Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #17

Has it come to this?--oh OH OHH--original pirate material, you're reading Witless Prattle, coming back again with another installment of our seemingly never-ending journey through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine--every episode, every installment, the high points and low points. And doesn't this week more than reinforce that . . .


"Why are you helping us?" [Answer later in the review]

I'll warn you now--I'm going to spoil the hell out of this episode, because I really can't talk about it otherwise. I'll also be throwing in some things over and above my usual ponderings because this, good people, was the episode that made Deep Space Nine appointment television.

Remember how last week, when we considered Part 1 that why it worked so well is that it keep raising the stakes at every opportunity and everything it teased you with the possibility of happening is more and more tantalizing. While obviously that can't continue, we have two more slam-bang twists that will define the series on many levels for the rest of its run.

So, that fleet that was heading out to attack the Dominion in Part 1? They all decloak outside of DS9 and cause everyone to nearly shit themselves in panic (because there's 20 warships, some of which shouldn't typically have cloaking devices do, with unknown intentions) they then march on through the wormhole, leaving our heroes to work out what the hell is going on.

What's going on is that Tain has made his whole first strike plan public, basically saying "I'm going to kill these guys, and while the Jem'Hadar are dying off, they may have time to mount some kind of retaliatory action, so be ready."

Naturally, Starfleet wants Our Heroes and the Defiant guarding Bajor. Even more naturally, they decide not to listen and take the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant and go hunt for Odo, because in the military of the future, no one really gets in trouble for disobeying orders if they're part of the main cast.

Odo is not doing very well, it should be said. Now that Garak has gone to the other side and cozied back up to Tain and spars with Lovok, the commander of the Romulan side of this mission, he's become something of an island unto himself--kept under guard and continually pestered for information about what defenses the Founders might have. Odo naturally tells them to piss up a rope.

So Garak starts torturing him by locking him in "human" form, and we learn that if he doesn't have some quality bucket time, he will desiccate and start flaking like paint. He's in agony, and yet Garak keeps at him--being a secretive person himself, he knows Odo is holding something back for himself, and there's something about the Founders he hasn't told anyone.

It took me awhile to really "get" this scene and why it was so impactful. For all that we've been told that Garak is dangerous and not to be trusted and all that, we'd never really seen him do anything all that transgressive, and yet . . .here he is, fully prepared to kill Odo for the following revelation: For all that his people are terrible fascists who rule an interstellar empire with an iron fist, he wants to go home more than anything.

It's never really made explicit beyond this, but it actually ties the two characters together in ways that seem like they should have been done before--they both want to return home more than anything, but whether they admit it or not, they're to different to go right back to their old lives, and that bond is underlined when Garak doesn't divulge Odo's secret.

Meanwhile, Our Heroes continue their search, but have to deal with Eddington (remember him?) sabotaging the cloak, on orders from Admiral Plot Complication to keep them from getting there until the final act and being all dramatic and shit. This is part of a series of Eddington is Not Quite Right bits that play out over a handful of episodes until it gets resolved (sorta) next season.

But never mind that--the attack is on. Tain's ships drop their cloaks and bombard the planet with weapons fire. By any rights, anything on the planet should be dead.

Nothing happens.

Naturally, this is a bit unusual, until Garak puts it all together: The planet is deserted, there's just some Whatever Gizmo to broadcast what the Founders wanted the fleet to find.

Well that and the one hundred and fifty Jem'Hadar warships that are tear-assing into view ready to wipe out the fleet.

Okay, up until now, Star Trek had short-changed the viewer on space wars. Either everything looked like it was going to go all wrong until about five minutes to the hour and they walked it back, or the "battle" was just one exterior shot (or a bunch of stock footage) with plenty of cuts to the bridge crew shuddering back and forth.

But thankfully, this time, since it's all about paying off the high stakes that have been accrued, we get a proper space battle. Jem'Hadar fighters scream through space, wrecking the Romulan and Cardassian ships with contemptuous ease. Seeing that things are not going well, Garak goes to get Odo to escape and the penny drops when Lovok shows up and gives them access to their ship, oh, and incidentally answers the question in the quote for this episode:

"Because no changeling has ever harmed another."

My response then, as now: "Oh, shit." Because even though the space war was pretty rad and would have been enough to properly "sell" the Dominion as a real threat, the real jaw-dropper is that this whole thing has been a really intricate plan on the part of the Founders more or less the whole time: Cardassian and Romulan intelligence agencies were both threats to them. So they just gave them all the encouragement necessary for them to come into the Gamma Quadrant so they could curb-stomp them. This is really what makes the Dominion as formidable nemeses (not that "artificial reality" crap from "The Search")--they're actually allowed to be both powerful and smart.

What's more, there's every indication that this is just the beginning: After today, all the Dominion has to worry about is the Federation and the Klingons, and not for much longer . . .

But that's later on. Right now, Odo and Garak are trying to escape the battle and not really doing a great job of it. All seems lost, and Garak apologises (sorta) for the whole "nearly torturing him to death thing" and Odo recognises their common wish to return home.

And then the Defiant comes roaring into the battle.

Apart from "The Search" and "Defiant" we really haven't seen the Defiant in sustained action up until now--really it's just kinda been there more as an added bonus that we were more told was a warship and given what Starfleet is, were probably never going to see it in action.

But we sure as hell do now. Sisko comes roaring in to save Odo, kicking all kinds of ass (even running right through a Jem'Hadar ship on the general principle that No One Kicks More Ass Than The Sisko) and escapes the battle. No one else does, apparently, and we return home, tie up a few loose ends, and end the episode.

As I've been saying for about however many thousand words spread out over two episode reviews this is one of DS9's best episodes, because it has everything--great character work between Tain and Garak, and Garak and Odo, a thirty car pileup of plot twists that build on the one before and add more punch to the one following. Going forward, it sets the tone of the next few seasons in large part as we now know the Founders are a much more subtle and more powerful threat than we thought, and Odo's conflict is a lot more foregrounded than all that "You should come home/but you're evil/you will come home/nuh-uh/uh-huh" stuff from "Heart of Stone." It's just a wall to wall awesome episode.


"I really do . . .not hate you anymore."

This is such a weird episode. Sisko and Jake, looking for some quality time that doesn't involve starting a cold war this time (the last time they got away was in "The Jem'Hadar") and Sisko (now sporting his late Season 3 beard, meaning he is now +10 against Lawful Evil) decides to build a Bajoran lightship (think of a solar sailer) and try to prove that Bajorans could have theoretically made their way to Cardassia in them. A lot of father/son bonding happens on the way, as do the usual complications, but apart from one major thing (Jake has set his father up on a date with a freighter captain from the Larry Sanders Show, but more about her when she actually shows up) it's all a bit by the numbers.

In the B Plot, the Lexington has pulled into the station, containing one Elizabeth Lense, the person to whom he lost valedictorian standing in the Academy to before he arrived on the station. Bashir meets her, and yet she doesn't recognise him, which naturally sends him into a bit of a funk, as you might imagine.

On the plus side, he gets hit up by new recurring cast member Leeta and her breasts, which will lead to them being an item into season 5, but we'll try to ignore that as much as possible because it is of no consequence at all, really.

So he and O'Brien get drunk, leading to perhaps the moment more than any other that cements them as a buddy-cop duo. Following that he screws up the courage to talk to Lense, who confesses she actually thought he was an alien and then they laugh for a moment and then he says he never knew that she liked pina coladas and getting caught in the rain or something.

It's not a bad episode (that's the next one) but it seems to have been knitted together like some Frankenstein Monster from a number of disparate elements and shoved together to make 45 minutes of television. There are some good bits--being that this is primarily a character piece driven by dialogue, everyone is comfortable enough in their roles by this point that the dialogue crackles along just fine, and the lightship is some pretty cool design. It's worth a look.


"I hope I never see any of you again!"
"The feeling is mutual!"

Sigh. Okay, this one.

Quark's Mom incurs the wrath of the Ferengi IRS by earning profit despite being a female.

I know this is not exactly the cringing, mugging, them-Space-Jews-sure-are-wacky Ferengi episode, but there's something about a "serious" Ferengi episode that is somehow far more horrible than their attempts at comedies in ways I will attempt to elucidate below.

Because the Ferengi are such an outsize caricature of runaway capitalism, it's kind of hard to then run the clock back and try to find some kind of subtlety in that. Likewise, our new Ferengi in this episode Ishka (Quark's mom, shrill and emasculating in a kind of Pearl Forrester kinda way) and Brunt (tax man, caricature of intrusive financial system) are damn broad (well, every Ferengi apart from Quark is kind of broad) and trying to find the subtlety of really broad quasi-caricatures is a bit like trying to find out what really drives Daffy Duck: as an intellectual exercise, maybe it'd be OK, but really who cares?

Now I know that despite the utter po-facedness of the episode there is a lot of major introductions here--Ishka, Kassidy Yates (one episode out from when she was mentioned! How 'bout that!) and Brunt (I have a hard time believing that Jeffrey Combs, Herbert West himself is under all that makeup, but that'll be rectified next season when he adds another recurring role) and we really are filling in the numbers of the recurring cast buuut . . .honestly, unless you like Ferengi episodes as a matter of course, there's not much here you couldn't skip without missing much.


"I didn't fight Cardassians for twenty-five years so I could start shooting other Bajorans."

Hey, remember that planet Our Heroes were supposed to be shepherding into the Federation, the one we haven't really spent a lot of time with this season, apart from "Life Support?" Well, this season rectifies that rather well, I think.

Following the death of the Bajoran First Minister, Kai Winn becomes the new First Minister of Bajor, now responsible for both the political and spiritual future of Bajor, which goes about as well as you'd expect, and by that, I mean things go disastrously bad.

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Cheif O'Brien is some kind of darts genius, except he gets hurt and . . .man, it hardly matters.

The former commander of Kira's resistance cell, Shakaar, has been living out his life as a farmer with one of the Sons of Anarchy. The Bajoran government, still recovering from famine, promised them use of some soil reclamators to help Bajor become more self-sufficient, but have decided to recall them before time. This leads to some tension, and Winn seems determined to force the issue.

So Sisko sends Kira out to deal with it. Fair enough--she knows the people, she can talk them down. However, if you remember "Progress," you can guess what happens next--Kira goes native and starts lurking around Bronson Canyon (which is apparently on Bajor now, because just like the old Doctor Who Quarry, there's one on every planet) with the old group.

Because Winn believes there's no reaction like "overreaction," she declares martial law, and asks Sisko to send in Federation troops to bolster her ranks. When Sisko refuses, Winn threatens to withdraw Bajor's application for Federation membership, declaring it a test from the Prophets. Sisko calls her a twit for willing to risk a civil war just for some soil reclamators.

Fortunately, while the people in high office can't get their shit together enough to prevent the situation from become an all-out shooting war--Shakaar didn't spend years fighting the Cardassians just to have them fighting each other soon after (this leads one to ask where he was when the Circle was starting shit back at the beginning of Season 2, but ah well) one thing leads to another and Shakaar decides to run against Winn in the election for the new First Minister, an election which he's sure to win.

This is a pretty good episode, and it benefits from a bit more considered take on Bajor than we'd seen in the first two seasons and makes one wish that we'd seen a little more of this over the rest of the show's run. Sadly, the character of Shakaar--initially intended to be Kira's new love interest, doesn't fare as well later on as he only appears about two more times and finally kind of pisses away.

But that's in the future. For now, we have a really strong episode that brings us back to one of the show's original elements in such a way that makes you wish they'd done these sorts of shows sooner or it might not have necessitated moving away from them in the first place.

And that's it for this week! Join us next time when we close out the season with Dax inflicting her other personalities on everyone else (including the serial killer) in "Facets" and two major things happpen in the season finale as Sisko gets promoted and the season is set up in five simple words in "The Adversary." See you next week!

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