Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #36

It's Saturday, and that means that we once again set aside our usual mischief and procrastination for the feel-good tomfoolery of our usual feel-good tomfoolery and check in once again for a quartet of episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, as opposed to last week, where my lack of patience for a mediocre stretch of episodes probably oozed from every paragraph, this week we have one great episode, one okay episode, and two of the worst episodes in DS9's run. Half is better than all of them, I guess.

Let's get down to it!


"It's not about what's right. It's about what is."

"Wishing never changed a damn thing."

Two quotes this time. The episode is that damn good.

Sisko's feeling a bit down in the dumps thanks to the ever-growing casualty list the war adds to daily (not the ONLY time this will bother him this season--however, it would have a bit more punch had we not had 4 episodes of froth which generally barely mentioned the war or made it seem like not a big deal) and is so upset he's considering leaving Starfleet (which is a bit silly, but thankfully isn't much of a drag on this episode) and he's grappling with his high-level angst--

He wakes up in 1950s New York City, and his name is Benjamin Russel. Benjamin is a writer for a science fiction anthology and in his downtime hangs out with his few friends and, being this is a black man in the 1950s, suffers through a suffocating and spirit-crushing amount of racism, most blatantly embodied by two cops who continually hassle him and look oddly like Dukat and Weyoun.

In fact, nearly every member of the extended cast seems to have some analogue with Benny Russel's world. Perhaps that's what inspires him to write a story about a space station called "Deep Space Nine" and populate it with characters a lot like the people he knows (sorta) and have the main character be a black Captain named Sisko.

Inspired, he writes a story for the anthology. Everyone likes it, even the editor, who sadly has to tell Benny there's no way it'll ever be published: No one will every believe a black man can be captain of a spaceship. Just won't happen. Benny's a bit crushed by the news, but someone at the office suggests he make his story into the dream of a modern day black man pinned down by the hopelessness of the lot of people of colour at that time. Rather than see it all go to waste, Benny decides to rewrite the story.

His hopes are a bit bruised, but it looks like it might get published after all, and he's feeling up. But this is not that kind of episode, because the cops shoot and kill one of his friends in the middle of a robbery, and when Benny protests, they beat the shit out of him, too. To say this is an uncomfortable scene would be an understatement.

Things get far worse when he's finally able to return to work: The publisher has pulped the entire run. His story will never see print, and Benny's been fired. There's nothing Benny can do, nothing anyone can do (as an aside is "there's nothing you can do" the worst phrase you can ever hear?)

Understandably, Benny loses his shit and completely comes apart:

"You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea! Don't you understand, that's ancient knowledge. You cannot destroy an idea! That future, I created it, and it's real! Don't you understand? It is REAL! I created it and IT'S REAL!"

About the only thing I can say about the last 4 episodes is that if you're watching them sequentially, something like this coming along must be the most ferocious emotional gut-punch of all time. Especially because . . .well, the episode ends with Benny being carted off to an asylum and Sisko being brought out of some plot-convenient coma and questioning whether or not he's the dreamer or the dream?

I really love this episode. I love it's complete disregard for what constitutes a typical DS9 episode, I love it's ambition, I love the fact that it's not afraid to make you care for Benny Russel and turn what could be an exercise in stunt-casting (hey, here's the DS9 cast in the 50's and they're all sci-fi writers! So clever!) and turns it into one of the bleakest, saddest, episodes ever, never shies from the issue implied in its episode (no veiling your racism with different coloured people here--they even drop the N-word) and after making you care about Benny Russell . . .destroys his life right in front of you and leaves you with little mitigation or sugar-coating of his fate.

It helps also, and probably speaks to me more than most, that the thrust of the episode is not just "racism is bad." If it were just that much of a straight-up didact it wouldn't work any better than "Past Tense" did. You can also read it as a story of a writer believing in his idea even when everyone else seems kinda cold to it and life is crapping on him and this is really all he has left to believe in. And having that hope taken from him is just as spirit-crushing as the racism that insists he is worth less than other people just because he looks different, if for no other reason that it is trying to seal off his one means of escaping that racism.

It's a very good episode. One of DS9's best, and you should totally watch it, like, right now. Trust me, there's not much else this week you need to read this week.

"Chief... you're not going to like this."

Jupiter's fucking balls, this shit is the biggest god damned buzzkill. You remember how, even when you were a kid, you could always tell when I show was running low on ideas you'd see a lot of very hackneyed stock plots show up, like, evil duplicates show up, impersonate heroes badly and ruin their reputation because everyone else in the world is a fucking moron, and, and this was my most dreaded stock plot to encounter: Our Heroes Get Shrunk. If it's a Fantastic Voyage riff, it's even worse in my eyes.

Well, God must hate me, because here's the motherfucking Our Heroes Got Shrunk episode. In the name of some inane and brainless experiment I did not make note of, or care to look up, some of our heroes flies a Runabout into a Whatever Anomaly and are made wee. Then the Jem'Hadar take over the Defiant because this is a thing which happens when you waste time doing stupid shit like shrinking people.

I had a hard time investing much in the stakes of this episode, really, because if you're busy shrinking people, you kind of deserve to get your ass kicked by the Jem'Hadar. For one thing, Our Heroes have triumphed over the Jem'Hadar enough times, and for another thing, there's a fucking teeny runabout flying around everywhere and destroying any fucking tension. And of course, the creators tried to hang a lampshade on it and say gently "Look, we know this is silly, but just go with us on this."

You know what? No. Fuck you. I'm not going with you on this one because it's a stupid idea I've seen 8 million times already and it's always stupid, and guess what? The streak, like Bill Goldberg's up to Starrcade 1998, is still unbroken, because this episode sucked too!

There is one good idea in here. One. There is tension between the Jem'Hadar created in the Alpha Quadrant vs. the originals bred in the Gamma Quadrant. It is never followed up on again, which makes me hate this episode even more.

In short, I did not care for this episode. I would like to move on to the next one now.

"Back home, wherever that is, you got a family?
"Yeah." "
"Good. After all, that's the most important thing."

This is a marginally better episode than the one which preceded it, not least because nothing gets shrunk. O'Brien is recruited by Starfleet Intelligence (never was there a more contradictory) to infiltrate the Orion Syndicate (finally a little bit more than the throwaway reference mentioned a couple times previous) O'Brien gets to be friends with his contact, Bilby, (who is, surprisingly for a guy in organised crime, not an unrepentant monster) and gets more involved than he should.

In other words, like the shrinking episode, it's nothing you haven't seen dozens of times before. Thankfully, it's done well enough that you don't mind it (as opposed to the episode before this--there's really just no way you can do a shrinking episode well--it's just a stupid idea) but while it's a very solid episode, for the most part you enjoy it well enough, but will probably forget about it half an hour after you watch it.

There is an interesting wrinkle that sadly isn't the main point of the episode--that the Dominion is actually in collusion with the Syndicate to try and foment dissension between the Federation and the Klingons. Oh sure, that's what O'Brien was sent to find, but the point is for him to get on with Bilby, so that when Bilby sacrifices himself for O'Brien we feel appropriately sad when Bibly has to go, and . . .we kinda do, though this was one of those stories we really didn't need to have followed up on next season.

Sadly . . .


"Are you suffering enough?"

Yes, I'd rather post a Youtube video of an atrocious Cyndi Lauper song than review this episode. Because this is yet another in a seemingly interminable series we like to call Operation: Get Worf and Dax Over. Yes, the couple that you didn't care to see get together, the couple that did no favours for either character apart from give them something to do (a feat which the show had failed to do with each character individually) the couple that you didn't care when they were getting married, bickered, broke up, and get married after all and still manage to be the most arid, passionless couple ever seen in a public forum save for the day when a disgruntled worker at Peebles posed two bald naked mannequins to look like they were joylessly fucking doggy-style. The Memorial Day weekend sale had never been so sexless and barren.

This time,Worf and Dax are sent on a mission to rescue a Cardassian informant, one of the few that the Federation has. Spoiler: They utterly fail in this and the informant dies. They fail because Dax gets shot, and we have interminable scenes of "Worf, you have to leave me"/"I can't"/"You have to"/"OK, I will"/"Oh wait, I can't." You have seen this played out millions of times. I would wager that at least once it involved two people you actually cared about.

I'm not sure what the point of this episode is. Dax and Worf's love trumps duty? Well yeah, but given what I saw in this episode, it also trumps reason, logic, and intelligence. Dax and Worf are featured in an episode going off and doing stuff? Kinda fails there too--Dax gets shot and bleeds out, Worf fails, and these are our heroes, for God's sake.

The only silver lining to this is that there's some actually consequence to this brainless decision: Worf gets a serious reprimand (it's only the secrecy of the mission that saves his ass from court martial) and will also probably never get a command, because obviously putting your personal preferences ahead of mission objectives is a big no-no. Then again, this is the same twit who flew the Defiant out to fight the Borg shouting that "Today is a good day to die" so I have a notion that he had a couple strikes against him in the command department already.

And that's it for another week. Well, we had one good episode this week, which prevented my spirits from being utterly crushed by the two awful awful awful episodes this week. That said, I sure hope next week is better, or that if it's not, at least the 16 of you who read this at least find these moments when I lose my patience with the show entertaining.

Join us next week when Dukat returns and pulls an epic dick move (literally and retroactively, weirdly enough) in "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"; DS9 crosses the Rubicon and creates something heretofore undreamed of in the Utopian world of Star Trek in "Inquisition"; We look at the BEST DS9 EPISODE EVER in "In the Pale Moonlight"; and we end with the spirit sapping, testicle-shriveling advent of the terror that is Vic Fonatine in "His Way." Join us next week for Kira getting punked, a guy yelling "IT'S A FAAAAAAAAAAKE!" and pleasure!

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