Friday, January 7, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #1

Now that all the set-up is out of the way, let's get down to bidness!


"If all you say is true . . .then why do you exist here?"

Before we begin, a brief history of Star Trek premieres. "Encounter At Farpoint" introduced us to the Next Generation cast and taught us a valuable lesson about not turning space jellyfish into shopping malls in the most excruciatingly pompous way possible. "Caretaker" taught us that leaving two crews stranded in the Delta Quadrant because the words "timed detonation" or "remote detonation" never occurred to you is a good way to engender 7 years of "women driver" jokes. "Broken Bow" taught us that if a Klingon lands on Earth by accident, Sam Beckett will drag him home and be really goddamn bratty about it.

Of the quartet of premieres, "Emissary" works the best, even after you figure out that it's a very small-scale large-scale premiere. Oh sure, we get a cool intro with the Battle of Wolf 359 (all three ships! Man, CGI has spoiled us for this kinda shit now) but generally the show efficiently concerns itself with setting up the premise in the first hour and then getting Sisko in the damn wormhole for the "meat" of the story.

To cut a lot of time off it, Sisko, fresh off having his wife killed by Picard back when he was Borged up the ass, is reassigned to Deep Space Nine, as former Caradassian space station/work camp (I have recently begun to wonder just how well this notion would work in real life--isn't it a bit like turning Dachau into a theme park? Don't answer that, please) The station was trashed by the Cardassians, who took "pulling out of the sector" to mean something not dissimilar to "moving out of your dorm for the summer" and trashed the damn place on the way out. Federation tech and Cardassian tech don't work well together. For an alien several centuries in the future, Kira has the same early 90's bob every girl I tried to mack on back the day had. The Bajorans don't even really seem to want the Federation there and are in constant danger of splitting into warring factions. Sisko walks around looking irritated, as if he's wondering who he pissed off to pull this detail, and who could blame him?

Sisko even gives Picard some attitude (hey, what better way to kick off a premiere than a little good old-fashioned rub from the parent show?) because, hey, the guy killed his wife, meaning we get the patented "I will hiss every line of dialogue through gritted teeth because I am mere seconds from throwing you through the fucking wall" that Avery Brooks does so well. Picard tries to give it right back and it's a rather good scene, full of tension, but perhaps because I'm an innately mischievous sort, because I can think of is how would this scene be if Patrick Stewart was doing it as Director Bullock from American Dad.

But Sisko, even though he explicitly says he doesn't want to be here, is determined to make the best of it. He uses leverage to keep Quark on the station as a way to keep the place from becoming a ghost town. The extras on the DVD set talk about how they initially envisioned DS9 as being structured like a western town and how the saloon, the doctor's office, and the sheriff's are all on the same "street." I can't help but be reminded of Deadwood in that every element of the community has its place and they're all interdependent. Man, maybe I should do Deadwood as a series next, eh?

Anyways, we move ever closer to the meat of the plot when Sisko visits Kai Opaka, the Bajoran pope (more or less) who tells him obliquely about her gods (The Prophets) spells out the thrust of this episode: "One who does not wish to be among us is to be the Emissary." Sisko gets shown an Orb, which has weird powers of time and space (read: plot-convenient flashbacks) and Sisko is returned to the day when he first met his wife and I begin to wonder why in the hell in the future we've managed to cure disease, unite and voyage to the stars and we will apparently dress like fucking clowns. I say all this to avoid talking about the scene which plays with all the naturalism that might come from David Lynch making a Frankie and Annete beach-party movie.

Anyways, Sisko has his marching orders--Find the Celestial Temple, warn the Prophets about the Cardassians, and catch Carmen Sandiego.

Oh, and Dax and Bashir show up. Bashir obligingly acts like a horny, awkward, jackass with all his talk about "frontier medicine" (and mightily pisses off Kira in the process, which leads to her shutting him down in an awesome scene) and we get a bunch of exposition about Dax being an old man, and really, I'm not at all sure I get how this is supposed to work or how it came about in the first place. This culminates with an orb-assisted flashback to when Dax got her slug. I'm not quite sure why all this was needed as THEY JUST FUCKING TOLD US THIS FIVE MINUTES AGO, but this kind of awkward over-exposition happens in every pilot, really.

No sooner do we get done with that than it's time to meet DS9's arch-nemesis, our first member of the recurring cast, and the most well fleshed out Star Trek villain ever (until he wasn't)--Gul Dukat. Dukat was the Cardassian prefect of Bajor for the final years of the Occupation, or, if you like, Space Himmler. Unlike pretty much ever other Cardassian we see in this episode, he underplays their innate dickishness with surface affability and quiet menace.

This lights a bit of a fire under the gang as, following an end-run around the Cardassians, we discover the Celestial Temple--and artificially constructed wormhole, wherein dwell the Prophets, who aren't gods so much as they are highly-evolved aliens with no conception of linear time. Dax gets sent behind to figure into the B plot, and Sisko is kept to answer for being a representative of a malevolent race with all this talk of "linear time" and assorted other crazy shit.,

While this may all seem rather familiar, this is a good bit of scenes because all of Sisko's patented Federation-y "no, no we're all friends, we seek the unknown, because the unknown defines our existence and all that shit" doesn't actually work, because he keeps coming back to the moment where he saw his wife die and was forced to leave her behind. At first he doesn't understand what they're on about until they finally say "Hey, what the hell do you mean "linear time," asshole? You've been stuck at this point in your life for three goddamn years." Confronted with that, Sisko ultimately learns to let go. It's a bit like Star Trek II--Kirk hates the idea of growing old and being removed from the moment in his life he felt the most vital, and it's only with what he experiences in that movie, that he can set the past aside and commit to the possibilities of the future. This is actually the main driver of the story and frankly, it works like gangbusters.

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, the station gets moved from Bajor to the mouth of the wormhole (yeah, eew.) thanks to the timely application of some technobabble and the Cardassians get all rowdy and there's a big fight on the station, which, because this isn't season 4, gets the shit kicked out of it. Ultimately, everything ends up OK, the wormhole re-opens and DS9 now becomes a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and . . .oh hang on, that's the other space station.

For all I nitpick and criticise, "Emissary" is an excellent intro to DS9, primarily because we're very quickly dropped into the situation, we learn what the stakes are, and we see how everything changes. For me, it works a hell of a lot better than Babylon 5's pilot movie did (look, I liked Babylon 5 a lot, but that pilot movie was feeble. The first episode of the regular series does a much better job giving you an idea of what it's all about) because it's about something--in the midst of all this setting up, this is a story about Sisko letting go of the thing that pissed him off and holds him back, and as it's a realistic, human emotion (something Star Trek struggles mightily with) we can identify with, and so we actually, y'know, give a shit. That this is accomplished successfully leavens the stuff that doesn't work so well (the eye-rollingly obvious exposition, the idea that "everyone arguing all the time=dark.") and puts us in a place where, it is hoped, we're interested in what is to come.


"Go over my head again, and I'll have yours on a platter."

In which we are introduced to our next and much-beloved member of the recurring cast--Garak. Garak is the sole Cardassian left of the station and makes his living as a tailor (mind you, this means for some reason he dresses like Dennis the Menace and a desert lizard) and he plays his initial outing with the subtle, reserved, homosexual subtext of Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served. Bashir, being a member of the enlightened Federation culture that accepts infinite diversity in in infinite combinations, acts all squicked out that reptile-dude made a pass at him, but plays it off as being freaked out Garak was probably left behind as a spy. Yeah Doc, that's what was bothering you.

Oh, and one of Kira's old terrorist buddies--a Tahna Los-- is there to blow up the wormhole to get the Federation out of Bajor. The Duras sisters show up to give the show a bit of Next Generation Klingon-style rub and also show off their Valkyrie cleavage.

Obviously we're still working out the kinks on the show, as Tahna Los plans does not make one god damned bit of sense. Ok, let me walk you through this: the wormhole is the home of the Prophets, who are the foundation of Bajoran religion. Bajoran religion is stated, implicitly and later explicitly the one thing that allowed the race to survive the Cardassian occupation, and no one in the episode says "Hold on Tahna, this shit is fucking crazy--you can't go around killing God to make a political point."

Mind you, that may have been implicit or subtextual or whatever--frequently people who do things in the name of religion aren't really doing things in the spirit of that religion. It just would have been nice to make that plain, as this is kind of one of the lynchpin of the series mythology. It's only brought up at all in the sense that it's bad for Bajor. For all the times that Kira and Sisko bicker during this episode (which is all they seem to do for a lot of the first season) you'd think this might have come up.

Not to say the episode doesn't have ideas--Kira argues that they can't be freedom fighters and think in terms of just insurgency: Bajor has to build themselves back up from where they are; Tahna fought for complete independence, doesn't want the Federation's help and views anything less than that as selling out. Again, as this is one of the central tenets of the concept, it's worth exploring, which makes you wonder why they left out the other thing.

We also get our first glimpse into the mind of Odo--he's an effective sheriff, no question, but he has some pretty damn fascistic ideas about law enforcement--he wants to throw the Klingon sisters in jail because they're obviously trouble--even though they haven't done anything yet.

Mind you, he turns out to be right--the Duras sisters and Tahna have arranged a little deal for the material for a bomb that will make the wormhole a'splode real good and Garak gets tied up in this as well--the Duras sisters plan to double-cross Tahna and sell him out to the Cardassians. Garak, for his part, feeds this information (as obliquely and as impenetrably as possible) to Bashir.

Anyways, this all leads to a final showdown on the runabout between Tahna and Kira, and Kira makes her choice. The thing I like here is that the episode doesn't flinch from the consequences of what she does--she makes her choice and Tahna's response--to sneer "Traitor," at her, it left to hang in the air un-answered and un-equivocated.

On the whole, the episode, though it's muddled and doesn't address the questions it really should, isn't bad. We get Kira's essential conflict in Kira's character foregrounded and she's forced to confront being a terrorist in the past and possibly being a collaborator with another imperial power and she has to make a choice, she struggles with it, and frankly, that part works. We also get our first taste of the Kira/Odo relationship, which has good chemistry from the start. The ancillary stuff--Garak, the Duras sisters--doesn't work as well, but the episode is still worthwhile and points the way forward for other, better episodes about this in the future.


"In an hour, you'll regret what you tried to do here."

Or, Episode 3: Attack of the Clones. Odo gets framed for the murder of an old antagonist--Ibudan, and oh my Christ is it the most convoluted way of framing someone imaginable. Meanwhile, Bashir tries and fails to get into Dax's jumpsuit, which he fails to do because he's still a bit of a callow lunkhead in this season. Meanwhile, in the B-plot, O'Brien's wife acts all bitchy, as she always does when the writers don't really have a role for her and decides to open up a school, because the requirements for teaching and the requirements for botany are exactly the same.

I have a lot of problems with this episode. For one, it's a casualty of a cliche that grips a lot of episodes this season--it's ridiculously easy to stir up the Bajorans on the station, as within about ten minutes they're ready to run Odo off with torches and Frankenstein rakes. Two, the plot of this is utterly goddamned ridiculous, as Ibudan clones himself, murders his clone to frame Odo, and . . .ghuhhh, the whole thing falls apart the more I think about it. Three, the school thing is just . . .tedious, and while it gives O'Brien's wife something to do, it matters very little as she disappears from the series until the end of this season and then of course, the school actually works as the basis for the episode. Who knew? Fourth, the Jake and Nog stuff (he's a whiny Earth brat! He's a groveling Ferengi! Stay tuned for wacky adventures from these l'il rascals!) is more than a little grating and we're some years away from either of them being given something more interesting to do.

That said, the episode does have a few things to recommend it. We get more of Odo's theories on law enforcement which are less Oliver Wendell Holmes and more Jack Bauer, which becomes important later. Two, we get a good scene in the middle of the episode with Quark and Odo which plays up their adversarial/co-dependent relationship when Quark makes Odo feel better about the whole angry mob trashing his office in the most unusual way possible. Three: Bashir, for all his character suffers otherwise, Bashir is actually allowed to be a competent doctor. The thing about early DS9 episodes is that you constantly see all the things the show will eventually do very well that are struggling to come out of episodes that are trying too hard to be "Next Generation-esque" (That is: Technobabble--the cause of and solution to all our problems!) or veering in the other direction and being too weird and obtuse to be properly realised in an effort for the show to display how "edgy" it is.

That's all for this go-round. Join us next time when we Take the next four episodes, and they frankly ain't too bad. "Babel," "Captive Pursuit," "Q-Less," and "Dax." Incoherent blatherskite, our first alien from the other side of the wormhole, omnipotent beings getting slugged in the face, and a trial episode already. Are you excited? I'm excited.

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