Deep Space Nine: s07 e21 – When It Rains…

Nope, still don’t like the hairdo

I don’t know about anyone else but I found this episode very disappointing, and slow.

It’s seemingly structured around the Cardassian Rebellion being led by Gul Demar, and its need for sound tactical advice in guerilla warfare if it is to have any impact. The in-house expert on  that is Colonel Kira, who has been really underused in this final series. Kira, naturally, doesn’t want to do it but accepts her duty, and adds Odo and Garak to her team, so, not really provocative on every level at all. As part of the amelioration of their hosts’ feelings, she gets into a Starfleet uniform and Odo changes his kit to how he used to look when DS9 was Terak Nor. Not that it makes much difference: Demar is pragmatic enough to accept aid from someone he no longer has the luxury of hating, though his best mate, Resad, is far less flexible (can you spell troublemaker?)

But though this was the seeming base for the episode, it was ultimately one of many strands, each of which were seen in development without any sense of progression. All questions and no answers, pieces being moved around the board with no sense of satisfaction. It struck me early on just how slow things were moving in just getting Kira’s team off the station, but this was to be the characteristic of the entire episode.

This broke down into four distinct strands, Kira’s Mob included. Odo leaves behind a blob of himself so that Dashir can study its morphogenetic matrix and try to adapt it to the growing of artificial organs etc., but instead the good Doctor discovers that Odo has the morphogenetic plague that’s affecting the Founders. With the encouragement of Chief O’Brien, he fights his way through bureaucracy to try to get a handle on finding a cure, only to discover that instead of Odo being infected when he linked with the Female Changeling a year ago, he was actually infected three years ago, during the Starfleet medical Julian was seeking, and which has been faked when he received it. The explanation is clear: Section 31. Odo has been infected to lead to genocide. So if Section 31 has the plague, it must also have the cure. Bashir and O’Brien dedicate themselves to secretly extracting it.

Meanwhile, on Bajor (this was very much of a meanwhile… episode), the villains fall out. Kai Wynn won’t let Dukat shag her any more now she knows he’s Dukat. It’s slow going with the evil book, the Costa Moja, and when Dukat decides to speed up the process by reading it himself, he’s Pah-Wraithed into blindness, giving Wynn the excuse she wants to rather smugly have him booted out onto the streets: a blind beggar should be able to earn enough for food. Maybe even shelter. When thieves fall out, honest men may prosper, as they say.

And meanwhile, on DS9, Chancellor Gowron arrives to bestow upon General Martok the highest Order the Klingon Empire can give, then deprive him of his command and take over personally. You don’t need a degree in reading body language to tell that Martok and Worf do not think this is A Very Good Thing, though the former accepts his diminishedrole ith proper honour andloyalty to the Empire, and indeed it doesn’t look that way. Gowron’s idea is not to act defensively, hold the border, maintain the line against an enemy who outnumbers you twenty to one, but rather to barrel in, all guns blazing, give the bastards a good kicking, and claim all the honour for the Klingons. Alone.

Throw in a microstrand where Julian asks Ezri why she’s been avoiding him lately, then cuts off her explanation because his genetically enhanced intelligence jumps to the wrong conclusion about her shagging Worf and that’s it.

And the problem is, it’s all middles. It’s all set-up. On one level you might call it sophisticated story-telling, mirroring the processes of real life, the flow and complexity of war, where not everything gets wrapped up in a neat little 45 minute bundle, but come on, this is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, not something that had this approach built in from the start, and after 170 episodes, you can’t change horses in midstream like that, and you can’t do it effectively with writers who are trained to 45 minute solutions, not without the gears clunking.

It made the episode feel like a thirty mile stretch of a hundred mile journey. You’ve moved onwards, but you’ve got nowhere. I hope there’s more solid ground in the next one.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e01&2- The Way of the Warrior

Season 4 - the new cast
Season 4 – the new cast

And without a pause we roll on into season 4 of the great DS9 rewatch, the midpoint of the show’s run, and it’s all change. Captain Sisko’s shaved his head, there’s a new and slightly fussier credit sequence, Siddig el Fadil is now going by the name Alexander Siddig, which puts him back in the credits so he’s now next to Nana Visitor, his missus (aww!). And, oh yes, enter as Strategic Operations Officer: Lieutenant Commander Worf, played again by Michael Dorn, after a year of inactivity since the end of Next Generation. All change. And a pretty bloody good double-episode of high seriousness, drama and consequence to kick us off with a perfect demonstration of what Deep Space Nine should be like, week-in, week-out.

The open started with what I initially thought was a flashback to last season’s final episode and the station-wide hunt for the Changeling, though the object of the hunt turned out to be Odo, and the whole thing a training exercise. It was an effective re-orientation for viewers after a summer off, but had no relation to the story which suddenly developed. A Klingon ship decloaks off the station, and its Commander, General Martok, requests shore leave for his crew. The Captain readily agrees. Then the rest of the Klingon Fleet decloaks…

There’s something going on. Sisko doesn’t really believe Martok’s claim that they’re only here to defend the Alpha Quadrant against the Dominion, there’s no discernible evidence of any activity at present. Martok’s hiding something so Sisko decides to seek outside help. Enter Worf.

This season was set after the Star Trek: Generations film (the only one I saw in the cinema, and the request of an old friend who didn’t want to go on her own), in which the TNG Enterprise had been destroyed. Worf has been on retreat until summoned to duty: he is seriously considering resigning his commission, in conflict between his natural Klingon beliefs and temperament and his duties – and his honour – as a Starfleet officer.

This is a very Worf-oriented episode, as was only to be expected. The heavily serious, yet uncharacteristically doubting Klingon is the fulcrum through which almost everything moves, with the lighter scenes being used as relief from the wholly serious plot. Into this category comes a scene in which Dax tries to get Kira into a holosuite programme with toyboy Trills giving great massages (I bet they do, I bet they do! Say no more!) which is mainly notable for getting both ladies out of uniform and flashing a bit of flesh: shoulders mainly, and some leg.

For once though, the balance is well-maintained, and even the Quark bits are decently portrayed, and at least in character.

But we are starting off the season with a major geo-political shift that will direct the overall flow of the show throughout the next twenty-six episodes and beyond: the downfall of the Obsidian Order on Cardassia (in s03 e21) has led to the overthrow of the Central Command and the establishment of a Civilian Government (with Gul Dukat as Chief Military Advisor, naturally), and rumours of civil war and uprising.

The Klingon Empire cannot believe that a civil uprising can, on its own, overthrow a military government. It is obvious, to them, that this is a move by the Dominion, that the civil government is led by Changelings. Their plan is simple: to invade, and take over the Cardassian Empire.

The Federation intends, at first, to stand by and not get involved, and that extends to DS9. Sisko cannot stand by: he takes the  Defiant, including Worf on its bridge, to rescue Dukat and the Civilian Council. This involves battle with a number of Klingon vessels.

It also involves the threat of war. Martok’s fleet, joined by Chancellor Gowron, demands the Council be handed over. Sisko refuses. In the past year, DS9 has upgraded its defences immensely. There’s a brilliant sequence of preparation for attack, full of the calm black humour of those facing a deadly situation. Worf has burned his bridges with his people, but he has retained his Honour. The battle is intense, including hand-to-hand combat on the Bridge.

It is all what the Dominion wants. Three of the powers of the Alpha Quadrant turning on each other, weakening each other, making the path to conquest so much easier for the Founders (we can leave the Vulcans and the Romulans out of this, apparently).

In the end, DS9’s resilience, and the imminent arrival of their reinforcement first, forces Gowron to withdraw. But the damage is done. Though they remain mutual enemies to the Dominion, the peace between the Federation and the Klingons is broken. And the Klingons are retaining several of the Cardassian colonies they overran. Like it or not, they are now a factor in the vicinity of the Wormhole.

As for Worf, he still plans to resign, until Sisko’s empathy over the fundamental reasons – the loss of the Enterprise and that crew – persuades him otherwise. Worf transfers from a gold shirt to a red, sets his foot upon the path of command, reorients the dynamic of the cast.

I’m looking forward to season 4.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e 20/21 – Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast


People have been telling me that the last few episodes of season 3 are where Deep Space Nine really gets good, and this two parter, and especially the latter half thereof, is ample evidence that they were right. The last few weeks have been strong episodes, focusing on individuals, though I still feel that last week’s missed a trick, and for a large part of ‘Improbable Cause’, this run looked to be being maintained.

This time, the central role looked to be the enigma that is Elim Garak (Andrew Robinson appearing several weeks in a row in his guest spot). At first, everything seemed to be an elaboration on his self-sustaining mystery (I couldn’t help but think last week that the Mirror Universe Garak was considerably dull as an out-and-out Cardassian bastard). You had Bashir and Garak debating Shakespeare at lunch, you had Bashir’s ongoing suspicion our favourite Cardassian is more than just a tailor in exile, and then you had an explosion: Garak’s shop. With Garak in it.

This brought Odo into the spotlight, in his investigative capacity. There’s a professional assassin who arrived on DS9 about 45 minutes ahead of the bomb, and evidence of Romulan culpability. But the assassin is a professional poisoner, and the Romulans blow his ship to buggery the moment it leaves the station, so what the hell is going on?

And why won’t Garak admit that he blew his own shop up?

Garak is being typically ingenuous, keeping everything under his hat, but convincing no-one (there’s a glorious little moment of insight into his character when the exasperated Bashir tells him the story of the Boy who cried Wolf, to illustrate why people end up not believing liars even when they tell the truth, and Garak extracts a completely different moral: don’t keep telling the same lie).

But even his sang-froid is challenged when he learns that several other members of the Obsidian Order have died that past week – and he knows them all.

So Garak takes a trip to visit his old mentor and boss, Enabran Tain, the only Obsidian Order head to ever retire alive, who may also be in danger. This is despite Tain being the one who secured Garak’s exile. Odo insists on accompanying him. So far, very intriguing, and impossible to see where this might be leading.

Until a Romulan Warbird decloaks above the runabout, locks it with a tractor beam, and takes Garak on board. To meet Tain. There is a combined Romulan/Cardassian war fleet, an unofficial alliance assembled by Tain. They’re going to go through the wormhole, into the Gamma Quadrant, and attack and destroy the Founders’ planet, ending forever the menace of the Dominion. Odo, being a Changeling, will be a useful captive.

And Garak,since he’s escaped being killed, can become Tain’s second-in-command. he can return from exile, he can serve Cardassia again.

To Odo’s surprise, Garak accepts, eagerly.

But suddenly, the stakes have been multiplied out of all proportion, and the story has been catapulted onto a very large stage indeed, and Deep Space Nine is swimming into waters of astonishing significance.

This makes the second part, ‘The Die is Cast’ a story of an entirely different magnitude, in which large things happen. Bashir is trying to turn O’Brien into a very inadequate Garak-substitute as a lunch companion when suddenly the Romulan/Cardassian fleet starts decloaking all around them and heading down the wormhole. It’s red alert and priority comms with Starfleet Command, who, once Tain makes an announcement of his plans, sets DS9 on a defensive war footing: a fleet warping in, the ‘Defiant’ on defensive duties for the station.

But Odo’s out there, and Sisko seeks permission to go rescue him. This is formally, and very directly denied, in terms that make Sisko’s immediate defiance of them a potential court martial issue for the entire senior staff, who volunteer as one.

This includes Odo’s number two, Starfleet Security Chief Commander Eddington, although he’s only going because he’s under direct orders from Admiral Todman to stop Sisko, which he does by sabotaging the Defiant’s cloak once in the Gamma Quadrant. All in a very gentlemanly fashion, with his word of honour not to interfere further.

This side-trip serves to delay the Defiant’s arrival until it can become a deus ex machina, but the larger story seres to more than occupy our time. Garak’s being very relaxed and cheerful, almost nostalgic, about his restoration to grace, though he’s less than whole-hearted about having to interrogate Odo for something withheld about the Founders. It would appear that Garak’s carefully constructed persona as an innocuous small businessman is becoming somewhat real.

But in order to gain Tain’s trust, Garak has to get something. Using an experimental device that prevents Odo shapeshifting – shortly before he needs to transform into his liquid self – Garak successfully tortures Odo, whose form becomes increasingly – and horrifyingly – more raddled, ragged and deformed. Garak pleads for something, a lie even, to justify him ending the torture, but gets something true: that Odo longs to return to his people, to join in the Great Link. Garak releases him from the locking device.

Now the attack begins. Firepower is poured down on the planet, but the readings of lifeforms are unchanged. Too late, with a bloody massive fleet of Jem’Hadar ships decloaking all around them, Tain realises it was all a trap. Garak realises it too, and decides to get himself and Odo out. But he can only do so with the aid of Romulan captain Lovok, who is not a Romulan at all, but a Founder. The Dominion has encouraged and aided Tain’s plan so as to draw in and deciimate Cardassia and the Romulan Empire. That only leaves the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and they don’t consider them enemies who will last much longer.

Odo is again offered the chance to join the Founders. Despite his words to Garak, he again refuses. Garak, meanwhile, considers it his duty to try to get Tain out, no matter than Tain’s mind has snapped, so Odo has to knock him out to get him out, just in time for the Defiant to beam the pair out of the battle and shoot for safety.

Phew. But the status quo has been shifted, massively, and twenty-odd years on, one belated part of the audience is thinking what a bloody good episode that was, and if they really can keep up that standard…

But, soft. Sisko gets away with it, this time, with a warning from Todman that if he does anything like that again, he’s either going to get court-martialed, or promoted! And as for Garak, in a beautifully directed scene, he surveys the wreckage of his shop, picks up ruined fabric, polishes a blackened mirror, and beholds a distorted reflect of Odo, offscreen. Beautifully, Odo stays at that distance, as the two converse. It appears Garak has left a certain detail out of his report, for which Odo is grateful. As for his future, it appears Quark wants to take over the unit and open a massage parlour. But Odo thinks Sisko would be much more amenable to a tailor’s shop…

A beautifully poised ending. And if it recreates the status quo, for once that’s no bad thing. We now know rather more about Garak than we’d ideally wish to if his enigma is to be perpetrated, but his enigma, and his air of innocence, is entirely too delightful for us to want to lose it.

And the Dominion threat starts to loom ever nearer.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e18 – Distant Voices

Ages well, doesn't he?
Ages well, doesn’t he?

I’m a tough audience at the moment. I might be bingeing certain series on DVD  to avoid being caught with my thoughts, but we’re not talking about mindless rubbish here. I have not had a television set for seven years now, and I have broken the habit of TV, the habit of switching on and watching what happens to be there instead of choosing only to watch what is of interest.

Though I’m a long way into this Deep Space Nine watch-through, it’s still the nearest I let myself come to dull, predictable, lazy episodes, or ones that are flat and banal, as the Quark-centric ‘Prophet Motives’ of a fortnight ago demonstrates. But last week’s O’Brien-centric ‘Visionary’ was one of the strongest episodes I’ve seen, and the standard was kept up by this week’s Bashir-centric ‘Distant Voices’.

I was a little bit suspicious of the quasi-comic open, which featured the Doctor and Garak lunching. It’s a couple of days to Bashir’s birthday and he’s being grumpy about it because it’s his thirtieth and, well, you know. Their conversation is interrupted by an unusually subdued Quark, introducing a Lethian who wants to buy some biometic gel, for purposes of a McGuffin nature.

Bashir refuses. The substance is both dangerously unstable and highly Restricted. But when he returns to his Infirmary, he finds the Lethian ransacking it. He tries to fight him, but is incapacitated by some form of electrical discharge through his head, emanating from the Lethian’s hands. Cue theme music.

The Doctor awakes to a strange situation. Lights are flickering, comms are down, all electrics are non-functional and no-one is around. What’s more, Julian has suddenly started to silver at the temples. That it’s some form of hallucination or fugue is obvious, with the Doctor’s concern about aging somewhere at its root, but the situation is unusual, with no immediately obvious pattern.

DS9 appears to be deserted, but there’s noises in Quark’s. He’s cowering behind the bar, terrified, whilst something out of sight is wrecking the joint, bit by bit. Quark is pure fear, to the slightly annoying point that, whilst he clearly knows who is doing all this, it’s all ‘he’ and not the name.

Nevertheless, that’s the last weak moment. ‘He’ is the Lethian, and he is destroying DS9. It’s a crisis situation, made worse by Bashir periodically hearing whispering voices that no-one else can hear. Only when he runs into a bunch of the others – The Chief, Odo, the Major, Dax – does it begin to start making sense.

Not at first, because they’re all shouting and suspicious of one another. The Chief’s turned into a cowardly pessimist, Odo into a paranoid, the Major is all shouty and Dax just wants to blaze away with a phaser. But the Chief manages to repair a comms panel, and Bashir’s voices come through loud and clear.

It is an hallucination, brought on by the Lethian’s telepathic attack. Julian’s body is dying – represented in the hallucination by his ongoing aging – and the others aren’t real. They are aspects of his personality, clothed in the bodies of those close to him, representations. Some are negative, others positive. Dax is his confidence, Sisko his professionalism. But the Lethian is taking and destroying these manifestations, slowly stripping his mind. And the Doctor is aging ever more rapidly.

I have got to say that, once past the superficial and unconvincing graying temples, the make-up showing the successive stages of Bashir’s aging was superb and completely convincing, aided by a magnificent performance by Siddig el Fadil, who brought an increasing frailty to his part that echoed every chronological shift with exactitude, and ensured that at no time were we dragged out of the story by any discernible artificiality.

The whole hallucination echoed Powell & Pressburger’s legendary A Matter of Life and Death, in that to survive his real life organic degradation, Bashir had to win his hallucination, by restoring the station. By the time he reached Ops, there was only one personality left, Garak, physically helping him after a fall and a broken hip. And Garak was being intensely negative, undermining and denigrating all Bashir’s efforts as impossible.

Because ‘Garak’ was the Lethian: in Bashir’s brain, accessing all his memories, reminding him of all the times he’s given up, not fought for what he wanted, settled for less. He can’t succeed now.

But he still can. As Bashir’s physical prowess has grown increasingly limited, his will has only strengthened, until its something unbreakable. He gets to the Infirmary: Ops is the centre of the station but this is his centre. His defiance is unbreakable. The things he could have done but didn’t have only led to his being where he is, and that is where he belongs and won’t exchange. He restores the lights, quarantines and sterilises the Lethian in his mind. And wakes up in his body.

The episode ends with Bashir and Garak once again enjoying lunch, but with Bashir considerably more sunny than at the start of the episode. What pint being grumpy about being 30 when you’ve discovered what it’s like to be 100+? Garak, however, is concerned, as any friend would be, that Bashir’s mind picked him out to be the Lethian: the traitor, the underminer, the destroyer. The Doctor attempts to reassure him that the Garak of his hallucination was not the real-life Garak, but the tailor remains unconvinced. Which lead to the best closing line of the entire DS9 to date and an out-loud belly-laugh. Bashir sees Garak as untrustworthy.

“There’s hope for you yet.”

Deep Space Nine: s03 e07 – Civil Defence

Portrait of a smug Cardassian
Portrait of a smug Cardassian

There was nothing in the least bit significant about this week’s episode of DS9, either in terms of the larger background of the Dominion threat, any sociological or political attitude, or even the standalone storyline itself. It was purely and simply a ‘bottle episode’, confined to the station itself, with no guests beyond two recurring Cardassians, Gul Dukat and Garak. Which made it an entertaining, unpretentious little delight.

The story began with Chief O’Brien and Jake Sisko working in one of the lower level processing units, attempting to reclaim it, and in the meantime wiping all the now-redundant Cardassian programmes from its computer. One programme refused to be deleted: in fact, the attempt to remove it triggered it, and it was a doozy.

Because this programme was an automated defence programme, complete with pre-recorded messages from the then-Commander, Gul Dukat, warning the ‘Bajoran workers’ who have attempted to seize control that their revolt will not be allowed to succeed.

And it escalated from there. The Chief, Jake and Sisko himself found themselves trapped down there, and having to bust out to avoid a fatal dose of neurosene gas, which triggers further fail-safes affecting the Bridge, and trapping Major Kira, Jardzia and Doctor Bashir behind similar force-fields.

Not to mention trapping Odo in his office, along with his suspicious and most unwelcome visitor, Quark.

That gave us three groups operating in isolation from one another, with the tension ratchetting up every few minutes as yet another attempt to beat the system being interpreted as further success by the mythical Bajoran workers (the Major must have been so proud) requiring yet more escalated response. All the way up initiating the self-destruct of DS9 itself.

No-one’s going anywhere, no-one’s getting anywhere, and the odds are getting slimmer all the time. Garak’s personal codes let him wander through the force-fields at will, but his attempts to beat a system keyed to Dukat’s personal codes and no other’s only accelerate the process.

Then, look what happens! A cocksure Gul Dukat teleports onto a phaser-strewn Bridge in response to a distress signal from himself, near to laughing his head off with delight at just how fucked up everything is for the Federation (and Garak). Sure, he’ll use his codes to shut everything down, in return for a minor concession or two, like official permission to instal a garrison of 2,000 Cardassian troops on board.

Of course, that’s an utter no-no. Dukat thinks he has the upper hand even though Kira is fully-prepared to let everyone on board be killed by the Defence programme rather than let the Cardassians back. He’ll just teleport back to his ship, put his feet up, wait for her to change her mind when there’s, say, five minutes to go. Except that, in a gloriously and hilariously ingenious twist, the programme interprets the attempted teleportation as an act of inglorious cowardice by Station Commander Dukat, trying to flee his post, and blocks not only the teleport but all Dukat’s codes, rendering him as helpless – and doomed – as everyone else.

In the end, it’s Sisko who saves the day (you mean, you really thought the station would buy it? There’s another nineteen episodes left in this series alone) restoring everything to normal, after forty-five minutes of harmless, inconsequential fun.

It’s a text book example on how to bring in an entertaining episode of a series at absolutely minimal cost, which is what ‘bottle episodes’ are about. A splendid time was had by all. I enjoyed it.

Deep Space Nine: s02e23 – Crossover

Two for the price of one

Yes, well. I’d been warned ahead of time about this episode, as one who appreciates Nana Visitor, and I was not let down, visually at any rate.

I was disadvantaged, however, when the episode got under way, by my lack of knowledge of Star Trek as a whole, as a longer-term fan would have recognised that this was a riff on an episode from the Original Series without having to have the name brought up of a man named Kirk.

‘Crossover’ was, at a great distance, a sequel to the second season episode ‘Mirror, Mirror’, in which Kirk and several of his crew are accidentally projected into a parallel Universe of evil counterparts (and their evil counterparts are swapped into our universe). I have seen the original episode, decades ago, but the only thing I remember of it was Leonard Nimoy with a little black goatee beard.

Anyway, the same thing happens again, without the evil counterparts going in the opposite direction, only this time to Major Kira and Doctor Bashir, who are returning through the wormhole from the Gamma Quadrant. Julian’s being his usual, irritating, insensitive self, constantly talking whilst Kira is trying to ‘meditate’, when there’s a plasma leak that buggers up their warpdrive, leading to a crossover into the Mirror Universe. Where things are very different, and it’s all Kirk’s fault.

I won’t go into detail but, suffice to say, Kirk’s well-meaning intervention to spread the morals of mid-Fifties, mid-western America across the twenty-fourth century Universe (I have long since outgrown being impressed by the Original Series) has back-fired spectacularly, leading to a prevailing Klingon-Cardassian Alliance in which Bajor has a prominent role and Terrans are slaves.

In fact, Bajor has such a prominent role that the Intendant (i.e., Commander) of Deep Space Nine is a Bajoran, Kira Nerys. And boy does Nana Visitor enjoy hamming that part up, dressed in a fetchingly skin-tight (and I mean skin-tight especially around the nether regions) leather dominatrix outfit. It’s all good fun, and you wouldn’t find losing an eye as long as that left you with one with which to look.

(And there’s the bath scene, where the Intendant is showing off her naked back, not to mention the party scene with two of them in deep-plunge cleavage ball gowns.)

But enough of the shallowness (you can never have too much shallowness). The point of an episode like this is for everybody to play different. There’s the aggressive, prowling, cat-like Intendant, the sadistic mine-superintendant, Odo, the scared, beaten-down tinkerer, O’Brien and the louche, uncaring, pirate and intendant-shagger, Sisko, all playing against type.

Not to mention the dictatorial, machiavellian, station number two, Gul Garak.

The parallel is not too exact however. The Mirror universe Quark is still Quark, even if he’s never heard of latinum, and still a schemer (but out of the goodness of his heart), O’Brien is near enough O’Brien and there are no duplicate Bashirs and no Dax’s at all. And whilst the Intendant starts out all powerful and secure, I was surprised to find her losing it through the episode, until by the end Nana Visitor was playing her as a brittle, near-drunk on the fringes of hysteria, who – once the episode was over – was going to last about thirty seconds.

The endgame of the story – of all such versions of this story – is the escape of the travellers back to their status quo, leaving behind a determined knot of rebels who will work to overcome the tyranny that has oppressed them. Such it was, with the piratical Sisko in that dominant role, not that you expected much of that. The Doctor, in his mine-rags, and the Major, in her don’t-lean-too-far-forward ball-gown, escaped back to the wormhole where, as it always does, recreating exactly the circumstances of their first shift takes them back where they should be (instead of, say, dumping them in one of the infinite alternate possible Universes).

You’ll perhaps gather that I wasn’t ultimately that impressed, except with Nana Visitor’s alternate costumes. Oh, I enjoyed the episode, but I would have enjoyed it at least twice as much in 1994. It’s the same old thing I’ve been saying for weeks now, and I wish I could come up with a different tune, or at least tune this note out, but television, and particularly television writing has come on so far in the past twenty years that I cannot keep myself from seeing where every episode could be so much better. Which is completely unfair. But inescapable.

Deep Space Nine: s02e22 – The Wire

Do not trust this Cardassian further than a trebuchet could fling him

The choice of this episode’s title, though apt to the story in more senses than one, is nevertheless unfortunate since it can only make me think of David Simon’s deservedly legendary series set in Baltimore. Which has nothing to do with this episode, of course.

‘The Wire’ is basically a two-hander, with walk-ons for nearly all the cast. But it’s Doctor Bashir and the mysterious Garak, Cardassian exile, tailor and all-round enigma. The plot is simple: whilst queuing for their weekly lunch, Garak experiences sharp pains in the head, that he refuses to allow Bashir to treat, or even investigate. Bashir refuses to accept rebuff. Through Odo he learns that Garak is dealing with Quark to obtain a piece of Cardassian bio-technology that is highly classified and has links with the Obsidian Order (a central spy ring of which Garak was formerly a member).

Garak has a seizure and is taken to the Infirmary  where Bashir discovers he has a piece of bio-technology implanted long ago in his brain; the same piece Garak has been trying to obtain. It is an ingenious device rendering its host immune to torture by converting the pain into pleasure. Unfortunately, it is breaking down: in order to combat the pain of exile,the daily torture of his life on DS9, Garak has ended up switching the device on permanently; hence its deterioration.

In order to save Garak’s life, Bashir tracks down Enabran Tain, the ‘retired’ head of the Obsidian Order,and obtains from his the bio-information that will reverse the device’s effect. Tain does this not out of compassion, or in memory of old relationships, but to extend Garak’s life in exile, in daily torture, unable ever to return to Cardassia. Garak makes a full recovery, restored to his old, elusive, enigmatic self.

The point of the story is to explore Garak’s background, whilst giving Julian Bashir a feature opportunity that explores his commitment to his craft, and to a man that he does not trust, yet whom he likes, and thinks of as a friend. Bashir is determined to save Garak’s life, not merely because it is his professional and personal duty but because, in the face of a changing sequence of horrific confessions, he refusesto give up on Garak himself, even when the Cardassian is most set on alienating the Doctor.

We learn about Garak’s background, about how he was not merely a member of the Obsidian Order but a natural for the job and right hand man to Enabran Tain himself. And we learn of the horrific atrocity that caused his disgrace and exile.

And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that in a moment of weakness brought on by personal discomfort, Garak let Bajoran children escape.

And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that Garak tried to frame his best friend and boyhood chum Elim for the atrocity, only to find Elim had the same idea in respect of his old buddy, Garak, and got there first.

And then we learn, from a theoretically more objective source, that it wasn’t like that at all, that Elim is Garak’s first name…

In short, we don’t really learn anything at all, not that we can trust, except that Garak is a masterful and shameless liar, and even then we have to take Tain’s word for it, and if you think we can’t trust Garak… By this point, even the most secure points, such as Garak having been a member of the Obsidian Order, and being in exile, are not things in which we feel safe in believing.

A seriously good episode which expanded upon the mysterious Garak and gave us multiple insights into who and what he is, what he thinks and how he feels, not a one of which we can be sure of. On the other hand, we do know Bashir a bit better for this.

Deep Space Nine: s02 e18 – ‘Profit and Loss’

With a title like that, this could hardly be anything else than about Quark, could it? I’d say this was about 75% a much better episode than the last few I’ve watched, but that there was one primary element that blew a great hole in the story for me, and below the waterline too.

The story featured the arrival on the station of a badly-damaged Cardassian ship with three people aboard, Professor Natima Lang and her student Hogue and Rekela. The Professor is eager to get her ship repaired and to move on. Initially, this seems to be because she’s aware that Cardassians on DS9 go down like a cup of cold sick but, of course, there’s more to it than that.

And it’s not necessarily to do with Quark going bananas the moment he sees the lovely Natima again (and Mary Crosby is lovely, even under full Cardassian make-up, down to her cleavage), though she does slap him across the face the moment he shows up.

Then there’s the mysterious Garak, who Bashir suspects is a spy, or an outcast, or maybe a bit of both as the tailor enigmatically suggests. Garak notices his fellow Cardassians, which is a prelude to his getting involved.

Essentially, what it’s about is that Hogue and Rekela are Cardassian rebels, working towards the overthrow of the military control of Cardassia and the establishment of a free and open democracy in its place. They’re being hunted: Natima’s ship was not damaged by meteorite strike but Cardassian disruptors, and, oh look, a fully-armed Cardassian warship pops up, its disruptors pointed at DS9, wanting them back.

So, on one side we have Quark, who was once deeply in love with Natima and she, somewhat incredulously, as deeply in love with him, until he betrayed her so as to make a profit. Quark still loves her and wants her to stay, but she doesn’t love him, has changed, has a duty to her ‘students’ and basically wants out.

And on the other, we have Garak, doing his best to dispel the element of mystery about whose side he is on, first by shopping Natima and co’s whereabouts to Central Command, warning Sisko and Quark off and suggesting that Sisko’s refusal to simply hand them over can be overridden by a prisoner exchange deal with the Bajoran Provisional Government.

Quark does have one thing up his sleeve: a buckshee cloaking device that he’s prepared to give away to Hogue and Rekela to facilitate their escape, absolutely free, gratis and for nothing. Except for Natima staying with him forever, that is. The lovely Professor pulls a phaser on him but Quark is confident that she still loves him and wouldn’t shoot him. Until she does.

At which point the narrative torpedo blows the story to hell and back because it turns out that Natima does still love him, can’t stop thinking about him, worships the ground he slithers over and only shot him by accident. Flipping heck, she’s even prepared to kiss him, with all that make-up all over both of them.

And it’s about the most unbelievable thing Deep Space Nine has tried to sell me ever. Listen, I was already having problems with Quark being in love in the first place, especially outside his species – I mean, he’s short, ugly, consummately greedy and self-centred, a liar, a cheat, untrustworthy, not to mention that he’s been nothing but comic relief for a season and three-quarters, so he’s not been the poster boy for meaningful relationships – and after all that well-established anger, dislike and mistrust Natima had displayed, such a total volte-face was completely unbelievable.

It was a cheap story-telling short-cut, a lazy cliche with no grounding plausibility that they could ever have been in love and a cheap ‘hero’s always got it’ move than fatally wounded a till-then intriguing set-up.

Meanwhile, Garakis visited by the contemptuous Gul Toran, a former rival well-trained in gloating. The prisoner exchange isn’t good enough: if Garak wants to end his exile, he has to ensure Hogue and Rekela don’t make it aboard the Cardassian ship.

In order to manufacture the intended climax, the story takes another unsupported turn. Quark visits Odo, prepared to promise nearly everything if the Constable only releases his Cardassian prisoners in direct defiance of Sisko’s orders, not to mention those of the Bajoran government. He discloses that he has the afore-mentioned cloaking device, the very thing that Odo, in the open, is quizzing him over, threatening 50 years penal colony if Quark is caught.

So, refusing all of Quark’s blandishments but ‘in the name of Justice’, Odo releases everyone. I mean, there is no convincing explanation of why Odo should turn against everything he stands for, but the writers can’t come with anything plausible, and we need that climactic scene, dammit, just get it done already.

That climactic scene is at the airlock, where, oh surprise, Garak is waiting with a phaser. With two, actually, once he takes Quark’s. He’s surprisingly open about his motive, his desire to please Central Command and end his exile from the Empire. Until Gul Toran steps out of the shadow, having followed Garak in order to take care of things himself, claim the glory and sneer at the tailor for believing that one act could get himself back in the military’s good books.

So Garak vapourises him with Quark’s phaser. He’s such an enigma, isn’t he?

Hogue and Rekela scarper. Natima reaffirms her deep love for Quark, who has already declared that he can’t live without her, can’t lose her again, etc. etc. etc., but she has a job to do (“…it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”) But don’t worry, all he has to do is wait until Cardassia has a free and democratic government and she’ll come back to him – and make the wait worthwhile, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Natima legs it on out of there whilst Quark and Garak do the Casablanca exit, as does the episode, completely unconcerned about such minor issues as the Cardassian reaction to the rebels’ escape, the Bajoran response to losing their prisoner exchange deal, not to mention the minor matter of one dead Gul.

This was, as I said, about three quarters of a decent episode, a good, interesting story with strong issues at its heart and a well-created moral dilemma. Then it blew itself up with some of the cheapest, laziest and idiotic writing I’ve seen for a long time. I mean, Quark’s now lost the love of his life for a second time, this time knowing she loves him and wants to be with him: overall effect upon him? Absolute Zero. Mary Crosby doesn’t appear again in the rest of Deep Space Nine, she won’t get mentioned, her effect is less than negligible.

I’m starting to say  this every week, to the point that it’s boring me, but this was the state of episodic TV in the early Nineties. Twin Peaks had already been and gone, defying that mould, and there had been several successful series that had defied the notion of having separate episodes, completely unlinked: Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street all developed stories and arcs over successive episodes.

Deep Space Nine, which was yet to hit its prime, represents an older and decidedly lesser tradition. How did we ever put up with it?

Deep Space Nine: s02e05 – ‘Cardassians’

I was intrigued by the title of this episode, and found myself reflecting that in the first season, we didn’t really get to know much about the Cardassians, other than their role as all-purpose baddies, pop-up villains. That they had their subtleties was obvious from Gul Dukat and, to a lesser extent, the mysterious Garak (an ongoingly excellent portrayal by Andrew Robinson, all avuncular twinkles and self-depracation unless pursuing his indecipherable aims), was clear. But as a people, they were opaque, beyond their military reputation.

I was hoping for something that gave a greater insight into the Cardassians as a race, and I suppose that I got it, though it was almost incidental to a story that started out thought-provoking, but which didn’t have a real answer to its own dilemma and ended up fudging its ending by making an almost arbitrary decision.

The episode centred on Rugal, a twelve-year old Cardassian war orphan adopted by a Bajoran couple, who claimed to love him dearly, as mush as if he were their own flesh and blood, but who had raised him to hate, fear and despise his own race (and by extension himself).

There was a clear race symbol there: it was altogether too easy to see Rugel as a black child brought up by white Ku Klux Klan members, or a Jew raised by Nazis. And though Rugal seemed to love his ‘father’ as much as the man claimed to love him, there were accusations from a businessman who had seen the family together on Bajor of brutal brainwashing.

No sooner had Rugal announced himself as a problem by biting Garak’s hand in the open than Gul Dukat himself was on the sub-space blower to Sisko, dripping with insincerity about those poor war orphans and how they had to be brought home, especially Rugal. Of course there was an ulterior motive, simply from the fact of it being Gul Dukat, and that meant kindly old uncle Garak leading the suspicious but outmatched Doctor Bashir by the nose to uncover, and foil that plan.

It turned out that Rugal – the son of a prominent Cardassian civil leader and political opponent of Dukat – was not an orphan at all. His father, Kotan Pad’har, thought him dead, killed in a Bajoran resistance raid that had killed the boys mother. Kotan was overjoyed to find his son alive, though it would finish him as a politician once it got out: the strength and value Cardassians put on the family and all its generations meant that his failure to find his son then, his effective abandonment of him, would ruin him.

Bashir and Garak’s investigations uncovered the fact that Rugal had been deliberately left by a Cardassian officer under Dukat’s command, to be used if just such an eventuality pertained. Sisko, who had been asked to arbitrate, Solomon-like, on Rugal’s fate, opted to restore the lad to his natural father, and his race, despite the overwhelming loathing Rugal felt for them.

It was never going to be an easy answer, and the episode did very little to argue the central, moral point of what was best for Rugal: Sisko signed off with the hope that his ‘healing’ could begin. It was obvious that he had been brainwashed, that his Bajoran ‘parents’ had poured all their hatred and loathing into Rugal, though there was never any follow up on whether or not it had been done brutally or lovingly. Either way, it was a wrong that deserved to be rectified, but it paid little heed to Rugal himself: a lifetime of trauma looked to be ahead.

Besides, Kotan was at least as happy about saving his career and couldn’t really give a damn about the other, genuine Cardassian orphans still in misery on Bajor.

By refusing to tackle the subject on any level other than an acute hook for a dramatic episode, DS9 fudged the issue and I was quite disappointed. Nevertheless, the episode did function on the same higher level season 2 had established, which points to better things ahead.

Deep Space Nine s1e03: “Past Prologue”

Tuesday night is henceforth DS9 night, and this is where the series truly begins, to start filling in details of the world that surrounds the silent, unmoving station.

Episode 3 focused upon three characters principally, although only one of them started to take proper shape. ‘Past Prologue’ was about Major Kira’s past as a Bajoran terrorist, and to the extent of how much she was changed since the Cardassians were thrown off her planet.

Kira’s stance was set off against that of Tana Los, a former comrade-in-arms who has remained a terrorist, with the Khon-Ma. Tana entered, stage right, pursued by a Cardassian ship bent on shooting him down. Immediately he was teleported aboard DS9, he claimed Political Asylum. Commander Sisko’s first decision was whether to grant it.

As far as Kira was concerned, there was no question: Sisko had to protect Tana. When he actually showed signs of thinking it through first, she tried going over his head to the Admiral, which didn’t work this time and was contraindicated as a means of progressing her career if she ever tried it again.

What Kira saw was a man who, claiming he had renounced the Khon-Ma, and violence, could do immeasurable good in helping to build up Bajor. Tana was less convinced that Bajor was on the right course: he wanted a planet that was not merely independent but isolated, and at the end of the day his plan was to achieve that in one go by exploding a vastly explosive device to shut down this end of the Wormhole. No wormhole, nothing for the Federation or the Cardassians to want out of Bajor. Simple as.

In the end, Kira was forced to lay her faith in what she saw as Bajor’s best interest. Having to betray either Tana or Sisko, to whom she had no actual loyalty, ended with her committing to the Federation. Tana was defeated, and surrendered to the Federation rather than have the Cardassians take him home, but he still managed to flay the worried Kira with the word ‘Traitor’. The Major made the right choice, but it clearly felt wrong on some fundamental level she’s going to have to work out.

And, on a lighter note, at least Nana Visitor had gotten rid of that dreadfully ugly hairdo from the pilot and settled on the rather sharp, slightly mannish and very Eighties style that she wears for the rest of the series. Much hotter, and it lets us see that weird Bajoran ear jewellery out in the open.

Though this was a Kira-centric episode, it didn’t look to be so during the deliberately lightweight first half of the pre-credit sequence. This was given over to Doctor Bashir, not really opening up but certainly demonstrated his utter naivete at this stage, as he nervously responds to an approach by the enigmatic Garak, played with subtle glee by Andrew Robinson. As the lone Cardassian still on the station, suspected to be a spy but protesting that he is a mere tailor, Robinson stayed far from overplaying but still marked what would be a gloriousrecurring role for all it was worth.

And in his intrigues with the renegade Klingon sisters – were those cleavages real, or just impressive costumery? – to sell out Tana, which he deliberately exposed to Bashir, was the beginning of one long and interesting journey. Not that either he or Bashir gave anything away that was more than superficial. It’s early yet, plenty of time for them to start to be defined.

I’m not going to start handing out marks out of ten or anything like that, but this was a good, well thought-out and intriguing episode, ideal for opening out a new series. There should, I hope, be more such to come.