Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #26

I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Once again it's time to gallop through another quartet of episodes as we make our way through the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we make a start into Season 5 with some mostly strong episodes, and one that's not so strong . . .a pattern which will repeat a few times here, really.


I'm withholding the quote for this episode for a little bit later. When we get there, you'll see why.

OK, so in the wake of Odo being turned into a solid by the Founders, he's been pretty depressed, and the rest of Our Heroes are busy following up on the whole "Gowron is a changeling" business from the end of last season. Without getting too bogged down in it, all you really need to know is that by this episode we will backpedal on the "Klingons are our enemies again" stuff so hard, you won't believe it.

A mission is mooted with Sisko, O'Brien, Odo, and Worf traveling to a Klingon base to use some overly complicated Whatever Device to expose the Gowron changeling and stop the war. This necessitates two things, one of which is gussying up Our Heroes as Klingons (or in Worf's case, a slightly different Klingon) and the other is getting Gul Dukat (still piloting the Bird of Prey he stole in "Return to Grace" and which, sadly they're not gonna do much with) to ferry them into Klingon space.

Now, really, the plot can be summed up really quickly--we know they're gonna succeed, really, the plot is not really the point of the exercise--we know they'll succeed, the only question is how twisty things get on the way there. No, the real point of the episode is to have Our Heroes act like Klingons and learn important points of etiquette, like "always punch mouthy Klingons in the face, never backhand them unless you intend a duel" and . . .well, I'll let Sisko say it:

Yes, it's really just an excuse for Our Heroes to chew the scenery, Gowron to chew the scenery, Martok to chew the scenery, and somewhere in-between that to deal with the plot, which we shall do right now: Gowron isn't the changeling--Martok is, and is soon blasted to hell for it. Gowron offers a temporary cease-fire for now (takes awhile to ramp this kinda thing down, you know) and his gratitude.

Despite the fact that it's an extremely slight episode, really, there's some fun to be had with all the overacting and general Klingon-ness of the episode, even if it finally utterly undercuts the Klingons as a threat by portraying them as the silly, silly, race of goofs that they are, really. That aside, though, there are worse episode to be found.


"We have you completely surrounded. And outnumbered. Would you like something to eat?"

If you desire something with a bit more substance, well, there's this: While out scouting for new mining locations, a Jem'Hadar ship crash-lands and immediately Sisko and company make plans to dig it out and salvage it--having never had a Dominion ship intact to study in great detail (or so they say) this is a huge find for them, and it seems like they should be able to do it no problem.

Oh, wait, no. Because here comes another Jem'Hadar ship, the Vorta commander of which engages Sisko in tense negotiations. They want something on the ship, and are actually willing to give them the ship if they just let the Jem'Hadar retrieve it. Sisko says no, and the Vorta says "fine" and starts shelling them. Constantly.

"The Ship" is about what happens when you confine Our Heroes in a ship that doesn't work, on a planet where it's too damn hot, they won't let up the bombardment and one of their number is bleeding to death right in front of them.

As you might imagine, tempers fray under the stress. Soon everyone's snapping at everyone and Sisko has to yell at all of them to close their mouths and focus on the job at hand. It doesn't, as these things can seem, like artificial conflict piped in among characters who never would argue otherwise--we're taken step by step through the various ratcheting up of tension and when things finally boil over, it feels earned.

Plus Sisko tells Dax to shut up when she tries to inject one of her catty asides, something which had been coming forever, really.

One thing, just one thing, leads to another, and it transpires that the thing the Jem'Hadar were looking for was a Founder--wounded and dying after the crash. When they fail to save him, the Jem'Hadar (who believe the founders are living gods, remember) commit suicide and the Vorta glumly gathers some Changeling ash as Sisko laments that all this could have been avoided if they'd only trusted each other, which is done so over the top it threatens to wreck the goodwill this episode has built up to this point by being so damn hammy.

This isn't a bad episode, really, and the problems with the last bit don't detract too much from the visceral tension the episode builds. It also gives us a look at the Dominion again, which as we transition into the new season, is a necessary thing, as the threat they represent will take on a new and more complicated dimensions as things develop.


"I will apologize for this at a later time."

Ohboy. This episode. DS9 probably shouldn't do romance. I've said this before and I'll say it again. It's just not their thing. It's even worse when you consider this is Klingon romance, which is full of all kinds of icky subtext, all of which will be ignored because this is a romantic comedy (shock horror!) featuring Quark and his Klingon "wife" from back in "The House of Quark" two seasons ago.

Even more troubling is this is the episode where Dax becomes pretty much exclusively the appendage of Worf, an act which does neither character any favours and is not really explored in any meaningful way and generally, one wonders why it happened at all, except because Worf still didn't have much to do on the station, and they'd given up doing anything with Dax, so they figured why not kill two birds with one stone?

I object to this all because it leads to the soul blasting horror of "Let He Who Is Without Sin . . ." perhaps the Platonic ideal of a horrible episode.

But let's try to get through this as best we can, OK? Essentially--Grilka comes to see Quark, who feels like rekindling a romance with her when all she wants him to do is straighten out her family finances. Worf is feeling the itch for Grilka as well, and Dax is feeling the itch for Worf. Through a series coincidences far too irritating for me to spell out in much detail here, Worf plays Cyrano for Quark, Quark exposes some internecine treason in Grilka's house, and Dax finally gets dang old Worf to notice she exists. Hilarity fails to ensue in the epilogue when everyone's getting treated for injuries because battering your boyfriend/girlfriend is what comedy's all about.

This tries mightily to be funny, and never makes the grade. It doesn't fail in the sense it's aggressive irritating, just that it's kinda . . .there. If anything, the comedy passes by the boards while the rather unpleasant subtext lingers on. I should also add there's the added dismay for me that Dax and Grilka both become things to be coveted or fought over by the guys, and might as well not exist outside of the male character's orbit.

Really, the gender politics of this episode dismay me. I don't want to talk about it anymore.


"I couldn't stand hearing him apologize to me like that. Not after what I'd done to him."

You may remember last season we had the utterly tremendous "The Visitor," which was Jake-centric story that worked amazingly well, considering that Jake was well, not the highest-tier character in the show. It almost made up for "The Muse," which was so damn ghastly we just don't speak its name anymore. This episode, happily, is more in the vein of "The Visitor," in that it's very revelatory about Jake's character and a good episode to boot.

It shouldn't work, really, because the entire episode is just Jake running around and encountering various war-movie cliches like the soldier dying in the foxhole, the callow youth with the self-inflicted wound, but it works, because the point of the cliches are to throw Jake's character into sharp relief, the story is Jake weighing what he sees against his own unforgivable act of cowardice.

And that's a major thing in and of itself--Jake chickens out. He wanted action in a medical conference that seemed to him to be nothing but a bunch of jibber jabber about medicine, he got a war story. It's everything he could have possibly wanted for his first story . . .and it's nothing like he imagined.

Oh, and the fact that this is the only time in the entire series that the whole Klingon stuff actually seems in any way shape or form dangerous. This outlook on war is unique to DS9 and reaches its apotheosis with "The Siege of AR-558" in the final season. War is not very glamorous with lots of space battles--it's grim, loud, stressful, ugly, and clearly takes a mental toll on the people fighting it.

You'll notice I'm kind of going easy on plot details for this one, and some of that's due to the fact that really, reviewing this just boils it down to a few bullet points . . .really, the quality of this episode is more about the viewer's reaction to it and what we get out of it than the fine details of the plot. So I suggest you watch it for yourself, and make your own judgment . . .which ties in neatly with the end of the episode.

Speaking of endings, that's it for this week. Join us next time when Keiko O'Brien returns and brings a problematic plot element with her in "The Assignment"; We have a hellacious amount of fun with time travel chicanery when we hop back to the classic series in "Trials and Tribble-ations"; and from that point of exultation my soul crashes into the black hopeless despair that is "Let He Who Is Without Sin . . ."; and thankfully we don't end on that black note because we finish with "Things Past." Join us next time for great episodes, terrible episodes . . .and pleasure.

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