This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains spoilers.
Remember when we first met the Ferengi, way back in “The Last Outpost,” episode five of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s first season? Gene Roddenberry and co. wanted so badly to make the Ferengi menacing, with their laser whips and hunched appearance. But despite Roddenberry’s plans, the Ferengi proved to be a terrible replacement for the Klingons as the Federation’s new big bads, and quickly found themselves reduced to occasional appearances throughout the rest of the series.
But instead of letting the Ferengi go to waste, Michael Piller and the producers of Deep Space Nine followed Rule of Acquisition #292: “Only a fool passes up a business opportunity.” They added Quark to the main cast, bringing back “The Last Outpost” actor Armin Shimerman to play him, and added his brother Rom (Max Grodénchik) and nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg).
Over seven seasons, Deep Space Nine transformed the Ferengi from one-note annoyances to rich and multifaceted characters, especially Rom. Initially a bumbling punching bag for his brother and an embarrassment to his son, Rom grew to be a union leader, a skilled engineer, and by the series finale, Grand Nagus of Frenginar.
And then Lower Decks flushed all that down the toilet.
Grand Nagus Rom returns in the season in “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place,” along with his wife Leeta (Chase Masterson), to negotiate Ferenginar’s entrance into the Federation. At first glance, this development seems like a true achievement for Rom as the Nagus, and something fans have wondered about after seeing Ferengi in Starfleet on Discovery, following in the footsteps of Nog. But what does Rom do throughout the episode? Talk about baseball and wait for Leeta to take action.
Now, I love “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” as much as anyone, but Grodénchik and the series writers worked hard to develop Rom. They reframed him as less of an idiot and more of a kind-hearted person who possessed skills that went undervalued by his people, skills he inherited from his father and not his Moogie (yes, I wrote that sentence just so you would have the sound of Rom saying “Moooogie” in your head). But as episodes such as “Bar Association” demonstrate, he can be a powerful negotiator, but not necessarily a smart negotiator.
Rom shows none of that talent in Lower Decks. When he and Admiral Vassery start to discuss the terms of Feringinar’s acceptance, Leeta distracts him with a baseball and calls the Admiral aside. “Listen, my husband’s not exactly a shrewd businessman,” she says. “If we could open up a document and let him shuffle around a couple of numbers, he’ll feel like he accomplished something.”
The episode does reveal the request to open the document to be a tactic to renegotiate for better terms for Feringinar, but it also positions Leeta as the brains behind the operation. To be sure, this revelation follows Leeta’s development in Deep Space Nine, and “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” claims that Rom succeeds because he and Leeta work together in a “dumb negotiator/smart negotiator” team. By the time the episode ends, Rom and Leeta reveal that they put Freeman and Vassery through their paces to prove to Feringinar that the Federation isn’t a bunch of suckers.
But doing so undercuts Rom’s greatest strength. Deep Space Nine showed that Rom succeeded because of his lack of wit, that his honesty and character were enough to overthrow Ferenginar’s oppressive ways and lead the country into a new era. While Admiral Vassery credits Rom with bringing the planet into a place where they can join the Federation — leaving aside that Ferenginar wants to join for protection against the mystery ship that’s obliterating things on Lower Decks this season — we don’t see any of that leadership. Instead, we just see a doofus who, at best, lies and pretends like Quark to get his way or, at worst, a child who takes all the credit his wife earns.
As great as it is to see Rom back again, and as much as Lower Decks is a comedy cartoon that makes fun of every Star Trek character, it’s a bummer to see Rom revert to his earlier incarnation. For the Ferengi to continue being an important species in Trek lore, they have to be allowed to grow. After all, Rule of Acquisition #95 says, “Expand or die.”
Star Trek: Lower Decks is streaming now on Paramount+.