Whoops, I fell behind on the Star Trek posts there… not that much of anyone cares, but still, I was doing this as an attempt to maintain creative discipline. And I’ve failed!
Part of the gap comes from the fact that I spent a week out of town for Game Developers Conference, which meant no exercise time, which meant no Trek. Mostly, though, I haven’t written anything in the past couple of weeks. I decided to take the back half of March as a small break from writing in order to focus on other tasks, such as video production and podcast planning and creation. I started to get that sluggish feeling in the back of my brain that comes before a case of creative burnout, so it seemed wise to switch gears for a while.
I’m better now, so it’s time to get back to the word grind…
“Honor Among Thieves”
I had to look up the episode description for this one to remember what this one was about, which is strange, because it was a rather good story. It really shows off DS9‘s commitment to putting a bit of heart and nuance into a clichéd premise. The premise, that Chief O’Brien has been tapped (somewhat against his will) to infiltrate a crime syndicate, isn’t all that different from stories we’ve seen on other Trek series. “Honor Among Thieves” does make a tie into the show’s larger storyline, as it comes to light that the Orion Syndicate is working with the Dominion — an unwelcome demonstration that not everyone in the Alpha Quadrant cares to stand up to the invaders if there’s a penny to be earned. So that’s good, creatively speaking.
Another thing that makes this episode work: At some point the series moved from matte paintings to digital sets for its exterior shots, and the rain-soaked cityscape establishing shots here look a lot more contemporary and alive than I’ve really seen before in Trek.
What makes the episode really stand out, however, is Bilby — the minor crime boss O’Brien connects with. Bilby (character actor Nick Tate doing a pretty good DeNiro pastiche) instantly takes to O’Brien and brings him into his criminal cel, even vouching for him to his own boss (and a Vorta accomplice) at great personal risk. It doesn’t take long for O’Brien to recognize the fundamental decency that exists behind and somewhat at odds with Bilby’s career, and as the chief begins to realize what his mission means for Bilby (specifically, a guaranteed death) he begins to feel heartsick about the whole thing. His Federation handler won’t let him off the hook, though, so O’Brien ultimately comes clean and compromises his mission in order to warn Bilby. The outcome could have gone a lot of different ways, but I wasn’t really prepared for the direction it did take: Bibly sadly takes in this information and goes about his mission anyway. He’s walking into a fatal trap, but the alternative would be to admit his fate to his boss, which would have resulted in his death anyway. It’s a real downer of an ending, and isn’t the first time we see the Federation pushing things into uncomfortable directions as the Dominion struggle grows increasingly desperate. it definitely won’t be the last, oh boy.
“Change of Heart”
This one was a case where knowing a little bit about the overall direction of DS9 made for a much tenser episode than it might otherwise have been. I knew going into this that the Dax symbiote would eventually pass from Jadzia to someone named Ezri, but I didn’t know the details. So when this episode focused on the tricky-yet-intimate relationship between Jadzia and Worf, and how Quark and Bashir still carry a torch for her, all presented as a backdrop as she ventures off on a dangerous mission… I figured this would be it. I mean, even the title “Change of Heart” could be taken as a euphemism for the Dax symbiote moving to a new host. But no, though Jadzia is badly wounded here in a mission gone wrong, she ultimately survives. It’s Worf who has the change of heart, putting his love for Jadzia ahead of his duty as a Starfleet officer in a surprising development for the rigid, loyal character.
And, I suppose, this lays the groundwork for when Jadzia eventually does get killed. The show hasn’t really done right by her the past few seasons, and this episode somewhat inelegantly reminds us what an awesome character she started out to be (remember when she went on a mission of vengeance with a bunch of elderly Klingons!?). And on top of that, by placing her in mortal peril but ultimately maintaining the status quo by letting her slip out of death’s noose this time around, it means when she does die, it’ll be a “hey, that’s not supposed to happen” moment. So… this one was mostly setup for a later plot development, I guess.
“Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”
Oh… Dukat is back, and apparently his task at hand is to drag Kira down to his level. Here he reveals that the Major’s mother was his “lover,” prompting Kira to use one of those mystic space orbs to travel back in time and see things for herself. It turns out her mother had been taken to become Dukat’s “comfort woman” during the occupation… but Kira is horrified to discover that her mother didn’t die soon after but lived as Dukat’s companion for several years, never trying to escape. Eventually, Kira realizes that her parents both accepted the arrangement for the sake of their children — a Bajoran comfort woman’s family was well provided for — and that it didn’t diminish her parents’ love for one another. It’s a difficult revelation for Kira to accept, having spent so much time as a hard-line anti-Cardassian agitator with zero tolerance for collaborators during the occupation. To learn her parents were forced by circumstance to become the thing she hated, and that she herself unknowingly benefitted from the arrangement, shakes her profoundly.
I’m a bit torn on this one. It’s a story that asks tough questions with real-world parallels that rarely get explored in pop media, and that’s admirable. On the other hand, I’m not sold on the new MWAH HA HA HAH SO EEEEEVIL Dukat just yet. He’s so trite compared to the Gordian knot of a character we saw in the first five seasons.
And finally, a Bashir-focused episode whose final plot twist kind of overshadows everything else. I’m not sure how I feel about Section 31 and the way this episode casually retcons the Star Trek universe to have secretly had a Federation black-ops division to rival the Tal’Shiar and Obsidian Order since the founding charter was written. Like with Dukat’s murderous hallucinogenic rant, it’s kind of hard to walk things back after you cross certain thresholds, and I’m wondering how carefully they really thought this concept through.
That said, the rest of the episode does a wonderful job of casting suspicion on Bashir as potentially being a Manchurian Candidate for the Dominion. It pulls together a variety of plot threads from the previous year or so — his silence about his genetic modifications, his time in Dominion interment, the way his counseling work with the other Augments almost resulted in the Dominion getting their hands on a comprehensive breakdown of Starfleet deployments — and cleverly presents them in a way that makes the story hold up. Someone looking in from the outside, which is to say someone without the semi-omniscient perspective of the Trek audience, would have a hard time not looking at all of the evidence stacking up against Bashir and coming to the conclusion that he had been compromised. And the merits of Section 31 aside, its reveal does make for a heck of a swerve in the final moments — Bashir being pulled into a holographic simulation intended to make him crack was a predictable twist, but the fact that it was being done as a test for his worthiness to become the Trek equivalent of a secret CIA operative was a surprise.