Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK DS9 #6

Sorry, I'm a bit behind on these--life kept getting in the way. For those of you new to this, we here at the Prattle are undertaking a project to review every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a task that just got a little easier because we are now embarking on the second season, which is several orders of magnitude better than the first. It's actually starting to form into the DS9 in short order and this season will have a higher ratio of classic episodes and all-around good episodes than the last one.

Oh, and we'll also be introducing several recurring threats for Our Heroes, not least of which is the Dominion.

But that comes later, for now, let's open strong with DS9's initial foray into straight serialisation. It's just a simple three-parter, but it already shows a dramatic improvement over things For one thing, it seems the show has finally discovered how to use Bajor to the advantage of making consistently good stories and putting them in sharp contrast with Starfleet. For another, the show is more willing to take chances, both with its story structure and its recurring character and I am tired of this introductory twaddle, so let's get it on:


"You can't expect a politician to pass up an opportunity like this"

The beginning of our little troika starts with Kira finding out that a famous member of the Bajoran resistance is still being held in a Cardassian labour camp and the episode primarily concerns itself with the buildup to freeing him and the fallout from that. In the subplot of this episode, there is a new movement on Bajor called The Circle who want the Federation out and a new government installed. While this isn't the first time we've seen this, they do seem to be far more brazen and far better equipped than the last group we had.

But that comes into sharper focus in part 2. Our first part is more to introduce our special guest star, Li Nalas, played by the same dude who played Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks. It should be said that Li is an entirely opposite character to Horne (who was kind of . . .well, was, a shitheel) Li is a man looked at as a saint, when in reality his entire legend is based on (he feels) a lie and he'd just as soon leave it lie, if only people would fucking well let him.

Of course, the very act of being rescued puts paid to that. Boy does it ever. Almost immediately, everyone wants to hitch their wagon to Li's star. Frankly, Kira's prime argument for going to rescue Li is that his presence would strengthen the faltering provisional government, which is presently victim to a parliament of political opportunists, with no clear leader to unite everyone (Kai Opaka having been killed on Tortured War Metaphor Planet last season) everything's a bit fraught. Just so we don't forget them, the Circle shows up and brands Quark just so we know they're bad motherfuckers and all that.

Li's response to all this is, naturally, to try to steal a runabout and run off to the Gamma Quadrant. But it's too late, as a grandstanding Bajoran minister, Jaro (Played by Frank Langella, who, depending on when you first encountered him is either more famously Dracula, Skeletor, or Nixon) pops round to get the rub from Li, appoint him to Kira's position, and send Kira packing and oh look, it's to be continued . . .

Well, it's good. Gets us right back in and sets it all up, but really it's a bit light unless we follow it with part two . . .


"It might be interesting to explore 'useless.' See where it leads."

In the wake of last episode, Jaro explains that he's appointed Li to be Sisko's second on the station to keep him safe from The Circle, who are growing bolder and beginning to march on the capital. Kira has a very "Night at the Opera"-esque little scene with everyone saying goodbye to her until Bareil shows up and asks her to take her leave with him, and since Bareil instantly makes her wetter than a fish's wet bits, she leaps at the chance.

So in some kind of weird-ass foreplay, Kira tries to arrange a stone in a wading pool for hours, declared she has no sense of art (this'll come up again way later) and generally paces the room hoping for something to do. A few oblique conversations later, Kira has her first orb experience, sees Jaro, Vedek Winn, a room full of arguing ministers and then, all of a sudden she and Bariel are as naked as jaybirds and all this will eventually make sense. A little sense, anyways.

In the middle of all this, the Circle is attacking the Bajoran capital, Our Heroes are trying to figure out who's arming the Circle. As it happens, it ends up being the Cardassians, who want the Circle to succeed, push the Federation out, and move right back in in the ensuing chaos.

We're also introduced to one of our nominal nemeses, General Krim, who's actually a pretty interesting character, as he's not a 100% straight bad guy, but obviously, despite being the commander of the Bajoran militia, is not doing all he can to engage the Circle. He'll play a larger role in the last part of this drama, but for now we're merely teased with his appearance.

Kira gets kidnapped by the Circle and finds out that Jaro is the one behind them, aided by Winn, who wants to . His plan is to cause all sorts of chaos with the Circle, then step in as a strong hand. Li would have complicated his plans and so, he had to be removed.

After a firefight and a bit of rescuing on the part of Our Heroes, the endgame becomes clear: Jaro and the Circle consolidate their power, the Federation makes plans to pull out and there is only one chance to break the Circle: someone has to take the evidence of Cardassian involvement to the Bajoran Council of Ministers (no mean feat, as anyone who tries will be shot down, and making a call is out because communications have been blacked out) and cause the whole thing to collapse. The clock is ticking . . .

This episode manages to avoid the difficulty with middle chapters of a trilogy--namely, there's no satisfactory end until the final part. This is thwarted by virtue of the fact that the stakes continue to escalate during the middle part and things are balanced precariously on a hair. Fortunately, the third part will mostly live up to the buildup of the first two . . .


"Off the hook . . .at last."

So, things aren't going well. The Bajoran Militia, under orders of the Circle are on the way. Starfleet is desperate to evacuate, but a few are staying behind as a rear guard action, which is actually a diversion. They'll hold the Militia there long enough for Kira and Dax to get the evidence to the Council of Ministers.

Oh, and Li Nalas is still bitterly uncomfortable in the role of embodying the hopes and dreams of the Bajoran people. He actually gets a pretty decent speech early on, and end up with a fate both appropriate to his character and fulfilling to history. It would, of course, swing a little weight if Li or any element of this crisis were to be referenced after this.

Okay, so by this point, the legwork of the plot has more or less been handled and all that's left to do is play it out, but it's all done competently enough and the game of cat and mouse Krim and Sisko play is really intriguing (Krim is actually a pretty awesome character--smarter than that guy from Wings who plays his second, and he actually seems to have more of a plan than the next bunch of idiots who are going to take over the station next episode) Dax and Kira have a few good scenes and the whole thing ends with an appropriate amount of punch to it.

Taken as a complete whole, the Circle Trilogy is one of the first time DS9 stakes out its own territory successfully. Things feel epic, we get a larger view of the relationship between Bajor and Starfleet, and the writers are actually willing to ambivalent--sure, the immediate crisis is over with, but the problems that fomented it are still very real, things are very tenuous, and we've lost yet another candidate in our "strong leader" sweepstakes (if not two) and we get our first instance of Sisko's baseball on his desk as a symbol for something. Enjoy it--it'll be an enduring symbol over the years.


"They reduced my entire life to one word--'Unsuitable.'"

Well, now that we've started with a bang, let's move on to the business of giving each member of the cast an individual feature episode or two. This time it's Dax's turn.

If you remember from last season, the first Dax episode, while having somethings to recommend it, really fell apart for the same reason this episode doesn't quite work--Dax is completely passive through the whole thing and spends most of the episode unconscious on a stretcher, so really it's a curious way to "feature" her character. We'll get a better Dax episode a bit later in the season, but for the moment, this is what we have to work with.

Some kind of storm in space forces Our Heroes to evacuate everyone but themselves (Yes, yes. I know we just went through that) and wouldn't you know it, some guy and his crew of malcontents show up (aided by Quark, surprise surprise) take Our Heroes completely by surprise, put Odo in a box, and demand Dax's symbiont.

Yes, this is pretty explicitly a riff on Key Largo.

No, not that one--the Humphrey Bogart movie. There's an actual element beyond straight homage--Verad, the leader of this little group, was once up for being merged with the Dax symbiont, but it turned out they knew he was the Riddler from Batman: the Animated series and also the guy from Gremlins 2 and obviously far too crazy for being joined.

It's . . .you know, it's all performed well enough--Verad is an intriguing enough character and has a certain nervy energy that immediately turns into warmth when he's finally joined, and Sisko has a good bit at the end, but . . .yeah, it's a comedown after the Circle Trilogy, but then, anything was probably going to feel like a comedown after that. It's competent enough, but it doesn't ever quite get off the blocks.

That's all for this time. Look for another one this week to get us back on schedule wherein Bashir and Garak liven up a really bizarre riff on Diff'rent Strokes in "Cardassians;" A leaden parable on respecting the disabled takes up 45 precious minutes of our lives in "Melora;" A standard Ferengi romp with a little twist occurs in "Rules of Acquisition;" and we end on a high note with the noirish "Necessary Evil." Stop by and say hi then, won't you?

No comments: