After last week’s rather excellent episode, this one crashed and burned for me almost from the outset. With the exception of one single moment, I found ‘Progress’ to be the worst episode of the season.
As with the previous episode, the script again goes for two unrelated stories, both set up by the open. In the first, Nog has accidentally allowed through a shipment of Yammock sauce, a Cardassian delicacy that no-one else eats. Quark berates his brother, threatening to dock half his salary for six years to pay it off. Nog, overhearing with Jake, sees a business opportunity. My heart sank into my boots.
In the other half of the open, we learn that Bajor is to tap the molten core of one of its moons to heat hundreds of thousands of people on the planet. Major Kira, supervising the process, goes out with Dax on a routine inspection but finds overlooked lifeforms on the moon. Beaming down, she arrives in an idyllic mini-farm, and is welcomed with home-made pitchforks. My heart, already suspicious, stayed at boot level.
Let’s get Nog and Jake over with quickly. It’s going to be a comedy story, that’s obvious, and it was a painfully unfunny one with an obvious ending that I could have written down without watching any of the rest of the episode. The boys can’t sell the sauce for gold-pressed latinum, but they can trade it for something else. Their hapless naivete ought to lead to their being ripped off right royally – blimey, they’re so bloody awful at this, it would be a positive duty to cheat them, let alone a blatant flying in the face of human nature.
In the end, of course, they wind up with some unspecified land that only happens to be incredibly valuable to the Bajoran government, so they sell it to Quark for their latinum. Predictable as hell, with not a single original idea to it.
Major Kira’s part of the story should have been much better, being the serious bit, but that too suffered from having nothing new to it. It also suffered from Brian Keith, the veteran actor, as Mulibok, the farmer who’d fled here forty years ago, made a home against the odds and wasn’t going to move, even though staying was suicide.
I say suffered because Keith tried to play the role as a combination of crankiness and twinklingness and both sides were cliched. Frankly, its a stale idea to beegin with, even when its infused with portentous (and carefully unanswered) questions about the price of Progress. But the title was misleading in that sense, since that aspect (the good natural life versus the technological future) was ignored and the writers settled for making Mulibok into a self-deluding, garrulous bore who was determined to pretend reality wasn’t happening.
This approach made it all too implausible that the Major should start to care for him, and stay on the moon to look after him, in defiance of her orders. Supposedly, she recognised herself in his ‘splendid’ defiance of impossible odds, just as the Bajoran rebels had ultimately prevailed against the Cardassians. The problem was that this time the odds were impossible, but nobody ever had the decency to admit that.
Ultimately, it took Sisko beaming down to get the Major to see that (after some patronising sneeriness from Mulibok, demonstrating again that you can’t really make yourself into Mr Grandfatherly Nice when you’re being shittily patronising about and to the young woman on your side.
Sisko made one of the very few good points in the entire episode, in a continuation of the process started much more successfully in ‘Battle Lines’, two episodes back. Kira has spent her life as a rebel. She identifies with the underdog because until now she has always been the underdog herself. It gave her a certain freedom to act in defiance of rules, of structure. But she doesn’t have that freedom any more. She’s crossed the line, she is the overdog now, and for the sake of her career, she has to learn how to be that.
Sisko’s pep talk, and his faith in her working things out for herself, led to the endgame. For most of this sequence, Kira – who has allowed Mulibok to call her by her given name, Nerys – has symbolised her rebellion by stripping off her uniform tunic. She is still, regrettably, fully-clad, but her undertop is sleeveless and what she’s wearing is pretty form-fitting from top to bottom, and I at least was admiring the view.
Now she puts her uniform back on and packs Mulibok’s bags for him. Stubbornly, he still refuses: whilst his cottage stands, it is his home. So, surprisingly, Kira uses her phaser to blast apart the kiln, from which she lights a brand that, coolly, unhurriedly, she uses to burn the cottage down. Mulibok tries one last stall, asking her to use the phaser to kill him, but she refuses, insisting he will live, and beams them away.
But those two intriguing moments were way too little to rescue a cheap and hollow episode. Let’s hope that worst so far turns out to be worst of the season.