“We’re helpless! We’re harmless! We just want to sell you things!”
2372: Quark is ferrying his brother, Rom, and nephew, Nog, to Earth to deliver the latter to Starfleet Academy. Nog is set to become the first Ferengi to join that august institution, blazing a path for his people the way Worf did for Klingons a generation earlier. As it approaches Earth, the ship, Quark’s Treasure, encounters a strange malfunction that results in it being sent back through time to the year 1947, after which it crashlands on Earth near the town of Roswell, New Mexico.
Knocked unconscious during the crash, the three Ferengi awaken to find themselves in what appears to be some form of laboratory. Soon, they’re being interrogated by members of the United States Military, who are certain these “aliens” are must be part of an invasion force coming to conquer the world.
Meanwhile, Quark is sure he can be running the entire planet within a year.
“Little Green Men,” one of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s most memorable episodes, was delivered on November 13th, 1995 to first-run syndication. Developed as an homage to the great science fiction B-movies of the 1950s (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World, The War of the Worlds, etc.), the episode delights in sending up the genre. You’ve got your hard-charging general, the no-nonsense Army officer who’s ready to do anything to protect his country from the Commies and his planet from Martians, the academic who wants to understand and communicate with the aliens in order to benefit from their obviously advanced technology, and (of course… :: cringe ::) the nurse who’s tasked with injecting a little empathy while representing the otherwise cold, calculating, and even callous humans around her while doing what she can to avoid harm being visited upon the aliens.
The idea of Ferengi visiting “ancient” Earth and having to interact with “primitive” humans sounds like a concept where the jokes write themselves, and in the early going that’s exactly what seems to happen. Professor Jeffrey Carlson and Captain Wainwright attempting to communicate with Quark, Rom and Nog — with neither group either to understand the other due to the Ferengi’s malfunctioning universal translators — is good for several chuckles at humanity’s expense. Then we turn things up a notch with the reveal that Odo stowed away aboard Quark’s ship, because Rene Auberjonois was always masterful at playing the straightlaced end even stuffy constable for every laugh he could get.
Of course, things start to take a sinister turn when Captain Wainwright threatens to torture and kill the Ferengi if they don’t tell him the truth about their visit here and their motives, but then Carlson and Nurse Garland help free them from the Army’s clutches long enough to make their escape and return to the 24th century.
25 years after its original broadcast, “Little Green Men” remains one of the best episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s seven-year run. It breaks well away from the series’ normal formula, which at this point (in the early 4th season) is starting to take a darker turn as war with the Dominion looms. As a time-travel episode, it ranks up there with the more lighthearted ventures into this realm like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or even the instant classic episode that will come in DS9’s fifth season, “Trials and Tribble-ations.” If you’re a fan of the movies to which this episode is a written as a Valentine (and I am, by golly), then you’ll get most if not all of the subtle nods, winks, and Easter eggs to those 1950s gems.
“Little Green Men” also has the benefit of giving a Star Trek twist to a bit of actual modern-day conspiracy theory. Though accounts of something weird happening at or near Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947 have existed since the say such weirdness supposedly happened, the folding of “aliens crash at Roswell” into UFO lore didn’t actually happen for decades afterward. Films, TV shows, books, and comics have offered different versions of what they think happened (The X-Files, Dark Skies, and the Roswell TV series being prominent examples), but “Little Green Men” proved to be a fun way to spin the tale in a whole new direction.
As with many stories that leave a lasting impression, the episode has provided fodder for a few other tales told in other media, most notably the Star Trek novels published by Simon & Schuster. Greg Cox was able pick up Professor Carlson and use him to every effectively in his two-part storyline The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. And hey! I was able to take several threads from this and several episodes and weave them all through a few stories of my own. First, there was “The Aliens Are Coming!” published in 2000’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds III anthology. Then, in 2013 I went hog wild with the concept of what happened after the episode in my novel From History’s Shadow. That book begat two sequels, 2016’s Elusive Salvation and Hearts and Minds from 2017, which continued fleshing out concepts I introduced in the first novel.
It’s been a while since I last watched this one. May have to rectify that in the coming days.
Until then…keep watching the skies!