Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #20

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, it's time again for our weekly jaunt into the murky mists of 15 or so years ago and continue to soldier on in our effort to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that red-headed stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. This week, we continue through Season 4, wherein we get the ball rolling in ways other than involve the Klingons or giving Worf anything to do. Here's a pile of maps--let's drive away now!


"Only a Cardassian would call this hellhole invigorating."

When a Cardassain ship named the Ravinok is located, Kira plans to begin the hunt for the ship, but before she can, Dukat beams over, planning to come with her. Because naturally when you're looking for survivors from the Occupation, hey, why not take Space Hitler along?

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Kassidy Yates is in the process of getting a new job, which will allow her to live on the station and be closer to Sisko. Sisko acts like a schmuck and is afraid of commitment, because it's so goddamn funny when we roll that hoary cliche out.

In any event, the real meat of the story is Kira and Dukat being forced to work together (we will revisit this in a different context later in the season) Each has their own reasons for searching for the Ravinok, but only Kira's forthcoming about why--the man who recruited her into the Bajoran Resistance, but Dukat's reasons remain a little unclear until the third act. They find bodies of some of the Ravinok's crew, and it eventually comes to pass that a woman named Tora Naprem was on the Ravinok, and she and Dukat were lovers. Moreover, a Tora Ziyal is listed on the Ravinok's manifest.

This is several levels of odd because Ziyal is a Cardassian name, and yet it seems to follow the whole Bajoran "Last name first" rule of naming, and eventually it comes out thus--Ziyal is Naprem and Dukat's daughter, and if Dukat finds her, she's dead. Since, as has been frequently mentioned, family is everything in Cardassian society, having a child out of wedlock is consider a great scandal and so, Dukat's going to head that off.

Naturally, this is unconscionable to Kira, who says she will kill Dukat to stop him. Eventually, it's Ziyal herself who forces the issue--if she can't be with her father, she'd rather die here if those are her only choices.

Fortunately, if you've seen The Searchers, you know how all this comes out: Dukat can't kill her, and resolves to bring her back to Cardassia, and damn the consequences, and through a flew bits of flexing, this means Ziyal now joins the party, which makes her +2 against Aeris references.

This isn't a bad episode, really. The Kira/Dukat stuff really drives it along (they're two of the strongest characters in the show, naturally they bounce off one another quite well) and after the Klingon stuff last week, it's great to see that the core of the show hasn't been forgotten. That part's fine.

The parts that don't work are Sisko's utterly embarrassing b-plot ripped whole and bleeding from every sitcom ever made, which is just goddamned excruciating, and the lack of e-ink I expended on it should tell you I found it so annoying that I didn't even want to waste time insulting it.

Ziyal is less a character and more a plot beat that walks like a woman. She's really just there to add some dimension to Dukat, and when that doesn't work, she gets paired off with Garak later in the season, which may have seemed like a great idea, but in practice has a hint of ickiness that never quite gets washed off and then she's just there to leverage any and all plot points, before she's killed off. That the part is continually re-cast doesn't really help all that much either.

I'll have more to say about Ziyal when she shows up again, but for now, let's just say she was a one-shot character who stuck around a bit too long, and I'll try to explain why as we go.


"I can never tell when he's joking."

We Finally Gave Up On Dax, Part 2.

So a couple weeks ago, we reviewed "Facets," and rather than talk about the episode, I really went on at length that we were really coming to the end of the time when the writers of the show made any effort with Dax, save for shuffling her off with Worf and pairing them off in the Problematic Main Cast Corner. I mentioned at the time that we would see the other shoe drop in "Rejoined," and look at that, here we are.

I'm going to talk more about the character more than the episode, so I'm going to deal with the plot in pretty quick strokes: There's a science project afoot to create a stable wormhole artificially, and this is a way for one Dr. Lenara Kahn to come to the station. This is important because one of Dax's previous hosts and one of Lenara's previous hosts were married, and there are still unresolved feelings.

This is a Big Deal, not because of the obvious (to us, anyways, namely they're both women) but because the Trill as a people have a taboo against joined people reassosciating with other joined people. This is, I should add, one of the only Trill laws that makes any fucking sense whatsoever: because the symbiont is really carried in these hosts to develop and grow through new experiences, the notion of them just hanging around with all their old buddies creates basically an aristocracy and stunts the growth of the symbiont.

The punishment for breaking the taboo is exile and eventual death of the symbiont, although given how Dax ends up by the end of the series, that might be a blessing, ha ha ho ho.

Anyways, the science project stuff is a blind, the real story is Dax and Lenara grappling with their feelings and the consequences of acting on them, and that story is, I feel it fair to say, Dax's finest hour. It avoids becoming some much bolshy soap opera stuff generally because there are two equally valid points--Dax is willing to chuck it all and be with her, damn the consequences, and Lenara, while she loves Dax, is too scared to make that leap. That tension between "let's run off into the great unknown and let the chips fall where the will--any bridges we'll cross when we get there" and "I don't know if I can do that" means the story transcends its twin gimmicks (the whole "reassociation taboo" and Dax kissing another woman--wow, remember when that was a big deal?) and becomes a story that's more couched in relationship mechanics that everyone can deal with on levels commensurate with their experience. Everyone, regardless of the sexual orientation has inevitably been in both Dax and Lenara's shoes and been willing to roll the dice, but also aware of and scared to lose what they have. The rest is just details.

It's a very good episode, with some good performances by Terry Farrell and Susanna Thompson (who will go on from here to be wasted on Voyager as the Borg Queen mk. 2) and the benefit of a lighter touch when it comes to non-typical relationships than you tend to get on, say, Torchwood, which seems to me virtually obsessed with shoving its sexual politics in your face.

But while it's good, it's also very sad, because we're not going to get this much thought put into Dax from here on out, and it's a damn shame that just after it's proven that it can be done (and how many tries did this take?) that we decide "eh, that's too hard, just pair her of with Worf. She's done some Kilngon stuff, it makes sense kinda." Looked at in the larger tapestry of the series, you can't help but be sad for what mighta been.


"I only need one shot."

I remember hating this episode when it first aired, and I blame it's problems, then and now, on nothing more or less than massive Special Effects Failure. You see, initially, the plan was that the Defiant would be stricken and slowly sinking on a water planet and there would be an issue with the water coming in and all that.

Somewhere along the way, "water planet" was switched to "gas giant" and well none of the other special effects beats really were changed, and so the result is . . .a little po-faced. It's hard to be as invested running from gas, even if it's something poisonous like methane or the kinds found in bathrooms at Taco Bell.

Here's what you need to know--the Defiant is hosting a meeting with the Karemma (not seen since "The Search") and Worf takes this as an opportunity to run weapons drills and generally be an asshole. This turns out to be a perfect time to for the Jem'Hadar to attack and they critically damage the Defiant and send it drifting into the gas giant's atmosphere, meaning they're blind, critically damaged, and drifting into the core of a planet whose gravity will crush it to a pulp, long after the poisonous gases kill everyone, naturally.

This is, of course, just an excuse for everyone to get their Das Boot on, and it hits all the usual beats--there's fucking sonar pinging done, for God's sake--a race against time, wounded crewmen, only have one shot to get out of this pickle . . .it's nothing you haven't seen before (and probably better) a dozen times.

It's not to say there's not some good bits in there--Kira looking after a wounded Sisko and really kinda pouring her heart out about how it feels to work for the Emissary of her planet's gods, which is really a conversation we've needed to have and is really overdue, because frankly, this should be a big deal--to a Bajoran essentially you're working shoulder to shoulder with Jesus every single day and well, what is that like? I would have liked to see some more of that in the course of the series, but I was grateful for this bit.

I don't really hate the episode anymore (apart from the fact that the gas-as-water thing Just. Does. Not. Work.) but it's just . . .kinda there. It's interesting in bits, but not what one would call essential.


"If they buy poison, they'll buy anything."

My all-time favourite episode of Futurama is hands-down "Roswell That Ends Well," wherein the Planet Express crew visit the site of the rumoured alien landing in 1947 and fuck everything up in their usual style, sparing a moment or two to also whack the concepts of causality, time travel, and the grandfather paradox in the proverbial nuts. For all my love of Doctor Who (well, until this season, anyways) I always have time for stories wherein some utter berks travel through time and generally mess everything up--yes, I can admit it, I actually liked that Red Dwarf where they cause the JFK assassination.

I bring all this up because "Little Green Men" is . . .essentially the Quark, Rom, and Nog getting punted back to Roswell, New Mexico thanks to Fake Science and being mistaken for Martians. Surprisingly, for a Ferengi episode, hilarity actually ensues.

I have no real defence for liking this episode except for the fact that it knows what it is (playing on the culture shock between 1947-era Earth and the "enlightened" Federation era, prisimsed as it is through the greedy acquisitive Ferengi) and plays around with it in such ways that do not involve yelling or mugging and the more preachy bits (Kids, don't smoke or set off nukes. They're bad.) are done in a rather clever way, because when you shock the Ferengi with what you're willing to do in the name of profit or whatever, holy shit.

This is always something I wondered. I forget who said it, but an alien looking in on us and realising that we happily pollute our own atmosphere, use weapons that could kill the planet several times over and we also nailed one or more of our gods to sticks, would probably run in horror from us, because we would probably seem to them to be dangerously unstable. That takes a bit of the curse off of the usual tut-tutting about nukes and smoking being bad--if you have it perceived at one remove, it's not quite so didactic.

It also helps that the Ferengi are basically alone in this--everyone else in the episode is playing the whole episode absolutely straight and earnest and it works perfectly well because you don't have the Ferengi carrying all the comedy weight (which ends in disaster) and having a straight person to play off blunts how annoying they can be.

I will not pretend this is an episode everyone should see--it adds nothing to the overall arc of DS9, it features no dramatic character beats, it's just a pretty silly and damn funny episode. And that's actually OK, y'all.

It's good to end on an an up note, isn't it? That's it for this week. Join us next week when Kor, Dax, and Worf (see, I told you it starts happening early on) go on a hunt through the Cave Set for something sharp in "The Sword of Kahless"; Garak and Bashir get their James Bond on in "Our Man Bashir"; and we get the intended Season 4 two-parter a little late in "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost." Join us next week for Bond, bickering . . .and pleasurrre . . .

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