Deep Space Nine s05 e22: Children of Time

A valley, in Time

Except for one minor flaw, at the end, created by TV’s insistence on spelling everything out, this was one of the best DS9 episodes I have seen, a bubble-story taking place in a bubble-environment, presenting a simple, yet beautifully complex moral question.

Returning from the Gamma Quadrant (I understand, for the last time until the ultimate finale), the Defiant, carrying all the senior staff, is eager to get home but is distracted into a detour by Jardzia Dax’s insatiable curiosity about a nearby planet screened by quantum fields. Sisko agrees a look, but on the way through the barrier, half the ship’s functions are knocked out and Kira takes an electrical discharge through the chest.

But this is nothing compared to the ship being hailed, immediately, by representatives of the 8,000 strong community below, representatives who know the Defiant‘s crew only too well. Their names are Yedrin Dax and Miranda O’Brien. They, like everyone else on this planet, are the descendents of the crew of the Defiant which, less than two days from now, will be thrown back in time 200 years, and be marooned on this planet.

It’s a simple, beautiful set-up, with a deadly edge. For once, it is a purely science fiction idea, of the kind rarely seen in DS9 which, for all its sophistication, is still basically space-opera.  And it carries with it a terrible choice. We know the Defiant will leave, that everyone will survive, as surely as we know that there are still four more episodes this season.

But in this fractal time-line, this isolated bubble in the Universe, it crashes back to the planet and the crew must make a life, using only the relatively limited technology that survives with them. And the electrical discharge that hit Kira kills her within weeks, for lack of the sophisticated infirmary on DS9.

In the two hundred years that have passed, the unwilling colonists have built an idyllic world, in beautiful country, and make no mistake, the valley in which this is set in beautiful and I immediately wanted to go there and go walking there. They have become a community, at one with each other. All the senior staff have extended families of descendents. Worf and Dax got married. There are Klingons here, not all of them biologically so, but all honouring Worf, Son of Mogh. There are Siskos and Bashirs, and even O’Briens, though the Chief, with a wife and children he longs to get back to, holds himself the furthest off these heirs, just as his original iteration did.

Even Yedrin Dax is the Dax symbiont, merged with another Trill: he is still Sisko’s friend and mentor, still the Old Man.

And it has Odo. The same Odo, now better able to control his shapeshifting so that he looks a lot more like Rene Auberjonois than he normally does. An Odo who has waited two hundred years to see Kira Nerys again, and to tell her, after all this time, that he loves her. Which disturbs her greatly. Even more so than the knowledge that she can visit her own grave and pray over it.

It’s an idyll. But it’s an idyll dependent upon a tragedy, the crash of the Defiant, the tearing away of these people from the lives they knew, the responsibilities they faced, the people they loved, like Jake Sisko. And it depends on Kira Nerys dying.

But Yedrin has a plan, a cunning plan, to get all around this. If carefully plotted, the Defiant‘s passage of the Barrier can create a Quantum duplicate, in effect two Defiants, one to stay and one to go home. It’s a beautiful construction that satisfies two impossible alternates. And we know it can’t work for where would there be a story, where would there be a shadow? And it can’t work: Dax figures it out, confronts Dax, who admits he’s only trying to ensure history repeats itself, out of overwhelming guilt at being responsible for the whole thing in the first place. Yedrin is trying to ensure that all his people, his community, his life, will still come into existence, instead of winking out forever, a closed loop, if the Defiant gets away.

Everyone is affected. The episode, without bogging anything down, makes time to show everypne’s reactions to this enclosed community, to get to know and understand these people, to see themselves in them, to really understand that these are our children and our children’s children. And to absorb that escape, returning to their own lives, means killing them. All of them.

In the end, even O’Brien comes over, once he’s unbent himself to plant with another Molly O’Brien. They will do it. They will let themselves crash. They will ensure that history is repeated exactly. Even though it can’t be, since this time the crew go into this with their eyes open and in full knowledge, that originally they didn’t possess, ensuring that their actions cannot replicate what once occurred, but that’s a subtlety too far for a TV show.

Except that, at the last moment, the decision is taken away from them. The auto-pilot, so precisely calculated, veers past the anomaly and through the barrier unscathed. Do Not pass Go, Do Not pass into the past, Do Not detect 8,000 life-forms on the planet below.

How? The course has been tampered with, history has been altered, irreversibly, but by who? The obvious candidate in Yedrin Dax, a last-minute change of heart, and the makers admit that in an older version of Star Trek that would have been the solution. But you and I who have been watching this episode with our eyes and ears and, most importantly, our hearts open, know where to look, and it is here and not the fact that, temporally speaking, the whole idea couldn’t work due to latterday foreknowledge, where the story’s one true flaw comes. We have to be told. It has to be made explicit. It has to be thrust in your face, where it cannot but have consequences that we will never experience because it will never be alluded to again.

Because it was Odo, of course. The older Odo, the more open Odo, the Odo that can tell a Kira who has literally stepped out of his memories that he loves her, and who is prepared to sacrifice himself and 7,999 other lives for hers when she has taken a decision in accordance with her religious beliefs that her death to facilitate their lives is her Path.

What consequences this has, if consequences there be, which I suspect there will not, for Kira and Odo in the present will have to be seen. Given how everyone has reacted, prepared to sacrifice themselves in their natural instinct to protect their young, the only human response would be indescribable guilt.  And given that Odo has been able to spill the beans because Odo linked with him, I would be expecting character swings as the two hundred years of now non-existent experience remains accessible to him. Which we’re not going to see, though I now have some nascent ideas for my own fiction arising out of this.

But if I were giving out ratings to these episodes, I would be awarding ‘Children of Time’ something like A-very-slightly-minus, or 9++ out of 10, because it was so very good, in a way that is only possible with a longstanding series in which we are sure of the characters already but which cannot be fully realised if they are to be the characters of which we are sure next week.

Which has a hard act to follow.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e13: For the Uniform

Nothing personal…

I knew in advance that this episode featured the return of Kenneth Marshall, former Security Chief Michael Eddington, now a Maquis leader. It’s a sequel to the Season 4 episode in which Eddington turned against Starfleet, and Sisko vowed to bring him in.

In essence, it’s a basic Police story, and indeed, for the back half of the episode, the show positions itself as a re-model of Les Miserables, with Sisko as Inspector Javert and Eddington as Valjean. Not having read the book, nor seen any adaptation of it, I can’t say whether the parallel is appropriate beyond the limited use made of it, but the episode was very much about Sisko’s obsession with the man who betrayed Starfleet and, more pertinently, betrayed him.

It was this aspect that raised the episode above its already strong and well-made status as an exciting adventure. At every stage, Eddington is ahead of Sisko: he out-thinks, out-anticipates, out-manoeuvres not just Sisko but also Captain Sanders of the Malinche, who is given the mission of replacing Sisko as Eddington’s hunter. Eddington is so far ahead of the game that he can comfortably create situations where Sisko is completely at his mercy, and forego the chance to kill his pursuer, because that’s not his, or the Maquis’s way.

And what makes the episode so strong is that Eddington is right. Sisko is obsessed with him. Eddington has beaten him, and Sisko’s pride won’t let him live with it.

Then there’s the fact that Eddington can defend his actions by reference to the genuine grievance the displaced colonists have at having their planets, their homes, handed over to the Cardassians, in an act of heavily-Kissingeresque realpolitik. Sisko counters with an accusation that might come from the situation of the Palestinians, and their Arab backers, that these victims are being kept in misery and destitution by the Maquis/PLO feeding them an impossible-to-realise dream of return, instead of letting them rebuild their lives realistically and escape their situation.

But Sisko is truly mad on this score, though he sees this as fulfilling his duty to Starfleet to bring in a traitor, ‘the’ traitor. And, unlike Les Miserables but in keeping with an ongoing series of which he is the hero, Javert captures and brings Valjean to justice.

This is where the use of the book becomes sophisticated. It’s a favourite of Eddington’s, from which Sisko discerns that the ex-Starfleet man sees himself as the hero, put upon but doing good, the protector. Quite cynically, in order to create circumstances in which Eddington’s self-image will force him to the sacrifice of surrender, Sisko steps entirely out of character and adopts the biogenetic tactics the Maquis are using: he explodes a bomb in the atmosphere of a Maquis colony planet, seeding its atmosphere with a chemical fatal to humans, just as Eddington has done to a Cardassian colony.

And, having revealed his ruthlessness, Sisko is able to manoeuvre Eddington into surrendering to prevent him repeating the attack with another world.

All of which Sisko does without Starfleet sanction.

It goes without saying that this is an horrific action, as cynical and dirty as any of Jack Bauer’s resorts to torture in 24. As Anthony Trollope was fond of saying, one cannot touch pitch without oneself being defiled, not that I expect for one second that DS9 will display any degree of concern about Sisko’s ruthlessness. Indeed, the close is all smugly congratulatory about his actions, and there’s a cheap payoff to the actual dilemma of the refugees of a poisoned planet destroyed in order to get one man: why, they and the displaced Cardassians will just swap planets and live happily ever after, a write-off that doesn’t survive a second’s thinking about the reality, or the morality, of such things.

It’s these moral considerations, no matter how little they’re expressed, that make this such a strong episode. Credit too for making Eddington a plausible hero, instead of a swivel-eyed fanatic with an obviously straw-cause, which would have dynamited everything the episode sought to do.

Thinking about it, although we’re clearly supposed to applaud Sisko – and the Producers wanted us to see his actions as something the more daredevil Kirk would have done but that Picard would have revolted against – the episode is actually genuinely subversive so far as what it says about Sisko and, ultimately, his vanity.

Strong stuff.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e10: Rapture

New uniforms – dull!

“Rapture” is a pivotal episode in several senses, from the relatively trivial matter of the change in uniforms to the foreshadowing of matters that will before too long dominate the remainder of the entire series, and to the resetting, at least for a while, of a major supporting character. There were times during this episode where I genuinely could not foresee where it might go but, given the status of the story as an episode in an ongoing series, there were certain outcomes that were next to inevitable.

Matters pertaining to Bajoran religion, and Captain Sisko’s status as the Emissary of the Prophet, usually went down about as well as a brick pigeon, but “Rapture” proved to be unusually popular, to the surprise of the production team. This episode is loosely defined as part 3 of the ‘Emissary Trilogy’, and it’s the one where the Captain comes fully to accept his role, and that being the Emissary is not necessarily in alignment with his Starfleet duty.

Three things come together to create the situation. In ascending order of importance: Kasidy Yates’ six month prison sentence for aiding the Maquis comes to an end (fittingly about six months after s04 e22, “For the Cause” aired), the Federation accepts Bajor’s application for admittance and Cardassia releases an ancient Bajoran piece of art, depicting the lost ‘holy city’ of B’Hala.

This last intrigues Sisko, who is fascinated by a partially seen pillar decorated by strange symbols. He’s already showing signs of incipient obsession, trying to reconstruct the symbols on the hidden sides, when a holosuite accident nearly fries his brain. Instead, it gives him the power of visions: as a result of odd synaptic potentials, as Bashir diagnoses it, as a result of the Prophets according to Major Kira and Kai Winn.

It’s an interesting neurological and storytelling opposition, reminiscent of Peter Carter’s ‘visions’ of his trial in Heaven in A Matter of Life and Death where the audience is given the choice of whether these visions are true and revelatory of a life beyond our own or are the result of a brain injury.

Sisko’s obsession with finding B’Hala interferes with the other two factors. Welcoming Kasidy back is subordinated to his hunt for, and location of the lost city, playing his part in the Signing Ceremony is deeply subordinated to his need to explore his visions and what they ultimately mean. In each succeeding scene, he grows more and more psychicly perceptive.

Unfortunately, he grows more and more weak as the visions rip into his brain. Bashir insists on brain surgery. Admiral Whatley, here for the Signing, demands it. But Sisko refuses to let go of his visions, considering these to be far more important than his life. The show dances with not quite confirming this, but the situation makes no sense unless we accept that not only does the Captain see sacrificing himself to his visions as more important than his relationship with Kasidy Yates but, far more important, being there for his already-motherless son.

In the end, it is Jake, as next-of-kin, who authorises the surgery which, of course, robs Sisko of his visions. Jake acts out of selfishness, but who wouldn’t? But narrativium demanded some such ending, pulling Sisko back from the brink of one final, glorious, future-shattering and undoubtedly explicit revelation, but saving his life.

Not before Sisko’s last revelation, and his status as the Emissary ensures the entirely-foreseeable outcome that the Bajor’s put off acceptance of the Federation application. A vision of locusts, hovering over Bajor before heading towards Cardassia. A deliberately vague foreshadowing of major developments to come, cleverly set out. It is too soon. Bajor must stand alone or it will be destroyed.

Sisko has undercut the very purpose of his role as Senior Federation Officer on Deep Space Nine, as given to him by Picard in the Pilot. By all rights, he should be cashiered, removed from his command, transferred to the space equivalent of the boondocks. But, well, he is the Emissary, don’tcha know, not to mention the guy whose name comes first on the credits every week, plus he assures the Admiral that Bajor will eventually join the Federation, as both the Emissary and as a Starfleet Captain, so that’s fine, tune in next week.

What the episode also does, in invaluable fashion, is to throw a few different shades into the character of Kai Winn. Previously, she’s been a one-note baddie, a double-died villainess, whose subtlety of approach doesn’t disguise that she’s basically a power-mad dictatress. She’s still not down with Bajor joining the Federation: five years of independence is far too little for Bajor’s culture and rekigion to assert itself after fifty years of Cardassian rule, and she’s right about that, which all too rarely is acknowledged.

But Sisko’s discovery of B’hala throws all out off. Winn is shaken. Her self-centred rejection of Sisko as Emissary is swept away. Her beliefs demand it of her and she’s sincere enough in her faith to not only accept what is personally discomforting, but also to openly admit it. Kira, surprised but admiring, applauds her courage, and gets her head handed to herself when Winn challenges the Resistance’s self-sustaining belief that only they were courageous in the face of Cardassia: the priests had to be equally courageous, and without a means of fighting back, outside maintaining their faith. It’s a more than pertinent corrective.

Of course I’m going to have to bring up the uniforms, aren’t I? The new design, introduced in the Star Trek: First Contact film (one of only two Star Trek films I went to see in the cinema, at the request of a former friend), was always intended to be introduced in DS9 but was held back until now, the first episode after the official launch of the film.

I’ve got to say I don’t like them, and my first thought at their bulkier design, with a fleece-like top covering a colour-coded undershirt that de-emphasises the traditional branch colours, made me think that the Federation was undergoing an Austerity phase, with the central heating turned down by 30% to economise. They’re heavier, and they make everybody look as if they’re dressed the same, de-individualising each Starfleet role. Too late to complain now.

Incidentally, the series doesn’t reference First Contact, which co-starred Michael Dorn as Worf, because the film brought in DS9‘s ‘Defiant’ only to trash it.

Overall, a superior episode, with more to come.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e08 – Things Past

A change of visual style for Terok Nor

…and they woke up, and it had all been a dream.

That’s not the explanation given at the end of this historical episode, but the idea that this week’s story is the result of a kind of telepathic matrix forced onto Messrs Sisko, Dax and Garak by Odo is merely a quasi-gobbledy-gook scientific rationalisation of what is, when you come down to it, a dream. But a dream of historical events, a dream that digs into Odo’s character, and one that deserves a little more credit than I’m going to give it today.

I was less impressed than I might have been with ‘Things Past’, in which the aforementioned quartet found themselves projected back seven years, to DS9 when it was still Terok Nor, and still under Cardassian occupation and Gul Dukat. The show is built around the revelation about Odo’s past that comes near the end, and is the catalyst for Odo’s mind releasing its subconscious control of everyone,and waking up, and it was such a pity that the open gave the game away so clearly and so quickly.

The set-up is the return of our quartet from an Historical Convention on Bajor, about the Occupation, where Garak’s attempts at putting the Cardassian point of view have not gone down well. Odo, however, has gone down a storm:  the Bajorans see him as fair, wise, reliable, the servant of justice, not the Cardassians. Odo seems reluctant to acknowledge his reputation.

From that point, the rest of the episode became utterly predictable. Our quartet  ‘wake up’ on Terok Nor, supposedly nine years ago, when the security chief was a Cardassian named Thrax. It’s an odd set-up: our heroes are dressed for the time but see each other as they are, whilst everybody around them sees them as the Bajorans they are supposed to be.

From Odo’s nervous-growing-into-desperate behaviour, added to the fact that it’s soon proved that this story is taking place seven years ago, after Thrax has left Terok Nor, spills the beans quite comprehensively, but the dictates of the story demand that none out of Sisko, Dax or Garak makes the connection that is screamingly obvious. This is compounded by the discovery that Thrax is a shape-shifter, at a time before the discovery of the Wormhole, when there is only one shape-shifter in the entire  Alpha Quadrant.

I hate the ones where everybody has to be so completely dumb for it to work.

The story turns upon the fact that Suusko, Dax and Garak have been projected into the identities of three innocent Bajorans, accused of and executed for the attempted assassination of Gul Dukat. Thrax/Odo decides that the evidence, collateral as it is, is sufficient, but Odo/Odo knows that he was wrong in the past, because he refused to investigate deeper, that he was too much concerned with the preservation of order – which was brought about by Occupation and threatened by Resistance – than with justice.

Once Odo re-witnesses the executions, having fully acknowledged to himself his guilt, he releases the others and everyone wakes up. Odo now has to confront the trashing of his otherwise impeccable reputation, and the disappointment of Major Kira, who demands to know if this was the only time. Odo cannot do better than to say he hopes so.

A potentially powerful episode undone by its inability to shield any of its twists and turns.

Of relatively minor interest, the ‘explanation’ was intended to foreshadow the soon-to-come revelation that Odo isn’t quite as much the forever-Solid he’s supposed to have become, whilst Marc Alaimo’s presence enabled the writers to illuminate more of his character as the ‘protector’ of the Bajorans under his ‘care’, and an astonishingly arrogant display of ‘fatherliness’. No wonder Dax belted him round the back of the head first chance she got.

Sadly, though I know I would have watched this episode back then, I have absolutely no recollection of it. Next week, however…

Deep Space Nine: s05 e06 – Trials and Tribble-ations

See what I mean?

It’s been a long time, since October 13 2015 in fact, since I sat down and watched the two-part opening to Deep Space Nine, ‘The Emissary’, with the intention of watching, and blogging, the series in its entirety. I came at it from the perspective of someone who had, in the late Nineties, watching something like two-and-a-half to three seasons of the show, in the middle of its run, but who had seen neither the beginning nor the end.

Watching DS9 then was partly ritual, as was all television when you were more or less tied to transmission times. On Wednesdays (I think it was, or maybe Thursdays) I would get in from work, doff my jacket and tear off my tie and sprawl on the couch to watch. I think the programme was broadcast from 6.00pm to 6.45 pm, on BBC2: once it finished, I would busy myself about an evening meal.

For a long time though, it’s been evident that my memory has tricked me, has expanded the experience as I drew further from it. It wasn’t two-to-three seasons. It wasn’t even one. Because, after twenty-one months of weekly viewing, and as Ive known for some time, I have finally caught up with that first episode of Deep Space Nine. And I know why I watched it, where I’d had no interest in the past. It’s because it’s this specific story, ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’, because of what it did, because it was an audacious and astonishingly successful merging of DS9 and it’s ultimate parent, Star Trek, the one with no sub-title, the one they now call The Original Series.

I’m old enough to remember watching Star Trek the first time round, just arriving in my teens. It excited me then. It surprises me to think back and realise that my parents must have enjoyed it too, else how would I have seen it at all? I don’t remember them as being into SF in any way. That would be me, alerted by The Lord of the Rings in the back end of 1973 to the infinite possibilities, and devouring books left, right and centre all along the spectrum between Hard SF and Mystical Fantasy thereafter.

Ironically, that interest in SF soured me on the original Star Trek. It was the Seventies, I was at university, I was growing to understand that my political and social instincts were wholly liberal. Between the two, I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief to accept a future that would be governed by the mores of mid-Fifties, middle-America.

I suppose I must have seen ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ at least once, though I don’t remember anything of it. I remember Tribbles: little, hairy balls that shivered and squeaked but showed no signs of actual characteristics. I never could accept them as real because they looked like children’s playthings, to be waved about in the excited hand of a toddler but abandoned not too long after because they simply didn’t do anything.

‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ was conceived as DS9‘s contribution to the Star Trek 30th anniversary, although broadcasting it in the week of the anniversary would have meant it opening season 5. Though the episode is every bit as light-hearted and insignificant as the original episode, it’s one of the most involved episodes ever of DS9 because of the sheer amount of detail that went into it and, of course, the astonishing technical work that made this episode not merely possible but stunningly good – even when set against the standards of today.

The story is simple. It’s framed around an enquiry by Starfleet’s Temporal Investigations Bureau into an incident in which the Defiant, and the entire senior staff of DS0 travel back in time just over one hundred years. Captain Sisko narrates the adventure to agents Dulmur and Lucsly (it is an example of the level of intricate in-joking that these two names are near-perfect anagrams of Mulder and Scully). The Defiant has been on a secret mission into Cardassian space to collect a Bajoran orb, as it turns out the Orb of Time. They also pick up a stranded seeming-human, a trader named Barry Waddle, played by Charlie Brill, a name any old Trekkie would recognise. Brill is not what he seems and uses the Orb to send the Defiant back in time and across two hundred lightyears. When the viewscreens clear, the first thing is comes up is a spaceship. The U.S.S. Enterprise. The ‘Enterprise.

Because the whole point of this story is to dress Messrs Sisko, Dax, Bashir, O’Brien, Odo and Worf up in the Starfleet uniforms of the day, transport them onto the Enterprise and Space Station K7, onto absolutely 99.9% perfect replicas of the stage sets, and have them experience a shadow story created in and around and based upon ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’.

And, what’s more, have them appear with, and interact with Messrs McCoy, Scott, Chekhov, Uhuru and most especially Mr Spock and James T. Kirk as they appear in the parent episode.

How they do it is ingenious, and in one instance resolves a minor quibble from the original show (whose writer, David Gerrold, not only approved the notion but got to play an Enterprise crewman in two brief scenes). The MacGuffin is brilliantly conceived: Waddle is actually the original Klingon spy, Arne Darvin, the villain of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, whose plan to destroy Federation colonisation by poisoning their grain supplies was defeated by Kirk, who used a Tribble to expose the surgically-altered Darvin as Klingon. Disgraced by his defeat, Darvin, once again played by original actor Charlie Brill, intends to go back in time and change history by killing Kirk, via a bomb in a Tribble.

But we all know that the story, however cleverly put together, how carefully interwoven into the established events, is ultimately just a vehicle for the sheer fun of going back and playing Original Star Trek one more time, and to recreating those days, down to sets, uniforms, hair-styles (Terry Farrell suits the old ultra-sexist micro-skirt and boots: I just wish Nana Visitor hadn’t still been pregnant as I would have loved to see her beamed aboard).

The episode stands or falls on its effects. Film qualities have been matched throughout to almost exact duplication: there are only a few scenes where the lower quality definition of the original stock is evident and even then you have to be looking for it. But what impresses even now is the quality of the digital matching.

Mostly it’s done by inserting the DS9 gang into the background of existing scenes, which is marvellous in itself, especially when Sisko and Dax turn up on the Bridge, but the standout scene has to be the one where Kirk confronts the crewmen who have gotten involved in the canteen brawl with the un-cornish-pastied Klingons. Kirk is on stage right, facing a line of men stage left, ranging towards the perspective point.

From camera front to back these are Scottie, Chekhov, O’Brien, Bashir and a half dozen original extras. O’Brien and Bashir, inserted into the middle – the middle – of a scene, with original footage foregrounded and backgrounded.

There are so many details to what goes on. I’m not going to detail these: you can read them via these links: here and here. The amount of effort, and money, that went into creating a gigantic cosmic in-joke is astonishing, but the outcome is well worthwhile.

This was my first Deep Space Nine, and this is the first time I have seen it since that time I watched it out of curiosity, and it’s delightful how much of it I remembered. It was intended as a one-off, as indeed the episode was, in every respect. But somehow, without knowing anything about these characters, I switched on BBC2 the same time the next week, and for all the rest of the season. Then life changed, and the easy days of coming home from work and doing whatever I wanted went with them, in exchange for better, I’m glad to say.

So, for the next twenty episodes I’ll be in that narrow zone of nostalgia, as I go through real recollections. The Great Deep Space Nine Rewatch. By the time I get back to ‘new’ episodes, it will be the New Year.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e02 – The Ship

The Captain and Kilana

Deep Space Nine‘s 98th episode was a curious collection of bits that, for the most part, were well-made in themselves but which didn’t, for me, quite cohere into a substantial whole. The effect was unusual, a bit like the curate’s egg, though without anything in it that was specifically bad.

This was a story for half the cast, Sisko, Dax, Worf and O’Brien, in the Gamma Quadrant on a McGuffin Mission, examining a remote planet for its mining potential. The other half, Odo, Bashir, Quark and Kira, had a ‘B story’ of their own though it’s stretching the boundaries of the term to apply it to something begun and ended in a single scene, lasting about ninety seconds, if that, so we’ll ignore it.

The Sisko Four were in a party of nine, which meant that, even though none of them were wearing red shirts, you knew the other five were going to be for the chop the moment the story really began. Three of them made it onto the guest star list, though only F. J.Rio as O’Brien’s assistant, Muniz, had any kind of role. Four got killed more or less immediately: Muniz was mortally wounded and took most of the episode to die, teasing the audience into hoping for better, because his gently disrespectful attitude towards the Chief, and his obvious competence were the makings of a very appealing recurring character. We could have stood a lot more of Muniz, but his fate was pre-determined.

The open took us from some gentle ribbing between O’Brien and Muniz whilst exploring rough terrain, to the expedition successfully establishing the target planet as worth mining, to a ship coming out of cloaking and crashing not far away, to the discovery that it was a Jem’Hadar ship.

This was a brilliant opportunity to get acquire and study hot Dominion technology, and Sisko was determined to gran it with both hands: it was no less than his duty. This led to an oddly atmospheric explanation of the upside-down ships, all flashlights, darkness, hissing pipes and odd camera angles coming together to create a brilliantly effective impression of a kind completely alien to DS9.

The ship contains 29 bodies, its entire Jem’Hadar crew being dead.

Next up was the arrival of another, this time intact Jem’Hadar craft, destroying the runabout and opening fire, killing all the metaphorical ‘red-shirts’ except the belly-shot Muniz, and beseiging the Sisko Four inside.

This Jem’Hadar lot are led by a Vorta, of course. Pleasingly, this was not the ubiquitous Weyoun, but rather Kilana, played by Kaitlin Hopkins as a hesitant ingenue, inexperienced, gently flirtatious and all the while displaying enough cleavage to stun an ox. They want their ship back, and are willing to return everyone to DS9, intact, rather than start a fight.

Sisko, naturally, refuses. Apart from it being his Duty to the Federation, and his personal commitment, he doesn’t trust anyone from the Dominion further than he can spit.

Kilana tries again: this time she only wants a mysterious something off the ship and Sisko can have the rest, which he also turns down, ordering everyone to find out what this so important thing is. They’re all convinced it’s some form of military advance but I could see quite clearly what was coming, and it was a little less than convincing that no-one out of four such hardy and experienced Dominion fighters couldn’t even conceive of the most obvious explanation: there was a Changeling on the ship.

This wilful ignorance persisted even though the Jem-Hadar laid down an ongoing barrage of shells detonating outside the crashed ship, taking great care not to so much as scratch its paintwork. Meanwhile, the bombardment frays everyone’s nerves. Muniz continues to die, still clinging to his irreverent attitude, but getting progressively worse. O’Brien refuses to accept the inevitable and keeps reassuring him he’ll be saved, and even Sisko supports this attitude. This leads to the inevitable conflict between O’Brien and Worf over the latter’s cold-eyed clarity, and his Klingon belief that Muniz should be told the truth, so that he can prepare himself, or even that his struggle should be ended, to give him a death with honour, not this unworthy outcome.

We’re running out of time now, so the pace has to be forced. Muniz expires. Sisko and Dax discover some disgustingly greasy drips coming from the ceiling that prove to be the Changeling, a revelation only to the cast. It’s dying, unable to maintain its structural integrity, and spills all over the floor before turning into carbonised ash. Instantly, the bombardment stops. Kilana teleports aboard. All the Jem’Hadar have committed instant suicide, totally offscreen, because they let their god die. Sisko and Co can go, unmolested, and take the ship with them, no worries, as long as she can scoop up a test-tube worth of the Founder’s remains to take back to the Dominion.

This is the only scene that doesn’t work of itself. Sisko has lost five crewmen, but it seems to be the suicide of the purely homicidal, psychotic Jem’Hadar that pushes him to the edge of mild hysteria over so many people dying for this, and all because he and Kilana didn’t trust each other. It doesn’t work because it’s false. There’s a war going on and you’re not supposed to trust the enemy, especially when they’ve got overwhelming superiority in numbers and weaponry and are promising to let you go. Sisko’s sudden horror at this tragedy and his feeling of responsibility, which will be further developed in a subsequent scene with Dax, also doesn’t work because it has no basis in reality: with the exception of Muniz, who we assume could have been saved with proper medical attention, all the deaths took place before Sisko first spoke with Kilana, so his near-hysteria is for the death of the Jem’Hadar.

Nevertheless, there was an effective closing scene with O’Brien and Worf. The Chief is in the hold with Muniz’s coffin, talking to him, when Worf enters. The Klingon identifies O’Brien’s actions as echoing the Klingon tradition/rite of ak’voh, of friends guarding the body of a dead warrior from predators until it is ready to go to Sto’vo’kar. He joins O’Brien in his vigil.

As I said at the beginning, with the exception of the scene I’ve identified where Sisko nearly gets hysterical, the various elements of this episode are handled well in terms of both writing and acting, and that of the initial exploration of the ship in effects and cinematography, but somehow it didn’t come together as a whole. This was an episode I’ll remember for its parts rather than its sum. And I don’t mean Kaitlin Hopkins’ cleavage when I say that.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e01 – Apocalypse Rising

Would you buy a used Bat’leth from these Klingons?

Wow! That was… underwhelming.

Having ended season 4 on a cliffhanger that exposed Klingon Empire Chancellor Gowron as a Changeling, intent on fomenting war in the Alpha Quadrant and weakening the sector in anticipation of a Dominion Invasion, Deep Space Nine set to tackling the new reality under which we were all going to live by disposing of it in the opening episode. I rather expected more.

Actually, I had mistakenly discovered a few things about the outcome of this development ahead of time, so for once I was aware of the background to this decision, which was to get rid of the Klingons as a menace in general, to enable the series to get back to its primary preoccupation with the Cardassians and the Empire (the Klingons are so Original Series). But the speed with which the baby was thrown out with the bathwater was disappointing, and good in itself as this episode may have been, the naked desire to get rid of an unwanted plot made it a very unsuccessful season opener, and cast an unwanted shadow back over a lot of season 4, by declaring the Klingon development to be a false direction.

In terms of plot, this was relatively straightforward. Sisko and Dax return from Starfleet HQ with the former ordered to infiltrate the Klingon Empire and expose Gowron. In order to do so, Sisko has himself, Chief O’Brien and Odo transformed into Klingons (a very good make-up job for which the episode won awards) and, under training from Worf in how to think, act and behave like a Klingon, get delivered by Gul Dukat in his captured Warbird to Ty’Gokor, the military HQ.

There, they will plant four devices that will create a radioactive field inside which any Changeling will revert to its natural gelatinous state. Unfortunately, they are identified, captured and their equipment destroyed by Gowron’s second-in-command, General Martok, who, it appears, already suspects Gowron. Martok frees them to expose Gowron/Shapeshifter by killing him…

The other aspect of the episode is the Redemption of Odo. Having been changed into a solid, Odo has experienced a crisis of confidence. He’s lost who he is, as well as what he does, and with it all commitment to his duty. He’s taken to eating and drinking like a duck to water, after some initial, unportrayed disgust at the whole idea, but he’s missing some of the point as he’d rather listen to the bubbles in what looks like a glass of lager than actually drink it, silly sausage.

Odo thinks of himself as dead weight. Because he can’t do what he used to do, he believes he can do nothing. He’s reluctant to join the mission, nervous and self-effacing on it (Worf calls him out on this during Be-a-Klingon training and it’s a really clever piece of writing).

But, in the tradition of such things, it is Odo who spots the flaw. Worf challenges Gowron to a duel and the Chancellor’s honour requires him to fight, his bodyguard ordered not to intervene. Martok has already refused to make an honourable challenge, wanting the Federation team to simply shoot Gowron down. Odo’s people have no concept of personal honour…

So it is that Odo realises that the Changeling is not Gowron but Martok, who is slain. Sisko’s band are thanked, with typical reluctance, though not Worf who is merely threatened, and the War gets switched off, rather offstage.Odo’s redemption is completed when, back in the surgery and being restored to his original form, Bashir volunteers to give the Constable any face he wants but he prefers to have his old one back.

Press the reset button…

The main problem with this episode is that it would have been perfectly fine anywhere from, say, four to six episodes in, ending a phase during which the Klingon threat was a palpable presence. Up front, and in my case coming only a week since the revelation about Gowron (a clever misdirection by the Great Link), it was a throwaway, too openly getting rid of a storyline seen as an error and an embarrassment. Must do better next week: it is, after all, the 100th episode.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e23 – To The Death

Bad guys

An unusual episode as we close in on the end of season 4. Superficially, it was a simple, indeed almost simplistic story with no long-lasting effects or implications: Sisko and Co have to work together with a team of Jem’Hadar to take out a bunch of rogue Jem’Hadar in possession of an Iconian Gateway. Apart from the unusual sight of Federation and Jem’Hadar cooperating, that was more or less it.

But the simplicity of the premise gave the writers an opportunity to expand the story by expanding the characters, and to show them acting and reacting in the face of a vital, yet dangerous mission, that might claim their lives.

Most particularly, the episode took the opportunity to give an insight into Jem’Hadar life: their loyalties, their beliefs, their complete dedication to the fight. In the person of their First, Omet’iklan (a wonderfully poised and quiet performance by Clarence Williams III), we saw them as something other than crazy badass killers: his speech when they were armed, beginning with the encouraging words, “We are dead,” and ending with “We go to reclaim our lives,” was a masterpiece of taut, concise writing that opened up an infinity of cultural perception.

In contrast, on the DS9 side of the scales, the most effective scene featured O’Brien and Dax, prefacing the commencement of the engagement. O’Brien brings his latest goodbye message to Keiko and Molly to Dax, ruefully reflecting that it’s the eleventh time he’s recorded such a message, and how each time he goes through the emotional churn of expecting this one to be the one they will finally get to hear. Dax is reassuring about her belief that he will die in bed at the age of 140, but reveals that she records a similar message to her mother: everyone does.

It was things like this, an unexpectedly rounded consideration of what it is really like to be in such a situation, that gave depth to, and greatly expanded an episode whose premise was perfunctory.

It was also needed in view of the story’s rather weak start. The rogue Jem’Hadar attack Deep Space Nine, destroy part of a pylon, and make off with power equipment that they intend to use to boot up the Gateway and enable themselves to teleport instantly across galaxies. Sisko takes the Defiant to chase them, and comes across a disabled Jem’Hadar warship, pursuing the rebels, who have crippled it, this bringing the two sets of enemy together in joint pursuit of a common danger.

That’s fairly contrived to begin with, but contrives to undermine itself by apparently having DS9 be attacked, part destroyed, eighteen dead, over a hundred injured, and all this happen forty-five minutes before the rest of the station notices.

There was also a very weak piece of scripting midway. Omet’iklan’s team were under the command of Weyoun (or rather the first of his clones, not that this is anywhere spelled out or so much as hinted at) and were supposed not to know anything of the Gateway in case they went over to the Rogues. But Omet’iklan and his band know all about it. “How do you know?” asks Weyoun in consternation. “That is not important,” replies Omet’iklan, immediately revealing that the scriptwriter hasn’t got a clue about how the Jem’Hadar know and is settling for springing it out of thin air because it suits his plot.

But these are mere cavils. Overall, the writing was very good and very effective, and the episode deserves a high rating.

We’re now only three episode from the end of season 4. And I’ve still not yet caught up to the first episode I ever watched. I’m pretty certain I know which it is, and it’s not that deep into season 5…

Deep Space Nine: s04 e22 – For the Cause

A Traitor

I’ve no wish to boast, but I’ve been watching television fiction of all natures for fifty years, I’m fairly intelligent and analytical by nature, and not much surprises me. I’m good at reading where a story is going to go, and at sensing the intended developments. So, when an episode springs on me a surprise that I don’t see coming, I enjoy it all the more, and ‘For The Cause’ got a good one over on me today.

That we’re in for a serious affair was made immediately obvious from the open: a top level secret briefing for the senior staff from Federation Security Officer, Lt. Commander Eddington. Things are going ill for the Cardassians in their war with the Klingon Empire, and the Federation has agreed to provide them with no less than twelve Industrial Replicators, coming through DS9 shortly.

But Eddingtom and Odo have another problem that they want to broach with Sisko in private. They believe a freighter captain is smuggling goods to the Maquis and, though they have no concrete evidence, their suspicions point towards none other than Kasidy Yates.

Sisko, slightly atypically, behaves more like an affronted lover than a Starfleet Captain, rejecting the idea on sight, but his professionalism requires him to allow investigation to proceed. And the evidence does harden that suspicion into fact, as Kasidy is trailed by a cloaked Defiant and observed beaming goods onto a Maquis ship.

A second run is to be made, and the Defiant now has instructions to intervene if a drop is made. Eddington, understandably uneasy about taking the decision to fire upon the Captain’s bird, asked to remain on the station to supervise the transfer of the Replicators: Sisko himself will command the raid.

And yes, Kasidy admits to smuggling, medical supplies and other humanitarian material, not guns, nor is she ashamed of it in the least, but the Zhosa and the Defiant have been circling for hours in the Badlands, and the Maquis aren’t turning up, because the whole thing is a carefully manipulated plot to get Sisko off the station. Because Eddington, the loyal Starfleet Officer with no personal opinions, the deliberately colourless man who’s been appearing in DS9 since season 3 episode 1, has gone over to the Maquis. He seizes temporary control of the station, has the Replicators transferred to a Vulcan freighter, and flees with them to openly join the fight.

It’s a crushing defeat for the Federation, and a complete shock that, despite only having the most minimal of foreshadowing – Eddington’s wish to be relieved of responsibility for potentially killing Kasidy is the only hint we get and it’s magnificently in character – is utterly believable, and Kenneth Marshall seizes the chance to rotate his character 180 degrees in a closing scene where, by communicator, he glorifies in his new loyalty, demanding the Federation leave the Maquis alone as their only quarrel is with the Cardassians. His sudden overt strength is splendidly buttressed by his excoriating the Federation over their persecuting the Maquis only because they want to live outside the Federation. The Federation wants to absorb everybody it meets, no differently than the Borg, except that they are open about their intentions and the Federation are insidious.

What’s so good about this is that it’s true, and it took courage in a Star Trek Universe to write a scene that so openly exposing the underside of the Federation, that holy empire. A powerful episode indeed.

Unfortunately, it came with a B-story of stunningly slight proportions. Garak and Ziyal (played one time by Tracy Middendorf, who was not really up to the role) are aware of each other as the only Cardassians on the station and slowly gravitate towards one another. Since he is her father’s mortal enemy, Garak fears an assassination attempt, and since he is Garak, Kira fears he’s going to fuck her (up), but all it turns out to be is a wish for companionship in exile. Unworthy of being included alongside a far bigger, better and more game-changing story.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e19 – Through the Looking Glass

A missed opportunity
A missed opportunity

I was all set to declare this a third successive strong episode, and to query if I’d had that experience before in this re-watch, but despite its overall quality, I ended up disappointed in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, for its end and what it did not do and where it didn’t sufficiently go, and what it didn’t ask its two most important actors to approach.

The episode was quick to set itself up. A very brief opening sequence with Quark and Odo was interrupted by the appearance of Miles O’Brien, out of uniform, bearing a gun and kidnapping Commander Sisko. The latter is very quick to realise it isn’t our O’Brien, but rather ‘Smiley’ O’Brien, from the Mirror Universe.

The plot is simple, but its underpinnings aren’t. Terran rebels have risen against the brutal, decadent Klingon/Cardassian Alliance but things have gone badly. A Terran scientist is on Terak Nor (i.e., DS9) developing a new sensor array that will reveal the whereabouts of the Rebel bases in the Badlands, ensuring they will be wiped out. Captain Sisko has been killed trying to get to the scientist and persuade her to change allegiance. Hence Smiley has snatched our Benjamin to complete the mission.

It’s not just Sisko’s leadership qualities that are required, but something more. The scientist is Professor Jennifer Sisko, the Mirror Universe version of Benjamin’s dead wife.

I might as well say this now. This was the most significant part of the scenario as far as I was concerned, bringing Sisko into contact with the wife he still loves, five years after her death, albeit a version of her that has been estranged from, and hates him, for the past five years, and who is actively aiding the opposition. It’s a tangled situation, fraught with deep emotion, and by far the most interesting element. I mean, the rest of the story, entertaining as it was, was largely rooted in the fun of seeing most of the cast playing against type: Bashir the bloodthirsty, wild-haired rebel, Dax as Sisko’s mistress, with a radically different and far more flattering haircut and Nana Visitor having a whale of a time camping it up and slinking around as the super-sexy Intendant, wiggling her hips as far as they could wiggle.

Andrew Robinson, in contrast, demonstrated that the Mirror Universe Garak is light years less interesting than the enigmatic version we have at home.

In the end, Sisko and the rebels persuaded Jennifer to their cause and got away to fight another day, as we knew they would.

But the episode fudged the most important part, that of Sisko’s reunion with the woman he loves, returned from the dead. Sisko is far too in control of himself: unthrown by her hostility towards his alternate version, unmoved by the sight of the woman he loves, brought back from the dead, concerned only with his mission, and far too smooth about leaving her without explaining himself, even after she recognises that he’s not the Sisko she married.

Every emotional beat is downplayed or, worse still, avoided. Felecia Bell is excellent in her part as Jennifer, but she is asked to do too little in the role, not even to display anger or loathing towards ‘Captain Sisko’.

Part of it comes from Avery Brookes’ theatrical, often stilted delivery. His low-key approach to Sisko is antithetical to the role as it should have been written. The part should have involved hidden emotions, tortuous ones, but Brookes his them beyond sight. And the writing abdicated the scenario it had set-up by preferring the easy route of quasi-campish parody and basic thriller routines.

Writing Benjamin and Jennifer would have been hard work. As so many times already, the writers decided not to work their socks off.

In analysing the flaws, I’ve made the episode sound worse than it was. It was still very enjoyable, and a dimension above ‘Prophet Motive’, but it was unambitious. If it couldn’t properly handle the scenario of Sisko and the exact equivalent of his dead wife, it shouldn’t have introduced it at all. It made promises it had no intention of keeping and lets its audience down. Better was offered, then skated round. A solid B+ was delivered when an A multiple plus was dangled, teasingly.