Deep Space Nine: s07 e05 – Chrysalis


Singing

I must be feeling less cynical than I normally do for this week we had a love story episode and I found it entirely sweet and ultimately deeply sad.

The theme was quickly established in the open, with Julian Bashir looking for company but finding everyone doing things already. He’s then summoned, in the middle of the night, to the Infirmary, on the orders of ‘Admiral Patrick’. Re-enter the familiar quartet of genetically-enhanced misfits, Jack, Loren, Patrick and Sarina, last seen in Season 6 plotting, in an entirely logical way, to enable the Dominion to win the war and thus save the most amount of lives. That’s Jack, the permanently snappy and edgy, Loren the vamp, Patrick the big baby and Sarina: the catatonic.

Ever since last season, Julian’s been working on an operation to realign the barriers that imprison Sarina in her own mind: the enhanced have turned up to get Julian to carry out the operation. O’Brien can’t break the rules of Physics to enable Julian to carry out laser surgery with the necessary accuracy, but the enhanced can bend them to give him the control he needs.

The operation is a success, physically, but Sarina is unchanged. A despairing Julian is neatly analysed by Ezra over how he wants to punish himself, she being an expert at such things, but their discourse is interrupted by Sarina on the promenade, standing and staring. At “Everything”, she says, speaking for the first time ever.

And Sarina blooms from that point. She’s taking in everything she sees, looking at it with entirely new eyes, absorbed in wonder. And she’s a beautiful woman as well, so we can see what’s coming like a train heading for a demolished bridge. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? She’s emerged completely free from any of the personality disorders that dog the other three, she has everything in front of her, she can do anything she wants. She’s everything Bashir has dreamed of, the woman who can exist at the mental and physical level he occupies.

There’s a beautiful scene midway that illustrates all of this with economy and rare delight. The speaking Sarina returns to her group to speak with them for the first time. Jack mocks her flat tones, especially when he gets her to do a do-re-mi. He asks her if she’s tone-deaf? Within seconds, the group organise a spontaneous singing round, playing with the scale. Sarina’s voice blossoms at every second until she’s singing amazingly. It’s both beautiful and lump-to-the-throat making.

(Apparently, Faith Salie, who plays Sarina, only discovered she had so lovely a voice when rehearsing this scene, whilst ironically, Tim Ransom, who plays Jack, turned out to be tone deaf himself and was the only one of the four to need overdubbing.)

With an episode like this, the underlying cliche is the suspicion that, in order to insert drama, the recovery will only be temporary and the patient will revert. This was the idea when the first storyline was mooted, of having Jack cured, be diminished as ‘normal’ and return to being a pain in the neck. That idea was rightly nixed, but it’s hinted at when Julian turns up at the enhanced’s quarters to find the other three working on preventing the universe imploding in sixty trillion years and Sarina seeming catatonic again. She explained that it was easier than disturbing their existing dynamic.

But in that tease is the ending. Julian’s in full-blown love mode and he makes the cardinal mistake of assuming that the feeling is mutual. Sarina does like him, is deeply grateful to him, wants to make herself into what he wants for him, because she owes him. But she doesn’t love him. She doesn’t know what love is yet. He has gone at things like a bull at a gate, overruled his obligations as a doctor in eager pursuit of his longstanding wants as a man, as a human being in need of sharing.

It’s painful. It always is, especially when you empathise so much, when stories like this are just a variation on your own stories. Of course, it’s also a necessity of the series. We’re not quite near enough to the end for something that upsets the status quo, so Doctor Bashir must remain Doctor Bashir, and all we can do is hope that, before time is up, Sarina will come back, of her own accord and understanding, and be what he so desperately wanted her to be for him.

And without looking forward to check on spoilers, I know she won’t.

Such a good episode.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e04 – Take Me Out to the Holosuite


Who da man?

After the heavily intense episodes of the past few weeks, it was obvious that we’d get a lightweight story for a change of pace. There’s usually one quite early in every season of DS9. And ‘Take me out to the Holosuite’, which was all about having a game of baseball, was as lightweight as they come, despite the attempt to back it up with a psychological angle. In fact, it was so lightweight, you practically had to tie an iron onto it to keep it from floating away. I was prepared to be rather bored, but in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set-up is that the Vulcan-manned Federation ship T’Kundra has docked at DS9 for two weeks of overhaul and upgrade. It’s commanded by Captain Solok who is a hate figure for Benjamin Sisko, and indeed he’s a right snotty superior pain-in-the-arse from the get-go, niggling all the time about not so much Vulcaan superiority as human inadequacy.

Solok’s done this since the pair were cadets and a drunk Sisko challenged him to a wrestling match and got whupped. For a supposedly emotionless Vulcan, Solok is a seriously vindictive shit, endlessly rubbing it in on Sisko, and now he’s brought a baseball holosuite game to challenge the Captain at his own personal sport. Sisko immediately orders the senior staff – which now appears to include Nog (?!) – to form a team and win.

That’s basically it, really. The team is swelled out by Rom, Leeta, Quark and Kasidy Yates. Rom is completely inept, which is a laugh because Max Grodenchik was a semi-professional baseball player and had to play left-handed to look authentically crap. Sisko throws him off the team, which causes the others to threaten a strike unless he’s reinstated. But there’s one of those little scenes that remind us, fourteen carat klutz that he may be, Rom is a truly good bloke: he only wants to be in the team on merit and he recognises he clearly hasn’t got any, so he won’t accept a false position.

Now, you’re all expecting that, on the day, the ‘Niners’ will pull off a victory all the more stunning for being so completely unexpected, and so did I. But this episode is more subtle than that. Basically, the DS9 team get thoroughly and deservedly whupped, 10-1, and Sisko gets thrown out for touching the umpire (Odo). But the episode shapes itself around that one, consolation run, which comes about through Sisko chucking Rom in as a pinch-hitter, his accidentally ‘hitting’ the perfect bunt and Nog stealing home, producing an ecstatic response from his team that carries over into Quark’s.

Solok doesn’t get it. He blames human emotionality (Ezri pipes up with ‘Did I forget to wear my spots today? He doesn’t even know what humans look like!’), suspects an artificial attempt to turn abject defeat into moral victory, but has to exit as everyone taunts him over his emotional investment in getting one over Sisko, but really they’re just celebrating having had fun, lots of fun, and that’s what makes this episode delightful, the copious amount of fun everyone’s clearly and genuinely having.

It still doesn’t turn me into a baseball enthusiast, cricket will always be a far more subtle, complex and involving game for me (and you couldn’t fake that onscreen as easily as DS9 does), but this was fun with its boots off, and I loved it.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e03 – Afterimage


Note the obvious symbolism

After the last couple of weeks, with their irritating predictability (not to mention my own, stress-related issues), it was nice to settle back with a much better, and more enjoyable, character-led episode, with the full-scale introduction of Ezri Dax to DS9.

Until last week, I’d never seen anything of Ezri, or Nicole de Boer. I’d heard of her, of course, and most of what little I’d heard wasn’t complimentary. She was described as a weak character, unimpressive, dull. More recently, I’ve also heard that Ezri – who is here as a Counsellor – has a lot of her supposed role usurped by the constant reappearances of Vic Fontaine in exactly that role, which doesn’t need any of my antipathy to Mr Fontaine to call that completely stupid.

So my pre-impressions were all negative and it’s therefore a pleasure to admit that I liked both this episode and the character, not to mention that, like Jake Sisko, I find her cute. de Boer is fresh-faced and perky in appearance, looking significantly younger than the rest of the cast, and she brings that into her performance. Despite having eight lifetimes behind her, as Sisko keeps reminding her, Ezri is still a kid, and that means nervousness – especially at being in a place and among people she knows so well without having met them, and feeling burdened by their expectations of ‘her’ – and eagerness.

The episode was designed to play around Ezri, present her up front as what she is, to be swallowed in one gulp. As this was the last season, time was at a premium and a gradual introduction would have wasted the character. So we see everyone react: Sisko’s almost casual assumption that nothing has changed, Quark’s mercenary belief that this is his second chance, Bashir’s reflexive flirting. And Worf’s pain.

This is the most complex relationship of all, and it’s because Ezri knows him so well that she’s insistent on returning to the USS Destiny: she won’t inflict on him the pain of a reminder of Jardzia.

This is well-handled. Worf initially is offensive, refusing to acknowledge her. Then he attacks Bashir and Quark, warning them to stay away from Ezri. Finally, O’Brien reminds him to think how Jardzia would have wanted him to treat Ezri, which leads to an awkward quasi-acceptance.

There is a sort-of-B story, about Garak suffering from increasingly debilitating claustrophobia-induced panic attacks, but this is integrated into the main story, because Sisko asks Ezri to counsel him. An early breakdown doesn’t, however, get to the root of things and merely results in a tirade from Garak, tearing the novice Ezri down. Now, instead of leaving DS9, she’s going to leave Starfleet, completely abdicate the responsibility of being host to the Dax symbiont.

A predictable beat – the episode is not without its predictability – but when Ezri manages, more by luck than good judgement but still, to get at the real root of Garak’s issue (that in aiding the Federation he is being a traitor to Cardassia, causing untold deaths), it validates her self-consfidence. She retracts her resignation, agrees to stay on DS9, gets promoted to Lieutenant, and even gets a stiff smile from Worf. Job done.

I like Ezri Dax. Now to see what role she can play in the march to the finale.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e01/02 – Image in the Sand/Shadows and Symbols


Enter Ezri

The cynic in me says that this was always going to be about getting Sisko back and, given that I’m feeling overtired and unwell at the moment, I’m not in the mood for being manipulated in the fashion laid down by the end of season 6. Nor am I in sympathy with the big reveal that was made over the course of this two-parter, which I knew to be coming but which seemed ultimately to be too cheap an explanation for why Sisko is the Emissary.

Fortunately for all concerned, there were three stories over the course of the introduction to the last season, an A and two B’s, both of substantial proportion, and giving a substantial part to everyone in the cast. This included newcomer Nicole de Boer, replacing Terry Farrell as Dax, Ezri Dax to be specific, in a pretty blatant move to be about as different a Dax as can be.

Three months have gone by and Sisko has gone nowhere. Kira, newly promoted to Colonel and celebrating by adopting a new and hideous hair-style, is still acting Commander of DS9, her latest headache being the Federation’s decision to grant the Romulans a military HQ on DS9, even though they’ve got no right to. Though Senator Cretak at first presents as pretty amenable for a Romulan, enlisting the Colonel to put in for a Romulan med-base on a deserted Bajoran moon, it’s just your pretty standard Romulan treachery since they immediately set-up 7,000 missile launchers about it, provoking a Cuban Missile Crisis knock-off when Kira decides to blockade the place.

Meanwhile, Worf is mourning Jardzia for rather longer than Klingons do, forcing Vic Fontaine to continually sing ‘All the Way’ (oh dear God) and smashing up the holosuite. Chief O’Brien nobly goes three bottles of bloodwine with him to learn that it’s because Jardzia didn’t die fighting, she won’t go to Sto’Vo’Kor. The only way to secure this is to win a glorious victory against overwhelming odds in her name. Bashir, O’Brien and Quark (oh dear God) go with him.

As for Sisko, he’s playing the piano and peeling potatoes (for three months?). Finally, the baseball rolls off the piano and when he stoops to pick it up he has a vision from the Prophets, of uncovering a face in the sand on Tyree, a desert planet. Mission on. By indirect means, Sisko discovers that the face is that of his mother, his real mother, Sarah, not the one he’s always thought of as his mother until now. Sarah was his Dad’s first wife, his real, true love, who ran off inexplicably as soon as Ben was born. She’s dead now.

Having fanatically hidden her existence from her son all this long, Joseph Sisko cracks and gives Ben a locket she left behind. A locket with an inscription in Old Bajoran (my, we’re just piling on the cliches here, aren’t we?). The inscription translates as Orb of the Emissary, a lost Orb, so hey ho and the three generations of Siskos head off to Tyree where it’s obviously buried, though not before a Pah-Wraith worshiping Bajoran cuts Sisko’s stomach open to no lasting effect.

And just as they’re closing the restaurant to head for the spaceport, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s a cute little, fresh-faced Starfleet Ensign, whose cute black hair-style conceals most of her Trill spots: enter Ezri Dax.

Thee new Dax is obviously going to be comic relief to begin with, though there’s a serious explanation for her goofy gabble. Ezri never wanted to be joined, but when the Dax symbiont took a turn for the worse, post-Jardzia, she was the only Trill in town so, fifteen minutes of pep-talk later and everything changes. Ezri’s confused as hell, and looking to her two-lifetimes friend Benjamin to help her get her completely new feet on the ground. Off to Tyree? Bring it on!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Worf’s mission is not going well, though ultimately it’s a winner, and whilst I’m tired and being sarcastic because of it, Worf’s dedication to his lost wife is genuinely moving, despite all of Quark’s efforts to fuck up the tone. And Colonel Kira’s trying to bluff Senator Cretak into backing down, only, Romulans being smart buggers, she knows that and doesn’t intend to.

So Sisko’s party tramps unmercifully across the desert in pursuit of the buried Orb, Sisko’s only idea of where it may be being that he’ll know when he finds it. Or when Ezri throws his baseball away (another twist we couldn’t see coming). Did did dig dig dig, and there it is.

And another twist that I was very much not in sympathy with, as Sisko suddenly turns back into the half-mad Fifties SF writer, Benny Russell, the creator of ‘Deep Space Nine’. Benny’s in what the times would call the looney bin, his doctor trying to cure him by getting him to stop writing these stories. He’s writing in pencil on the walls (that actually was every single synopsis of very episode so far, written out on the walls of his cell, with Dr Wykoff – Casey (Demar) Biggs – trying to get Benny to whitewash over them.

That this had a perfectly logical explanation, that the Pah-Wraith was trying to get Sisko to rebury and smash the Orb, didn’t occur to me, which shows what a state I’m currently in: it just seemed like an unnecessarily clever-clever throwback to a story I’d been very dubious about to begin with. But Sisko holds out and opens the Orb.

A presence streaks from it, crosses space, roars past DS9 and re-opens the Wormhole, expelling the Pah-Wraith from it. We’re back in business. For Sisko, there’s a vision, a vision of the Prophet that was his mother Sarah, or rather which occupied her to ensure Sisko was born, at what cost to Sarah, Joseph, Benjamin himself. He’s the Emissary because he’s half-Prophet. Oh, really. How cheap.

And the re-opening of the Wormhole inspires Kira to carry out her bluff and win, because the Federation makes the Romulans back down.

So everyone returns to DS9, happily,including the new Dax in Town, whose day will of course come next week, when I hope to feel much more receptive to the next episode, or maybe have that be a bit less – ok, a lot less – clumsy and blatant in some of its ideas. Sorry about this. At long last, we’re on the home straight. I am starting to want the finish line to arrive.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e26 – Tears of the Prophets


Farewell

This is one of the points I’ve known about all along, going back almost twenty years. It’s been a long long time coming, in both senses, and when it came, despite the opinions of many, I found it disappointing, if still emotional. Terry Farrell’s last episode, Jardzia Dax’s death, a death foretold yet in its arrival perfunctory and meaningless, a side-issue in an episode that wanted to engineer a reversal for Captain Sisko.

In terms of guests stars, this was one of the fullest episodes of them all, with practically every recurring character popping up somewhere or other, including Vic bloody Fontaine in the most seriously ill-thought out idea of the whole script, wasting time crooning to Bashir and Quark, who’d chosen to have themselves serenaded as ‘The Losers’ (oh, you bet) after Jardzia announces that she and Worf are going to try for a baby.

As if that wasn’t a glutinously cheesy bit of melodrama in itself.

It had been known for no little time that Farrell wasn’t renewing her contract, having burnt out on the long days of filming. What wasn’t known then was the disgusting sexual harrassment the actress had been experiencing from day 1 from co-Showrunner Rick Berman, who’d pretty much put a stop of Farrell’s willingness to stay on as a recurring, not cast member. No, it was pretty much decided that Jatdzia had to be written out by dying, and originally it was supposed to be heroically, of course.

But with all that time to think it out and get it right, there was a colossal failure of imagination as Jardzia just gets ambushed by Gul Dukat, who’s possessed by a Pah-Wraith, and blasted with no-one there to even be horrified by the assault on her. Except the audience, of course.

For the season finale, the show wanted to kick Sisko in the teeth. The set-up was that the Federation had finally agreed to his urging to switch to an Offensive War, striking at the Cardassians in a weak system, under-defended. Gul Damar is having it seeded by automated defence platforms, so there, but the nutcase Dukat turns up out of nowhere with a plan to open up the Wormhole to enable Dominion reinforcements to flood in again.

The Prophets warn Sisko not to leave Bajor but Admiral Ross makes him choose between the Federation and being an Emissary, which is all stuff and nonsense anyway. Sisko leads the assault, leaving DS9 under Jardzia’s command and vulnerable to the possessed Dukat beaming aboard into the Bajoran temple (how? Just like that, into the Federation’s most important centre?).

Jardzia goes down, the nearest Orb gets carbonated, the Wormhole vanishes, Sisko falls ill on the Defiant‘s bridge, the attack succeeds, the Dax symbiont is saved, Worf mourns, Sisko mourns then he buggers off to Earth on indefinite Leave of Absence (Supreme Tactical Commander of the Federation and he can just nip off on holiday like that?). And, to make it all seem so serious, he takes his baseball.

No, this one fell flat on its face in so many respects. It failed to provide even a half decent send-off for Farrell, it spilled dross over everything else, it was completely unconvincing, and if I’m in a minority again, sobeit. After six seasons, they should know how to do better than this.

Six months from now, give or take the odd double-episode, I’m going to be coming to the end of this long run of Deep Space Nine Tuesdays. I’d like to hope the show finale is better than this was. For once, I’d accept a spoiler warning that it is.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e25 – The Sound of her Voice


Foreshadowing

The penultimate episode of season 6 worked out in the end as not working for me. It was an A/B story episode, with the B story centred upon Quark, which was enough to mar any hope the episode had of impressing me. You’re all aware by now of my antipathy towards Ferenghi, but that twenty-one carat disaster of a story two episodes back has finished things: this was too soon and too Quark. I couldn’t care about it, I could barely keep my eyes on the screen when it was on.

Unfortunately, a lot of that seeped back into the A story, to the extent that I’m not sure how much of my ultimately cold response to it is the poisoning by the B story, and how much was down to that element’s failure in its own terms.

Half the station staff – Sisko, Worf, Bashir and O’Brien, plus Kasidy Yates – have completed a mission escort a freight convoy when the Defiant picks up a distress call from Captain Lisa Cusack, a Federation officer stranded on a hostile planet after a crash that destroyed her ship and all her crew. The Defiant sets off on a rescue mission that will take them six days to arrive. Unfortunately, Captain Cusack is on a planet with a high CO2 atmosphere and it will be touch and go whether they can arrive before she dies.

This late in the season, it seems an odd, irrelevant concept for an episode, but Captain Cusack turns out to be just a McGuffin. She’s a voice on a radio (guest star Debra Wilson was a voice actor and chosen on that basis), in need of someone to talk to whilst she waits. Sisko, Bashir and O’Brien take it in turns to engage her in conversation, which rapidly reveals that Captain Cusack is a device to get various cast members to talk about what’s bothering them, what effect the Dominion War is having on them.

It was all a bit too mechanical, too blatant for me to actually feel that much involvement in the cast’s issues, especially as most of them seemed to have been invented for the episode, without grounding over previous weeks that would make them look an organic development.

And ultimately the Defiant arrived in the nick of time only to find that Captain Cusack had been dead for three years and the radio conversations had been bouncing forward and backwards in time in a very convenient manner that sounded completely artificial and a cheap ending, even though the concept of conversations across time was the initial concept that grew into this script.

As for the B story, it starts when Quark realises that Odo can be distracted from his duties by his love for Kira so he edges the Constable towards an Anniversary date to celebrate their first month. This enables him to set up a profitable smuggling deal, free from interference. Jake Sisko breaks character to go along with observing every detail of the deal on condition he doesn’t tell anyone else anything. The scam is set to take place Saturday evening but Odo plans to celebrate Sunday evening instead. Odo despairs of yet another, this time ruinous failure and after all he did for Odo in finally pushing him into Kira’s arms. Odo overhears this and abruptly switches his date back to Saturday night. Quark celebrates beating Odo at last but Odo’s only done it because he did owe Quark one, but only one. There. I’m sure that to the right fan, that was delightful but I’ve had it way past here with Quark and that’s not going to change.

I’m afraid I found the finale a bit too mechanical as well. The Defiant crew hold an Irish Wake for Captain Cusack, speaking about how she has changed them. Jardzia Dax is present with Worf. O’Brien talks of staying close with friends “because someday we’re going to wake up and we’re going to find that someone is missing from this circle.” And the camera pans to Dax.

It’s not exactly subtle and it’s far from impressive. Had this episode been half a dozen weeks ago, that would have worked far better, as a reminder that this is a War and sometimes even important people get killed in wars, but it’s like putting up a neon sign here.

So, one that might have been much better, but in the end wasn’t. And, next week…

Deep Space Nine: s06 e18 – Inquisition


Section 31

Hmmm, interesting.

This was an episode that displayed a considerable control of its tempo and tone, starting off by creating a bit of a sinking feeling that it was all going to be a bit too comic, and morphing into something considerably more serious and with deep-lying implications that caused a deal of controversy among Star Trek fans. Only on Deep Space Nine, only on Deep Space Nine.

The storyline is misleadingly simple. Bashir’s off to a Medical Conference on Casperia Prime, a lush, beautiful world, and being a bit smug about it, first to Odo, then to Miles O’Brien, who’s dislocated his shoulder again, kayaking in the holosuite.

But the next morning, his trip is cancelled, as the entire Senior Staff is confined to quarters during an examination into a security breach by Internal Affairs, acting by Director Sloan (William Sadler in a role originally intended for Martin Sheen). It’s not long before questioning concentrates on the Doctor, who is accused of being a spy for the Dominion. The theory is that, during his incarceration by the Dominion, whilst he was replaced on DS9 by a Changeling, Bashir was broken and turned into a spy who is concealing his own treachery even from himself by engrammatic dissociation – the creation of mental blocks compartmentalising the mind.

Bashir refuses to believe that and, initially, so does Sisko. But it’s a cunning detail, one impossible to disprove since it revolves around the idea that the accused is lying even to himself.

Sisko’s refusal to let Sloan do exactly what he wants to break Bashir leads to the Director’s decision to remove the Doctor to a maximum security cell. But this is disrupted by the unexpected teleportation of Bashir. Onto a Cardassian ship, to met Weyoun, who greets Bashir sympathetically. The story teeters on the edge of what would have been a truly tremendous and extremely dark revelation, that Sloan was right: Bashir has been aiding the Dominin, on ‘moral’ and ‘humanitarian’ grounds.

But that’s a twist too far. What Bashir takes from this supposed confirmation of his guilt is that Weyoun and Sloan are acting together to frame him, that Sloan is the traitor. And he’s not far off the mark: there’s a violent twist as the Defiant catches up with and attacks the Cardassian ship (too fast, how did they track it?). It’s got the full Senior Staff on board and they’re hostile, convinced Bashir is a traitor. Miles O’Brien throws him off. With his dislocated shoulder. The one he got playing stringball…

And the illusion dissolves into a holodeck, with Sloan and two assistants all dressed in unadorned black uniforms. Sloan is much more chatty now, convinced Bashir is innocent. He has been tested and has passed: he did set off for the Medical Conference after all, but was kidnapped en route, and it has all been a charade designed to test him to destruction.

Bashir is less than relieved at his exoneration however. He’s concerned about Sloan and his organisation. They’re not Internal Affairs, Sloan confirms, they’re Section 31, a secret, autonomous unit established at the birth of the Federation. They are the worm in the apple, the canker in the bud, the dirty jobs merchants. Beneath the surface of the utopia that is the Federation, they do what is necessary to ensure that the Federation remains a utopia. They are Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Bashir is outraged. Section 31 offends every principle on which the Federation is built. And he is even more outraged that, given his high level of intelligence, his loyalty to the Federation, his genetic modifications, Sloan wants him to join Section 31. He refuses in disgust.

Once back on DS9, however, discussing his experience with Odo, Kira and Sisko, who reports that there is no Director Sloan in Starfleet, and that the Federation refuse to either confirm or deny the existence of Section 31, it is agreed that the dirty tricks section will try to recruit Bashir again. This time, the Captain orders, he will accept…

The idea of Section 31 was controversial among fans because it most directly breached Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the Federation as a perfect set-up, as humanity having resolved all its issues and living happily ever after. Deep Space Nine had deliberately, but quietly, set itself to explore the darker side of that vision, the uncomfortable reality that perfect societies don’t stay perfect of themselves, but require a helping hand, beneath what’s on view, to ensure it’s that way.

It’s a broad streak of grey through the black and white, it’s the embodiment of the Greater Good argument. Being Deep Space Nine, we’re offered nothing but equivocation, in equal parts because this is not a black and white question, that it is not a simple question, and that this is a long-running prime-time drama series. But I am reminded of the late Ursula Le Guin’s classic short story, “The Ones who walk away from Omelas”, which I recommend you read.

We live in a dark Universe. It’s always good that our fiction reflects that darkness.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e16 – Change of Heart


Run thru’ the jungle…

This was an oddly simple and plain story, and yet it was still a satisfying episode.

After speculating the other week about a reversion to the old A-B story formula, that was exactly what we got, even down to the B story being comic and inadequate. It looked to have been inserted because the A story couldn’t be stretched out that long without being paper-thin, and its to the writer’s credit that he managed to work in enough reference to the A story to reinforce the overall event.

The A story is a Worf/Jardzia two-hander. Two months into their marriage, Worf’s being accommodating of Jardzia’s foibles in a most unKlingon fashion, even when the two are sent on a secret mission to pick up an urgent message from a Cardassian spy supplying Spacefleet Intelligence. Lassara is close too being exposed and wants out, so Worf and Jardzia have to go get him from a jungle rendezvous involving 20km of jungle-trekking.

They’re working together well, efficient and professional, but also light-hearted and jokey, until they’re surprised by three Jem’Hadar. They kill the Jem’Hadar but Jardzia is seriously wounded by a disruptor blast and grows steadily weaker, the further they penetrate, until she can go no further, and indeed desperately needs surgery.

Worf goes on alone, aware of his duty, his career. Until he has a change of heart, turns back, puts rescuing Jardzia above his mission. Lassara is killed, and the tons of vital information he carried dies with him. Worf explains that he could not leave his wife. Sisko condemns his as a captain: the two will never be paired on mission again, and Worf will never be offered command. But as a man, he confirms he would not have left Jennifer either.

The B story started with Jardzia sitting in with the Ferengi playing tonga. Quark’s on a 206 winning game streak. Worf is confident Jardzia will end this, enough to bet bloodwine against whiskey with O’Brien on it. When Quark makes it 207, the Chief develops an obsession with ending Quark’s streak, but he’s rubbish at tonga. So he gets Dr Bashir to play the game for him,and the genetically enhanced Bashir’s doing well, until Quark distracts him by talking about Jardzia’s marriage to Worf, and how nobody expects it to last, and both he and Bashir let her slip through their hands, she being so special…

Whether he means it or it’s flim-flam doesn’t matter: that’s 208.

What else is there to say? The episode was plotted very plainly, and the message, about the power of love, was so simple and unnuanced as to be all but banal. Yet I enjoyed it, without ever feeling particularly moved. A most odd episode.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e14 – One Little Ship


Tiny spaceship time

We’re already into the back half of season 6 and, whilst there were a few things about this episode that aren’t going to escape critical comment, I enjoyed this rather more than I’ve done for some weeks. ‘One Little Ship’ was something of a comedic episode, helpfully signalled to the audience in the open by having Major Kira burst into hysterical laughter over the premise, but the humour was more in the playing by Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell, as the three who shrunk, because the story was otherwise completely serious.

There was a certain amount of disguised playing to the open as well. Everybody’s off on the ‘Defiant’ doing a scientific mission as a break from the ongoing War that’s ongoing exceedingly slowly and mostly everywhere else except near Deep Space Nine. Point of criticism #1: I’m very disappointed in DS9‘s failure of nerve over the War, which they’ve started but don’t really have any commitment in pursuing, taking every opportunity they can to run away from it into a one-off story. ‘One Little Ship’ set up shop to appear to be doing that again. But it didn’t.

And there was a point when I thought that, for the first time in quite some time, we were going to have the old A-story/B-story set-up, with Dax, O’Brien and Bashir having one adventure in the Accretion Anomaly that was going to shrink them to about half a centimetre in height, and Sisko, Kira, Worf and Nog having another when the ‘Defiant’ was attacked and captured by Jem’Hadar. I was proven wrong on both points.

What happened was that, because it exited the anomaly on a different course from its entry (the anomaly being the MacGuffin, the scientific gobbledegook required to create the situation), the runabout Rubicon was stuck at 4cm long. So the tiny ship had to fly into the ‘Defiant’ and use all manner of sneakiness to zip here and there, lending a next-to-invisible hand to the Sisko-led response to the invasion.

In this, the shrunken warriors were aided by an intriguing new plot development that was never mentioned again, because nobody bothered to follow up on it. After the Jem’Hadar fleet was destroyed in the Wormhole, the Founders decided not t try to bring in any more Jem’Hadar but instead breed a new Jem’Hadar race on the spot (shades of the Mekon’s ‘New Treens’ in my favourite Dan Dare story, ‘All Treens Must Die!’).

These ‘Alpha’s are specially bred, genetically redesigned to thrive on war in the Alpha Quadrant, which has created a friction between the new, upstarts Alphas and the long-established but now overshadowed Gammas. The First is an Alpha, the Second a Gamma, and a well-respected Elder who was himself First until just two days ago. The Second has a great deal of experience, the First has practically none, and not only does he ignore the Second’s advice, he openly resents it and is even more determined to go his own way, with the arrogance of (assumed) natural superiority.

Needless to say, the Second is right at every turn, though his reward is a death that overcomes him before he is able to complete the Jem’Hadar mantra, ‘Obedience is Victory: Victory is Life’.

Point of Criticism #2: everyone agrees this Jem’Hadar division should have been taken further, but it never was. That relegation to a one-off weakens what was, ultimately, a fundamental plot-point, makes it look as if it’s a gimmick that was invented as a ‘Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free’ card, and you know how often I’ve complained of cheap, shoddy writing in the last thirty months. That it was intended as a permanent development redeems it a little, but it should still have been woven into the overall storyline.

Then again, in way way could this have been used that wasn’t basically a repetition of this episode? The answer is, I Don’t Know, but I’m sure a bank of screenwriters could have come up with something.

‘One Little Ship’ was filmed before last week’s ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ but airedafter because of the increased post-production time, adding the shrunken ‘Rubicon’ in Special Effects, which brought the episode an Emmy nomination. It may not have been of great significance overall, but I personally had a better time than I’ve had for many Deep Space Nine Tuesdays.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e13 – Far Beyond The Stars


Who’s Who?

Well, I guess I must be suffering some sort of burn out on Deep Space Nine because I just couldn’t get into this episode at all, and it’s one of those episodes that’s not just a fan-favourite but a favourite of so many members of the team that made it, including many of the actors themselves. Clearly, it’s me, then.

‘Far Beyond the Stars’ is another of those get-the-cast-out-of-character episodes, as Sisko undergoes a practically episode-long hallucination in which he’s a staff writer on a 1953 SF magazine, facing racial prejudice. It involves every member of the cast and a bunch of recurring characters out of costume and, in several cases, out of make-up.

Basically,the peg is that Sisko is approaching burn out. The Dominion War is still ticking over in the background, with wins and losses, but the latest loss – the Cortez and it’s 400 strong crew, especially its Captain, Quentin Swofford, an old friend of Sisko – has him talking of stepping down.

Immediately he suggests that, he starts seeing people in 1953 clothes walking around where they aren’t. Bashir diagnoses strange synaptic potentials akin to those in the season 5 episode, ‘Rapture’ when he was having visions sent by the Prophets (not so much a hint as a crowbar to the back of the neck) and, presto changeo, he’s in 1953 New York where he’s Benny Russell, employed by Incredible Tales magazine.

Everyone’s there, so it’s spot-the-unmake-upped- actor time (I didn’t get Aron Eisenberg, Jeffrey Combs or J. G. Hertzler and I was incredibly slow about Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn) whilst the story hammers on its theme of racial prejudice. The hammering is relentless, but then again so was the racism. I don’t doubt there’s a social faction that would kick-off against snowflakes and SJWs, but just because the present day isn’t as relentlessly open and universal as the world depicted here doesn’t mean it no longer needs saying.

To be honest, I found the unrelieved nature of the depiction to be dramatically unbalanced: over and over and over again. In another context, where you could focus on this story without having Deep Space Nine looking over your shoulder constantly, it would have worked far better. Instead, it was never possible to escape the awareness that this set-up was doubly unreal, a fiction within a fiction.

Anyway, Benny Russell is inspired by a drawing of a space station very much like DS9 to write a powerful, engrossing story. About DS9, and it’s captain, Benjamin Sisko. Everybody loves and admires it, but it won’t get published. Because the Captain is a negro.

To jump briskly forward, after a tour of Benny’s world and constant reminders of the restrictions inherent on black people (Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs as two violently prejudiced cops,who beat the living shit out of Benny at one point), he gets his editor to accept the story (and possibly the six sequels he’s already written), in return for his altering it slightly, to make the whole thing a dream. Whatever gets it into print. But the owner orders the whole print run pulped, the magazine’s going to skip a month and Benny’s fired. We all know why.

Throughout the hallucination, Sisko Senior keeps popping up as a Minister, preaching about the way ahead and insisting Sisko keep on his path, that he writes the words. He keeps mentioning the prophets (there’s that crowbar again). Benny has become fixated on his Captain Sisko, his DS9, this future he’s imagined. This latest setback unhinges him.He cracks up, onscreen, as if this block on publication of the story is an attempt to stop this entire future, the world of DS9, in which black and white and every other shade are equals, from ever happening.

Sad to say, I found it unconvincing, even when supported by Sisko’s musings in the close, which attempts to tip the show into metafiction, by wondering if Deep Space Nine is actually nothing more than the fiction it is, created by Benny Russell?

It’s Jorge Luis Borges’ paradox writ large: who is dreaming who? Is Sisko dreaming Benny, or vice versa? For me, it completely flops. Firstly, because when Benny goes into his meltdown, talking about ‘creating’ DS9, in the sense of a Creator creating Reality, he’s doing so as a character we know to be at a lower level of existence, the centre of a story-within-a-story. The same goes for Sisko’s musings: in an isolated story, you can play this angle for all it’s worth, and leave the reader genuinely uncertain, but after 136 previous episodes of Deep Space Nine, you’re pushing credibility to suggest that might be a fiction. A Tommy Westphall ending doesn’t work unless it is the end.

When Sisko recovers from the hallucination, his synaptic potentials have cleared up, even without a take-two-of-these-and-see-me-in-the-morning (crowbar time…) and he’s decided to soldier on. Phew, I was worried there…

The whole thing was a vision from the Prophets, to show Sisko that some fights have to be fought even in the face of frustration, defeat and loss. But really the episode was about the cast dressing down and playing outside their characters, with the framing story a loose-fitting McGuffin. That the story chosen was an important issue is impressive, but paradoxically it was weakened by being played in the context of Deep Space Nine, where it could have n serious impact by virtue of our knowledge that by the end it would all be reset, nothing gained, nothing lost, all that anger, frustration and heartache meaningless.

Or is it all just me?