Deep Space Nine: s2e10 – ‘The Sanctuary’

Where’s the skin cream?

I always play a little game with myself with each new episode of Deep Space Nine, trying to assess from the open where the story will go this week. Invariably the first half can be disregarded as a distraction: the formula is a bit of ‘life-as-normal’, to then be interrupted by the actual subject of the story, which also provides the lead into that superb theme music.

‘The Sanctuary’ offered a double-helping this week, with first Major Kira getting a mild disciplinary over allowing her frustrations with the Bajoran Provisional Government to override her duty to complete the duty roster, then Quark complaining that the aged Bajoran musician blowing a heartfelt version of the theme, who he’d taken on at her request, was bankrupting him by tempting his customers to listen, not gamble.

So the actual meat was held back to the final seconds: a strange ship, in bad repair, comes through the Wormhole, it’s crew of four – two men, one boy, one female leader – are beamed aboard, but the Universal Translator can’t turn their language into English for us…

Unfortunately, this extended open was a symbol of the poor, stretched quality of the story this week. The story itself was so thin, and frankly predictable, that it felt like all sorts of unimportant and irrelevant stuff had to be crammed in just to make it last long enough.

The newcomers are Skreea, the woman named Haneek, the boy Tumak and the two men Haneek’s insignificant husbands, or rather bondsmen. The Skreea are a matriarchal society in which males are generally dismissed as over-emotional and impractical, and are polyandrist possessions of the females: in short, a complete contrast to Alpha Quadrant society, but possessed with enough gender-reversed parallels as to set up a fruitful tension between the societies.

Having outlined that, I have spent more time on the subject than the show did.

The Skreeans are a farming race fleeing from conquering invaders – a direct parallel there to Bajor which also went all-but unexplored – and there are three million of them out there on the other side of the Eye of the Universe (no relation to the Pete Atkin song of the same name), seeking refuge on their planet of hope, Kentanna.

Haneek, a simple farmer, becomes by default a leader, in the same way that Kira becomes, by default, the Skreea liaison, and, or so it seems, a friend to Haneek. That is, until Haneek decides that Kentanna is Bajor.

Unfortunately, the Provisional Government decides that in the planet’s current state, struggling to feed itself as it is, it cannot accept three million refugees on an isolated and barren peninsula. It doesn’t matter that the Skreea are farmers and that Haneek is absolutely convinced they can grow anything anywhere. It doesn’t matter that they don’t want aid at all, that they plane to be self-sufficient. The Bajorans point out – an under-emphasisedplus point for them – that if it all goes pear-shaped, they simply couldn’t sit by and let the Skreea die: they’d have to aid them and they haven’t got the resources.

The hell of it is that Kira agrees, which immediately snaps Haneek’s friendship: Kira won’t do exactly what she wants? Hate her.

It’s unworthy. It may be understandable but it immediately diminishes Haneek, whose case is precarious given that it’s apparently based on nothing more solid than we-can-do-it conviction whereas the Bajoran case comes at least in part from study.

And that’s it, basically. The Skreea have no option but to accept the much more promising uninhabited planet Sisko and Dax have found for them and Haneek and Kira part with only bitterness on Haneek’s part about not getting her increasingly self-righteous way, and words about how Bajor is basically paranoid after the Cardassians. Even then, Haneek can only offer ‘we’ll never know if it would have worked but it would have been better if it had.’

Of course, since that’s a crap ending, it has to be gussied up a bit first, with some artificial, tacked-on drama. Haneek’s spoilt brat son Tumak – boy, they really know how to get you on some people’s side, don’t they? – steals a ship and sets off for a one-boy-and-his-two-mates invasion of Bajor. Unfortunately, he’s chosen a ship under repair, with a plasma leak. He won’t answer hails, won’t shut his engine down, gets fired at by Bajoran interceptors (aiming to miss) and blows up.

I really could not get into this episode. It was crude and predictable and did everything it could to deprive the Skreea of sympathy, down to giving them all very flaky skin that made them all unpalatable to look-at. Yet the story could easily have been a much better episode, one that integrated all its little sub-plots into a cohesive central track, that set-up an inevitable tragedy, that properly got the viewer onto the side of Haneek.

But it was too inept, and too lazy to do so. Maybe it ended up being a rush-job, too little time to work out the script properly, maybe filler was all that could be scraped together this week, but it was a seriously thin and lacking effort, and well below season 2’s standards thus far.

For future reference, the story mentions the Dominion for only the second time, and for the first time to the Federation.

Better next week, I hope.

4 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s2e10 – ‘The Sanctuary’

  1. I have a little better memory of the plot of this one, but can’t remember quality wise. The only thing that jogs my memory would be the insistence of why they had to settle on Bajor wasn’t really pulled off well. And again I could be mixing it up with another episode…
    The premise should have been a good one though examining Bajor’s lack of resources and their willingness to help others. You think this would have made the Federation cast more doubt on the planets ability to eventually become a member…

  2. Good points, both of them. Why Bajor was perfect was never spelt out, it just ‘was’: it was the equivalent of their Holy Land. The planet they were sent to was, objectively and scientifically, a better place to start from. It’s very noticeable in these early DS9 episodes, even though I’m enjoying them more, how lazy and sloppy the writing often is, with important points glossed over like this. I put it down to the era: time to write was limited, the standards leaned more to acceptability than greatness and the audience weren’t expected to either notice or care. LCD.

    Obviously, I’m not in a position to comment on the development, or lack of development of any point in the future, but yours is a very valid concern. Again, I’d put it down to the times, and to seeing the audience as passive rather than active viewers. ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ was one of the first series to make the viewers work, at roughly the same time as DS9, but it only ever got critical acclaim, not big audiences. TV series work for a more perspicacious audience these days because audiences have been trained to be more aware.

    1. ^And binge watching…

      I looked up Jammer’s Review(Probably most well known Trek Reviewer on the Web) and he for the most part had the same thoughts as you on the episode….

      This was the season DS9 started getting good, though still shaking off some of the hangups, average and TNG like shows.. When I went on Trek message boards many were of the opinion that DS9 didn’t find its legs until the 3rd season, but only because it took TNG that long…

      One other element to this was I’m not sure how much of a writing staff they had the first two seasons and how much was just freelancers, fill ins and TNG writers. TNG ended after this season and several of the writers went to work on Voyager while the others came to DS9. DS9 got the better writers, including Ron Moore. I think starting with season 3 they started getting a better long term and bigger picture with Ira Steven Behr helming the series.

  3. Oh, season 2 is definitely an upgrade on season 1, but it’s still a show that’s improving.

    As I’ve said before, I’m avoiding looking forward at all, watching each episode exactly as if it were being broadcast for the first time now, and only using the Internet (primarily Wikipedia) for factual information like correct spellings of names and planets. I’ll have to check some of Jammer’s posts.

    Going back to the writing aspect, another thing typical of the era which I’m finding pretty irritating actually is the need to give room to everybody in the cast, whether they have anything to do with the story or not. This most often means shoehorning Quark into the storyline somewhere, for three or four lines, just because Armin Shimerman is cast. Another difference between then and now.

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