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: s03 e10 – Fascination


The Red Dress
The Red Dress

After last week’s dramatic and dynamic episode, this week we got a silly, inconsequential story that probably needed to be anchored to concrete pilings to keep from being wafted away by the breezes. Though it overused the silly brush a bit too much, the whole thing was generally good fun to watch, without ever pretending to a dramatic element.

It was all there in in the open, which was a round robin slice of life giving no clues as to the direction of the eventual story and relying upon a sting ending when Ambassador Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barratt, gleefully chewing the scenery as ever) arrived on the station.

It’s the day of the Bajoran Festival of Gratitude on DS9, Major Kira presiding. Jake’s miserable because his dabo-girl girlfriend, Marta, has gone off to college 300 light years away. Kira is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Vedek Bariel, who she plans to spend every minute she’s not presiding by shagging him into a husk. Chief O’Brien has similar plans for the two day break that Keiko is back from her botanical project on Bajor (his unexpended energy is being displaced into so many racketball games that Doctor Bashir’s arm is practically falling off, and you can keep that lewd thought in your head, please). Odo is starting to get all wistful over the Major. Oh yes, love – or certainly lust – is in the air. Enter Mrs Troi.

The Ambassador is here to see Odo, ostensibly to help him through the discovery that his people are the Dominion, but in reality because she has feelings for him. Unfortunately, she also has Xanthi fever, a disease that affects mature Betazoids and causes them to project their emotions onto others, overriding their true feelings.

Thus, every time Mrs Troi winces at a headache pain, the nearest person to her gets a brief jabbing pain above the eye and immediately sets off in hot pursuit of the nearest love object.

So the 16 year old Jake decides that the problem with Marta was that she was too young and gets the hots for Kira Nerys (this need not have had anything to do with Xanthi fever, especially as Nana Visitor spent most of the episode out of uniform), Bariel starts panting after Jardzia Dax (who gets to deck him with a single punch), whilst the Trill (with leopard spots going all the way down to her neckline) starts making google-eyes at a clearly embarrassed Sisko.

As for Nerys and Julian, played by a future married pair of actors, they get a mutual dose and get to snog and grope each other something rotten. No tongues, though.

Even Quark gets in on the act, flapping his ears at Keiko O’Brien, who was wearing the red dress Miles wanted her to wear and demonstrating clearly why he wanted her to wear it, though that only serves to give the game away.

Yes, the O’Briens were an interesting component of this episode. As I said, they were reunited after two months apart, for only two days before another four months separation and the reunion did not start at all as the eager Chief wanted to. Keiko was tired, and also troubled about how to break it to her hubby that the dig might be extended by another two to three months. Miles, thrown off balance by the way Keiko was nothing like as pleased to see him as he was her, didn’t know how to handle this and pretty much flew off the handle.

I could sympathize with him: I went through something similar pretty much thirty years ago, and the bafflement and heartbreak weren’t hard to empathize with. With all the lust sloshing round, the prospect of the episode’s one genuine couple going down the tubes was a necessary corrective. Eventually, O’Brien resolved it the only way you can resolve it, by putting the other one first and trusting in their love. Which is why Keiko wore the red dress, leading many of us to regret that she doesn’t do that more often.

Like I said, inconsequential. The episode is said to be based very loosely on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I can see the point of contact once it’s pointed out to me, but it’s a far looser fit than anything Happy Mondays ever sang about. Typically, it ended on a serious note that managed to be poignant. Mrs Troi’s projected amours were directed at Odo, who was unable and, giving his hidden feelings for Kira, unwilling to respond. Majel Barratt dialled it down beautifully in recognising that her feelings were not reciprocated, like those of Odo, and admitted that she would wait and hope for second best. She surprised him with a kiss, which Odo received awkwardly, but afterwards found surprisingly tender, one more moment that resonated with me.

Reset and resume next week.

Deep Space Nine e01s17: “The Foresaken”


An odd, primarily personal, and gently endearing episode, whose main point is that it features as guest star – guest? the woman practically takes over – Majel Barratt, widow of Gene Roddenberry, and the only actor to be involved with every version of Star Trek there’s been.

Barratt is, of course, recreating her role as Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, mother of Deanna, originating on Next Generation. Watching this season of Deep Space Nine now, it’s only too easy to forget that it was running contemporaneously with TNG, and that it was very much the lesser half of any double bill, both in setting and especially audience. Bringing in a TNG character was, as with Q, very much a sensible commercial move.

The set-up is that Lwaxana is part of a four-Ambassador delegation to DS9, studying the wormhole. The naive and inexperienced Doctor Bashir is assigned to escort duties, explicitly translated as keep-them-away-from-Sisko, at which he’s pretty naff as usual. Except when he’s doing his doctoring, our Julian is frankly hapless the series long.

Three of these Ambassadors are one-note A-grade complainers. Lwaxana, the fourth, is considerably more complex, as we can see from the way she keeps well clear of the other three (and Julian) all episode. No, the flamboyant, sexually-aggressive Troi has her mature sights set on Odo.

It’s an interesting, if initially stereotyped, story. Odo, who is not humanoid nor, despite his appearance, remotely humanoid in personality, taste and especially sexuality, is embarrassed by being blatantly pursued by a somewhat-aged but not unattractive woman who’s (comically) determined not to take no for an answer. I say comically, because I did detect, in Lwaxana’s OTT portrayal, a whiff of poking fun. That may be me rather than the writers, but the played for laughs aspect of this approach smacked a little more of Lwaxana as a slightly ridiculous, over-sexed fantasy than a mature determined woman dealing with her urges without fear or shame.

In order to provide a dramatic structure for the episode, a mysterious object materialises out of the wormhole. It’s not a spaceship, it has no life-forms on it and Sisko is properly cautious about what it is. But from the moment the station computers interface with it, and download its programmes to analyse, an increasing number of small things start happening.

O’Brien’s worried that the Cardassian computer has stopped talking back to him and started co-operating perfectly, but every time he takes a break, something breaks down, forcing him back to the Bridge. O’Brien theorises some kind of mechanical lifeform that’s eager for attention. It gets categorised – and treated – as a lost puppy, and the ultimate solution is to divert it into a harless sub-programme in which, without interfering with the computer’s functions, it can be involved and kept amused.

It’s an oddball idea that I did like, but which I still felt let down by. The ‘puppy’ symbolism was cute, but it didn’t disguise the fact that the probe/lifeform was completely unexplained. The writers didn’t have an idea what, or more importantly why, this lifeform was (other than the McGuffin for this episode) and never closed the gap of logic that justified the lifeform being.

The purpose of the McGuffin was to engineer a situation where Odo is trapped, in a turbo-lift, in a remote part of the station, with Lwaxana, for a very long time. Her determined perkiness/pursuit made it even longer for Odo, though the serious point was to demonstrate the sheer isolation of the Constable. We’ve seen it from the outside, but the inner aspects of it were laid out here, even down to Odo’s hair-style having been copied from the Bajoran scientist who’d studied him and, more or less, trained him to be pseudo-human.

The empathetic Lwaxana (who curiously did not use her telepathy on Odo at all in this episode) assisted us to recognise that Odo never had anything resembling a childhood, and has never been in the least socialised, but as the hour of his regeneration cycle, his liquification and potential death by dispersal approached, she became a mature, accepting and stabilising presence, removing her wig to demonstrate to the Constable that solids too embrace change, and offering her skirts as a makeshift pail to hold him.

There was a far less satisfactory conclusion to the Doctor’s sub-plot. O’Brien’s effort to decant the puppy result in systems breakdowns that trap Bashir and the three Comedy Complainers in danger from a fire, but Bashir’s calm efficiency in face of a crisis not only preserves their safety but has all three singing his praises and calling him Julian. Not that we see any of this process (very lazy writing this), it’s just presented as a fait accompli, achieved offscreen and thus completely unconvincing.

Still, like last week, an enjoyable episode, though still with obvious flaws that are the result of short-cut writing. Odo/Lwaxana was Show, the rest of it very much Tell. The difference was very apparent.