Episode 3.24: Shakaar

•May 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Leadership is a rare skill in the world.  Most of the time, our leaders are chosen not by their skill in leadership, but by completely unrelated skills.  Wealth, diplomatic savviness, even scientific acumen are skills that can propel someone to leadership, but these don’t necessarily translate to quality leadership.  They don’t inherently cultivate leadership expertise. Humility, ability to inspire, and levelheaded decision making are qualities a leader should possess.  Shakaar is a natural leader, whereas Winn is the stark contrast.  This episode pits these two against each other.  Kira herself is mostly an onlooker, someone who is there to be the eyes of the audience.  It is worth pointing out, though, that Kira has intense loyalty to Bajor to so often be willing to listen to Kai Winn “for the good of Bajor.”  The side plot with O’Brien and Quark is quite fun and primarily a subplot that helps round out the feel of the show by not permitting relentless focus on the main storyline.

The visuals surrounding each character really bring out these contrasts.  Shakaar is surrounded by people in every scene except when he first meets Kira.  Within days he’s surrounded by a huge band of followers, all who trust their lives to his decisions.  His inner circle defers to him, but in a respectful way.  They offer opinions freely, but are willing to accept whatever he decides to do.  Their trust in him is so deep, they are willing to go against fellow Bajorans for him.  That is no easy task for these people, Kira in particular.  Conversely, Winn is seen completely alone in her scenes.  She doesn’t even have her usual, elderly follower.  All her orders are followed through her formal position as acting First Minister and the innate sense of duty in others; she doesn’t inspire loyalty.  Even when Lenaris, Kira, and Shakaar arrive in her office at the end, she stands alone and easily dethroned.

Their actions are starkly contrasted as well.  Shakaar is initially shown in a humble capacity, a mere farmer.  His concern is for the health of the land and the people who work in Dakhur province.  He wants the people of Bajor to empower themselves, and he sees Bajorans as reclaiming their dignity through working the soil.  He is not focused on how the galaxy views them.  He agonizes over decisions that would endanger is people.  He even is gravely concerned for the Bajorans who are tracking them, putting himself into harms way to attempt to negotiate with Lenaris.  He knows his actions in that canyon would spark civil war if he opens fire.  Shakaar is even willing to talk with Winn to find compromise.  Conversely, Winn betrays him by trying to arrest him without discussion.  Winn merely wants to increase her powerbase by increasing the influence of Bajor in the galaxy.  She doesn’t care for the health of her people; she wants to use the reclamators to sell the food, not feed Bajorans or give them dignity.  She increasingly overreacts to the situation, by trying to arrest Shakaar, then by declaring martial law and suspending the rural governments.  Any small disobedience is an affront to her power as First Minister; her pride is so fragile.

I wonder how hindered we are as a society that our leaders can so often lack leadership qualities.  Even a simple survey of politics finds many of our “leaders” are in it for self promotion instead of the public good (whether you are red or blue, you can find these people in your camp).  They resemble Winn far more than they resemble Shakaar.  Business is filled with self-serving managers who think of their bonuses and the bottom line far faster than the people they manage.  Some folks I know say this kind of self-serving behavior is the only way our society functions; when a person looks out for themself, they incidentally carry others around them into a better situation.  However, one of Shakaar’s beliefs is that no society can thrive if it marginalizes some of the people (as Winn was trying to do to the residents of Dakhur Province).  I’ve got to believe that if decision makers were more focused on the greater good, our resources could be more efficiently leveraged to help a greater number of people.  But then again, I’ve been savagely accused of overly idealistic opinions.

Random Thoughts:  1) I didn’t at all touch on the undertone of the lack of separation of church and state if Winn became First Minister.  It’s a light touch, I think, compared to the contrasted leadership styles.  2) The Bajoran practice for the dead can carry on for months, indicating they have a strong belief in the afterlife.  3) Fantastic line from Odo:  “A price of giving people choice is they sometimes make the wrong choice”  4) Winn intentionally insults Kira by downplaying her mourning of Bareil.  This insults her love of him and her faith practice for him.  5) I believe this is the first time the application for Federation membership is officially mentioned as being active.  6) The view of Shakaar’s farm conjures feelings of the Dust Bowl in my mind.  7) Shakaar is tall, a full head taller than Kira!  7) Furel’s story is a nice story for a side character.  8) Shakaar and Lenaris bond over Resistance stories in the canyon.  This helps facilitate real negotiation by engendering mutual respect.  9) Kira’s action at the end to blow out her mourning candle for Bareil is obvious; she’s ready to move on.  Specifically, she moves on to Shakaar, who shows interest in her in this episode.

Episode 3.23: Family Business

•April 29, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There are times that DS9 is subtle and there are times when it isn’t.  Whenever Ferengi society is involved, DS9 isn’t subtle.  I think that is telling, actually.  In DS9, Ferengi society is meant to be representative of our modern society, and the obvious nature of the deficiencies of Ferengi society should be a sign to us.  There are some glaring, obvious deficiencies in our society.  The kind that should make us stop and ask ourselves why we are still dealing with them.  Gender equality is one of those.  The second storyline is has parallel gender equality themes, but they are more subtle and are overshadowed by the life-on-the-station feel.  I like this lighter blend for this point in the season, as the season is between two intense, heavy moments: the failure of Tain’s attack on the Founders (The Die is Cast, Ep. 3.21) and the escalations of Dominion tensions and Odo’s killing of a Founder (The Adversary, Ep 3.26).

Ferengi gender inequalities are hardwired into society.  It is illegal for a woman to earn profit, which is reminiscent of a time in Western history when it was illegal for a woman to own property.  The Ferengi  inequalities to us are painfully obvious, and as viewers we could respond in one of two ways.  We could either look at Ferengi society and think, “Ah, we’ve moved past that.”  Or we could think, “What remnants of that attitude still exist today?”  Obtaining gender equality in a society is actually a very difficult order to obtain.  Even assessing it is difficult.  It’s more than a simple calculation of pay gaps or percentage representation in a given field.  Many other things are baked into any gender divide (years in the workforce, socioeconomic class opportunities, physical requirements, etc).  Nonetheless, gender divides are real.  It is actually Rom who models what I think is the best, most fruitful path forward.  He demands conversation between Quark and Ishka.  He calls them out on their own failures, and gets them to see the opposing person’s struggle.  This is where any society needs to begin when working through social change: conversation.

As always, I’m impressed with how Quark is able to lay out the most defensible position for his Ferengi-inspired actions.  Since the inequalities are hardwired into society, for his family to buck those norms would lead to severe consequences.  Quark’s efforts with the bar support all three of them and Nog too, which is a great credit to him.  Standing up to the FCA would lead to them being ostracized, and it would limit Quark’s ability to earn the profit needed for them to live the life they do.  The true tension is whether this is worth it or not?  To Ishka, it clearly is.  In a societal sense, it clearly is.  But Quark’s priorities are with his profit and his family (even if he often denies the latter).  Additionally, what Quark (or Ishka) don’t realize is that they would not be alone in defying the FCA.  Quark’s fears do come to pass in Body Parts (Ep. 4.25), and his friends on the station support him fully in becoming emancipated from the FCA.

Sisko is finally set up with Cassidy Yates through Jake.  I don’t think it’s ever revealed how Jake knows Cassidy, other than Jake simply meeting her during his travels through the station.  There are some parallels here to the main storyline.  Where Ishka is oppressed, Cassidy is utterly free.  She is a ship captain, she leads males on her crew, and she makes the first official move with Sisko by asking him out.  During their date, Sisko and Cassidy bond over this obscure activity that the 24th century has forgotten: baseball.  It’s actually eerily similar to the first date between myself and my now-wife.  We were having a generally good time, then I casually (and unintentionally) mentioned an obscure television show that I liked and how I was missing watching it because I was on a date with her.  She instantly recognized it and loved it too.  And so we now have a fantastic bond through Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s fascinating how relationships work like that; one connection becomes stronger, which allow further connections to be created.  Cassidy and Sisko stay together through the rest of the series, with a few rocky moments, as all relationships have.

Random Thoughts:  1) Quark laments Nog joining Starfleet because Nog isn’t working for profit in the family business.  Quark has strong family ties.  2) Quark’s closing of the bar on a profitable night shows how important the FCA and Brunt’s visit is.  3) I love the title, “Liquidator”.  4) Everything in Ferengi society is monetized.  Even standing.  And they have pockets built into their coats to facilitate bribes!  5) New runabout arrives: the Rubicon.  Kira makes a bit of a meta-joke about how often runabouts are being destroyed by saying how lucky it is that Earth has many rivers.  6) Nice painting of Ferenginar, where it is always raining.  7) As hard a Quark tries, his mother can earn three times the profit even while hamstrung by laws.  8) The ending with Brunt is hilarious.  Not only is the FCA easily outsmarted, but Brunt shall return many times.

Episode 3.22: Explorers

•April 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

After the heaviness of the last two episodes, a light-hearted episode seems in order.  The two plots of this episode are bound together by a pair of bonding experiences.  Jake and Sisko grow closer to each other as Jake takes a major step along his journey to manhood.  The journey in the Bajoran craft brings them together even as Jake seeks to create his own life beyond Sisko.  Julian is self conscious about his life course, and he has a bromantic evening with O’Brien.  Two light storylines about life on the station.

From my explorations of manhood, there are two major events in a boy’s life that he must go through before becoming a man, and they are not necessarily in this order.  Both help him answer that important question, “Do I have what it takes?”  First, he must differentiate himself from his father, as he continues to do in this episode.  The second is to have a rite of passage, which for Jake occurs during Nor the Battle to the Strong (Ep. 5.04).  Jake is not Starfleet material.  This isn’t to say that he isn’t honorable or strong or intellectual.  Rather, he isn’t interested in the rigidity or scientific nature of that life.  He is artistic, passionate, and elegant with words.  His maturity in this episode is astounding.  He chooses to spend time with his father so that he might get Sisko’s blessing to venture to Earth on his own.  While the boy must step away from the father, the healthiest way to do that is with the father’s wisdom and encouragement; Sisko offers both.  His wisdom comes in telling Jake that experience makes for good storytellers.  Sisko relates his own stories of homesickness to both prepare Jake for what he faces and to encourage him in overcoming it.  Despite Jake deciding to go in a year, he never capitalizes on this opportunity.  The upcoming war with the Klingons prevents this.

Bashir’s subplot is a direct extension of his struggles in Distant Voices (Ep. 3.18).  He questions his life course, in particular that moment in medical school when he became 2nd in his class.  I’m aware that the writers didn’t plan on making Julian genetically modified, so at this point, him missing the pre-ganglionic/post-ganglionic question was not intentional on Bashir’s part.  He either really missed it or unconsciously missed it because he didn’t believe in himself.  Given his demeanor throughout Seasons 1 and 2, I am inclined to believe the latter.  And this fits with how he reacts to Dr. Lense.  The reason she intimidates him comes from within Julian himself!  She represents his failure and his missed opportunities.  I constantly question my life choices, whether I would have been better off on some other life path.  But the reality is that we always paint what could have been in a far better light that it likely would have been.  Julian gets the rare opportunity to see what he missed, and he is shocked to learn that his rival would have preferred his own career on DS9.  That the path we chose to follow is fantastic because we chose it.  We create our lives with our choices, and that act of creation is divine and sublime.

The conversation between Bashir and Dr. Lense is a critique on the TNG vs DS9 differences.  Julian’s able to focus on long-term projects while Lense is forced to move on from a world too quickly.  Lense admires and finds that situation more favorable than her own.  This is a nod to how DS9 stories must face, struggle with, and enjoy the consequences of their actions.  Unlike the TNG crew who always seem to stand outside the situation or culture they are interacting with, the crew of DS9 are immersed and interwoven into their setting.

I like Dukat’s role here.  I actually think that he really cares about Sisko.  He honestly sees Bajoran history as a bunch of fairy tales, and he doesn’t want to see Sisko (someone Dukat’s come to respect) throw his life away over a myth.  He does his best to persuade Sisko otherwise, then he wishes him luck.  It is left open to the viewer whether Dukat knew all along about the Bajoran wreck on Cardassia.  It fits his personality either way.  Either he knew and tried to deceive Sisko, which fits his pride, or he didn’t know and tried to dissuade Sisko, which fits his lack of respect for Bajoran history.  Given I usually paint Dukat in a positive light, I tend to think of the latter.

Sisko delves more deeply into Bajoran history, and crucially, he has begun to believe the history before he’s given modern proof for the historical stories.  Instead of brushing off Bajoran history, he a priori believes that it did happen, and he sets out to prove it.  He has begun to have respect for the claims made by ancient Bajorans.  For Sisko, this a step towards becoming invested in Bajoran theology.  Sisko’s shift reflects some ways that theologians and religiously-minded folks approach religious historicity, particularly Christian history.  Strangely, this can lead people to two diametrically opposed behaviors.  One set of folks use it to keep their minds open and explore the truth claims of impossibilities (this is Sisko’s attitude here).  Another group of folks use it to give themselves easy answers and excuses to not engage hard questions.  This says to me that the attitude someone has is vitally important to how one goes about these journeys.  And for Sisko, his attitude changed when he saw Trakor’s Third Prophecy played out before him, in Destiny (Ep. 3.15); in this episode, he begins to act on this new attitude.

Random Thoughts:  1) I want to again emphasize that my musings on this blog about the journey from boyhood to manhood are not meant to exclude females from these thoughts.  If these types of experiences are important to womanhood, then I hope girls on the path to becoming women find these thoughts helpful to them.  But I’m not in a position to speak to that journey, so I will leave those details to those who walk that path.  2) Don’t know if Leeta was meant to be a one-off appearance or not, but she becomes a fun side-character.  3) As we’ll most likely discuss during Dr. Bashir, I Presume (Ep. 5.14), I’m not a fan of the writers making Julian genetically modified.  I think it weakens his character.  I much prefer the doctor who doubts himself over the one who hamstrings himself to keep a secret.  The former is much more real.  4) There’s something I like to call “temporal arrogance”.  This is the idea that because a claim is made in the past (typically ancient past), it has less weight than a competing claim made using modern methods.  Claims can be scientific, philosophical, spiritual.  While progress certainly has given us better answers to many questions, I think it’s foolish to believe that all questions answered before our time are wrong.  The logical extension to this is that all questions we answer now are wrong; time just needs to march on a bit.  5) Sisko’s goatee sticks around for the rest of the series.  These are a scant 5 episodes though where he has both hair and a goatee.  6) Some off-duty fashion is shown here.  7) The gravity net was totally a convenience for the producers of the show.  8) Absolutely loved the drinking songs and the intense bromance moment between O’Brien and Bashir.  Miles doesn’t hate Julian anymore.  And if it’s not hate, it must be… 9) Once again, the timing around the space travel doesn’t really make sense.  It appears as if they got to Cardassia in a few hours, yet it must have been days in the craft to fit with other parts of the Star Trek canon.  10) The Lexington is a science vessel, somewhat binding both plots to the title where Dr. Lense is another explorer.  11) Going into writing this episode, I didn’t expect to write much.  But apparently, having two beers at an after-work happy hour makes me more prolific.

Episode 3.21: The Die is Cast

•April 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This episode engages the viewer, presents dark thematic elements, and contributes to DS9’s overarching story on several levels.  Prominently, extensive, long-term consequences for the upcoming war occur in this episode.  The Dominion brilliantly utilizes the secrecy and distrust of the Obsidian Order/Tal Shiar to ensnare them in a trap with the Founders themselves as bait.  The events in this episode are why the Alpha quadrant is as vulnerable as it is when war breaks out.  Garak brutalizes Odo during the torture, but it is done in a “sci-fi” manner; this allows the viewer to be exposed to such a dark topic in an accessible way.  This is a wonderful example of how the sci-fi genre can engage delicate or dark themes in a way that both softens the topic and challenges the viewer.  Elegant and masterful is how I would describe this episode.

The Founders embody deception.  In the Alpha Quadrant, the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar are considered best in their trade at spymastering and political maneuvers.  The Founders are capable of deceiving the most experienced of deceivers.  For two episodes, we’ve heard about the Cardassians prowess at doublespeak and deception; the Founders deceived them so effectively that they walked right into a trap.  The fault in Tain (and his colleagues) lied in their underestimation of the Founders.  Tain’s soliloquy as the bridge is destroyed around him is aimed at the viewers: do not underestimate the Dominion.  Garak quotes Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser (replacing “Brutus” with “Tain”).  It isn’t fate that will cause the rise or fall of the Alpha Quadrant, only the quality of those who oppose the Dominion.  That literary device, introduced during lunch with Bashir, did indeed foreshadow a greater betrayal that Garak did not see.  The dual purpose of the Caeser reference (for Garak’s shop blowing up and now the final climax) is fantastic.

The long term consequences from The Die is Cast are staggering, and I see two major ones.  First, the Cardassian Empire is dramatically weakened.  The Obsidian Order is wiped out, leaving only the strength of Central Command.  With only this one institution, the Cardassians are vulnerable to attack by the Klingons, which forces them to accept the Dominion Occupation in order to survive.  Had the Obsidian Order still been functional, they likely either 1) would have not been a lucrative target to the Klingons, or 2) they would have had the resources to throw back the Klingons.  Second, the Tal Shiar is devastated, which puts the Romulans into submission, and they choose to initially stay out of the Dominion War.  The Romulans don’t like getting deceived, and this puts them on the defensive: stay out of conflict, conserve strength.

Odo and Garak foil each other throughout this episode, particularly strongly during the torture scene.  Both of them have a strong desire to rejoin their people, despite those peoples being less than ethical.  Their differences are in how far they will go to rejoin their kind.  For Odo, he refuses to be with the Founders, firmly believing them unjustly conquering and controlling the galaxy.  The consequences of this decision are physical pain (he’s being tortured here for it) and emotional separation (he longs for the Great Link).  This longing is so deeply buried, it takes immense torture for him to admit it to anyone.  However, when Lovok reveals himself at the end, Odo is aghast at what the Founders have done.  His resolve to stick with Bajor is strengthened.  Garak doesn’t fare any better.  Though his exile is briefly ended, he is no longer who he once was.  Despite being with his people, he is no longer one of them anymore.  Summed up elegantly by Odo: “The only common enemy you and I share is Enabran Tain.  The difference between you and I is you don’t know it.”

The torture scene breaks the interrogator, not the prisoner.  Garak despises himself for what he’s doing to Odo, and Garak is torn asunder by the experience.  One part of Garak wants to feel like he’s doing the right thing, and poetically, this is portrayed by what Odo says.  A second part of Garak is horrified at himself, and this is portrayed by what Garak himself says.  Odo says Garak is feeling pride at ending his exile, that Garak doesn’t want the torture to end, that he loves it, that he is dreaming of serving Cardassia again.  Yet Garak begs Odo to give him anything to end the interrogation.  Garak just wants to be told something, even a lie.  Garak is acting like the prisoner!  He’s begging for the experience to end, and he even rushes to turn off the device once he has his morsel from Odo.  Garak himself is in shock at how he is torn over this, and the end of the experience leaves him broken and regretful.  He refuses to relay to Tain what he learned about Odo’s feelings, in a small attempt at reconciliation with Odo.

Garak becomes the one interrogated here, and he learns that he has changed.  He’s no longer a loyal servant of the old Cardassia.  His longing is much deeper than his old life or setting foot on the soil of his homeworld.  He wants to see Cardassia flourish, and this cannot happen as it currently is.  In my opinion, this is his most important step along his path to actively building a new Cardassia.  What he had before, with Tain, is destroyed over that rogue planet; in fact, Tain’s way must die for Cardassia to flourish.  Repeatedly throughout the series, Garak’s skills are crucial to the crew’s success, and in these episodes, Garak takes several steps toward the crew and away from his past as a spy.  Near death, Garak begs forgiveness from Odo, showing his loyalty to the crew over his past.

The space battles are definitely getting polished up.  It’s an excellent component that DS9 has more of then other Star Trek series, and it adds some excitement and thrill to the storylines.  The Defiant really gets to show off here.  Destroying several Jem’Hadar ships, beaming crew aboard with shields down (thanks to that ablative armor), and maneuvering like a fighter through a massive sea of enemy ships.  Sisko has some great battle presence as he commands the Defiant.  The exchange is flashy, and it delivers a great climax to these episodes.

I love the ending scene and the use of the mirror.  Garak’s reflection of himself includes an internal reflection of who he was before and how that Garak has died.  Poetically, this occurs in his destroyed tailor shop.  Instead of rebuilding his old life as he expected, he is left rebuilding his new life, his tailor shop on DS9 surrounded by Bajorans and humans.  But more so than anyone else on the station, Garak and Odo have a connection and a shared longing.  They both long to be with their people, but not as those peoples currently are.  Rather, their love and desire for their peoples are so deep that they are willing to continue their personal hardships to try to effect change.

Random Thoughts:  1) Lovok is the betrayer foreshadowed by the Shakespeare reference.  I really love how that literary device is used twice, once to deceive the viewer in Improbable Cause (Ep. 3.21) and in the traditional way to foreshadow a betrayal from within.  2) When Eddington gives his word that he will follow orders, Sisko says he will trust the word of any man wearing that uniform.  Eddington will eventually break is word to Sisko when he reveals himself as Maquis sympathizer.  Sisko’s attitude and the terminology used in this scene echo Sisko and Cal Hudson’s exchanges in The Maquis (Ep. 2.20/21).  3) Garak officially reenters exile.  The next time this ends is the last few episodes of Season 7.  4) O’Brien is a poor stand-in for Garak during lunch.  It’s a nice reminder that we have different kinds of friends in our lives that fit into different aspects of our personality.  5) The fleet decloaking and entering the wormhole without a signal to the station is a nice reminder that the station doesn’t have much leverage to control the wormhole. Yet.  6) Tain went into retirement at the beginning of the series (~3 years ago).  7) Whatever the rift between Garak and Dukat, we know it involves an arms merchant somehow.  8) The fleet travelling at Warp 6 allows the Defiant to catch them going maximum speed.  9) The device to torture Odo attacks Odo’s identity.  It removes his core attribute, his ability to shapeshift.  10) It was a nice touch to have the flakes of Odo return to the bucket as well once the device is turned off.  11) Sisko’s upcoming promotion is foreshadowed by Toddman.  12) I think Garak is spared by Lovok at the end because he advocated keeping Odo alive.  I’m amused that even in this Garak must lie; his lie was that he wanted to keep Odo alive to appease the Federation, rather than the truth that Garak had no desire to kill Odo.  13) Tain doesn’t die here.  He is captured and will return later in Season 5.  14) Lovok’s promise that the Federation and the Klingons are next comes to pass in Season 4.  Both have changeling infiltrators, just like the Romulans do here.  15) Runabout destroyed!  Mekong down.  That’s three in the graveyard now.

Episode 3.20: Improbable Cause

•April 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve always considered Season 3 as when DS9 begins to establish itself as the greatest show of all time.  The season is anchored twice, once in the first half and again in the second half, by two fantastic two-episode stories: Past Tense Pt. 1/2 (Ep. 3.11/12) and Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast (Ep. 3.20/21).  While I don’t want to get ahead of myself, in The Die is Cast, the utter brilliance of the Dominion is revealed as an intelligent, dangerous, and worthy enemy to the Federation.  These two episodes fit DS9’s motif a bit better than Past Tense, as these are serial episodes instead of a cliffhanger two-parter.  In fact, the plot of this serial is set up in prior episodes.  In Visionary (Ep. 3.17), the Romulans gain full access to the intelligence they need to conduct this operation.  In Defiant (Ep. 3.9), the creation of the Obsidian Order fleet is revealed, but not explained.  This first episode focuses on Odo and Garak, and the intrigue that draws them into the plot to attack the Founders.  Interestingly, their involvement was not desired by Tain.  Garak becomes a powerful ally for Tain, though it only lasts a single episode.  Garak is clever and resourceful; had he been with Tain earlier, I speculate the Founder plot would have been disrupted.

Odo is intelligent here in several ways.  He obviously figures out Garak blew up his own shop very early on (he realizes this once he learns the Flaxxian is a poisoner, not a saboteur), but he also is wise enough to keep this information to himself.  He doesn’t obfuscate what he knows; Odo reminds us (and Garak) how much he loathes the verbal games Garak plays with Bashir and Tain.  Instead, he informs Garak of this knowledge when it would be most useful to Odo to do so.  Once Odo knows that the game is much larger than a simple assassination attempt, Odo turns up the heat on Garak with this revelation.   Odo’s detective work here is something he’s cultivated over years.  He’s observed Garak and slowly put together information about him, probably also assessing the amount of truth in any given piece of information.  After discussing events with his contact from Cardassia, Odo realizes this is more than attempted murder.  But Odo is invested in justice on the grand scale, and so he continues work on the case.  A key aspect of Garak that Odo has figured out by this episode is that Garak only works in lies.  When Garak says he doesn’t know something, that is a strong indicator of truth, since if Garak did know something, he would instantly spin a lie about it.  The trick is figuring out what portions of Garak’s lies are actually truth.

The scene where Garak and Odo analyze each other is fantastic.  Both are skilled observers with strong deductive minds.  While Garak’s past is never truly confirmed, I believe that Odo’s assessment here is accurate; this fits with the flow of Odo’s successes in this episode, and it fits the facts we garner about Garak throughout the series.  Garak is Tain’s son (Odo’s claim that Garak feels something for Tain, confirmed in Purgatory’s Shadow, Ep 5.14), Tain caused Garak’ exile, and Garak was Tain’s protégé.  Garak’s assessment of Odo is more haphazard, I think, because Garak’s observations over the years were incidental, while Odo was intentional about Garak.  Garak makes an reference to Kira which implies he knows the one-sided attraction is there.  He also expertly manipulated Odo into getting involved, and he knows how deeply Odo cares for justice.

Up until this point in the series, we’ve only seen a fraction of Garak’s resourcefulness and cleverness.  In these two episodes, both of these traits are fully brought to bear.  Not only does he know the assassination is coming (presumably by knowing the other operatives died earlier that day), but he is able to rig his deception before he even meets Bashir for lunch.  He knows the key players he needs involved (here, Odo) and exactly how to manipulate them.  Garak did a similar thing to Bashir with the war orphans in Cardassians (Ep. 2.5).

What I find truly ingenious about having Garak blow up his own shop is that even a literary device itself is designed to deceive the viewer.  In the opening scene, Garak and Bashir are discussing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Garak chastises Caeser for his failure to see the betrayal until the knife itself is in his back.  When Garak’s shop explodes, and for most of the episode, the viewer is lead to believe that Garak failed to see the bomb before it blew up in his presence.  The metaphor of the lunchtime topic sets up the viewer to think that Garak failed to see his betrayal.  While Garak deceives the crew, so do the writers decieve the viewers.

Garak and Bashir’s exchange in the infirmary is one of my favorites of the series.  The way Garak turns the morale of the story to his interpretation impressed me.  Bashir is trying to offer Garak some advice that would actually help him get the help he needs, but Bashir doesn’t truly yet understand how the Cardassian mind works.  Garak’s interpretation keeps the story completely intact, yet simply changes what the boy “should” have done.  This represents how Garak himself lies; he takes near complete truth and spins only a small component to set others on the track that he wants.  I’ve used this scene in some of my teaching to show how easily our morals can be twisted.  As we’ve heard from Garak in the past, truth is in the eye of the beholder.

Random Thoughts:  1) Odo’s network as a detective is vast.  His contacts stretch even to Cardassia, and with such integrity that the contact is willing to stay indebted to Odo in exchange for another favor.  2) Garak was truly surprised that Odo figured out he blew up his own shop.  The look on his face is priceless, and Andrew Robinson (the actor who plays Garak) does a fantastic job of covering his initial surprise with a poor attempt at stoicism.  3) Never confirmed for Garak, but it is a strong belief of mine that Mila is Garak’s mother.  He holds an affection for her that is quite unique.  4) Bashir shows some true friendship to Garak by returning the chocolates.  In this small way, he does know his lunchtime companion.  5) The bit about the wall panel and eating the isolinear rod is highly amusing.  6) Tain and Garak verbally sparring is quite fun to watch.  I love how Garak slides an excellent racial slur in there, and Tain is able to deflect it simply by naming it and naming the effect it was intended to have.  7) Garak empathically tells Tain that he didn’t betray him in his heart.  Whatever it was, Garak feels betrayed by the exile as much as Tain was directly betrayed by Garak.  8) Garak officially ends his exile.

Episode 3.19: Through the Looking Glass

•March 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The annual Mirror Universe episode is a lovely bit of fluff and action.  This time, it is Sisko who is pulled across the divide where he is faced with the imminent death of Mirror-Jennifer, the counterpart to his dead wife.  The episode pulls at Sisko’s heartstrings a bit, but overall, I think this episode ranks solidly as a fun episode, but little more than that.  I enjoyed how Sisko rallies strongly to save Mirror-Jennifer; this is a sneaky way for the writers to get his wife in for a few additional episodes.  Sisko’s dedication to her is extremely deep; enough that he is easily swayed by Smiley.  She also is a preamble for the introduction of Cassidy Yates in a few episodes; it is clearly established that Sisko has had 5 years to mourn Jennifer and is moving on.  I liked the ending.  It had some humor and a big of trickery.  The villains of the Mirror Universe are here (and will continue to be) portrayed as brute overlords who are easily duped.

The biggest reason I like the Mirror Universe episodes (contrary to most other DS9 fans) is how the actors can step out of their usual roles and portray a character that is quite a bit different.  Mirror-Kira is fairly well established from Crossover (Ep. 2.23), if tragically one-dimensional; similar with Mirror-Garak.  Mirror-Bashir is aggressive and loud.  Mirror-Dax is less compassionate, though still level headed.  Mirror-Rom is actually devious!  He is able to play the double-agent, though not well enough for him to survive.  That’s two Mirror Universe episodes and two dead Ferengis.  But, in the end, while I had fun with the episode, a bit of action and some characters with new personalities, I find only a host of random thoughts left to comment on.

Random Thoughts:  1) I think I caught the first usage.  Odo “harrumphs” at Quark for the first time!  2) Again, no goatee!  Sort of got a 5-o-clock shadow on Mirror-Bashir though.  3) This episode title was foreshadowed in Crossover; it is mentioned again by Smiley at the start.  4) Mirror-Kira is portrayed as a hyper-sexual nymphomaniac more than a bisexual, in my opinion.  I would not consider her portrayal as representative of the LGBT community.  Much has changed for this cultural topic in the last 20 years.  But Star Trek stayed at the forefront of cultural change, as a confrontation with homophobia and an explicit portrayal of the LGBT community comes with the episode Rejoined (Ep. 4.6).  Rejoined is a much better episode to consider those themes.  5) Sisko absolutely has sexual relations with both Dax and Kira here, both female leads in one episode.  It’s also the first time it’s implied Sisko had sex since his wife’s death, reinforcing he is moving on with his life.  6) Tuvok is a character on Voyager.   As a crossover episode, his involvement was extremely limited.  7) The itchy ear was quite subtle.  8) Sisko’s empathy toward Mirror-Jennifer was enough for her to realize he wasn’t her Sisko.  This realization enables the next Mirror Universe episode, Shattered Mirror (Ep. 4.20), where Mirror-Jennifer crosses over to kidnap Jake.  I’m not sure if they keep this chain up, but both Mirror Universe episodes so far have clearly set up the premise for the following episode.  9) Sisko is called Captain here.  Foreshadows his promotion at the end of this season.  10) Dead:  Mirror-Sisko and Mirror-Rom.  11) Major continuity error here, but Alliance ships are shown decloaking.  The premise of the last Mirror Universe episode, The Emperor’s New Cloak (Ep. 7.12) is that the Alliance doesn’t have this technology.

Episode 3.18: Distant Voices

•March 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In this episode, I like the premise, the setting, and the regrets that Bashir must face.  But unfortunately, I don’t think the episode is executed very well.  The symbolism of the characters and station are too obvious.  Bashir even names every symbolic element at some point.  The viewer isn’t given the opportunity to discern it, nor can they impart their own impressions and feelings on what the elements of the episode mean.  The episode doesn’t really draw the viewer in; rather, it exposits to the viewer what the writer intended.  Overall, an episode with nice elements, but it doesn’t come together in the way that really strikes me.  But there is one part of this episode that really got me thinking.

I do quite like the regrets that Julian must face at the end of the episode.  Perhaps the best, most subtle symbolism is that Ops is a birthday party for Julian, and this is where he will die if he doesn’t resist Altovar.  At the beginning of the episode, this is how Julian feels; his life has begun the march toward death with his 30th birthday.  For most of us, this birthday (or our 30s in general) are when we start to face how our choices have affected our life course.  Altovar tries to paint Julian’s choices as times when Julian gave up.  However, it is Julian’s maturity that sees the lies in Altovar’s words.  Such wisdom comes as we get older.

Altovar brings up three regrets in Julian’s life; three moments where his life changed dramatically.  Eerily, these mirror major choices in my own life; all three choices I hadn’t made yet when I watched DS9 the first time.  One of the first major life choices we face is our career.  Julian can see how rewarding and beneficial his career choice as a doctor is.  I think we all have these kinds of regrets; ones where we envision how our lives would have turned out had we had different careers.  I’ve always wondered how I would have turned out if I had followed a career in diplomacy instead of a science career.  Next, Altovar finds a moment when Julian did sell himself short.  Astutely, Julian sees that, while he did purposely incorrectly answer, it would not have changed his life path.  DS9 is exactly where Julian wanted to be.  Lastly, Julian has to face that he gave up on pursuing Jadzia.  He did so to ensure they maintained a strong friendship.  What’s sadly ironic is that had it not been for Worf, Jadzia would have ended up with Julian (I know this is something that Ezri says, but I can’t recall or find the episode reference).  But Julian stopped pursuing Jadzia out of respect and honor.  What binds these together, for Julian and for me as I see myself in him, is how life could have been different at each step.  The myriad of possibilities can haunt us, especially if we dwell too much on how life now is not as we had hoped and see what could have been with rose-colored glasses.  But Julian has grown in his maturity and wisdom.  He rebuts Altovar knowing that our failures in life are as important as our successes to who we become.  The wise man knows that all experiences shape who we are.

Random Thoughts:  1) For the record: Quark=fears; Dax=confidence; Odo=suspicion; O’Brien=doubt; Kira=strength; Sisko=skill; Garak=mental damage.  2) An excellent element is how Julian ages with the death of each of his personality attributes.  3) I really liked the visual effect of the chair flying out of the darkness.  Lighting and angle both made it appear out of nowhere.  4) The Cardassian mystery novel foreshadows the mystery that Julian faces in his own mind.  5) I find Julian and Garak’s meal as perfectly banal in the pre-credits teaser.  6) Once again, Quark acts as a conduit for the episode’s conflict, though not the direct instigator.  7) Julian’s purposeful failure in his medical exam returns with a new purpose when we learn he is genetically engineered (I think episode, Dr. Bashir, I Presume, Ep. 5.16).  I actually like how it’s framed here as a regret or insecurity.  This is a much more relatable way to use that part of his past.  8) Garak’s respect for Julian rises dramatically here; Garak directly calls Julian strong.  He also respects how Julian’s unconscious mind cast Garak as the villain.  “There’s hope for you yet, doctor.”  9) I love the confidence with which Julian says, “…but I am a great doctor!”  10) Preganglionic fibers and postganglionic nerves are nothing alike.  Nice use of that reality, to use it as a moment when Bashir purposely failed.  11) This episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series.