Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #14

Hi all, just as word of warning, this may be one of the most negative stops along our seemingly never-ending train that will recap every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine before we're done, because only ONE of these episode (it's a good one, in fairness--one of the best) can be said in any objective sense to be worth a damn, and the rest are utter nonsense. However, rather than just spew invective like a . . .like uhm, like . . .some sort of invective-spewing device I am not clear on the specifics or purpose of just yet I will attempt to explain just why and how these episode do not work.

Because while dropping F-Bombs and seething with anger is inevitably my thing, I feel like I do better by everyone if I can offer a higher standard to my F-Bombs and seething, y'know what I mean?


"He won't look back with understanding. He'll look back with hatred. And that's sad."

Okay, so Kira's having a bad day. Finally put on enforced vacation by Dr. Bashir she runs into Riker, straight from Next Generation. Riker turns on the charm to Kira and Kira is receptive, even though she typically doesn't go for dudes with beards. To better have an excuse to cozy up to him, Kira decides to show him around the Defiant.

And Riker phasers her, steals the Defiant, and heads off to Cardassia with the Federation's most heavily-armed warship to do god knows what.

That's how you hook someone, y'all.

Of course, not all is as it seems. This is not Will Riker, stalwart commander for life from Next Generation, this is Thomas Riker, a transporter duplicate that got trapped on a planet and was this whole weird thing that never really went anywhere, but they decided to bring him back and, as with seemingly everybody on the B-cast of Next Generation, he's apparently joined the Maquis. Stealing the Defiant is a small part of a larger mission he has in mind within Cardassia.

In the meantime, Gul Dukat (who will not be our enemy this time, but not our ally surprisingly enough) beings Sisko to Cardassia Prime to help track and stop the Defiant before they do whatever crazy shit they're going to do. They're shadowed by a member of the Obsidian Order, who seems to be hiding things from both of them, which figures in later on. I don't wanna spoil it, but it figures in vitally to the plot and even more into later developments.

This is a cracking good episode. here's some genuine tension, the idea of Sisko and Dukat working together is an interesting ploy that comes off fantastically and adds a lot of character depth to Dukat. We also get the advancement on the Obsidian Order subplot even though we (and the writers) didn't know it at the time and most exciting of all, we get to see the Defiant kicking some ass, which is always welcome.

It's so good, in fact, that it overcomes the biggest problem--namely, that we never get that much of a handle on how Thomas Riker is different enough from his "brother" to do this. Oh, we're told plenty of it, but we really don't get a sense that this is the person who we're supposed to reconcile this with the person in front of us.

However, even in this there's some good in it--by putting Kira, former terrorist, in with the Maquis, who are terrorists filtered through the prism of the Federation, it allows us to get a few interesting scenes comparing the two approaches, even if we don't really have an equivalent Maquis antipode to adequately contrast that, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


"I think she asks your advice just so she can do the exact opposite of what you recommend."

This episode, however . . .

Okay, a long time ago, Next Generation did an episode called "The Naked Now." It was, and is, an astounding personal insult to every sentient human being living on this Earth and additionally everyone who ever lived on the Earth ever. Basically a flimsy excuse for everyone on the show to act like drunk, horny idiots, it really played up just how agonizingly puerile sex gets treated on shows like this--compared to this something like Porky's II is an incisive, brilliant commentary on sex in mature adult relationships.

"Fascination" is much like"The Naked Now" only much worse, because having failed previous to this with "Naked Now," and after that they damn well should have known better.

Here's the plot for "Fascination." Mrs. Troi returns to the station and transmits her hot flashes to everyone, causing everyone to act like horny idiots, only not with the typical people they're coupled with. This is supposed to be racy, wacky bedroom farce, but it's somewhat awful and juvenile and well, you know the old saw about how if your plot requires everyone to act like idiots, it's not a good plot to move forward. Every character comes out the worse for having endured it.

I really hate this episode and I don't want to talk about it anymore. It is a fantastic pile of shit.


"I don't like your hat."

Okay, so. This one. Look, Star Trek has been trading for most of its life in pop culture as a commentary on today's issues filtered through a sanitised for your protection science fiction filter. I recently watched a documentary about the 60's science fiction TV series and the living Trek actors were being appropriately self-congratulatory about sneaking in morality tales under the radar and being oh so clever about it.

But there's a problem with that sort of thing--filtering it through that lens can water down any narrative "punch" that one may intend, obfuscating it so much that it threatens to lose any and all connection to the real world. For another, there's something really annoying and patronising about folks from an earlier, enlightened time when All Problems Have Been Solved looking down and clucking their tongues and looking down on us poor idiot people and our stupid problems and how small we look to them.

This sort of condescension, you can imagine, does not endear one to submit to that kind of judgment.

So let's get to the plot of this: Thanks to some technobabble excuse involving magic time-fucking-up particles Sisko, Dax and Bashir get sent back in time to Next Sunday, A.D. and, not owning any money they get rounded up and taken to Homeless Concentration Camp, wherein they end up in the midst of a riot they have to survive, yet not stop because this his how history is supposed to go.

So, yeah, this is two hours of extraordinarily didactic condescension, delivered with very little in the way of excitement, and generally makes no real headway short of "Fuck man, the plight of the homeless is fucking depressing, moreso when it happens to people from space." Had this actually built to any suitably cathartic moment that might have been one thing, but what we get instead is a lot of tut-tutting about how it's a shame that people have locked people away because "[we've] forgotten how to care."

That this is coming from people, remember, who not only boast that they come from a society where they have overcome the need for acquisition of money as a driving force for personal and societal development and proudly boast such at every opportunity. And we've never seen how this flip came to pass--it was just one of those things that happened as a means to get Star Trek where it had to work as a narrative conceit.

That's forgivable--there's a lot of things you have to get off the table beforehand to make fiction work. But to then use that as a shield to hide behind during your rant about how fucked up our time is and how we need to get our shit together with no line of connection between those two points is obnoxious in its virulent condescension.

I don't mean to dogpile on the episode, but stuff like this rubs me the wrong way. I have no problem with morality stories, and I have no problem with DS9's stories--when they're done well (as we'll see when we get to "Far Beyond The Stars" in Series 6) This one is just not done well. We need to see some connection between the issue being addressed and our struggle with it and the future perspective. We don't get that and the episode suffers for it.

That's it for this somewhat bleak edition of our weekly feature. Fortunately, it's mostly all up from here on in. Join us next week as Kai Ratched returns and achieves something rather unlikely and a few very spoilery things happen in "Life Support"; Odo grapples with the existential angst a Taylor Wayne song on heavy rotation can cause in "Heart of Stone"; Sisko grapples with his role as the Emissary for the first time in awhile in "Destiny"; and we stop off for a wee bout of Ferengi comedy in "Prophet Motive." Join us then!

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