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…
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.
After the heavily intense episodes of the past few weeks, it was obvious that we’d get a lightweight story for a change of pace. There’s usually one quite early in every season of DS9. And ‘Take me out to the Holosuite’, which was all about having a game of baseball, was as lightweight as they come, despite the attempt to back it up with a psychological angle. In fact, it was so lightweight, you practically had to tie an iron onto it to keep it from floating away. I was prepared to be rather bored, but in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The set-up is that the Vulcan-manned Federation ship T’Kundra has docked at DS9 for two weeks of overhaul and upgrade. It’s commanded by Captain Solok who is a hate figure for Benjamin Sisko, and indeed he’s a right snotty superior pain-in-the-arse from the get-go, niggling all the time about not so much Vulcaan superiority as human inadequacy.
Solok’s done this since the pair were cadets and a drunk Sisko challenged him to a wrestling match and got whupped. For a supposedly emotionless Vulcan, Solok is a seriously vindictive shit, endlessly rubbing it in on Sisko, and now he’s brought a baseball holosuite game to challenge the Captain at his own personal sport. Sisko immediately orders the senior staff – which now appears to include Nog (?!) – to form a team and win.
That’s basically it, really. The team is swelled out by Rom, Leeta, Quark and Kasidy Yates. Rom is completely inept, which is a laugh because Max Grodenchik was a semi-professional baseball player and had to play left-handed to look authentically crap. Sisko throws him off the team, which causes the others to threaten a strike unless he’s reinstated. But there’s one of those little scenes that remind us, fourteen carat klutz that he may be, Rom is a truly good bloke: he only wants to be in the team on merit and he recognises he clearly hasn’t got any, so he won’t accept a false position.
Now, you’re all expecting that, on the day, the ‘Niners’ will pull off a victory all the more stunning for being so completely unexpected, and so did I. But this episode is more subtle than that. Basically, the DS9 team get thoroughly and deservedly whupped, 10-1, and Sisko gets thrown out for touching the umpire (Odo). But the episode shapes itself around that one, consolation run, which comes about through Sisko chucking Rom in as a pinch-hitter, his accidentally ‘hitting’ the perfect bunt and Nog stealing home, producing an ecstatic response from his team that carries over into Quark’s.
Solok doesn’t get it. He blames human emotionality (Ezri pipes up with ‘Did I forget to wear my spots today? He doesn’t even know what humans look like!’), suspects an artificial attempt to turn abject defeat into moral victory, but has to exit as everyone taunts him over his emotional investment in getting one over Sisko, but really they’re just celebrating having had fun, lots of fun, and that’s what makes this episode delightful, the copious amount of fun everyone’s clearly and genuinely having.
It still doesn’t turn me into a baseball enthusiast, cricket will always be a far more subtle, complex and involving game for me (and you couldn’t fake that onscreen as easily as DS9 does), but this was fun with its boots off, and I loved it.
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.
We’re already into the back half of season 6 and, whilst there were a few things about this episode that aren’t going to escape critical comment, I enjoyed this rather more than I’ve done for some weeks. ‘One Little Ship’ was something of a comedic episode, helpfully signalled to the audience in the open by having Major Kira burst into hysterical laughter over the premise, but the humour was more in the playing by Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell, as the three who shrunk, because the story was otherwise completely serious.
There was a certain amount of disguised playing to the open as well. Everybody’s off on the ‘Defiant’ doing a scientific mission as a break from the ongoing War that’s ongoing exceedingly slowly and mostly everywhere else except near Deep Space Nine. Point of criticism #1: I’m very disappointed in DS9‘s failure of nerve over the War, which they’ve started but don’t really have any commitment in pursuing, taking every opportunity they can to run away from it into a one-off story. ‘One Little Ship’ set up shop to appear to be doing that again. But it didn’t.
And there was a point when I thought that, for the first time in quite some time, we were going to have the old A-story/B-story set-up, with Dax, O’Brien and Bashir having one adventure in the Accretion Anomaly that was going to shrink them to about half a centimetre in height, and Sisko, Kira, Worf and Nog having another when the ‘Defiant’ was attacked and captured by Jem’Hadar. I was proven wrong on both points.
What happened was that, because it exited the anomaly on a different course from its entry (the anomaly being the MacGuffin, the scientific gobbledegook required to create the situation), the runabout Rubicon was stuck at 4cm long. So the tiny ship had to fly into the ‘Defiant’ and use all manner of sneakiness to zip here and there, lending a next-to-invisible hand to the Sisko-led response to the invasion.
In this, the shrunken warriors were aided by an intriguing new plot development that was never mentioned again, because nobody bothered to follow up on it. After the Jem’Hadar fleet was destroyed in the Wormhole, the Founders decided not t try to bring in any more Jem’Hadar but instead breed a new Jem’Hadar race on the spot (shades of the Mekon’s ‘New Treens’ in my favourite Dan Dare story, ‘All Treens Must Die!’).
These ‘Alpha’s are specially bred, genetically redesigned to thrive on war in the Alpha Quadrant, which has created a friction between the new, upstarts Alphas and the long-established but now overshadowed Gammas. The First is an Alpha, the Second a Gamma, and a well-respected Elder who was himself First until just two days ago. The Second has a great deal of experience, the First has practically none, and not only does he ignore the Second’s advice, he openly resents it and is even more determined to go his own way, with the arrogance of (assumed) natural superiority.
Needless to say, the Second is right at every turn, though his reward is a death that overcomes him before he is able to complete the Jem’Hadar mantra, ‘Obedience is Victory: Victory is Life’.
Point of Criticism #2: everyone agrees this Jem’Hadar division should have been taken further, but it never was. That relegation to a one-off weakens what was, ultimately, a fundamental plot-point, makes it look as if it’s a gimmick that was invented as a ‘Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free’ card, and you know how often I’ve complained of cheap, shoddy writing in the last thirty months. That it was intended as a permanent development redeems it a little, but it should still have been woven into the overall storyline.
Then again, in way way could this have been used that wasn’t basically a repetition of this episode? The answer is, I Don’t Know, but I’m sure a bank of screenwriters could have come up with something.
‘One Little Ship’ was filmed before last week’s ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ but airedafter because of the increased post-production time, adding the shrunken ‘Rubicon’ in Special Effects, which brought the episode an Emmy nomination. It may not have been of great significance overall, but I personally had a better time than I’ve had for many Deep Space Nine Tuesdays.
Only it’s not just Quark, it’s Rom and Nog, and Moogie, and ex-Liquidator Brunt, and two semi-new ones in Leck and Gaila, with one previous appearance behind them each. In short, it’s Ferengi after Ferengi after Ferengi, as far as the eye can see, and you know what that means to me. I do try to approach each new episode with an open mind, but this one has been shut so long, the hinges have rusted in place.
Basically, the Dominion capture Moogie and Grand Nagus Zek wants Quark to get her back. It was going to be Zek himself but Wallace Shawn wasn’t available. In compensation for that, we do have Iggy Pop playing the part of the Vorta Yelgrun, and stealing the show with his crooked grin and the unavoidable aura of dementia underlining the character’s physical stillness. He was brilliant, the test of it was crap.
It’s difficult to watch a ‘comedy’ episode when you don’t find the characters funny at all. Basically, Quark assembles a team of Ferengi to rescue Moogie. They’re useless at the rough stuff, so instead Quark negotiates a prisoner-trade for the Vorta Keevan (see s06 e02), to take place on Empok Nor, the lop-sided DS9 look-alike station (the name of which is curiously never mentioned in the episode).
They do a deal over the handover, which is jeopardised when Rom accidentally reveals that Quark is cheating everybody else, claiming Zek’s reward to be twenty bars of latinum when it’s really fifty. In the resulting uproar, Gaila tries to shoot Quark but kills Keevan. However, Nog manages to Frankenstein him long enough for the trade to take place, the two Jem’Hadar guards to be killed and Yelgrun taken prisoner.
And for Quark and Rom to feel good about themselves, since it is now obligatory for any episode in which Quark appears in any degree of substance for him to behave in a more un-Ferengi-like manner, to show he has depths. I won’t comment further.
No, sorry to anyone who loved this, or loves Quark, for me it was just a waste of bloody time, amplified by such things as padding out the exposition by having Quark and Rom crawling along ducts, or engaging in endless running down corridors on Empok Nor, presumably to keep the episode from running short. This was the worst episode since the last Quark-centric one and it’ll be the worst episode until the next Quark-centric one, and can I go now, please?
So the six-part (seven, if you count the final episode of season 5) Dominion War arc concluded with a two-parter of its own, and with the expected victory for the Federation in the re-taking of Deep Space Nine. This was originally intended to take a single episode, but the sheer profusion of events requiring to be covered forced its expansion, and the sheer volume of guest stars to accommodate.
Both parts were excellent, but I’m not sure if the first part, ‘Favors the Bold’, wasn’t the better of the two. Though the double-episode structure meant that it was all build-up and no resolution, after the relatively innocuous open (the Defiant acting as a decoy to attract Jem’Hadar ships to be destroyed by it and the Rotaran), the episode started on the edge, and remained on the edge throughout.
The Federation are losing the War, and morale is falling at the constantly defensive stance. The Federation needs to go on the attack and Sisko has drawn up a plan: the retaking of DS9, and regaining control of the Wormhole.
Meanwhile, on DS9, Rom is still in the cells. He’s been declared a terrorist against the Dominion and there is only one sentence: execution. Kira can’t get Weyoun to change his mind, Ziya can’t get her father, Gul Dukat, to change his mind either. Leeta and Quark are trying to encourage Rom: Quark promises he will get him out, and that’s before Leeta agrees to run the dabo wheel for two years for free.
But Rom is adamant that he is unimportant. He should not be rescued. The anti-graviton beam must be sabotaged before it can neutralise the minefield on the Wormhole. Billions of lives depend on the War. Quark must take over from him. Though Quark refuses, it’s only because he’s afraid. He’s not being Quark, not being Ferengi, he’s taking everything seriously and it’s strange but I like him better here than I ever have before.
Meanwhile, Odo has been closeted with the Female Changeling for three days, not that he’s been aware of time. They’ve been communing, both via the Great Link – which is slowly beginning to addict Odo – and the way solids do (wipes mind of image thus produced). In every way except actively, he’s gone over to the other side. Kira can’t even get in to see him.
Next, Demar, still knocking back the booze like it’s going out of fashion, lets on to Quark that the mines will be swept within the week, Quark gets this out to Sisko via Morn, and the Federation attack has to go ahead without delay: without half the planned fleets, and without the Klingons. Oh, and with Ensign Nog, who gets a promotion from Cadet!
I hadn’t immediately realised this was going to be a two-parter, though as we got into the last five minutes or so, this became obvious. The Fleet is on its way. Sisko’s back in the Captain’s chair on the Defiant. O’Brien and Bashir are trading lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, much to Nog’s consternation, and the Dominion fleet comes up ahead: 1254 ships, outnumbering the Federation more than two to one. Let battle commence.
The title of the second episode filled me with foreboding from the outset, a foreboding that was realised, though strictly speaking it related to a different kind of sacrifice.
With the Fleet now engaged in battle, the Cardassian/Dominion War counsel, Dukat, Demar, Weyoun and the Female Changeling, takes the entirely sensible decision to arrest the Resistance: Kira, Jake and Leeta are hauled in for questioning, but once Dukat has achieved the victory he’s so delightedly anticipating, everyone’s going to be for the chop.
Sisko’s battle plan is to concentrate fire on the Cardassian ships, hoping to provoke them into the kid of direct response that will break the formation, leaving a hole the Defiant et al can punch through. Dukat recognises this and orders the necessary ships to break, intending to create a trap: Bashir recognises the tactic. But it’s all they’ve got, they’ve got to go for it.
With the aid of a timely arrival of a Klingon fleet under Martok and Worf, the Defiant breaks through, alone, and barrels towards DS9. But the time until when the mines will be eradicated is getting tight. Quark and Zyal break the Resistance out of the cells. Odo puts the agonising appeal of the Link aside to ensure Kira is not killed. She and Rom feverishly work at dsabling the station’s weapons array and succeed. There’s only a second in it. But it’s not the cliche second that saves the day. It’s a second late. The mines are cleared, a Dominion fleet of 2800 ships starts through the Wormhole and Sisko, knowing it’s suicide for everyone but having no other alternatives, takes the Defiant into the Wormhole to face them. Alone.
And here is the ending that, for many people, was a letdown, and in a way it was, because all deus ex machina endings are, by definition, a cheat upon drama, but this ending was integral to the entire Deep Space Nine arc. Because Sisko is the Emissary. And the Emissary was taken to the place of the Prophets, against his will, and there told that he is not allowed to die, not allowed to end the game. He rants and raves, demands to be returned, challenges the Prophets that, if they are Gods, they owe a duty to their children. We’re a long way from the Emissary’s complete scepticism and discomfort at his role.
And the Prophets return him, and they use their powers to sweep away, without trace, the entire Dominion Fleet. Deus ex machina, and with real deus’s who exist within the overarching storyline. You can see why people thought it weak, thought it a cheat. Is it a cheat to build just the very thing into your five-years-long-so-far story? I don’t have an answer to that. But I didn’t feel cheated on an emotional level.
But there will be a price for intervention. Sisko, who has declared his intention of building a home on Bajor, will not know peace. And before then, there will be another sacrifice.
When the Defiant emerges from the Wormhole alone there is a general consternation on DS9 and an immediate decision to head for the lifeboats, Female Changelings first. Dukat can’t believe it. They’d won. They’d won. How could this have happened?
It’s everybody out, but Dukat won’t leave without Ziyal. He’s already half-crazed, which is worsened when she refuses to leave with him. Here is her home. she is not a true Cardassian. Though she loved him, she has acted against him, freeing Kira and the rest. And Demar, who has heard all this, draws his gun and cuts her down. Dukat goes over the edge.
So Sisko and co return to DS9, to a hero’s welcome. Everyone’s there to meet them, except Kira, who’s in the infirmary with Ziya. When he hears this, Garak heads straight there. Kira informs him that Ziya loved him. Garak’s response is deeply sad: he says that he knew, but he could never understand why. Now, he never will.
Dukat is still in DS9, collapsed into madness. He is sobbing his forgiveness of Ziya, of others. He returns Sisko’s baseball, tells him he forgives him too. It is a sober moment in the middle of victory.
To be honest, I am already wondering about what happens next. I know the subject of the next episode, but it is what the series does from episode eight onwards that concerns me. The Dominion have not been defeated. They have not given up their war or their plan. The Wormhole is still there: are the Prophets going to wipe out every Dominion ship that tries to go through it?
I really hope we don’t go back to the kind of individual stories that have dominated earlier series. Things have changed irreversibly and that would be a total letdown.
However, it’s a case of waiting for future episodes to come round on schedule. I will wait and see.
At the end of season 5, my researches turned up some interesting details about the crosssover to season 6, when the Dominion War would start to play out in earnest. Firstly, there was the show’s resistance to having cliffhanger endings to seasons, born of their desire to have a free hand at the start of next season to take whatever direction they thought best suited, as opposed to being tied down to respond to a specific set-up.
And the second was a particular example of that, being the closing shot of season 5. The Defiant, retreating from Terek Nor, as it has once again become, joins a Federation/Klingon fleet and swings round to lead it. This little present from the Special Effects team was not what was wanted: it implies an immediate retaliatory attack, which was not what had been intended and thus further dictated how season 6 was going to have to play out.
So here we are. Technically, ‘A Time to Stand’ is the first part of a multi-episode story, originally intended to cover four episodes but eventually running out at six. I normally treat two-parters and even three-parters as a single story for this blog’s purposes, but I’m not going to watch and write about six in one go. In any event, the impression I have, on which I stand to be corrected, is that this is not a cohesive single story, but rather the onset of a serialised format, at least temporarily.
This change caused no little consternation on Deep Space Nine about whether or not this was a step too far, even though serialisation was always implicit in a format built around a stationary setting. I shall have to pay careful attention to this extended storyline as it unfolds, and even more to what follows it.
Three months have passed and the Federation is losing the Dominion War, even without the availability of reinforcements via the still-mined Wormhole. Tensions are rising between Dukat and Weyoun over who, exactly is in charge. The gang’s still split up: Kira, Odo, Quark and Jake, the latter of whom’s press reports are being suppressed due to anti-Dominion bias, are still on the station, Worf with General Martok and an increasingly exhausted Sisko, Dax, O’Brien and Bashir on the Defiant, supplemented by Garak and Nog.
Worf turns up briefly, to argue with Jardzia about their forthcoming wedding ceremony and take her off for a shag, but the rest of the episode beats back and forth between the two main groups. Quark’s in profit, and rather more reconciled to the occupation, in part because it’s considerably more humane than under the Cardassians, although that won’t last if Dukat gets the upper hand on Weyoun. Kira and Odo are working in concert. Dukat makes plain his ongoing interest in her lilywhite body, and she her ongoing preference to make it with leprous swine in preference (not that she uses such words…)
At Kira’s prompting, Odo exploits his god-like status with Weyoun to get his Bajoran security team reinstated and re-armed, at the cost of agreeing to join the station ruling Council alongside the Vorta and the Cardassian. It’s a move that worries Kira, making it feel like a defeat.
Meanwhile, Sisko and crew are ordered to Starbase 375 where Admiral Ross (a first appearance by new recurring guest Barry Jenner) relieves him of command of the Defiant. Fear not: Sisko and Co are heading deep into Cardassian/Dominion territory, in the refurbished Jem’Hadar ship captured in season 5, to destroy the asteroid where all the supplies of Ketracell White are kept, crippling the Jem’Hadar threat.
And the mission is a success, but not without a cost: the asteroid suspects something, refuses to lower its security shield. The ship escapes at the last second, thanks to precise in-his-head calculations from Doctor Bashir, whose revealed status as a genetically-enhanced being is being played up all of a sudden. But it is badly damaged. It’s Warp Drive is fried. And under normal power, the journey back to a Federation base is going to take seventeen years, two months and three days (give or take an hour: thank you, Julian).
All of this is very Voyager, albeit over a projected timescale less than a quarter of the length of the franchise’s other extant series, but as we already know, this arc covers six episodes not seven seasons, so the wait will not be indefinite.
Judged in isolation, this is very much a set-up episode, with only the relatively minor resolution of the accomplished mission to point to, and even the implications of that will have weeks to play out. So let’s not judge it yet: there are still five parts to go. The last year starts here.
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.
Though I don’t remember anything at all of these few episodes I originally watched almost twenty years ago, this episode epitomises why I was so enthusiastic about Deep Space Nine when I had been basically ambivalent about what came before it. It’s an excellent drama, taut, tense, character-driven, and containing that indefinable sense of danger, as it at any moment it’s going to take a step that it can’t go back from. And though it’s ending does, as usual, reassert the status quo, it’s done in a manner that satisfies, and which arises directly from the nature of the protagonists.
In that respect, the episode was subliminally aided by its immediate predecessor, in which recurring character Michael Eddington was killed off, informing us that other recurring characters might not be entirely sacrosanct.
‘Empok Nor’ was essentially a Chief O’Brien solo, especially as no other member of the cast appeared outside the open or the close. Part of DS9 is breaking down and can neither be repaired nor replaced except by salvaging the equivalent equipment from its abandoned sister station, Empok Nor. O’Brien leads a team of two engineers, two security officers and Nog, fast becoming a very useful cadet. However, as Cardassian practice is to booby-trap abandoned stations, O’Brien also takes Garak, as a specialist booby-trap defuser.
There’s an interesting bit of foreshadowing needle on the way. Garak keeps prodding O’Brien over his war record, the hero of Settlik III, despite the ample evidence that O’Brien takes no pride in what he did, that he regards it as an act of war, necessary but not to be celebrated, and that it is part of his past: he is an Engineer, not a soldier. Garak at this point is just trying to get under O’Brien’s skin, and O’Brien is not letting him, truly.
Things change once the party arrives at Empok Nor. Garak defuses the booby-traps, allowing everyone to get on with the salvage, but there’s an unexpected line of defence: two fanatical Cardassian soldiers, released from stasis. They detach and blow up the runabout, leaving the Federation party stranded, and begin stalking them.
What’s worse is that they are under the influence of a psychotropic drug enhancing their xenophobia. Before we learn this, we see Garak accidentally put his hand on some seemingly innocuous blue slime that appears too merely be evidence of Empok Nor’s decaying state (the station, a duplicate of DS9, or Terek Nor as it was, hangs symbolically at an angle in space).
The Cardassian soldiers kill two of the crew. Garak goes off to hunt them, killing each in turn. He’s getting increasingly into it, in fact he’s contaminated by the drug, as is evidenced when he kills the last remaining security officer himself. And it takes all his restraint to keep himself from killing Nog, who he needs to lure O’Brien into a trap.
Because that’s what Garak wants. An opponent he regards as worthy of him, an opponent he wants to see as as much a killer as himself, and to break O’Brien down to his level. In order to protect the last remaining crew member under his charge, O’Brien has to enter into personal combat with Garak, combat he’s going to lose.
But, and I’m not criticizing the episode for this because it was the only possible and character-faithful outcome, O’Brien beats Garak by being what he is: an Engineer. An impromptu trap, an impromptu bomb. It was the perfect response to the set-up, and the perfect ending to an episode that, rather than be an old-style ‘Let’s all dump on Miles’, instead showed the Chief in all his settled qualities.
Garak survives, the drug neutralised, a couple of ribs broken, severely chastened. O’Brien will testify, at the autopsy, that Garak was not in control of himself. The final line, delivered with a lack of emotional energy that was ideally suited to the downbeat close, had Garak musing that had he been any closer to the explosion, it would have killed him, and O’Brien’s almost shy rejoinder that that was actually the intention.
A sober note on which to close another very strong episode. Only two more left in a very good series, and them I’m back in unknown territory again. Seasons 6 and 7 are already ready, locked and loaded. Another year of this…