Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #38

Hello hello, and welcome to a very special edition of our seemingly never-ending journey through the entirety run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week . . .well, our first episode this week is one of the worst and most troubling episodes of the entire run. While I attempt to explain this below, I should mention that when I started Witless Prattle back in the oh-so-2009, I made myself a promise that I would try not to swear as much as I had in other places wherein I had a platform for my musings.

Unfortunately, I failed in keeping in clean, as anyone who so much as visited this place one time could tell you. I bring this up because I have a feeling I will swear more in this entry than I did the previous two years of Witless Prattle combined. I don't want to, but it's gonna be that kind of entry, so let's get down to it.


"During the reckoning, the Bajorans will either suffer horribly or... eat fruit."

"The Reckoning" is a bad episode of DS9, only worse. Because the ripple effect to and from "The Reckoning" is so bad and so troubling that in a very real way it fatally damages the show and locks us on a course we'd be a lot better . . .well, not being on, let us say. Because like it or not, "The Reckoning" is the blueprint of DS9's endgame and it's the kind of thing you didn't need to see played out once, never mind as the endgame for seven years of a series one has invested time and interest in.

So remember last year in "Rapture" when Sisko found the ancient city of B'Hala and got all nutty and Jesus-like? Yeah, well, even with the war on, the Bajorans have still been digging up the ruins of B'hala and found a tablet with some ancient Bajoran writing on it. The writing is addressed to the Emissary, which makes me wonder how River Song fits into things, but never mind vague references to other things I hate, it's a message from the Prophets, and it's full of dark, ominous warnings about how Bajor will burn and stuff.

Naturally, no one seems to be willing to stop picking at it.

Kai Winn (who, in the process of this episode will undergo a de-nuancing on the level of Dukat a few weeks ago) objects to Sisko taking the tablet back to the station, and complains to Admiral Ross, who tells Sisko to knock it off already. But you can't tell The Sisko what to do, so he breaks the tablet, and unleashes crappy special effects which means The Reckoning is on.

The Reckoning, I should mention, is the final battle between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths, who you may remember from "The Assignment." The Pah-Wraiths have been elevated to the level of anti-Prophets, which DS9 will struggle mightily to make into a Big Important Conflict, but never rises above the level of well, I'll let the Iron Sheik say it for me:

Now. The Prophets are timeless, godlike beings that have no concept of linear time, barely understand corporeal lifeforms, and would generally not like to be bothered by them. The Pah-Wraiths are totally OK with possessing people, but haven't really shown that they're all that super-powerful, really.

How do you think a conflict like this would be portrayed. Whatever idea you had just now is far better than what they did--which is the Prophet possesses Kira, the Pah-Wraith possesses Jake, they pop their eeerie contact lenses in and distort their voices and throw Force lighting at each other on the station.

It looks way more cheap and far more stupid than I can possibly convey to you with words.

Now, the episode is trying to milk this for all the dramatic weight it can--this is, after all, Sisko's penance for asking the Prophets to intervene and wipe out the Dominion fleet.

Oh yeah, about that. We finally get an answer to the question of what happened there: It was a one time thing. The Dominion just kinda decided not to send any more ships through the wormhole in case they might do it again, which they wouldn't.




First of all, the Dominion always seemed like "if at first you don't succeed, try try again" types. I can't believe they didn't just ram ships into the minefield faster than they could replicate new ones. After all, "In The Pale Moonlight" told us that the Dominion could turn out Jem'Hadar and ships with mind-mashing speed. Are you telling me that an empire as resource-heavy as the Dominion would blink at losing 1,000 ships?

And that's not even considering the fucking Prophets. If it's a one time thing, then what the hell is . . .how much good does it really do that . . .oh God, let me just get through this fucking thing.

The episode tries to make some dramatic hay out of the fact that Sisko's penance is, like Abraham, to sacrifice his son for the gods he believes in, but for fuck's sake, this is two people throwing shitty special effects at each other and talking in spooooooooooky voices, and it is mother-fucking-god-damned-impossible take that shit at all seriously. You just can't invest in it because it looks so stupid.

Here, let me put it to you this way. Here is the trailer for this episode. It prominently features scenes from the climactic battle:

Here is a guy juiced out of his mind on PCP wearing training pants and dancing with a stuffed rabbit.

I ask you . . .which is easier to invest in as a viewer? There's no wrong answer here--it's totally the second one.

And this is the new paradigm for DS9's conclusion--the Prophets and Pah-Wraith's conflict overlaid onto the Federation/Dominion conflict, and for all the heavy lifting that will be done to and make this work, I am here to tell you: it does not ever fucking work. It comes close exactly once, and this is quickly abandoned, because it would require us to think a bit more than Prophets=good Pah-Wraiths=bad. Fuck knows, we can't have that.

"But Kazekage," I hear you say. "I thought DS9 excelled at creating stories that were willing to ask questions and not put things into neat little boxes and spur a little thought on the part of the viewer?" And yes, they do, and will do in the future, although at a much lesser extent than previous. "The Reckoning" exemplifies a trend we've seen a couple times already in episodes like "Waltz"--as the clock ticks down, DS9's creators are not so willing to dabble in ambiguity, preferring a straight good vs. evil black and white morality and while there's nothing wrong with that on its face, that's not what made DS9 a good show and to see them walk that back at the 11th hour is more than a little disappointing, not unlike drawing a line under all the mysteries your TV show has been building for its run with a tossed-off "well, God did it."


"I don't remember anyone inviting you to the bridge."

I can't decide if I'm just feeling charitable because of the utter atrocity that is "The Reckoning" but "Valiant" isn't that bad. Then again, the last episode was so dreadful a longshoreman's Heimlich would be better than "The Reckoning." In any event, it's a decent episode that mostly achieves what it sets out to do, even if the high concept of it doesn't make one iota of sense if you give it more than the most cursory thought.

Jake and Nog get trapped behind enemy lines, and get rescued by the Valiant, which is a ship just like the Defiant, which just proves they're actually mass-producing Defiant-class ships and this is not some budget-conscious way to save money by using the Defiant sets. The Valiant is being commanded entirely by Red Squad, the Academy's best and brightest (last seen in "Paradise Lost" two years ago) as their Starfleet supervisor got killed and they've been fighting behind enemy lines ever since with their own heavily-armed warship.

I can't decide whether that's the best field-trip ever or the shittiest.

In any event, the outward conflict is that the Valiant is hunting a Dominion battleship that they've calculated has a weakness in the design--a small thermal exhaust port right below the main port. The shaft is only two meters wide, and it's ray-shielded, so they'll have to use quantum torpedoes.

The interior conflict is between Nog, who is all for helping the crew out, because he's Starfleet, and that's what you do. There's no question of him doing whatever he can. Jake, meanwhile, sees this for what it is--a suicide mission being ramrodded by people who have no idea what they're setting themselves up for, kept going by a captain, one Tim Watters, who's dosing himself with Space Crank to keep going and relying on force of personality to get the crew to go along.

This point is rammed home with all possible force when the Valiant fires on the weak point and . . .it doesn't work. Watters immediately collapses mentally at seeing the Dominion ship survive and proceed to kick the shit out of the Valiant.

Yeah, the notion of cadets getting a field trip on a warship and being able to fight a guerrilla war behind the lines is utterly silly, and the idea that Nog couldn't come in and take command (as an Ensign, he'd be the ranking commissioned officer) is one of those things people tend to bring up, the episode . . .ain't bad, and has some interesting things to say about the dangers of a cult of personality and how the war is eroding the vaguely ominpresent smug superiority Starfleet always seem to have. I also like that this one time the million-to-one shot doesn't work. It appeals to the nihilist in me.


"He's the one that should be wearing the dress."

Hey, kids! Do you like Quark? Do you think he's a funny character and one that is versatile enough to be in many different kinds of stories? Well here's forty-five excruciating minutes of Quark with tits, and lots of jokes about Ferengi and their sexism and so much stupid mugging and no one in this episode comes out of it with any dignity whatsoever. Does that sound like fun? It sure as fuck isn't!

So Grand Nagus Zek is trying to give Ferengi women suffrage. This nearly gets him deposed by Brunt. Moogie is along to be shrill and annoying. Quark changes his gender and gets boobies. I hate this episode so much, as it aspires to very little and manages to achieve even less.

You see, with all the other plot lines going on on this show, even the ones they've fumbled the ball on (the Prophets and the Mirror Universe, f'rinstance) and with us being three episodes from the beginning of the final season, we really have neither the inclination nor the time to deal with stupid fucking horseshit involving Ferengi politics that no one cares about and/or Quark crossdressing.

I am sick and tired of talking about this episode. It upsets me. So let's relax with something pleasant and easygoing that the whole family can enjoy. Something like Devo's "Love Without Anger":


"Oh, bollocks!"

So it's time for another "Let's torture O'Brien" episode, and . . .well, six seasons in, they seem to have lost their bite after peaking with "Hard Time," as this episode, his daughter Molly falls through a time warp and comes back as an older child from the Clan of the Cave Bear. With all the earnestness of a Movie of the Week (do they still have those?) O'Brien and Keiko do their best to look after their forced-aged cavegirl daughter, but eventually, the time shenanigans get reversed and their daughter comes back at the proper age and not a cavewoman at all.

It is so much more bland than it sounds. I should mention here that Doctor Who recently did the high concept of this episode leagues better than this (something I haven't been able to say of Doctor Who this season to a great degree) because it's a whole lot easier to ask the question "is it OK to run back the clock on someone's future self and negate their whole existence" when your choices are not "cute moppet" and "feral cavegirl." The Who episode is willing to play it to the hilt--as bother versions want to live, even if one has turned old and bitter from her experiences, but doesn't see that as adequate reason to negate her life.

The DS9 version loads the dice from the start--obviously we don't want the fucking cavegirl, and the episode plods along until it can reverse it at the earliest opportunity. Plus, we see O'Brien's family only maybe one time more frequently than Halley's Comet, and usually when they do they're being possessed or being pissy about being there so, really, my general feeling is something like "does anybody give a fuck?" I don't!

I should be mad that this episode is padded and pointless, and I kinda am, but given the other episodes we've had this week, I'm willing to let it go at simply being mediocre and unengaging, which means, given this week, means I'm giving this a gentleman's C minus.

That. mercifully enough, is it for this week. Join us next week for the final two episodes of season 6, as Our Heroes get a message from the Twilight Zone in "The Sound of Her Voice" and in "Tears of the Prophets" one of Our Heroes . . .WILL DIE! Join us next time for twist endings, battle scenes that aren't stock footage, and death!


C. Elam said...

I realize these weren't the best, but any occasion to see T-Bone and Devo in the same entry is a good day indeed.

Kazekage said...

It's an interesting juxtaposition, innit?