Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #7

EDIT--I forgot an intro for this one. Sorry, y'all.

Continuing our journey into the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we have a quartet of episode which swing between "awesome" and "eh, whatever." We're still shaking off the ropier bits of Season Two here (boy will we EVER find that out next week) but we haven't hit an utterly crap episode. Yet.


"I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don't trust coincidences."

Bashir and Garak team up, save episode.

Look, the plot of this episode is worthwhile--the notion that the Cardassians just left a bunch of orphans behind when they pulled out and the Bajorans care for them is an intriguing idea. The notion that a dispute has to be sorted out when accusations of abuse come to light is also good. The notion that this is an utterly barmy long game on the part of one of the principles is shaky, but also a decent hook on which to hang an episode, especially as it leads to more Gul Dukat.

But beyond that, it doesn't make a lick of sense--Rugal (no, not that one) makes it plain that he hasn't been abuse by his Bajoran parents, that he prefers to live with them, and he hates Cardassians. And Sisko sends him back to Cardassia, to live with a father he barely knows and doesn't like that much.

What the hell is that, I don't even . . .

Anyways, good damn thing everything else happening in the episode keeps you so entertained that you don't notice how asinine the plot is. Bashir and Garak drive the episode--Garak has dialed the camp down quite a lot since the last time we saw him in "Past Prologue" and plays the wise mentor quietly unraveling the scheme while Bashir tags along, several steps behind and that kind of chemistry makes this work. While they'd been paired off in Garak's debut episode, this is the episode that really defines their relationship and best shows off their chemistry as a duo. We'll see a considerably darker version of it a little later on in the season, but for now, there's this.

That alone would be enough to carry the day, but we get some good stuff from O'Brien as well--there's several good moments where he's paired off with Rugal and you have two people who don't like Cardassians all that much who kind of bond over their mutual unease.

Again, while the actual plot of this episode is a great silly mess, the sum of its parts make up for a ropey whole.


"A deal is a deal . . .until a better one comes along."

OK, so, really "Melora" is a lot more interesting to talk about in terms of what it represents than the actual episode, and given that I type things faster if I'm actually interested in what I'm typing, we'll cover that first.

When the pre-planning for DS9 started, a character like "Melora" was mooted--someone from a low-gravity planet who was disabled in Earth-normal gravity and had to schlep around in a wheelchair. It was ultimately dashed as an idea for the recurring cast, partly because of logistics and also because it smacked of blatant tokenism. When even the Burger King Kids Club had a kid in a wheelchair to show you how "hip" disabled kids are, you're really just ticking off boxes on the form, aren't you?

But because there is a temptation to use every part of the bear, there's this.

Ensign Melora comes to the station, ostensibly to help map the Gamma Quadrant but basically to batter every bloody cliche about disabled people you've seen in every goddamn movie about someone in a wheelchair ever. Does she come off initially very pissy, insisting she doesn't need any help? Yep. Does she push herself too hard and fall down, overextended? Uh-huh. Is her standoffishness ultimately melted by the love of her doctor? Fuck, and yes. Even if you have never seen this episode, you have seen great huge wodges of it already, trust me.

Because this is our Bashir episode, and apparently this whole notion of "Bashir cures patient out of love, but ultimately loses her" thing was considered so durable, the same goddamn plot is hauled out of the mothballs in the seventh season, for an episode which I will try to gloss over as swiftly as possible when we get there.

It's not that there's not the kernel of a good idea here--Dax frames Melora and Bashir's romance as something akin to "The Little Mermaid," though more the "walking on razors" than "singing Jamaican lobster version. Bashir can "fix" her, and she won't need to bang about in a wheelchair everywhere . . .but she can never go home.

Unfortunately, rather than play that out as character drama and milk it for the requisite pathos, we get a duddering Quark subplot, where someone who wants to kill him hijacks a shuttle, Dax kills the gravity so Melora can show off and remember to miss the whole low gravity thing and . . .yeah, it's all very stupid and underwhelming.

Ultimately, it doesn't work, and a shame too--DS9 has already shown itself willing to do ambivalent stories and play the string all the way out to the end, so why did they not go that route here?


"Free advice is seldom cheap"

This is the one with Shao Khan as one of the most ridiculous Star Trek aliens ever, and the first mention of the Dominion.

It's also our first Ferengi episode of the season and . . .uh, well, it's passable. Nowhere near the Lovecraftian horror of later Ferengi episodes, but full of broad comedy, shrill voices screeching, and more oh-so-hilarious jokes about everyone's favourite Space Jews (well, the ones that Mel Brooks had nothing to do with) and oh yes, the twist in the plot is nicked from the first episode of Blackadder II.

Anyways, The Grand Nagus shows up and asks Quark to help him broker a deal with the Dosi, a race of wine merchants who look like Mummeshanz on blotter acid (and one of whom is played by Brain Thomson, better known as Shao Khan or, the axe murder from the movie Cobra.) and oh my lord are the Dosi silly as hell.

Quark takes along his partner, Pel, who, unbeknownst to him, is a woman in drag. Because in Ferengi society women have no standing, this is utterly shocking, as is her putting the moves on Quark as a "him" and Rom ultimately outing her and . . .wow, I just do not give a shit about any of this. It's not interesting, it's not funny, and it's not . . .much of anything, really.

Even the makers of this episode consider it far too broad, and frankly were it not for the fact that this is the first mention of the Dominion (there's two more coming, one of which is actually in a decent episode) it would fall into the formless, seldom tended bin where we keep all the other Ferengi episodes. If you thought Borscht Belt comedy just needed more latex appliances to be that much funnier--well, you're barking mad, but I guess this is your episode.

For the rest of us, stick to Blackadder II's "Bells"--it's a far funnier take on this kind of thing. Thank God the next episode is a DS9 classic--these middle two were bumming me out.


"At the request of Commander Sisko, I will hereafter be recording a daily log of law enforcement affairs. The reason for this exercise is beyond my comprehension, except perhaps that humans have a compulsion to keep records, lists, and files--so many, in fact, that they have to find new ways to store them microscopically. Otherwise, they would overrun all known civilisation. My own very adequate memory not being good enough for Starfleet, I am pleased to put my voice to this official record of this day: Everything's under control. End log."

The episode where we get a look at life on DS9 under the Occupation, Kira has a ponytail and Odo has his first day on the job, all tied up in a gritty, noirish, package.

Quark makes a deal to retrieve a list of names for a Bajoran woman who used to live on the station and nearly gets murdered. Odo has to piece together who tried to kill Quark and why, and reconcile how this is related to his first job aboard the Cardassian-occupied station, when he was hired by Gul Dukat to solve a murder, and along the way, he meets Kira, who may or may not be the person he's looking for.

I don't want to spoil too much--if you were creating a DS9 mix to introduce someone to the series, this would have to go on there. For one thing, it's a mystery with several levels to it that actually pays off in ways other than the solution to said mystery, it has some rather funny moments (as in the above quote) and you get some bravura performances.

It's also the first time Gul Dukat begins to flesh out as a character and become more than just Our Recurring Cardassian Thug. Here he's the personification of the banality of evil--he's been the embodiment of an occupying force for so long he swaggers around the benighted hellhole like he owns the place, the fact that he's running Space Dachau doesn't bother him all that much.

The other reason this episode is so intriguing is that we cover something that shades the whole Bajoran occupation--there was a class of Bajorans who collaborated with the enemy, something we'll be elaborating on later in the season. Now this is a fine line to walk--despite their occasional unctuousness, the Bajorans are supposed be heroes and also pitied for being powerless against a more technologically advanced and brutal occupying force. Typically, something like this wouldn't even be brought up, because however realistic it is, it raises some troubling questions.

There's a lot going wrong, and even though this is a murder mystery overlaid on another murder mystery and it gives us some perspective on our mise-en-scene, and even adds some shading to one specific character relationship, which did more in one episode than they did almost the entirety of last season.

This folks, is DS9 very quickly coming into its own, and in high style.

And that's all for this week (we're now back on schedule!) Join us next week when I struggle mightily to get through Sisko's love affair with Elisa Maza's imaginary friend in "Second Sight"; The Dominion is mentioned again in the midst of a rather obvious parable about refugees in the better-than-it-sounds "Sanctuary"; Quark gets some competition in the casino game in the crushingly terrible "Rivals"; and Odo meets his step-dad in "The Alternate." Hilarity does not ensue. Next time will not kill as much as this one did, and hopefully it will not kill me. It's right on with the now TV series, and it's all here at the Prattle.

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