“Little Green Men”
Written by Toni Marberry & Jack Treviño and Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by James L. Conway
Season 4, Episode 7
Production episode 40514-480
Original air date: November 15, 1995
Station log: Nog is engaging in a ritual whereby a Ferengi boy leaves home for the first time and raises capital by selling his boyhood possessions. In this case, he’s off to attend Starfleet Academy. Quark drags Rom away from this flea market because their cousin Gaila has finally, after ten years, made good on the promise the latter made when Quark loaned him the money to start up his munitions consortium: he gave Quark a ship. Since Quark doesn’t trust his cousin, he wants Rom to give it a once-over.
But to Rom’s shock and Quark’s glee, the ship is perfect. No flaws whatsoever. Quark wants to take it for a test flight, so he decides to bring Nog to Earth to report to the Academy.
Nog and Jake have one last hang-out at the railing over the promenade, and Bashir and O’Brien give him a going-away present: a guidebook to Earth (which, disappointingly, does not have the words “Don’t panic!” inscribed on the cover in large friendly letters…). Jake walks Nog to the airlock, and off goes the vessel Quark’s Treasure toward Earth. En route, Rom reveals that he knows the real reason for Quark being so generous: he’s smuggling kemocite. Rom is willing to stay quiet about it for 20% of the profits. As for Nog, a Starfleet cadet is obligated to report any illegal activity to his superiors—but he hasn’t been sworn in yet, so he takes 10%.
When they approach Earth, they can’t take the ship out of warp. Apparently the command sequencer was designed to fail. Nog points out that Gaila never did like Quark much. Rom pulls some technobabble out of his ass, using the kemocite to trigger a reaction, and the ship comes out of warp—
—but also travels back in time to July 1947. The ship crashes in a farm in the American Southwest, and the farmer brings it to the Army’s attention. Quark, Rom, and Nog wake up locked in a lab, being observed by General Denning, Captain Wainwright, Professor Carlson, and Nurse Garland. Unfortunately, communication is difficult as their universal translators (which for Ferengi are implanted in the ears) are on the fritz. When the Ferengi bang their ears, the humans do likewise, thinking it’s a form of communication. Nog recognizes the uniforms from his guidebook as being from the 20th century, and he also recalls that humans used crude nuclear fission for weapons, which would account for the interference with the translators. There’s also a stray dog wandering around the base.
Quark is generally appalled at the humans’ stupidity—banging their ears, irradiating their planet, smoking tobacco—and sees a perfect opportunity for fleecing. Once Rom gets the translators working, Quark introduces himself as the “chief financial officer of the Ferengi Alliance,” and he has a business proposition for them. He offers Denning warp drive and transporter technology and 24th-century medicine and replicators and phasers, disruptors, and photon or quantum torpedoes. Denning doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions, but Quark also mentions that, if the general won’t go for it, he can always go to another nation-state—the Russians, say.
Carlson talks with Rom and Nog about various Ferengi traditions while also petting the stray dog. When Quark returns, the humans leave, but the dog stays behind—and then changes shape into Odo. He knew about the kemocite smuggling and hid on Quark’s Treasure, and now he’s stuck with them. He’s located the ship and determined that the engines are functioning. Rom’s figured out a way to get them back to the future (ahem) involving the kemocite and an energy source—but Quark doesn’t want to go back. Unlike the humans of the Federation, the greedy, venal, corrupt 20th-century humans are ones he can understand, exploit, and manipulate, and he figures to be running the planet inside a year.
President Truman apparently isn’t convinced by Quark’s sincerity (smart man, was Truman), and puts Denning in charge of finding out more—Denning in turn has Wainwright interrogate them. Unfortunately for them, sodium pentathol doesn’t work on Ferengi—unfortunately for Quark, they don’t accept this until after Garland’s stuck him with his fifth needle. So Wainwright threatens Quark with a scalpel to his throat. Rom, of course, breaks first and tells the truth about their accidentally travelling back in time—punctuated by a plaintive cry of, “I want my Moogie!”—which Wainwright doesn’t actually believe.
So Nog tells Wainwright what he expects: they’re the advance scouts of a Ferengi invasion force. Wainwright almost grins: “I knew it!” Nog proceeds to give all the details of the fake invasion. When he goes to show Wainwright the spot on the map where the first Klingon shock troops will land, he elbows the captain in the gut. With the help of Garland and Carson, they take down the other MPs. Odo helps them escape the general and more MPs. There’s a bomb detonation scheduled in Nevada for 5am, and Rom can use the detonation to ignite the kemocite.
It works, of course, and they’re contacted by Earth for a tow. Quark has to sell the ship to pay for passage home, but Quark, Rom, and Odo drop Nog off at the Academy and get back to DS9—at which point Odo arrests Quark for kemocite smuggling.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The quintessential technobabble conversation between Rom and Quark:
“The kemocite! If we vent plasma from the warp core into the cargo hold, we may be able to start a cascade reaction in the kemocite. Then we can modulate the reaction to create an inversion wave in the warp field and force the ship back into normal space! If I time it just right, I should be able to get us close enough to Earth to make an emergency landing!”
“Rom, you’re a genius!”
“You think so?”
“How should I know? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko makes it clear to the entire senior staff that it’s important for them to attend Nog’s sale. Given that he sponsored Nog’s application, this makes sense (it’s also the only reason why Worf attends).
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira discovers among Nog’s sale items her springball racquet that had been missing for years. Nog feigns surprise at its presence rather poorly.
The slug in your belly: Dax buys Bashir Nog’s favorite holosuite program (which is very obviously porn). So Bashir is given an adolescent Ferengi’s favorite holosuite program by his erstwhile lust object. That’s not weird at all…
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo’s appearance in 1947 is a delightful surprise, as the dog running around the Army base just comes across as an extra bit of business, a stray that wandered in, barely noticed by anyone. And the episode is set up in such a way that we don’t expect to see any of the non-Ferengi cast except maybe at the very end. He winds up saving the day, since he can sneak around and effect repairs to Quark’s Treasure so they can take off, plus it gives Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman more opportunities to snark at each other, never a bad thing.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf is apprehensive about a Ferengi in Starfleet, prompting O’Brien to remind him that someone probably said the same thing about a Klingon in Starfleet back when he applied to the Academy. Worf is equally apprehensive about being at Nog’s sale, but then he finds that Nog has a tooth-sharpener for sale, and he eagerly asks, “How much?” after trying it out. (Ew…)
Rules of Acquisition: We once again hear Rule #62, “The riskier the road, the greater the profit” (first quoted in “Rules of Acquisition”), and also get Rule #203: “New customers are like razor-toothed gree worms—they can be succulent, but sometimes they bite back,” which would prove prophetic.
We also learn that the Ferengi have universal translators implanted in their ears and that as a civilization, they didn’t discover warp drive, they bought it, though Nog is interrupted by Quark before he can identify the seller.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Carlson and Garland are engaged, because of course they are, and they’re regularly distracted with talk of their impending nuptials. And they share a big kiss at the end.
There’s also a bit where Nog asks Garland to massage his ears again, with Garland blissfully (and creepily) unaware of the fact that it’s an erogenous zone.
Keep your ears open: “All I ask is a tall ship, and a load of contraband to fill it with.”
Quark, repurposing John Masefield’s famous quote, “All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”—quoted (for realsies) by Kirk in “The Ultimate Computer” and Star Trek V, and also on the dedication plaque of the Defiant.
Welcome aboard: Charles Napier returns to Star Trek in a role that is 180 degrees from his first one, as one of the space hippies in “The Way to Eden”—here, he’s the cigar-chomping General Denning. (Amusingly, both Jonathan Haze, who starred in Roger Corman’s TheLittle Shop of Horrors, and Gregory Walcott, who starred in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, auditioned for the role of Denning.) Napier would go on to appear in an episode of the TV series Roswell (a show for which Ronald D. Moore served as co-executive producer), where he plays a character who was an Army officer who witnessed the 1947 UFO incident at Roswell, New Mexico.
Megan Gallager is back as Garland, having played Mareel in “Invasive Procedures”; she’ll be back in Voyager’s “Body and Soul.” Conor O’Farrell plays Carlson; he’ll be back twice on Enterprise in different roles in “Rogue Planet” and “Chosen Realm.” James G. MacDonald is perfectly cast as the spit-and-polish Wainwright in his only Trek role.
Trivial matters: This episode was, obviously, an homage to 1950s alien-invasion B-movies, with all the archetypal characters from those films. The characters were named after actors who appeared in such movies. Denning was named for Richard Denning, star of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Day the World Ended; Garland was named for Beverly Garland of Swamp Women and It Conquered the World; and Carlson was named for Richard Carlson of The Magnetic Monster and It Came from Outer Space.
The title is derived from a line of dialogue in another Trek time-travel episode, “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” when Captain Christopher says he’s “never believed in little green men.” Dayton Ward tied this episode together with that original series episode, by having Christopher debriefed by an older Wainwright in his short story “The Aliens are Coming!” in Strange New Worlds III. Wainwright and Carlson are also central characters in Ward’s novel From History’s Shadow, which is a semi-sequel to this episode (as well as “Assignment: Earth” on the original series and “Carbon Creek” and the Temporal Cold War storyline on Enterprise). Carlson also appeared in a supporting role in Greg Cox’s two-book series The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh.
This episode was originally pitched by Toni Marberry & Jack Treviño for the first season, but Michael Piller wasn’t enthused by it. By the time the fourth season rolled around, there was burgeoning interest in the Roswell UFO incident as its 50th anniversary approached, and Rene Echevarria suggested producing it. This episode proposes that the infamous incident in question was actually Quark’s Treasure crashing after travelling through time.
In 1980, James L. Conway directed a film called Hangar 18, which was about the Roswell incident. He lobbied to direct this episode for that reason, saying that it was “like coming full circle.”
The nuclear explosion footage was cleaned up from an original negative of a contemporary nuclear explosion.
The pinup calendar on the Army base has the caption “My Love Has Wings,” a reference to the poem “Nightingale Woman,” quoted by Gary Mitchell in the original series pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
At one point, Nog is reading the guidebook to Earth, and sees the same picture of “Gabriel Bell” that Sisko discovered at the end of “Past Tense, Part II.” When Nog asks if this Bell human looks like the captain, Quark just shrugs and says that all humans look alike to him.
Walk with the Prophets: “You mean your people are going to invade—Cleveland?” This is only not the perfect Star Trek comedy episode by virtue of the existence of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and it is a very close second.
Part of why this episode works so well is that it magnificently incorporates and sends up the tropes of alien-invasion B-movies of the period (which I admittedly have a huge fondness for). The hard-nosed military guys, the optimistic scientist, the compassionate nurse who’s engaged to the scientist—and then the capper on the whole thing is Nog’s fake story, which is right out of every pulp story about alien conquerors out to destroy the puny primitive humans. Everything from the haircuts to the music to the set design to the constant smoking to Garland’s overdone makeup to the clichéd dialogue to the military disdain for milksop scientists is right out of every ridiculous B-movie, and it’s awesome. Major points to Conor O’Farrell’s romantic nerdiness, Megan Gallagher’s sappy earnestness, James MacDonald’s straight-laced lunacy, and especially the great Charles Napier’s cigar-chomping sneer for perfectly selling their archetypes.
The whole thing is also inverted beautifully by Quark, who is in hog heaven in 20th century America. Even as all hell breaks loose, he keeps insisting that he has no political ambitions, no desire for conquest—“We just want to sell you things!” There’s also the usual Star Trek critique of the foibles of modern humans (poisoning the atmosphere, using nuclear weapons, smoking), but done in a manner that straddles the line between strident and hilarious.
Indeed, the climactic interrogation scene is a masterstroke, with Quark failing to maintain control as the man with the plan to make himself rich, Rom trying desperately to tell the truth to an unbelieving audience while wailing that he wants his Moogie, and Nog telling Wainwright what he wants to hear so he can get them free, culminating with Quark’s exasperated expression of gratitude to Carlson and Garland after they slug a couple of MPs: “couldn’t you have done that an hour ago?” Armin Shimerman, Max Grodénchik, and Aron Eisenberg have comfortably grown into a magnificent trio, and they don’t hit a single wrong note at any point.
On top of that, the opening is excellent too. The notion of a young Ferengi selling his boyhood items before going off to be a responsible profit-making adult is a perfect fit for Ferengi society as established, and also gives the rest of the cast a scene or two. Plus it moves Nog’s story forward. The notion of a Ferengi in Starfleet is a fascinating one, and this episode is an important step on Nog’s journey from the sneak-thief of “Emissary” to the guy who, in at least one future, as seen in “The Visitor,” is a captain. We see the makings of the good—and unique—officer Nog will become via his intelligence, his quick thinking, and his absorption of knowledge (his reading of the guidebook proves incredibly useful), without ever losing sight of the fact that he’s a Ferengi (best seen where he takes 10% of the profits of Quark’s illegal operation, on the theory that he hasn’t been sworn in as a cadet yet so he isn’t obligated to report his uncle).
The episode only loses a point because of the wholly gratuitous and kind of awful bit where Nog basically asks Garland to give him a hand job (an ear massage). That’s—just really wrong. It’s played for laughs, and it’s mostly harmless, but it’s not completely harmless and it just, well, rubs me the wrong way. (Sorry…) It’s the only blight on an otherwise delightful and hilarious episode.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido (who will be at MystiCon 2014 this weekend along with John “Q” deLancie; check his schedule here) is running a Kickstarter for a new story in the Dragon Precinct universe, featuring the characters of Gan Brightblade and his friends from that novel. He hopes you’ll support it—just two bucks will get you a copy of the story itself! If we reach $2500 there’ll be cookies! Details can be found here.