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: 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: s04 e20 – Shattered Mirror


I don’t know to what extent it was the episode and to what extent it was me, but I found this week’s DS9 curiously uninvolving.

As the title gave away, it was another Mirror Universe story, and a fairly simple one to summarise: the Rebels under Smiley O’Brien have control over Terok Nor (i.e., DS9), but the Alliance have sent a fleet under Klingon leader Worf to recapture it. When he was on DS9, Smiley stole schematics that have enabled the Rebels to build their own Defiant, but they need Sisko to refine it. In the end Sisko pilots the Mirror Defiant to force the Alliance Fleet to retreat.

With the exception of Smiley, who has pretty much merged with the Chief in terms of personality, the rest of the regular cast hammed it up unmercifully in their altered roles, which is where I think the story simply didn’t work. Worf and the cringing Garak were just completely OTT, and the script indulged them past the point where this felt like any kind of commentary upon their normal characters: it was too much an indulgence to the actors to be at all realistic.

This surrounding detracted from what was the only real point of the exercise, which was to bring together Jake Sisko of our universe with the Mirror Professor Jennifer Sisko, the duplicate of his dead mother.

I wasn’t even sure how much that worked. The whole idea played into deep emotions, but the episode rarely lifted itself above the idea of a dream-come-true. Jake is fascinated by Jennifer, and accepts her invitation to come see her Universe, which is the snare that gets Sisko to cross over. Jake has already constructed an image in his mind of his family restored, pairing Jennifer with Sisko, bringing back a life destroyed years ago in a pain-free haze of wish-fulfillment.

Anyone with the remotest sense of adult consciousness knows that this situation is fraught with emotional and psychological danger, but the episode never escaped from being adolescent fantasy. Which, considering even for a second the effect of losing a parent at a very young age, of living what is now half your life without that parent, was simply inadequate. Even when Jennifer dies (at the hands of Intendant Nerys, slinking it about in her silver-grey skin-tight pants, giving it not so much ham as the full cow), throwing herself in front of a shot intended for Jake, like any mother would, Jake doesn’t really get all that sad.

It’s unrealistic and superficial, an episode that tried to drape itself with one of the deepest human feelings without once dipping more than the littlest toe into the psychological reality of its setting. Dreams and games, that’s all this episode was, and that’s why it left me cold and unable to take an interest.

 

Deep Space Nine: s04e10 – Our Man Bashir


Maybe it’s because I’m so predictable…

The title makes it plain who’s in the middle of this latest episode, and I’m old enough to spot the reference, but whilst ‘Our Man Bashir’ had the potential to be a good, fun, lightweight entertainment, I think the show made a serious error in not embracing the essential goofiness of the concept as fully as they should, by undercutting it with a supposed psychological depth that the story didn’t need. Sometimes, you need to have the confidence to just sail out there and enjoy things on a purely superficial level.

The set-up was that Julian Bashir has recently taken possession of a holosuite programme that he’s devoting all his spare time to. And no wonder: it’s a nearly-straight James Bond fantasy, set in 1964, with impossible glamour, world-threatening villains and leggy birds in (mildly-anachronistic) mini-skirts and knee-length boots.

(Actually, though we automatically think Bond, the episode title references the James Garner film, ‘Our Man Flint’, which was an early spoof of ol’ 007.)

But, and here’s where the mistake was made: Bashir’s programme was invaded by Garak, impeccably tuxedoed, curious as to what’s obsessing his friend, and more than sceptical about this fantasy version of the job Garak was highly-trained to carry out, which bears no resemblance to the real thing, on any level.

The intention is to provide a cynical and modern commentary on the absurdities of the genre, but since Garak makes plain from the outset that he’s going to nag, carp and generally be a complete bring-down, the episode loses a great deal of credibility instantly, when Bashir agrees to let Garak stay and piss all over his favourite fantasy, and Garak’s complete refusal to go with any kind of flow detracts from the quality of the spoof.

That’s all a build-up to a seriously tin-eared argument over what is and isn’t real when it comes to being a spy, that tries to touch on a psychological depth in Garak, offended at his profession being fantasised, and fails on a story level: Garak’s determined pragmatism about cutting losses etc. is out of place when he and Bashir are operating in a fantasy world whose underlying rules and assumptions are ‘heroic’.

There is a genuine serious element to things that, if left to itself, could have been very well integrated into the spoof. In what seemed, at first, to be a B-story, the senior staff (i.e., Sisko, Kyra, Dax, Worf and O’Brien) are returning from a conference when their runabout is destroyed by sabotage. Eddington attempts to beam them aboard, but the teleport is disrupted. He uses all the station’s computer powers to store their details until they can be reintegrated, with the result that their physical data winds up in, guess where, the holosuite programme.

So Bashir’s private programme suddenly starts substituting the missing quintet for keys roles in the holo, starting with Kyra as a Russian Colonel in a very low-cut and slinky dress – a classy little number for a classy little number – that had the more backward among the audience looking up appreciatively, and going on to add O’Brien as the eyepatched mercenary, Falcon, Dax as the beautiful scientist, Dr Honey Bear, Worf as the slick enforcer, Duchamps, and of course Sisko as the mad scientist, Dr Noah, who plans to flood the world and rule its remnants from the only remaining island mass, Mount Everest.

It’s glorious, utterly glorious, and Avery Brooks is gleefully OTT in a way that fits the bill entirely. Bashir’s problem is that he has to play out the programme, ensure nobody gets killed in it (as ought to happen) and keep anything from shutting down until the missing staff can be extracted.

Which is where Garak comes in and should have been shown out promptly. He’s completely at cross-purposes, pragmatic, self-serving, nit-picking at cliches that we can see are cliches, which are being presented as cliches, and constantly trying to stop everything in its tracks, sacrifice one, or two,to save the others. And himself.

In the end, his presence isn’t totally irredeemable. There’s the traditional final confrontation, in which Bashir has to play for time, which he does, brilliantly, by adopting the defeatist words Garak has just used on him. Oh, and by pressing Dr Noah’s button and destroying the world, but then this is just a holosuite programme, it’s not real, which Garak completely misses.

Everyone is extracted, safe and sound, mission accomplished and Garak, perhaps having learned something, piously hopes that the whole experience won’t have blown the effect of the programme for Bashir, it being such a personal and private fantasy (that Garak has just spent the whole of the last 45 minutes trying to wreck). Bashir however is made of sterner stuff: this isn’t his last mission. Good forhim, and bad for Garak, whose whole presence here has been a total drag that kept a fun episode from being an unalloyed pleasure.

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m looking forward to season 4.

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


Horrifying
Horrifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Odo’s surprise, Garak accepts, eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Dominion threat starts to loom ever nearer.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e18 – Distant Voices


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s hope for you yet.”

Deep Space Nine: s03 e07 – Civil Defence


Portrait of a smug Cardassian
Portrait of a smug Cardassian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Space Nine: s03 e05 – Second Skin


My reaction entirely

An impressively inventive ending went a long way towards redeeming an otherwise cliched and unconvincing ending. The last five or six minutes of this story certainly left me far more impressed than its run-up had even suggested I might. So  where does that leave ‘Second Skin’, if summed up?

The storyline was certainly a cliche. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve seen it used on how many shows. Prominent member of cast is subjected to elaborate put-on designed to convince them that they are not what they think they are but are actually the complete opposite. This time it’s Major Kira, and the con is to try to make her think that she’s actually a Cardassian woman, an undercover agent of the Obsidian Order, who was substituted for the ‘real’ Kyra Nerys ten years ago, and who has now been brought ‘home’ to be de-programmed.

The idea’s a bust, from start to finish. The good Major, a Cardassian spy? It doesn’t wash, it’s self-evidently a hoax, and the fact that it brings Kira close to questioning her own identity is merely a de rigeur component of the storyline. We all know it’s going to wind up being false, Nana Visitor is neither leaving the series nor condemning herself to all those additional hours in make-up, going Cardassian, every week, so what’s the point? Dramatic tension levels are down in the red zone.

But I’ll give this episode credit for an individual twist at the end. The usual point of this story is that it’s an attempt to break the hero, but this one wasn’t. Kira, or Iliyana as everyone insisted on calling her to her increasing frustration, has been place in the home of her loving father, Tekeny Ghemor, of the Central Committee. He, it transpires, is genuine. He loves his missing daughter, believes Kira to be her, and when it becomes obvious that her memories aren’t returning, and the Obsidian Order are going to tear out of her the information they require, he plans to enable her to escape, out of love.

After all, he is a dissident, who believes Cardassian society needs to change, the influence of the Central Command and the Obsidian Order needs to be diminished.

And there’s your excellent twist. Kira sees it instantly. The ruse hasn’t been about her but about Ghemor. She’s been twisted into his ‘daughter’ in order to expose him. It’s an ingenious notion, and a far better use of this standard plot than any before, so it’s just a pity that it was allowed to go on so long that I’d long since written the episode off.

That it should have been revealed earlier was exemplified by the rushed rescue. Back on DS9, Sisko has press-ganged Garak into a rescue mission to Cardassia Prime. We cut away to it from time to time, but in the end, with Ghemor and Kira captive, there’s a completely deus ex machina rescue by Garak, Sisko and Odo, popping up out of nowhere with no more explanation than a hastily tossed-off line from Garak about still knowing a few people on Cardassia. This isn’t even convincing enough to be castigated as lazy writing.

Time enough for Ghemor, going off into political exile, to informally adopt Kira as a surrogate daughter, much to her pleasure, and to warn her never ever to trust Garak, and it’s over.

So, a poor, heavily cliched story partially redeemed by a clever twist that left a good impression where none was strictly deserved. That’s been this week’s episode in the great Deep Space Nine re-watch.

Deep Space Nine: s02e23 – Crossover


Two for the price of one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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