Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #4

Back once again, rolling this DVD all over town with the freedoms, this is yet another installment in our continuing, comprehensive review of every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Thankfully, and just in time bolster my enthusiasm, this quartet of episodes, while still not objectively "good," are a good deal better than last weeks, because we have actors actually rising above the material (in most respects) and actually managing to be good even if the plot is ropey, hackneyed, or ropey and hackneyed. And even more encouraging, it's uphill from here.

So let's get started!


"I've discovered we can't afford to die here. Not even once."
[Because nothing is more detrimental to living than dying in any circumstance, right?]

You know, travelling by transporter seems pretty dangerous, what with the dicing you up into your component atoms and reassembling you and hoping they put you together in the right order and all that shit, but far more dangerous than that, apparently, is traveling by shuttlecraft.

Because their fail rate high as fuck. Through this course of this and many other series, shuttles crash and burn at a such a high rate one wonders how they made it past safety inspection in the first place. Anytime it's necessary to whip up some instant drama, either people get locked in a room or crash.

I bring this up because the plot of this episodes is: Our Heroes take Space Pope through the wormhole, crash the shuttle and kill her. Fortunately, they've landed on the Planet Of The Laboured "War is Pointless" Metaphor, which means like the Human Torch, we're sad for like ten minutes and we're on to the next thing.

The next thing is they have landed on a penal colony, wherein two warring factions, the Enos and the Not-Enos, who are dedicated to killing the fuck out of each other. And wouldn't you know it, in a rather unlikely twist, they're on a planet that keeps them alive so they can kill each other dozens and dozens of times and really ram home the whole futility of war thing just in case we missed it the first few dozen times they troweled it on. Oh, and if you die on the planet, like Space Pope did, you come back to life . . .only you can never leave the planet.

Space Pope takes this all in stride, asserting that the Prophets brought her there to make peace between the Enos and the Not-Enos and generally, it's all typically touchy-feely typical Star Trek bullshit and while it's nothing new, it's played rather sincerely and getting Space Pope off the board allows for some more interesting plot points later on as regards to the Bajoran religion. So while the episode feels very familiar, it's not bad as much as it's sort of "there" and leads indirectly to better stories later.


"I'm still charging her for that drink."

Or, the beginning of the Bashir/O'Brien buddy cop dynamic, and a few rather dodgy bits of plotting make this an episode one could happily sleep through and miss very little.

Bashir and O'Brien haul ass to Bajor to follow up some mysterious "medical emergency," which turns out to be the approaching death of Distinguished Old Wizard-Type Guy, who is the only person who can defeat a monster that looks either like an angry cloud or some real poor-ass CGI and he defeats them with the power of story time and rainbows.

I wish I were making that up.

Anyways, DOWTG dies and passes his task on to O'Brien, who then spends many minutes wandering around in his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and turning down the village's gift of sexy womens. This is all supposed to be funny, but it's steadily making me wonder if I haven't given debilitating alcoholism a fair chance as a lifestyle choice.

Anyways, we come to find out that the whole thing is a big con--the poor-ass CGI blob is actually the externalisation of the negative emotions of the villagers and the storytime ritual was intended to bring them together as one. Frankly, this should have been the point of the episode, I thought: "Oh shit, our whole religion was a god damned lie and intentionally constructed as such!"

But here's why it fails--indeed, here's why nearly EVERY story about religion in SF ultimately fails: Because no one wants to offend anyone. And so: direct allusions are obfuscated, pointed questions blunted, and critical examination cast aside, and you get feel-good stuff like "Oh, God did it, and that's OK, and really if you just believe, everything will work out fine." Which is OK if you're watching Touched By An Angel, but if you're going to summon up a big critique of religion and shrink from going all the way in the clinch, why bother?

Anyways, in the B-Plot, Sisko arbitrates between two warring Bajoran factions, one of whom is headed by a 15-year-old girl and this leads neatly into our C-Plot, wherein she, Jake and Nog make mischief, Nog inspires her to compromise with the other faction and everything ends with wonder and whimsy and Nog gets a kiss. How sweet.

The good thing about O'Brien episodes is that even if they're terrible and nonsensical, they're gonna be on some level of quality because Colm Meany is such a good actor, and really it's only that that really saves the episode, because the Bashir/O'Brien dynamic isn't quite in place yet, because the writers still seem committed to writing Bashir as the most obnoxious asshole possible in lieu of actually giving him a functioning character. So really, the whole thing is carried by O'Brien, and good thing, because the rest of it is pretty damn slight.


"It's not 'dirt.' It's 'land.' Land is good."

When I saw this episode as a kid, I remembered hating it, and when I contemplated writing about it again and revisiting it, I wasn't too enthused.

Imagine my surprise when I revisited it and found it to be one of the best episodes of this season, even if its main plot barely hangs together.

The main plot is this: Bajor is about to do a planet-wide power tap on one of their moons, which will hopefully set Bajor on the path to energy independence, and will also flood the planet with toxic gases and make in uninhabitable. It's not pleasant, but the price of progress.

Unfortunately, three of the inhabitants of the moon refuse to leave. None of them are named Arthur Dent, surprisingly enough. In the name of getting on with it (because like bypasses you have to build power plants that fuck up entire planetary bodies) they send Kira down to persuade the main hold-out, Mullibok (played by Dave fucking Blassingame himself, Brian Keith) who then proceeds to ignore her entreaties to leave.

Kira responds by basically going native, and we're really not given a clear reason why she would jeopardise her career and screw everything up from the episode itself. Looked at in the larger context of the series, it's easy to see why: Kira has some serious daddy issues. Over and over, and in various ways throughout the series, she is looking for surrogate fathers. Hell, even her boyfriends have a significant power advantage over her and treat her in a kind of paternalistic way. I'm not making a judgment on this--I'm just saying that's how the character is consistently written. Hanging out with Mullibok is the first time that element comes up.

However, there's a pretty good wrinkle in the denouement of this story: Mullibok will not leave the house. If he leaves, he'll die, he says, and so as long as his house is standing, he will not leave.

So Kira burns his fucking house down. She doesn't talk about it, she doesn't soliloquize it, she just efficiently commits arson and leaves him no choice about going. It's a really powerful and ambiguous ending and doesn't leave you with neat pat answers.

Not least of which, one imagines, is because not much of the "how" and "why" of the plot is made explicit. But it somehow works, not least of which because Kira is actually given more to do than bicker and be a utter bitch to everyone, and that shading (and the actress' performance) really pulls you along and you're given a lot to read into how and why she does things. Is she ambivalent about the idea that Bajor has to do this kind of stuff if it wants to recover? Does she like the idea of forcibly relocating people which the people she was fighting against did as a matter of course? It's possible. Is it just the daddy issues? It's more than likely.

There's a lot to unpack in this episode and it's well worth watching--it plays a hell of a lot better than I remembered. I should also mention that the B-Plot is yet more Jake/Nog shenanigans, but this is actually a good bit that leavens the angst and is amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny.

So--this is a real dark-horse of an episode, but well worth your time.


"You're still disgusting."

"'Till the day I die."

One of the growing pains all series have is that inevitable first season episode where people decide to take some crazy-ass chance that ultimately doesn't really work out. Star Trek series of this era are notorious for it--so eager to break a formula (before one has even gotten properly established) that they will just run one wacky-ass episode, look at the ultimately disappointing results, and shrug and say "well, we tried."

In this exciting episode, a group of aliens from a Whatever Universe wish themselves into existence because, like Starfleet, they are explorers looking to understand the concept of lo--er, imagination, and so they adopt the likeness of various character's imaginations. This leads to some artificial jeopardy when the crew inadvertently wishes a station-wrecking anomaly into existence, but then they figure out they have to wish it away and everything's fine.

This episode is pretty naive and silly, little more than annoying fluff. Thankfully, it is saved by two things. One, one of the imagin-aliens is played by the same guy who was the Dancing Dwarf from Twin Peaks:

And another is played by Mr. Wu from Deadwood:

And frankly, the episode improves immeasurably if you transpose those characters upon the episode, which is, in itself, a testament to the power of imagination, I think.

And that's it for this time, I think. Join us next time when we draw a line under season 1. Troi's mother visits the station (for some god damned reason) and gets all horny for Odo in "The Forsaken" (a not inappropriate name); the crew goes nuts and tries to kill each other in "Dramatis Personae;" We get one of the greatest DS9 episodes ever with "Duet;" and the season ends on a high note with "In The Hands of the Prophets." Enjoy like Italian. And Scientist.

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