Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #11

So now it comes and here we go, DS9 is here again, and our continuing goal to recap every single episode rolls round once more. This week we have a quartet of very strong episodes that even I can't snark too much about. So without any further ado-ackadoo, let's dive on in!

"THE MAQUIS, PART II"

"Will you stop talking and shoot them?"

Last time we talked a lot about how the Maquis were a set-up for Voyager, and how little it ultimately mattered in the end for that show. The funny thing is, in this part of the episode, we actually set up a very large section of what DS9 is about and the best part of it is that it'll stick.

So as of last episode, the Hit Man has betrayed Sisko, and this set's up one of the inviolable rules of DS9. You remember the first from last week--"Garak doesn't know what 'stun' means." The second if: "If you stab Sisko in the back, he will hunt your ass down." This will play out to more pronounced effect later on in the series, but for now, just know you don't cross the Emissary without paying for it.

Anyways, Gul Dukat's been abducted, the Maquis are making everyone nervous, and everything's in the toilet. Starfleet's breathing down Sisko's neck, and wonder of wonders, the Cardassians have said they don't even want Dukat back because apparently he was the one arming the Cardassian colonists. War seems ever more imminent, little makes sense, and it's up to Our Heroes to work it all out by stopping the Cardassian arms shipments and stopping the Maquis raid on a Cardassian colony.

Which, obviously, they do. The good bit is how it's done. We rescue Dukat early on, which gives us a time for a few good Sisko/Dukat scenes wherein we learn that Cardassian jurisprudence relies on the verdict known before trial even begins (which will become important soonish) and gives Dukat a chance to really work out as simultaneous ally and antagonist to our heroes simultaneously.

Oh, and we also get a space battle, which is . . .okay-ish, but given all the time Star Trek used to fink out on doing space battles, it's good that they're trying at least.

It all works pretty well and feels more like a DS9 episode than Part I did. But what it's most notable for is the following quote, which more than anything we'll see, spells out the how and the why of why Deep Space Nine is different (and I would say better) than all the Star Treks past and future:

"On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it's easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven't been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!"

It's one of the essential episodes of the series and the one which most defines the show's approach.

"THE WIRE"

"Living on this station is torture for me. The air is always too cold. The lights are always too bright. Every Bajoran on this station looks at me with loathing and contempt. And so one day, I decided I couldn't live with it anymore, and I took the pain away."

Garak's fourth appearance is the best so far, the one that best defines the character (after last week's . . .well, didn't) and even better, helps define Bashir as something more than a supercilious asshole. We also get even more about Cardassian society and in addition, a recurring adversary.

Garak and Bashir are having lunch when Garak acts all headachey and annoyed. He continues to get even more aberrant and, after witnessing a clandestine meeting between Quark and Garak, Bashir decides to investigate.

Garak is looking for a piece of Cardassian technology, you see. Unfortunately for him (and everyone else who looks for it) the technology is held by the Obsidian Order (fuck, what an awesome name) Cardassia's version of the KGB, a formidably scary organisation which apparently counts as it's hobbies widespread surveillance, covert operations, and disappearing people who do anything to piss it off. It so happens that an identical piece of technology is stuck in Garak's brain. Only it's breaking down and oh yeah, also killing him.

Bashir assumes Garak must have been exiled and had the device stuck in his head as punishment, but Garak responds that it's not that at all--it's actually meant to make him immune to pain, as he has information that must be protected at all costs locked up in his head, no matter what pain he was subjected to. But the circumstances of his life are so painful to him that he's become addicted to it, and its constant use is breaking it down and breaking him down as well.

Andrew Robinson, the guy who plays Garak, is given the entire episode to showcase his skills, as the episode is by and large Bashir and Garak playing off each other as Bashir become ever more determined to save Garak and Garak tells him he isn't worth saving, then explains why this is with three somewhat obscure and vaguely interconnected anecdotes about his life. It takes a few viewings to figure out just what bits of them are true, which aren't exactly true and . . .well, this is the game we'll be playing with every Garak episode from here on in, so get used to it.

I should also mention here that this is the first episode where Bashir doesn't come off a right twat. We're allowed to see him as a competent doctor, he puts up with Garak's abuse with a surprising amount of stoicism and ultimately tracks down someone in the Obsidian Order to find the answers he needs. And for once, he's not callow or skirt-chasing, or acting dweeby. It's pretty awesome, actually.

We also get another bit of Cardassian culture, wherein we learn that the most elegant form in Cardassian literature is the "repetitive epic," wherein the exact same story is told multiple times in one novel and no one finds anything that wrong with it. Nice of them to drop that line in for dorky English majors like me. :)

There's so much good to say about this episode and so much I don't want to spoil, so really, you should seek this one out. It's an absolutely essential episode.

"CROSSOVER"

"I care about freedom! What I don't understand is why YOU don't care!"

So, uh, remember that episode of OG Star Trek where Kirk went into another universe and everyone was evil and Spock had a goatee and was like "I'm going to kill you for not being evil enough Kirk" and Kirk was all "No way dude! I come from a planet of goodness! Grab my head and find out!" and Spock was all "Okay! Say . . .this ain't bad."

This is the sequel to that, wherein we found trying to make everyone join hands and sing "kumbaya" in a universe which seems to be intrinsically evil is Not A Good Thing, as it has led to Earth being enslaved by the combined might of the Cardassians, the Bajorans, and the Klingons, who are, if anything, even more brutal than Earth was, and have humans doing the workl Bajoran slave laborers were doing under the occupation.

Oh, and DS9 is ruled over by a Kira who's into fetish gear, manic episodes and barely restrained murderous rampages. This version of Kira, the Intendant, is notable because I believe that, 16 years later, there's probably some dateless wonder still fapping to her even now. Subsequent revisits to the Mirror Universe (which they uh, shouldn't have done--one of my complaints with DS9 is that after the second visit in the next season, they should have stopped beating this particular deceased equine) will have her more campy than evil, but for now, she straddles the line well enough.

Generally this is a pretty bleak episode, even with the slight campiness and the fun of everyone evil-ing it up to greater or lesser extent, there's . . .well, not even subtextual bleakness to it. Even our nominal good guys--Mirror O'Brien and Mirror Sisko qualify less as actual heroes and more as "well, they're slightly less evil than everyone else."

Of the 5 Mirror episodes that happen through the DS9 run, this is the best of them. There's a gripping tension that runs through it, and we're shown that the flip between the good guys and bad guys on DS9 is not as far a trip as one might hope.

It's another keeper, is what I'm saying.

"THE COLLABORATOR"

"Welcome back. You're under arrest."

God damn I hated this episode when I saw it during it's original run. "Great," I remember saying. "More talky Bajoran bullshit."

Viewing it again, I was wrong--this episode kicks ass. As in the best of the Bajoran episodes--"In The Hands of the Profits," the Circle Trilogy--we get an ideal interplay between Bajor and Starfleet. That is, that this is not going to be a cozy marriage where everyone gets along, in this case, because the Occupation has left deeper wounds on Bajor's collective psyche than one may initially realise.

This is the first time we really deal with the notion of Bajoran collaborators. Oh sure, it was a plot point in "Necessary Evil," but that was just an engine to get the noir homage moving. Here we finally deal with it, and in a big way. We also get our status quo shaken up to quite a large extent, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Vedek Bareil has popped round to sex up Kira and have a rather confusing vision that he can't make a lot of sense out of because the Bajorans don't understand anything about foreshadowing. In the midst of this, Vedek Ratched--sorry, Vedek Kai shows up, all glib and cheerful despite the whole "nearly getting Bareil killed" last season and "aiding in the overthrow of the Bajoran government" this season. We're near to the election of the Kai--the Bajoran Pope--and Bareil and Winn are the front-runners.

While all this is going on, Kubus, a member of the Bajoran government that collaborated with the Cardassians (making them war criminals) appears, and is immediately arrested. Kira has some very ugly words with a guy who fairly blatantly participated in his own race's genocide (like you thought she'd be all understanding?) and his ass is gonna burn for it.

However, wonder of wonders, Winn grants him sanctuary, which raises some eyebrows because well, it's bug-fuck crazy. However, all becomes clear when Winn reveals the price of Kubus' sanctuary--he knows the person who gave the Cardassians information that allowed them to perpetuate the Kendra Valley Massacre. What's even more alarming is that the orders seemed to come, at some remove, from Vedek Bariel.

What follows is Kira reluctantly having to work with Winn to learn the truth, all the while desperately hoping that the evidence is wrong. And here, of course, I have to hedge and not walk through the rest of the plot because the big reveal is actually damned effective, as is the twist enfolded within the reveal. It's a very DS9 way of playing things, and it works like gangbusters here.

So yeah, this episode plays phenomenally well. The Bajoran stuff requires sustained viewing to be as powerful as it is (as you have to follow pretty much every stage of the Bajoran situation, which requires a sustained investment in the show) so while I would use this as an introduction to DS9 or even rate is as a strong standalone episode, for those of you going through bit by bit, you'll find a lot to like here.

And that'll do it for this week! Next week I get something of a vacation as we consider the final two episodes of Season 2. Pull up a chair when O'Brien has a really crappy day and appears before the most unfriendly court since the Quintessons redefined revolving door justice in "Tribunal;" and the Dominion finally show up, kick massive ass and push the show into an entirely new direction in "The Jem'Hadar." See you then!

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