Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #21

I took a bag into a grocery store--the price is higher than the time before, and old asks me why is it more. I said, I'm trying to finish my seemingly never-ending recap of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and this week I got a strong three of a kind and if this was poker, man, I'd have a honey and I'd bet a grand . . .or well, I would, until just the nick of time I look at his hand, anyways.


"You know what I like about Klingon stories? Nothing."

Thankfully we start with the lowest and work out way up. Kor brings to Dax and Worf that he's learned of the location of the incredibly important and never ever mentioned up to now Sword of Kahless, which Kahless wielded in the early days of the Kilngon Empire, back when they were just a thrash metal band from Skarsgaard, Norway, with a few dreams and a lot of will to succeed.

Dax and Worf tag along because getting the sword may actually cool tensions between the Federation and the Kilngon Empire (yes, that dramatic status-quo shaking event that rung in the new season is only now being foregrounded, which should tell you everything) and Kor just wants and excuse to hang about and chew scenery. What ends up happening of course, is an awful lot of Treasure of the Sierra Madre references as their different agendas lead to tensions and nearly a few gunfights and really, this doesn't take a lot to recap.

This is . . .well, a pretty average episode. You've got three character--two regulars and a recurring--arguing pretty much all the time and fighting over a prop. There's a slight allusion to the Sword (it isn't a sword, but really, let's just get this damn thing over with) having some kind of psychic influence making them go nuts, but it may just be that all three of them are just assholes wandering around a cave set.

Dax has now been all but permanently attached to Worf now, which is disappointing because Worf has now entered the portion of his run on DS9 wherein he stalks around being a serious asshole and occasionally doing something awesome when the focus is not on him, which on an ensemble show like this, doesn't really give him a lot of chances to integrate with the main cast, and so Worf is kinda . . .in limbo, really.

This is an episode that most exemplifies this problem, so I guess it's worthwhile in that respect, but then again, you could skip this and not miss anything.


"If I were in your shoes, I'd grab a bottle of champagne and shoot me."

Deep Space Nine does James Bond, hilarity ensues.

As a rule, I fucking hate Star Trek episodes wherein the holodeck malfunctions and a fake thing happening on a fake show is meant to be more dangerous than all the fake shit that usually happens and between that and the costuming, I just can't be arsed to really care one way or another.

Thankfully, this episode is the exception to the rule. Somewhat because I happen to love Bond movies and Italian spy movies of the 1960s, and somewhat because being that I like DS9, I will generally give them a little more charity, not least of which because they don't go in for this sort of thing enough times to annoy me.

That, plus the fact that this episode really hums along and is a knowing homage to the spy movies of decades past and the homage through the eyes of Bashir and Garak, which is what makes the episode really work, frankly. Garak's frequent "I don't believe this shit" marvelling at what people thought spies actually did is a source of great mirth.

Here's the plot, for so much as it matters. Our Heroes get nearly killed in mid-transport and have to be shunted to the holosuites, which is currently running Bashir's James Bond programming. The upshot of all this is that Our Heroes get blended into his spy program, with Kira being the sexy Russian agent who's an ally, Dax is the comely mousy scientists who is persuaded by Bashir to help them escape in the third act, O'Brien is Bashir's recurring nemesis, and Worf is the head bad guy's Number Two (man, even in fictional situations, they don't know what to do with him) and Sisko is the head bad guy. And holy shit does Avery Brooks sink his teeth into being a Bond villain. He is the straw that stirs the drink here, as he gleefully chews the scenery in high style.

I will admit that if you don't like Bond movies, you probably won't like this (well, you might like seeing the usual characters acting in different ways) but if you can kind of get into the swing of it, there's quite a bit of fun to be had here (not least in terms of Bashir's solution to the bad guy's plot which is . . .damn interesting, to be sure) and it's a good palate-cleanser for the heavy stuff that starts . . .right about now.


"Our gods are dead. Klingon warriors slew them a milennia ago. They were more trouble than they were worth."

Well, we've been building up to this for awhile. If you've been following these, you know that this was supposed to be the opening to the fourth season, before the Klingon stuff took over. But as one of the strengths of DS9 at this time is that it can roll with the punches, it was moved from the beginning of the season to the middle, and while it suffers a bit for not having a proper budget, the actual point of the episode is, mercifully, not lost.

So, in the wake of the wormhole opening and closing randomly and the bombing of a Federation conference, Sisko and Odo are recalled to Earth to report to them in person about the Changelings and their threat. The person who pulled Sisko in is Admiral Leyton, who is an old friend who, of course, we've never seen up to this point. I should add, for those of you who follow the Babylon 5/Deep Space Nine feud, that the guy playing Leyton is (or rather was) General Hague on B5, and will not be returning to B5 because his character gets killed off-camera. Whether it was because of this, I dunno.

On the lighter side, we learn that Dax routinely breaks in to Odo's quarters and moves things around ever so slightly to fuck with him. Wow, Dax is kind of a real asshole, isn't she?

Anyways, this is all a backdrop in the name of a debate about what to do about this--should Starfleet crack down on their citizens in the name of trying to ferret out this enemy who can look like just about anyone, or does that action mean that Starfleet will do more damage to the essence of what they are in the name of trying to ferret out the enemy than the enemy could ever do?

In our other plots, we meet Sisko's father, who's been suffering a few maladies here and there and Sisko's worried about him. We also touch base with Nog, who's trying to adjust to Starfleet Academy (and he's managing, haltingly) and get in good with Red Squad, the Academy's elite corps.

Well, we don't get too far into that debate yet because, following the discovery that Leyton was impersonated by a Changeling, the power fails on the entire planet. Obviously, not only are the Changelings on Earth in force, but they are capable of paralyzing the entire planet at their leisure.

Naturally, this leads to everyone being mightily paranoid, with Sisko even doubting his own father about whether or not he's a Changeling, and his father getting all up into his grill about it. To be fair, the episode is willing to tease out the idea that he might be, but then, the point of the episode is to make overreaction to paranoia seem like The Right Thing, all the better to subvert the assertion in the next part. Speaking of which . . .


"We do not fear you the way you fear us."

So, Earth is under martial law, kinda. Troops prowl the streets of Earth, random blood screenings and searches are the rule, and everything seems to point to things getting even stricter. Sisko's told he should be proud, he helped bring this about and made Earth safer.

But he's not so sure anymore. For one thing, ever since the power outage, nothing else has happened. If it was a prelude to a Dominion attack, it seems like they would have done something else by now. His suspicions are further stoked by reports of Red Squad being reported where they shouldn't have been--given that the power outage was an emergency situation, why would they have been told to stand down? These little bits that don't make sense tug at him . . .

. . .and a conversation with one of the Changelings disguised as O'Brien creates great heaping rends. Because the Changeling tells him that they're smarter than the solids, better than they are, and they're not afraid of them the way Starfleet is afraid of the shapeshifters, and they're confident that fear will destroy them.

And it may have already done, because Sisko has learned that Leyton planned the power outage and the random wormhole openings as the first step in a larger plan to stage a coup d'etat. His intention is that Starfleet will take immediate control of the government until the state of emergency is over with.

But when will that be? There isn't even technically a war on with the Dominion at the moment, and won't be for another season and a half. And since you're asking for the people you protect to all but let them put your boot on their neck, you're asking a lot.

Before Sisko can interfere too much with Leyton's plan, he's framed as a Changeling infiltrator and locked up. But he's already got the Defiant on the way, with proof of Leyton's actions to justify his takeover of the government. But Leyton's ship, the Lakota, is between them and Earth, and if you guess it's time for a space battle, you guessed right.

OK, well, this two-parter isn't really all that bad, you know. It's telling that a story about the cost of civil rights in a time of war works a hell of a lot better in 1995-96 than it did in the early 2000s, when this kind of storyline became all the rage. It requires a bit of charity on the part of the viewer, as it's talky as all hell, and the space battle between the Defiant and the Lakota, while cool as hell, seems really more an effort to bring some variety to all the talking. But it has a real energy and immediacy to it and it's willing to go places that Star Trek doesn't usually go.

If there is a missed opportunity in any of this it's Odo, who behaves far too passively in a story that's positively ideal for his character--after all, he's always rode the "fascism is OK if it leads to order" line really closely (his people even moreso) and his reaction to what should be his ideal method of problem-solving (he said as much in "The Maquis," remember?) is rather . . .muted, and some really prime dramatic material is lost.

But on the whole, it's an effective episode, showing as it does that DS9 is willing to play with established Star Trek dogma, we get a cool space battle, and the conversation with Sisko and the Changeling is appropriately creepy and unsettling, and the whole thing really feels like it has some stakes to it. Kind of a pity that it wasn't followed up on more than it was, but you can't have everything, I guess.

And that's all for this week! Join us next week when we get a great episode all his own in "Crossfire"; Kira and Dukat team up again in "Return to Grace"; Worf is actually given a meaningful episode that works (hold your expressions of shock) in "Sons of Mogh"; and it's time for a little more Ferengi Komedy in "Bar Association." Join us next time for crashing elevators, guerilla tactics, attempted fratricide, labour relations . . .and pleasurrrrre.

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