Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #41

Hey, ho--let's go! Time once again for another stretch of time around the racetrack on our final lap covering the length and breadth of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Last week, we kinda stumbled through the opening moments and it proved an excellent peek into the future for this season, as really awkward and ill-advised bits stood cheek by jowl with bits that were excellent and completely up to DS9's standards. This week, we have a couple of stronger episodes that I can recommend a little more unreservedly. So let's hop right in, shall we?

"That's a stupid question!"

When you get to the final season of a show, especially one that has had so many long-term plot threads wandering through the entirety of the show, every hour of television becomes precious, as you try frantically to tie everything up with the time you have and do it in a way that feels satisfying and justifies the time the viewers have spent following the show.

Of all the plot threads running through DS9, the one that I could safely say I DIDN'T need any follow-up or closure on, was the goddamned Jack Pack. Yes, those lovable mentally-ill manques who nearly sold the entire Federation down the river back in "Statistical Probabilities"
are back to waste an hour of our precious time in a story that is pretty much "Flowers for Algernon" mixed with an almost word for word rewrite of "Melora" from the second season of this show.

I'm going to speed through this because this episode is awful and the next one is far more worth my time in terms of writing about it. Here goes: Sarina, the mute member of the Jack Pack returns to the station and Bashir develops some Whatever Science that makes her not catatonic and isolated, and it works. Sarina also falls in love with Bashir which kinda makes me wonder if "roofie" was hidden somewhere in the treatment.

But Bashir pushes too hard and it freaks Sarina out and ultimately it comes to nothing because Sarina is a guest star and Bashir has already been destined by the Fickle Finger of Plot that he will hook up with Ezri, a plot convulsion that happens in even more muddled way.

So I'm not really sure what the point of this episode is really supposed to be. Sarina's a stereotype that walks like a person and Bashir has five or ten people come at him the whole time telling he's lonely, which kinda undercuts the point there a little. The zaniness of the Jack Pack is even more annoying the second time around and again--I saw this episode before when it was called "Melora," and while "Melora" wasn't amazing or anything, it was leagues better than this.

"Of course I'm paranoid--everyone's trying to kill me."

Hot damn--here we go. Odo journeys to meet with an old informant, only to find that it's Weyoun, who wants to defect. He no longer believes in the Founder's plan for war against the Federation and he wants to surrender to Odo. However, Damar, along with ANOTHER Weyoun (they're clones, remember?) send the Jem'Hadar after them, as Weyoun is a near-fatal security risk they can't afford to let run loose.

In the B-Plot, O'Brien loses Sisko's desk, and hilarity ensues. No, really, it does.

Let's take the A-Plot first, as there's a lot to unpack there. Odo has never been comfortable being viewed as a god by the Jem'Hadar and the Vorta, and so sticking him in this situation causes him plenty of awkwardness, mitigated somewhat because he can pretend, at least initially, that it's a simple matter of "this is my prisoner, I'm not going to let you take him."

Initially, anyways, because Weyoun won't leave it there. After all, he's genetically predisposed to see Odo as godlike, and when Odo says "yeah, you know they probably programmed you to think that way"; Weyoun's all like, "Yeah, of course they did, because unless you have people worshiping you, you're just some prat in a robe doing stupid magic tricks." The interplay between Odo and Weyoun, covering as it does the past (Weyoun explains how the Vorta became what they are now--the Vorta once saved a Changeling from persecution, and in gratitude, the Founders gave them a place in the Dominion) the present (how in the hell are they going to get out of there current predicament) and the future, which is a critical plot point and deserves it's own paragraph break:

The Founders are dying. Some sort of disease is spreading through the Great Link. There is no cure, and no hope. Odo, despite his rejection of his people, despite his repudiation of the Dominion, may one day be the last Changeling left alive when all is said and done. His words are borne out when we see Big Momma show up, and she's not looking very well at all. There's actually a good bit there where Damar and the other Weyoun are trying to keep it a secret that they're trying to kill the good Weyoun--who's got Odo with him, remember?--which shows just how messed up the situation's gotten.

Ultimately, the Jem'Hadar boxes them in and good-Weyoun self-terminates to save Odo's life. It's actually a great scene, as the only thing he asks for it is Odo's blessing, and as a god, Odo makes a good waiter, as it's incredibly awkward for him. Then again, given he's learned that his people are dying, it had already been a pretty bad day up to that point.

Had this episode had a bad B-Plot, the strength of the A-Plot would have made it essential viewing anyways--it's that good. Fortunately, the B-plot is just as good and genuinely funny as Sisko gives O'Brien an impossible deadline for fixing the Defiant and Nog schools him in incentive-based economics (yes, we kinda saw this in "In The Cards," but dammit, if you're going to take from comedy episodes, take from GOOD comedy episodes) things seem to be going fine, until O'Brien finds that Sisko's desk is gone, which leads to the following exchange between O'Brien, Bashir, and Kira:

"What do you think?"
"It's white."
"I know it's white, I'm gonna' paint it."
"It's the wrong shape. The wrong height. The wrong width. Other than that it's perfect. The captain will never suspect you switched desks on him."
"Julian, I need help, not sarcasm."
"I'm afraid Nog is the only one that can help you now."
"If he gets back to the station before the captain does."
"Maybe he's not coming back. Maybe he's decided to make a run for it."
(Kira enters) "That isn't the captain's desk!"
"He's gonna' paint it."
"Get it out of here!"

I love that exchange more than is healthy. There is some effort to dovetail the two plots together and reflect the title (and they kind of pull it off, actually, which is even more of a reason to throw down some gold stars on this episode) Point is, this is the first unreservedly strong episode of the season, and it's sixth. If they'd spent more time doing episodes like this and less trying to do the hard sell with Ezri and dicking off with the Jack Pack, this season might be a bit stronger. But that's probably the headache medicine talking.

"If you do, then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died a hero's death. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man, and it does not matter how he died."

OK, so not two minutes ago I typed that DS9 really shouldn't have spent so much time exploring tangents like the Jack Pack, and this would, naturally, lead you to believe that I would hate this episode, as it features the return of Kor, who's only shown up on this show twice and had little going for him apart from he was a link to the original series.

And yet . . .this episode kicks all kinds of ass, not least because it uses a guest star like Kor to et us know something about a character we're more familiar with--Martok. Kor returns to the station to ask a favor of Worf--he wants to do something to help out the Klingons in the war, and his own efforts have come to naught. Part of that is because he's old and considered past it, but some of it is that he's made so many enemies in the Empire that now that he's down on his luck, no one will help him.

Indeed, when you consider that the last time Worf and Kor were together in "The Sword of Kahless" they were trying to kill each other, it should give you a sense of how bad things have gotten for him. I should mention that for an actor who is (or sadly was) a mighty ham like John Colicos, he really does do well with the subtle touches this episode, as when his voice breaks slightly when he says it's not easy for him to beg Worf for help. It's nice to see some of the melancholy that colored Kor's character back in "Blood Oath" return for a bit.

However, there are two important bits that should be addressed, here. One, Martok is one of those enemies that Kor has made. Back when Kor was on the review board for the Klingon equivalent of OTC, Kor struck Martok's name from the list because he comes from the poor part of the Klingon homeworld. The shame meant Martok spent most of his early years working as a janitor before he got lucky enough to earn a battlefield commission. Kor doesn't even remember he did it, which makes it even more galling, but it burns in Martok every time his name comes up.

The other and more important problem is that Kor has the Klingon Equivalent of the mad cow. It happens to a lot of OG Star Trek guys, apparently--hell, Kirk had it so bad he thought he was attorney from Boston and talked like a Pokemon for five whole years. But seeing as how this is military operation, maybe it's not a good idea to take the senile guy who your CO despises on a mission.

Worf, being Worf, of course gets Kor posted as third officer so he can be right up there annoying the shit out of Martok at every opportunity. Worf is . . .kind of an idiot like that sometimes.

Well, Martok is annoyed that the rest of his crew worship Kor and have a tendency not to focus on the task at hand, and he'd probably also like to beat the crap out of Worf for putting his sworn enemy on the bridge as well, but Martok Gets Shit Done, and so focuses on the job . . .

. . .until Kor loses his shit and nearly gets everyone killed. Martok nearly kills him then and there, except Worf catches the knife he was throwing and backhands Kor (which, idiot or not, is seriously fucking awesome) and it is more or less All Over For Kor. The crew ride him unmercifully, Martok rubs his nose in the fact that his mind is going and all Kor can do is accept his fate with some real dignity and a great line, worth quoting in full:

"Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it's fresh from the vine. But don't live too long... The taste turns bitter... after a time."

This pisses Martok right the hell off in return, with another great line:

"I've hated his name for almost 30 years. I've dreamt of the moment when I would finally see him stripped of his rank and title - when he would suddenly find himself without a friend in the world, without the power of his birthright...Well I've had that moment now - and I took no joy from it."

I like that the episode doesn't have Martok ever relent in his hatred of Kor, but is willing to at least let Kor earn his respect. That can be a hard think to write credibly, but they pull it off here.

What they don't pull off so well is that we don't get to see Kor's final stand. I know there was a story reason for it--the whole point of the episode is do we beleive or not in the legend of Kor, but . . .nahh, it just doesn't work. I see the point of it, but I don't buy it, especially since we get a bunch of Klingon singing at the end and I've seen all of that I need to, like, ever.

But it's a minor blemish on an effective episode, so it's still well worth your time to check it out.

"We held."

Is this another of those really controversial episode among Trek fans? I think it kinda probably is. This is the "war episode," wherein our heroes get deposited right on the front lines, and there's very little of the Federation's virtue or nobility on display here, just people trying to survive as rather desperate situation as best they can, and . . .some of them succeed.

Not all, though.

Our Heroes are running relief supplies to an outpost that was recently taken that houses a Dominion communications array. The soldiers guarding have been there for five months. Most of them are dead. They've been there long after they were supposed to be rotated out, and they're well beyond cracking as not only do they have to deal with Jem'Hadar attacks, but the Dominion's latest nasty surprise--Houdini mines. So named because you hit one and disappear.

The Houdinis are really nasty customers, as they float through subspace and can suddenly appear anywhere. Think of what kind of fear you'd be living under if a mine just decided to pack itself on you at any moment. The soldiers live in fear of them and consider them a really sneaky and unfair weapon . . .

. . .until they crack how to use them, and suddenly they're not so sneaky and dishonorable anymore. This kind of moral relativism was fairly new in Star Trek--or at least it wasn't made as explicit, really.

The Defiant has to chase off some Jem'Hadar fighter (which means Worf misses the ground battle, which I'm sure just killed him) leaving Sisko to rally everyone for one final holding action to finish off the Jem'Hadar.

While this desperate fight is going on, of course, Quark is there for . . .well, some germane reason in terms of story, but the real reason he's here is to say "This shit is fucking crazy, the Ferengi would never have let things get this bad," and it's frankly a good use of Quark as a counterbalance to what's going on, most especially in the scene where Quark shoots a Jem'Hadar dead to protect himself and he's kinda freaked (as he was last time) There's an honesty to it that's really effective.

So now, let's talk about poor Nog getting his leg blown off. Man, this is a hard bit to talk about. We've seen Nog in a lot of contexts and really watched him develop more than Jake and a few other characters have over the years. He wanted to be the first Ferengi in Starfleet, with all the glory that entailed, and now, he gets the other edge of the sword--the Jem'Hadar catch him and as a result, he has to have one of his legs amputated. This is a wrenching scene, and it'll be even moreso when we look at the follow up episode next week. There's not a lot I can say that can convey the sense of loss this moment has, it's one of those you'll just have to see for yourself.

This is a really great episode, and kinda makes you wish they'd really not acted as though the war was some far-off thing so much, as it provides a lot of grist for the storytelling mill. This is one of DS9's best and oh my GOD is it good to end on a high note.

That's all for this week. Join us next time when I really raise some hell over the hopelessly annoying and problematic "Covenant"; We follow up with Nog AND witness a miracle with a great Vic Fontaine episode in "It's Only A Paper Moon"; Operation: Get Ezri Over continues with "Prodigal Daughter" and you get to watch my soul die right in front of you as I have to gut through the final Mirror Universe episode, "The Emperor's New Cloak." Join us next week for bogus religious mumbo-jumbo, Frengi Komedy . . .and displeasure.

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