Friday, November 5, 2010

QUARK: "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms"

I'm still working on my Favorite Episodes post on Space: 1999's "War Games," but as it's taking me a long time, for some reason, I've decided to skip it for now. So, for my second F.E. post, I'm looking instead at Quark's only two-part episode, "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms." (The title, of course, is a play on All the President's Men, which had been a hit film two years before.) According to the IMDb, these episodes originally aired on March 24th and 31st of 1978.

As usual, the adventure begins with Palindrome getting Quark's hopes up about a new mission, only to once again send the hapless commander and his crew on another garbage run. On their way to rendezvous with - and receive garbage from - a starship, they encounter an unknown vessel. They are captured by the aliens, and it turns out that the ship is a Gorgon battle cruiser under the command of Emperor Vorgon the Malevolent, half-brother to the High Gorgon, himself.

Vorgon is accompanied by his daughter, Princess Libido, who finds herself instantly infatuated with the cold, Vegeton science officer, Ficus. ("Are you saying that Princess Libido is exhibiting that condition which you animals refer to as romantic affection at initial visual perception?") Meanwhile, Vorgon has convinced himself that Quark knows the location of It - a mysterious treasure that he greatly desires, and threatens to kill Quark's crew if he doesn't reveal Its location.

Desperate, Quark punts and tells Vorgon that It is hidden on the asteroid Rhombar. Much to his surprise, it turns out that It really is - and that Quark is apparently destined by prophecy to find and wield It. With the help of a tribe of forest people, led by the Prince Vultan-styled Baron (played by an uncredited actor), he finds It, which turns out to be a gemstone amulet reputed to make Its wearer invincible.

What I like the most about "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms" is that, while it borrows character iconography from the old Flash Gordon serials (Vorgon the Malevolent - played by the awesome Ross Martin of The Wild Wild West - is clearly inspired by the merciless Ming), the story itself isn't a parody of a particular film or TV show. Most episodes of Quark were clearly based on specific installments of Star Trek or films like Star Wars and 2001, but "Emperor's" is more of a broad spoof of space opera in general.

Writer Jonathan Kaufer delivers probably the best script in the series (even his treatment of Gene/Jean is better than usual), and incorporates lots of classic space opera tropes, from the horny space princess, to the prison cell with crushing walls, to the incredibly specific galactic legend/prophecy that Quark inadvertently fulfills. Experienced TV director Bruce Bilson, a veteran of Get Smart as well as numerous action shows, keeps the pace lively, and exhibits deft comic timing. Not every joke works, but a lot more than usual hit their mark, and this episode does feature the series finest (in my opinion) comic moment:

Princess Libido's (portrayed by a very funny and sexy Joan Van Ark) attempted seduction of Ficus is the comedic high point of Quark's all-too-short run, and both Van Ark and Richard Kelton are brilliant in the scene.

Libido is nonplussed when Ficus fails to react to her passionate kiss, and Ficus must explain the differences between animal and vegetable love: "Libido, this is where we're going to have a problem.You see, where I come from, we don't kiss, we polinate." When asked to demonstrate, Ficus drops to the floor, lies on his back, sticks his arms and legs in the air, and says, "Bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee...."

Libido joins him on the floor and they both chant. After a moment or two, Ficus asks: "Is it good for you?"

"I think so. Is this what you Vegetons find pleasurable?"

"It would appear so."
"What do we do next?"

"We wait for the bee."

Damn, I laughed just typing that. Needless to say, they are soon interrupted by her father, who is enraged that his daughter is pollinating with a Vegeton, and orders that Ficus be hauled away by the guards. This gives  Kelton a chance to do his Sean Connery in Goldfinger impression:

Anyway, there are other bits of comic gold in this episode, one of which involves Gene/Jean slamming painfully into a wall. Ross Martin, in particular, has some great bits as Vorgon, and displays good chemistry with Richard Benjamin:

"You know what others say? They say that I dwell too much on torture and murder. They say that I'll kill for the joy of it. They say I wipe out whole civilizations at the touch of a button."

"Are they right?"

"Oh, yes."

This episode even has a couple of alien monsters that aren't too shabby by the (Sid & Marty Krofft) standards of the time, a predatory Lizagoth (great name!):

And a Psycloid (or Cycloid), decked out in 40s wrestler togs and a modified Don Post mask:

Say what you want, but they're better than anything we saw on Buck Rogers! Overall production values are good, too. The sets representing Vorgon's ship are quite decent (again, by 70s TV standards) and the costumes - especially those worn by Van Ark and Martin - are classic space opera. These were clearly the most lavish installments of Quark. Even the forest sets/locations for asteroid Rhombar are cool, with hot springs, orange rocks and multicolored foliage.

The main cast pretty much get good scenes in this episode; Tim Thomerson is given a slightly less degrading subplot of his own, and handles himself well. The Barnstable twins get to indulge in some heavy breathing when they attempt to teach Ficus about mammalian mating rituals, and, obviously, Richard Kelton really gets to shine with his storyline. Hell, even Andy the robot gets a few good lines.

Benjamin is particularly good in this one though, and seems to really be having fun. He clearly enjoys sparring with Ross Martin, gets to demonstrate his skill at physical comedy in several scenes, and gets lots of close-in work with the twins.

Overall, "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms" is a terrific space opera spoof, and suggests that Quark had a lot of comedic potential. I think that had the show been allowed a full season, it would be better regarded and remembered today. Well, I like it.

Maybe I'll get to "War Games" next time....


  1. This is the only episode of Quark I can remember seeing as a kid. The funny thing is, only when I purchased the DVD set a couple years ago and actually saw this episode again did I realize it was Quark! For nearly thirty years I thought it was an episode of Logan's Run I remembered seeing! Both shows aired during the same season (1977-78), so I guess that's how I got 'em mixed up. And I was only seven, okay?

  2. "We wait for the bee" laughed typing it.........I laughed reading it! Great post and fun synopsis!
    Dusty Abell

  3. I've never even heard of Quark before findig your blog but I have to say, I LOVE that ship! I don't imagine they ever made any model kits or toys?

  4. This story is my favorite installment of Quark. Kelton's Ficus is hilariously deadpan in his interaction with Princess Libido. Ross Martin chews the scenery as Zorgon the Malevolent, and I was surprised to discover how many of the jokes I remembered after thirty-plus years. Not having seen a Flash Gordon serial when I first watched this story on initial airing, I didn't get the Flash references, not cottoning on to them until the DVD release.

    The Baron of the Forest People, indeed. (In name, referencing Prince Barin of Arborea - a land of trees and forests - while physically resembling Prince Vultan the Hawkman, which you accurately point out above).

  5. People who remember QUARK at all, remember THIS episode, if no other. I still remember my mom and I both exploding in laughter when Ficus explained to Libido that they were waiting for the bee!

  6. Kelton's interactions with Benjamin here and other eps were the pinnacle of humor in this brief series... They had that great Kirk-Spock thing going, which couldn't be beat.

    Best moment was another episode where after an exchange, Benjamin looks at the camera and laments that he just had an argument about love with a plant... And the plant won.

    Priceless, totally priceless.

    It's such a terrible loss that Kelton died so quickly after this series. He was my FAV.