Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #27

Once again with feeling, we sojourn on and on into the dawn with another stop along the way to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week . . .well, this week will take some effort to get through as it is easily the most manic-depressive quartet of episodes yet, as we go from one of DS9's best episodes to its worst lickety-split. I'll try to explain as we go, but for now, let's dive right in.


"For the first 40 minutes it was like pulling teeth even getting him to admit his name."

O'Brien's happy--his wife's returning from an extended layover in Bajor where she studied the fire caves, and you know, so far so good. Except for one teeny tiny little thing: Keiko's apparently a little bit possessed. The ironic thing about this is that given the way she's typically written, this actually makes her a bit more interesting.

It transpired that Keiko picked up a dose of Pah-Wraith (who are, basically, evil spirits that were wormhole aliens, but got dumped out by the Prophets) while in the Fire Caves (which is where the Pah-Wraiths live, for . . .some reason) and the Pah-Wraith has essentially body-jacked Keiko to force O'Brien to use some Whatever Science to kill the Prophets and get back in.

This is, you may have guessed, the "Let's Torture O'Brien" episode for this season, and it's . . .well, kinda sound enough. The idea of his wife being possessed by something that will use her knowledge of him to make him do what she says, forcing O'Brien to frame Rom for everything is frankly, pretty good.

The problem is, in the short term, we see O'Brien's wife so little we kinda forget he's married for long stretches of time, so it doesn't quite have the weight it maybe should have. What's more, despite the fact that Season 5 is the "Let's Push Rom Down People's Throats Until They Gag" season, I really would have liked to see him get blamed and fired out an airlock because we're well into diminishing returns with him as a character now and I find him to be an irritating goddamn creep.

The longer-term issue, is, that the Pah-Wraiths were a bad idea that stuck around long enough to become a really bad idea. The idea of evil Prophets isn't a bad one. There's a lot you can do with it. Not all of that is good. Keeping it to the generally good side of the ledger is best done by having an idea of what the endgame for them will be in your mind. If you try to stretch it out on the fly, you run a high risk of piling on stupid/silly idea and by the time you finally decide to draw a line under them, they're part of so much attendant silliness, that people generally just want them to go the hell away. It's the storytelling equivalent of X-Pac Heat.

So, while the O'Brien being paranoid stuff works OK, the attendant stuff this episode brings along with it doesn't work quite as well, I'm afraid, so really, it's not an episode that can overcome its ropey bits, it's sad to say.


"I can't wait to get back to Deep Space 9 and see your face when you find out that I never existed!"

Oh, now, this is more like it. In a nutshell, Orb-related time travel chicanery allows Our Heroes to go back in time, visit a classic Star Trek episode, and lay the fanservice on as though they were dumping it out of buckets. It's really impossible to review this episode without it boiling down to "Hey, wasn't that bit funny?" or essentially just recapping the original Star Trek episode, so really, this one will be a bit light.

This is done by fans for fans, and so all sorts of bits that only hardcore obsessive Star Trek anoraks would care about: Why do the Klingons look different? Why did Kirk keep getting hit in the head with Tribbles? How come we never saw them again--the tribbles, I mean. It's wrapped around a story that exists just to have moments like that, really, and it aspires to nothing else.

The funny thing is, for a franchise who's typical attempts at comedy are usually awful and depressing (see the very next episode) this one's actually funny. Maybe it's because it's not trying too hard, maybe it's because with nothing at "stake" beyond sending the show that started it all a love letter takes the pressure off, maybe these are all reasons it succeeds when so many other comedy episode fail.

All I know is that even people who hate DS9 usually love this episode. Funny that.


"Do not hug me."


I said no, I'm not doing it.

Look, it's the most godawful episode of the entire run. Even thinking about it pisses me off, and dammit, haven't I suffered enough? "Fascination?" "The Muse?" "Past Tense?" Honestly, what more do you want from me?

. . .

All right, fine. Dax and Worf (and Leeta and Bashir and Quark) head off to Risa, The Sex Planet, to research waterfowl. No, not really-- what he hell do you think they're going for, the Lionel Ritchie concert? Along the way, Dax acts like a bitch, Worf acts like a wet blanket, commits an act of sabotage that has no repercussions for him and believe it or not, this episode was really supposed to sell them as a couple instead of two insufferable assholes who need to be beaten with hammers. Oh, and Risa is under siege from a geriatric telling people to stop having sex on the Sex Planet and to get the hell off his lawn already.

The end. Let us never speak of it again.

What, more? Geez, get off my back: I gave you all you need to know about the plot, and I really don't feel like saying any more about it, but if you need more or just want me to beat up on it some more, here's five reasons why this episode pisses me off.

1. This episode cannot deliver on what it promises. Being that this is a show aired around the dinner hour, it can't really show anything too sexy, hence a trip to the Sex Planet is lathered with a bunch of innuendo with no payoff that borders on the surreal: for example, people on the Sex Planet wave stupid Tiki statues at one another to let them know they would, in fact, like to have some sex. I'm not making that up.

This is not a handicap, really--if you can't do it justice, then don't make a show about going to fucking Sex Planet, then. Find something else to write about. It isn't as though DS9 didn't have avenues worth exploring that didn't involve something they could very plainly Not Do Well. Was there nothing else available, and if this actually made it to air, it begs the question: what did they reject?!?

2. It's terribly hard to care about whether or not you want to see characters having fun and getting laid when all you want them to do is shut up and/or beat them with an iron pipe. Worf acts like an asshole and refuses to do anything. Dax insists he comes along because there's nothing better for a budding relationship than insisting the other person do something they've explicitly said they don't want to do and making them miserable. Dax then gets pissed off that Worf still deep into his asshole thing, and Worf is still pissed off that Dax is going to have fun regardless and we're supposed to like these people and holy shit, I have a fucking headache you would not BELIEVE trying to chase the alleged logic of this.

3. Don't try to justify your character's assholishness with some trauma pulled out of thin air that will never be referenced again just because it's the only way out of this mess. Worf killed someone playing soccer when he was very young, possibly because he was playing soccer at the time, and I can tell you from experience, playing soccer in your middle school years will fill your heart full of sweet, sweet murder. This particular revelation is supposed to explain why he refused to have any fun with Dax, why he joined up with the Fuddy-Duddies to sabotage Risa's weather net, and why he looks less like he loves Dax and more like he'd like to knock her across the room. We are supposed to empathise with and have compassion for Worf, because, like Cyclops, he must keep a tight rein on himself all the time.

I submit that it does none of these things. You don't take someone in that state and expose him to very thing he denies himself. It's like taking a recovering crackhead to Mount Crackenstein, where the slopes are practically shimmering with tons of free crack--you're just fucking torturing them.

4. It helps when doing romance in your story that the viewer's first reaction is not to projectile vomit. See above. Dax and Worf are together because they have absolutely nothing else to do, and boy do they act like it. In the two seasons that Dax and Worf are a capital-C couple, we are frequently presented with stories that are supposed to demonstrate, incontrovertibly, that they love each other. SPOILER--it never works. How this was supposed to happen here, in the early says of Our Long National Nightmare, when all they do this episode is bicker . . .I am not certain. I have had to watch this episode twice now for this review. All I want to do is kill myself.

5. The fucking Tiki statues thing. It pisses me off. Typically, in a place like, say, Hedonism II or something, I would imagine the surest way you would indicate a desire to have sex is . . .well, the usual way--humans biologically have dead giveaways indicating they're hot to trot, and I don't mean waving a six-pack of Heineken from the party deck of your boat at the yacht that just sped by with the women flashing their tits at you. Please notice that nowhere in the previous example did the phrase "novelty Polneisian woodcraft" occur.

I really don't think waving Tiki statues should get you anything except butt-fucked by a scarecrow.

This episode can go to hell and die. I want to throw it in the bin with Manimal, Phantom Menace, The Final Cut, Mae Young giving birth to a hand, Katie Vick, Hanson, and the Yapapi Strap Match featuring Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan on the pile of Things I Never Want To Think About Ever Again.


"Giving me a name tag that read, 'Elim Garak - Former Cardassian Oppressor' was hardly polite."

Did I just insist I was not going to write about that episode above and write more about it than anything else? Oy. Fucking hypocrite, I am.

Never mind that shit, here's a good episode! On their way back from a Bajoran conference, Garak, Odo, Dax and Sisko get shifted in time back to DS9 during the Occupation. Only they seem to be Bajoran slaves, all except Dax, who gets spirited upstairs to be one of Dukat's comfort women.

Except this isn't exactly happening, because Our Heroes are still in the present day, unconscious and in the infirmary, and since Bashir can't find any way to wipe their memories or reanimate the dead, he's stumped as to what's going on, so the only thing to do is for him to watch over them while it plays out.

Meanwhile, back in the Terok Nor of bygone days, Our Heroes are working as Bajoran laborers with varying degrees of success and trying to stay out of the way of Thrax, the Cardassian head of security (played by Clarence Boddiker himself, surely to be calling someone a dumbass any minute now) this goes somewhat pear-shaped when Dukat is nearly killed in an explosion, and Our Heroes are rounded up. Cardassian jurisprudence being what it is, they are told they will be executed pretty soon, this despite the fact that for all intents and purposes they haven't done anything.

This has something to do with Odo, but what that might be, or why he knows who Our Heroes have been cast as, he's not very forthcoming about. But he's having dizzy spells, and at one point even sees blood on his hands. The most damning thing of all, however, is that Thrax wasn't head of security when this happened--he was.

I'm going to spoil the twist, because there's really no talking about the episode without doing so: Odo was on the one who had these prisoners executed. This despite the fact they were plainly innocent, this despite the fact that he could easily have found this out had he not been overworked, this despite the fact that one of the bits that makes Odo Odo--the only thing, now that he's a solid--is his dedication to justice.

And here, he failed. Because he confused order with justice, and sent innocent men to their deaths. For someone like Odo, this is too painful to bear, too shameful to admit.

This episode is pretty damn good, and not least because it's willing to deconstruct Odo to a high degree. It was never entirely realistic, when you get down to it, that Odo's moral absolutism would be compromised by his past associations--you can't really work for a brutal occupying force, enforcing a code of justice that results in very little justice, on a people that have no means or power to challenge the diktat of the occupying force without being compromised in some fashion.

It's to the episode's credit that they're willing to play this to the hilt--the only way out of the flashback (caused by some whatever science involving the Great Link) is for Odo to admit his guilt, and then, he has to stand in front of Kira, the woman he loves, and his first real friend, and when she asks him if this was the only time he dropped the ball, all he can say is that he hopes so. That's a hell of a thing to have one of your heroes do, innit?

The episode, naturally, shares a look with "Necessary Evil," which is to it's credit--"Necessary Evil" was a great episode (and featured and inversion of this episode, with Kira having to fess up to something Odo should have tried her for) but "Things Past" is much more concerned with actually portraying the Occupation as a season in hell that degraded and compromised everyone, really, and as such, it's really tied in to the central themes of DS9 stretching all the way back to the beginning.

There is, also, our first indications of Dukat's gradual demotion from "tweener" back to "full heel" mode, as we see him here as the worst kind of narcissist--the kind running a labor camp, and worse yet, the kind who runs a labor camp and cruises said labor camp for tail. This will become more of an issue as we go along, but for now it's just an interesting reminder that Dukat was and maybe still is, a real shitheel.

This is a great episode, and it's well worth watching.

Thank God we ended on a high note, huh? Join us next week when Quark and Odo wring all the comedy you possibly can out of being stranded on a mountain freezing to death in "The Ascent"; Everyone gets new threads, then Sisko gets religion and tells us what his favourite song by Blondie is in "Rapture"; Kira asks why an episode featuring her has a title more suited to Babylon 5 in "The Darkness and The Light"; and we close out the mirth with Odo's "dad" returning to the station (to much better effect than last time) in "The Begotten." Join us next time for locusts, serial killings, and pleasurrrre . . .

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