Deep Space Nine: s07 e24 – The Dogs of War


Why couldn’t they have swapped costumes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Space Nine: s07 e19 – Strange Bedfellows


Oh yeuch

An apt title for this latest episode since there were a few pairings that could be described that way, ranging from the macro to the micro. ‘Strange Bedfellows’ was still a part of the long build-up, moving chess pieces around the board, setting forces in motion to play off later, so individually this could not be said to be an especially satisfying 45 minutes: this part of the long endgame is frustrating because I can’t just bingewatch the final run and see it all.

But let’s look at the copious number of pairings, shall we? The first such is the new Dominion/Breen Alliance. The Breen are coming aboard, subject to signing a treaty, the terms of which involve secret Cardassian concessions to the new allies, secret as in Gul Damar, over his considerable and entirely rational objections, is not to be told. And Weyoun 7 is being even more high-handed with Damar, treating him with open disdain, treating Cardassia as utterly worthless. It has no independence, it is of the Dominion, it belongs to the Founders. This is said in front of the Breen leader, who doesn’t seem to register that itrefers to his people as well.

No matter. Ezri and Worf are still prisoners, now on a Jem’Hadar ship heading to Cardassia. Though Worf is still as stiff-necked as only a Klingon can be, going on about his honour every three minutes and seventeen seconds, he and Ezri do manage to get their heads straight, about their unwise shag and, more importantly, the whole Dax thing. Ezri even confesses that she didn’t actually know about being in love with Julian (who, back at DS9, is himself beginning to realise he’s in love with Ezri: this really is very weak and artificial).

That settled, they prepare themselves to be executed, Damar having notified them in advance that they would be tried as war criminals, convicted and executed. But, in a not wholly unforeseeable development, Damar kills the Jem’Hadar guards, provides a spaceship full of security codes and tells the escaping pair that the Federation has a friend on Cardassia. Just goes to show, if you whip a dog long enough…

Weyoun certainly has, in the vulgar parlance, dropped a bollock on this. The lad is prone to do so, and there’s an amusingly brilliant demonstration of this when he taunts the prisoners in their cell over Ezri admitting under torture to loving Julian. Unfortunately, Weyoun is stood next to Worf when he says this, and the big Klingon grabs him by the head, twists it and breaks his neck. Weyoun 8 is, of course, just as big a dickhead.

Back on DS9, we have two more sets of bedfellows, both literal. On the one hand we have Mr and Mrs Captain Benjamin Sisko. In a development that I personally found not merely disappointing but offensive, we have Martok giving Klingon marital advice to the Emissary, about marriage being a long war, a fight over everything. That may be so in a warrior race like the Klingons. but to see Sisko immediately starting to plot to defeat Kasidy over her refusal to conduct a religious ritual she doesn’t believe in was deeply depressing, and not a little misogynist.

But the creepiest set of bedfellows this week were Gul Dukat and Kai Wynn, and I do mean bedfellows, a sight that was enough to turn your stomach. That the surgically altered Dukat was here to seduce the Kai from her loyalty to the Prophets, in favour of a quick conversion to the Pah-Wraiths should be paralleled by the physical side of things was no doubt artistically sound, but it was still queasy to see.

But to give the Kai credit, the moment she realised that it was the Pah-Wraiths sending her visions, she fought back instantly, telling Dukat to get thee behind me, pledging herself to the Prophets, seeking their guidance, resisting all the way. She even sought Kira’s counsel, genuinely humble and open. But all this repentance broke upon the rock of Kira’s advice that Wynn must abdicate the Kaiship.

And so the other big bad goes bad for good, telling Dukat that the Prophets she has worshipped and served all her life have never – never – spoken to her. So now she’s gone over to the other side, the last set of bedfellows, the Kai and the Pah-Wraiths.

To be continued.

Wynn’s defection was dramatically inevitable, the culmination of her path of arrogance and power, but given the strength of her initial rejection of the Pah-Wraiths, which is genuine and vehement, I surely can’t be alone in thinking that it would have made a much more fascinating story for her to have maintained that stance, and to have devoted her strengths to the fight against them and the Dominion? Or was that a pipe-dream? Yeah, a pipe-dream.

As an aside, I’ve written this blog on the third anniversary, give or take the odd day or two, of my first blog in this series. There are now only six episodes left.

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


Yeuch. I mean, just, yeuch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Space Nine: s07 e17 – Penumbra


You shall not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Space Nine: s07 e12 – The Emperor’s New Cloak


Ezri Tigan. more! more!

Even though my initial reaction to this episode was the usual, “not another bloody Ferengi episode”, I decided I’d try to be as objective (read: fair) as possible about it. Then it turned out to be another Mirror universe story which was one too many trips to the well for me on top: the Mirror Universe is a neat idea but when it’s only being exploited to allow the actors to play against character and for no deeper reason, it’s a shallow concept.

Throw in my new bete noire, Vic Fontaine (albeit for one brief scene and in which he gets killed, not that that lifted my spirits too much), and the recipe was for a wasted forty-five minutes, the only benefit of which being that, with the end sequence getting ever nearer, this would have to be the last of them, yay!

But I’m going to be as fair as I can be, as there were a couple of things of interest to keep me going.

By now, the only cast/recurring characters left who haven’t been through the looking glass are new girl Ezri, and Brunt, FCA. Both were a simple opposite, Ezri a leather clad, spike-haired mercenary (rrrrrrrr!!!) and Brunt a genial nice guy. Brunt got killed off but Ezri bestrode the episode in a manner that had my shallow side gladly singing. Nicole deBoer apparently had a whale of a time and wanted to play this Ezri every week.

On the other hand, my usual appreciation of Nana Visitor in her shiny skintight costume as Intendant Kira was lacking, I think because I was enjoying Ezri so much. Or perhaps that was another case of too many trips to the same well. With one notable exception, when Intendant Kira kissed Ezri Tigan, there was nothing new to bring to the party, and the Intendent felt almost like a parody of herself.

The heavily implied lesbian subtext between this pair (reinforced in the close by a brief appearance from Chase Masterson, cleavage well to the for, spiriting Ezri off into half the audience’s fantasies) was a surprise, but immediately felt completely natural for the Intendent. Nana Visitor didn’t agree and disliked the idea.

The MacGuffin was Grand Negus Zek, seeking to open up new financial frontiers for the Ferengi and being held hostage by Regent Worf in return for a cloaking device, to be stolen by Quark and Rom. This was duly delivered but Rom, whilst installing it in the Regent’s ship, sabotages the whole kit’n’kaboodle so that as soon as it’s used it drains all power from the ship, forcing the Regent to surrender to the Rebels under Smiley O’Brien, implying a tying off of that story.

One quickly irritating aspect of the episode was Rom’s constant attempts to work out some kind of logic and rules behind the Alternate Universe being Alternate. That was apparently intentional, a sort of half-nod, half-raspberry to the fans who wanted the Mirror Universe to make Science Fictional sense as opposed to the big joke it was only ever meant to be.

But it was over and done. No more trips to either of those wells, even if the Intendent was allowed to get away to camp another day. I guess no-one had the heart to shoot her down.

Depending on whether the end sequence has nine or ten episodes (I have seen both quoted), that means there can only be four or five left that tell individual stories unrelated to the all-out Dominion War. I’m expecting at least one more Vic Fontaine because I’m ultimately a pessimist, but at least there’s no more Quark-centrics. I have outlasted them. Thank Heaven for small mercies.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e06 – Treachery, Faith and the Great River


Someone’s not looking well

After being alert and receptive to the past few episodes, I was once again in a slump today, and couldn’t really get into what was a fairly crucial episode that marks a staging post on the road to the end.

This was a fairly deeply-divided A/B story, with Odo and Weyoun up front in a serious tale and O’Brien and Nog providing back-up on the comic side of the story. Basically, the latter was a repeat of those ‘chain-of-transactions’ stories we’ve seen Nog in before, usually with Jake. Sisko sets the Chief an impossible deadline to acquire a piece of equipment to do repairs, it’s impossible to get through normal channels, so Nog goes all Ferengi on it, bartering here, there and everywhere, until the Chief is convinced it’ll all end in disaster (for him) only for everything to work out at the last minute.

Fun but essentially predictable and lacking in the kind of detail that would demand we admire its ingenuity.

The A story is set up by Odo being drawn to meet a very reliable Cardassian informant who may not have been executed after all. In fact, he has and it is a decoy to enable Weyoun to meet Odo: Weyoun wishes to defect.

That comes as a surprise, and Odo is rightly suspicious, but this is a genuine attempt by Weyoun, except that he’s not the Weyoun we’ve gotten used to. That was Weyoun-5, disintegrated in a suspicious transporter accident a couple of months ago, in respect of which the finger of suspicion is being pointed at Gul Demar, who’s still quaffing k’narr like water (hint, hint).

Odo’s dealing with Weyoun-6, the new clone, only this one thinks the Dominion is dropping one serious bollock in going to War with the Federation. Not only is he defecting with strategic knowledge that could ensure Federation victory, but he also brings the news – confirmed in a brief, shrivel-faced appearance by the Female Changeling – that the Founders are ill, that in fact they are denying.

Weyoun-6 wants Odo to effectively take over and reform the Dominion.

Unfortunately, for everyone except Jeffrey Combs, who’s having fun doubling up, Weyoun-7 has also been activated and this one’s in the true loyalist mould, enough so that he’s prepared to send Jem’Hadar ships to attack and destroy Odo’s runabout, even if that means destroying Odo – a God, remember? – with it.

It’s all very low down and dirty and has to be kept secret, especially from the Female Changeling and the Jem’Hadar, and the only way out is for Weyoun-6 to sacrifice himself by voluntary termination, releasing Odo to go free.

So now the end game starts moving. I know a few more things that are yet to come, the tracks of which are implanted here, and these will become increasingly apparent over the final twenty episode. This was an episode which deserved a better response, but as I say, I’m flat today and unable to give it.

 

Deep Space Nine: s06 e23 – Profit and Lace


This was a Ferengi story, and you know how I feel about Ferengi stories. In this one, Grand Negus Zek and Ishka, aka Moogie, turn up at DS9 because Zek has been deposed for pushing to allow Ferengi females to wear clothes and make profit. The new, Acting Grand Negus, to be confirmed in three days time, is Brunt. Zek plans to fight back. This involves producing Ishka to a leading and influential FCA member to show that letting females become human beings will be profitable. Unfortunately, Quark causes Ishka to have a heart attack, so another financially brilliant female has to be found at short notice. Since there isn’t one available, Quark undergoes a sex-change operation and drags up.

If you thought this was bad up to that point, and it was, from that moment on it was a hideous embarrassment, offensive and cliched at every point, all the way into the ridiculous close. From abut halfway through, I just wanted to switch this episode off and not have to see the rest of it. I wish I had. The absolute nadir. Everyone involved in it should have been put against a wall and shot.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e18 – Inquisition


Section 31

Hmmm, interesting.

This was an episode that displayed a considerable control of its tempo and tone, starting off by creating a bit of a sinking feeling that it was all going to be a bit too comic, and morphing into something considerably more serious and with deep-lying implications that caused a deal of controversy among Star Trek fans. Only on Deep Space Nine, only on Deep Space Nine.

The storyline is misleadingly simple. Bashir’s off to a Medical Conference on Casperia Prime, a lush, beautiful world, and being a bit smug about it, first to Odo, then to Miles O’Brien, who’s dislocated his shoulder again, kayaking in the holosuite.

But the next morning, his trip is cancelled, as the entire Senior Staff is confined to quarters during an examination into a security breach by Internal Affairs, acting by Director Sloan (William Sadler in a role originally intended for Martin Sheen). It’s not long before questioning concentrates on the Doctor, who is accused of being a spy for the Dominion. The theory is that, during his incarceration by the Dominion, whilst he was replaced on DS9 by a Changeling, Bashir was broken and turned into a spy who is concealing his own treachery even from himself by engrammatic dissociation – the creation of mental blocks compartmentalising the mind.

Bashir refuses to believe that and, initially, so does Sisko. But it’s a cunning detail, one impossible to disprove since it revolves around the idea that the accused is lying even to himself.

Sisko’s refusal to let Sloan do exactly what he wants to break Bashir leads to the Director’s decision to remove the Doctor to a maximum security cell. But this is disrupted by the unexpected teleportation of Bashir. Onto a Cardassian ship, to met Weyoun, who greets Bashir sympathetically. The story teeters on the edge of what would have been a truly tremendous and extremely dark revelation, that Sloan was right: Bashir has been aiding the Dominin, on ‘moral’ and ‘humanitarian’ grounds.

But that’s a twist too far. What Bashir takes from this supposed confirmation of his guilt is that Weyoun and Sloan are acting together to frame him, that Sloan is the traitor. And he’s not far off the mark: there’s a violent twist as the Defiant catches up with and attacks the Cardassian ship (too fast, how did they track it?). It’s got the full Senior Staff on board and they’re hostile, convinced Bashir is a traitor. Miles O’Brien throws him off. With his dislocated shoulder. The one he got playing stringball…

And the illusion dissolves into a holodeck, with Sloan and two assistants all dressed in unadorned black uniforms. Sloan is much more chatty now, convinced Bashir is innocent. He has been tested and has passed: he did set off for the Medical Conference after all, but was kidnapped en route, and it has all been a charade designed to test him to destruction.

Bashir is less than relieved at his exoneration however. He’s concerned about Sloan and his organisation. They’re not Internal Affairs, Sloan confirms, they’re Section 31, a secret, autonomous unit established at the birth of the Federation. They are the worm in the apple, the canker in the bud, the dirty jobs merchants. Beneath the surface of the utopia that is the Federation, they do what is necessary to ensure that the Federation remains a utopia. They are Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Bashir is outraged. Section 31 offends every principle on which the Federation is built. And he is even more outraged that, given his high level of intelligence, his loyalty to the Federation, his genetic modifications, Sloan wants him to join Section 31. He refuses in disgust.

Once back on DS9, however, discussing his experience with Odo, Kira and Sisko, who reports that there is no Director Sloan in Starfleet, and that the Federation refuse to either confirm or deny the existence of Section 31, it is agreed that the dirty tricks section will try to recruit Bashir again. This time, the Captain orders, he will accept…

The idea of Section 31 was controversial among fans because it most directly breached Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the Federation as a perfect set-up, as humanity having resolved all its issues and living happily ever after. Deep Space Nine had deliberately, but quietly, set itself to explore the darker side of that vision, the uncomfortable reality that perfect societies don’t stay perfect of themselves, but require a helping hand, beneath what’s on view, to ensure it’s that way.

It’s a broad streak of grey through the black and white, it’s the embodiment of the Greater Good argument. Being Deep Space Nine, we’re offered nothing but equivocation, in equal parts because this is not a black and white question, that it is not a simple question, and that this is a long-running prime-time drama series. But I am reminded of the late Ursula Le Guin’s classic short story, “The Ones who walk away from Omelas”, which I recommend you read.

We live in a dark Universe. It’s always good that our fiction reflects that darkness.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e13 – Far Beyond The Stars


Who’s Who?

Well, I guess I must be suffering some sort of burn out on Deep Space Nine because I just couldn’t get into this episode at all, and it’s one of those episodes that’s not just a fan-favourite but a favourite of so many members of the team that made it, including many of the actors themselves. Clearly, it’s me, then.

‘Far Beyond the Stars’ is another of those get-the-cast-out-of-character episodes, as Sisko undergoes a practically episode-long hallucination in which he’s a staff writer on a 1953 SF magazine, facing racial prejudice. It involves every member of the cast and a bunch of recurring characters out of costume and, in several cases, out of make-up.

Basically,the peg is that Sisko is approaching burn out. The Dominion War is still ticking over in the background, with wins and losses, but the latest loss – the Cortez and it’s 400 strong crew, especially its Captain, Quentin Swofford, an old friend of Sisko – has him talking of stepping down.

Immediately he suggests that, he starts seeing people in 1953 clothes walking around where they aren’t. Bashir diagnoses strange synaptic potentials akin to those in the season 5 episode, ‘Rapture’ when he was having visions sent by the Prophets (not so much a hint as a crowbar to the back of the neck) and, presto changeo, he’s in 1953 New York where he’s Benny Russell, employed by Incredible Tales magazine.

Everyone’s there, so it’s spot-the-unmake-upped- actor time (I didn’t get Aron Eisenberg, Jeffrey Combs or J. G. Hertzler and I was incredibly slow about Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn) whilst the story hammers on its theme of racial prejudice. The hammering is relentless, but then again so was the racism. I don’t doubt there’s a social faction that would kick-off against snowflakes and SJWs, but just because the present day isn’t as relentlessly open and universal as the world depicted here doesn’t mean it no longer needs saying.

To be honest, I found the unrelieved nature of the depiction to be dramatically unbalanced: over and over and over again. In another context, where you could focus on this story without having Deep Space Nine looking over your shoulder constantly, it would have worked far better. Instead, it was never possible to escape the awareness that this set-up was doubly unreal, a fiction within a fiction.

Anyway, Benny Russell is inspired by a drawing of a space station very much like DS9 to write a powerful, engrossing story. About DS9, and it’s captain, Benjamin Sisko. Everybody loves and admires it, but it won’t get published. Because the Captain is a negro.

To jump briskly forward, after a tour of Benny’s world and constant reminders of the restrictions inherent on black people (Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs as two violently prejudiced cops,who beat the living shit out of Benny at one point), he gets his editor to accept the story (and possibly the six sequels he’s already written), in return for his altering it slightly, to make the whole thing a dream. Whatever gets it into print. But the owner orders the whole print run pulped, the magazine’s going to skip a month and Benny’s fired. We all know why.

Throughout the hallucination, Sisko Senior keeps popping up as a Minister, preaching about the way ahead and insisting Sisko keep on his path, that he writes the words. He keeps mentioning the prophets (there’s that crowbar again). Benny has become fixated on his Captain Sisko, his DS9, this future he’s imagined. This latest setback unhinges him.He cracks up, onscreen, as if this block on publication of the story is an attempt to stop this entire future, the world of DS9, in which black and white and every other shade are equals, from ever happening.

Sad to say, I found it unconvincing, even when supported by Sisko’s musings in the close, which attempts to tip the show into metafiction, by wondering if Deep Space Nine is actually nothing more than the fiction it is, created by Benny Russell?

It’s Jorge Luis Borges’ paradox writ large: who is dreaming who? Is Sisko dreaming Benny, or vice versa? For me, it completely flops. Firstly, because when Benny goes into his meltdown, talking about ‘creating’ DS9, in the sense of a Creator creating Reality, he’s doing so as a character we know to be at a lower level of existence, the centre of a story-within-a-story. The same goes for Sisko’s musings: in an isolated story, you can play this angle for all it’s worth, and leave the reader genuinely uncertain, but after 136 previous episodes of Deep Space Nine, you’re pushing credibility to suggest that might be a fiction. A Tommy Westphall ending doesn’t work unless it is the end.

When Sisko recovers from the hallucination, his synaptic potentials have cleared up, even without a take-two-of-these-and-see-me-in-the-morning (crowbar time…) and he’s decided to soldier on. Phew, I was worried there…

The whole thing was a vision from the Prophets, to show Sisko that some fights have to be fought even in the face of frustration, defeat and loss. But really the episode was about the cast dressing down and playing outside their characters, with the framing story a loose-fitting McGuffin. That the story chosen was an important issue is impressive, but paradoxically it was weakened by being played in the context of Deep Space Nine, where it could have n serious impact by virtue of our knowledge that by the end it would all be reset, nothing gained, nothing lost, all that anger, frustration and heartache meaningless.

Or is it all just me?

Deep Space Nine: s06 e11 – Waltz


Who will love Aladdin Sane?

By and large, I’ve been pretty successful at avoiding spoilers, considering I’m watching a series from twenty years ago. I should distinguish that as being specific spoilers, however: there is one about Odo I’d really rather not know given its circumstances, but that’s not bad after nearly two and a half years of doing this.

However, it is much harder to avoid more generalised spoilers, especially when it comes too my post-watch research: Memory Alpha is invaluable to me in one sense, but when it considers how a specific episode relates to a character in the round of their overall arc, it can give away more than I’d like to know.

I’ve long since been aware of the controversy among DS9 fans over the degeneration of Gul Dukat’s character over the last two seasons. Dukat is, I am led to believe, reduced to a one-dimensional, mad, wholly evil character, with none of the multi-level facets he’s displayed thus far, to the benefit of the series as a whole. This is where it starts.

I’ll return to that aspect in due course. The episode is structured as a two-hander, much the most effective approach, with minimal use of other characters. Dukat, officially recovered from his post-Ziyal’s death breakdown, is being transported to a Federation prison to await trial as a war criminal: Sisko is there to give evidence. Dukat is already visibly disturbed at being considered in such a light, though he minimises this.

Then the starship is attacked and destroyed. Sisko is injured, with a broken left arm and plasma burns down all that side of his body. He wakes to find that he and Dukat are marooned on an inhospitable planet, their shuttle damaged, a distress beacon going (these last two points are lies on Dukat’s part). They are stranded until someone arrives to rescue them, when they will once again be hero and prisoner (villain). Which is which will depend on who gets there first.

But that’s not the point. The point is to isolate Sisko and Dukat, Emissary and Adversary, and let them unravel. Or rather, let Dukat unravel, for Sisko is only weakened by physical issues and Dukat is mentally unstable. He hallucinates, holds conversations with Weyoun, Dumar, even Major Kira. Dukat fully intends to kill Sisko, but not until Sisko admits that he respects Dukat.

Plainly and simply, Dukat is going mad, or actually is mad. The hallucinations, the gradually increasing degree of mania in his talk, amplified by the gradually increasing submissiveness of his imaginary debaters, feeding his monstrous ego, and his overriding delusion that he is and always has been The Good Guy, are overt manifestations, but the most powerful sign that Dukat’s grasp on reality is no longer of this earth is that he seriously believes that he will get Sisko to admit that he secretly does respect Dukat.

Which Sisko will never do, not in a million years.

Beaten, battered, bruised, a visibly weakening Sisko finally stops temporising in the knowledge that he’s going to be killed soon and directly confronts Dukat. The Gul believes himself to be innocent, to have been the victim of misunderstandings all along, the Bajorans were responsible for everything he had to do whilst Prefect under the Occupation. If onlythey’d accepted he was their friend, was trying to assist them. That Cardassians were their superiors and the Bajorans an inferior race, fit only for subjection. Dukat was the Good Guy.

It’s a testament to Marc Alaimo’s abilities as Dukat that he can sell this so powerfully and convincingly. It’s self-deluding twaddle, and it’s in a sense overly-simplistic. The episode is gearing itself towards its pay-off, in Sisko declaring Dukat simply and purely evil, in a child-like sense. Alaimo’s intensity and range enables us to believe this.

In a way, Sisko’s actions do lead to what follows for the remainder of DS9. It’s that familiar old tactic of getting the mad villain onto a roll and feeding him until he blurts out the truth, which is that Dukat basically hates all Bajorans and wishes he had killed them  all. This is the moment when Dukat steps over the line that brooks no retreat. It’s consciously done: after all, Gul Dukat is supposed to be the Villain, the Big Bad, Deep Space Nine‘s Public Enemy No. 1, and here were fans loving the character, even to the extent of defending his crimes.

So this is a reset, a firm exercise in button-pushing, in pushing the character into a position from where he becomes indefensible, strait-jacketed into what the Plot demands he be. Dukat’s been lying. The distress beacon isn’t working. The shuttle isn’t damaged. Now he’s faced the truth within himself,that he’s been avoiding acknowledging all this time, Dukat has embraced his true nature fully. Now, once and for always, he is Bajor’s enemy, and will destroy them all (when the villain’s motivation reduces to a Chris Claremont X-Men schtick, you know there’s something wrong).

But when Dukat escapes, he sends a signal to the rescue ship that enables them to rescue Sisko. After all, there’s no point in winning if your beaten enemy isn’t there to show off to. Even Sisko now admits it’s personal.

To go back to the overall character arc, I will wait to see how things develop. On the one hand, I can see the dramatic necessity of this move, but on the other I can easily understand the lack of subtlety involved in reducing a character to a single characteristic. Psychologically, it is plausible: a person who has been denying an essential facet of their character will frequently absorb it to the point of obsession once they are forced to confront it. It’s still a cliched move, especially in how it’s brought out. And it is far better to have a multi-faceted villain, one whose actions may not be unrelievedly evil, and whose degree of villainy can be debated. On the other hand, when the fans start justifying the villain as Supreme Dictator of a Subjugated Planet, then it is time to do a bit of drastic course correction.

We’ll see. As for the rest of the cast, they have minimal roles to play in a rescue give artificial time-limits in order to crank up a degree of melodrama, but that’s artificial bullshit and is so underplayed it can be ignored.

None of this would work at all without Marc Alaimo ‘being’ Gul Dukat to the fullest extent, and all praise to him. For all this episode’s pre-fabricated aspects, he made it work, made it tense and gripping, and made this the best episode to date since the return to Deep Space Nine. I just wish I didn’t know when he and Sisko have their next, and final meeting…