Interlude: Recurring Characters

•June 18, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It’s universally accepted that the recurring characters and single-episode guest characters are a central strength to DS9. Their contribution to the overall acting and quality of storytelling is top notch. There are some guest characters that appear in single episodes that simply dominate the screen. Interestingly, I’m thinking mostly of Cardassians like Maritza in Duet (Ep. 1.19), Entek in Second Skin (Ep. 3.15), and Prin in The Darkness and the Light (Ep. 5.11). These characters come in to facilitate a deep, meaningful theme. They help create, for me, an intimate moment of episodic storytelling.

The best recurring characters contribute to central meta-narratives that have threads throughout the series. Some are only marginally less complex than main cast, it seems. Some become so important they have episodes themed around them; they change and grow throughout the series. Others might be more simple and be more of an archetype or caricature of humanity. Personally, I have eight recurring characters that are integral to my experience of DS9. Those are: Garak, Dukat, Kai Winn, Weyoun, Martok, Nog, Damar, and Morn. I don’t want to dismiss some fantastic characters like Eddington, the Female Changeling, or Vic Fontaine. But when I think of the supporting cast of DS9, those eight stand out as being great, well-acted characters with contributions to the meta-narratives. Five of them appeared in the first season.

Garak is without a doubt my favorite recurring character. He appears in 33 episodes. He’s a deeply conflicted, cultured, elegant liar. I love how he twists and manipulates truth into a “near truth” that conveys the exact opposite meaning. We never really learn the full story of Elim Garak. Throughout the series, he harbors a desire to see Cardassia grow beyond the military oligarchy that strangles it. He facilitates moral compromise in the rest of the crew; he’s a major character in my favorite episode (In the Pale Moonlight, 6.19). Episodes like The Wire (Ep. 2.22) and The Die Is Cast (3.21) show how clever he is. I also love his relationship with Bashir, and how they play off each other as such different people. It’s a beautiful friendship of opposites. Garak is a unique character in that he both provides his own excellent storylines and is able to enhance the storylines of others.

I see Dukat as the primary villain of the series. He appears in 35 episodes. Repeatedly throughout the series, he introduces or progresses the meta-narrative conflict. In the early seasons, he’s the Cardassian aggressor trying to re-subjugate the Bajoran people and reclaim his place as Prefect of Bajor. In the middle seasons, he gets some excellent episodes that soften his villainy and add a more human side to him. That ends with his pact with the Dominion and precipitating the Dominion War. In the final seasons, he’s refocused on the Bajorans, but he tries to subjugate them through spiritual means by releasing the Pah-Wraiths. What I love most is how he is the true enemy of the Bajorans, both as a free people and as a spiritual people. At every stage of the series, Dukat is the instigator of the conflict. Despite broadening in scope, the show stays centered on Bajor, and Dukat is always Bajor’s enemy.

Kai Winn I love to hate because she uses her faith so poorly, and I sadly often see her actions enacted in modern life. She appears in a mere 14 episodes, but she has a powerful effect on the show. Ambition is her true religion, and she manipulates the Bajoran faith so that she can gain power. Her beliefs are a facade, used often to guilt other more faithful Bajorans (like Kira) into doing her bidding. She is an ally a few times throughout the series (Life Support, Ep. 3.13; Rapture, Ep. 5.10), but her disingenuous use of the Bajoran faith makes her the slimiest of the villains in my mind. I think her best moment is in Strange Bedfellows (Ep. 7.19) when she reaches out to Kira for help in resisting the Pah-Wraiths. Kira tells her to step down as Kai. But Winn’s lust for power is too strong, and she chooses the Pah-Wraiths. Truly a villain.

Weyoun is hilarious. His various clones (we see Weyouns 4-8) appear in 24 episodes. He’s an apologetic villain, really. He conquers but is sorry for it. He just wants everyone to worship the Founders like he does. It’s really so very odd and fantastic. I really appreciate the deadpan comedy he brings to the show. He’s actually the most naïve of the villains, I think. He is just baffled at why anyone would not worship the Founders. But he’s not an idiot. He’s a worthy tactician and fiercely loyal. Weyoun exemplifies the velvet glove of the Dominion, holding back the Jem’Hadar in hopes of “peaceful” surrender of enemies. The clone aspect of Vorta was put to great use by writers to give some quite interesting storylines and hilarious deaths (Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, Ep. 7.6, and Strange Bedfellows, Ep. 7.19).

Martok is deeply broken, and his path to redemption is glorious to watch. He appears in 24 episodes, 22 as himself and 2 as Changeling-Martok. The man who is introduced in In Purgatory’s Shadow (Ep. 5.14) is completely different from the Changeling version. He believes he has had his honor shattered and is unworthy of even death. Worf reminds him of the honor deep within him. In Soldiers of the Empire (Ep. 5.21), Martok’s cowardice nearly kills him and his crew. Luckily for the Alpha Quadrant, Martok finds his courage and honor again, and he becomes a hero of the Dominion War. I love watching how he goes from a broken man to a reluctant leader of the Klingon Empire. To me, he is a great example of strength in leadership. He is strong at heart and inspires others onto great deeds.

Nog is another character I like because he changes so much during the course of the series. He is in quite a few episodes, 46 total. What’s great about Nog is that by the end of the series, Nog is proud of who he has become. In the beginning, Nog is disappointed in his father and disgusted by his uncle. He fears that he’ll become just like both of them, so in Heart of Stone (Ep. 3.14), he secures a letter to enter Starfleet. He’s willing to enter a rigorous program, be isolated and mocked as the only Ferengi, and commit himself to learning a different culture to better himself. I absolutely love that. Additionally, one of the greatest episodes in all of Star Trek-dom, The Siege of AR-558 (Ep. 7.8), centers on Nog, and this produces a series of episodes where Nog is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those stories alone are brilliant. Then consider how Nog has changed. Started as a boy flicking sand peas at travelers; ended as a man, scarred but proud of himself.

Contrary to outward appearances, Damar is no villain. Damar appears in 23 episodes, and he represents hope for change. I’ve always believed that anyone can change. Perhaps that makes me a naïve optimist. He begins as an enabler to Dukat and a lowly bridge officer. He rides the Dominion wave because he isn’t really sure what else to do, I think. He was always a Cardassian patriot, so he helps the Dominion in their goals of dominating the Alpha Quadrant. Slowly, he finally realizes that the Dominion would destroy the Cardassia he wants, and he makes a change to start opposing them. It’s minor resistance at the start, killing a Weyoun now and again (Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, Ep. 7.6), but by the end of the series, he is a lynchpin to the destruction of the Dominion. I also love how he starts out as a throw-away character. A character with a few lines to add spice to Return to Grace (Ep. 4.14). In that episode, Kira refuses to teach Dukat and Damar guerrilla fighting. It’s poetic that at the end of the series, Damar is learning exactly that from her. From what I’ve read, this growth as a character was planned by the writers.

Morn was in more episodes than even Jake Sisko. Morn was in 93 DS9 episodes, one TNG episode (Birthright Part 1, TNG Ep. 6.16), and one VOY episode (Caretaker, VOY Ep. 1.1). Jake was only in 71 DS9 episodes. I put Morn on here because throughout all of the meta-narratives, the brutal war storylines, the epic space battles…DS9 is a show set on a space station teeming with life. Morn represents to me Life on the Station. Throughout all of the rest of it, there is life there that is fun to watch. I admit that DS9 is a place that I would see myself. The Sci/Fi elements (the fantastical, the futuristic) draw me in and show me a world I’d want to participate in. As for the Lurian himself, Morn himself is comic relief. He never speaks, which is itself an irony as he’s known to hardly shut up amongst other characters. He does get his own episode, Who Mourns for Morn (Ep. 6.12). His name was inspired by and is an anagram from Norm, from the show Cheers. This is why he sits at the bar all the time.

Random Thoughts: 1) Weyoun was portrayed so well in To the Death (Ep. 4.23) that the writers invented the Vorta clones just so that Jeffrey Combs could return. 2) This Interlude entry was prompted by the recent episode, In Purgatory’s Shadow (Ep. 5.14), where the introduction of the last character on this list occurred (the real Martok).

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Episode 5.15: By Inferno’s Light

•June 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Dominion’s skill at deception and misdirection is unparalleled. Once again, the climax of this episode involves the Dominion creating an elaborate deception that nearly creates catastrophic consequences. The Alpha Quadrant powers have feared Dominion invasion for years, so when the Dominion finally comes pouring through the Wormhole, they react predictably. The Dominion carefully planned this, even planting a Changeling on DS9 for the effort. If not for Garak and Worf (and the subsequent chain of events that followed), Changeling-Bashir would have succeeded. And even though the deception didn’t work, the Dominion gained valuable information. When threatened, the Alpha Quadrant powers will stand together against the Dominion. Knowing that, the Dominion will spend great resources in the next two seasons keeping the Alpha Quadrant as fractured as possible.

Possibly the best storytelling element of this episode is how the writers bring together multiple past storylines into a single tapestry. Consequences from The Die is Cast (Ep. 3.21), Way of the Warrior (Ep. 4.1), Return to Grace (Ep. 4.14), and Apocalypse Rising (Ep. 5.1) all converge here. This element of “consequences returning” is archetypal of DS9. I love how they all collide in this episode. The Klingon invasion creates an outcast Dukat seeking to restore his powerful position. Dukat makes a pact with the Dominion. Martok is a leader in the escape attempt and supports Worf in his combat trials. Tain brings Garak and Worf to the prison, where both are instrumental in freeing Bashir. Realizing that there’s a Changeling impersonating Bashir is what gets the DS9 crew to stop the explosion. Both the conflict and the resolution in this episode are dependent on consequences from past episodes.

I think there are grave consequences to the inaction of Sisko and the Federation here. It’s interesting to note that the Federation has another half a year of cold war. The Klingons will be fighting tenaciously and alone from now until the end of Season 6. The Federation does support the Klingons indirectly and provides them with a safe harbor for rest and repair at DS9 (similar to the United States in World War II). Against a weakened Klingon fleet, the Dominion is allowed to establish their base of strategic operations, Jem’Hadar and Vorta cloning facilities, and shipyards in the Alpha Quadrant. While it’s certainly speculation, the inaction of the Federation…one could argue their rigid dedication to diplomacy and non-violence…allowed an aggressive and oppressive empire to expand. As with many Maquis themed episodes, the Federation will give up precious things to avoid war. The DS9 writers critique this inaction and portrays it as foolish. I think there is a very deep and meaningful tension here that dedication to non-violence might have long-term, severely destructive consequences. While I don’t think DS9 ever resolves this tension, I appreciate they portray it as such.

The parallel between Worf and Garak continues in this episode. They both fight important battles that are necessary for them to escape the prison. Garak battles himself while Worf battles others. Garak cannot do his work without the distraction Worf provides. Worf’s honor is clear; he will not yield. Garak’s honor is less obvious. But Worf and Martok both recognize the tremendous courage it takes to face one’s fear. Garak has help from others, but the crucial battle is when he’s alone in the crawlspace, talking himself through the fight. Neither will yield to their enemy and both are required for escape. At the end of the episode, Garak has gained a new respect from Worf, Martok, and Bashir.

Worf is a paragon of Klingon virtue and honor. He places honor above his life and will not yield. This goes so far as to earn respect from the Jem’Hadar even. Interestingly, this episode equalizes the Klingons and Jem’Hadar in a way. In the final combat between Worf and Ikat’ika, the sayings of each culture are contrasted: “Victory is life” vs “Today is a good day to die”. I love the juxtaposition. The Jem’Hadar saying is about life, yet seeks victory at any cost. On one level, it fears death, and because it focuses on victory, it can be beaten. The Klingon saying welcomes death and places honor above simple victory. Honor comes from within the Klingon, and therefore, it cannot be beaten. Because of his actions, Worf forms an unbreakable bond with Martok. Both suffer the same trial under the Jem’Hadar, and Worf takes over the mantel from Martok. Worf carries Martok’s legacy in this episode, and that becomes central to their ongoing relationship.

Dukat’s deal with the Dominion forever changes the tone of DS9. The third act of the DS9 meta-narrative hasn’t quite begun, but this episode makes that inevitable. Dukat’s motivations are entirely self-serving and egotistical. What I find really interesting here is how much of an influence Dukat has on galactic events. Without him, it’s likely the Dominion would not have found a charismatic leader enough to sway the Cardassian people to join the Dominion; they would not have gotten their foothold. Dukat’s propaganda video is clearly relevant to modern events. Talk of making Cardassia whole again, to returning to a past glorious state. As the last two seasons unfold, we learn that these promises are hollow and unfulfilled. The Cardassians become little more than vassals of the Dominion. At the end of the episode, Dukat is once again swaggering and confident. He absolutely sees himself as being righteous (“One man’s villain is another man’s hero”). This is the old Dukat, and he is delicious.

Changeling-Bashir watch. And so my watch ends for the Changeling-Bashir. With the secret out, he’s very stiff and impersonal. There’s nothing to hide, so the acting is obvious. As with most of the Dominion deceptions, this was a very good one. I never knew about the uniform thing until this most recent viewing. I think killing Changeling-Bashir was a necessity. That way there is no ambiguousness about the real Bashir returning.

Random Thoughts: 1) At this point, we’ve seen several episodes of the Dominion creating an elaborate deception to cripple an enemy or gain information. An incomplete list off the top of my head: The Search, Part 2 (Ep. 3.2); Homefront (Ep. 4.11); The Die is Cast (Ep. 3.21); and Heart of Stone (Ep. 3.14). 2) The presence of the Romulans felt forced, but I appreciate why they did it. It makes the revelation of the real plan (to blow up Bajor’s sun) more shocking. 3) The wormhole is now stronger than ever. This is a good thing, as it takes this final option off the table for the Federation in the future. It’s good to not have that deus ex machina. 4) In that moment, Kira would have absolutely killed Dukat. Bad for the Bajorans; great for the meta-narrative. 5) Garak is forced to stay in the prison because of his personal feud with Dukat. 6) Blood screenings are mentioned here. I want to point out again that even from the moment the Federation started doing them, blood screenings have been completely ineffectual. 7) Kira offers some excellent wisdom: judge people by what they do, not what they say. 8) I’m highly amused that the monumental Khittomer Accords were resigned in an infirmary after a bloody battle. That felt appropriately Klingon to me. 9) I wish I could hear the song that Martok has written about Worf. I believe he followed through on that. 10) Quark’s lamentation about the abstinent, sober, non-food consuming Jem’Hadar and Changelings was highly amusing. 11) BOOM! Runabout Yukon destroyed.

Episode 5.14: In Purgatory’s Shadow

•June 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This pair of episodes is a crucial hinge in the meta-narrative where the Dominion gains a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. This first episode is very much a cold war sort of episode. The clandestine operation into Dominion territory is meant to not provoke them. Sisko acts to deter war through the ultimate sacrifice: destruction of the wormhole. Actions are taken so that war would be avoided, at any cost. I think ultimately there’s a cost to this kind of avoidance. Perhaps I’ll expand upon it in the next entry, but the Federation here refuses to engage in war. The cost of that choice is the Dominion gains a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. In Purgatory’s Shadow (Ep. 5.14) is an action episode, with a bit of mystery. As the first of a two-parter, a lot is set up here that will come to fruition in the next episode.

One thing that I think is neat about this episode, after seeing the whole series and reflecting, is that there is a lot of strategy and careful planning on the Dominion’s side to assault the Alpha Quadrant. They know that the wormhole is easily blockaded, so they have to create an area in the Alpha Quadrant that they can build a base of operations. The shattered Cardassia becomes that base. In this episode, we see the Dominion has done a lot of legwork to do that. They’ve manipulated the hubris of Dukat. They’ve planted a high-ranking Changeling on DS9. They’ve built a large fleet to set up operations. And nothing the crew does in these two episodes stops that. They are blind-sided by the Dominion and are barely able to save Martok and Bashir. One thing that comes in powerfully in this last half of Season 5 is that the Federation loses the cold war they are currently engaged in. Before Season 6, the Dominion gets all they want: a foothold, a war against only the Klingons, and control of DS9.

I love how deeply disappointed Garak is with Tain as Tain dies. Garak, in a moment of true vulnerability, allows Bashir to hear the truth about Garak’s parentage. Garak wanted so much to hear from Tain something that validated their relationship as father and son, and Garak was rewarded with an oblique reference to his childhood. At his core, Tain only cared about his enemies and standing as the greatest spymaster. He died alone, even though his son was there, ready to comfort him. Garak’s loyalty to even the likes of Tain make him a fantastic character. Garak knows he emotionally lost his father years ago (perhaps before Garak was even born), so when Tain finally passes, there’s closure for Garak. I think this is a turning point for Garak. With the death of Tain, the old Garak also passes. From here to the end of the series, Garak is fighting for the new Cardassia that will eventually be reborn. Perhaps, through this, Garak does fulfill Tain’s dying wish for him to enact vengeance on the Dominion.

A quick shout out to Martok. I love how they brought him back, yet the real Martok is the exact opposite of his Changeling counterpart. His is a paragon of honor and Klingon virtue. Like with Weyoun, I’m very glad that the DS9 writers found a way to keep such a great actor on the regular lists. Martok is one of my favorite recurring characters. His lack of an eye is a nice touch.

Changeling-Bashir watch. Finally, some out-of-character action from Changeling Bashir. Garak mentions that Changeling-Bashir is more distrustful and suspicious. But these hints don’t go on for long as the location of the real Bashir are finally revealed. Use of the old uniform is perfect, I think. It wasn’t too far in the past, so we didn’t have the Changeling-Bashir for long, and it offers a clear point on when the Changeling arrived. Bashir here mentions being captured at a burn summit, but I don’t recall hearing of that in previous episodes. As I said in The Rapture (Ep. 5.10), I never realized this until I read about it in another description of the episode online a year or so ago. I’m also very proud of the real Bashir being in solitary lockup, and the respect he gets from Martok. Bashir is always willing to stand up to tyranny. And this is clearly the real Bashir. In response to Garak’s feelings on sentiment being a weakness, he says it’s a lesson he’s rather not learn.

The end of this episode is some great television. The Dominion is pouring through the Wormhole. A call for battle stations. The music rising with the tension. Has the war finally started? Not quite.

Random Thoughts: 1) I find the action episodes the hardest to write about. I love them, but finding more to say than “Just watch the awesomeness!!!” can be paradoxically difficult. This was one of those episodes. 2) The episode is dedicated to Derek Garth, a grip who died in a car accident. 3) Kira finds Odo’s romantic novels and encourages him to keep reading, in hopes that someone is out there for him. Foreshadowing! 4) Even though Garak knew the message was from Tain, I think he honestly cared about other potential survivors. It wasn’t just an act. 5) The difference between Garak and Worf on how they tell their partners they are going on a dangerous mission is a nice contrast. Worf claims he might die; Garak assures Ziyal he’ll live. 6) This Ziyal is the last Ziyal actress. She’ll play her until the character’s death. 7) Garak taunting Worf over joining Starfleet is hilarious. Even the audience knows it’s an elaborate lie, and Worf is just gullible. I’m also tremendously amused that Garak can manipulate Worf by appealing to his honor. 8) Dukat’s insistence that Ziyal go to Caradassia are foreshadowing the next episode. 9) Poor Sisko. In his war council, he has two traitors: Dukat and Changeling-Bashir. 10) Sisko’s reference to the Borg attack is to the movie First Contact.

Episode 5.13: For the Uniform

•May 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This episode is one of the thematically iconic DS9 episodes. This episode throws the Roddenberry paradise down in tatters and questions the benevolent purpose of the Federation. To preserve the ideals of the Federation, Sisko must poison a planet’s atmosphere and manipulate a man into surrendering himself through the threat of violence to Federation citizens. Sisko betrays foundational ethics of the Federation! But consider who Eddington and the Maquis are. He maroons a man on an ice world, giving him a slow death. Eddington has intimate knowledge of Starfleet systems and efficiently disabled two starships. The Maquis, with little hesitation, used biological weapons of mass destruction against two planets! All the while, Eddington hypocritically claims the Maquis are not killers! Which path is worse? To allow Eddington to continue his terror campaign, killing innocent lives, or for Sisko to betray his oath and attack Federation citizens? The normal Federation method won’t work! This is what Sanders and the Malinche represent. Eddington, the Maquis, cannot be beat by the standard Federation method.

Sisko and Eddington renew their debate on the Federation’s facade of neoliberal inclusivity regarding the colonists; this episode is the second in the “Eddington Triology” (the first was For The Cause, Ep. 4.22; the last is Blaze of Glory, Ep. 5.23). The more I think about the DS9 criticism of the Roddenberry Paradise, the deeper and more nuanced it becomes. In their first major debate in this episode, Eddington asserts the Federation ignored the colonists desires, and sold them to the Cardassians. The Federation would only defend their own if it served the needs of the Federation core worlds. Sisko points out that the colonists had options with resettlement, and the Maquis sold them a lie on the hope of returning to their old life. Their debate is over how the more inclusive a society becomes, the less the needs of any individual should matter. To the Federation, the colonists need to get in line and accept that their worlds needed to be sacrificed to preserve the higher order between empires. The colonists, on the other hand, had their soveriegnty ripped from them and were forced to bend their will to the powerful Federation. The benevolance of the Federation seems, at best, conditional and, at worst, a lie.

Sisko, in the end, is forced to adopt the absurd position of betraying every tenant of his oath in order to protect the Federation. He attacks Federation citizens using a weapon of mass destruction! In their final debate, Eddington is appalled at Sisko’s vendetta. Sisko justifies his obsession by thinking it’s all “for the uniform.” A cause higher than himself. He tells Dax that he has to play the villain, but I think Sisko’s rage and his vendetta are real. Eddington betrayed more than just Sisko’s trust, and there is a deep core of Sisko that cannot abide that. As Eddington points out at the end, Sisko would break his own oath because Eddington broke an oath. The absurdity of where Sisko has to go to “beat” Eddington is beautifully clear. Which brings me back to the dilemma of Sisko. Is it worse to allow Eddington to continue his campaign, or for Sisko to betray his oath? There is no good answer to the dilemma, which demonstrates the impossibility of Roddenberry’s neoliberal, perfectly inclusive, conflict-free paradise.

The use of Les Miserables as analogy is fantastic, and I see similiarties to Picard. For Picard, he was Captain Ahab where the Borg was his White Whale (from Moby Dick). Sisko is Javert while Eddington is his Valjean. Both captains have a deep seated obsession with something that threatens the foundations of the Federation. Both captains are personally injured by their obession. The Borg and Eddington challenge the Federation from eerily similar perspectives. The Borg would destroy paradise by stripping away individuality and forcing assimilation; the Federation would then cease to exist. Eddington would destroy paradise by fracturing the Federation into a million different individual needs, dividing a nation so that it cannot stand united; the Federation would then cease to exist. Both captains struggle to preserve what they see as the honorable Federation. For Picard and the Borg, the social commentary was heavy-handed and without nuance; diversity and inclusivity are good. What DS9 does with the Maquis storylines and Sisko’s moral compromise is elegantly ask, “When the Federation doesn’t care for it’s minority citizens, how far away is that from being just like the Borg?” For Sisko and Eddington, the social commentary criticises elevation of the majority view as the predominant view in a society and challenges the notion that democracy (the majority) should always win out. This is why I love DS9.

Random Thoughts: 1) Shockingly, Eddington only appears in 9 total episodes. This is his penultimate. 2) Eric Pierpoint, the actor who plays Captain Sanders, appeared in TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT. Prior to the airing of Discovery last year, he had appeared in all of the modern Star Trek shows. 3) The holocommunicator is a neat addition to the show, and I wish they had used it more. Nice touch that this was unaffected by the cascade virus, since it was added after Eddington would have installed the virus. 4) I like how Odo reminds Sisko that Eddington was there because they didn’t trust the shapeshifter… 5) I love seeing Sisko’s raw emotion during the punching bag scene. 6) Cobalt diselenide could exist as cobalt(IV), I guess. 6) This is Nog’s first combat situation; combat later becomes central to his character development. 7) When the Defiant leaves DS9, the crew is overly specific on ship commands. This is meant to show they are being more manual with the controls while the computer is down. 8) I found a major discontinuity. When describing the limitations, O’Brien tells Sisko that there are no transporters available. Yet when Sisko is faced with the dilemma of chasing Eddington or saving the Cardassian freighter, he asks about transporter range. 9) The fact that the Federation and Cardassian colonists have to switch planets is fantastic and poetic. 10) The moment when Sisko says he must become the villain and force Eddington to surrender was so very delicious for me. It just hammers home how much DS9 criticizes the idea of a future utopia.  11) Changeling-Bashir Watch:  He doesn’t appear in this episode…

Episode 5.12: The Begotten

•May 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The foray into exploring who Odo would be as a solid opened up some excellent storylines. Odo learned his core identity is more than just a shapeshifter (Apocalypse Rising, Ep. 5.1); he was forced to confront his past failures and move beyond them (Things Past, Ep. 5.8); and he learned of solids’ limitations and the accompanying fear (The Ascent, Ep. 5.9). But leaving Odo as a solid would be impractical, and it would really diminish the character in the long run. Odo being so very different (he’s an entirely separate phase of matter, even!) opens up a lot more storyline possibilities and allows the writers to challenge the viewers’ preconceived notions. There were three solid Odo-centric episodes prior to The Begotten (Ep. 5.12), and plenty of small one-off opportunities. Using a baby Changeling to “melt” Odo back into being a Changeling is very satisfying to me. He forms an intimate connection with the baby, giving it a love he felt he never received from Mora (or the Founders). In return, the baby gives Odo an immeasurably valuable gift. The Founders, who don’t understand Odo, took Odo’s shapeshifting life away. The baby Changeling did understand and bond with Odo, and gave him back his shapeshifting life.

Mora’s other appearance in DS9 was in The Alternate (Ep. 2.12), and Odo reacted similarly to his presence. Odo is determined to give the baby Changeling the kind of care and love he believed he never received. Odo treats it like a sentient being from the start. Odo wants to introduce the world to the baby Changeling and teach it to shapeshift. Mora’s approach is more clinical. He wants to measure it to see if it’s healthy and forcefully prod it into growing. Much of Odo’s solitary nature can be traced to his experience with Mora. This episode redeems Odo and Mora’s relationship. Odo sees that Mora had Odo’s best interest at heart, even if Mora missed many of the emotional needs Odo had. Odo also understands more strongly why Mora was so pressured to produce results. Along with Odo’s interaction with Kira this episode, I think these events have a softening effect on Odo. The symbolism of Odo becoming less rigid emotionally is mirrored by his ability to shapeshift again.

In ways that I feel only my brain works, I got to thinking of the afterlife/heaven because of this episode’s theme. In my faith tradition, heaven is this place of no pain, no tears. But I wonder at that. Is all pain negative? I don’t think so. The point that Mora makes is very poignant. Without discomfort, the baby Changeling would never have realized it’s potential to become other things. I wonder if our lives are similar. We need occasional discomfort to be propelled to become better versions of ourselves. Too much discomfort can severely negatively impact us, and I think that threshold is easy to cross. But I wonder if I rail too quickly at hardships in my life and don’t take time to realize that the difficulties spur me to be better. I wonder if I value my contentment far too much. I think to do that requires me to surrender a fair amount of control over my life, something I’m averse to doing. I know this particular paragraph may have seemed totally random, but that’s where my thoughts drifted while watching this episode.

As a side story, they finally end Kira’s pregnancy. I liked the effort they put into making the birth just a little bit alien. Needing to be calm, needing the rhythm to give birth. The birthing shawls were a nice touch. This felt like a way to simply end the pregnancy for Kira. They got a few interesting storylines out of it. Shakaar’s appearance here felt very limited. He only appears in DS9 in three episodes (the others are Shakaar, Ep. 3.24; Crossfire, Ep. 4.23), and this feels like he provides the least to the story. The rivalry between Shakaar and O’Brien felt very contrived. All in all, I’m glad they finally ended Kira’s pregnancy. I liked that element more for the knowledge that the writers accommodated Nana Visitor’s pregnancy (and didn’t hide it) than for any storyline it created. After the pregnancy, however, does have important meta-narrative implications. Odo and Kira both lost a child in this episode. At the end, they bond over their mutual, immense loss. This further cements their friendship in a unique and intimate way.

Changeling-Bashir Watch. I saw no kinks in the facade. Once again, Bashir plays a modest role in the episode, but almost entirely as his professional persona. The Changeling-Bashir has that down well. He is very invested in saving the baby Changeling, but that would be something the real Bashir would do. If there is any minor, minor dent in the facade, it is that Changeling-Bashir in this episode (and past ones) is too professional. But that would be scant evidence to indict any Changeling on.

Random Thoughts: 1) Shakaar does get mentioned a few more times in the series. He’s obviously referenced when Kira breaks up with him, but also a few times as First Minister. 2) Miles references Molly’s birth, which was in The Disaster (TNG Ep. 5.05). 3) I was really disappointed that Worf was on the station for this episode. When he learned that the O’Briens were having another child, he declared he would be far, far away (Accession, Ep. 4.17). I’m sad they didn’t follow through on that. 4) This is one of the last times we see Keiko. She appears in Time’s Orphan (Ep. 6.24) and What You Leave Behind (Ep. 7.25). I think the on-screen reason was “the war”, but I’m not sure if there was a behind-the-scenes reason too. 5) Odo was becoming quite the hypochondriac. 6) I think they let Quark get way too little for the baby Changeling. Easily should have been a few bars of latinum for a living creature, not mere slips. 7) I was impressed at Rene Auberjonois’s acting toward a jar of ooze. 8) Worf gets the best lines: “Constable, why are you talking to your beverage?” 9) Mora’s speculations that Odo was forced into a solid form because he has limited ability turn out to be true. A foreshadowing of the end of the episode. 10) Thanks to Changeling-Bashir, the Founders should instantly know Odo is back to his old self.

Episode 5.11: The Darkness and the Light

•April 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is a beautiful, artistic episode. I love how Occupation-reminiscent episodes hinge on the morally ambiguous nature of heroic or villainous actions. There are very few actions that are purely black or white nor are motivations easily categorized. This truth is so important for us to know deep in our souls. This is what helps break down and destroy barriers between people. Our worst enemy has some good in them. Our adversaries are the same kind of struggling people we are. These realizations can soften our hearts, I think, to our adversaries. They help us realize that our true enemies are not flesh and blood. These sorts of episodes frequently end with the Bajorans and the Cardassians being quite similar. I see this episode as a foil to Duet (Ep. 1.19). In Duet, the episode ends with the Cardassians and Bajorans both portrayed as heroes. This current episode ends with both the Cardassians and Bajorans portrayed as villains. There are some fascinating comparisons between Prin and Maritza (from Duet), who are foils of each other. The former was filled with rage and festering hatred while the latter found repentance. Yet both were Cardassian non-combatants. Both were injured from the Occupation. Both were connected to the Shakaar cell. Both shrouded themselves in a cloak of mystery. I think these two episodes form an excellent commentary on the unintended horrors of the Occupation.

The artistry at the end of this episode is excellent. In particular, I want to focus on the final two scenes: in the medical bay as Kira tells her story to Odo and Kira’s captivity with Prin. In the medical bay scene, Kira is lying there on the table, deeply in mourning at the loss of so many of her loved ones. Elements in this scene amplify her loneliness. Odo as her counterpart is quite important; he is her closest friend at this time, but she’s separated even from him. She’s in a pillar of light while Odo is in darkness. She’s horizontal while Odo is vertical. Her back is to Odo. At the end, she shuts Odo out by stealing his list and running off on her own. In the captivity scene, Kira is well lit again, and Prin is shrouded in mystery and darkness. The debate between Kira and Prin is punctuated by the lighting separating them. Prin went out of his way to be the exact opposite kind of killer as Kira was, and the lighting highlights that. Also in an artistic vein, I want to point out how gruesome this episode is. Burnt corpses. Disfigured villains. A total of 6 deaths, 3 on-screen. Very much DS9-style Trek.

Kira and Prin debate in the final scene over who is in darkness and who is in light. Kira was a freedom fighter, brutally oppressed by a merciless regime. Her people are tortured, enslaved, and killed on a daily basis. She targeted a military figure, a Gul, but she didn’t do so with enough finesse to hit only her target. Her actions incurred innocent casualties and fatalities, including children. She claims she is righteous because she was fighting for libration of her homeland. Prin was a non-combatant, non-military launderer who was physically disfigured in Kira’s attack and lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. He oppressed no one, but he was complicit in his non-action for the brutality of the Occupation. He was a member of the powerful racial class, a race who pillaged an innocent world. Like Prin, every Cardassian who stood aside and did nothing is culpable. Prin claims he is righteous because his actions brought justice to indiscriminant killers. He killed with extreme precision, targetting only those who committed the alleged crime. Who is in the light?

I think the brutal reality is that neither of them are. At the end, Kira claims Prin used his innocence (he was non-military) as an excuse for his guilt (his lack of action during the Occupation). I see darkness in us all. Brokenness in us all. Prin is disfigured both physically and mentally, twisted by neglect and self-centeredness. He didn’t have the courage to find repentence. At times, Kira was forced into horrible decisions (like her planting a bomb that killed children); other times, she gleefully accepted her task as a freedom fighter (like the story she told Odo about joining the Shakaar cell). Both of these characters dwell in darkness. I think the difference lies in which of them allows the light into their darkness. Over the past 5 years on the station, Kira has gradually dealt with her scars from the Resistance, slowly becoming a more holy, wise person. While both are in darkness, Kira has allowed the light to enter. Only light can drive out darkness. Prin, who chose to stay in darkness, never realized that.

Changeling-Bashir Watch. The writers are hammering home that this Changeling-Bashir is great at being a doctor. They are highlighting his professional side. After two episodes, they have only ever shown him being a doctor. They haven’t shown him being social or personal. These other sides of Julian Bashir aren’t present. There’s no banter with O’Brien, no romantic pursuits, no enjoying himself in Quark’s. Still nothing to indicate this isn’t the real Bashir, other than the seeming absence of certain personality traits. Something that is common in DS9’s single-character-focused, episodic format.

Random Thoughts: 1) I think that the deaths of Furel and Lupaza were well used here, but I am sad they didn’t get more than a couple episodes (2 for Lupaza, 3 for Furel). I liked them as characters. 2) Almost as an aside, the death of Latha is tragic in it’s own right. Latha found forgiveness with the Prophets and devoted the remainder of his life to their teaching. Will our pasts always follow us? 3) Rule of Acquisition #111! From Worf, no less. 4) The banter between Dax and Nog over lobes was amusing. 5) Lupaza made Kira her earring, which is seen on her at all times. 6) I like the little touch of Odo being suspicious when he saw his chair was moved. A nod to his observant nature. 7) At one point, Kira falls on her stomach. Clearly, this isn’t a real pregnancy anymore for Nana Visitor. 8) Randy Oglesby, the actor who portrays Prin, is also the Miradorn twins in Vortex (Ep. 1.12).

Episode 5.10: Rapture

•April 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Like in previous seasons (Rules of Acquisition, Ep. 2.7; Defiant, Ep. 3.9), the writers slip in profound arc significance regarding the Dominion into an episode with a completely different focus. To someone who expects an episode about Roddenberry’s paradise, this episode is a shock. It should be the end of the series when Bajor is triumphantly admitted to the Federation! But the Federation would lead to destruction for Bajor; paradise would obliterate them. Only by standing alone can Bajor survive the Dominion (the locusts). By standing alone, Bajor can sign a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. This is a natural extension of the peace treaty signed with Cardassian in Life Support (Ep. 3.13). Remaining independent is very counter-intuitive to the typical Roddenberry/TNG Federation. Shouldn’t we always be stronger together than we are if we stand alone? Generally, yes, I think so. But here, the wise move for the Bajorans is to stay out of the coming fight as much as they can. Bajor can neither provide strong support to the already massive Federation military nor would Bajor be valuable enough for the Federation to commit resources to defending her. Staying neutral lets them survive the takeover of DS9. Getting to this point took a lot of work in prior episodes. Vedek Bareil had to give his life to create the original peace treaty. Sisko had to be convinced of his spiritual path with the Prophets and acceptance of his role as Emissary. Bajor had to forge an independent, stable society, one able to initially stand aside as a 3rd party. Season 5 is full of important hinges in the meta-narrative, like this episode.

Despite all the arc significance, this episode is actually themed around a sacred vision quest. Sisko is being shown a prophecy through his visions. Sisko has finally, fully accepted his spiritual connection to the Prophets, and here he leans into his visions, trying to figure out what the visions mean. This is a worthwhile pursuit! Those around Sisko form two camps. One camp is dismissive (Dax, O’Brien, the Admiral) and find the vision quest an archaic ritual. They fail to see any benefit that could come from it; the Admiral even sees only pain from it. All of Sisko’s claims of clarity fall on deaf ears. The other camp is supportive (Kira, Worf, Winn), and respect Sisko for his persistence to finding the purpose of the visions. The episode ultimately endorses the value of the mystical visions Sisko is experiencing by having them provide clarity needed for Bajor to survive the opening salvos of the War. At the height of his mystical experience, Sisko himself becomes more peaceful. More than that, he brings peace to those he encounters. The inward journey powerfully changes Sisko and his path.

The episode does offer its own critique to the mystical journey. Sisko becomes so focused on his vision quest that he ignores much of his regular life. I think the end of the episode holds this tension nicely. Sisko’s vision provides him with enough clarity to divert Bajor away from the Federation, but the vision quest does have an end. There is much wisdom in holding these two ends in tension. Mysticism can allow us to see beyond the everyday world, but most of us still have to live in that everyday world. This is an important lesson for me personally. At the end, Winn accuses Jake (a non-believer) that he doesn’t have enough trust in the Prophets. I love Kira’s rebuttal to her: as believers, it is Kira and Winn’s job to have more trust in the Prophets. The Prophets gave Sisko exactly what he needed. Bajor’s path is rocky, but the Bajorans are strong enough to handle that path.

Once again, DS9 weaves together the spiritual and the natural world. The sacred vision quest has physical manifestations. I love how they continually refuse to fully explain any spiritual experience with natural explanation, either with real physics/biology or technobabble. This drives home the idea that one cannot separate the two NOR can there be one without the other. We are absolutely spiritual creatures, but we are also composed of physical matter, influenced by it. Physical experiences (getting shocked by a holosuite) induce spiritual experiences (vision quests). I also love how Sisko’s mystical journey is interwoven into broader events in his life. Amid the imminent dangers of this mystical journey and the massive arc significance of this episode, the episode quietly acknowledges that our faith has tangible effects on our lives. DS9 regularly does this with faith-themed episodes.

It’s nearly impossible to detect a priori, but the uniform change here has tremendous significance for Bashir. That’s because the Bashir seen on the station now and through By Inferno’s Light (Ep. 5.15) is a Changeling! When Bashir is found in the Jem’Hadar internment camp, he is wearing the old uniform. That means in this episode, this can’t be the real Bashir. There are 4 episodes of deception before this is revealed during In Purgatory’s Shadow (Ep. 5.14)! As far as I can tell, there is no foreshadowing or hint that this isn’t the real Bashir. Bashir could have been replaced before this point, but for parsimony (and for the lack of any other indicators), I interpret this episode as when the infiltration occurs. I would certainly argue that it must have happened at least after Trials and Tribble-ations (Ep. 5.6); if that was a Changeling, they would have stayed in the past to wreck havoc.  I’m going to scrutinize Changeling-Bashir these four episodes to find any hint of foreshadowing. In this episode, the Changeling-Bashir is a brilliant doctor who speaks firmly for his patients. I think the writers gave us some medical technobabble from the Changeling-Bashir just so to not raise suspicions.

Random Thoughts: 1) Sisko finds Common ground with Kai Winn. I absolutely love this. Villains in DS9 are not evil caricatures (Dukat is grey too). Winn, for all her conniving and deception, can be an ally in seeking the Prophets’ guidance. At least at this point in the series; later in the series, she abandons pursuit of the Prophets because she cannot surrender her lust for power or need for control. Her having a past of being beaten for resisting the Cardassians also makes her a little more grey as a villain.2) Dax is so anti-faith that when she looks at the painting of B’hala, she only sees art. 3) I like how Zocal’s 3rd prophecy leads to another prophecy given by Sisko. 4) Floating bicycle wheel! This is a standard phrase in my life. 5) I was highly amused at Quark being prepared and having multiple banners for many ruling empires. 6) “You cannot loosen a man’s tongue with root beer” – Ancient Klingon Proverb. 7) Kira deserves a mention too, at how much she’s changed over the past 5 seasons. Here she fully supports membership, yet in Emissary (Ep. 1.1), she was furious at the Federation’s presence. 8) Sisko greets Kasidy picking up right where they left off. That’s Sisko, not the vision quest. 9) Winn asking Kira if Sisko would still accept her is the closest Winn ever gets to siding with the Prophets, I think. 10) I like the form the vision takes, of a plague of locusts. 11) It’s important to point out that Bashir was not present whenever Sisko talks about the vision of locusts heading to Cardassia.