Deep Space Nine‘s 98th episode was a curious collection of bits that, for the most part, were well-made in themselves but which didn’t, for me, quite cohere into a substantial whole. The effect was unusual, a bit like the curate’s egg, though without anything in it that was specifically bad.
This was a story for half the cast, Sisko, Dax, Worf and O’Brien, in the Gamma Quadrant on a McGuffin Mission, examining a remote planet for its mining potential. The other half, Odo, Bashir, Quark and Kira, had a ‘B story’ of their own though it’s stretching the boundaries of the term to apply it to something begun and ended in a single scene, lasting about ninety seconds, if that, so we’ll ignore it.
The Sisko Four were in a party of nine, which meant that, even though none of them were wearing red shirts, you knew the other five were going to be for the chop the moment the story really began. Three of them made it onto the guest star list, though only F. J.Rio as O’Brien’s assistant, Muniz, had any kind of role. Four got killed more or less immediately: Muniz was mortally wounded and took most of the episode to die, teasing the audience into hoping for better, because his gently disrespectful attitude towards the Chief, and his obvious competence were the makings of a very appealing recurring character. We could have stood a lot more of Muniz, but his fate was pre-determined.
The open took us from some gentle ribbing between O’Brien and Muniz whilst exploring rough terrain, to the expedition successfully establishing the target planet as worth mining, to a ship coming out of cloaking and crashing not far away, to the discovery that it was a Jem’Hadar ship.
This was a brilliant opportunity to get acquire and study hot Dominion technology, and Sisko was determined to gran it with both hands: it was no less than his duty. This led to an oddly atmospheric explanation of the upside-down ships, all flashlights, darkness, hissing pipes and odd camera angles coming together to create a brilliantly effective impression of a kind completely alien to DS9.
The ship contains 29 bodies, its entire Jem’Hadar crew being dead.
Next up was the arrival of another, this time intact Jem’Hadar craft, destroying the runabout and opening fire, killing all the metaphorical ‘red-shirts’ except the belly-shot Muniz, and beseiging the Sisko Four inside.
This Jem’Hadar lot are led by a Vorta, of course. Pleasingly, this was not the ubiquitous Weyoun, but rather Kilana, played by Kaitlin Hopkins as a hesitant ingenue, inexperienced, gently flirtatious and all the while displaying enough cleavage to stun an ox. They want their ship back, and are willing to return everyone to DS9, intact, rather than start a fight.
Sisko, naturally, refuses. Apart from it being his Duty to the Federation, and his personal commitment, he doesn’t trust anyone from the Dominion further than he can spit.
Kilana tries again: this time she only wants a mysterious something off the ship and Sisko can have the rest, which he also turns down, ordering everyone to find out what this so important thing is. They’re all convinced it’s some form of military advance but I could see quite clearly what was coming, and it was a little less than convincing that no-one out of four such hardy and experienced Dominion fighters couldn’t even conceive of the most obvious explanation: there was a Changeling on the ship.
This wilful ignorance persisted even though the Jem-Hadar laid down an ongoing barrage of shells detonating outside the crashed ship, taking great care not to so much as scratch its paintwork. Meanwhile, the bombardment frays everyone’s nerves. Muniz continues to die, still clinging to his irreverent attitude, but getting progressively worse. O’Brien refuses to accept the inevitable and keeps reassuring him he’ll be saved, and even Sisko supports this attitude. This leads to the inevitable conflict between O’Brien and Worf over the latter’s cold-eyed clarity, and his Klingon belief that Muniz should be told the truth, so that he can prepare himself, or even that his struggle should be ended, to give him a death with honour, not this unworthy outcome.
We’re running out of time now, so the pace has to be forced. Muniz expires. Sisko and Dax discover some disgustingly greasy drips coming from the ceiling that prove to be the Changeling, a revelation only to the cast. It’s dying, unable to maintain its structural integrity, and spills all over the floor before turning into carbonised ash. Instantly, the bombardment stops. Kilana teleports aboard. All the Jem’Hadar have committed instant suicide, totally offscreen, because they let their god die. Sisko and Co can go, unmolested, and take the ship with them, no worries, as long as she can scoop up a test-tube worth of the Founder’s remains to take back to the Dominion.
This is the only scene that doesn’t work of itself. Sisko has lost five crewmen, but it seems to be the suicide of the purely homicidal, psychotic Jem’Hadar that pushes him to the edge of mild hysteria over so many people dying for this, and all because he and Kilana didn’t trust each other. It doesn’t work because it’s false. There’s a war going on and you’re not supposed to trust the enemy, especially when they’ve got overwhelming superiority in numbers and weaponry and are promising to let you go. Sisko’s sudden horror at this tragedy and his feeling of responsibility, which will be further developed in a subsequent scene with Dax, also doesn’t work because it has no basis in reality: with the exception of Muniz, who we assume could have been saved with proper medical attention, all the deaths took place before Sisko first spoke with Kilana, so his near-hysteria is for the death of the Jem’Hadar.
Nevertheless, there was an effective closing scene with O’Brien and Worf. The Chief is in the hold with Muniz’s coffin, talking to him, when Worf enters. The Klingon identifies O’Brien’s actions as echoing the Klingon tradition/rite of ak’voh, of friends guarding the body of a dead warrior from predators until it is ready to go to Sto’vo’kar. He joins O’Brien in his vigil.
As I said at the beginning, with the exception of the scene I’ve identified where Sisko nearly gets hysterical, the various elements of this episode are handled well in terms of both writing and acting, and that of the initial exploration of the ship in effects and cinematography, but somehow it didn’t come together as a whole. This was an episode I’ll remember for its parts rather than its sum. And I don’t mean Kaitlin Hopkins’ cleavage when I say that.