Deep Space Nine: s05 e09 – The Ascent

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This is the only other episode I remember in advance, this and the cliffhanger ending to the season. I remembered Odo and Quark crashing onto a barren planet and having to cooperate to save each other, despite their position as enemies. I didn’t remember the circumstances, and I didn’t remember the B story, featuring Jake and Nog, nor that there had even been a B story. And having watched the episode again, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why I retained even a small part of this so long after, because apart from the gorgeous mountain scenery, I didn’t think much of the A story at all.

Let’s dispose of the B story first since, relatively humble as it was, it had the greater possibility for actual change. Nog has completed his first year at the Academy and is now doing a year’s Field Studies on DS9 (a rather short-sighted and implausible choice:  surely he’d have been better tested somewhere he wasn’t already familiar with? But let that pass.) Jake seizes this as his chance to leave home, room with his best friend, grow up.

Grow up in this context means the chance to turn himself back into a lazy, selfish, indolent kid. Jake’s a slob (he’s a teenager, it’s practically second nature). But Nog’s a serious Starfleet cadet, obsessed with duty, discipline, order and keeping the place clean, whilst Jake is almost willfully slobby to spite him. My first reaction was that he was OTT but then I remembered my own exposure to boys of that age…

The two quarrel and split up. Rom and Sisko commiserate over how each of their boys could learn from the other, so Sisko forces the pair to live together and, almost out of embarrassment, they start to compromise. It’s an unconvincingly quick lesson-to-be-learned, but it creates a set-up to which the show can come back as part of its structure.

The A story, however, carries little such prospect. Basically, Quark has to be delivered to a Grand Jury on a planet eight days distant, and an unpleasantly gloating Odo insists on delivering him personally. Now you know my opinion of Quark, but even with that, Odo’s triumphant sneers were off-putting.

They were also ill-founded. Odo’s assumption that Quark has been got at last, and is going down forever is completely wrong-headed: he’s a witness, not a defendant, in respect of the Orion Syndicate, who’ve planted a bomb on the runabout. Odo’s Ferengi ears pick up its hum in time for it to be transported off the vessel, but the runabout is still badly damaged by a secondary explosion, and crashes on the nearest planet, which is barren, lifeless and cold.

The crash had destroyed pretty near everything it’s possible to destroy whilst leaving the craft more or less intact. The mis-matched pair have no rations, one survival suit between them and a subspace transmitter that, to penetrate the planet’s atmosphere, they have to lug to the top of a very high (and spectacular) mountain.

It’s a basic throw-enemies-together-and-make-them-work-to-survive plot, with overtones of Beckett’s famous Waiting for Godot and and underlying exploration of what it means for Odo to be a solid, which we haven’t really seen much of yet this season. The pair set off for the top of the mountain, quarreling every step of the way, giving each other as good as they get.

And it gets a bit tedious a bit quickly. The problem is, this is a genuinely desperate situation, but neither character can get over their basic, and openly admitted hatred for one another. This goes especially for Odo, and even more so when, after a schoolyard shoving match, he falls and breaks his leg. Quark refuses to abandon him, makes a crude travois to drag him on, carries the subspace transmitter on his back and still Odo bitches and whines incessantly: way to motivate, Odo, smart!

Even at the last, when an utterly exhausted Quark has been provoked into going on alone, Odo cannot help but be snotty about him when recording what he thinks will be his final message. It’s petty and ungracious, and even after it’s interrupted by the transporter beaming him aboard the Defiant, Quark having succeeded, Odo comes over as preferring to have died rather than having to vary his opinion of Quark to give him the most infinitessimal amount of credit.

You can call it completely characteristic of Odo, you can point to it as an example of frozen thinking, unbending prejudice, you can even invoke the irony of Odo’s life depending on his worst enemy and suggest an underlying comic aspect to it all, but none of those elements worked for me this time round, and I have forgotten what effect they had on me twenty years ago. All I could see was two characters forced into a life and death situation in which they had to depend on each other and who couldn’t for a moment step outside of their mutual differences to recognise that. Especially the self-righteous Odo.

This effect was made all the more imposing by the episode’s possibly best scene. Stuck on the planet, Odo is still hounding Quark over his connection to the Orion Syndicate and why he’s not part of it. Apparently, the Syndicate charges a high membership fee, and in an orgy of speculation about how and why Quark didn’t pay it, Odo concludes that Quark couldn’t afford it, that for all his criminality, he just couldn’t get the money together. At which point, Quark spits back with the devastating rejoinder that Odo had spent ten years trying – and failing – to get the goods on a complete nobody, so who’s the bigger failure? We all know the answer to that.

But in the end it all meant nothing, because the status quo had to be maintained. Maybe this’ll get mentioned from time to time, Quark remind Odo of how he saved him. But a genuinely life-changing experience will change nothing, which is why I now shake my head at this episode, and if I last twenty more years will endeavour to remember it for the mountain and not the story.

2 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s05 e09 – The Ascent

  1. This was the last of the four episode stretch that I watched during the original run in November of 1996. What I really liked about them, was the spice of variety in the types. Again, I can’t remember if I just forgot about DS9 or something better on SNL was on. Or maybe this episode bored me at the time…

    But when I finally saw it again, it struck me as a fine episode, dealing with the Odo and Quark relationship. You’re right in that in is a cliche set up, but the writers made it work for me. It’s the moment where they finally have the ability to explore the rivalry/friendship/enemy. To a lesser extant it’s similar to the Joker’s spiel to Batman in the Dark Knight, about “being destined to do this forever and needing each other.” Quark’s quote your bring is another that is a home run.
    And without spoiling anything, to me the events of the episode mattered and were reflected in later ones. It seemed like Odo gained more respect for Quark and at least subtly there was a change in the dynamic. At least to me and maybe I’m just projecting what should have been, as it has been a while. But try to keep that in mind when seeing their interactions in future episodes…

    And really the B-story was pretty decent too and playing along the same lines as the main story. It spoke to character growth and changes between Jake and Nog. In the first season or two, the boys would have been in opposite roles, Jake the neat and tidy good son of the Captain and Nog, the mischievous Ferengi.

  2. I agree on Jake and Nog with regard to the role reversal, which was cleverly portrayed, I just once again thought that the end was too quick and lazy. I will look to see if there’s any different shading to Odo/Quark in future, but what let me down was Odo’s petty rigidity: he would rather have died than have his expectations of Quark challenged.

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