Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was years ahead of its time. A serialized drama based in a universe where the underlying theme was to Boldly Go, DS9 instead stayed planted solidly in Bajoran space. Where The Original Series and The Next Generation eschewed focuses on faith and religion, Deep Space Nine embraced these thematic elements and leaned into them.
And throughout the history of Star Trek, while we were introduced to the concept of the United Federation of Planets through the actions of Captains Kirk and Picard, it wasn’t until Benjamin Sisko set foot on the promenade of Terok Nor that we saw the true influence of the Federation through years of cultural acceptance and wartime alliances. Nowhere was this more evident than through the evolution of Rom, one-time barback, and ultimately the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance.
Below, let’s take a look at seven ways the influence of the Federation in his life took Rom from a model Ferengi to the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance.
1. The Education of Nog
“You want my boy to go to a Federation school? Little lady, little lady. What do you know of Ferengi education? It can’t work. He will not listen to you. You are female. My son cannot learn anything from a female human teacher!”
When we initially spend any real amount of time with Rom in the first season episode “A Man Alone,” he’s practically a prodigy of capitalist Ferengi beliefs. He’s stand-offish and only begrudgingly allows Nog to attend classes at Keiko’s school when he feels there’s some form of monetary profit to be made for Nog’s future. There’s no empathy inherent in Rom in our early exposure to him, something that would change as his interactions and exposure to people like Chief O’Brien grew.
2. His Brother's Keeper
“But she’s a female who wears clothes!”
In “Rules of Acquisition,” while Rom is beginning to show flashes of the man he would become, he’s still very much entrenched in his core Ferengi beliefs by the time we get to “Rule of Education.” When he discovers Pel’s prosthetic lobes, he knows that she’s been living a lie as a waiter at Quark’s – how dare a female seek profit? But here we begin to see some of the blossoming empathy that comes to really represent Rom. Yes, while he’s certainly exhibiting trademark Ferengi misogyny towards women and a thirst for profit, it’s all because of his unyielding love of his brother. His conversation with Odo at the bar helps to lay the groundwork for future seasons, where there’s nothing Rom wouldn’t do to help his brother and make sure he’s safe.
3. Standing Up to Quark
“When it comes to the bar, you may be in charge, but when it comes to my son, I make the decisions. Nog, good luck. I would be proud to have a son in Starfleet.”
Throughout the third-season episode “Heart of Stone,” we discover Nog’s ambition to become the first Ferengi to join Starfleet. When Commander Sisko assigns Nog to inventory the cargo bay, and everything comes back with sterling results, Ben is determined to find out the why of Nog’s desire to join the Academy when there’s no profit in it. Nog’s tearful response is that he wants to be better than his father, who is a brilliant engineer but has wasted away being forced to chase profit. Nog also gives us our first indication of what it means to be a a "good" or "bad" Ferengi, and our first hard proof (beyond Quark’s griping) that Rom doesn’t have the skillset for business. But Rom surprises both Nog and Quark when he stands up for Nog’s desires, telling Quark that he makes the decisions for his family, “Like father, like son.”
4. Accepting Moogie
“Don’t tell me about father! I knew him a lot better than you did! You went off as soon as you reached the age of ascension, but I stayed here for ten more years! You know what I learned in those ten years? I learned that father was no financial genius! It’s the truth! He went from one bad deal to the next – one failure to another! He couldn’t hold onto latinum if you sewed it into his pants!”
Throughout the season-three episode “Family Business,” Rom is split between the hardline Ferengi traditionalism of his brother Quark, and Moogie’s more modern perspective. And while Rom certainly is still entrenched in Ferengi tradition, as shown by his reluctance to look at his mother while she’s clothed, his willingness to embrace the truth about his and Quark’s father shows how far he’s grown in such a short time. It was this willingness to accept the truth about his father’s lack of business acumen while still following Rule of Acquisition 266 (When in doubt, lie) by lying to both Quark and Moogie to get them talking to each other, that we begin to see the new Rom take shape. His willingness to accept Moogie’s financial talents, as well as keeping her secret that she hid two-thirds of her profits is a gigantic step forward for someone who was completely beholden to his ways.
5. The Guild of Restaurant and Casino Employees
“We’ve been exploited long enough! It’s time to be strong, take control of our lives, our dignity, and our profits! Strike a blow against Quark. Strike a blow against the FCA. Strike a blow against exploitation! Are you with me?”
When he was overworked and fell ill during “Bar Association,” Rom’s conversations with Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien led to the creation of the Guild of Restaurant and Casino Employees. And when things escalated and the guild went on strike, this action led to Rom to take the very un-Ferengi position of not accepting a bribe to end the labor dispute. Even under pressure from Brunt, Rom didn’t buckle and wouldn’t end the strike without an agreement in place from Quark.
Ultimately, Rom took a huge leap forward when he finally stepped out as his own man from under the influence of Quark, becoming an engineer for the Bajorans. His profits and his life were finally his own.
6. Helping The Less Fortunate
“I gave all my latinum to Major Kira for the Bajoran War Orphans Fund.”
Rom’s relationship with Leeta was a big part of his growth. As O’Brien and Jadzia Dax pointed out during the first act of “Ferengi Love Songs,” Rom was far from traditional. Of course, that led to Rom overthinking things and insisting that Leeta sign the "Waiver of Property and Profit" before they begin their relationship in earnest – which goes over with Leeta about as well as you’d expected. This, though, is all part of Rom’s continued development and demonstrates how influential and how positive an impact the Federation had on the residents of DS9. Rom discusses his plan and heartache with Chief O’Brien, who leads him down the path from ‘I’m still a Ferengi!’ to “I’d give anything to hold her in my arms again.” By the end of the episode, he’s had solid growth, from a Ferengi unwilling to share his profit at the start of the episode, to one who shows that he’d happily give away his latinum to just have her in his life.
7. A New Kind of Grand Nagus
You can’t tell the tale of Rom without Quark being heavily involved. When Quark believed he was going to become the Grand Nagus, he sold his bar to Rom while angrily complaining about the changes in Ferengi society. Of course, with a new society comes the need for a new type of Nagus – and Rom is chosen. Dramatically, Quark insists that his bar will be the last bastion of the true Ferenginar – and Rom gladly hands the bar back to him at no cost.
While frequently Rom was content to take a back seat to his brother Quark, it’s because of that attitude and willingness to collaborate that we saw Rom grow exponentially over the course of the series. And because of his happiness to accept people for who they are and embrace change, we saw him integrate successfully with both the Bajoran members of Deep Space Nine, as well as the crew from Starfleet. That integration and melding of societies together is precisely what the Federation has always aspired to be; it just took a crew of Starfleet’s finest, some Bajoran freedom fighters, and one decidedly un-Ferengi Grand Nagus to show it in action.
Jay Malone (he/him) is a writer based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he lives with his wife Meridith, son Victor, and Boston Terrier Tessie. A genre fan since childhood, he's been lucky enough to grow up in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy, with an ability to quote The Princess Bride, Deep Space Nine, and Firefly ad nauseum. He's been published on Underscoopfire.com and in Exotica Moderne magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JCorduroy