Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #33

Well, I nearly thought I was gonna get blown to Oz with Hurricane Irene, but it looks like even hurricanes like--no, love--no wait, crave--my seemingly never-ending journey through every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we begin Season Six, and it's very much the best of times and the worst of times, really.

The season begins with a six-episode, tightly serialised arc that is generally very strong (though the whole is stronger than its parts) and is followed by episodes which range from the mediocre ("Resurrection") to the outright dire ("You Are Cordially Invited"; "The Magnificent Ferengi") until things calm down and they find their footing and produce some of DS9's best episodes in the entire run ("Far Beyond The Stars"; "In the Pale Moonlight") and, seeing as how we're about two seasons away from the finale, we will begin making every effort to wrap up and position characters in the direction they need to be for the endgame. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. We'll see both before we're done.

"All in all, it's a good time for Cardassia. And the Dominion."

Last week, Our Heroes lost the station but cockblocked the Dominion on the way out by mining the wormhole and preventing any reinforcements from coming through. We skip ahead three months and see Dukat (along with his right hand man Damar) and Weyoun in charge of the station, more to bring down the minefield and definitively write the finish to the war before it grinds on too long.

Then again, one could argue they don't need the help--frankly, the Dominion is kicking the Federation and the Klingon's asses up and down the woodpile. The war to this point has been a constant bought of "engage, retreat; engage, retreat," and the crew of the Defiant are getting a little restless, and really, who can blame them? They need a Big Victory, something to boost morale, and soon enough, they get it:

Sisko and the rest are seconded to a new mission to break behind the lines (using the Jem'Hadar ship they salvaged in the fifth season) and destroy a ketracel white facility that will cause a drastic shortage for the Jem'Hadar (this kinda goes nowhere in the long term, but that's a recurring problem with a lot of war stories in DS9--built up as massively important, but not amounting to much) and hopefully turn the war in their favour.

That's the A-plot, and rather serviceable it is too. The B-plot is a bit more interesting as we see how Kira and the rest of the characters left behind on the station and how they're responding to the new occupation.

Kira, as you might imagine, seems to have inherited Sisko's tendencies for incandescent quiet rage, and little surprise, considering Gul Dukat's back in charge of the station and the only thing keeping him from bringing his bootheel onto the Bajorans is Weyoun's insistence that they honor the nonaggression pact that Bajor signed with the Dominion last season.

Weyoun and Dukat have such wonderful chemistry it's a shame that they don't have more scenes together. Dukat is riding high, of course, positively lunar that he's done what he set out to do--Cardassia was a third-rate power and he's made them strong again. The alliance with the Dominion is just a temporary measure until they can stand on their own. In the meantime, however, Dukat is positively bursting with overweening arrogance.

Weyoun (and to a lesser extent, Kira) both think he's a bit full of shit. For Weyoun, the notion of power for its own sake isn't something he thinks a lot of one way or the other--his people are just functionaries--the Founders say "do this," you do it, and that's that. That Dukat sees it as sanctifying his greatness is something Weyoun takes great delight in mocking in ways subtle and grand as opportunity presents.

But he's also not afraid to jerk the chain on Dukat to bring him in line. While Dukat may think that Cardassia is the one using the Dominion, Weyoun sees them as just another functionary and isn't afraid to tear him out of frame or yell at Damar, kindling a hatred between the two that will develop as time goes on.

Not that Weyoun's a good guy either--he's been withholding Jake's stories about life on the station under the occupation, but Weyoun's withheld all of them because Jake isn't providing a sufficiently "balanced" account.

In the midst of all this indirect oppression, Quark is trying to put a good face on it. Yes, this occupation doesn't have ghetto fencing or Bajoran workers worked until they die, but an occupation is still and occupation and freedoms are being rolled back one by one. Whether they do so announcing it with iron gates and jackboots or not, it's still bad. It's that question of what we can do (and what we should do) that carries through into the next episode . . .

"Evil must be opposed!"

Continuing from last episode's A-plot, Sisko and company succeeded in their mission in the short term, in that they destroyed the ketracel-white facility but got the ship crippled and finally shot down on a deserted planet (or so they think) Oh yeah, and Dax gets injured in such a way as she doesn't die, but is absolved of all plot-relevant duties for this episode (really, this is the season that they all but give up on Dax completely in terms of making her a meaningful character. I know I've been saying that since season 3, but trust me, this is about the time their disinterest becomes plain.)

So good thing it's not her story, then. No, the story is between Sisko and Remata'Klan, a Jem'Hadar third also marooned on the planet. The Jem'Hadar are further suffering from ketracel white withdrawal and are led by a mortally wounded Vorta. When the white runs out, the Vorta's hold on them will be broken and they'll go insane, killing everyone on the planet.

The Vorta, Keevan, offers Sisko an option: They have a communications unit that O'Brien can fix, and in return for being taken as a prisoner of war, he will give Sisko the entire attack plan the Jem'Hadar will use, setting them up to massacre the Jem'Hadar.

This doesn't go down well with Our Heroes, especially when Sisko tries and fails to turn Remata'Klan and give the Jem'Hadar a chance to surrender. Remata'Klan won't even hear of it--yes, Keevan is selling him out and doesn't deserve his loyalty, but he never needed to to--there was no question of his obedience, ever. The scene where he lays this out to Sisko is really one of DS9's best scenes ever, and this a-plot is a bit stronger than last episode's which was more of a "caper" than anything.

However, it's the B-plot of the episode where the real meat of the episode really comes through. Here it is in a nutshell: Kira, through no fault of her own and no conscious effort, has become a collaborator. This episode is about how she realises that--first, when she has to rebuff Jake's probing questions to her and Odo about their presence on the station legitimises the Dominion's occupation, then when she has to talk to Vedek Yassim, who wants her to do what she did before--stand up to this occupation while there's still a chance.

The critical moment comes when Kira is confronted with arresting Vedek Yassim, who has planned a protest on the Promenade. Kira is put in the position of dissuading her, and being ready to arrest her when she plans to go through with her protest.

Yassim's protest is to hang herself on the Promenade. Kira watches, helpless as she does so, and from that point on her disgust with herself and her resolve over what she has to do to be able to live with herself. This sets her on course for the rest of the arc and also will eventually put her in conflict with even her friends, particularly Odo, but we'll get to that soon enough . . .

"You're an opportunistic, power-hungry dictator and I want nothing more to do with you."

Here's where things falter a bit, as we kind of put things on hold for Operation Get Ziyal Over Part #6 and revisit Worf's son Alexander for some reason after not hearing about him for two seasons of this show and I forget how many of TNG. This doesn't really figure in to very much (well, that I can talk about now without venturing into spoiler territory) and doesn't move things along that much, and as a result, we're not going to talk about it overmuch.

Alexander, having gotten one of those growth spurts that only ever happens on soap operas has come aboard the Rotarran to prove that he's a worthy enough warrior in Worf's eyes and pay him back for leaving him behind. Alexander is even more a rubbish Klingon than Worf however, and makes an ass of himself at every opportunity--he's clumsy, combative, and really adds nothing save ballast. I wish I could tell you that his and Worf's arc is insightful, done with a deft touch and doesn't hit every single tired beat of the "Daddy, why'd you leave?" plot, but that would be lying to you, and I don't want to do that. This is, of course, especially pointless, as Alexander will show up for only two episodes and will only be sporadically mentioned afterwards, which leads me to ask if it was really necessary to waste half an episode on this?

The Ziyal plot fares a little better, if only because it at least has something to do with everything that's been going on, as Ziyal is used as a football in Dukat's never-ending efforts to get into Kira's trousers. The problem here, though, is Kira is a well-rounded character. Dukat (at this point) is a well-rounded character. Ziyal is at best a lightweight, at worst, a plot point that walks like a person.

Time and again we've been given reasons we're told we should care about her--she's so good, so innocent, and so kind and so NOT like her father, but we really don't get to see her behaving that way in a way that just doesn't make her seem like an utter airhead (I mean, not wanting to see that your father is a genocidal rat bastard is one thing, but Ziyal's refusal to own up to it and confront him on it is a denial of reality so comprehensive it's like choosing to be deaf) and when you lift that out, you don't really have much more than Kira and Dukat bickering through another episode and that's just not enough.

"Cadet, by the time you took command, there'd be nobody left to call you anything."

Shit gets worse.

Dax gets promoted to command of the Defiant while Sisko gets kicked upstairs. This should seem like more of a big deal, but in practice, it lasts an episode and a half, because No One Gives A Shit About Dax. Really, this is just to keep the wheels spinning for the Defiant crew until part 5, whereupon Sisko will assume command and Dax will go back to getting the occasional prickly one-liner, but . . .ahhh, poor Dax.

In any event, the meat of the story is station-side: Kira's attempt to foment dissent between the Dominion is successful, but carries with it an enormous amount of blowback, at least as Odo sees it, which makes him perfectly vulnerable for the return of Big Momma, who has come to hang out with him (er, basically) Odo, torn by his affection for Kira, his worry about the resistance screwing up the level of order he's comfortable with on the station, and his need to return to his people . . .yes, he links with her, which is Extraordinarily Bad for one reason, one short-term, one long-term.

The short-term problem is that he's doing all this while Damar has worked out how to bring down the minefield, which would hand them the entire bloody quadrant and well, it's squeaky-bum time, innit?

There's another more long-term reason why this is bad, but all in good time.

Anyways, this estranges Odo from Kira, which is exactly when this didn't need to happen, and with everything in the balance, things are going completely apeshit.

However, while Odo may be deserting Our Heroes, Quark has decided he's had enough and can't function under the occupation anymore. It's Quark who brings the news of Damar bringing down the minefield. Rom tries to deactivate the station's systems and limit their ability to take down the minefield, but without Odo to turn off the alarms, he's caught and sentenced to die, which frankly is one of the many reasons the Dominion are pretty damned awesome, if you ask me.

So, at our penultimate tally, we have: The Federation on the brink of annihilation, the Dominion about to get reinforcements, and the one person who could always be counted on for justice, the one person who everyone (Kira especially) thought they could depend on to have their backs . . .just doesn't care anymore.

As I said, things get worse. Worse still, because this is the end for now. But join us next time when we finish up this arc in "Favor the Bold" and "Sacrifice of Angels"; and then we're in for a run of mediocre episodes as Worf and Dax get married in an episode I hate apart from one absolutely glorious thing, and the Mirror Universe comes to us in the utterly chronic "Resurrection." Join us next time for big space battles, lowered expectations, and pleasure!

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