Star Trek: Voyager: False Profits   Rewatch 
June 12, 2017 8:15 AM - Season 3, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Near a wormhole that connects to a distant part of the galaxy, Ferengi are scheming to... wait, which show is this, again?

Memory Alpha likes those shoes you're wearing, pilgrim:

- This episode is a sequel to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Price", which also features the characters of Arridor and Kol.

- Because Neelix poses as the Ferengi Grand Proxy in this episode, Neelix actor Ethan Phillips portrayed the faux Ferengi. Phillips previously played a real Ferengi, Dr. Farek, in TNG: "Ménage à Troi", and would later play another one, Ulis, in ENT: "Acquisition". Phillips said of this episode, "It was a lot of fun to do. I actually played a Ferengi before [...] so it was funny to get the Ferengi make-up on again."

- This episode's in-universe connections with the other Star Trek spin-off series do not only include the fact that Arridor and Kol appear in both this episode and TNG: "The Price"; the Barzan wormhole also features in both episodes, whereas the Rules of Acquisition and the Divine Treasury were introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It should also be noted that much of the premise of Voyager is based on references from TNG: "The Price", the first show to refer to the "Delta Quadrant" (Picard refers also to the Gamma Quadrant as the location of the other terminus of the Barzan wormhole in his opening Captain's log in TNG: "The Price", where the wormhole was originally believed to lead to) and establish its extreme distance, and tendency for unstable spatial phenomena, such as wormholes. Furthermore, the concept of Ferengi posing as gods harkens back to "Ferengi Gold", an abandoned two-parter planned by Gene Roddenberry to be included in Star Trek: The Next Generation's second season.

"My sandal shop is failing. I can no longer feed my family."
"Same old song."
"My wife and her mother, my five children, the baby."
"That's seven employees – eight, if you count the infant. How can your shop be failing?"
"You're not paying them, are you?"
- The sandal maker, Arridor and Kol

"And may I say gentlemen, you both have very fine shoes."
"Excuse me?"
"Well, the sages say you can tell a great deal about a man from his shoes, and I can tell from your shoes, you're men of refinement."

- Merchant to Tom Paris and Chakotay

"Arridor?"
"What is it now?"
"We had seven years of pure profit."
(laughing) "We did, didn't we?"

- Kol and Arridor while being burned

Poster's Log:

Kind of a disappointment, in no small part because of the ten percent rule, and also because the natives go for the ol' burning-at-the-stake option a little too quickly. In particular, it doesn't stack up well with its TNG predecessor, "The Price." The Ferengi in that episode weren't much of a much--I can't think of any Ferengi appearance in TNG that didn't make me cringe a little--but it had a solid, compelling villain in Ral, who combines the sort of bland good looks that I associate with TOS guest actors (he looks like he could be Jeffrey Hunter's younger brother) with a smooth amorality; it's a little startling to realize how much damage a non-projecting empath could do, in terms of manipulating people.

In this episode, the Ferengi come off better--DS9 improved their portrayal immensely--but there's still a lot of untapped potential in the story setup. I think that it's plausible that a couple of guys with a replicator could set themselves up as, if not actual gods or demigods, then at least a couple of miracle workers, and even destabilize the economy enough within seven years to the point where the natives are as dependent on them as they're shown as being in this episode, but I'd like there to be a bit more meat to the story than what we got. Part of what's lacking is due to the society seeming generally much more advanced than Bronze Age; for one thing, at one point the Ferengi bring out swords that look like steel, and they're using minted currency. They don't really look like the kind of people (if there really are or ever were that kind of people, anywhere) who haul out the wood and torches at the slightest suggestion from an ambiguous prophecy. There's a lot of interesting ground that could be covered WRT cargo cults, prosperity theology, and so on. The other thing I was wondering was, once Janeway had decided to interfere (and let me just pause to say how nice it was to show a genuine discussion in the staff meeting, with Janeway changing her mind based on the arguments of the other officers), why not simply set up their own rival miracle workers, ones who gave away their replicated stuff for free? Maybe with some talk of restoring their previous economy to where it was before the cargo cult gurus showed up?

Well, anyway. Again, Neelix had something pretty useful to do this episode; Ethan Phillips makes a good Ferengi. And it's fun to see the Rules of Acquisition quoted, although that may be DS9 nostalgia on my part.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Although he had few lines, I wanted to point out the presence of Kevin Peter Hall as Leyor in "The Price." Hall, who died in 1995, was probably best known as the Predator in the first two movies of that franchise, and I thought that the shape of the Caldonian skull was more than a bit evocative of that of the Yautja.
posted by Halloween Jack (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Shoot, Kevin Peter Hall died in 1991, that's even worse.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on June 12


I always enjoy this one, dopey though it is. Beltran has a couple of nice moments of actual comedy in here.

There's a lot of interesting ground that could be covered WRT cargo cults, prosperity theology, and so on.

I'm confident you're right, but I'm also confident VOY was never gonna be the show that would treat a Ferengi episode that way. DS9 could have. TNG…might have tried.

They don't really look like the kind of people (if there really are or ever were that kind of people, anywhere) who haul out the wood and torches at the slightest suggestion from an ambiguous prophecy.

Which is why I feel like VOY clearly wanted to go in the direction of straight-up farce here. See also the acting styles of the two main "natives," Eyepatch Man (whom we might remember as the villainous doctor from TNG: "First Contact"—the episode, not the movie) and Kafar (who also plays two apparently different Talaxians on VOY). And see also the fact that there's not really a theme or lesson or anything in this episode. (But I'm OK with that here.)

why not simply set up their own rival miracle workers, ones who gave away their replicated stuff for free? Maybe with some talk of restoring their previous economy to where it was before the cargo cult gurus showed up?

Well, at the risk of pushing my nerd glasses up my nose, it seems to me that VOY establishes canonically (if indirectly) the idea, established noncanonically by official Trek technical manuals, that replicators don't just conjure stuff out of thin air but require resource inputs—hence the references to "replicator rations" among the crew. If they have to ration 'em for just one crew of under 200, it might be tricky to supply a whole society.

it had a solid, compelling villain in Ral, who combines the sort of bland good looks that I associate with TOS guest actors (he looks like he could be Jeffrey Hunter's younger brother) with a smooth amorality

The actor also memorably played post-mental-institution Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld. "Let's all have a chew!"

And as long as we're playing the That Guy Who Was In That Thing game, the actors for Arridor and Kol both reprised their roles from "The Price" here (which is part of the fun for me). Arridor, the taller one, is played by Dan Shor, who was Billy the Kid in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. He was also a supporting cast member in the very odd film adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's equally odd novel, Wise Blood, starring our beloved Brad Dourif.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:51 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Ah, thanks for reminding me of Michael Ensign, aka That Guy Who I Always Think Is John Cleese At First Glance. And I did think about the replicator feedstock problem... because it obviously wasn't one for the Ferengi; in fact, they just wheel their replicator (which is about the size that you'd expect on a shuttle) out on a little cart, without any obvious wires or cables trailing behind it. I think that I'd explain it away by saying that Voyager isn't necessarily that short on energy or feedstock at any given moment, but that the rationing is based on various worst-case scenarios, such as, say, some quantum pluttifikation thingy causing your ship to split into two nearly-identical copies occupying the same space, and whoops there goes half your antimatter. They could stick to something relatively small, such as medicine, which I'm guessing was probably what the Ferengi were doing (along with cheap copies of the Rules of Acquisition, of course).
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:09 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I live for continuity in Star Trek. Especially across shows. Enterprise's mirror universe (MU) episodes were a delight for me. Not only did they carry continuity from TOS (which aired decades ago!) but also from DS9's many stories set in the MU. I loved watching the ancient Klingon warriors from TOS appear in new adventures with Jadzia on DS9. They were wonderfully thoughtful stories that did honor to those characters. Or McCoy ("She's a new ship, but she's got the right name. Treat her like a lady and she'll always bring you home.") or Scotty ("N-C-C-1-7-0-1. No bloody A - B - C - or D!") on TNG.

Continuity gives you a sense of a the larger Trek universe, in which all of these shows are interconnected, yet happening apart from one another. And there's something glorious about it. So "The Price" airs on TNG in '89. This episode airs on Voyager in '96. We have cross-show continuity which is creative and fun. Yay!

Unfortunately, no one on the Voyager writing team realized how godawful and obnoxious the Ferengi characters were in their first outing. "The Price" was not "must-see-tv." This could have been a comedy. Why wasn't it? Everything is taken so seriously. We get a Special Lesson about exploitation and the Prime Directive. There's no joy in this episode, and I can't quite figure out where it was sucked out. Only that it wasn't a pleasure to watch.

In this episode, the Ferengi come off better--DS9 improved their portrayal immensely--but there's still a lot of untapped potential in the story setup.

I honestly didn't have that impression at all. These felt far more like Ferengi caricatures from the TNG era than those of DS9, a show that worked hard to develop the fullness of their Ferengi characters. On DS9, Ferengi were relatable, sympathetic and interesting, and not just stereotyped plot drivers.
posted by zarq at 2:00 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Breaking my comment embargo to say that when Halloween Jack described Michael Ensign as "That Guy Who I Always Think Is John Cleese At First Glance" I immediately knew the actor he was talking about, even without having seen this episode for like 15 years. I'd never made the Cleese connection before, but when Halloween Jack said that I was like, "Oh! That guy!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:02 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Hope you're doing well, Ursula Hitler. I've missed your input in these threads.
posted by zarq at 3:04 PM on June 12


Aw, thanks, zarq! I'm surviving and still active elsewhere on the site. I keep up with these threads but if I was still participating I'd mostly waste everybody's time arguing tooth and claw with Mordax about every damn thing. (I do wish somebody was around to defend the show more, but it's for the best if that somebody isn't me.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:06 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Cute premise this time, but, ugh, no.

I don't know if it's due to these being orphan episodes held over from last season and/or Piller slacking on his way out the door or Taylor just not having a good idea of what she wanted yet, but this season's been a mess in how it's handled Janeway so far, with this episode again showing her adrift in values and tactics. I'm mostly curious now as to when they do get around to reestablishing an actual guiding set of values for the show.

There were a few little moments of enjoyable enough bits in this one, but not enough to make up for the rest of it. Not really even worth detailing as it's just not a piece with the rest of the series and not really enjoyable enough for me to give it a pass for the fun of it like Bride of Chaotica! earned. This one was almost a total washout for me, though as was mentioned, there were some possibly interesting things that could have been done, they just didn't find any of them. Amateurish.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:18 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Aw, thanks, zarq! I'm surviving and still active elsewhere on the site.

Yay! Glad to hear it.

I keep up with these threads but if I was still participating I'd mostly waste everybody's time arguing tooth and claw with Mordax about every damn thing. (I do wish somebody was around to defend the show more, but it's for the best if that somebody isn't me.)

I'm actually a Voyager fan, but dislike the first two seasons. To be perfectly honest, I am also a HUGE DS9 fan, and loathe that show's first season. Trek series tend to take a while to find their footing. So as we get further along, I'll definitely be commenting more positively about various episodes and characterizations. We started to see some standout episodes this season. Among them, The Swarm, Remember, Future's End, Flashback, Unity, Distant Origin and Worst Case Scenario.

Before and After and Scorpion are tremendous, high concept episodes. Scorpion, Part 1 was perhaps the best season finale the show ever had. Before and After also gave us a glimpse of Year of Hell, which I'm gleefully waiting to get to. Annorax may be my favorite Trek villain of all time. A Krenim Captain Ahab who tried to give his people a gift, tugged on a single strand and wound up unraveling an entire tapestry....

Gonna be a fun few months. :)
posted by zarq at 7:08 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Arridor, the taller one, is played by Dan Shor, who was Billy the Kid in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

See, I always remember him as Ram, Tron's friend who dies in Flynn's arms (and, also, as the guy who asks Alan if he can have some of his popcorn).
posted by hanov3r at 9:07 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I keep up with these threads but if I was still participating I'd mostly waste everybody's time arguing tooth and claw with Mordax about every damn thing.

If you think that'd be a problem, we really do disagree about literally everything. ;)

It's okay to hold extremely divergent opinions here. We're sharing our feelings about a twenty year old television show, and we're not interested in persuading each other of anything, just explaining how we came to our given conclusions. It would be fascinating to hear your opinions about why you liked Voyager too. I do also miss your contributions to these threads specifically, and if I thought I was a reason for you not to show, I would've MeMailed you or something.

Come and talk. We don't need to rebut each others' arguments. I'm happy to agree to disagree with you. I'm not going to suddenly like Voyager more*, but I do like you, and have always enjoyed your participation here.

*hugs from an Internet stranger if you want 'em*

(* I'm actually liking some aspects of it more in retrospect: Voyager had amazing casting, for instance.)

As for the episode itself:
Particle of the Week: Callback to verterons, in a bit of continuity concerning wormholes.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Ferengi are a playable race allied with the Federation in the era Star Trek Online, and the shuttle seen in this episode can be purchased via a cash shop currency.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 24.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 47 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: This definitely bumps it to 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* The Price was interesting.

So, revisiting The Price was fascinating. I remember S1 TNG as the absolute nadir of the franchise - racist, sexist, cringeworthy and so on. By S3, a lot of that had been toned down: I liked Lloyd Braun here. For once, the very tired Trek trope of 'female bridge officer falls in love because that's all women do' actually sort of worked for me despite the clunky writing surrounding it. 'Real' ice cream? Really? Despite that, it was funny to see Troi privately fed up with Picard, and the Troi/Riker dynamics were surprisingly healthy in retrospect. I liked Riker a lot more than I remembered, and Ral is an appropriate sort of villain - manipulative rather than apocalyptic/violent.

However, the Ferengi were just as bad as when they were introduced in that S1 awfulness, and that carried over to Voyager directly. I see what they were thinking when they brought them in: the Federation are post-scarcity collectivists, so space libertarians make sense as their natural enemies... except that the Ferengi are farcical troll monsters instead of dramatically interesting. Amusingly, this is one thing I actually think Andromeda did better: I thought the Nietzscheans were a better take on the 'every man for himself' shadow archetype to Starfleet. Thus endeth where I think Andromeda was better at anything.

DS9 fixed some of that, but not every time - I want to say I liked the Ferengi maybe half the times we saw them there.

* This didn't gel for me.

Cute premise this time, but, ugh, no.

I don't know if it's due to these being orphan episodes held over from last season and/or Piller slacking on his way out the door or Taylor just not having a good idea of what she wanted yet, but this season's been a mess in how it's handled Janeway so far, with this episode again showing her adrift in values and tactics.


This is mostly what I noticed here too. In The Swarm, we had Janeway violate Starfleet policy and perform an act of war on an unknown alien species to avoid a 15 month detour, signaling frayed nerves and desperation.

Here, we have her violating Starfleet protocol to catch two Ferengi that she has no jurisdiction over, losing her shot at going home in the bargain. It's completely WTF in broader context. Taken as an example of the Prime Directive, the episode itself admits that it's murky, and that the Ferengi aren't bound by it. I could chalk it up to stress from their awful situation, but the show doesn't reflect that: ship looks clean, everybody's well groomed, visual hints and performances don't indicate massive stress leading to that grade of irrationality.

So yeah, didn't work for me.

They don't really look like the kind of people (if there really are or ever were that kind of people, anywhere) who haul out the wood and torches at the slightest suggestion from an ambiguous prophecy.

I think they just wanted to get rid of the Prophets. The guy clamoring for it was their head lackey, and none too happy with them by that point in the story. Pretty sure he was throwing them to the wolves just to get rid of them, and the rest of the people knew they were completely heartless.

lthough he had few lines, I wanted to point out the presence of Kevin Peter Hall as Leyor in "The Price." Hall, who died in 1995, was probably best known as the Predator in the first two movies of that franchise, and I thought that the shape of the Caldonian skull was more than a bit evocative of that of the Yautja.

Huh. Neat and sad at the same time. Thanks.

Unfortunately, no one on the Voyager writing team realized how godawful and obnoxious the Ferengi characters were in their first outing. "The Price" was not "must-see-tv."

This is one of those things where I think Voyager was hearkening back to older times - Neelix himself demonstrates that they had a 'wacky sidekick' view of comedy rather than something more... good? But it was specifically a thing in older television, IMO. (Going back to the Lloyd Braun thing, I think Seinfeld was one of the few places that actually worked for me.)

Anyway, yeah. I wish this episode had committed to being either a serious examination of the damage these guys could do, (per the cargo cult stuff Jack was talking about), or had fully embraced the humor. Trying to straddle the two things didn't really work for me either, and it generally felt half baked despite having some fun moments.
posted by mordax at 9:28 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Anyway, yeah. I wish this episode had committed to being either a serious examination of the damage these guys could do, (per the cargo cult stuff Jack was talking about), or had fully embraced the humor. Trying to straddle the two things didn't really work for me either, and it generally felt half baked despite having some fun moments.

Although I seem to be the main defender of "False Profits" here, I do definitely agree that it's half-baked. The weird thing is, though, I think it COULD have successfully maintained some humor AND seriously examined the damage they could do—if they'd started out with the humor ("Hey wow everybody here wants our shoes LOL amirite") only to hit us with a gut-punching tonal shift upon entering a local slum or underfunded hospital or something. It would've been a clever way to exploit the distaste for Ferengi that many aboard Voyager (and in the audience) have to suit the narrative's purpose. Arridor and Kol could have actually been redeemed as memorably despicable villains. But maybe the network wouldn't have gone for an indictment of capitalism that's THAT searing ^_^
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:47 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


The weird thing is, though, I think it COULD have successfully maintained some humor AND seriously examined the damage they could do—if they'd started out with the humor ("Hey wow everybody here wants our shoes LOL amirite") only to hit us with a gut-punching tonal shift upon entering a local slum or underfunded hospital or something.

That probably would've fixed it for me, yes. I mean, those two were talking a good game about exploitation and stuff, but we don't really see people suffering. Even Eyepatch Guy and Destitute Shopkeep don't come across as especially desperate.
posted by mordax at 3:10 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


The weird thing is, though, I think it COULD have successfully maintained some humor AND seriously examined the damage they could do

That's really what I was trying to get at with my comments above; I think that they could have gotten to the humor through a more detailed and nuanced consideration of the serious aspects of the situation. A good episode to compare it to is DS9's "In the Cards", in which Jake Sisko earnestly defends the Federation's no-money economy and ethos... but he still needs to borrow Nog's latinum for something that can't be replicated.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:45 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Sure, if you just start with the premise of Kol and Arridor being quasi-rulers of a low tech civilization, you could do dozens of things with it that might be interesting either seriously or comically. But instead of using the idea as a jumping off point to one of those possibilities, they decided the premise itself was enough and did nothing. I mean when the first thing you reach for in setting up your idea is an "ancient prophecy" you're already way off track.

Boles and Menosky are the ones I put the blame on, Boles for not finding any suitable tone for the story and not taking any of it very seriously, I mean from a basic professional level, with staging and performance directed more suitably for a sitcom than Voyager. He isn't helped by Menosky finding all the worst elements of Trek planet visits, the same damn setting, villagers who exist only to interact with whatever crew member beams down, and a social order which makes no sense other than to serve as a backdrop for the main characters to deal with. (The rest of the crew didn't help much either, with the usual generic costumes and settings. Hell, they didn't even bother doing any make up for the villagers at all. They might be another colony of 37'sers for all we know, which is something else maybe Voyager might want to look into.) Incidentally, Memory Alpha says this is the first episode of Trek Menosky worked on after 4 years in France, but he's listed as the teleplay writer for Thaw on IMDb, and has a story credit before that, so I'm a bit confused.

The worst of it is when they beam Kol and Arridor onto Voyager and have them talk Janeway into sending them back. Boles has them acting in low comedy relief style, but Mulgrew as if the situation is of dire seriousness. That the two fools can "outwit" Janeway just looks ridiculous and makes no sense even in terms of how the show then proceeds.

Anyway, I said going into details here isn't much worth it since they didn't take the episode seriously, so I won't drag out the argument over the story inconsistencies and foolishness any further. I'll just agree there was the germ of an interesting idea here, but nothing in the show as it is suggests they were really aware of it so couldn't have found a fix to make it better without starting over from the beginning.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:19 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Sorry, Mordax. I was going for a joke and I think I fumbled it. It sounded more like a call-out than I meant! If I was participating in these threads I think we'd have plenty to disagree about, but that doesn't mean I think you're super aggro or always wrong. I love this show like my puppy, and if I was participating in these threads there would be a lot of SO WHAT IF THE PUPPY DROOLS SOMETIMES? THE PUPPY IS GREAT! So, not a great use of anybody's time.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:59 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


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