Who Mourns for Morn? suffers a great deal from its place in the sixth season.
Who Mourns for Morn? is the second broad comedy in the last three episodes. It is the third light-hearted episode of the last six. That would be a lot of comedy for any season of Star Trek, but it is particularly apparent in the context of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After all, there is supposed to be a war raging in the background. The cathartic release of You Are Cordially Invited made a great deal of sense after the opening six-episode arc, and The Magnificent Ferengi was a brilliant comedy episode. However, this is just too much.
To be fair, the structure of the season contributes to this sense of humour fatigue. The decision to open the sixth season with a six-episode arc focusing on the retaking of Deep Space Nine was bold and ambitious, but it left little room for comedy or humour. As a result, the comedy episodes were concentrated in the aftermath of that sprawling war story, making for a particularly jarring contrast. The first half of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine only has three comedy episode, which is not too much by any measure. However, they arrive in rapid succession.
Taken on its own terms, Who Mourns for Morn? is a solid and enjoyable episode. It is not as funny as House of Quark or Little Green Men, but it moves quickly and works from a clever premise. It is populated with quirky supporting characters, none of whom outstay their welcome. Who Mourns for Morn? is a fun little runaround. Unfortunately, it arrives at a point in the season where the audience is exhausted from all those runarounds.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Morn has received more character development than some of the regulars on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. The silent barfly who has haunted Quark’s since Emissary has slowly evolved and developed over the course of the series into a surprisingly well-rounded and nuanced character, without ever saying a word. Of course, this development is a wry joke on the part of the production team, but the audience still has a better grip his character than that of Harry Kim or Travis Mayweather.
Who Mourns for Morn? starts from that joke premise, wondering what it would like to build an episode around a character who never talks. It sounds like the kind of idea that would originate in the writers’ room late on a Friday afternoon towards the end of the season, so it is remarkable to see that episode make it to screen. More than that, the resulting episode is far superior to the average Kim- or Mayweather-centric story. It is much better than Emanations, Non Sequitur, Alter Ego, Favourite Son, Fortunate Son or Horizon.
Morn is a fascinating character. He has been a fixture of Deep Space Nine since the show’s pilot, one of the more distinctive background extras of Michael Westmore’s menagerie. He would appear in ninety-three of the series’ one-hundred-and-seventy-three episodes. Not bad for a character intended for a single appearance:
“It was supposed to be a one-shot deal,” recalls the gregarious Shepherd during a telephone interview from his home in California’s San Fernando Valley. “Apparently, what I did on my first day was pretty good, and it got noticed by the producers.
“The next day, Venita Ozols-Graham, then the first assistant director, pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re the producers’ favorite alien and, confidentially, I think you have a future here.’
“They started using me in a few episodes, and then I became a regular extra.
“Halfway through the first season, they gave the character a name and decided to script him into the stories and write specific moments for him,” Shepherd says.
Ira Steven Behr would describe Morn as the show’s “favourite barfly.” Over the following seasons, little details from Morn’s life would come into focus. His flirtation with Dax in Progress, his participation in Quark’s illegal vole-fighting ring in Through the Looking Glass, his panic over the looming Dominion invasion in Blaze of Glory.
Morn was very much a fixture of life on Deep Space Nine, particularly around the bar. Morn was such a core component of the bar that he would even get to run it, twice. Quark left him in charge of the bar while taking Nog to Earth in Little Green Men, and Morn even took over the day-to-day management of the bar during the alternate future in The Visitor. Morn could be seen flirting with female supporting cast members in episodes like The Forsaken and Dramatis Personae.
Starship Down confirmed that Morn had seventeen brothers and sisters. Favour the Bold suggested that he had a strong relationship with his mother. The care and attention paid to Morn was fascinating, particularly given that the character was mute. His loquaciousness became a running joke on the series, whether through Dax rescuing Bashir from his talkative clutches in Starship Down to his inability to offer anything more than a shrug when pressed about Bashir in Doctor Bashir, I Presume.
Ironically, Morn seems to have developed into a mute character by accident. As actor Mark Allen Shepherd recalls, he even shot some (delightfully nonsensical) dialogue during his first day working on Emissary:
The circumstances surrounding my first day on the show were so unusual. When they shot the bar scene in Quark’s where Morn is telling the funniest joke in the universe, they told me I could go ahead and tell my joke. And when Sisko gets off of the turbolift and just as he walks towards Quark’s, if you listen carefully to the background sound you might actually hear Morn saying “Finalism finger fink. Obligatory quotient yokefellow, coconut kachina cosmological argument. Bank swallow fish story, inculpate minuteman. Stress certifier in lecithin. Hard-hearted dill, divine minded domineer, mind reader sextuplet, garden fly honey suckle garbage. Palter rimfire, green peace. Change is the ultimate solution. Twenty-fourth century humor. You may not get it right away.”
No wonder Morn didn’t laugh at Quark’s (literally) blue joke about Andorian antennae in Homefront. Morn’s sense of humour operates at a whole other level. It might have been too much for twentieth-century audiences to handle.
Who Mourns for Morn? doubles down on the joke of Morn as a mute character. Most obviously, Morn is an absent character for most of the runtime. Morn is silent, even in an episode nominally about Morn. However, the characters repeatedly reference and acknowledge his silence. Confronting a holographic representation of Morn in the teaser, Odo asks, “Why doesn’t it talk?” Quark explains, “Do you have any idea how much an interactive holoprojector costs? Besides, it’s a relief not to have to listen to him go on. You know Morn. He never shuts up.”
At the very end of the episode, Morn reveals that he faked his own death. Odo escorts him to the bar, and makes quite a show of letting Morn speak for himself. “Apparently, he faked his own death,” Odo explains, surprisingly nonplussed by the whole ordeal, perhaps because of the trouble that it caused Quark. Odo then pauses, “I’ll let him tell you all about it.” However, Quark is having none of it. “Well?” Quark demands. “No! I don’t want to hear it. Not one word.” Quark keeps interrupting Morn as he attempts to get a word in edgeways.
One time I got a call to come in for a fitting for Morn. Now, it wasn’t a fitting for Mark, it was a fitting for Morn. I thought that was funny. So when I came in, they put my makeup on first and then sent me to the wardrobe department. I found a tailor waiting for Morn to fit Morn for a tuxedo. I don’t remember the name of the episode, but it was somehow based on Our Man Bashir, where Morn is wearing a tuxedo, comes out of the holosuite and walks down the spiral staircase. Quark is shaking a drink and Morn says “Shaken but not stirred.” Unfortunately, at the last minute it got cut.
There was some suggestion, particularly from Shepherd himself in the pages of Star Trek Monthly, that Morn would even get to speak the final lines of the series. Shepherd wasn’t too far off the mark, with the last lines of What You Leave Behind… ultimately going to Morn’s frequent partner-in-crime, Quark.
Given that Morn never speaks, the idea of building an entire episode around the character seems ridiculous and gimmicky. Indeed, Who Mourns for Morn? only increases Morn’s mimetic quality, as the cast all reflect on how much the character means to them. Morn’s silence becomes a blank canvas, an empty space on to which the crew might project their own needs and wants. One suspects that even Gul Dukat has a good Morn story. Through his silence, the mute barfly could be all things to all people.
“Morn was an excellent sparring partner,” Worf confesses to Dax on their way to the memorial service. “I will miss our weekly combat in the holosuites.” However, Worf is not the only one who will miss Morn. “I used to have a little crush on him,” Dax admits. “It was before we met. Besides, he wasn’t interested.” Quark has come to see Morn as “a mascot. Everyone who comes in here expects to see him, and if they don’t, it doesn’t feel like home to them.” He explains, “The last time he went away, my sales dropped almost five percent.”
Morn’s mimetic quality within the narrative is simply a reflection of his cult appeal outside the series. Even Shepherd was surprised by the attention that Morn garnered from both fans and media in coverage of the show:
I was so amazed that I had to collect at least one copy of every magazine that had Morn on the cover or featured somehow inside: covers of Entertainment Weekly, Starburst, MAD magazine, Fangoria, DS9 comic books, as well as Newsweek, TV Guide, Star Trek Magazine, Starlog, Deep Space Nine Magazine, etc. It was unbelievable when the studio started delivering me large manila envelopes filled with fan mail. That went on during the entire run of the show. I’m told that every piece of fan mail represents an estimated 15,000 fans and when I received 1,000 pieces of fan mail that means that some 15 million fans love Morn — a character that never said a word in the seven years that he was on the show. That’s how amazed I was. I was told by a publicist for the show “Did you know that we’ve been told by production to tone down your character a bit because we are starting to get more requests for pictures of Morn in print than some of the stars of the show.” In Germany, where I live now, there was a Star Trek 50th anniversary feature done in the local TV Guide & Movie magazine that had Morn listed number five in a top 10 list of the Most Curious Stories in Star Trek History. It’s just one of those things that has almost a magical quality to it and seems to take on a life of its own – and it’s something I’m very grateful for.
This is remarkable, given how slowly Morn developed and how little information the audience had about the character. The wonderfully alien design of Michael Westmore’s makeup undoubtedly explained some of the character’s appeal, but his unassailable silence and remoteness made him all the more appealing.
Who Mourns for Morn? plays with the idea of Morn as a blank slate, as a character who is still a mystery six seasons into a series that would only run seven season. Who Mourns for Morn? repeatedly teases out revelations about Morn’s personal life, about who he really was and how little the characters actually know about him. Ridiculous twist is heaped on top of ridiculous twist, challenging to audience to decide which absurd statements are true and which are false. Are they all true? Does it matter? Can Morn be whatever the audience wants him to be?
It is certainly an interesting hook into the episode, and that ambiguity seems the best way to approach Morn as a character. After all, Morn has been a blank character for so long that filling in those blanks seems almost self-defeating; it would be like meeting Maris Crane on Fraiser or Mister Wilson on Home Improvement, like discovering what happened to the Russian from Pine Barrens on The Sopranos. Any material revelation about the character would be underwhelming, so it’s best to keep it all vague.
Who Mourns for Morn? was a voyage of discovery, for Shepherd as well as the audience. The writers had teased Shepherd with the prospect of a Morn-centric episode, and the performer was very surprised at how much detail it actually contained:
Yes, the writers did, in fact, tell me bits and pieces about an upcoming episode where they said Morn was going to die. I thought my career on DS9 would be over. But every time they spoke to me it changed a little bit. Sometimes I thought they were just joking with me to get a reaction of some sort. And as the time came to see a rough draft of the script, I got a copy. Then I started collecting the changes that they made almost on a daily basis. I think there was even a part where Morn was going to say something, but that, like so many other times, got written out. I was deeply flattered and intrigued by the story. It really gave me an opportunity like no other episode to discover who Morn really was in the eyes of the writers.
I learned Morn was a rascal in a nefarious sense who was involved with a group of almost sympathetic thieves that heisted 1000 bricks of gold-pressed latinum. Morn had extracted the liquid latinum from the gold-pressed latinum and kept it in his second stomach. (I also learned that) that Morn had hair almost 10 ten years earlier and that Morn was probably there during the end of the Cardassian occupation. These were all things I never imagined about the character, but things like that give the character depth in a way that sight gags alone never can. The writers had a way of keeping me wondering what they would do next. Coming back at the end of the show was somehow a proud moment.
It says a lot about how vague Morn’s back story is that “Morn had hair once” is considered a shocking character revelation. However, Who Mourns for Morn? does tease more substantial revelations about the Lurian, as his supposed death brings former associates out of the woodwork.
Larell claims to be Morn’s ex-wife. “Morn was married?” Quark asks. “To you?” Morn never mentioned Larell to Quark. Then again, Morn never mentioned anything to anybody, at least on screen. When Krit and Nahsk show up claiming to be Morn’s former “business associates” following up on a loan, that seems a little more plausible. However, then Hain shows up claiming that Morn is actually the “Crown Prince” of Luria. “He renounced the throne when he came of age,” Hain explains.
These are all slightly ridiculous plot points, but they do all contextualise Morn in the world of Deep Space Nine. The space station has long been home to the broken and the dispossessed, from Garak in exile as heir to the Obsidian Order to Quark as a failed businessman constantly scrambling to climb the ladder to Odo as the man searching for his people and then cut off from them. It is fun to imagine Morn as divorced and indebted abdicated royalty, drinking away his sorrows in a dive bar on the edge of known space.
In fact, it could be argued that the biggest problem with Who Mourns for Morn? is that it does eventually offer some concrete answers about who Morn is, instead of leaving it all ambiguous. There is something rather mundane and underwhelming in the revelation that Morn was simply involved in a daring heist and then screwed over his partners in crime. Sure, it’s an interesting juxtaposition to imagine the mute alcoholic as a scheming criminal, but no less interesting than it is to imagine him as a doting husband or former royalty.
To be fair, Who Mourns for Morn? at least puts the work in. René Echevarria’s script is careful to set up each of its revelations in such a way that none of its developments feel like a shock. Quark specifically mentions Morn’s second stomach at the memorial service, ensuring that the reveal that Morn has been hiding the latinum in his second stomach feels (literally) organic. There is a lot of attention to detail in Who Mourns for Morn?, perhaps more than the episode really requires.
Even outside of those details around the finer points of Morn’s life, Who Mourns for Morn? does a lot of fun worldbuilding within the framework of a comedy episode. Particularly notable are the small details about Lurian funeral rites, in which the friends and relatives of the departed are expected to show up with offerings of food and drink. “It’s Lurian custom to bring gifts of food and drink for the deceased so they have something to sustain them in the afterlife,” Bashir explains. Odo very thoughtfully brings a bottle opener.
Broadly speaking, the relatively sophistication an alien culture on Star Trek can usually be assessed by looking at their funeral rights. Many of the species featured on Star Trek came into their own once the franchise bothered to explain what they did with their dead; the Klingons treated their dead as discarded husks in Heart of Glory, while the Ferengi sold “vacuum desiccated” discs of their remains in The Nagus, and the Borg simply absorbed their dead bodies as early as Q Who? Funeral rituals say a lot about a culture, even one as tangential as the Lurians.
As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, the episode pays a great deal of attention to existing continuity. Assisting Quark in taking position of Morn’s possessions, Odo makes not of the painting that the Lurian purchased at the auction in In the Cards. “That, I believe, is a matador,” Odo helpfully explains. It is nice to know that Morn appreciated his purchase. Even the small detail that Morn’s swindle took place on “Lissepian Mother’s Day” feels like a nice nod to Morn’s trouble with his own mother in Favour the Bold.
Who Mourns with Morn? is also notable for clearly explaining the concept of “gold-pressed latinum.” The currency has been a feature of the Star Trek universe since B’Etor first mentioned the currency in Past Prologue. It is unsurprising that Deep Space Nine should be the series to add latinum to the mythos; more than any other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine has worked hard to explain how a post-scarcity economy must work, as demonstrated in episodes like In the Cards or Treachery, Faith and the Great River.
In a future where the replicator can provide anything a person would desire, how does the economy work? Gold pressed latinum suggests an answer. Again, the existence of the currency represented the Deep Space Nine writers pushing the boundaries of Roddenberry’s utopia. As Duncan and Michèle Barrett explain in The Human Frontier:
In the post-scarcity economy of Star Trek’s Federation, money had apparently been rendered unnecessary – but on the new space station, gambling in Quark’s bar required stakes. The writers invented a currency for the Ferengi people, and, by extension, for the population of Deep Space Nine: bars, strips and slips of (gold pressed) ‘latinum.’ Odd as it may seem to bracket money and religion, they both represent the collapse of Roddenberry’s rational, humanist, utopian vision. Behr comments: “Once we put money and finances back into the twenty-fourth century, it was just like a line of dominoes.”
Who Mourns for Morn? offers an explanation of what exactly “gold pressed latinum” is, suggesting that it is liquid latinum pressed within gold blocks. The implication is that the gold can be easily replicated, but the latinum cannot. It sets up one of the episode’s best gags, as Quark finds that Morn has siphoned off all that latinum from his one thousand bricks. “There’s nothing here but worthless gold,” Quark laments. “No! No! No!”
This reveal offers another demonstration of how meticulously Who Mourns for Morn? is structured, with René Echevarria very skilfully setting up the reveal much earlier in the episode. The franchise’s first substantial discussion concerning the nature of latinum comes during a game of tonga between Quark and Dax. “I wonder who came up with the idea of suspending liquid latinum inside worthless bits of gold?” Quark muses. Dax responds, “Probably somebody who got tired of making change with an eyedropper.”
As with Quark’s comment about Morn’s second stomach at the memorial service, this is a very effective piece of foreshadowing that ensures the audience is not caught entirely off-guard when it is revealed that Morn has extracted all the latinum from his gold and secreted it away inside his second stomach. For an episode that is written as a broad comedy, Who Mourns for Morn? is very carefully put together. The script plays entirely fair with the audience, which is very strange for a comedy episode based around a premise this ridiculous.
In some respects, Who Mourns for Morn? is a single joke stretched over forty minutes. More to the point, it is a set of small one-note jokes that play out over forty minutes. This is perhaps most notable in the weird dysfunctional gang of crooks that assemble in the wake of Morn’s death, which each of the four characters playing as a very obvious joke. Larell is a very attractive woman who claims to be Morn’s wife. Krit is a walking Jack Nicholson impression in alien makeup. Nahsk is dumb muscle. Hain is acting very hard.
Some of these characters work better than others. Krit is just absurd enough to support what little attention the script pays to him, with Brad Greenquist hamming it up in his handful of scenes. Greg Itzin makes a slightly stronger impression with Hain, offering a firm contrast between his self-assured behaviour towards Quark and his more anxious reactions when Quark cannot see him. Itzin rounds out Hain through a number of small touches, such as absent-mindedly scratching his face with his weapon while trying to improvise around unforeseen circumstances.
In some respects, Who Mourns for Morn? makes a comedic companion piece to A Simple Investigation. Both episodes are written by René Echevarria playing on the familiar troupes of film noir. In fact, the supporting cast in Who Mourns for Morn? are all Star Trek twists on familiar film noir archetypes. Larell is the beautiful and seductive woman working her own angle; Krit is the ominous mob boss posing as a legitimate businessman, with Nahsk as his muscle; Hain is the hustler. Even the climax evokes film noir, as the greedy criminals turn one another.
These characters and their dynamics are all drawn in the broadest possible terms. Who Mourns for Morn? is not a script with a lot of nuance or subtlety, which is a shame. The characters inhabiting Who Mourns for Morn? never feel as tangible as the Ferengi who made up the rescue mission in The Magnificent Ferengi, and their interactions are nowhere near as crisp. Even Quark himself seems very one-dimensional in Who Mourns for Morn?, his motivation seeming remarkably straightforward and his behaviour largely reactive.
Ironically, discussing the first draft with The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, René Echevarria identified this as an issue with Mark Gehred-O’Connell’s originally submission:
After Gehred-O’Connell turned in his script, the refinements began. “Mark did a good job,” René Echevarria says, “but the comedy was too broad. Ultimately, it wasn’t a Morn episode; it was a story about Quark. And the most common mistake people make in writing Quark is to make him transparently greedy. On paper, that’s veyr funny, but Armin [Shimerman] doesn’t play Quark that way. Armin plays it real.”
Unfortunately, Who Mourns for Morn? never quite manages to capitalise upon the nuance and sophistication that Shimerman brings to the role, even in the best comedic episodes. Stories like House of Quark and The Magnificent Ferengi afford Quark a perverse dignity. Who Mourns for Morn? is too broad.
Who Mourns for Morn? is not a bad episode. It is not a bad comedy episode. It is not the worst comedy episode of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. It is not even the second worst comedy episode of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. The biggest issue with the episode is that it arrives hot on the heals of two other light episodes in the middle of a season dominated by a war for humanity’s very survival. As the third comedy episode in a run of six episodes, Who Mourns for Morn? needs to be a truly spectacular piece of television.
Who Mourns for Morn? is merely enjoyable.