December 1, 2012

Quark, episode 7 "All the Emperor's Quasi-Norms, Part 2"

We left off with the Betties locked in a room where the walls are closing in, Ficus strapped to a table with a laser about to bisect him, Gene/Jean handcuffed to Andy and disguised as a scientist dragged into a hall to give a lecture on It, and Quark gaping in horror as he learns he's just handed massive cosmic power to the dreaded Zorgon the Malevolent.

Quark pleads with Zorgon, who relents and saves the Betties from the walls. He instead has them, and Quark, sent down to the planet below - named Poo-Poo - where they're chained to a giant nail and left for a Lizigoth to eat. The reptilian creature approaches, then drops dead with a spear in its back. They've been saved by the Baron of the Forest People, a proud, bearded warrior in white and furs.

Back on the ship, Libido, armed with a laser rifle, bursts into the dungeons and frees Ficus. After talking around his emotional inabilities, she convinces him that marrying her will allow him to complete his mission. He agrees. They run into Zorgon, who's initially furious, but quickly develops a fondness for Ficus's lack of emotion. Zorgon agrees to the marriage, but starts to regret it when Ficus calls him "Dad".

Gene/Jean manages to fake hir way through the lecture, despite the heckling of one scientist and Andy. S/he high tails it when they break for recess, then tries to jump some guards, a plan foiled by hir complaining cuff-mate.

Quark and the Betties share a meal around the campfire of the Forrest People, where the Baron tells them the legend of It, which will connect them with their ancestors and make them an unstoppable power in the universe. They were on the verge of the prophecy's fulfillment when Zorgon swept in and laid down a wave of oppression. Quark says he and his bluff are responsible for leading Zorgon here. He apologizes, saying he's a stranger to these parts. The Forrest People suddenly leap to their feet, gasping about the prophecy of "The Stranger!", the heroic savior the Forrest People now deem Quark to be.

Gene/Jean, who finally escaped the ship with the now hiding Andy, reunites with the group just as clouds swirl in the sky and three beams of energy converge, fulfilling the prophecy and revealing the location of It. They go and find part of a mountainside has blown away, revealing a metal box containing a hunk of crystal on the end of a necklace. This is It. The Baron places the necklace on Quark and now declares him to be invincible.

Back on Perma One, Palindrome is worried about the future of his career in the wake of his suspension, so he calls his father, who advises him to beg.

Quark and the others (briefly joined by the Baron, who shortly after abandons them) return to the ship, where Gene/Jean is envious of hir supposedly invulnerable commander, while the Betties fear for his safety. Their way is blocked by a sealed door, and after a few tries, Quark seemingly opens it with the "power" of the stone. He doesn't know the door was opened by Zorgon, watching the scene from his command center and fuming over scans that reveal the stone is worthless. Quark and his crew go through several guards to find the location of Ficus. In the middle of things, an armed guard suddenly fires at Quark, but the disintegration ray bounces off the stone and vaporizes him instead.

Quark comes across Ficus, but the vegeton insists on staying true to his pledge to marry Libido, so Quark bids him adieu. Quark then enters the throne room, where he demands to see Zorgon so he can arrest him in the name of the United Galaxy. Instead, he's met with a Cycloid, a muscle bound monster who defies the "power" of the stone by tossing Quark all about the room, then wrapping him in a bear hug. Libido and Ficus come to the rescue, freezing the Cycloid with a stun ray, then telling Quark that the stone has no actual power, having deflected the disintegrator merely through its crystalline density.

Zorgon is enraged at this betrayal from Libido and Ficus, so he rushes into the room firing at the vegeton, but the stun ray instead freezes Libido. Zorgon is aghast and quietly lets himself into Quark's custody when he learns Libido's condition can be cared for at Perma One. Even though it'll take a few years, and Ficus is still calling him "Dad".

Back on Perma One, Palindrome contacts the Head to beg for his job when Quark suddenly comes in on the other line. The Head reinstates Palindrome, who disciplines Quark, sending the garbage man back to his old job, and fuming out of the room before Quark can tell his story of How he captured Zorgon. But Dink is there and interested, so Quark starts relating it to him.


After the promising setup of Part 1, the payoff we get is a letdown, largely because of It. We've already had a mystical force, the Source, based on the beliefs of those who wield it, and It is merely an extension as we find out there is no power, just a focus for one's own confidence. It is funny seeing Richard Benjamin proudly stride forth with declarations of invincibility, trying to use the crystal to open doors and smite a monster, but it's pretty obvious what revelation they're leading to, so I got a little impatient and just wanted them to get to it so I wouldn't have to keep sitting through setups to which I already know the punchline.

That's the only significant problem I have with the episode, and since it's the core of the piece, it's significant, indeed. Other problems are the Forest People never really going anywhere (I really like their first appearance, though, and the bits with the horn), and Gene being a complete annoyance in the second half with his gung-ho attitude laid on way too thick. And, yes, I am just saying Gene there. Jean had all of two lines in the whole piece, neither of which affected the story in any way. She's completely beyond rescue by this point.

On the plus side of things, the rest of the cast (minus the Betties, who are just there) continue handling their parts well. Ficus is still prominently featured and I love how he has to keep reminding people that the big twists and turns in his relationship with Princess Libido are having absolutely zero emotional effect on him, and how she's actually come to love him for that instead of in spite of it. Zorgon is still a commanding presence, and I like the little gut punch of his daughter falling victim to his rage, as well as the revelation that the stun rays we've seen leaving people frozen throughout the last few episodes actually take YEARS to wear off. And Gene, for the first half of the episode, is a hoot as he manages to free himself from the lecture, but still has Andy chained to his arm. Gene leaping over the railing to tackle some guards, only to be yanked back by Andy's arm, is my favorite sight gag of the series so far. And, yes, I even like Andy here. He's annoying, but that annoyance works when it's being forced on people who can't escape it. In most episodes, I don't get why they still have him on the ship. Here, Gene has no choice but to suffer through it. Though when Gene reunites with the others on the planet, we never learn how he got out of the cuffs. It would be funnier if he had Andy's arm, crudely ripped off at the shoulder, still dangling after him.

And I still like this Quark. I definitely want to keep following this more laid-back, "let's make the most of it" commander than the ass he'd become in most post-pilot episodes. He still has the confusion, the exasperation, the desperation, but Benjamin has finally settled on the right tone so that we never stop liking the man, even when he's at his worst. And I love the little moment where he calls into Perma One, all excited over his accomplishments, only to suffer and instant reprimand and be sent after more garbage. But then Dink of all people wants to hear the story of what happened, and we see Quark's face light up again as he starts telling it.

If I come away from this series with nothing else, that's what'll stick with me. That even a man picking up trash can still do so with the sense of wonderment that he's doing it deep in the heart of the cosmos.

Some thoughts:
  • The "Previous on..." recap is amusing, but drags out more gags in full than it needs to.
  • So, what exactly was the point of the scene where Palindrome calls his dad? Was it really worth the added expense of the matte shot and makeup effects?
  • I love that the "furry little forest friend" joke is made retroactively funnier through the Ewoks being created several years later.


My high school basketball coach used to have a saying: “Williams, get your ass back on the bench!” Okay, he had two sayings. The other was, “Start fast, finish strong.” “All the Emperor’s Quasi-Norms” certainly starts fast in Part 1, but it fails to finish strong in Part 2, running out of funny gas long before it lopes across the finish line to polite applause and a waiting juice box.

As Noel alluded to, the biggest problem with this second half is that once we learn that “It” is just a rock - a recycled gag to begin with - the story seems to lose urgency. Typically, the pace of a story picks up as it draws to a conclusion. In the really good ones, it feels like a semi truck with no brakes careening down a steep hill in the dead of night. The momentum unstoppable. The destination unknown, yet inevitable. Okay, that’s a little pretentious. Noel said it best with “'s pretty obvious what revelation they're leading to, so I got a little impatient and just wanted them to get to it so I wouldn't have to keep sitting through setups to which I already know the punchline."

The other big problem I have with this second part is that it seems as if they ran out of things for everyone besides Quark to do. After a funny little side adventure in Part 1, Gene - and Noel’s right, it is just Gene at this point - dovetails right back into Quark’s wake and assumes his standard gung-ho, “Let’s go get those Gorgies!” routine. The Betties... honestly, if it wasn’t for their magnificent cleavage subconsciously stirring something inside of me, I wouldn’t have even known they were in this second half. Any hopes I had that they’d be more than eye candy were thoroughly dashed here.

To this point, my review has been pretty negative, but there are some bright spots. I like the whole Flash Gordon motif, which I failed to recognize the first time around (sarcasm alert!). Noel, I’m sure, is shocked by this. Having Zorgon accidentally zap his daughter is a bit more poignant than I was expecting. And I agree with Noel on Benjamin. He’s found just the right tone for Quark, keeping one space boot firmly planted on likeable, everyman soil, even as he steps on someone’s foot with the other.

“All the Emperor’s Quasi-Norms, Part 2”, like the series as a whole, is a bit of a mixed bag. This still feels like a show trying to find itself, but there’s every indication that it’s starting to move in the right direction. Just in time for its cancellation.

Tune in next Saturday as we take our final ride with Captain Quark in "Vanessa 38-24-36".

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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