Deep Space Nine: s1e18 – Dramatis Personae

As the first season is now heading towards its end, this hard-edged episode, which offered a welcome frisson of strangeness, was one of the best of the season, the more so for being entirely station bound and involving only the cast.

I’m getting used to the formula now of the open starting on something irrelevant to the story, and segueing itself into the real matter, so it was nice to see that that initial concern – Major Kira’s firm belief that a soon-to-dock Valerian ship is running weapons-grade material to the Cardassians – was also intimately tied into the story, albeit as a MacGuffin.

But from that first plot point – with Kira determined to find evidence to back up her suspicions and Sisko, a little more reasonably, insisting on evidence of guilt first – we switched to an unexpected Klingon spaceship emerging from the wormhole, promptly exploding violently, and one lone survivor teleporting aboard, only to die the next minute, mouthing the word, ‘Victory’.

After the theme music, we got onto the investigation of the explosion. There was an immediate clue dropped, as Dax, ordered to a runabout with O’Brien to investigate the wreckage, simply sat there looking happy, and unexpectedly giggled when reminded she had somewhere to go. But the uncharacteristic behaviour was simply that: uncharacteristic, isolated and more silly than anything else.

The next thing to happen was Odo undergoing some form of seizure in Quark’s bar, as if he’d suffered a brain hemorrhage, only to recover perfectly in the medical bay. Where naive, lightweight Bashir immediately starts talking about the forthcoming clash between Sisko and Kira, and the need to choose sides. That was when the episode felt seriously strange.

And it developed from there, as the station staff – excluding Odo and Quark – started going haywire. Sisko, aloof, bored, self-important: the Chief, paranoid, fanatically loyal to Sisko: the Major plotting mutiny, a station takeover, Sisko’s death: Dax, boringly nostalgic, disconnected, forgetful. An internal war was developing, and with a horrifying rapidity.

Only Odo kept his head, enough to identify the menace, and to manipulate the cynical Doctor into creating a means of eradicating it. The explanation was a little bit perfunctory: on their Bioscan Survey in the Gamma Quadrant, the Klingons had found and been affected by telepathic spheres imprinted with an historical power struggle that had ultimately destroyed a former civilisation. That telepathic influence had refought its battles through the Kilingon crew, and was busy doing the same with the Deep Space Nine crowd, until Odo got rid of it.

The episode ended with the restoration of normality, though there was an odd coda that I shall be waiting to see if more will be made of it. The possessed Sisko had started designing and constructing a clock, though Sisko professed himself unaware of why he had done that. But in the final scene, as Kira visits his office to add an extra apology for the nature of her (possessed) mutiny, Sisko replies by accepting her apology ‘this time’. When she leaves, he resumes work on the clock.

Because, of course, the central rift in the episode, between Sisko and Kira over command and policy, was not based entirely in an induced and artificial power struggle, but had real roots. Deep Space Nine was obviously still a long way from joined up scripting of the kind that allowed an overwhelming arc to progress, so there had to be a stasis reset at the end, to allow the episode and its underlying tensions to be ignored next week.

Hopefully, this coda scene was a hint that a crack has been left that the show will return to. But it was perfunctory, and thin in itself, and this was a different era for TV. I’d like to hope for more, but I don’t expect it, which made the hint an awkward conclusion, a phantom lead.

Then again, next Tuesday may prove me completely wrong…


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