November 3, 2012

Quark, episode 4 "The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus"

At Perma One, Quark is honored to be introduced to Commander Kroll, who just defeated a Bloaton Brigade, and Commander Stark, who just stole the Gorgon defense plan. When both learn Quark is in charge of garbage collection, they're quick to turn their nose up at him. Getting assignments from The Head, Kroll and Stark are given heroic assignments. Quark is sent after more garbage.

On the ship, Quark is dealing with the daily grind as Gene/Jean fusses about a gauge Ficus is suddenly wearing on his ear, the Betties show off their new outfits, and Ficus is lectured on how to pay a compliment after dissing said outfits as terrible due to impracticability. Also, he's suddenly wearing a gauge on his ear.

Alarms go off and the ship is suddenly pulled into a black hole. Despite some shaking and panicking and a dangerous drop in pressurization - during which Gene tries to take command before being calmed by Jean - the ship manages to press through and exit the black hole safe and sound.

Later, Quark's ship lines up with the battleship Maya to pick up their garbage, but as soon as the space baggy is ejected, Quark's ship opens fire. The battleship explodes and we hear Quark's sinister laughter.

Palindrome is dragged out of bed by the arrival at Perma One of the paranoid and trigger-happy Admiral Flint, the Joint Chief of Staff. They contact Quark, who's stunned to learn he's being charged with the battleship's destruction, Flint adding the accusation that he's a Gorgon traitor. Quark maintains his innocence, but they play back footage of the attack and order him to immediately return to base. He and his crew panic.

Back at Perma One, Flint uses an essay Quark wrote as a 7-year-old to turn the populace against the Commander as a Gorgon sympathizer. Palindrome is the only one half-heartedly coming to Quark's defense, saying the man doesn't just go around blowing up ships. Quark's ship blows up another battleship. The Head is uncertain and demands a moment of silence in honor of Quark, then agrees to let Flint hunt the Commander down and blow him out of existence.

On Quark's ship, his crew comes across another sanitation vehicle with the same markings as theirs. Contacting the Commander, Quark is stunned to see a leering version of himself appear on the viewscreen. Ficus theorizes that the black hole created an evil mirror version of their ship and crew, which has been responsible for the destruction. Evil Quark promises to destroy them, too.

Quark gets in touch with Palindrome, freaks out when he learns the entire Space Fleet is gunning for him, then tries and fails to explain how he's currently fighting with himself. Palindrome sympathizes, but doesn't want to lose his job. Quark threatens him with revealing some buried dirt just as he cuts the signal.

The Quarks try to get an edge over one another, but they keep making the same maneuvers, leaving everything at a standstill. Quark contacts Evil Quark and offers to settle this in a face-to-face meeting on a nearby asteroid, which Evil Quark accepts as a duel to the death.

At Perma One, Palindrome fails to sell everyone on the Evil Quark notion, but as the fleet closes in on their target, they report two identical sanitation ships are in view. The Head say more information is needed and orders Flint to hold fire. Flint does, but asks an aide to look into The Head's past as a potential Gorgon sympathizer

The Quarks meet on the surface and the good one runs in fear from the blast pistol of the evil one. Back on the ship, the crews contact each other on the viewscreens. Gene/Jean, Andy, and the Betties trade insults with their evil selves, but the Ficusi get along, explaining that there's no such thing as distinctions between good or evil for plants. On the asteroid, Quark tackles his evil self and gets control of the gun. He beams up to the evil ship, dismantles their weapons and controls, then beams back to his ship and uses the tractor beam to tow and hurl their bad selves back into the black hole.

Quark and crew arrive at Perma One, where Flint stomps off in defeat, Palindrome wishes they never came out of the black hole alive, and Ficus finally explains what that gauge on his ear is all about.


After an all-out Star Wars send-up in its first official episode, Quark seems to have settled back into full-time Star Trek parody mode. It’s a role for which it’s better suited, in my opinion, given the basic premise and the makeup of the cast, yet thus far, the Trek themed episodes haven’t hit the mark as squarely as “May the Source Be With You”. The question is, why? Let’s see if we can figure it out.

“The Good, the Bad, and, the Ficus” is a riff on the classic Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”, one of my favorites from the series. It’s a premise that would seem to provide endless comedic possibilities for both the writers and the actors, which is frequently wasted. Purely from a story stand-point, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus” works better than the previous episode, “The Old and the Beautiful”, in that it feels more complete and satisfying, with a forward momentum lacking in the former. Unfortunately, the jokes are just as flat and feeble. While the pilot made me chuckle, and the second episode made me laugh out loud several times, the last two episodes have been, at best, amusing. Bits like Gene/Jean’s personality switching and Andy the robot’s cowardice have already grown stale, and the writers seem content to let the Betties be mere eye candy - though the Barnstable twins do a commendable job as their evil selves here. Richard Kelton continues to do a more than passable Spock, but the material just isn’t sharp enough to take advantage of him. Not to mention he lacks a capable sparring partner. Which brings us to Quark himself. Whether it’s playing the rapidly aging codger or the evil doppelganger, Benjamin deserves credit for giving it the ‘ol community college try, but he’s simply not up to the task. He’s infinitely likeable as Adam Quark, but he seems ill suited to this kind of comedy.

Let’s have a little fun. It’s 1978 and the President of NBC has asked me to come in and "fix” Quark. What would I do?

1.) The writing is weak, but I also believe the tone of the comedy is all wrong. I would take a more satirical approach along the lines of Airplane. I say this knowing full well that Airplane and the type of comedy it would inspire is still two years away, but this is my fantasy so thpppppt!

2.) I would make Quark the first mate and bring in a captain along the lines of Leslie Neilson’s Frank Drebin character from Police Squad (I know!). Let the supremely confident captain bungle his way through each mission while his capable first mate cleans up the mess and saves the day... while getting none of the credit, of course. This new captain would also serve as a better foil for Ficus.

3.) I would keep Thomerson, but I would ditch the Gene/Jean character in favor of simply Gene, a gung-ho type who worships the captain and shares his lack of competence.

4.) Palindrome needs to become more of a foil for the crew. The classic bureaucrat who thinks he can do their job better from his desk.

5.) Lastly, Andy needs to become the ship’s toaster.

Back to reality now, and the show that we do have. Thus far, Quark has proven to be affable, but uninspired. The best may be yet to come, but it’s easy to see why this put the “Short-Lived” in the Super Saturday Short-Lived Showcase.


I kind of agree with you, Tony, and I kind of don't. Some of the humor here - not the bulk of it, just some - is still falling flat and feels like that joke somebody just won't shut up about, even though it's never once gotten a laugh from anybody but them in the up-dozenths of times they've told it. Andy is the worst example of this, where he's the Bender before Futurama came along and showed them how Bender should be done (actually, they just wrote better punchlines, as the character isn't all that different). Gene/Jean went from an interesting concept to a groan-worthy punchline that's all about hir commenting on how weird something is only for others to roll their eyes behind hir back at how weird s/he is. Seriously, that's the entire joke. The Gene persona has the added elements of being an overly gung-ho pinhead, and I like the recurring bit they've started of him constantly trying to usurp the Commander's seat after finding Quark's decisions unworthy, but Jean has faded into an afterthought to be laughed at. Even Palindrome's shtick of being the weaselly bureaucrat is getting old, though I like how this episode suggests he does have a legitimate conscience buried deep inside.

And then there's Benjamin. I still really like Benjamin's Quark most of the time, how he balances the sincere capableness with the fluster at the nonsense and lack of appreciation he's constantly surrounded with. There's a gleam in his eye and a skip in his step that really pulls me in and makes me care about him and his struggles, and I think he makes a fine lead. But he's not a comedian. He's the straight man, but they keep putting him in the positions of broad humor (the geezer of the last episode, the sneering villain here), and while Benjamin really gives it his all, he's just not tuned to that style so he ends up shooting so far off target that it hurts.

All this said, I have to disagree with Tony in that I find this episode a vast improvement over the last one. Not only do they finally have a complete, structured story in their half-hour format, but there's some depth to the material, with the battle between the Quark including the two guys shouting out about how disgusted they are at various aspects of their selves, making it an internalized struggle that's been externalized. More could have been done with this, like a setup that showed Quark dealing with these issues instead of yet another recurring bit of two other Commanders who loom their successful shadows over Quark (we get it, now stop, it's getting old). But I still like that they went there, and find it really funny when Benjamin and his stunt double are enacting this struggle against a Trek style indistinct mountain side setting. And I even like the contrasts we see between the two crews, as we cut from one ship getting their orders, to the other getting the exact same orders in a completely different way. And the punchline of Ficus being exactly the same in both version is perfect.

On the other side of space, Geoffrey Lewis pops up for a great guest turn as Admiral Flint. I love his mini witch hunt against Quark and all others he declares Gorgon sympathizers, to the point of digging into papers people wrote in the second grade to base his attacks on. I doubt we'll see him again, but Flint would have been a fun character to revisit had the series continued.

Other things I dug were the 2001-style black hole light tunnel effects, the drawn out joke of why Ficus has a gauge on his ear (the payoff of it being a moisture regulator is a bit of a letdown, but after that buildup, most anything would be), the meta commentary on the skimpiness of the Betties' outfit, and the continuing presence of Perma One's own Cousin It in the form of Dink. I think this is a good episode. It's not great, but it does keep the series steadily on its feet instead of, as Tony suggests, being another nail in the Short-Lived Coffin.

Now, as for Tony's suggestions for how the show could be improved, one doesn't need to look at Airplane when Get Smart was around. I like the idea of Quark getting a promotion, only to find it's under another (far less deserving) Commander, who can be the Max Smart to Quark's Agent 99. That would create a trifecta to fill out the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic, but it might also loose the casual verbal sparring I've come to love so much from Quark/Ficus. I'd suggest they JUST STOP TRYING TO PLAY QUARK BROAD. Keep him calm and level-headed, going back to the pilot version of a person who doesn't love his job, but finds joy in doing it well and longs to move on to something grander. Making Quark the flustered and cynical Commander they have, who's tired and ashamed of himself and his crew, took a lot of heart out of the role, and that's what I'd suggest bringing back instead of anything more radical.

Ditching Andy and making Palidrome more of a foil I'd agree with, but not removing Gene/Jean. They should just let the character actually be explored in full - again going back to the pilot portrayal - instead of shying away from what makes hir unique. Sure, the male side being a battle-hungry stud is fun, but it's been done. There's a new path they've discovered with the transmute angle, I just wish they weren't so hesitant to explore it.

I think a lot of the problem is the lack of Buck Henry, as he's had nothing but a "creator" credit since the pilot. He's not a producer, not a story editor. I don't think he's involved in any way at this point, and the humor has lost some of its sharpness and sophistication as a result.

Alas, this - as well as thoughts on what the show could have been - are ones I won't talk about further until we reach our final thoughts, because I still have four episodes left to see what they actually did do, and I dislike broadly second guessing without as complete a context as I can get.

A few thoughts:
  • I'm guessing the black hole sequence used up all their model effects budget because Quark attacking the battleships is just recycled footage from the pilot with some laser blasts added in.
  • How did they get a recording of the attack on the battleships from the exact same angles we saw in the episode, with edits? :P
  • Surprised they didn't make a bit of, during the stretch where the Quarks are unable to outmaneuver one another due to thinking the same thing, everyone turns to the Betties for advice, only for the two pairs of Betties finding themselves in the same dilemma.

Tune in next Saturday as we take another ride with Captain Quark in "Goodbye, Polumbus".

The Quark dvds are now out of print, but if you'd like to get a used copy so you can watch along with us, check out Amazon.

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