Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #5

Well, I decided to jump the gun and draw a line under the first season so we could have a clean slate for next month. For those of you who came in late--in what must be a test of will, endurance, or my own pig-headed obstinacy, I'm recapping every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We're on the final four episodes of the first season and the show's starting to flesh out and get a little more adventurous and ambitious. Let it roll!


"It looks ordinary. And I've never cared to be ordinary"

Fuck me, this episode is a bit of a mess isn't it? Three plots, all of them rather daft, another character from Next Generation with no connection to the regular cast , painful comedy and stupid technobabble. And yet, in one respect, it just about works due to one scene.

But first, let's has out the particulars. In the A plot, the computer turns into a puppy, puts station in jeopardy, O'Brien looks pissed off, lots of dog jokes are made. It's pretty standard stuff, and by "standard" I mean "grating and dull, existing only to spur artificial jeopardy in our B and C plots."

In plot B, Bashir has to escort a trio of cartoonish ambassadors who have one character trait shared between the three of them ("assholish") because Sisko felt like busting his balls. Bashir ultimately manages to make himself look better in their eyes after the previous 42 minutes of them just grinding him in the dirt. As we've given no real reason to care about Bashir, it hardly matters that he does well or not.

And in plot C, Troi's mom from Next Generation comes to the station and acts like her usual sex-clownish self. In that the character works on Next Generation at all, it's because Troi is such a blank, her mom being comical works due to the contrast between the characters. As we have no connection here, they have to tag her with a main character on the show.

So she gets all horny for Odo, who rebukes her as politely as possible, because really now. Then they get stuck in an elevator and we have tons of scenes where they bicker and Odo frets because he needs to go sleep in his bucket and then . . .and then . . .

. . .and then the god damned episode actually works in the last act. We get a good bit where Odo has to let down his guard and lets Mrs. Troi look after him because he sees that he's not the only one who has to change himself to get on. It's a great scene and it works terrifically despite all it has going against it, and god damn you wish it was in a better episode.



Look, let's get this clear--as goofy and silly as this episode is, it's fucking awesome. Essentially, everyone gets roped into playing out an ancient power struggle because someone forgot Rule 1 of Space Travel: Don't ever touch a telepathic archive without washing your hands immediately afterwards, you'll end up possessed by it and acting in broad, hammy ways. This whole episode is a glorious parade of scenery-chewing fun.

Oh, and there's a macguffin called "Weapons-Grade Dolemite." Rudy Ray Moore is dangerous, son.

The virus spreads to the main cast, forcing everyone to act as following: Dax becomes indifferent and absentminded, Bashir turns into a shit-stirrer, O'Brien becomes Sisko's Dragon, Sisko turns into Prince Ludwig and spends the episode acting crazy, shouting a lot and building a frankly impressive clock. Kira turns into Starscream with boobies, or as we'll know her this time next season, the Intendant.

The only people who haven't gone bugfuck crazy are Quark (who gets the shit beaten out of him by Kira) and Odo, who has to figure out how to undo everything without the two factions killing everyone or blowing up the station.

Again--obviously, nothing bad is going to happen to Our Heroes, but we have a hell of a lot of fun in the meantime--everyone's acting well out of their rigid character and apparently the sets were quite tasty, because little was left un-chewed. Sisko's bug-eyed craziness carries the episode along very well.

This episode is a bit like the piece of candy you have an extra treat--it's not at all nutritious, but it's a wonderful guilty pleasure all the same. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make a clock because you bastards are all against me, anyway.


"I owe it to them."
"You mean the victims"
"That's right . . .The ones who moved too slowly and never moved again. I'm asking for all the Bajorans who can't ask: Let a Bajoran do this."

This is easily the best episode of the first season, and one of the finest in the whole series, and I'm going to tread lightly here because I don't want to spoil any of it.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: A freighter brings a Cardassian to DS9, one who is suffering from a very specific kind of disease that he could only have contracted by working at one of the worst of the labour camps during the Occupation. Kira claps eyes on him and immediately puts him under arrest. But who does she really have under arrest?

At first, it appears to be a file clerk. Not exactly a catch on the level of Eichmann, obviously. But later, we learn that he's not a file clerk--he was the commandant of the whole damn camp, and thus, responsible for an ungodly amount of atrocities. And the prisoner seems positively pleased about it.

The truth--the ultimate truth--is far more surprising and more affecting than you might imagine. Questions of justice versus revenge, guilt an innocence, bravery and cowardice--this episode touches on all of them. We also get a very stark picture of what the Occupation was like, and it goes far beyond the plundering and pillaging of the planet. No punches are pulled.

This episode is essentially just Kira and the Cardassian together in the room, and while that doesn't seem like a recipe for tense drama, it works like gangbusters. After all, you have a genocidally oppressive representative of a foreign power squaring off with one of the terrorists that threw them off the planet in the first place. For a show that has no space battles, no exterior shots, and no pyrotechnics, it's amazing that it works as well as it does.

It also completes the evolution of Kira into a character who's more than just a bitch on wheels. This is someone who has been a terrorist and on some level has a hard hate for Cardassians she will never get over. She fought them ever since she was 12, and while she's not out and out bigoted, her default thought is made very clear: "He is guilty, they're all guilty." That's a rather heavy thing for one of Our Heroes to say, hm?

In short, I really like this episode, and I'm damn sure not gonna risk spoiling it by writing more about it. Go watch it right now. I'll wait.


"My point is, it's a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe but that doesn't make it wrong. If you start to think that way, you'll be acting just like Vedek Winn, only from the other side."

While "Duet" is a stronger episode, there's plenty of good things to say about this episode. For one thing, we're working exactly where DS9 is strongest--when people don't share the same values as Our Heroes but aren't necessarily wrong for believing different, we get a critique of religious extremism that's willing to ask some serious questions and not chickenshit out on the consequences and most importantly, and we get a new recurring baddie, and frankly, she's the most successful of DS9's recurring villains, even if she does have a ridiculous hat.

Yes, Vedek Winn joins the party, played by Nurse Ratched herself. Winn is a curious bad guy, because she just escapes every conflict with our heroes by the skin of her teeth and because she's smart enough to know to keep her involvement in things distant enough to where no one can prove her culpability in the crisis du jour. While this makes her an effective adversary, and one that poses a unique threat to Our Heroes (one of a political threat that one cannot attack directly) that evolves rapidly over the course of the series (well, it takes a little back-step near the end, but time enough for that later) and generally makes for some very strong moments.

Anyways, Winn shows up on the station and starts some shit in Mrs. O'Brien's school--she's teaching the science behind the wormhole, but the science runs counter to the Bajorans belief that its the will of the Prophets, not the Whatever Particles that make up the wormhole.

This collision between Bajoran spirituality and the Star Trek casual atheism that we jut took for granted (because it's never been challenged like this) leads to some pretty ugly schisms: The Bajoran parents pull their kids out of the school, the Bajoran merchants stop serving Federation workers, and the rhetoric gets more heated, more ugly, and more dangerous. By the third act of the show, it looks like the whole experiment is poised to fail.

In amongst this, there's a great moment where Sisko and his son are fretting over the whole mess and Jake rails against the Bajorans. Sisko corrects him--the Bajorans' faith was the only thing that sustained them during a brutal Occupation and whether we agree or not, it has to be respected, and militating for the other side of the argument doesn't help either.

Even our new recurring cast member Vedek Bariel (yes, another recurring cast member joins your party) while he seems like a nice guy, isn't willing to jeopardise his ascension to Space Pope (a position that Winn also covets) the Second to help Sisko out at first. Of course, he finally does try to help and . . .well, let's just say a few things become clear very fast as to what this is really about.

This is a really strong episode. For one thing, it establishes Bajor as an actual power with its own problems and points of view and a potential (and actual) driver of conflict for the rest of the series. What's more, we have a balance of good guys (Bariel) and bad guys (Winn) to illustrate that Bajor is ally and enemy. We get to see how far Our Heroes have come and how they're slowly gelling into a cohesive unit. We're not "there" yet (wherever "there" is defined to be) but we're on the right path.

And that's season 1. Join us next time when we start on Season 2 with the very strong and very compelling Circle Trilogy--"The Homecoming," "The Circle," and "The Siege." Oh, and to make up the numbers, the Riddler shows up with a fever and the only cure is Dax's slug in "Invasive Procedures." Season 2, I should say, is a good deal stronger and more sure-footed and we will rapidly see DS9 develop into the unique show I promised it would be but we've not seen much evidence of yet. Join us next time for political intrigue, armed insurrection, and . . .pleasurrrre.

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