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: s06 e05/6 – Favors the Bold/Sacrifice of Angels


Battle

So the six-part (seven, if you count the final episode of season 5) Dominion War arc concluded with a two-parter of its own, and with the expected victory for the Federation in the re-taking of Deep Space Nine. This was originally intended to take a single episode, but the sheer profusion of events requiring to be covered forced its expansion, and the sheer volume of guest stars to accommodate.

Both parts were excellent, but I’m not sure if the first part, ‘Favors the Bold’, wasn’t the better of the two. Though the double-episode structure meant that it was all build-up and no resolution, after the relatively innocuous open (the Defiant acting as a decoy to attract Jem’Hadar ships to be destroyed by it and the Rotaran), the episode started on the edge, and remained on the edge throughout.

The Federation are losing the War, and morale is falling at the constantly defensive stance. The Federation needs to go on the attack and Sisko has drawn up a plan: the retaking of DS9, and regaining control of the Wormhole.

Meanwhile, on DS9, Rom is still in the cells. He’s been declared a terrorist against the Dominion and there is only one sentence: execution. Kira can’t get Weyoun to change his mind, Ziya can’t get her father, Gul Dukat, to change his mind either. Leeta and Quark are trying to encourage Rom: Quark promises he will get him out, and that’s before Leeta agrees to run the dabo wheel for two years for free.

But Rom is adamant that he is unimportant. He should not be rescued. The anti-graviton beam must be sabotaged before it can neutralise the minefield on the Wormhole. Billions of lives depend on the War. Quark must take over from him. Though Quark refuses, it’s only because he’s afraid. He’s not being Quark, not being Ferengi, he’s taking everything seriously and it’s strange but I like him better here than I ever have before.

Meanwhile, Odo has been closeted with the Female Changeling for three days, not that he’s been aware of time. They’ve been communing, both via the Great Link – which is slowly beginning to addict Odo – and the way solids do (wipes mind of image thus produced). In every way except actively, he’s gone over to the other side. Kira can’t even get in to see him.

Next, Demar, still knocking back the booze like it’s going out of fashion, lets on to Quark that the mines will be swept within the week, Quark gets this out to Sisko via Morn, and the Federation attack has to go ahead without delay: without half the planned fleets, and without the Klingons. Oh, and with Ensign Nog, who gets a promotion from Cadet!

I hadn’t immediately realised this was going to be a two-parter, though as we got into the last five minutes or so, this became obvious. The Fleet is on its way. Sisko’s back in the Captain’s chair on the Defiant. O’Brien and Bashir are trading lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, much to Nog’s consternation, and the Dominion fleet comes up ahead: 1254 ships, outnumbering the Federation more than two to one. Let battle commence.

The title of the second episode filled me with foreboding from the outset, a foreboding that was realised, though strictly speaking it related to a different kind of sacrifice.

With the Fleet now engaged in battle, the Cardassian/Dominion War counsel, Dukat, Demar, Weyoun and the Female Changeling, takes the entirely sensible decision to arrest the Resistance: Kira, Jake and Leeta are hauled in for questioning, but once Dukat has achieved the victory he’s so delightedly anticipating, everyone’s going to be for the chop.

Sisko’s battle plan is to concentrate fire on the Cardassian ships, hoping to provoke them into the kid of direct response that will break the formation, leaving a hole the Defiant et al can punch through. Dukat recognises this and orders the necessary ships to break, intending to create a trap: Bashir recognises the tactic. But it’s all they’ve got, they’ve got to go for it.

With the aid of a timely arrival of a Klingon fleet under Martok and Worf, the Defiant breaks through, alone, and barrels towards DS9. But the time until when the mines will be eradicated is getting tight. Quark and Zyal break the Resistance out of the cells. Odo puts the agonising appeal of the Link aside to ensure Kira is not killed. She and Rom feverishly work at dsabling the station’s weapons array and succeed. There’s only a second in it. But it’s not the cliche second that saves the day. It’s a second late. The mines are cleared, a Dominion fleet of 2800 ships starts through the Wormhole and Sisko, knowing it’s suicide for everyone but having no other alternatives, takes the Defiant into the Wormhole to face them. Alone.

And here is the ending that, for many people, was a letdown, and in a way it was, because all deus ex machina endings are, by definition, a cheat upon drama, but this ending was integral to the entire Deep Space Nine arc. Because Sisko is the Emissary. And the Emissary was taken to the place of the Prophets, against his will, and there told that he is not allowed to die, not allowed to end the game. He rants and raves, demands to be returned, challenges the Prophets that, if they are Gods, they owe a duty to their children. We’re a long way from the Emissary’s complete scepticism and discomfort at his role.

And the Prophets return him, and they use their powers to sweep away, without trace, the entire Dominion Fleet. Deus ex machina, and with real deus’s who exist within the overarching storyline. You can see why people thought it weak, thought it a cheat. Is it a cheat to build just the very thing into your five-years-long-so-far story? I don’t have an answer to that. But I didn’t feel cheated on an emotional level.

But there will be a price for intervention. Sisko, who has declared his intention of building a home on Bajor, will not know peace. And before then, there will be another sacrifice.

When the Defiant emerges from the Wormhole alone there is a general consternation on DS9 and an immediate decision to head for the lifeboats, Female Changelings first. Dukat can’t believe it. They’d won. They’d won. How could this have happened?

It’s everybody out, but Dukat won’t leave without Ziyal. He’s already half-crazed, which is worsened when she refuses to leave with him. Here is her home. she is not a true Cardassian. Though she loved him, she has acted against him, freeing Kira and the rest. And Demar, who has heard all this, draws his gun and cuts her down. Dukat goes over the edge.

So Sisko and co return to DS9, to a hero’s welcome. Everyone’s there to meet them, except Kira, who’s in the infirmary with Ziya. When he hears this, Garak heads straight there. Kira informs him that Ziya loved him. Garak’s response is deeply sad: he says that he knew, but he could never understand why. Now, he never will.

Dukat is still in DS9, collapsed into madness. He is sobbing his forgiveness of Ziya, of others. He returns Sisko’s baseball, tells him he forgives him too. It is a sober moment in the middle of victory.

To be honest, I am already wondering about what happens next. I know the subject of the next episode, but it is what the series does from episode eight onwards that concerns me. The Dominion have not been defeated. They have not given up their war or their plan. The Wormhole is still there: are the Prophets going to wipe out every Dominion ship that tries to go through it?

I really hope we don’t go back to the kind of individual stories that have dominated earlier series. Things have changed irreversibly and that would be a total letdown.

However, it’s a case of waiting for future episodes to come round on schedule. I will wait and see.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e04 – Behind the Lines


Traitor

Whether it be me or Deep Space Nine, things were back on track this week, and I personally felt this to be the best episode so far of season 6.

As has bee the pattern thus far, it’s divided between the war and the station, but for a change of pace, it was the latter that formed the A story, and quite rightly so. The nature of the B story changed substantially in the writing, with several deep and complex ideas being rejected because they would have made this strand too complex to exist as the B story.

Whilst I agree with this approach, it did have the unfortunate effect of neutering that side of the episode, pushing the actual story so far out of sight, literally, as to be unimportant.

Basically, Admiral Ross orders Sisko and the Defiant on a mission to destroy a well-protected Sensor array that’s plotting the movement of all Federation ships and handing the Dominion a massive technological advantage. Then Ross promotes Sisko to become his Adjutant, putting direct command of the mission and the ship in the hands of Dax. The mission is a spectacular success, entirely offscreen: what we see is Sisko’s concerns at his crew going into danger without him.

I’m informed that Dax’s success in command is going to lead to changes in her character, but Sisko’s elevation to a position of increased authority and responsibility, and his introduction to that aspect of command that involves sending men to war whilst you remain in a position of physical safety is going to be a hard one to row back upon when the War is over: especially in so increasingly military an organisation as Starfleet.

But let’s pass on that. It’s not intended to go too deep, though it might have made a strong episode in itself if the show had been willing to go deeper into the Dominion War than they’re doing. Of far greater importance is the A story, showing the Resistance in action on DS9/Terak Nor.

I’ve got to be honest and say that this story was introduced with some astonishingly clunky writing in the open. Kira and Rom have stolen and strategically passed on Dumar’s ‘iPad’ containing his secret plan to poison the last ration of ketracel White and kill the Jem’Hadar, if the blockade of the Wormholeisn’t relieved before supplies run out. The Jem’Hadar don’t like it. A bar brawl breaks out in Quark’s, with much damage to property and person, and glee for Kira and Rom. The odea’s good, but what kills it is that we see all the action from a silent distance with Kira talking us through everything, as a virtual voiceover. It’s horribly amateurish, it’s wooden, it’s an unattractive Tell imposed on a reduced to insignificant Show.

All the more creditable that the strand should go on to develop so strong a story. The plan was very effective in the eyes of Kira, Rom and Jake, who form three-quarters of the now-established Resistance Committee, but not Odo, the fourth. Odo thought it a bad idea, for disrupting the order on the station, and had walked out without staying to learn that Kira had persuaded everyone otherwise. It makes things uncomfortable for the pair – and Odo remains passionately in love with Kira – with the Major not questioning Odo’s loyalty but coming very close to where she will start to be concerned.

This theme unfortunately gets developed much more after the arrival on the station of the Female Changeling to see Odo. She’s been trapped in the Alpha Quadrant and desires the company of a fellow shapeshifter, or so she says. She persuades Odo into entering the Link with her.

This terrifies Kira as much as it angers her. She extracts a promise from Odo not to Link again until after the war is over. He is a crucial part of the Resistance and discipline is necessary, discipline and a subsuming of personal interest to the primary task.

Dumar, Dukat’s number two, is on the lookout for favour. He’s promoted to Gul, he’s come up with a plan to clear the mines off, he’s drinking way too much at Quark’s. This latter leads him to spill the beans to Quark, who’s beginning to realise that there are more things to life that mere profits and he’d really rather like to have the Federation back, please. So Quark passes this on to the Resistance, om works out how it can be done and how that can be protected, a plan is devised whereby Odo will disable security at a specified time to enable Rom’s act of sabotage…

And Odo, desperate for more understanding of himself and the Changelings, goes into Link with the Female at exactly the wrong moment. The sabotage fails, Rom is arrested, the War is now almost certainly lost. Kira loses her rag with Odo, but the horrifying thing is that Odo hasn’t merely been derelict in his duty, he has become completely indifferent. Only the Link matters. Not even Kira.

It’s a chilling development. Odo has defected. There’s no other way of describing it. He’s done the unforgivable. It’s going to be one hell of a journey back to the side of the goodies, and in the eyes of at least one member of the audience, it’s a case of You Can’t Get There From Here.