Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #30

If it's Saturday, it must be time once again for another visit to the happy little corner where we look at Picture Picture. And wouldn't you know it, Picture Picture is showing another quartet of episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we follow up on the seismic shifts in the tone of the show a little, but generally it's dominated by character bits. I initially dreaded this, since watching "Ferengi Love Songs" is about as pleasant as having a shock-stick jammed in my junk, but it gives me a chance to compare why a Quark episode works and why a Ferengi episode doesn't side by side, so there's at least a silver lining to it.


"If people are talking, it's only because they care. You put on a good front, but anyone who really knows you can see that you're lonely."

So, I'm a big fan of sci-fi noir. Blade Runner is one of my favourite movies, after all--it must be, as I bought that big DVD case with like, 6 cuts of the damn film in it. Either that or I have a serious mental illness--and I can see why, in a show like this, having a character like Odo, it would seem to be a natural fit to do a story like this.

The problem is noir is more a style than a natural mode of plots--noir plots typically turn on gimmicks and gloss over these problems with stylistic exercises more than logical plotting, and unfortunately, this is what keeps this episode from really working as it should. Because the gimmick in this episode is rather eye-rolling.

So let's get right down to it: Odo becomes involved (in every sense of the word) with a mysterious woman in a lot of trouble with the Orion Syndicate (the occasionally mentioned yet seldom seen stand-in for the mafia in Star Trek) Only in turns out that she's not all she seems. As this is film noir and this kinda thing happens all the time, I'd also like to remind you that rain is wet, fire is hot, and by all means, keep breathing.

I won't spoil the big reveal, as that's pretty much all this episode has going for it. It's sort of goofy and such an obvious reset button that it feels . . .well, like a cheat. There's some attempt to give all this a little more heft than it might have otherwise, and some meditations from the rest of Our Heroes about the way Odo lives his life and how he's being lonely and stuff, given that this is all reversed in a little bit and any meaningful attempt to not pair up Odo with anyone save Kira is abandoned it feels like a bit of a storytelling blind alley.


"28 million dead? Can't we just wound some of them?"

Quark gets into business with Victor Maitland and Joe Cabot, and those of you who enjoy convulsing your minds to make a Star Trek/Beverly Hills Cop/Reservoir Dogs crossover work with any kind of logic, go right ahead.

OK, seriously, this is a Quark episode, wherein he loses a lot of money and decides to throw in with his cousin Gaila, who's been mentioned a few times and who tried to kill him back in "Little Green Men." Gaila is one of the wealthier members of the family and is doing all right for himself, and has an idea to use Quark's holosuites as a weapon showroom, which makes running guns through there technically legal, though seriously immoral.

Quark, being Quark, pretends he doesn't care at first, and rather enjoys the fact that he's making money and the authorities can't touch him, partly because he's technically not doing anything illegal, and also because the people he's working for sold arms to the Bajorans during the Occupation and well, they ow them one (this is a good bit, I rather liked it)

However, there is a cost--Starfleet officers stop going in to Quark's bar and he starts to feel the gnawings of his own conscience, especially when he's asked to sell weapons that will annihilate large chunks of populations. Quark, despite occasionally being the exemplar of old-school Ferengi values, just can't let himself be as amoral as his cousin.

So Quark decides to get out of the weapons business by virtue of a complicated double-blind, because that's better than two week's notice any day of the week. I'll leave the details of it out, except to say that when it comes off, it is incredibly satisfying.

So, remember when I said that Quark episodes work while Ferengi episodes tend not to? Well, it's because of this: This episode is about something, and the comedy all flows from that point: how much is too much for a greedy profit-minded Ferengi? It's not just a collection of bits based on characters who are satellites of a main character and have little to differentiate themselves, this is someone we've actually seen go through something of an arc.

This is an example of the right way to do these. The wrong way, well, let's look at the next episode before we get to that . . .


"Oh my, that is quite toxic, isn't it?"

So, you remember two seasons ago when I said "Second Skin" was one of my favourite episodes of the whole DS9 run? Well, we now tie off that loose end with this episode. Ghemor, former Legate of the Cardassian Union returns to DS9 to see Kira, because he's dying of End of Plot complications and he wants to perform a Cardassian ritual, wherein he gives up a lifetime of secrets about the Cardassian political system to the only family he has left.

Starfleet is, of course, over the moon about this--with the Cardassian situation being what it is, the information is priceless. So priceless, in fact, that Dukat himself shows up to the station, and we get our first real look at what's happening in Cardassia since the "Purgatory/Inferno" two-parter shook everything up.

For one thing, Dukat isn't alone--his Dominion right hand is none other than Weyoun, last seen being very dead in "To The Death." They get out of this pretty easily by saying Weyoun, like all Vorta, just run off a new clone whenever one of them gets killed, which is . . .well, one way of doing it, I guess. Not much comes from this inititally--this is Kira's story after all, and the Dominion stuff is more of a filigree and presaging of things to come than a direct story point.

Things go according to plan until Dukat makes Kira aware of Ghemor's past and when he took part in a raid on the Bajorans. This naturally sets Kira off and she refuses to see him while he comes ever closer to slipping away for good. Kira looks quite willing to let him die alone (this is, after all, a woman who took out a Cardassian serial killer while pregnant not so very long ago) until she's reminded of a moment when her actual father was dying and she left him alone to go kill some Cardassians.

It's a really good scene and the whole episode really turns on it. In a way it's more effective than the recent "The Darkness and the Light" because it's a bit more nuanced--there's guilt on both sides of the equation, and that guilt can bind as well as it can separate.

This is a really good episode. It may have more weight/pain for you if you've had to take care of a terminally ill family member, and it's rather unique because it really does allow Kira to come off as a bit of an asshole and doesn't really try to walk it back--her abandonment of Ghemor and her subsequent return really does feel earned.


"Don't you think of anyone but yourself?!"
"Of course I do. I just think about myself first."

And then there's this. All Ferengi Komedy, all the time, with all the shrill mugging and histrionics that implies. Zek gets involved with Quark's mother and Leeta and Rom almost get married, then don't.

I don't really want to spend a lot of time on this, so I'll deal with this in bold strokes. There is no god damned reason why anyone should give a shit about either of these plots. Zek and Quark's mom are appendages and plot complications for Quark more than they're characters in their own right, and if DS9, the show that wrote the book on giving recurring characters as much weight as the main cast, then you have some problems.

But then, that's just half the problem. What's the excuse for the Rom and Leeta subplot? Believe it or not, before the whole season became Operation: Get Rom Over, Rom was actually an interesting character with a different perspective--he had no aptitude for profit, which made him a horrible Ferengi, but he was good at something else. It made for a great contrast with Quark, who only ever wanted to be the best Ferengi he could be

Unfortunately, with his prominence this season, all the interesting stuff has been set by the wayside and now all we get from him is irritating mugging and such overexposure it fills me with head-swimming dread when he shows up in an episode for longer than a minute.

It's not helped that he's marrying a cipher named Leeta, who, impressive Valkyrie cleavage aside, has little character to recommend her. The wisest thing to do for all concerned would have been to marry them in this episode, declare victory, and move on. Instead, this running sore of a subplot will drag down the season finale.

I really hate Ferengi episodes, is I guess what I'm saying. And they're all the more frustrating when you can see that they can be done well (if you follow the "less is more" method of doing things, and not try to jam so much in and turn it up to 11. The worse thing is that the nadir of Ferengi episodes still awaits me, and oh how I dread it.

That's all for this week. Join us next week when Martok and Worf solve post-traumatic stress disorder with knives and Tackleberry is outed as a Klingon in "Soldiers of the Empire"; We pay our last visit to the Gamma Quadrant before the end of the series and deal in time paradoxes in "Children of Time" and Sisko enlists Eddington to tell him his favourite Bon Jovi song in "Blaze of Glory"; and Garak makes chicken salad out of chicken shit in the wrongheaded yet still entertaining "Empok Nor." Join us next week for Maquis, horror flicks, and pleasure!

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