In which Janeway reverses her views on Federation law and it’s the wrong decision AGAIN.
Voyager has detected evidence of a recent wormhole, which appears to show up sporadically, and which Janeway intuits might have a fixed other end. Sounds familiar. In the area, Tuvok detects a bronze-age planet that also has emissions consistent with replicator use. This immediately suggests Alpha Quadrant, and Janeway immediately puts the brakes on Harry’s speculation despite her own speculation literally twenty seconds earlier that the wormhole had a stable far end. If she wasn’t thinking of that wormhole, what was she thinking of? Well, either way, Voyager sends off a probe to check out what the local dress and custom are so they can investigate.
Chakotay and Paris are going to be the ones to beam down, and presumably that local costume will come out of the ship’s operating budget for replicator rations. The locals look exactly human. As they’re wandering around, a town crier reciting the Song of the Sages and trying to charge them for hearing the next ones. Another passerby also interacts with them, with a strong focus on commerce. And when he overhears that Paris and Chakotay want to enter the temple, he reminds them to display their Ears. People can be fined for not wearing their Ears. Thus it was that Chakotay and Paris traded their shoes for Ears.
Kim and Torres have discovered that the other end of the wormhole does in fact lead to the Alpha quadrant, and are going to try to force this end of the wormhole to appear where they want it to by ‘polarizing’ the subspace instability.
Planetside, the Sages certainly seem to have an appreciation for showmanship and conventionally-attractive huamnoid females. Of course, the Ferengi fetish for humanoid women is well-known. The two Ferengi Sages conduct a public recounting of some of the Rules of Acquisition, and have set themselves up as gods, teaching the local yokels to exploit their family as employees, dispensing wisdom and bibles… for a modest fee.
The Ferengi took advantage of an incredibly convenient local mythology about two sages who were supposed to rule benevolently, and in so doing they completely disrupted the local flourishing community. We get a two-minute plot summary of the Next Generation episode, and Janeway commits to fixing the cultural intrusion, despite Tuvok’s reminder that the Ferengi technically aren’t members of the Federation and thus not subject to the Prime Directive. Her torturing of logic to justify her extracting them is a perfect mirror image of that same long stretch to justify putting everyone in danger last time. This is where it really starts to show that Janeway is degenerating without her coffee.
Planetside, the two Ferengi are counting profits from their… whatever they’re actually doing, and beating their lackey with a pillow because profits are down. Before we stop to consider what profits they could possibly care about when they’re the only people on the planet with access to matter editation, Voyager beams them up, leaving their lackey alone in opulence and not seeming to care that they just vanished in a pillar of light.
The Ferengi, Arridor and Kol, are understandably confused about Janeway’s presence, and I’m confused as to why she’s just giving up information about them being stranded. I suppose she’s still in a position of power, but then there’s also the offer to take them home. Arridor argues, validly, that the Federation has rules that prevent them from interfering, and that they perform miracles that fulfill the local prophecies quite nicely. That suddenly taking away the Sages from these people would disrupt their society even further. The argument is convincing to Janeway, but this is clearly not going to be the end of it.
Janeway decides to figure out how to compel the Ferengi to leave voluntarily, by making it unprofitable to stay. So this week on Burn Notice: how to collapse a criminal religious empire in 30 minutes or less. Once they’ve been returned, Arridor reconfigures the replicator to also put out a transporter jamming field, but they’re soon met by the Grand Proxy of the Grand Nagus, also known as Neelix in orangeface. Evidently it’s been long enough that the Nagus could have sent a representative to the Barzan end of the wormhole, because they don’t particularly question Neelix or their recall.
Arridor indicates that the wormhole opens and closes on its own every seven or eight years or so, so if nothing else Voyager could stay in orbit until then. The planet is M-class and seems to have enough resources to support a civilization. It probably beats getting vivisected by Vidiians. Arridor and Kol start looking for bylaws, fail, and resort to plotting violence. With swords. Neelix gives it up immediately. In order to prove that Neelix isn’t Neelix, they manhandle his ears. The plan has failed.
On their way out, the desperate minstrel accosts them again to recite the verses of the sages at them, and Chakotay has the idea of actually hearing the end of the song so they can figure out how to fulfill the end of the prophecy. Sadly, Neelix’s performance by itself doesn’t command a whole lot of respect, but with Paris and Chakotay shilling for him they manage to gather a crowd and get them riled up. As it happens, the locals are definitely ready to get rid of their sages, particularly once Voyager provides the appropriate celestial phenomena.
Here’s a puzzler for you – why would the Ferengi ‘sages’ furnish their followers with a big ol’ gong, given the sensitivity of Ferengi ears?
Anyhoo, the populace are definitely ready to get rid of the sages, and prepare to send them off, as the song says, on ‘wings of fire’ by burning them alive. As the pyre is built and set, Paris and Chakotay go to turn off the replicator dampening field, the easy way, and everyone gets beamed up before smoke inhalation becomes an issue.
The wormhole is open, but the Ferengi have stolen their shuttle back and Voyager can’t tractor them, beam them aboard, and the Ferengi send out a countermeasure that destabilizes the wormhole, sucks the Ferengi in, and slings the wormhole laterally faster than Voyager can follow, and the Barzan wormhole is now uncoupled at both ends, vanishing their way home. Tonight, Janeway gets to sleep soundly in the knowledge that she saved a culture from the Ferengi, at the cost of her crew. I’m sure it feels great.