Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #24

Man, good thing I'm feeling better or I might have missed this. Once again it is time, my people, it is time, for us to continue on our seemingly never-ending journey (only a "grind" on some days, here lately) to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week we're put-near to finishing Season 4, and barring one absolutely abominable episode, frankly, we'll get there on a high note, I think.


"The dialogue is sharp, the story's involving, the characters are real... the spelling is terrible!"

But first, this. Oh holy shit is this episode nightmarishly execrable. What we have here is an A plot that doesn't make any sense (Jake gets his head felt up by a psychic vampire who feeds on inspiration and nearly works himself to death) and a "wacky" B-plot that attempts to be funny/poignant, fails miserably at both, and makes every single character involved look like an utter schmuck.

God it's hard to know where to be begin. Let's knock out the A-plot first, I guess. Jake runs into a muse who makes him write easier and more inspirational than he ever has before. I'm sure it was meant to be a metaphor for how writing or any creative endeavour can become an all-consuming obsession, but trying to make that metaphor concrete with a head-massaging psychic vampire was a mistake in judgment on the order of trying to cut hair with a guillotine.

I say this as a writer--half the shit that gets written about writing is only slightly more worthwhile that what you would get if you put your finger down your throat and pressed down. Most of stuff that's written about writing portrays it as this noble calling and those who can do it are anointed with brilliant halos of inspiration from the Great Pixie herself (in fact, it's one of the things that makes Season 5 of Babylon 5 so awful. It got to the point that every time someone said G'kar was the greatest writer they'd ever read, I wanted to punch a baby in the throat) Honestly--it's not that noble a calling, the pay is for shit, and when you get down to it, it's basically just staring at a blank page (or screen) until your forehead bleeds.

Then again, maybe I'm just jealous because no psychic vampire's ever felt my head up. Then again, fuck you.

Okay, that's the A-plot. The B-plot involves Lwaxana coming back to the station and getting Odo involved in her baby momma drama. Oh God, I hate this part so much. What transpires to happen is that Odo fake-marries Lwaxana so her baby won't have to grow up under the tyranny of the Sexist Backwards-Ass Fucks who segregate children by sex when they're born. Oh, my head. I feel stupider just having typed that.

Anyways, this is an excuse for Odo to feel a bit appreciated after Kira pretty much setting him aside in "Crossfire." Unfortunately "Crossfire" was actually a good episode, and this is not, so we really don't get much in the way of anything insightful about any of this, just a bunch of really cringing awkward moment which I'm sure were supposed to play as light comedy (it does end in a wedding, sorta) but falls so short of the mark I haven't the words to actually encapsulate it.

The thing is, this utter cowpat of an episode is not the fault of the people who are performing it--they do the best they can with what they have. Unfortunately what they have ain't much.

I should mention, by the way, that the actress who plays Lwaxana, (she's the wife of Star Trek's creator, and her name escapes me at the moment) somewhere around this time, was on Babylon 5, and played completely against wacky, horny, Lwaxana and was instead cast as someone who carried herself with real dignity and tragedy and actually had an important role (rare for a one-character in B5) This begs the question to me of why she couldn't get the slightest bit of dignity on a show she actually had some pull on.

God, avoid this episode as though it were teeming with leprosy. I don't want to talk about it anymore.


"Paranoid is what they call people who imagine threats against their life. I have threats against my life."

OK, this is much better. While we haven't had a lot of opportunity to explore the Kassidy Yates/Sisko relationship, and those opportunities we've had haven't really been exploited to the best of everyone's ability, at last we finally hit on a notion that makes her substantially more interesting, grounds it in part of the DS9 milieu that's actually meaningful to the larger story, and oh yes--it makes a already good story crackingly good.

Except for the part that isn't, but I'll get to that a bit later.

To aid them in rebuilding after the Klingons have spent the past season kicking the shit out of them (take our word for it) Starfleet is giving the Cardassian government some industrial replicators. However, as Commander of Exposition Eddington notes, the Maquis, eager to exploit the Cardassians' weakness, may try to steal them, so everyone needs to be extra careful, so Sisko authorises Odo and Eddington to take all appropriate steps to keep them from falling into the Maquis hands.

Open and shut, really, except Odo and Eddington have an additional concern--there is a Maquis smuggler on the station, and they suspect rather strongly it's Kassidy.

Sisko, not looking forward to another romance going down the tubes, is understandably pissed off about it, but as we saw in "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" he's not really one who can let go of his suspicions--once the seed is planted, they will take hold and work on him until he cracks.

So the main plot is established--Sisko doesn't want to believe Kassidy's guilty. The question then becomes--what will he do if she is?

The cool thing about the plot is that it doesn't flinch from the consequences of this, nor does it try all that hard to distract us with red herrings. The reason for this (stand by for spoilers) is that the entire plot is a red herring: Yes, Kassidy smuggles things for the Maquis, but the whole deal of getting the Defiant, Sisko and company out to follow her is a distraction.

Because Eddington is working for the Maquis, and being left in command is able to organize the theft of the replicators and get away scot free. Oh, and he phasers Kira, but name me a Maquis operative who doesn't get to phaser Kira at least once?

Oh, and he also gets to rant at Sisko, and frankly, it's good enough to quote in full, because after several episode of trying (and of the show the Maquis was created for being cut loose completely) this is the first time after several years of trying that someone's actually put a button on what the Federation/Maquis conflict is about:

"Why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You're only sending them replicators because one day they can take their "rightful place" on the Federation Council. You know In some ways you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious. You assimilate people and they don't even know it."

Sisko says Eddington's full of shit and Eddington is a dead man walking, and this will end . . .well, not great for Eddington, because Sisko don't shiv. However, this is tinged with some sadness as well, because Kassidy has to pay for working with the Maquis, and she is put on the prison bus. But Sisko promises to wait for her, and she will be back, which is an intriguing inversion of the typical form--typically once Trek love interests are gone, they're gone.

Okay, now, had this been the entirety of the episode I'd be happy. Unfortunately, we got a B-ploy stuck in with Ziyal (remember her?) reaching out to Garak because she's lonely and they're the only two Cardassians on the station. This is supposed to be cute and hint at a future romantic relationship but . . .it just does not work on any level.

For one thing, they have no chemistry, not least because three episodes in Ziyal is still not that much of a character. For another, pairing Garak, who is worldy and a good deal older than sweet innocent Ziyal is . . .troubling in a kind of "creepy uncle" kind of way. And finally, it's just too damned pat: Yes, there is certainly plenty of grist for the mill in pairing up Garak with the daughter of his sworn enemy, but it's too obvious, and besides, they never do anything with it anyway.

So yeah, this really sticks in my craw, and mars an otherwise brilliant episode. Fortunately, it can be mostly ignored for the bits we really care about and thus, doesn't damage things too much.


"Wait 'til I find him--I'll kill him for scaring me like that!"

Oh good, here's another good one without any troubling bits. Our Heroes return home to the station after another successful mission . . .only to find someone has done fucked it up. Apparently some Jem'Hadar raided the station, stole some stuff, blew off one of the pylons and got away before the Defiant could return.

The Sisko don't play that, of course, so immediately everyone piles back into the Defiant and goes hunting for them so they can put the bite on their ass. They find a Jem'Hadar ship, crippled and near-destroyed, which was also attacked by the Jem'Hadar who attacked the station. They beam the survivors on board, including the head of the Jem'Hadar unit, Omet'iklan and their Vorta overseer, Weyoun, who makes his first appearance here . . .kinda.

The renegades are a security risk to the Federation and the Dominion--namely because the Jem'Hadar have found an Iconian gateway (last seen in some TNG episode I'm not going to look up), which would allow them the ability to travel anywhere in the galaxy instantly without the need of a starship, which would allow them to conduct strikes virtually anywhere any time. This would make them quite powerful--powerful enough that other Jem'Hadar might defect as well and lead to the ultimate collapse of the Dominion.

So a joint operation is mooted--the crew of the Defiant and the Jem'Hadar with work together to attack the base and destroy the gateway before they can activate it and start stirring up trouble. It's an ideal plan, or it would be except for one small problem:

Our Heroes and the Jem'Hadar always seem seconds away from killing each other. A fight in the mess hall between Worf and one of the Jem'Hadar ends with Omet'iklan snapping the neck of his second in command and when Sisko fails to kill Worf as punishment, he vows he'll kill Sisko. Worf then vows to kill Omet'iklan and well, what could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately, not much, because the actual raid part goes somewhat smoothly, and by "smoothly" I mean Our Heroes and the Jem'Hadar go hand-to-hand and fuck some renegade shit up in a group of sequences so violent they actually got edited down. Needless to say, they accomplish their mission with a twist or two I'll be good enough not to spoil, and Our Heroes escape, having sort of earned the Jem'Hadar's respect even if the next time they meet, they will be enemies.

This is a pretty good episode, actually, and one that is really committed to keeping the stakes without and the tension within as high as possible, which makes for a very energetic episode. What's more we get really great bits like Dax blowing the Jem'Hadar's mind because she's lived so long, Weyoun stirring the shit as best he can, and Omet'iklan being such a hardass he almost unseats The Sisko. Couple that with a long-ass fight in the jungle that's nearly "Way of the Warrior" level in terms of action, and you have a cracking great episode.


"I thought this was a hospital, and that you were a healer."
"I am. I take away pain."

Bashir cuts the head off an immortal, and--nahh, it's not that. Bashir visits a planet that dared to defy the Dominion, and the Dominion must have really had it's bastard shoes on that day, because they infected the planet with a deadly plague so virulent that it's a lifetime death sentence--every child is born with it, and everyone eventually dies from it. The Dominion then left them to serve as an example of why you don't mess with people who call themselves The Dominion." When "the blight" "quickens" only one man, Trevean, is trusted with aiding them, and the only way to aid them is to euthanise them and prevent them from dying in excruciating agony.

Living under this kind of permanent death sentence has, of course, fucked up their society no end. Their technological advancements have utterly collapsed and their will to do anything except live and die with the disease as best they can (not very well, really) is all that drives them.

This is pretty intolerable to Bashir, who, being the upstanding Federation sort he is, believes every disease has a cure. The people suffering from the disease thing he's full of shit--plenty of other have tried, but the Dominion did their work too well--there is no cure, they say. All they can hope for is a quick and relatively painless death at Trevean's hands.

Only one person seems to believe in him--a pregnant woman named Ekoria. Her faith and her hope that her child might live free of the blight even if she won't is what keeps Bashir going after his first efforts fail and the entire city turns on him for getting their hopes up.

Really, this episode isn't about the disease and the search for the cure as much as it is a way to put Bashir in a box and file off the last of his arrogant dickitude and arrogance and find the character within. The arrogant callow doctor of the first season, smug and obnoxious, convinced of his skill, dies with the first group of patience, and we're left with someone who's utterly shattered by that failure.

He's a far more interesting character (not least because this episode will gain some real shading by what happens in an episode later in the season, but we'll get to that when we get to it) after that, as we've seen him humbled and keep trying, sustained by Ekoria's faith in him and ultimately finds a solution.


Ekoria dies, but her child is born free of the blight--Bashir's vaccine was absorbed in the placenta and the child was born immune (this is a pretty typical out in virus run amuck stories, eh?) While he can't save the people who are suffering now, the generation after them might have some hope (whether or not they can breed themselves back to a thriving population is a question not addressed.) Trevean, so long considered a bringer of merciful death, is charged with Bashir with distributing the vaccine, and becoming a person who can give new life to his people.

This episode didn't play so well when I first saw it, but it plays like gangbusters now. Bashir is actually made an intriguing character, held hostage to his drive to succeed and utterly shattered when he falls short of it and Trevean is a man whose gone about his grim duty so much he's become a personification of what the blight has done to its society. The scene where Bashir gives him the job of distributing the cure and Trevean is moved almost beyond words is frankly excellent in its understated emotion.

I really do like this episode a lot, and while it doesn't have much in terms of arc significance, dammit, as a character piece it's well worth your time.

And that's it for this week! Join us next time when we deal with Quark dying and watch the creators of this show go absolutely fucking nuts trying to hide a pregnancy in "Body Parts" and we close out the season with with the Dominion returning to settle some accounts in "Broken Link." Join us next time for dark comedy, runny cast members, and pleasuurrrree . . .

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