Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #46

I was going to open this one with some obscure reference that no one would catch, but I figured the smartest thing to do would just be to get into it, and not drone on at length for a little until I'm 1,000 words in before I talk about the episode.

Yes, here we are at last, the absolutely last installment of our review of every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Today we look at the series finale. Who will live? Who will die? Who will move away? Perhaps we should find out now!

"Four hundred years ago, a victorious general spoke the following words at the end of another costly war: 'Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended... we have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no going back."

The finale is a bit odd, because it's essentially split in two. The first hour deals with the final battle of the Dominion War, and the second hour tries valiantly to be about Our Heroes splitting up and heading on and also Sisko and Dukat's final reckoning. The problem is that the second half doesn't feel quite as strong after finishing up with the Dominion, which--despite higher-ups irritations with the storyline--had drawn in so much of the storytelling energy of the show for so long that anything coming after it would be a bit of a letdown.

So Sisko and Co. saddle up to fight the Dominion while Damar, Kira, and Garak are in Mila's basement, trying on the whole resistance thing. Meanwhile, Dukat's got his sight back, and he and Kai Ratched go off to the fire caves (finally) and walk around while all the important shit's going on.

Thankfully, two of these things converge. Damar's civilian resistance works a bit better than his military one seems to, at least at first, because he's convinced the Cardassians to stop working and ultimately paralyse the Dominion's ability to communicate with its spacefleet which is engaging Our Heroes at the moment.

However, Big Momma is not taking any more shit from the fucking Cardassians any more and orders an entire city annihilated. That's pretty scary. However, the Dominion makes a slight mistake by broadcasting the "hey we took out your fucking city and every time you act up, we're going to kill another one" message to other Cardassians, which leads to them gunning down the Jem'Hadar assigned to kill Kira and co and more importantly for the Cardassians in the fleet to switch sides and join our heroes in kicking the holy shit out of the Jem'Hadar.

But just to show you how abusive and destructive the Cardassian/Dominion relationship is, the Dominion ups the stakes by killing the Cardassians. I mean every fucking one of them. Never mind that there's a bit space war going on Big Momma is so tired of this shit that the only thing that can scratch her itch is genocide.

There's a subtle touch here, which is carried over the first part of the finale--with the end of the war in sight, Garak is allowing himself to think about his exile being over. After all, he's back home finally . . .which makes his grief and rage at watching the Dominion scouring his home (literally and figuratively) He lost his lfe before thanks to exile, now it's being destroyed in front of him bit by bit.

Damar is killed in the final assault on the Dominion's bunker, and Garak gains a measure of revenge for what's been done to his world by killing Weyoun (once again, Garak Does Not Know What "Stun" Means) and as Damar had destroyed the Vorta cloning facilities, this means that was it for Weyoun (not sure why that would be, really--isn't there a clone bank in the Gamma Quadrant?)

The fleet finally drives the Dominion right back to the Cardassian homeworld. It's all over but the shouting now, but Big Momma is still feeling bitchy and spiteful, and orders the Breen and the Jem'Hadar to fight to the last man, reasoning that Our Heroes might well win, but it will be so awful and so bloody that it won't feel like much of a victory.

For all her bloody-mindedness, at least we're given a window as to why--Big Momma feels like any weakness would be an indication for Our Heroes to bring the war into the Gamma Quadrant and destroy the Great Link (which is in no condition to resist anyone, now) But thankfully Odo rode along and assures her that the Federation won't let its allies strike at the Link, and thanks to some magic firefly butt communication, she is cured and orders her forces to stand down. The war is over.

Remember that prophecy that Big Momma gave to Garak back in "Broken Link" at the end of the 4th season, when she said Cardassia was dead and the Cardassians were doomed from the moment they attacked the Founders? That has finally come home to roost, awfully and irrevocably so: Cardassia is a wasteland, and the numbers of dead (and that isn't including the ones killed in the war) is eight hundred million at least.

Martok, Admiral Ross and Sisko try to make good on their promise to drink bloodwine in the halls of Caradassian Central Command, but Sisko and Ross are way too appalled by the loss of life to be able to drink. Big Momma was right--victory doesn't feel like much of a triumph under these circumstances. Martok is all like, "what the hell, these are Cardassians. If you were Bajoran you would have said these bastards finally got what was coming to them (they're actually worse off than Bajor was at the beginning of the series, now that I think) I really like this scene and the one that follows, because it has the classic DS9 nuance that had been a little thin before the final episodes. Yes, the Cardassians were fascist dickheads who nearly allowed the Dominion to overrun the Alpha Quadrant, but we've known enough good Cardassians (and people like Damar, who were evil but had their eyes opened) to know that scorching the Earth and nearly wiping them all out may not be commensurate punishment.

That ambivalence carries through to a scene with Garak and Bashir, in what is easily the best scene in the finale survey the casualty reports and have the following exchange, worth quoting in full:

"I know things must look bleak for you, Garak . . ."

"Some would say we got exactly what we deserved. After all, we are not completely innocent, are we? And I'm not just referring to the occupation of Bajor. Our history is filled with arrogant aggression. We collaborated with Dominion, betrayed the entire Alpha Quadrant--we're guilty as charged."

"We both know the Cardassians are a strong people. They'll survive. Cardassia will survive . . ."

"Oh please, doctor, spare me your insufferable Federation optimism! Of course it'll survive. But not the Cardassia I knew! We had a rich and ancient culture--Ourliterature, music and art was second to none. And now so much of it is lost. So many of our best people . . .our most gifted minds . . ."

"I'm sorry Garak. I didn't mean . . ."

"It's quite all right, Doctor. You've been such a good friend. I'm going to miss our lunches together."

"I'm sure we'll see each other again."

"I'd like to think so, but one can never say. We live . . .in uncertain times."

The episode never really hits those heights again, sadly. This part of the episode finishes with the signing of a peace treaty between the Dominion and Our Heroes and Big Momma is taken away to stand trial for her crimes, telling Odo it's up to him now. Odo has volunteered to go to the Great Link, heal his people, and also teach them not to fear the solids. This means, of course, that this is goodbye.

O'Brien is going back to Earth with his wife to teach at Starfleet Academy, Worf has been named the Federation Ambassador to the Klingons (which you can tell Martok is looking at him as payback for getting him kicked to the top of the heap, heh.) and Odo's going on as well. They gather for one last time at Vic's, and damn it, I have to admit, whether due to my own sentimentality or not, the scene where Vic sings "The Way You Look Tonight" is pretty effective, especially as it's the exact break point where everyone moves on . . .

. . .oh and Sisko gets called away to finally fight Dukat in the fire caves. Yes, the Prophets have no concept of time at all, really, as they let this get so bad that he's right on the point of victory when they finally page Sisko . . .

But before that, let me back up and bring you up to speed with this plot: Dukat and Kai Ratched walked around the caves and bickered a lot. Then they found the place in the fire caves they were looking for, Ratched babbled some mystical bullshit and everything caught on fire, then she poisoned Dukat as a sacrifice to the Pah-Wraiths. The Pah-Wraiths then resurrected Dukat (as a Cardassian again) with the goofy red contacts and +10 ker-AZYness so he can rant at length to Kai Ratched.

Then Sisko shows up, and after a lot of stuff I don't care about and is frankly beneath this episode, figures out that he has to destroy the book of the Kosst-Amojan and tumbles into the fire with Dukat. Only he gets rescued by Deus Ex Machina--literally, in this case--and becomes a Prophet.

This is kind of stupid. If the Prophets could body-jack a living being and reverse-engineer Sisko as their Emissary, you're telling me they couldn't body-jack someone else and just destroy the fucking book before things got to a crisis? And why a book for heaven's sakes? Are you telling me omnipotent beings who can create their own wormhole and exist without time are afraid of a few bits of wood pulp and binding? The Orbs I could see as being important--they were objects of obvious power. The book was . . .well, a book, and really had no special powers except as how the plot demanded.

So Sisko appears to Kassidy in Prophet-land and tells her he's going to go learn with the Prophets for awhile, but he'll be back someday, just like Frosty the Snowman. What makes it even worse is that he tells Kassidy, and not Jake, who functioned as his lifeline after he lost his wife and we've already seen the effect losing him will have on Jake in "The Visitor." The episode obviously intends you to think in that direction because the leitmotif from "The Visitor" is played in a couple times, so I'm not really sure why this isn't played up more. Yes Kassidy's pregnant, but it's . . .well, a bit abstract. Jake we've seen grow up for seven years and we have a meaningful connection to him as viewers--indeed, when the show was pitched in the first place, the Jake/Sisko relationship was seen as one of the core elements driving the show, and to not take advantage of that seems as much of a shame as all the silly buggers with that stupid book that wanted to be sufficiently epic and . . .wasn't.

I'm told one of the mooted endings for Deep Space Nine would have been Benny Russell finally getting his Deep Space Nine story done as TV series, but the powers that be worried that that might have had some unusual ripple effects--all of Star Trek would have come from Benny Russell pro and retroactively, not unlike when Tommy Westphall saw St. Eligus in that snow globe, I reckon. It woulda been kinda cool--of all DS9's stories, poor Benny's deserved a happy ending, especially given the last time we saw him, and the idea of checking out on a massive head-fuck like that (especially given Voyager and Enterprise's series finales and how safely they played it) It's a real missed opportunity.

Anyways, things finish off with everyone saying goodbye. Odo heals the great link, Kira's in charge of the station, Nog got promoted to Lieutenant (and good for him!) Ezri and Bashir are going out, and life goes on. But (and I think this comes out as more gloomier in light of the lack of closure between Jake and his father) the show finishes on a shot of Jake and Kira watching the wormhole open, looking for his father. It is the bloody Visitor all over again, innit?

It's odd, because Next Generation's finale ends on a very upbeat note. The eternally distant captain walks into the crew's poker game and says he should have done this years ago and they tell him he was always welcome. The message in that finale underlines that of the show's--we are stronger together than we are apart, and we have places and people to whom we belong, even if we don't always know it. But we can take a chance and if all works out, then we're welcomed in a place we always were and never knew.

What then, is the final message of Deep Space Nine? Is it that everyone leaves? Is it that goodbyes are never easy to say? Is that you can dream of going home again but you ultimately do in a way you could never even imagine? Perhaps it's that every time you say goodbye you leave a piece of you someplace or with someone. Sisko says as much during the final party--wherever they go, part of them will always remain there, as everyone you've ever met lives on in memories. But that knowledge sometimes isn't enough to dull the pain of saying goodbye, and sometimes all you find yourself doing is waiting for them to come back, on the slim chance they may return someday.

And so things end on a kind of down note (at best ambivalent) for Deep Space Nine. Kind of appropos in a sense--it was always the odd child out so ending things oddly was probably an inevitable by-product of its life as a TV show. While there were plenty of times (especially in the last season) the show dropped the ball, and sometimes they zigged when they should have zagged, it stayed generally strong and true and we will probably never see its like again. And good thing . . .as it's better to blaze new trails than retrace the footsteps of the past (that's what DS9 was intended to be--a complete inversion of the Star Trek formula) While for Star Trek things ultimately returned back to the formula, we had the interesting little spin on it for awhile, and "awhile" is far better than "not at all."

I hope as we've gone on with these, you've seen and can appreciate what a strong series it was, and how it blazed its own trail. I always enjoy revisiting it, and I always have good things to say about it, and it was quite fun to analyze it in detail for this entire run. I think you for both your patience, your indulgence, and your endurance if you made it this far. I hope you found something in this exercise and will follow along for the next one, whatever that might be.

Got a couple thank-yous on the way out--Thanks to the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai, who sparked the idea for me to do this and read with keen interest all the way through, Chris Elam for his continued support (even though there were probably oodles of times he was utterly mystified as to what I was talking about) and one last goodbye to Kati--absent now, but in memory still bright.

And to everyone who read and followed this, thanks for following along with me. I never know how many of you are there or found it, but I am grateful for every time you stopped by and read one of these.

Thanks guys! I'll see you next year for whatever y'all decide I should do next for The Whole Damn Thing.

. . .I suppose I should probably get going on that, shouldn't I?


C. Elam said...


This has been quite a piece of work, though I hadn't realized it was almost a year. And I really did get a new impression of the series as seen through your unique lens. I was only slightly mystified occasionally.

I think the highest praise I can give this last batch is that you really got across the big moments well, and I'm sorry to see it end.

That said, I think it's a bit of a cheat to introduce something like Benny Russell into the mix and then not button up the finale without a callback to it. At the very least, you'd think there should be some ambiguity there about the nature of reality. If this were a standalone thing instead of a cog in the Big Money Machine, they would have let it.

I guess I feel ambivalent about that sort of storytelling. Without Star Trek, they could have wrapped it up that way. But where would it be without Star Trek to set those wheels in motion?

Kazekage said...

I completely lost track of it, really . . .it wasn't until I got near the end that I realised I'd started this back in . . .geez, January.

I imagine the mystification came in when I just said "fuck this episode, you know what you need to know and how I feel about it, here's some crazy-ass youtube clip"

I thought so too. Had it just been contained in "Far Beyond The Stars" that would have been one thing, but bringing him back this season and then not doing anything else seemed like a cheat, especially again, since if anyone deserved a happy ending, it was him.

It's an interesting catch-22, isn't it? I think DS9 was as subersive as you could be and still be Star Trek--hell, they managed to have a downer series ender, and you just were not allowed to have those, eber. Everyone leaves and the main character ascends to heaven (read that: dies) You damn sure wouldn't have that with any of the others, would you?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Bravo! :)

It's been such a treat to follow these reviews: you've provided some great insights into a series that, for all its faults, still represents a step forward in SF television and the Trek franchise specifically.

That said, it's unfortunate that DS9's missteps have been appropriated as wholly as its strengths: yes, we have grey morality and skepticism towards the Roddenberry-esque utopian future, but... well, Dukat and Sisko fighting over the Evil Book of Evil (how did the Bajorans get an autographed first edition of "Twilight"?) led to monotheistic Cylons and Terminators who sing Christian gospel, and... well, it just never works out, does it? :)

Kazekage said...

Thanks! :) Glad you liked these. It was hard going sometimes--I had forgotten just how badly the show started fumbling the ball there at the end and saying "this episode doesn't work" three or four times every week threatened to crush me under the weight of pessimism. :)

You left out the Visitors being religious freaks instead of space Nazis. This is very true, but I think that is inevitable that any watershed SF series, I guess. . .the bad gets taken along with the good. My big beef is that the bad ideas seem to be weighed and carried forward as good ideas--namely, the dodgy religious stuff. I think I never need to see that again after these last few years.