances on Voyager as an Alpha Hirogen in “Message in a Bottle” and “Hunters.”

Walk with the Prophets: “Your argument is specious.” For the most part this episode is a meringue: it’s fluffy, it’s harmless, it tastes good, but an hour after you eat it, you’re hungry again. It’s a good vehicle for Armin Shimerman and Max Grodénchik especially, who bounce off each other magnificently, and also for Tiny Ron, who gets a great deal out of Maihar’du’s confusion and sadness regarding Zek’s new philanthropic ways.


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Prophet Motive

But the episode just comes across as so—so meaningless. It seems unlikely that Zek’s going to be able to reverse the entirety of Ferengi life just by forming a Benevolent Association. At first, people would defer to Zek out of respect, but the more charitable endeavors he undertakes, the more likely he is to be overthrown.

Quark saves the Ferengi Alliance from that, but that brings us to the next problem. Zek isn’t suffering a psychic break or a psychological breakdown or early onset Alzheimer’s, but rather he’s been mentally messed with by the wormhole aliens.

Think about this for a second. These aliens barely even know what corporeal life is. Their interactions with linear time prior to this have been sending out Orbs that can tie into someone’s own mind and past and future, but that’s a far cry from specifically rewiring a corporeal being’s entire identity. And it’s not at all clear what the aliens gain from this mental rape of a person (and that’s what we’re talking about here, because no matter how much of a comic relief figure Zek is, he was still psychologically raped), nor why they thought it was a good idea. The aliens will, in the future, do other things that are pretty ethically dodgy to say the least, but all those other things will, to some degree, fall into the purview of what is believed possible by them.

This? Not so much. And it proves both anti-climactic and really really creepy all at the same time.

The B-plot is barely worth mentioning. It’s cute watching Bashir try to be mature and accepting and not actually being allowed to by his friends who all want him to succeed, to the point where he really does give a damn about the award by the time he doesn’t get it at the end. But the story has no substance, no real meaning—it’s a diversion from the Ferengi that gives the rest of the cast something else to do. The only time it’s really interesting is when Quark throws Bashir’s likelihood of not winning the award in the doctor’s face when he gives Zek a clean bill of health.


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido has actually written a piece of Ferengi-focused fiction, the “Ferenginar” portion of Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Volume 3, published in 2005. It makes basically no reference whatsoever to this episode. Which is fine.

Mike Kelmachter
1. MikeKelm
Not only is this episode meaningless, it's also recyclingthe ending from "Clues" in TNG. For those who don't want to read KRADs most excellent review of it, it got a 5 out of 10 and ended with the all powerful aliens pulling out the deus ex machina reset button ending. While this episode doesn't perfectly reset (Quark still has a boatload of self sealing stembolts and no furniture or oo-mox) it basically resets Zek back to what he was, without any sort of explanation as to why the wormhole aliens felt it necessary to do this or for that matter how they did it in the first place. If they have the power to rewrite peoples minds, why didn't they just erase Sisko's mind in "Emissary" and kick him out of the wormhole?
Matt Hamilton
2. MattHamilton
The only thing I can think of worth mentioning in this entire episode is the fact that it is interesting that it establishes the Ferengi as not entirely a greedy people.
The Rules of Aquisition are fun and interesting put put the period on them being a pretty vile people and that's kind of harsh. We really only get glimpses of their potential through Rom's niceness, Nog's willingness to be so un-Ferengi, and Quark occasionally showing his heart. But this establishes that the Ferengi were once a good people who didn't value profit above all life and good-will and that they can be that again...or a hybrid. Other than that, yes, meaningless and slightly creepy in the mind-rape thing. At least when Enterprise did it (with the Rape-Meld) they took it seriously, it had weight, and it showed through in future episodes as a traumatic experience. Here it's just "Ha Ha look what they did to the silly, wringly Zek!" and then he forgets about it later and Quark has no furniture.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
It's worth noting, though, that the subplot about Zek having an Orb to sell to the Bajorans -- which was pretty much abandoned onscreen -- was the basis for the plot of The 34th Rule, the DS9 novel that Armin Shimerman would later co-write in collaboration with David R. George III (who's gone on to write quite a few other Trek novels since, including several more DS9 books), with plot assistance from Eric A. Stilwell. Although that's a Quark-centric novel, it's a lot more dark and dramatic than the show's Ferengi episodes generally got.
Matt Hamilton
4. MattHamilton
I really need to catch up on my Star Trek novels, especially my DS9 novels. I just started the DS9 series and just finished Avatar Book 2 but I got jumbled and with my Next Gens I'm past the Destiny Trilogy and about to start Typhon Pact.

I like that Shimerman came back to revisit the character, much like Andrew Robinson did with his excellent A Stitch in Time, but that was written soley by Robinson.
adam miller
5. adamjmil
Hmmm thought there might be another reason why Bashir wouldn't want the publicity of winning....
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
This may well be the weakest of the Ferengi-centric episodes. As everyone has pointed out, there's no substance at all. Frankly, the best thing about it is probably the return of the self-sealing stembolts. Second best is Odo's gossip, which hearkens back very nicely to Ferris Bueller.

As I understand it, the B-plot was an in-joke. TNG had been up for some Emmy and, while they all knew they had no chance, they got rather caught up in the "what if", rather like Bashir.

@5 adamjmil
Certainly in retcon, there's another reason Bashir wouldn't want to win, but that hadn't been established by this point.
7. ChrisC
I would have hoped that, in the choice of darts, there was a little more thought given, other than mere simple elimination of various forms of static (for purposes of conversation) small team sports.
After both characters are generally accepted to have shared an origin in the wider the British Isles; the home of modern darts and the classic pub-darts combo!
Miles was from Killarney in what is now the Republic and whilst I don't think Julian's pre-Adigeon Prime birthplace was ever established onscreen, Ronald D Moore always thought of the character as British Arab or British Asian (in UK usage - south not east). Certainly they gave him British-sounding parents in 'Dr Bashir I presume' (with a delightful turn by Brian George using his adopted London accent).
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
@6: "This may well be the weakest of the Ferengi-centric episodes."

Just wait until we get to "Profit and Lace."
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
I had repressed that so deeply, that I had to go look it up at Memory Alpha. And it still doesn't really ring any bells. And it was voted the worst DS9 episode ever. Wow.

Ok, let's just call this a really weak Ferengi-centric episod.
Rob Rater
10. Quasarmodo
"Quark and Rom pour over the new Rules,"

I only point this out because this word's misspelling always stands out to me, but it should be "Quark and Rom pore over the new Rules".
11. Darth Touma
I thought the closing line was awesome, though.. Quark "You embezzled? From the Grand Nagus? Father would be proud.."
Heather Dunham
12. tankgirl73
Ditto to @10, it is indeed PORE in this context.

I didn't mind this one so much. As for the reset button, though, I've often wondered if the wormhole aliens didn't leave Zek still just a *teeny* bit changed, which accounts for his willingness to listen to Ishka later on...
13. T2o
yeah, from what i read in the DS9 companion, the writers of this episode used the B-plot with Bashir, as kind of a ribbing at the Emmys. The previous year, TNG had been nominated for best dramatic series, which everyone knew it wouldn't win.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
14. Lisamarie
I really did not quite get the whole Bashir plot, honestly, everybody on the station kind of came off as a jerk towards him - nominating for some award he had no hope of winning, and then constantly rubbing it in his face??? Maybe that would have worked in the first season where he was a bit more annoying.

As for the rest of it...I was definitely a bit chilled at the reveal that they had just decided to change him for their own purposes/amusement. Like...what? That's really pretty horrible. I was wondering if perhaps Zek had seen a future where their greed/avarice led them to a bad end, although I also knew that whatever changes were wrought in this episode would most likely be reversed anyway by the time the episode was over. Although perhaps it could have been interesting to explore the effect such changes would have and the gradual way they'd need to take place - but there's already too much going on in the show anyway.

Also, what happened to that starving planet that was going to get a grain shipment???

The one thing that made me laugh a bit is when Zek says they have to go 'beyond greed'. There's an order of (dissident) nuns near where I live who often talk about going 'beyond Jesus' and to be honest, it makes me shake my head a bit. Not my preferred flavor of Catholicism, let's just put it that way. So while I don't really enjoy the particulars of the Ferengi worldview, I can empathize a little with their confusion/angst over the whole thing.

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