Deep Space Nine: s04 e21 – The Muse


Linger on her pale blue eyes

For this week’s episode, we were back to the old format of two completely unrelated stories, alternating for screen time, with the episode as a whole being a budget-saving ‘bottle’ episode, confined solely to the station, with only three guest stars to pay.

Unfortunately, after the impressive run of recent episodes, I found neither half of the episode particular involving.

Given that the title was ‘The Muse’, you’d have thought that the half-episode featuring Jake Sisko and guest Meg Foster as Onaya, a mysterious woman acting as a creative consultant drawing out of the aspirant young writer the beginning of a brilliant novel, whilst mining him for cerebral energy to the point where it almost kills him, to be the A-story.

However, it was a pretty even balance between that and the mostly comic B-story, had Lwaxana Troi turning up unexpectedly, heavily up the duff, and wanting Odo’s protection from a Tavnian husband whose cultural background demands he seize a boy baby at birth, bring it up by and among men only and not let him even see his mother until he’s sixteen. To rescue Lwaxana, Odo has to marry her according to Tavnian custom, which means he has to convince her existing husband that he really does love her.

Both stories were somewhat slight, with the Odo/Lwaxana side being marginally the deeper (despite the above summary!). It was also the more significant in an offscreen sense, for this marked not only Majel Barratt’s final appearance as Lwaxana, but her final appearance in any live Star Trek series, after thirty-two years.

As the summary shows, this is mainly a comic tale, with Lwaxana erupting, yet again, into Odo’s orderly life. I found her description of her life with her Tavnian husband – married on the rebound from Odo – rather familiar: pre-marriage promises of a shared partnership followed by an immediate lapse into a determined stance that he wasn’t going to change and she’d have to accept his ways: someone I used to know had a marriage like that.

Odo’s ‘proposal’ turned upon an obscure provision of Tavnian law, which was that a boy baby belonged not to his father but to his mother’s husband, whoever he may be at the time of birth. And Tavnian divorce is brought about by marrying someone else (they obviously don’t have lawyers on their planet). But in order to marry Lwaxana, Odo has to explain exactly why his life isn’t worth living if she doesn’t accept him, and he has to be convincing because if anyone present – such as her existing husband – objects…

Which led to the story taking an unexpected turn into serious emotion, albeit fruitlessly, with Odo explaining just how much Lwaxana’s faith in him, her total lack of fear or, more importantly, revulsion at him being a Changeling, expanded his world. It’s real, true and wholehearted, and it convinces Jayel to back off, and to do so in an impressively dignified manner, accepting that Odo’s feelings were greater and more important than his own.

Odo then blew it by talking anullment the moment everybody else left the room, which rebounded with Lwaxana blowing out of DS9 for a final time, catching a fortunate freighter back to Betazed. Odo tries to get her to stay, but Lwaxana tells him she knows he doesn’t love her, not as she wants him to love her, and that to stay would only lead her to resent him for what he can’t give her, and to the destruction of their friendship, which is too important for her.

It’s a pity. The complex emotional relationship between this pair was something I would have liked to have seen explored, yet because Lwaxana had been created as an OTT comic role from the very start, it prevented her leaving that role for anything other than brief moments. Which made the kind of story that this episode set up impossible to produce. One of the perils of series television, especially when there are strict limits set to just how much a character can evolve.

So let’s turn to our notional A-story, Jake and the Muse. I’ve pretty much exhausted the actual content of this strand with the summary, and detail is a bit unnecessary, especially given that the episode preferred not to give any expository detail in the first place.

Jake is on the Promenade top deck, people-watching the new arrivals and making brief character sketches out of them, until he is drawn to an exotic woman with incredibly pale blue eyes, who looks back up at him. Subsequently, she joins him at Quark’s, attracts his attention by talking of past relationships with creators of all kind (who created fantastic things under her inspiration but who all died young-but-immortal, hint dropping like a stone into an empty tin bucket).

Onaya persuades Jake to come to her quarters (whilst his Dad is off-station for three days leave) so he can learn certain useful techniques. For unlocking his creativity, you sex-obsessed yahoo, though the episode does try to establish a certain sexual tension about the relationship, especially as Foster speaks in a slow husky voice throughout, and puts on her best allure for him.

That aspect falls more than flat because, though Foster is plainly a very attractive woman, and the alien make-up does its best to render her ageless, she’s equally plainly considerably older than Jake (Foster was 48 to Cirroc Lofton’s 17 when this episode was made) and in 1996 on a prime-time SF series, the audience knows it is not going to get a young-boy-seduced-by-predatory-older-woman story.

But Onaya isn’t interested in Jake’s body, only his mind, and in particular the creative energy it generates. Throwing away his pre-iPad, she hands him a fountain pen and a ream of rather thin and flimsy looking white paper, on which he immediately starts writing, in a flowing, cursive hand that looks completely incongruous.

Jake writes on, whilst Onaya massages his temples, drawing forth as she does some ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, which she shoves into her own throat. The longer Jake writes, the more of it she steals and eats, and the more his brain starts to overheat, literally. In the end, after a bit of panicky search-the-station drama, thrown in just to give us something like action, Sisko threatens to shoot her ass off and Onaya turns into a rather larger patch of ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, and passes through the wall and off into space.

Leaving behind several questions the show has no intention, such as, who was she, what was she, was she real, can Jake’s creativity ever recover, wouldn’t it have been better and less pretentious if he’d just got his rocks off and why, if she can turn herself into ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, did she need a spaceship to get here in the first place?

In a different context, it would be acceptable to see Onaya for what she essentially is, a version of the Irish Leannan Sidhe (various spellings available), faerie creatures that inspire writers etc for brief periods, sustaining themselves on the poet’s energy but burning them out rapidly. But the tone is wrong: the Leannan Sidhe are creatures of faerie, resonant myth-forms, and cannot be captured by turning them into aliens and putting them into an SF Universe populated by cold hard fact. Ursula le Guin attempted something similar in her first novel, Rocannon’s World, and admitted her mistake quite openly.

The closest we get to having any of these questions answered is the final shot, as Jake entitles his draft ‘Anselm’, which anyone paying attention to every last little detail, will recall was future-Jake’s massively successful novel in episode 2 of this season. Jake the genius writer, we are assured, has not been damaged. Martin, the not-genius writer, who remembers his own ‘career’, remains unconvinced at the thought of a 17 year old boy being that bloody brilliant.

I’m hoping for better next week.

Uncollected Thoughts: Twin Peaks s03 episode 1


I’ve come to this cold. No re-watching of the original two series, of Fire Walk With Me, I’m going in trusting only in my memories. Because these are vivid memories, because Twin Peaks was vivid, and lurid, and that ending was one of, if not the most horrifying experiences I have ever had with any kind of creative form, because it was the end but it wasn’t the end, it was a cliffhanger of Himalayan proportions and I sat there stunned. Special Agent Dale Cooper had gone into the Black Lodge to rescue Annie, and he had got her out, only he wasn’t he, he was Bob, Killer Bob, and the real Cooper was imprisoned behind.

No series has ever ended so awfully as that, so unbearably incomplete. Even though season 2 had dipped so badly throughout its middle episodes, it had come back with a vengeance with the introduction of Windom Earle, a truly terrifying performance by Kenneth Welsh. And that final episode had been one of the most intense television episodes I have ever seen, rivaling the last episode of The Prisoner.

Unbelievably, it’s back. And this is the first episode, consisting of parts 1 and 2 of an eighteen part series that has been described as an eighteen hour film. Well, bring it on! I am as insulated against trailers and spoilers and even promo photos as it is possible to be in this age and I am coming to this with clean hands and composure (as the writer Harlan Ellison is wont to say) and…

Indeed, and.

I’ve already read one review that suggests season 3 will piss off cult fans and newbies alike, with which I profoundly disagree. This is an eighteen hour film and I am getting pissed off at reviewers who expect to have the complete structure and purpose laid out for them in episode 1. This is supposed to be the age of the long-term project, the viewer willing and eager to commit to long series in which secrets and objectives and purposes are only revealed slowly, and in the meantime commit to working out the puzzle in their own heads, as they go along. It was the same for American Gods only three weeks ago, and it was stupid then.

But David Lynch and Mark Frost have gone far out on a limb with this opening episode (as indeed they should: Twin Peaks wasn’t just ahead of the curve in 1990-91, it was the curve and for it to come back exactly the same as before would be to gut it and remove any point to the return). For one thing, at a rough guess, less than twenty percent of the episode takes place in Twin Peaks, or even Washington State, and only a handful of our old friends have put in an appearance, and even then as cameos.

Strange things are happening, but mostly they’re happening elsewhere. In New York City a young man watches an empty glass case, under constant filming from three angles, during which time nothing happens, until he makes out with his girl, at which point something… something… emerges and seems to beat them to a pulp. Later, we see something significant happen when they were both out of the room.

In South Dakota, a murder is investigated, a woman’s mutilated head and a man’s mutilated body in the same bed. The murderer is a School Principal, but there’s a tangle of adulteries behind this. It’s very low-key, slow, undemonstrative, exceedingly normal and except for the brutality of the murder(s). But it’s been ‘organised’ by a shadowy background figure.

Who also pops up in Las Vegas, seeking information of an undisclosed kind, and dealing unmercifully with betrayal by the white trash he has assisting him. He’s due to keep an appointment tomorrow, except he’s no intention of meeting it. It’s been twenty-five years and now he’s supposed to go back, only he has no intention of returning to the Black Lodge.

Because the constant figure is Special Agent Dale Cooper, whether he is the real one, still trapped in the Black Lodge (from where he is to finally be released, once his doppelganger comes back) or he is the doppelganger, following some twisted course in the real world.

Something is being set up, and the whole fucking point of Twin Peaks in the first place is that you don’t go expecting the answers to be dropped in your lap, tied up with pretty pink ribbon. Lynch and Frost take things slowly – just as they always did – but there’s obviously a thread linking things together. Cooper’s coming back. The Log Lady, or at least her log (a fine, vulnerable, final performance by a clearly weak Catherine Coulson, sadly gone before this appears) knows it. Deputy Hawk understands some of it: he has come to Glastonbury Grove in the night and even though the real Cooper can’t leave before his doppelganger returns, the Black Lodge is losing its power.

And we see little vignettes with old faces, ending in the bar, as a band I’d never heard of called Chromatics replace Julee Cruise with a fine song I promptly downloaded, and people talk and drink and dance, and a near shaven-headed James looks across at a gaggle of women, one of whom is Shelley…

It’s back. Whether it can provide the resolutions we want after twenty-six years, we will have to wait until the end. I’m here for the duration, good, bad or indifferent. It’s like Alan Garner’s Boneland, the unexpected, much-delayed, radically different end of the trilogy. If Twin Peaks does as much to disturb the previous two parts as Garner did then, it will be a triumph.

 

Deep Space Nine: s04 e20 – Shattered Mirror


I don’t know to what extent it was the episode and to what extent it was me, but I found this week’s DS9 curiously uninvolving.

As the title gave away, it was another Mirror Universe story, and a fairly simple one to summarise: the Rebels under Smiley O’Brien have control over Terok Nor (i.e., DS9), but the Alliance have sent a fleet under Klingon leader Worf to recapture it. When he was on DS9, Smiley stole schematics that have enabled the Rebels to build their own Defiant, but they need Sisko to refine it. In the end Sisko pilots the Mirror Defiant to force the Alliance Fleet to retreat.

With the exception of Smiley, who has pretty much merged with the Chief in terms of personality, the rest of the regular cast hammed it up unmercifully in their altered roles, which is where I think the story simply didn’t work. Worf and the cringing Garak were just completely OTT, and the script indulged them past the point where this felt like any kind of commentary upon their normal characters: it was too much an indulgence to the actors to be at all realistic.

This surrounding detracted from what was the only real point of the exercise, which was to bring together Jake Sisko of our universe with the Mirror Professor Jennifer Sisko, the duplicate of his dead mother.

I wasn’t even sure how much that worked. The whole idea played into deep emotions, but the episode rarely lifted itself above the idea of a dream-come-true. Jake is fascinated by Jennifer, and accepts her invitation to come see her Universe, which is the snare that gets Sisko to cross over. Jake has already constructed an image in his mind of his family restored, pairing Jennifer with Sisko, bringing back a life destroyed years ago in a pain-free haze of wish-fulfillment.

Anyone with the remotest sense of adult consciousness knows that this situation is fraught with emotional and psychological danger, but the episode never escaped from being adolescent fantasy. Which, considering even for a second the effect of losing a parent at a very young age, of living what is now half your life without that parent, was simply inadequate. Even when Jennifer dies (at the hands of Intendant Nerys, slinking it about in her silver-grey skin-tight pants, giving it not so much ham as the full cow), throwing herself in front of a shot intended for Jake, like any mother would, Jake doesn’t really get all that sad.

It’s unrealistic and superficial, an episode that tried to drape itself with one of the deepest human feelings without once dipping more than the littlest toe into the psychological reality of its setting. Dreams and games, that’s all this episode was, and that’s why it left me cold and unable to take an interest.

 

Deep Space Nine: s04 e19 – Hard Time


Though there was a point, about halfway through this week’s episode, when it felt as if things were moving a little too slowly, this was once again an excellent episode. My regular commentator, Astrozac, has referred in the past to DS9‘s tendency to dump on Chief O’Brien, and this was a prime example, but to a good and serious purpose.

The open showed us a ragged, wild-haired, bearded man, patiently drawing a geometric pattern in the too-smooth sand of an artificial floor. It quickly became clear he was a prisoner, especially when some kind of ray swept the floor clean, and from the way the camera was careful not to let us see his face, it was obvious he was one of the cast. But not until he was released by his captors, the Agrathians, do we learn that this is Miles, and that he has been in prison for twenty years.

In a clever twist, we learn that the Chief has been in prison for twenty years in the space of a few hours: the Agritheans build their prisons in the mind, not on Dartmoor. O’Brien may have been unconscious for a few hours, charged and convicted of espionage just for asking a few innocent questions, but in his own mind he has been in solitary confinement for twenty years, with all the effects of a ‘real’ sentence.

That’s what Major Kira, who has been sent to collect him, can’t get. She can’t equate her few hours to O’Brien’s twenty years and can only emphasise that it wasn’t ‘real’. Even when O’Brien is in subdued raptures at the sight of DS9 after all this time – some spectacular shots of the station from different angles – she doesn’t get it.

Doctor Bashir does, and so does Keiko. Both know that for O’Brien it has been twenty years, and since the implanted memories can’t be uprooted without a total memory wipe (coincidentally, a subject being faced in current episodes of iZombie), O’Brien needs the same kind of care, adjustment and counselling as any ex-inmate.

But he’s resisting. He’s fine, he just wants to be left alone, to go back to work, this counselling is a waste of time, he wants to forget, not remember. Some part of this is O’Brien being O’Brien, solid, no-nonsense, hard-headed. He’s the only member of the cast with whom this response would be immediately plausible. However, we know that it’s more than that. The form of the story demands it, and we have already been privy, through the first of a series of flashbacks, that although the Chief claims to have been in solitary confinement, he was, from the first, confined with a cell-late, Ee’char (played by guest Craig Wasson with a kind of gentle acceptance of his plight).

The nature of this kind of story is that there is something the prisoner is concealing, something that fills them with a great guilt, that they have to keep hidden, and the key to their eventual recovery is exposure of this secret, without which they can’t begin to heal. To that extent, you might say that the episode followed a fairly predictable line. The Chief can’t settle. He won’t go to counselling. He’s uneasy, prone to flaring up at no real provocation.  Unsurprisingly, since we know from the first that it has something to do with Ee’char, he’s having hallucinations of his fellow prisoner popping up all over DS9.

I say this is a standard construction, and as a one-off play it might very well fail for predictability. But this is part of a long-running series, and we are invested in these characters. O’Brien’s growing rage and frustration is but the superficiality: Colm Meaney conveys the underlying shame that powers the rage, shame and fear.

The crisis comes in an easily predictable fashion too. O’Brien is suspended from his post, ordered on Medical Leave, blows up in rage at the ever-patient Julian (an equally excellent performance by Alexander Siddig, radiating understanding, patience and determination to see his friend through), and hits rock bottom when he blows up at Molly, and threatens to hit her, though this last bit was fudged a little, since O’Brien only raises his hands when he talks about it after, not in the scene itself.

After venting his rage in a slightly cheap display of violence against a perfectly undeserving cargo bay, O’Brien amps a phaser up to max and sticks it under his chin, which is where Julian finds him, as does the illusionary Ee’char. Only now does it come out: a fortnight before the end of his ‘sentence’, starving after not being fed for over a week, O’Brien discovers that Ee’char has been hoarding food he’s concealed from his celly. The last vestige of civilisation, the evolved human who has left rage and hatred behind, is stripped from him: O’Brien kills Ee’char for the food, before realising that there was food for two.

And O’Brien is conscious that, in that moment, it wouldn’t have mattered who stood between him and the food. It might have been Julian Bashir, and Miles O’Brien would have killed him. He is in his own eyes unclean, a dangerous primitive: He killed his friend and his crime demands punishment.

In accordance with the dictates of the form, once the secret is spoken, its power is diminished. Bashir is able to persuade O’Brien that he isn’t defined by one moment, extorted under extreme and grievous pressure, forced at the very end of twenty years, and O’Brien’s relief, and the knowledge that he hasn’t forfeited anyone’s respect, and most especially his family’s love, is the basis for healing,  which can now begin.

Needless to say, whilst watching this episode, I wasn’t rating it at all by reference to this formula. It dragged a little in the middle, with the rest of the cast filing in and out, one by one, to earn their salary with micro-scenes that were almost amusing in their brevity, but the performances by the central quartet (Meaney, Siddig, Wasson, and the ever-delightful Rosalind Chao) kept me involved beyond the analytical, and it turned out to be another fascinating episode, in a series that is weekly living up to the high standards those more familiar with Deep Space Nine keep promising me.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e18 – Rules of Engagement


Lawyers, ugh!

The last time I remember having a courtroom drama on Deep Space Nine was way back in season 1, episode 8, when Jardzia Dax was put on trial for ‘crimes’ committed by Curzon Dax. Considering just how utterly bad that episode was, I wondered if three seasons and ten episodes was enough space before trying it again, but in keeping with the general standard of season 4, this was another quietly excellent episode, with a far higher standard of writing, and a damned sight more respect for the form.

The open was brief and to the point: Worf is in the middle of a battle on a spaceship. That’s he’s dreaming is instantly conveyed by the cinematography, all angles and drifts and jerky transitions between scenes. There are dead bodies all around, Starfleet and Klingon, Kilingons celebrating with bat’leths and Worf waking with a jerk.

He’s in the cells, being watched by Odo. It’s 4.00am. His hearing starts in four hours.

The episode got straight to the point. Worf has commanded the Defiant on a humanitarian mission, escorting Cardassian medical convoys through a system close to the Klingon border. There has been a battle with a Klingon Bird of Prey and an older battlecruiser, during which a civilian cruiser decloaked abruptly in the middle of the battle, and was destroyed on Worf’s orders. The hearing’s on whether or not he should be extradited to the Klingon Empire to face trial as a traitor and murderer.

It’s all dress uniforms, Sisko as Defence Counsel, Dax, O’Brien and, at the end, Worf, giving evidence in a clever process by which, without any trick photography, evidence in court was woven in with flashbacks to the battle. Basically, the Bird of Prey was cloaking and decloaking at will: Worf worked out the pattern and ordered fire on the ship as it emerged from cloak – only for it too be the transport. 441 dead, crew, passengers, children.

Advocate Ch’Pok (a finely slimy guest role from Ron Canada) made no bones about it outside the courtroom. The Klingon Empire was out to humiliate the Federation, destroy its reputation, set it back, whilst they expanded further. Sisko suspects a set-up, but every piece of evidence Odo collects only supports the main case: that these were complete innocents, and this was an horrific tragedy.

Personally, I thought Worf was right, though the episode brought O’Brien in to challenge his decision, albeit in retrospect, with full knowledge of the outcome. My attitude was, there’s this Bird of Prey hopping in and out of cloak in a pattern I’ve spotted so if there’s a ship decloaking, what’s it likely to be: my enemy or some completely random ship out of nowhere in one hell of a coincidence?

Apparently, I’ll never make a Starfleet Captain.

Ch’pok’s case was based entirely in Worf being a Klingon, and thus a Warrior with a heart full of blood lust, and that when he struck, he thought only of Klingon battle and the desire to kill one’s enemies, whoever they be. Worf countered by claiming that his Federation training enabled him to override his Klingon instincts, even as he claimed to be wholly a Klingon Warrior at heart. There is no honour in defeating a defenceless opponent: yet Worf was eventually provoked, under the Advocate’s calculated insults, into attacking Ch’pok, a defenceless opponent.

It’s all looking back but, as I said, this episode showed proper respect for the form, which meant the classic Perry Mason gambit: Odo comes up with the goods and Sisko forces Ch’pok to admit that if exactly the same 441 people – crew, passengers, children – apparently ‘survived’ a spaceship crash three months earlier and then, to a man, woman and child, decided all to get on another spaceship which gets destroyed again, that yes, it’s is possible the Klingon Empire is trying to deceive the Federation for its own purposes.Case for the Defendant, Y’r Honour.

So there’s a party to celebrate, even if Worf isn’t in the mood for it. Ch’pok has forced him to realise that he did feel like he had a point to prove when he took command and that he was looking for a fight. And Sisko bollocks him good and proper for firing without identifying his target first, to be sure it wasn’t the wrong vessel. Starfleet officers do not shoot first and ask questions later, not when civilians might get hurt: they will let themselves be defeated, or even killed, before that happens.

As for the party, Worf is going to attend whether he likes it or not. A Captain is there for his crew, and they need this release. And Sisko reckons Worf has it in him to become a great Captain. Though when he gets that fourth pip on his collar, he’ll wish he’d taken up botany instead!

Excellent stuff.

Uncollected Thoughts: American Gods episode 1 – The Bone Orchard


Oh my God, how good was that?! Ricky Whittle was immense, Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday was hilarious and how about Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney? Fucking massive! If this is what these people can do with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, then imagine, just imagine(and how I am imagining!) what they could with with Sandman?

If I sound slightly hysterical, forgive me. I haven’t had a television series – or a film, come to that matter – do that to me in a very long time. This adaptation is incredibly good, on any level you choose to name, and even more so when you consider the book from which it’s taken. Writing, acting, effects, conception, it drew me in instantly and refused to let go and if this were the kind of Netflix deal where all eight parts were available all at one, I would be phoning in sick and not surfacing for another seven hours.

I have the advantage of having read the book, so I know what’s going on, which the first episode took care only to hint at, even if the astute (who had not read any of the pre-publicity) could have worked a lot of it out from what we got, especially from the ubiquitous Mr Wednesday. To give the most slight of precises, Ricky Whittle plays ‘Shadow’ Moon, coming to the end of a six year sentence for aggravated assault, and wanting nothing more than to get home to his wife, Laura (Emily Browning, who hasn’t had much to do yet).

Unfortunately, Shadow gets released a few days early, because Emily has died in a car crash. What he doesn’t know until he gets to the funeral is that Laura was having an affair with Shadow’s best mate, who had a job lined up for him, and who was killed in the same car crash (with his cock in Laura’s mouth, which, through involuntary motion, snapped shut…)

That, at least, wasn’t shown onscreen, but in every other respect the show does not shrink from being graphic: the opening sequence alone spills as much liquid CGI blood as the average episode of Spartacus.

Travelling across country, Shadow keeps running into some kind of super, super-confident conman, who gives himself the appropriate name of Mr Wednesday. I’ve never particularly liked Ian McShane, even though I used to watch Lovejoy many years ago, and I was entirely dubious about him in this part, but I withdraw all dubiety, I can’t imagine anyone better. Mr Wednesday wants to offer Shadow a job, as a right hand man.

Shadow doesn’t yet know what the job entails, but by the end, confronted by Technical Boy (Bruce Langley, mesmerisingly loathsome), he knows there are enemies. Mind you, when you count the outrageously tall leprechaun, the fighting mad Mad Sweeney, you can’t really say that your friends are that, how shall we put it? Sane?

And that’s without the scene where sex Goddess (literally) Bilquis sucks a man into her vagina whilst fucking.

Like I said, I’ve read the book, and more than once. I took it with me on a plane flight when it first came out, thought it meandered a bit too much, was overlong, go rid of it, bought it back many years later in the Author’s Preferred Text edition, which is actually much longer and thought it much much better. I know what’s going on. Someone who doesn’t has more than enough to be curious about. If they can keep up this quality over the next seven weeks, Twin Peaks season 3 might not be the television event of 2017 after all.

Let me hear you say, OMFG Wow!

Deep Space Nine: s04 e17 – Accession


Gimme that old-time religion…

Another strong episode though, given that it dealt with religious themes, one that gave me considerable pause for thought. And a B story that was, in its own way, a bit disturbing and which could have done with a bit more room in which to breathe.

It’s that which starts the open, suggesting a domestic, character-driven week to follow. The Chief and Julian return from overstaying in another of their regular holosuite sessions (Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain) with little time to clear up the Chief’s quarters before Keiko returns from her year’s expedition. Miles is looking forward to his family’s return, but is taken aback when Molly tells him that Keiko is pregnant. He doesn’t seem especially pleased.

Oh-ho! thinks I, she’s been gone a year, she’s got pregnant on a one-night visit to DS9, has she? I bet she has, I bet she has! But that’s not the route the B story took. At first, O’Brien tells Julian that he was looking forward to some serious me-time with Keiko, romantic stuff, dating, now Molly’s a little older, but no sooner is that raised than it’s dropped completely, and the story turned along the lines that O’Brien has had so much fun roistering around with Julian – stopping off for a beer in Quark’s, darts, the holosuites – that he doesn’t really want to give that up.

It’s a sad story and it remained unresolved, except to the extent that Keiko, who has results to analyse and reports to write and can’t be doing with having her husband under her feet all the time, manipulates both Miles and Julian into meeting up for the good of the other.

I found that incredibly cynical. The only solution is lying? Manipulation? Sneakiness? Or maybe a married couple, who love and understand each other, could have sat down, talked, been a bit honest and achieved the same result without games being played? It might not have made for such ‘good’ television in the eyes of those who make it, but it would have made for better television for me.

Still, that’s the B story, and the A story is what brings us here. From Keiko’s return in the open, we switch to Sisko and Kira dealing with reports, interrupted by Sisko fulfilling one of the obligations created by his status as the Emissary, to bless a Bajoran wedding. Uneasy lies the head that wears the entirely dubious intensely religious status of a religion that’s not yours, eh? But a light-ship of nearly 300 years vintage drifts out of the wormhole, bearing a Bajoran, Akorem Laan, a poet who went missing 200 years ago.

Akorem has spent all that time in the Celestial Temple, though to him it has been merely days. He has been healed of life-threatening injuries, and sent back. He has fulfilled the prophecies. He is the Emissary.

At first, Sisko is delighted to step down. He never wanted the role, never felt comfortable with it, found his status intrusive. Stepping down to only have to worry about the Klingons, the Dominion and the Maquis feels like a vacation. At this moment, I’m not sure whether Sisko has been aware of the extent of the power he’s wielded, or rather not wielded as Emissary. It’s possible he hasn’t, because as a Starfleet Officer he’s entirely too rational a creature for religion. If that’s so, he’s about to learn otherwise.

Because Akorem is a Bajoran of two hundred years ago, long before the Cardassian Occupation destroyed the d’jarra, the heavily-mandated caste system, family-based, that herded Bajorans into limited ‘natural’ roles. Major Kira comes from the caste that does art. And Akorem the Emissary is certain that the message of the Prophets is that restoring the d’jarras will restore Bajor to its former peace and prosperity.

The prospect worries Kira, but she believes. Despite the sickening evidence of seeing herself being deferred to because she is of a higher caste, despite her evident lack of any artistic skill, she starts looking for a replacement First Officer to take over her duties. This leads to a touching moment when Sisko tells her that she may find someone to take her place, but she can never be replaced.

Sisko is seriously worried. Caste-based systems are rightly banned by the Federation, though Akorem isn’t too bothered: he has the offstage backing of Kai Wynn to reinstate the d’jarras whether it means being refused membership or not. Ironically, that’s not good for Sisko’s career: Starfleet have never approved of him being the Emissary but his relinquishment of the status has more or less directly meant his mission to aid Bajor into the Federation is a failure. He ain’t smelling of roses just now.

Oddly enough, I was debating cultural imperialism here only two weeks back, taking a negative view of Sisko’s interference with the Klingon ritual of Mauk-t’Ovar, and Sisko’s attitude to Akorem’s promulgation can be seen in the exact same light. But there’s a difference between a cultural imperative imposed between individuals in a living culture both accept, and the resurrection of a planetary wide system that not everyone embraces, and that those who do accept by imposition. Akorem talks of legal sanctions forcing the Bajorans into these castes, and his chief disciple, Vedek Porta, considers it only right that a member of an ‘unclean’ caste should be killed for not knowing his place.

That’s the basic problem with castes: they’re non-negotiable, inescapable, restrictive of people’s individuality and their ability to develop, and there are always those at the bottom end who have to take all the shit because that’s what they’re there for.

Sisko cannot intervene or force Bajor to reject the Emissary’s pronouncements, much as he or we might wish it, but he can reclaim the role of Emissary. And the only way to do so is for he and Akorem to enter the Wormhole and seek the Prophets.

It’s a weird, disturbing experience. The ‘Prophets’ take familiar forms. They refuse to give answers, and leave the disorienting impression that this is because Sisko and Akorem wouldn’t understand: they are linear, they live in time, the Prophets outside of it. The Prophets are ‘of Bajor’, as is ‘the Sisko’. The only clear outcome is that the Sisko is the Emissary, and Akorem is a messenger to him from the Prophets to encourage him to understand that, and that he has a role to play.

Thus dismissed, Akorem wishes for death, but Sisko intervenes. Akorem is sent back to his proper time, without memory, to conclude his life as he should. Sisko returns to being the Emissary, this time with a greater acceptance of his position, which I assume will be reflected in later stories. For the first time, he’s committed. And he’s aware of the tremendous power he wields, though I suspect he will in future consciously not wield it.

I have my problems with religion, having taken nearly sixty years to become an atheist, and I have reservations about this story on the grounds that I don’t accept the Bajoran religion, despite acknowledging its influence. The Prophets -its Gods – are aliens of a different order to us, which makes them not-Gods, notwithstanding their power.

But this was an excellent story (the B story aside). Richard Libertini was good as Akorem, though the producers wanted David Warner for the role (and he wanted to do it but was persuaded out of it by his wife because he was on vacation) and he would have been brilliant. Camille Saviola makes her final appearance as Kai Opaka, or rather her seeming. And Rosalind Chao is always an adornment.