Deep Space Nine s05 e25: In the Cards

Any time these two are the stars…

So here we are, on the eve of War. Everyone’s tense, grim and gloomy. People and shops are leaving DS9 for healthier climates. Captain Sisko’s dinner party for the senior staff (except Jardzia Dax, missing for a second week) has fallen flatter than a flat thing that has been flattened by being run over by a steamroller. And Kai Winn is dropping in for a meeting tomorrow morning.

When the Kai arrives, it is with troubling news. She is here to meet with a representative of the Dominion, the egregious Weyoun. The meeting is at the Dominion’s request: they wish to conclude a non-aggression pact. Sisko is concerned, as is the Kai. For the first time, they are completely in accord, they are prepared to work together towards the common goal of Bajor’s preservation.

Portentous stuff. And guess what? That’s the  B story. And it’s deliberately so.

The A story is basically a joke, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Sisko, like everybody else, is down, and Jake wants to cheer him up. The ideal opportunity arises: an auction that includes a framed 1951 Willie Mays rookie baseball card (that even I know is a bit legendary). Jake wants to win it for his Dad, make him happy so, with Nog in reluctant tow, the pair set about trying to ge it. Much havoc and hilarity ensues.

At least, that’s the theory. The inversion of the usual Serious A/lightweight B formula was deliberate, and arose in part from the plan to do a ‘bottle’ episode, cheap’n’cheerful, as a contrast to the major events to come in the season finale next week. And generally it was well-received, though to be honest it bored me, and I felt it to be too contrived.

Some of this is, and I have called myself out on this many times, that I CANNOT watch Deep Space Nine without thinking of the way that TV serial fiction is conducted in the Twenty-First Century. I can’t see it in its own terms, precisely because Deep Space Nine, especially at this time, with the Dominion War brooding, was so perfect for the current day treatment.Some of this is that I started this rewatch because I’d seen some of the series back in the day, and loved it, but never saw beginning or end, and this is the last but one of those episodes from then, and next week’s is the last one I remember, and I don’t find this A story funny or even plausible. It disappoints me by being given prominence over the prelude to War, over the revelation of other facets to Kai Winn, over Sisko’s last advice to try to keep the situation fluid, avoid choices where every choice is fateful and tainted. Instead, we have to watch an obsessive quest for a baseball card that gets inflated into an all-round feel-good story that we’re supposed to accept as A Jolly Good Thing All Round (except for Leeta).

So, basically, Jake and Nog get massively outbid for the lot by the mysterious and paranoid Dr Giger who, it turns out, is working on a cure for mortality that is deliberately ridiculous, who’ll trade the card in return for several McGuffins in the form of unusual materials, for which our young pair have to barter with half the station staff, except that he’s commandeered the quarters below Weyoun and the Jem’Hadar, who suspect assassination and kidnap everybody, including Jake and Nog, only refuses to believe their ‘innocent-victims-of-implausible-circumstance’ story, so Jake spins a yarn about Spacefleet Intelligence and Time Travel, which convinces Weyoun their first story was true, so everybody’s happy, Sisko gets his card, the staff all cheer up thanks to what J & N have done for them, and Weyoun is interested in Giger’s stupid machine.

The B story is left without an ending. But it’s the season finale next week, and we all know what’s coming then, don’t we?

I understand the reasoning, I respect the intention, and if the A story hadn’t been so intentionally stupid, I might have enjoyed the result. But once again i have to go against the grain and say that this was not, in my book, a good episode.


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 e09 – The Ascent

Nice background

This is the only other episode I remember in advance, this and the cliffhanger ending to the season. I remembered Odo and Quark crashing onto a barren planet and having to cooperate to save each other, despite their position as enemies. I didn’t remember the circumstances, and I didn’t remember the B story, featuring Jake and Nog, nor that there had even been a B story. And having watched the episode again, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why I retained even a small part of this so long after, because apart from the gorgeous mountain scenery, I didn’t think much of the A story at all.

Let’s dispose of the B story first since, relatively humble as it was, it had the greater possibility for actual change. Nog has completed his first year at the Academy and is now doing a year’s Field Studies on DS9 (a rather short-sighted and implausible choice:  surely he’d have been better tested somewhere he wasn’t already familiar with? But let that pass.) Jake seizes this as his chance to leave home, room with his best friend, grow up.

Grow up in this context means the chance to turn himself back into a lazy, selfish, indolent kid. Jake’s a slob (he’s a teenager, it’s practically second nature). But Nog’s a serious Starfleet cadet, obsessed with duty, discipline, order and keeping the place clean, whilst Jake is almost willfully slobby to spite him. My first reaction was that he was OTT but then I remembered my own exposure to boys of that age…

The two quarrel and split up. Rom and Sisko commiserate over how each of their boys could learn from the other, so Sisko forces the pair to live together and, almost out of embarrassment, they start to compromise. It’s an unconvincingly quick lesson-to-be-learned, but it creates a set-up to which the show can come back as part of its structure.

The A story, however, carries little such prospect. Basically, Quark has to be delivered to a Grand Jury on a planet eight days distant, and an unpleasantly gloating Odo insists on delivering him personally. Now you know my opinion of Quark, but even with that, Odo’s triumphant sneers were off-putting.

They were also ill-founded. Odo’s assumption that Quark has been got at last, and is going down forever is completely wrong-headed: he’s a witness, not a defendant, in respect of the Orion Syndicate, who’ve planted a bomb on the runabout. Odo’s Ferengi ears pick up its hum in time for it to be transported off the vessel, but the runabout is still badly damaged by a secondary explosion, and crashes on the nearest planet, which is barren, lifeless and cold.

The crash had destroyed pretty near everything it’s possible to destroy whilst leaving the craft more or less intact. The mis-matched pair have no rations, one survival suit between them and a subspace transmitter that, to penetrate the planet’s atmosphere, they have to lug to the top of a very high (and spectacular) mountain.

It’s a basic throw-enemies-together-and-make-them-work-to-survive plot, with overtones of Beckett’s famous Waiting for Godot and and underlying exploration of what it means for Odo to be a solid, which we haven’t really seen much of yet this season. The pair set off for the top of the mountain, quarreling every step of the way, giving each other as good as they get.

And it gets a bit tedious a bit quickly. The problem is, this is a genuinely desperate situation, but neither character can get over their basic, and openly admitted hatred for one another. This goes especially for Odo, and even more so when, after a schoolyard shoving match, he falls and breaks his leg. Quark refuses to abandon him, makes a crude travois to drag him on, carries the subspace transmitter on his back and still Odo bitches and whines incessantly: way to motivate, Odo, smart!

Even at the last, when an utterly exhausted Quark has been provoked into going on alone, Odo cannot help but be snotty about him when recording what he thinks will be his final message. It’s petty and ungracious, and even after it’s interrupted by the transporter beaming him aboard the Defiant, Quark having succeeded, Odo comes over as preferring to have died rather than having to vary his opinion of Quark to give him the most infinitessimal amount of credit.

You can call it completely characteristic of Odo, you can point to it as an example of frozen thinking, unbending prejudice, you can even invoke the irony of Odo’s life depending on his worst enemy and suggest an underlying comic aspect to it all, but none of those elements worked for me this time round, and I have forgotten what effect they had on me twenty years ago. All I could see was two characters forced into a life and death situation in which they had to depend on each other and who couldn’t for a moment step outside of their mutual differences to recognise that. Especially the self-righteous Odo.

This effect was made all the more imposing by the episode’s possibly best scene. Stuck on the planet, Odo is still hounding Quark over his connection to the Orion Syndicate and why he’s not part of it. Apparently, the Syndicate charges a high membership fee, and in an orgy of speculation about how and why Quark didn’t pay it, Odo concludes that Quark couldn’t afford it, that for all his criminality, he just couldn’t get the money together. At which point, Quark spits back with the devastating rejoinder that Odo had spent ten years trying – and failing – to get the goods on a complete nobody, so who’s the bigger failure? We all know the answer to that.

But in the end it all meant nothing, because the status quo had to be maintained. Maybe this’ll get mentioned from time to time, Quark remind Odo of how he saved him. But a genuinely life-changing experience will change nothing, which is why I now shake my head at this episode, and if I last twenty more years will endeavour to remember it for the mountain and not the story.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e04 – …Nor the Battle to the Strong

You don’t get redemption that easily

A most curious episode, full of good writing, strong and important themes and some courageous character development, yet one that I personally felt almost entirely missed the mark.

It’s some time since we had a Jake Sisko-oriented episode. Captain Sisko’s baby boy is now eighteen, and Cirroc Lofton has shot up until he’s clearly taller than Doctor Bashir, and he’s gangly and spider-like with it. He’s followed the Doctor to a medical conference in order to write a magazine profile about him, but finds the specialist aspect too specialised, incomprehensible and lacking in any point for his presumed reader. This is when their Runabout receives a distress call, summoning all doctors to Ajilon Prime, where a Klingon attack is piling on the casualties. Bashir demurs because he has his Commanding Officer’s untrained, unskilled, un-anything son with him, but Jake sensing something hot topic to write about, convinces him he’ll be alright.

Immediately, we know much of what will follow. This is to be a test-of-character story, and Jake’s immediate assumption that he can handle things will be shown to be naive and foolish, and he will Learn a Lesson.

So it proves to be, but once again the episode’s biggest flaw is its inbuilt refusal, or rather inability, to follow through. Modern era television really has spoiled us, with the cumulative effect of stories replacing the old self-contained series: consequences carry forward, change stays, and we no longer start each new episode with the slate wiped clean and previous lessons learned scrubbed from the curriculum.

Because what Jake undergoes – the exposure first hand to death, wounding, bombs and the fear of imminent death – is less test-of-character than test-to-destruction, and his illusions about his competence and his character and his courage are swiftly exploded.

At first, he seems to adapt successfully: lacking any medical skills, he’s pressed into service as a stretcher-bearer, and develops quickly. He encounters, and is disgusted by, a Starfleet ensign who’s cracked, and given himself a self-inflicted would to get out of combat. But this seeming calmness is abruptly exposed when Bashir makes a black joke about a lateral incision in his leg of lamb, and Jake’s stomach starts chucking out everything in it.

Jake can’t take it. That’s all there is to it. When he and Bashir head out to the Runabout to collect its portable generator, the shells start flying and Jake cracks, runs away, scared as anything. He thinks he can redeem himself by saving a wounded soldier, but the guy is dying, and he sees through Jake, and tells him so before expiring. Meanwhile, offscreen, Bashir has been the perfect hero, brought the generator back alone, suffered wounds and is torturing himself over his responsibility for Jake’s seeming death.

Knowing he’s a coward, but that everyone else thinks he’s just like them, unable to stand their morbid, M.A.S.H.-style humour, Jake sinks deeper into his self-loathing. The compound is attacked, everybody evacuates, and the by now so-desperate-he-should-be-shitting-himself Jake becomes an inadvertent hero when his panicked firing off of a plasma rifle at random brings down the ceiling and seals the entrance against the Klingons.

Jake has been tested and has been shattered. The episode is powerful but innately pointless, because this is a life-changing experience. Jake has had his self-image undermined at the very core. He will not be, cannot be the same again. Will that be reflected next time we see him? You know the answer to that.

To his credit, though it’s overplayed into an artificial and unconvincing happy ending, Jake comes clean in his article, concluding that “the line between courage and cowardice is a lot thinner than most people believe.” That’s his great insight? I can’t decide whether to describe it as flat, trite or banal, though I’m leaning towards the last of these.

Oddly enough, probably the most thematically strong scene in the episode was the result of a mistake. As shot, the episode wound up three minutes short, so the time was made up by a hastily-written second encounter between Jake and the ensign who shot himself in the foot. Jake is no longer contemptuous of him, but sympathetic, but the ensign is so bitterly ashamed of himself for his failure that he wishes he had shot himself ‘higher’. His sense of shame is unbearable: the fatal flaw of this episode is that Jake’s only lasts until his father says he’s proud of him for confessing to his fears.

Just imagine how good this could have been, which is why it’s so disappointing.


Deep Space Nine: s04 e21 – The Muse

Linger on her pale blue eyes

For this week’s episode, we were back to the old format of two completely unrelated stories, alternating for screen time, with the episode as a whole being a budget-saving ‘bottle’ episode, confined solely to the station, with only three guest stars to pay.

Unfortunately, after the impressive run of recent episodes, I found neither half of the episode particular involving.

Given that the title was ‘The Muse’, you’d have thought that the half-episode featuring Jake Sisko and guest Meg Foster as Onaya, a mysterious woman acting as a creative consultant drawing out of the aspirant young writer the beginning of a brilliant novel, whilst mining him for cerebral energy to the point where it almost kills him, to be the A-story.

However, it was a pretty even balance between that and the mostly comic B-story, had Lwaxana Troi turning up unexpectedly, heavily up the duff, and wanting Odo’s protection from a Tavnian husband whose cultural background demands he seize a boy baby at birth, bring it up by and among men only and not let him even see his mother until he’s sixteen. To rescue Lwaxana, Odo has to marry her according to Tavnian custom, which means he has to convince her existing husband that he really does love her.

Both stories were somewhat slight, with the Odo/Lwaxana side being marginally the deeper (despite the above summary!). It was also the more significant in an offscreen sense, for this marked not only Majel Barratt’s final appearance as Lwaxana, but her final appearance in any live Star Trek series, after thirty-two years.

As the summary shows, this is mainly a comic tale, with Lwaxana erupting, yet again, into Odo’s orderly life. I found her description of her life with her Tavnian husband – married on the rebound from Odo – rather familiar: pre-marriage promises of a shared partnership followed by an immediate lapse into a determined stance that he wasn’t going to change and she’d have to accept his ways: someone I used to know had a marriage like that.

Odo’s ‘proposal’ turned upon an obscure provision of Tavnian law, which was that a boy baby belonged not to his father but to his mother’s husband, whoever he may be at the time of birth. And Tavnian divorce is brought about by marrying someone else (they obviously don’t have lawyers on their planet). But in order to marry Lwaxana, Odo has to explain exactly why his life isn’t worth living if she doesn’t accept him, and he has to be convincing because if anyone present – such as her existing husband – objects…

Which led to the story taking an unexpected turn into serious emotion, albeit fruitlessly, with Odo explaining just how much Lwaxana’s faith in him, her total lack of fear or, more importantly, revulsion at him being a Changeling, expanded his world. It’s real, true and wholehearted, and it convinces Jayel to back off, and to do so in an impressively dignified manner, accepting that Odo’s feelings were greater and more important than his own.

Odo then blew it by talking anullment the moment everybody else left the room, which rebounded with Lwaxana blowing out of DS9 for a final time, catching a fortunate freighter back to Betazed. Odo tries to get her to stay, but Lwaxana tells him she knows he doesn’t love her, not as she wants him to love her, and that to stay would only lead her to resent him for what he can’t give her, and to the destruction of their friendship, which is too important for her.

It’s a pity. The complex emotional relationship between this pair was something I would have liked to have seen explored, yet because Lwaxana had been created as an OTT comic role from the very start, it prevented her leaving that role for anything other than brief moments. Which made the kind of story that this episode set up impossible to produce. One of the perils of series television, especially when there are strict limits set to just how much a character can evolve.

So let’s turn to our notional A-story, Jake and the Muse. I’ve pretty much exhausted the actual content of this strand with the summary, and detail is a bit unnecessary, especially given that the episode preferred not to give any expository detail in the first place.

Jake is on the Promenade top deck, people-watching the new arrivals and making brief character sketches out of them, until he is drawn to an exotic woman with incredibly pale blue eyes, who looks back up at him. Subsequently, she joins him at Quark’s, attracts his attention by talking of past relationships with creators of all kind (who created fantastic things under her inspiration but who all died young-but-immortal, hint dropping like a stone into an empty tin bucket).

Onaya persuades Jake to come to her quarters (whilst his Dad is off-station for three days leave) so he can learn certain useful techniques. For unlocking his creativity, you sex-obsessed yahoo, though the episode does try to establish a certain sexual tension about the relationship, especially as Foster speaks in a slow husky voice throughout, and puts on her best allure for him.

That aspect falls more than flat because, though Foster is plainly a very attractive woman, and the alien make-up does its best to render her ageless, she’s equally plainly considerably older than Jake (Foster was 48 to Cirroc Lofton’s 17 when this episode was made) and in 1996 on a prime-time SF series, the audience knows it is not going to get a young-boy-seduced-by-predatory-older-woman story.

But Onaya isn’t interested in Jake’s body, only his mind, and in particular the creative energy it generates. Throwing away his pre-iPad, she hands him a fountain pen and a ream of rather thin and flimsy looking white paper, on which he immediately starts writing, in a flowing, cursive hand that looks completely incongruous.

Jake writes on, whilst Onaya massages his temples, drawing forth as she does some ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, which she shoves into her own throat. The longer Jake writes, the more of it she steals and eats, and the more his brain starts to overheat, literally. In the end, after a bit of panicky search-the-station drama, thrown in just to give us something like action, Sisko threatens to shoot her ass off and Onaya turns into a rather larger patch of ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, and passes through the wall and off into space.

Leaving behind several questions the show has no intention, such as, who was she, what was she, was she real, can Jake’s creativity ever recover, wouldn’t it have been better and less pretentious if he’d just got his rocks off and why, if she can turn herself into ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, did she need a spaceship to get here in the first place?

In a different context, it would be acceptable to see Onaya for what she essentially is, a version of the Irish Leannan Sidhe (various spellings available), faerie creatures that inspire writers etc for brief periods, sustaining themselves on the poet’s energy but burning them out rapidly. But the tone is wrong: the Leannan Sidhe are creatures of faerie, resonant myth-forms, and cannot be captured by turning them into aliens and putting them into an SF Universe populated by cold hard fact. Ursula le Guin attempted something similar in her first novel, Rocannon’s World, and admitted her mistake quite openly.

The closest we get to having any of these questions answered is the final shot, as Jake entitles his draft ‘Anselm’, which anyone paying attention to every last little detail, will recall was future-Jake’s massively successful novel in episode 2 of this season. Jake the genius writer, we are assured, has not been damaged. Martin, the not-genius writer, who remembers his own ‘career’, remains unconvinced at the thought of a 17 year old boy being that bloody brilliant.

I’m hoping for better next week.

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: s04 e11/12 – Homefront/Paradise Lost

It’s not all that long ago that I was worrying about getting stale on DS9, wondering whether I should take a break. But it’s episodes like this two-parter, that I didn’t at first realise was a two-parter, that restore my enthusiasm for this series. This was what it should have been all the time, a high-stakes, wide-ranging, game-changing story that involved the very roots of the whole series. My one regret was that when I come to the next episode, I hardly dare hope, let alone expect, that it will live up to this standard.

“Homefront” began in typical fashion, with an open full of trivia. Odo is full of wrath towards Jardzia for her mischievous habit of sneaking in and shifting his furniture whilst he’s in his gelatinous state, Bashir and the Chief are fighting the Battle of Britain from the holosuite, complete with flying gear, Quark is being Quark. Oh, there’s this puzzling matter of the Wormhole opening and closing at random, without any (visible) ships coming through from the Gamma Quadrant, but it’s all very light.

And then the programme switched up through the gears. There has been a conference on Earth with the Romulans, at which a bomb exploded, killing 27 people. It’s the first such atrocity on the paradise planet that Earth has become in over a century. And the evidence indicates that it was contrived by a Changeling.

Sisko is summoned to Earth, along with Odo, by his former Captain, now Vic-Admiral Leyton (Robert Foxworth). He takes along Jake, so that the two of them can also spend some time with his father, Joseph (Brock Peters), who is still running his restaurant in New Orleans, and refusing to co-operate with his Doctor over preserving his health.

But Leyton hasn’t summoned Sisko home because he might have left a detail or two out of his report. Sisko is Starfleet’s best officer at fighting Changelings: Leyton makes him Acting-Chief of Security for the planet.

The main problem Sisko faces, initially, seems to be cultural. Earth is a Paradise planet, peaceful, happy, undisturbed. If it is under threat of a Dominion attack, if the Wormhole’s aberrant activity was actually cloaked Dominion starships entering the Alpha Quadrant, that peace will have to be radically rearranged by the security provisions required to identify and keep out Changelings.

The Federation President, Jaresh-Inyo, little more than a quiet bureaucrat who only wants to keep things peaceful and as they are, is reluctant to sanction such steps, and even after a demonstration of how easy it is to sneak a Changeling – Odo – into his personal office, completely undetected, will only allow certain limited measures devised by Sisko, with Leyton’s encouragement, to be put in place.

What’s clear even from the first part, before things start getting spelled out in “Paradise Lost”, is just how much this will change things on Earth. I was ahead of the wavefront at that point, already recalling the infamous Vietnam line, ‘to save the village, we had to destroy the village’, which was paraphrased openly by Sisko in the second part. There was too much emphasis on Earth being a Paradise, but peaceful Paradises are entirely too vulnerable to suspicion, and violence.

Joseph Sisko demonstrated this aptly. Sure, behind that gloriously jovial, outgoing restaurateur exterior, he was a cantankerously stubborn bugger, refusing to let prolonging his life interfere with how he wanted to lead it, but his utter refusal to allow a blood test to ‘prove’ he hadn’t been replaced by a shapeshifter, his indignance at being asked to prove he was innocent, and by his own son who feared he was guilty, encapsulated all that was at risk.

Then the power went out, all over Earth, simultaneously. And Leyton got his way, with a Starfleet officer on every corner. Every corner, with a phaser-rifle.

I was confident there was no attack being planned. Some of it was that this was not quite halfway through the season, some that I was sure that, even with all my efforts to avoid spoilers, I would have heard of it. But most of it was that what did the Dominion need in attacking? Look what they stood to gain by simply creating the fear of one? They were on the way to destroying the Earth through its own paranoia. If this had been written after 9/11, instead of seven years before it, it couldn’t have been a better response to the actions of the Bush Administration.

But I was off the mark, and “Paradise Lost” had begin setting this up before a Changeling in Chief O’Brien’s shape sat down beside Sisko to cheerfully boast of their superiority to solids, and how much havoc they’d caused with only four Changelings on the whole of Earth.

No, this wasn’t a Changeling operation. It was entirely more sinister. It was the Big Lie in operation, and what made it so insidious was that it came from a palpably good man, doing what he genuinely thought was best, not for himself, not for his own power, but for the safety of his own. It was all a carefully calculated plot on the part of Leyton, which would end up with Starfleet taking military control of Earth, under him, for the Duration. Foxworth was superb in portraying a man who was betraying every principle he’d ever held, every duty he’d accepted, for the sake of what he saw was the higher good.

You could still see that, if he had succeeded, power would inevitably corrupt him, as it inevitably does, but at this point, Foxworth’s thoughts were forearth, and its preservation against the threat of the Dominion. To save the planet, we had to destroy the planet. It’s a dictum easy to mock, and despise for its illogic, its intolerance, its cruelty, its indifference to others’ thoughts, but you could see the roots in loyalty and duty from which the weed sprung.

In the end, it was both loyalty and disloyalty that brought Leyton down. His Executive Officer, Erika Benteen (played by TNG alumnus Susan Gibney is a cool, dispassionate manner) had been promoted to Captain, as had many of Leyton’s former officers. When she was ordered to fire on the Defiant, bringing evidence to Earth of Leyton’s treason, and carrying all the senior staff of DS9 on board, she was prepared to stop a fellow Starfleet craft, but not to destroy it.

It was the defining moment, but until that moment, all things were possible. The story could have gone anywhere from here, taken Deep Space Nine into any waters it chose. That it settled for what was the closest possible reset of the status quo was of no matter: it was an ending we were emotionally hoping for, and the episode covered such territory that there could be no real status quo. Things changed. The worms got out of the can.

Deep Space Nine: s04e05 – Indiscretion

Opposites don't necessarily attract
Opposites don’t necessarily attract

‘Indiscretion’ made for another very strong episode, not merely because it was Kira-centric. Indeed, rather than that, it was a powerful two-hander, with the Major paired with Gul Dukat on a mission with more ramifications than first hinted at.

There was an unusually short and single-mined open which led me to expect a single-story episode (though there was the usual B-story to interrupt things). A call from an old Resistance-fighter-turned-smuggler friend of Kira suggested a lead on the whereabouts of a missing spaceship, the Ravinok, lost six years ago, just before the end of the Cardassian Occupation.

The Ravinok, we learned, was a Cardassian ship, transporting Bajoran prisoners, one of whom was Kira’s friend and mentor, Lorit Akram. She plans to follow the latest lead but is disconcerted when she finds out that the Cardassian Civilian Government want a representative to go with her. And she’s more than disconcerted to learn that it is Dukat.

Officially, Dukat is there as the Commander of the Cardassian troops manning the ship, though it’s evident from the start that he has an ulterior motive: could he be Gul Dukat without ulterior motives? It’s the truth of that motive that comes as a surprise.

For now though, the two enemies have to share a runabout and an investigation. Dukat bears it more easily. He accepts the Major’s command, is nothing but professional in investigations, but can’t help winding her up with a calmly-delivered the the Occupation was actually good for Bajor: toughened them up, raised their confidence, fitted them to become sector leaders. Marc Alaimo, who is so bloody good in this role throughout the whole seven seasons (well, as many of them as I’ve seen, then and now), presents his case with enough snake-oil as to suggest that whilst he’s taunting Kira, he’s also completely serious.

The investigation leads the mis-matched pair to the Dozaria system, which is light years off course. Naturally, ionic disturbance in the atmosphere severely restricts orbital scanning so the pair have to land in the desert to discover the wreckage of the Ravinok, which has been forced down under attack. And twelve primitive graves.

It’s been good so far but here is where the episode takes off. Dukat exhumes evidence to identify the bodies: Kira finds him crying over relics of one. He’s crying over a Bajoran ear-ring, and a Pledge bracelet. She was his Bajoran mistress, and they were in love. The Major isn’t the only one with a personal stake in the mission.

But there’s more to come. Dukat’s mistress, Tora Dupree, and another Bajoran, a 13 year old girl, Tora Ziyil, were not prisoners but civilian passengers. Who is Ziyil? The answer is that she was Dupree’s daughter and that Dukat is her father.

Supposedly, he was sending them to a distant planet where they could live in peace, especially Ziyil: a half-Bajoran/half-Cardassian is unwelcome on both planets. The Major assumes that Dukat is here to save his daughter but the truth, which I was already half-expecting, is altogether more serious: she would be a political liability, threatening his position on Cardassia, and his ‘real family: Dukat plans to kill her.

Naturally, Kira refuses to let him. They find survivors forced to work in dilithium mines by their captors, the Breen (a race I understand to have been mentioned several times in The Next Generation but making their first appearance here). In the episode’s only serious blot, Kira and Dukat magically acquire two Breen refrigeration suits and enter the mine to free the prisoners. Kira discovers that Akram is dead, a cave-in two years previously, and then she has to chase Dukat, who finds Tora Ziyil alone.

It’s a powerfully written scene. Dukat draws his gun. Kira trains hers on him, threatening to kill him if he goes ahead. Ziyil recognises her father immediately, but she also understands the threat: her fellow Cardassian prisoners warned her of this outcome. But she’s strangely unafraid. She refuses Kira’s instructions to run, tells Dukat that believing he would come to rescue her is what has kept her alive, and steps closer to his gun. If she cannot be with him, she would rather die.

And as we always hoped, this disarms Dukat, who throws down his rifle and accepts Ziyil. He will take her back to Cardassia, acknowledge her, handle what difficulties that creates. It’s the only possible outcome, looked at from the strategic concerns of an ongoing series: had he killed Ziyil, Kira would have had to kill him or the show would have lost all credibility. And there are more and better plotlines possible with Dukat – and Tora Ziyil – alive than with them dead.

Future concerns aside, this was not only a powerful episode in terms of its story, but also in forcing enemies Kira and Dukat into close proximity, with a shared goal. It primarily worked to add yet more layers of grey to Dukat’s character, even to the extent of hinting at him having a nascent romantic attraction to her. Kira even softens to him, a little, without ever once suggesting that she’d tolerate the thought (well, who would?).

As in all such cases, the episode would have been better with just this story, but this is an ensemble cast so we must have a B-story, no matter that it was slight and trivial and almost vestigial on this evidence. Basically, Kasidy Yates has applied for and got a plum job with the Bajoran office of Commerce, which means she’ll be committed to this sector and can even live on DS9, all so she can be closer to Sisko and see him far more often. Sisko does a piss-poor job of being enthusiastic about this forthcoming proximity, and needs a talking-to from Jake before he apologises to Kasidy. That’s it, really. It’s not up to the breadth, depth, width, length or any other dimension of the A-story and should have been held over for a less-strong episode.

But it meant everyone (except the Chief) got a couple of lines, so there you go.

Deep Space Nine: s04e03 – The Visitor

Sometimes, when writing posts for this blog, I start with no clear idea of what I have to say, and only find out what it is that I think by the process of writing. So it is with ‘The Visitor’, the third episode of season 4 of DS9, which I watched with very mixed feelings but which, when I did my customary post-watch research, I find is regarded as one of the top ten Star Trek episodes of all time.

The subject is simple. An elderly Jake Sisko, played by Tony Todd deliberately echoing Avery Brooks’ speech patterns, tell his life-story to a would-be writer, Melanie. His life has been dominated by the death of his father, when Jake was merely eighteen. However, Captain Sisko did not actually die but was pulled into sub-space by a temporal disruption, from which he emerges at times to visit Jake.

After establishing a life for himself, and a reputation as a writer, Jake becomes obsessed with rescuing his father, which he calculates he can do by dying during Benjamin’s next appearance, which is the day of Melanie’s visit. The elder Sisko is aghast that his son has wasted his life in his obsession, and stricken when he learns that the injection we see the aged Jake take at the start of the episode is a suicide injection.

Exactly as Jake plans, his death closes a temporal loop, takes both of them back to the instant of the accident, only this time the fore-warned Benjamin avoids the energy surge. The Siskos get a second chance at a life.

It’s naturally a very Jake-centric episode, with Captain Sisko prominent, and primarily cameo roles for the rest of the cast, with a bit extra for Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, who are aged up rather brilliantly by the make-up team to appear with a fortyish Jake at one point. The episode relies very heavily on its framing story and its two guest stars (Melanie is played by Rachel Robinson, daughter of Andrew, aka Garak).

It was there that the episode was at its weakest, for me. Because he was aping Avery Brooks, Todd’s performance throughout this was overly and overtly mannered, and kept jerking me back to this being one actor affecting the style of another. Robinson, in her turn, was altogether too gushing, and the writing, especially for her, I found to be overwrought and unconvincing. She arrives in the middle of the night, in the rain, uninvited and unexpected, full of praise, awe, disbelief and a generally cloying demeanour about meeting her hero. He, in return, is charming and twinkling, the old and wise man graciously condescending to the naive and unrealistic youngster. It was stagey, unrealistic and unconvincing.

The ‘historical’ elements, featuring Jake’s life without his father, began well, with Jake resisting leaving DS9 because it was the home his father made for him, though he was completely without direction. Then future history started to kick in. Sisko’s death, the Emissary’s death, was seen by the Bajorans as a sign that the Federation could not resist the Klingon Empire. They conclude a mutual defence pact with the Cardassian Empire, evacuate DS9, which gets turned over to the Klingons and goes into a decline. All of which is ultimately meaningless when time eventually loops back, and will doubtless have no bearing upon the remainder of this, or future seasons.

It didn’t bother me in the slightest that we ended up back at the beginning. It was both inevitable and logical, with no contrivance required, inherent in the story.

I’m being critical at the moment because, when I was looking at the episode objectively, as I try to do each week, the blogger studying his subject, these were my responses, a wide difference from the overwhelming level of response to the episode over the twenty years since it was first broadcast.

But that’s not all this was. In its heart, this was the story of a boy who lost his father too young, and who was scarred forever by that, and that is my story. When the episode went directly for naked emotion, it tore me up as well, and these were intense moments when my own feelings merged with Jake’s, and overrode them, when the episode stopped being something I was watching from outside.

These moments were punctuations, coming only when Jake and Benjamin were placed together, the impossible reunion, the one I want as much as the lost, obsessive Jake but,in this Universe, will never have. They were flashpoints. They couldn’t have been anything else, they weren’t sustainable, nobody could have lasted on that level, but their intensity for me meant that the remainder of the episode was a lightyear behind.

Ultimately, I think the very nature of the story was too close to me personally for me to be capable of a coherent response, or an assessment that has any value. Yes, I found a lot of ‘The Visitor’ flawed and overdone but it also got to me in a way that very little art, and Network Television, Prime-Time, formulated art at that, has ever done.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e22 – Explorers

A solar spaceship
A solar spaceship

From the unusually extended open, it was clear that this was going to be an episode of two stories, unlinked, and from the way it came last, it was also clear that the one with Commander Sisko – returning from Bajor freshly-adorned with the goatee beard he’ll bear for the rest of the series – would be the primary strand.What wasn’t so apparent upfront was just how perfunctory Doctor Bashir’s part of the episode was going to be.

So let’s dispose of that immediately. It began with the good Doctor in Quark’s, being hit on in most transparent fashion by a wide-eyed and pneumatic Bajoran dabo girl. That is, until Dax punctured Bashir’s balloon by telling him that the Lexington is coming to the station.

The significance of this was that the Lexington‘s Doctor is Elizabeth Lens, that she and Julian were at Medical Collage together and that she was the Valetudinarian to his Secondetudinarian, or whatever the word is, I couldn’t catch it. Basically, it means she was top and he was second,though the dictionary definition of Valetudinarian equates basically to hypochondriac, which makes for a little gentle irony. Julian’s still not got over it.

Anyway, once Doctor Elizabeth gets to DS9, she actually walks past Bashir, ignoring him completely. Julian goes off and gets bladdered with Miles O’Brien who, in a genuinely funny moment, tells the Doctor that, from the bottom of his heart,he doesn’t hate him like he used to!

And the story ends with Bashir ‘confronting’ Dr Lens in the bar, discovering that she didn’t know he was Bashir (who she mistakenly believed to be an Endorian) and going back to the Infirmary to study his latest cultures.

Actually, the point was that Doctor Elizabeth finds her Starship job boring and transitory and envies Julian the DS9 job for its interest and long-term effects, so Julian actually beat her, so there! It’s not that edifying an ending, an effect not helped by the awkward concealed contrivance of revealing that the pair of rivals have never seen each other before, nor that Doctor Elizabeth gets so little screentime that she can’t even begin to develop as a cut-out, let alone a character. It’s not a great strand and even if extended would be hard pushed to bear the weight of much complexity, but the time it’s allotted is so limited that it wasn’t worth doing at all. It’s filler, nothing more.

So what’s the main story? It’s both a bonding exercise between Sisko and Jake and an enjoyable excursion into space history. Sisko returns from Bajor not only full of face-fuzz but with blueprints of an ancient Bajoran spaceship, based on the oft-discussed theory of solar sails, directing a craft via solar pressure.

Apparently, there’s an ancient Bajoran legend (or fairy-tale, as Gul Dukat, making his first of two appearances at the other end of a viewscreen, terms it) that one of these ships sailed from Bajor to Cardassia, thus discovering it first. Sisko’s fascinated by this and is determined to, firstly, build an exact replica and, secondly, fly it to Cardassia with Jake as his crew.

It’s all very Thor Heyerdal, but the appeal of the craft, with its insect body and its wide-trailing solar wings is undeniable. It’s the atavistic reversion to the closest equivalent to sailing: the sense of passage, the absence of speed, the lack of insulation from the atmosphere.

It makes for a lack of drama, the closest being when the Sisko’s run into disturbances, including a tachyon eddy, that rob them of three of their four sails, drive them above warp speed and dump them way off course. But that proves to be the root of their success: the warp jump actually takes them to Cardassia, proving the historical possibility of the Bajoran journey. And, my goodness, here’s Dukat, popping up for his second appearance at the other end of a viewscreen, to announce that by a lucky coincidence (hah!), Cardassian archaeologists have just discovered the remains of a very old crash site… Huzzah and spatial fireworks!

In between, Jake reveals to his father that he has aspirations towards writing, that he has written a story that Sisko thinks has promise but which has already brought him the offer of a writing fellowship at a prestigious school. At Wellington, New Zealand. On Earth.

But he’s not going to go yet, he will defer his admission for at least a year. Partly because he’s not ready, but more because he doesn’t want to leave the old man on his lonesome (aww!). On the other hand, he’s setting his old dad up on a date with a freight captain he happens to know (I think I can safely suggest the name Kasidy here, can’t I?).

Overall, a pleasant, if not unflawed episode. I believe that the dabo girl, Leeta (played by Chase Masterson) will reappear regularly. My eyes will not be offended by that.