Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #23

We were somewhere around Saturday, on the edge of the desert, when the urge took hold. And suddenly the sky was full of what look liked huge bats. I said "HOLY GEEZ WHAT ARE THESE GODDAMNED ANIMALS" for awhile, until I decided to dial down the Hunter S. Thompson a bit, center my determination, and continue on my occasionally never-ending goal to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not unlike gutting a fish in that it's messy, but you've gotta do it if you want to eat.


"It's just so hard getting used to being a religious icon."

OK, so Sisko's been angsting about his position as Emissary, which chafes at him, being he's from the godless Federation, which doesn't typically look with favor upon its personnel ending up as religious icons and all of that.

So wouldn't you know it, a Bajoran named Akorem tumbles out of the wormhole and wouldn't you know it, it's Frank from Fletch. Akorem looks suitably dazed, as he's 400 years out of time and isn't sure of much, except that he's the Emissary.

At first, Sisko couldn't be happier to hand over the title--some things that worry you no end you'll jump at any chance to get shot of them without thinking them through. Unfortunately, this has some unintended consequences. Akorem is preaching a return to the caste-based society that Bajor was before the Occupation, which forces people into careers based on their caste (which results in Kira being forced to resign and become an artist, something she's not really happy about) and allows members of rival castes to kill any Bajoran who doesn't conform.

This ends up complicating matters even further for Sisko: The Federation isn't down with caste-based discrimination, which pretty much puts paid to the notion of them being admitted to the Federation, which means Sisko's failed on two counts this time. There's only one thing to do, really--he and Akorem BOTH have to journey into the wormhole and get the Prophets to sort this mess out.

Man, what a surprise this was. We hadn't really done much with Bajor at all this season and hadn't touched much on Sisko's role as Emissary ever since "Destiny" and even then it wasn't really foregrounded to this level of detail. It's good that we finally had it, and when we had it it's a very very good episode that confronts the unease that Sisko has about being Emissary head-on and sets up what they do with it next season, in a way (what happens after, maybe not so much)

It's a great episode and it plays really well indeed. It's good that even after a season of all this upheaval with the Klingons, DS9 is still willing to work in some small way with the concept that they were initially charged with.


"I say this: You live with Humans because you're afraid to live with Klingons."

You might have forgotten, and it would be easy for you to have done, but the Federation is still at war with the Klingons. Such is the focus of today's episode--well, kinda. You see, while out commanding the Defiant, Worf opened fire on a ship that was decloaking in front of them, he didn't wait and sent it straight to hell.

While this happens all the time in a war zone, in this case, Worf has blown away a transport full of men women and children, and dammit, he's going to stand before a board of inquiry for it. The Klingons have sent along a prosecutor (Ch'Pok who . . .well, let's just say if David E. Kelley ever did a show about Klingon Lawyers, he would be the Denny Crane of the enterprise) and he's demanding Worf's extradition for trial.

So what we have here is a legal drama, Star Trek style. They've done a few of these over the course of Star Trek as a whole and generally they're done in the service of one big issue or another, but this one is primarily concerned with playing out the Federation/Klingon war by other means.

While it's imaginatively shot and gives us a great little peek into Worf, it's also a very by the numbers. We know Worf hasn't actually killed a transport full of civilians, and we know there's something more going on here and the real contest is to find out what before judgment is made because in the meantime, evidence will conspire to ensure Worf looks guilty as sin.

Fortunately, the story is told in such a way that it really works and doesn't feel quite so predestined when you're actually watching it (analyzing it after the fact? Well . . .) and the twist is rather clever.

It further helps that we get some insight into Worf's character--whether he's conscious of it or not, he fights the Klingons as if he has something to prove--being the outsider, he keeps it real, perhaps ridiculously so. It's a good bit and it really recontextualises the whole "Worf lives in two worlds and isn't it just tragic?" thing and shows that there's some anger on his part underneath it all. Of course, by now you know I'm for anything that keeps him out of the corner acting like a sourpuss.


After six years in a place like this, you either learn to laugh or you'll go insane. I prefer to laugh..."

Oh, wow. A "Let's torture O'Brien" episode featuring actual torture. What a ray of sunshine this will be.

We open with O'Brien looking like Grizzly Adams being released from one of the shittiest TV jails you can possibly imagine. Only it turns out he's really only been detained for a few hours, only he's been implanted with memories of two decades of incarceration. That it was for some minor security infraction isn't really the point--this episode isn't about the funky funky mindgames or the virtual reality stuff--it's about Miles O'Brien trying to re-adjust to an experience that for all he knows is as real and tangible as what he had for lunch the other day.

Our plot follows two tracks. The first is O'Brien's attempts to adjust to life on the station again. It doesn't go great--O'Brien just wants to get back to work and pretend the whole thing never happened, and no one will let him do that. The more they try, the angrier he gets, and the angrier he gets, the more they try to help him.

This follows concurrently with some revelations about his time in Imaginary Prison. Turns out, despite what he said, he wasn't alone in the cell. He had a friend, named Ee'Char. They did all they could to keep each other from starving to death or going insane from the unrelenting grimness of their sentence.

I can't say much more without spoiling the rest of the episode, and frankly this is one that you deserve to feel the impact of. This is a very emotional episode that doesn't feel mawkish, is willing to put a member of the regular cast through the wringer to such an extent that he doesn't exactly come out of it looking great even knowing the strain he's under. It was frankly pretty awesome that DS9 had the guts to do this, and one of the things that set it apart from the other Trek series.

Of course, if I have one regret, it's that the long-term consequences of this aren't played out at all and that all it takes to cure post traumatic stress disorder is for you to learn to let go, which is . . .yeah, not great. On the other hand, I feel like there's no way it would have been workable in the long term so this was probably as good a choice as we were liable to get and I give them credit just for going this far.


"Oh, Pattern Suicide."

The best thing I can say about it is that there's an awesome space battle between the Mirror Defiant and a giant Klingon ship. This took one sentence.

The rest of the review is going to be spent telling you all I didn't like. Yes, we're back in the Mirror Universe and well into, I'm sad to say, diminishing returns. Jennifer comes to the normal universe and entices Jake into going over and bringing Sisko as well. You see, the rebels need Sisko to help them finish retrofitting their version of the Defiant. The "good guys," you see, have taken over their version of the station since we saw them last, and getting their Defiant up and running is the surest way to deter the Alliance from retaliation.

Of course, if they knew who was coming for them, they could probably relax--The Alliance Regent is Worf, who seems to have an IQ in the negative exponents and seems to enjoy dragging around Garak on a dog chain. He makes about as much of a credible threat with his blustering around as Mumm-Ra The Ever-Living would if he were trying to fatally stab people with a candy cane.

This episode makes my fucking head hurt. Oh sure there's plenty of action and derring-do and all that, but the whole conceit of the rebels stealing the plans for the Defiant (after Thomas Riker stole the fucking thing last year they didn't do anything to make it more secure? Shit.) having the resources to build it, and having it not be, y'know, a piece of junk . . .all of this is beyond credulity.

There's some good bits in amongst all this--Jake responding to Mirror Jennifer as if she were his actual mom, Sikso getting to kick some ass and not really sweating the whole "interfering in the events of another universe" thing (Honestly, it's not as if he could screw it up more) but on the whole this is a romp, but unlike "Through The Looking Glass" last season, it's not that much fun.

That said, we're done for another week. Join us next week as Jake gets his head grabbed a lot in "The Muse" one of the most indefensible episode of all time; Two of the DS9 extended family go down very unlikely paths in "For The Cause"; We say hello to a new face and hang out with the Jem'Hadar in "To The Death"; and Bashir has to grapple with his own hubris in "The Quickening," which if you remember, happens after the gathering. Join us for a cornucopia of fun!


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

"Shattered Mirror" was the last MU episode I really enjoyed, because it drove home the notion that the rebels might not deserve to win their freedom; granted, it's dealt with more thoroughly in the novel anthologies, but here we have Bashir torturing Kira just because he can, and it's a clear reminder that he doesn't come from some utopian Federation - rather, he and the rest of the humans are the descendants of the Terran Empire, with all that that implies.

It also fulfills the "Action Quota" in a much more satisfying manner than the various Klingon conflicts - but then, this is pre-Dominion War, so I can see why the MU tapered off after that...

Kazekage said...

I kinda liked that bit as well, and it was carried through somewhat from the previous episodes as well--hell, O'Brien had to threaten Sisko at gunpoint to come to the MU. Sadly, I don't think they much desire for nuance in MU stories after this and they all become a bit camp.

I think the MU tapered off after that because they ran out of stories (the next episode in the sixth season is just . . .feeble. "Look! It's Bariel from the Mirror Universe!") and they'd kinda go "well, let's have another romp in the MU again" and didn't really bother to come up with any compelling reason why we should be going, sadly.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think it came down to two possible Myth Arcs from S5 onward: either the Dominion War or an all-out conflict with the Mirror Universe. The Dominion had been foreshadowed more, but the conflict with the Klingons in S4 could've just as easily gone the other way (ie: Alliance agents subverting the peace treaty). But once the war broke out, having another galaxy-wide threat waiting in the wings would've diminished the established villains.

Fun Fact: William Shatner co-wrote a whole bunch of Trek novels that went with precisely that angle - the Mirror Universe preparing an all-out war on the Federation - except that in typical Shatnerian fashion it ended up being All About Kirk. :)

Kazekage said...

I can't imagine a big fight with the Mirror Universe was ever on the table, really--from "Shattered Mirror" on, it's plain that they're not really taking the MU all that seriously as a threat, it's just one of those arrows they keep in the quiver in case the run out of ideas. Plus the fact that the next two episodes involve things that the Mu shouldn't need to do anything with and . . .yeah, I think the Dominion was locked in mostly from the beginning. We'll be turning in to Season 5 in a couple weeks and the speed with which they right the ship back to the course they wanted is enough to give you whiplash.

Oh you're kidding. I can't imagine that Shatner would just write a bunch of self-fanfic with only the merest camouflage. ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

More's the pity, because it wouldn't have taken much to slot in the same themes: instead of shapeshifter paranoia you'd have doppleganger paranoia, Dukat would've jumped ship to join the Alliance at the first opportunity, those evil fire spirit things would've turned out to be Mirror Wormhole Aliens, and having Worf as the ostensible Big Bad might've given the actor something to do besides scowling and talking about honor all day.

Still, absurd ending aside, it's not like the Dominion War was a disappointment...

Kazekage said...

It's an interesting idea, but given how terrible the Mirror Universe guys are about blending in (they're useless when they can't be BIG and CAMP) and they could never really decide what was and what wasn't in the MU--like how they have Bajoran spirituality and cloaking devices in one story, but not in the next, etc.

Well the ending of the Dominion War part isn't terrible--it's the bit after that makes me dismayed, alas . . .