November 10, 2012

Quark, episode 5 "Goodbye, Polumbus"

Before getting into this week's post, we want to say a big thank you to Christopher Mills, who wrote a nice recommendation for our site on his blog Space: 1970, a marvelous collection of 70s science fiction pop culture and nostalgia, which also happens to be where Noel first learned about the series Quark. Alongside this blog, Christopher is a short story and comic book writer (Noel treasures his complete collection of Tekno Comix, for which Mills was an editor alongside writing some great issues of Primortals) and reviews many a film and television show - and the occasional serial - at DVD Late Show.

On Perma One, The Head is holding his usual assignment briefing for Commanders. Commander Walker, a stubby little asshole of a robot, is to be a representative at an ambrosia tasting festival. Commander Freddy Estrow, a slowly shrinking giant alien Quark used to babysit, is sent on a five-day mission to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations. Commander Quark is told to go to the planet Polumbus and figure out why nobody has ever returned from there alive. Quark panics over the suicide mission, well aware that it's already lost the Confederation eight previous commanders, but Palindrome won't back down and lays the salesman shtick on thick.

On Quark's ship, now in orbit around Polumbus, Quark asks for volunteers to explore the surface with him. Ficus and the Betties are in. Gene is thrilled at the idea of diving into a suicide mission, blasters blazing, then pissed when Quark orders hir to stay on board with Andy. Quark and the others beam down.

Polumus is a world of woods and grassy fields. A figure darts in and out of view in the distance. Quark and crew proceed with caution, but then a pair of men in silver suits and masks prance into view. They start to dance and the Betties are filled with a sudden urge to join them. During their dance, the mens' masks are removed, revealing identical copies of Quark himself. Unable to pull the Betties away, Quark has them transported back to the ship, then presses on with Ficus. On board, the Betties seduce Andy into transporting them back, where they continue their dance.

Quark and Ficus come across a field where all the previous crew and scientists lost to Polumbus are living in serene bliss with beautiful women to fill their every desire. A captain tells them of the Limbacon, which they'll find if they stay on this path and go just beyond the Roddenberry bushes. They don't get very far before both are lured away; Quark by Diane, a beautiful woman he was madly in love with during his cadet days, Ficus by a hot math teacher expressing complex formulae on both a chalkboard and an increasingly orgasmic lecture.

Up on the ship, Gene is fuming as s/he monitors Quark making out with Diane, and decide hell with hir orders as s/he transports to the surface. Andy takes advantage of his alone time to get in touch with his girlfriend, Mandy. Which goes bad when he accidentally calls her Betty.

On the surface, Gene confronts the lovestruck Quark and says s/he's taking command of the mission. Suddenly, three garishly dressed space thugs charge onto the scene and attack. Gene recognizes them as the villains in Zoltar Meets the Cralax Warriors, a superhero series s/he loved as a kid. Quark, Gene, and Diane flee and hide behind some boulders, where they meet Zoltar himself, all studly in his long-underwear superhero uniform emblazoned with an electric bolt "Z". A big fistfight breaks out between heroes and villains, which ends when Gene is knocked out (accidentally by Quark), causing Zoltar and the Cralax Warriors to disappear. Quark puts two and two together and realizes everyone is experiencing their inner fantasy.

Quark manages to tear himself away from the advances of Diane long enough to reach the Limbacon, a generator which glows with power in the middle of a field. Diane makes one last plea, offering him a lifetime of eternal bliss, but Quark shakes the thought off and takes the Limbacon out with his blaster. He turns back to Diane only to find Listera, Queen of the Clay People (the actress is literally coated in wet clay). They have the ability to bring fantasies to life, but were enslaved by the Gorgons, who used the Limbacon to turn their power into a trap against the Confederation. Her time as Diane has taught her what it means to be loved and she offers to live up to her promise to stay with him forever. He says thanks, but no thanks, and that she should stay to lead her people. So she leaves him with a final, clay-smeared kiss.

On the ship, the day has been saved, everyone is recovering from their fantasies, and Palindrome thinks Quark is off his rocker for saying he had to destroy paradise. As they fly away, Quark longing looks into the receding planet on a monitor.

"Goodbye, Diane. Goodbye, Polumbus."


Things pretty much maintain their status quo this episode, getting neither better nor worse than our last installment. The storyline this time around is pure Classic Trek, with illusions of beautiful women in soft focus lenses on a world from which no one has ever returned. The narrative is crafted capably with a simple mission constantly distracted to the wayside before the now-lone Commander rises to meet the threat, and I like how they went outdoors with this one. Sure, it's probably just a park somewhere in California and isn't dressed up in any way so as to be alien, but it's still a welcome relief from the boxed in sets of the spaceships and lends itself well to the atmosphere of fantasy.

I also really like where they go with the fantasy aspect. Quark reunited with the woman he long pined for, but never had a real shot with. The especially hilarious math teacher to stare deeply into Ficus's eyes while they express equations to one another. Gene calling up a "Superman" fantasy with laser-blasting space warriors, all emblazoned with gaudy lightning bolts. All of this is great, colorful fun, with Ficus and Gene putting a humorous twist on things, and the shot to Quark's heart gives things more depth than expected, especially near the end as he's lurching toward the mission's objective, literally dragging behind the fantasy he's almost willing to give himself over to at any cost. I especially love how the title comes, not from a punchline, but a genuine heartfelt moment as Quark thinks back on the paradise that's now forever lost to him. I also like how the Clay People don't have any negative intent towards the people they seduced, their powers instead being forced into use by the continuing loom of the Gorgons.

This episode is not without its weaknesses. The Betties' fantasy drags on and ultimately falls flat, and represents a broader issue with the presentation of Polumbus where editing tricks and slow motion are often uses for a disorienting effect. It works well a few times, feels clumsy most others. Then there's the whole exchange between Andy and Mandy that's painfully grating. And while I like Gene continuing to have the joke where he deems Quark unfit and tries to assume command, I'm beyond fed up at how Jean continues to be shoved aside and laughed at. Tony, I now agree with you that I'd rather she not be there than continue to be so badly executed.

It's an uneven episode, but one on par with what the show has averaged out to so far. For every weak moment like Palindrome's bit with the cassette (they still use cassettes in the far future?), we get good stuff like a briefing of three Commanders scene that actually has something more to it than their typical one-off joke. For every bit like Ficus wasting our time describing everything he saw in a millisecond, you have Andy's lone good line about how there's nothing on the monitors but sex and violence. It's a give and take show. Some things don't work, some things do, and it's all about how it balances out for you. In past episodes, I've favored it more than Tony has (still do, probably - *reads below* - yep), but that doesn't mean I think it's a great show. I'm having fun with it, but it does have genuine problems, and little has changed in its favor over the majority of its run so far.

Up next is a two-parter episode, and since we somewhat preferred the show in an hour format to half-hour, it'll be interesting to see what they do with twice the running time once again.

And a final thought: love that little pose they strike when ordered to prepare to teleport.


Quark has definitely found it’s niche. Not its stride, necessarily, but its niche for sure. The wildly inspired antics of “May the Source Be With You” are a distant memory as the show has settled into a somewhat lazy Star Trek parody. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the “Star Trek parody” part that bothers me, it’s the “somewhat lazy”. Like “The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus”, “Goodbye, Polumbus” (a nod to the title of an early Richard Benjamin film, Goodbye, Columbus) seems content to dust off the premise of an iconic Trek episode or two, and insert its own crew. So instead of Star Trek-like, which would require the writers to be a bit more clever, it’s merely Star Trek with humor (supposedly).

I agree with Noel, getting the action off the ship (and its cheap looking sets) and into a real environment relieves a bit of the claustrophobia that plagued the earlier episodes. The actors seem to think so, too, as their energy level picks up noticeably once they reach Polumbus. It also flows well enough as a story. Certainly better and more satisfyingly than “The Old and the Beautiful”. The problem is that it’s just not very funny. Ficus’ math sex fantasy is one note, Gene/Jean’s hero fantasy is good humored, but lame, the Betties are once again wasted, and Andy... I hate Andy. Noel used the word grating, and I can’t sum him up any better than that. The only bits that really work for me are Quark’s struggle between staying on Polumbus and living out his fantasy, or destroying the obelisk and saving the day... and his efforts to escape the slimy gratitude of the Clay Queen.

I know it sounds like I hate this show, but I don’t. It’s really too bland to hate. Hate, like love, is a passion, and passion requires a spark. Quark doesn’t have a spark. It’s affable, well meaning, and at times humorous, but it doesn’t move the needle.

As Noel mentioned, the next episode is a two-parter. After watching “May the Source Be With You”, I commented that, while I really enjoyed it, I felt that the expanded running time began to stretch the premise of the show a bit thin by the end. Noel disagreed. After watching the following episode, “The Old and the Beautiful”, with its shorter run time and the resulting flimsy narrative, Noel asked if I wanted to reconsider my previous assertion, and I did. But the past two episodes have found a comfortable, satisfying narrative flow. They lacked the inspiration of “May the Source Be With You”, but they felt full and complete. I still believe that Quark, while a parody of an hour long “drama”, is still a sitcom, and probably works best in that format. I share Noel’s curiosity about how differently it will feel with the story once again stretched over nearly an hour.

Tune in next Saturday as we take another ride with Captain Quark in "All the Emperor's Quasi-Norms, Part 1".

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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