What’s that old Hollywood saying? Start with an earthquake and build up to a climax? That was my initial thought when starting this two-part episode, although by the end of affairs, it was more of a case of working up to an anti-climax.
As I’ve said, I’m approaching this Deep Space Nine re-watch/blog with a fresh perspective. I don’t find anything out in advance of an episode, and only read about it after watching. Nevertheless, I was aware that this story was something of a landmark, introducing a running opponent for our happy band of brothers (and sisters), and subconsciously I was expecting this to be the point at which DS9 really starts to flourish and become the series it was always capable of, given that its setting invites longer-term, developing stories.
But, as I have observed with tedious regularity over the past several weeks, I am seeing the series through the lens of Twenty-First Century series drama, and I am finding the Twentieth Century approach to be tedious, in its refusal to develop along more modern lines.
‘The Maquis’ two-parter is a step up, to a story level that is worthy of time being spent upon it. It begins with an explosion, a Cardassian freighter sabotaged as it leaves dock at Deep Space Nine, and expands to reveal an inevitable situation at the end of war, and the equally inevitable – and divisive – responses to it.
The treaty between the Federation and the Cardassian Empire, in the manner of historical treaties after European Wars of old, ended with an establishment of borders. In the old days, this basically meant a land-grab by the victors, to create a more favourable position from which to fight the next war, rather than creating the conditions for a lasting peace (I argued this very point in my European History A-level paper as far back as 1973).
This treaty isn’t quite along these lines. It’s established a Demilitarised Zone (shades of Vietnam) in which by mutual agreement weaponry is banned, and it’s ‘rationalised’ borders. Which means, in practice, that some Cardassian colonies are now on the Federation side of the border, entitled to, and receiving, the protection of the Federation. And that some Federation colonies are now on the Cardassian side of the border, entitled to, and not receiving, the protection of the Cardassian Empire.
Trouble is starting to brew. Sisko’s lifelong Starfleet friend and comrade, Calvin Hudson, has been appointed to manage the situation, negotiate a peace, but weapons are moving into the DMZ. These are coming from the Cardassian Cemtral Command, but the humans are putting their own plans in place (if you want a weapons dealer on DS9,who are you going to turn to? Yes, right, Quark, who’s equally tempted by the latinum on offer and by the ice-maiden Vulcan, Sakonna, who’s doing the dealing: the involvement of a Vulcan in a Federation/Cardassian dispute is inexplicable and unexplained: it is, in fact, illogical).
Up pops Gul Dukat, unofficially, secretly, in Sisko’s quarters, to lead him towards discovering the truth. It’s the beginning of a process in which the two opponents work together – very reluctantly on Sisko’s part – by which we can see the differences in their approach and, whilst recoiling in horror at Dukat’s quasi-fascistic disregard for others, appreciate the effectiveness of this peculiar and disconnected combination of the iron fist and the velvet glove.
But we know what to expect from the episode’s title. In the Second World War, the Maquis were French guerilla bands, resistance fighters against the Nazi occupiers, so it comes as no surprise to find the colonists, who see themselves as fighting for their lives, have opted for armed Resistance – particularly proactive Resistance.
Nor is it any great surprise that the cliffhanger ending to part 1 is the revelation that the Maquis leader is Sisko’s old friend Cal Hudson.
Sisko covers for his old friend for as long and as hard as he can, forcing the door back to Starfleet to stay open, offering bridge after bridge to be crossed, not burned. By his side, Dukat is the more effective in moving the resistance to the Resistance forward, despite setbacks such as kidnapping by the Maquis, abandonment as a renegade running guns, and being sniped at furiously by Major Kira every time he opens his gob.
In the end, it comes down to face-to-face, or as face-to-face as you can get in spaceships. It’s a sadly cliched ending, not helped by being inconclusive: the Maquis are thwarted but not defeated, they retreat to fight on, and Cal Hudson goes with them, in a curiously downbeat, unenergetic ending.
And there’s a suitably portentous final line, when the Major, having completely come around from her episode-long unwavering support for anyone fighting the Cardassians, congratulates Sisko for preventing a war. Have I? he muses. Or have I merely delayed it?
Which would be a brilliant line to take us into a major running theme, if it were not for the fact that the Maquis apparently feature in only three other DS9 episodes, are wiped out by the Dominion and, according to Wikipedia, were only created and used here as a back door introduction for their prominent role in Star Trek: Voyager, then in development for broadcast the following year.
It’s one hell of a missed opportunity, and it leaves us still miles away from this series growing into its considerable potential. I know it doesn’t really ‘get good’ until season 3, but I am finding this refusal to grow quite wearing by now.
Oh, and I’m going to make a prediction. In part 2, Odo tracks down Quark as the trader for the Maquis’ considerable weaponry. He’s imprisoned in Odo’s cells and questioned by Sisko. He wriggles in his usual ineffectual and unbelievable manner. How long do you want me to keep him for? queries Odo. For ever, Sisko replies.
So Quark’s been arrested for gun-running that could start a war with the Cardassian Empire. Can’t get much more serious than that. Nevertheless, I predict that next week, he’ll behind the bar, serving drinks as if nothing had happened, his crime won’t be mentioned again, and Odo will still be telling us how much he longs for something that enables him to put Quark away for good.
In any era, that is terrible writing that undermines the internal reality of your programme.