Deep Space Nine: s07 e24 – The Dogs of War


Why couldn’t they have swapped costumes?

After the tight focus of last week, the penultimate episode of Deep Space Nine was instead a ragbag of set-up across multiple plot strands, involving practically every single recurring character you could name, but not Cirroc Lofton. Only Kai Wynn and Gul Dukat failed to show their faces.

This meant a strong Ferenghi presence, and I’m hoping that the substantial amount of time dedicated to wrapping up their story will mean only a token participation in the series finale, a week from now. It was down to the usual standards. Leeta and a barely clad dabo girl demand a reduction in how much of their tips they have to give to Quark, and he’s thinking abut it when Grand Negus Zek comes on the blower to announce, through appalling static, that he’s going to retire and is appointing Quark as his successor.

Immediately, Brunt turns up to fawn all over the new Negus, and to tell him of the massive changes Zek, under Ishka’s influence, has been pushing through to turn Ferenganar from the unrestricted pursuit of capitalism. Ferenganar’s been so humonised, Quark’s disgusted enough to turn down the post, except that he’s got it all wrong: Zek’s appointing Rom instead. Quark however intends to run his bar in the old fashion unrepentantly.

There, wasn’t that worthless watching? Except for what’s probably a final appearance from Chase Masterson.

What was nearly as awful was the clowning around between Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax, one minute solemnly assuring themselves that it’s better to retain their friendship than lose it over trying to pursue a silly romantic fantasy, the next snogging each other’s faces off in a turbolift. This strand kept Worf and O’Brien in it for a couple of cameos as a Greek Chorus, looking on.

Odo is fully recovered and Bashir drops a brick in telling him how Section 31 infected him. There is a piece of what I take to be foreshadowing, as Odo reacts in disgust to the Federation’s decision not to give the cure to the Dominion in the middle of all-out War against an enemy bent on ruthless conquest (sorry, Odo, you’re being bloody naive). Given that I was not able to escape learning in advance about Odo’s final part in this series, I take it that this is a major factor in his decision.

By far and away the most important strands related directly to the War. Demar’s rebellion is betrayed and destroyed, it’s only survivors being the Big Three of Demar, Kira and Garak. They go underground on Cardassia Prime, in a cellar, to avoid capture and execution whilst Weyoun announces Demar’s death. But the populace don’t believe it, and our trio play on this to turn Demar into Legend, to raise the people.

And a new, pliant Legate takes Service under the Dominion, for whom the Female Changeling is dictating retrenchment: fall back upon a shortened, stronger defensive line, based upon the Cardassian Empire, rebuild, emerge stronger.  The Federation, being naturally timid, will settle for containment.

But Sisko argues otherwise. He has a new Defiant class ship that he’s authorised to rename Defiant, and he foresees what the Dominion expect, and urges attack: break through the Dominion lines before they can settle. Cry Havoc! and let slip the Dogs of War.

Ad a final coda, in which a hostage to fortune, and to the Prophets’ warning: Kasidy Yates Sisko is pregnant. The Emissary is going to have a baby…

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: s07 e20 – The Changing Face of Evil


The destruction…

In some ways, we’re still in the transitionary phase of the Endgame, process and progress but no conclusions. Ezri and Worf return to DS9 to hearty greetings from Doctor Bashir and the Chief, who otherwise spend most of the rest of the episode arguing over the Battle of the Alamo, for which Miles has built an impressive model, to scale. This gives Worf the building blocks for his campaign to keep Ezri from Julian.

Of course sh, having effectively deserted her post at the beginning of this sequence, is in for a bollocking from Sisko, which she clearly anticipates. This we don’t get to see, if it ever happened, because Sisko is more concerned for information, on the mysterious Breen, and upon why the hell Damar rescued the pair?

But we start learning that the Breen are certainly effective, militarily, as they attack Starfleet HQ on Earth, and start winning back the Kontaran system, the Federation’s only foothold in Dominion territory. Which leads to massive shock number 1.

Other things are going on. In a minor key, Sisko, very condescendingly, gets Kasidy taken off the active list for freight runs, just in case the Breen pop up out of nowhere. It’s all in a good cause but Kasidy resents the living hell out of it and quite rightly. Sisko is being very twenty-first century Republican about it, running the little lady’s life for her, bless her pretty little head. He does back down, but accompanies it with flowers and a necklace, no doubt found by rummaging in the Cliche Drawer.

In a major key, Kai Winn is nudged by Dukat towards consulting the forbidden book about the Pah-Wraiths, the Costa Mogen. Louise Fletcher shows the Kai’s fears as she’s gradually nudged further and further into blasphemy, withDukat behind her every step of the way, nudging and prodding.

The Kai’s servant, Sobor, is disapproving, though that only rankles the Kai into imperiousness, to the point where Sobor takes matters into his own hands. He denounces ‘Anjol’ the farmer as an imposter: the real Anjol died in a Labour Camp. Winn is shocked and horrified. Even more so when Sobor reveals that he has secured a DNA sample which has been tested.  Not only does it confirm that ‘Anjol’ is not Bajoran, rather Cardassian, but that he is actually Gul Dukat.

The Kai’s horror increases, fuelled by the fact that he has put his X into her Y. She revolts disgustedly, plans to burn the Costa Mogen, which is a book of blank pages, it’s words hidden by some key that’s yet to be unlocked. Winn has a knifethat she’s prepared to stick into Dukat, who’s gone for the approach that it doesn’t matter who he is or how much he’s lied and cheated, he’s doing it for the Pah-Wraiths, and for her power. Somehow or other, the knife the Kai’s grabbed for use on Dukat ends up in Sobor’s back: a Rubicon. And the blood dripping from the knife is the key to the Costa Mogen. The door to Power is open.

But I’ve created a dramatic pause of sufficient length and it’s time to go back to major shock number 1. The Defiant joins the fleet to retake the Kontaran system. It is hit by some energy-draining weapon, left powerless, and is battered. To my surprise, Sisko orders Abandon Ship. The Defiant is destroyed, a step I never expected, and one that, if I had thought they would do this, I would have assumed would be done in the finale, not so long before the end.

There was one other thread I haven’t mentioned, building up through the episode and culminating in not quite so major a shock number 2, reserved for the close. A Quadrant wide broadcast from Gul Demar, or rebellion against Cardassia’s Dominion overlords and an attack on their facilities. In particular, their cloning plant, which Weyoun9 (?) interprets as personal: he could be the last Weyoun…

So: the avalanche begins to move. enough pebbles have been displaced.  Something is coming down the mountain, and the Dominion is in its path. Five more episodes…

Deep Space Nine: s07 e18 – Till Death Us Do Part


Yeuch. I mean, just, yeuch

As I’m no longer doing any post-episode research until the series is over, I’m keeping myself clear of any confirmation of what I suspect the title of this episode means. It could merely be a reference to the marriage of Benjamin Lafayette Sisko and Kasidy Danielle Yeats celebrated herein, or it could be a lightly veiled hint as to the short-term future of the marriage, given that it takes place in direct defiance of the Prophet’s warnings (repeated at the very instant Sisko slips the ring on Kasidy’s finger).

Nevertheless, Sisko has flown in the face of a previously 100% reliable source of handy hints and tips about the future and his destiny, which has left Colonel Kira looking stony-faced in disapproval, and we will have to wait and see if this implies anything for Kasidy (spoiler: not in that sense).

To be honest, I found this episode faintly disappointing, and in one place more than faintly creepy. The wedding was the only part of the episode that was in any way an advancement, for at this early stage of the long endgame, the board is still being set up and the pieces shuffled.

Take Ezri and Worf, who spend most of their time all episode locked up in the Breen brig, give or take the odd electrocution and interrogation. On the one hand, we have Worf assuming he’s got his Dax back for many more years of happy wedded Klingon bliss, but on the other we have Ezri professing her love for Julian Bashir whilst in post-torture mode, a development that affronts Worf and puzzles her.

And at the end we discover that they are being held as gifts, from the Breen to the Dominion, to celebrate the new Alliance against the Federation that’s going to tip the balance of the War.

The other realm in which the endgame is advanced lies with the Bajoran Dukat. The slimy git has himself introduced to none other than Kai Wynn, the other big baddy, with the two forming the inevitable alliance. She’s on DS9 to take over organising the Emissary’s wedding with her customary whole-hearted honesty, and getting her first ever vision of the Prophets (I’m willing to bet it’s actually the Pah-Wraiths).

The Kai’s self-importance is fed by the suggestion that she will be responsible for the Restoration of Bajor, guided by a man of the land. Enter a ‘farmer’ with all sorts of experiences that ever so neatly dovetail with the Kai’s expectations. And the creepy bit is when they kissed, which I so did not want to see. Here’s hoping there’s no more of that.

The clock ticks on and down. Things are still taking shape. Another week nearer.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e17 – Penumbra


You shall not…

In a week or so’s time it will be exactly three years since I decided to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from beginning to end, blogging every episode. It’s taken me three years of what one may, by permitted exaggeration, call set-up to arrive at what I’ve been calling the endgame, but which the team that produced DS9 called The Final Chapter. We begin a serial, designed to wrap up all the accumulated loose ends.

So ‘Penumbra’ is made up in large part of trails being laid, that will lead to the ultimate fates for our characters, not all of them the star cast. The greater concentration of the Federation side is upon Captain Benjamin Sisko, part-Prophet, and Emissary, proposing marriage to Kasidy Yates, and upon Lt. Ezri Dax, obeying impulses coming in large part from her predecessor, Jardzia Dax, disobeying orders and leaving her post to go in search of Lt. Commander Worf, missing believed dead after the destruction of the Klingon vessel Kogara.

But not only the Federation. On Cardassia Prime, Gul Demar, whose drinking is starting earlier and earlier, is growing increasingly uncomfortable under the thumb of the grinning Weyoun, who has completely negated Demar’s position of authority. Both hold secrets: Weyoun is in service to the Female Changeling, who is becoming increasingly in thrall to the morphogentic disease threatening the Great Link, for which the antidote is proving exceedingly elusive. And Demar is keeping secret that he is shielding the increasingly baffling Dukat who has used a plastic surgeon of Demar’s recommendation to transform him into a Bajoran, for purposes as yet unrevealed…

Post-episode, I’ve long been consulting the episode resumes and analyses on Memory Alpha, but after ‘Penumbra’ I’m going to have to avoid that until the end. I’ve already learned several salient points about The Final Chapter that make a mockery of my determination to avoid spoilers, and which I’m going to have to ignore.

So for now I’m going to confine myself to what actually happens in the two strands I’ve already picked out.

The whole season so far, Worf and Ezri have been avoiding each other scrupulously. Worf goes missing, the ‘Defiant’ has to call off the search prematurely due to Jem’Hadar activity but Ezri, filled with Jardzia’s emotions and impulses after a visitto Worf’s empty quarters, takes off in a runabout to continue the search alone, with Sisko’s ex post facto tacit consent.

And of course one inexperienced Lieutenant works out what everyone else ha missed and finds her way to Worf’s escape pod and saves him. It’s a dip into the combined areas of the Cliche Drawer and lazy writing, basically demanding the audience accept that only Ezri, based solely on a more personal commitment, spots the incredibly simple clue that no-one else does.

So Ezri finds Worf and the pair set off back, in a very awkward atmosphere, with Jardzia lying between them. Only they’re shot down by Jem’Hadar and are forced to teleport down to a Goralis system planet, stranded without coms to signal for rescue. The pair promptly get on each others nerves something chronic, which leads to what bickering between male and female always leads to: having sex. I really must start to argue with women more often if that’s the outcome.

Lying in the jungle in post-coital bliss, our odd couple are surprised, stunned and taken prisoner by the Breen, for purposes as yet unknown.

As far Sisko, the intended quiet wedding, friends and family only, Admiral Ross officiating, immediately looks complicated, because it’s not Captain Ben Sisko who’s marrying, it’s the Emissary, and the whole of Bajor is expecting to be invited. But that’s the minor problem. The major one is that the Prophets, in the form of Sisko’s ‘mother’ Sarah, send him a vision. The Sisko’s path is for the Sisko only: she cannot walk it with him. He cannot marry.

Sisko’s response, after seven years of growing so attached to Bajor that he has bought and plans to build a home on the planet, an attachment nourished and nurtured by his role as Emissary, is almost petulant: he demands to control his own destiny, wants to be left alone, practically stamps his little foot about wanting to marry Kasidy. The emotion’s understandable but its expression is, we know, fruitless. I know where Sisko’s journey takes him, I know more than I wish about what comes and what he leaves behind him. His outburst is expected, but the form of it makes Sisko look childish: I wanna. And in the face of that open, whose simple explication of Sisko’s wishes as to his future was so soaked in irony that even someone completely ignorant of what is to follow would know instinctively that this was Never To Be, the close of his defiance of what is preordained was up against a scepticism it could never defeat.

But this is where we now stand. All things move towards a fixed point, at which all destinies will be decided. These flaws excepted, this episode set things in motion with due seriousness and without sag. There will be no diversions left.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e08 – The Siege of AR-558


At War

It didn’t augur well. The open kicked off with Rom in the holosuite lounge, auditioning for Vic Fontaine by badly singing ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. Grisly. Vic has very rapidly become second only to Quark for me as a character I cannot stand. It’s like a throwback to the Original Series’ rigid insistence upon mid-Fifties middle-America mores as being the Twenty-Fourth Century’s guiding principles. This fetishisation of that same decade’s lounge music, in the late Nineties, is inexplicable and completely improbable conservatism. Every moment Vic is there jerks us out of the future into the past.

But it’s an isolated moment, an attempt at lightness in an episode in which there will be no lightness whatsoever, only grime, blood, horror and death. I can see the intent, but I regard the execution as stupid and completely ineffectual.

Because ‘The Siege of AR-558′ was about war as it really is: not the fantasy of spaceships zooming unscientifically in space, SF phasers a-glowing and spectacular but impersonal explosions, but what it’s like on the ground, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, where the prospect and the fear of death are immediate and exponentially more scary.

After a brief reminder that the War brings in casualty lists, lists that Sisko, immured in the regularity of loss, no longer reads name by name, he leads a team via the Defiant to brings supplies to AR-558, a remote planer bearing a captured Dominion communications array, captured by the Federation five months ago. A unit of 150 men and women have held it unrelieved for five months, way beyond the regulation that no-one should be in combat for more than 90 days. There are now only 43 of them, and they’re in a bad way.

The ones we meet are Lt. Larkin (Annette Helde), now the officer in command, Engineer Kellin (Bill Mumy, once Will Robinson of The Original; Series’ contemporary, Lost in Space), Vargas (Raymond Cruz), who is closest to cracking and Reese (Patrick Kilpatrick), the hard-as-nails veteran who collects tetracell white capsules as souvenirs of the Jem’Hadar he’s killed personally.

Into this beams an Away Team led by Sisko and comprising only those cast members with the least combat experience (a contrivance from the writers that was,, in the circumstances, allowable), being Bashir, Ezri Dax, Nog and Quark. This latter was a massively artificial contrivance that stretched things more than somewhat.

Though the supplies are welcome, the visitors are not, really. They’re only visitors, they get to beam out. There’s an entirely natural undercurrent of resentment from the permanent defenders, or at least from the two combat guests, Vargas and Reese: Larkin is a determined and loyal officer, Kellin too much the naturally nice guy, who impresses himself upon Ezri without even trying.

But when the Defiant is attacked by two Jem’Hadar ships, Sisko refuses transportation and escape, ordering Worf to take evasive action, and committing his Away Team to the Siege.

It’s not a popular decision with Quark, who doesn’t want to be within a Solar System of there in the first place and, running a close second, doesn’t want his nephew within a Solar System of being there either. It’s embarrassing to Nog, who is still the complete Starfleet Ensign: loyal, brave, committed and still taken up with the romance of the role.

I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. With the tricorders blocked by jamming, Sisko sends out Nog, with Larkin and Reese, to use the Ferenghi ears to track down the whereabouts of the latest Jem’Hadar attack. They are fired on. Larkin is killed. Nog loses a leg.

Quark is especially bitter about this, as if Sisko has deliberately caused this, simply because Nog is not human. Although Quark is not as utterly annoying as he usually is, because he’s playing a totally serious role, I still found him unrealistic even at this point. It’s cultural: the Ferenghi are self-conditioned to deal, to bargain, to seek accommodations, not War, and it’s natural for Quark to see the Dominion War as completely avoidable, but once we’re at this point, with the attack imminent, it carries with it a large dose of burying ones head in the sand. watching it, I found this irritating. Thinking about it, it’s less unrealistic because Quark is taking refuge in familiar attitudes, deliberately avoiding recognition of the true situation, as an attempt at escape. Score me minus one for a misapprehension due to prejudice.

So the battle comes. At first it’s phaser fire. Then it’s hand-to-hand. Vargas dies, knifed in the back, nice guy Kellin dies, defending Ezri. Sisko goes down, loses consciousness, about to be shot at close range with a disruptor. Hard man Reese shakes him awake, and alive.

The siege has withstood the attack, though the command has been decimated. Ezri has helped Kellin crack the communications array. Relief troops arrive. The survivors are relieved, among which few only Reese appears to be unhurt, another example of the indiscriminancy of war, in which the biggest bastards survive, probably because they’re the biggest bastards. Even though he leaves behind the knife that he’s used to kill so many Jem’Hadar, you’re left wondering just how they’re going to switch him off when he gets back to ‘civilisation’.

This was an incredibly powerful episode, its use of Vic Fontaine notwithstanding. It’s basic set-up was patterned after the Battle of Guadalcanal, in the Second World War, and despite taking place in some of the most unnaturally stagey ‘caves’ the show has ever designed as a set, it took its reality from people’s experience of the Vietnam War, and in a way that managed not to insult either. There was yet another War reference in the arrival of the relief troops, all young and new, in pristine uniforms, harking at the relief of First World War trench veterans.

For me, this was head and shoulders the best episode of season 7 so far, precisely because it cut across the SF milieu of the show, in favour of a relentless, indeed for some people unnerving reality. Would that there be more like this in the eighteen episodes that are all that is left of this long, long run.

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 e19 – In the Pale Moonlight


Unholy Alliance

For once, I’m on the side of the big battalions. Star Trek fans regard this as one of the best ever episodes, not just of Deep Space Nine but of the entire franchise, and I’m inclined to go along with them.

I knew beforehand that this was the episode in which Captain Sisko tricked the Romulan Empire into coming into the War against the Dominion, and thus tipping the balance in favour of the good guys. I hadn’t anticipated how clever the episode would prove to be, and how skillfully it would assemble its component parts to keep the audience on its toes.

The episode was structured around a confessional personal log entry by Sisko, who was clearly worked up and in the mood for berating himself. It was interspersed with the bulk of the storytelling, here presented as flashbacks. The overall impression was given, early on, that the Romulans had joined the war, but that Sisko was personally disgusted at the means which brought that about. Very intelligently, the episode was by no means so prescriptive.

It began small, with the weekly casualty lists, posted by Sisko in the wardroom. Everybody crowds round, anxious not to hear that friends, colleagues, shipmates have been killed or wounded, and invariably the news is grim. This, bitter conversations about the Romulans ‘allowing’ Dominion incursions into their territory to attack Federation ships and the dramatic fall of Betazed (Deanna Troi’s homeworld) spurs Sisko into dramatic action. He inducts Garak to bring the Romulans into the War.

The first attempt is to secure evidence from Cardassia for the invasion of the Romulan Empire. When every single one of Garak’s contacts on Cardassia are killed within twenty-four hours of being contact, our favourite tailor suggests they manufacture such evidence. There is a prominent Romulan senator, Vreenak, who can be persuaded to secretly visit DS9 en route to a Diplomatic Conference with the Cardassians, where he can be presented with expertly forged evidence.

Here begins a long sequence as, step by step, one by one, every moral principle by which Sisko – and by extension the entirety of Spacefleet – is laid to one side as the Captain pursues the goal. It’s completely Macchiavellian, even down to bribing Quark at one point. A forged Cardassian optolythic data rod is made: Weyoun and Gul Demar bicker quite convincingly and Sisko, despite his mounting doubts passes this on to the supercilious Vreenak.

Then came the twist I wasn’t expecting: Vreenak identifies the rod as a fake. It’s all blown up in Sisko’s face, especially as the Senator intends to expose and denounce everyone for this.

The next casualty list’s relatively light, but Worf brings additional news, a Romulan ship destroyed by an explosion, no survivors. It was carrying a senior Senator…

Sisko comes to the same conclusion I did, only he takes about two seconds longer, then he’s off in a raging fury to his tailor’s. Garak is unashamed and unapologetic. Yes, he suspected the rod would be exposed as a fake, and yes, he planned this all along. A senior Senator killed returning from a meeting with the Cardassians, traces of Cardassian manufacture in the remnants of the bomb, a data rod evidencing treachery, whose imperfections are no doubt the effects of the bomb…

Oh, it’s a dirty deed indeed, but it may have saved the Alpha Quadrant, and the millions of millions within it, now and forever, and for what? A dead criminal, a dead Senator… and the self-respect of a Starfleet Captain. The ends justify the means, or do they?

Balancing the scales, the price being paid is hard to dispute, but then I have the luxury of debating this as fiction. Sisko has to treat it as fact. If he had known in advance what it would entail…? But the last twist is that he would have done it all over again. And the fact of war is that he would have had to do it anyway. And Sisko can live with it. The more he says it, the more he believes it, or does he? As soon as he is done, he orders the computer to erase the entire log.

So. This is a story that touches upon morality, and how far we may sink to do the ‘wrong’ thing in pursuit of a greater aim. Morality is supposed to be absolute, especially in the Star Trek Universe: Kirk and Picard would have brushed the very idea away, like space dog-turds off the soles of their shoes. But Sisko’s in a war, and the only way to avoid having to take decisions like this, where the lives of millions hang on the purity of your convictions, is to not be in a war to begin with.

Like the best of such things, morality is not directed. We are not signposted to any idea. Instead, we test ourselves against the choices made, in the comfort of our choice having no weight whatsoever. I’d like to see an aftermath to this, in Sisko. It’s sufficiently large that, for once, we may do so.

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 s05 e23: Blaze of Glory


Which man is in control here?

With the season ending coming up fairly soon, and the momentous events planned for it, it was about time for a reminder of the political background against which the series has been operating since mid-season. There’s a war approaching, but we’ve been carrying on as if everything were normal for so long that the viewers needed a jab in the bum.

Thus there was a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue at the start of this episode, designed to bring the audience up to speed. There’s nothing new, except that the Maquis have been more or less wiped out, but at least we know where we stand.

But this is merely an adjunct to the real purpose of this episode, which was to complete the story of Michael Eddington: former Starfleet security chief on DS9, traitor to the Federation, Maquis leader, Federation prisoner.

An intercepted message from a Maquis remnant to ‘Michael’, refers to 30 cloaked missiles, fired at Cardassia as an act of revenge: like the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, this is the first domino: an inevitable sequence of events will ensue, leading to total, Quadrant vs Quadrant war.

Sisko’s not having it, not on his watch. ‘Michael’, to him and everyone except one slightly dopey member of the audience, is obviously our man Eddington, and Sisko is determined to get him out of his cell and co-operating on stopping these missiles, whether he wants to or not.

Eddington doesn’t care. The one thing he was loyal to, that he believed in, his life’s goal, is dead and buried. If the Federation is about to go down in flames, he’s content to burn with it. Even when manacled and on board Sisko’s runabout, en route to the Badlands, he’s maintaining this nihilistic attitude, though when Sisko forces him to the helm whilst they’re under attack by two Jem’Hadar ships, he combines his Starfleet and Maquis training to get them out of there safely.

Much of the middle of the show is, effectively, a war of words, a battle of ideologies. If it’s meant as a final definition of Eddington’s character, then it fails: the man  emerges as much an enigma as ever. But, unless we can come to a conclusion about whether the Maquis cause was good or bad, we will never decide to our satisfaction on whether Eddington was hero or villain or, more accurately, the precise balance between the two which was the real situation.

Instead, we get considerably more genuine insight into Sisko, a creature of ego, from Eddington, which I personally found pretty acute.

Our unlikely war buddies eventually track down the ‘launch site’ to fog-shrouded Athos IV, where they land. The place is crawling with Jem’Hadar,through whom they have to fight their way. Eddington, by now, ha had ample opportunities to shoot Sisko in the back, but has refrained from doing so because he knows one thing that Sisko doesn’t: it’s a con.

A great big, booming, impudent con. There is no lunch site, there are no missiles, war will not start today. Instead, it’s been a carefully planned ruse, to manipulate Sisko into freeing Eddington and bringing him here, to rescue a Maquis band that includes Eddington’s wife, Rebecca, and escape to start again.

At least there’s no War, not yet anyway. So Sisko does the humanitarian thing and co-operates. But the Jem’Hadar are the fly in the ointment. They weren’t meant to be here, they’re the tail-end of the chase. Sisko and Eddington form a rearguard as the others, including Rebecca, are sent on ahead. Straightway we know, and almost immediately Eddington is wounded, enough so that he has to stay behind, whilst Sisko gets the Wagon Train through… A glorious death in a lost cause, and who’s to say Michael Eddington wouldn’t have wanted it that way.

Yes, of course it’s a cliche ending, but perhaps because Eddington, to the end, was never quite defined, never pinned down and anatomised in full, it works. The man died for his beliefs, died to protect his wife: there is always something inherently noble about that.

Though it served as a necessary reminder of the political background, the episode’s real purpose was to end this thread, not just Eddington but the Maquis. It was felt that there were too many unresolved stories heading towards season 6, and one of them had to be seen off, and buried. The rest was lagniappe.

There was a B-story and an essentially comic one, about Nog establishing respect from the Klingons whilst he’s working security, but it was really not worth interrupting the A-story for, so I’m going to ignore it.