In retrospect, I think a better choice overall would have been to stay away from developing the Ferengi culture, or trying to use them for slapstick comedy, and instead focusing on making Quark the show's wry or cynical commentator on human nature. He has some great moments in the later seasons when he is doing this, but they tend to be a little brief.
I agree completely. Quark is a great character that is sadly remembered for a lot of bad, silly episodes. The insistence on centring comedic episodes around him devalued the character, and by the final season he was treated less seriously than his nephew.
Over the Christmas period, I found myself reading about Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. I know what you're thinking, it's not the most festive story in the world, but it was one of those events that I knew of but didn't know much about, so I read through the wikipedia articles on the subject. Reading that story made me feel anger, revulsion, fear, and sadness... and all my nerdy brain could think was "I wonder why Star Trek never did a story about cults and mass suicides." Then I remembered that Covenant
existed and thought "Oh yeah. I wish they'd have given it a proper go."
Cults are fascinating, tragic things, and Covenant
fails to capture that fully. The problem is that Covenant
is a Dukat episode above all else, the cult is just a way for us to see a new side of Dukat and set up his allegiance to the Pah-wraiths. As such, it's not a bad episode. Dukat's motivation in this episode makes sense, he finally has what he has sought all along; the adoration of Bajorans that he rules over. But at the same time, he genuinely does believe in the Pah-wraiths and presents himself as the anti-Emissary as a direct challenge to Sisko. He's mad, but there's a twisted form of sense to his madness.
Some people take issue with the fact that the Bajorans in this episode are really dumb, and it's a legitimate complaint. But cults don't operate on a wavelength that most people can understand. The idea of poisoning my child before poisoning myself as a form of "revolutionary suicide" makes no sense to me. Poisoning myself in the belief that I'll be transported to an alien spaceship is one of the most ludicrous concepts I can imagine. But some people believe enough in order to do those things. Nothing the cult believes in this episode is particularly outlandish when compared with what people can be made to believe in the real world.
Except, perhaps, the ending, which is far too simple. It's revealed that Dukat isn't planning on killing himself, and the entire cult instantaneously get some sense and turn on him. Then Dukat gives a mad rant and runs away to pester the DS9 crew another day. It's a rushed ending that doesn't do the concept justice. How did the cult-members react after the initial anger wore off? Nobody knows, the episode wasn't interested in addressing it, instead we get a lame statement from Kira about how Dukat is "more dangerous than ever!"