Quark

S2E4, “Invasive Procedures” (writer: John Whelpley)

Sisko was always going to be a shift in the role of the Trek Captain, whether that was the intention of the showrunners or not. The nature of the role means there would be no boldly going where no one has gone before, mostly you’ll be doing some boldly staying. (They don’t have any “boldly” preambles in this one at all, I just realized.) Plus you have to follow William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, so I mean, good luck. Kristen observed that Sisko is really more of a bureaucrat than the bold captain type anyway. His job is like 50% diplomacy and 50% administrivia like signing off on everyone’s ideas and letting people check out runabouts.

After the station is cleared down to a skeleton crew due to an impending plasma storm, a group of rogues manage to dock and take over the station. They are able to circumvent the usual security with an assist from Quark. He just hides during the evacuation and disables security screens, as he has been tricked into thinking this is all a ruse so he can sell the pirates some fenced liquid data chains. (I guess, data clouds don’t exist in interstellar space, so the “cloud” metaphor checks out.) Instead, the real ruse has nothing to do with him. The leader of the gang, Verad, is a Trill who is bent on hijacking Dax’s symbiant for himself. This episode balances three tracks:

  1. Lots of insight into Trill society and psychology. Verad is sort of a meek weasel by nature, and bitter about not being bonded with a symbiant. We learn that this isn’t a thing that all Trills have, actually only 1 in 10 people make good matches. But this is determined by some Trill administrative process, and he didn’t match up. He was devastated, and specifically wants to bond with Dax. I think this episode has finally helped me internalize the identity of the Trill person, Jadzia, as a separate entity from the symbiant, Dax. The symbiant goes from host to host, and is known as “Jadzia Dax” or “Verad Dax” or “Lester Dax”, what have you. Also that the bonding experience makes a Trill feel like a more complete person, with sort of like a super partner, complete with multiple lifetimes of memories and experiences. Verad can’t get over missing out, and Jadzia tells him it’s totally normal, and plenty of Trill are fine without, even though it totally does rule to have one.
  2. Really strong episode for both the character of Sisko, and the performance by Avery Brooks. Since he’s been friends with Dax through multiple incarnations, he knows how much things will change for Verad once he’s bonded. So he immediately starts working on Verad’s partner and girlfriend Mareel, knowing that helping Verad accomplish his goal is the same as helping him be a different person. Of course as soon as he becomes Verad Dax, he becomes an overconfident brash jerkbag [this is probably why the Trill didn’t give him a symbiant in the first place?]. Sisko picks up on it immediately and is back to work on Mareel, eventually making a compelling case for her to switch sides.
  3. All the gross medical stuff. Symbiants are just big gross worms that are just as horrifyingly invasive as the ear slugs in Star Trek II, only these are nice slugs. Symbiant surgery looks pretty straightforward…disgustingly straightforward, frankly.

Endnotes:

  • The gang is prepared for Odo, they have a nifty little security box to contain him. It was curious to me that once they got him in there they could just pick it up. So he weighs, like, next to nothing? I guess he’d have to, he also was able to pool into Lwaxana’s dress just a few episodes ago. I don’t want to go all Trek nerd and wonder how he could have this near-weightless property and also wail on bad guys or disturb a chair he sits on, etc., so I’m going to let this go now.
    • Wait, one thing. Maybe you could argue this containment box has some kind of antigrav technology otherwise it’d be sort of impractical. One could also argue Troi’s dress had the same, for fashion and flattery reasons. Let’s go with that.
  • Quark is outed as a co-conspirator here and should absolutely be prosecuted, right? He does help straighten things out, including hacking Odo’s security box. But he’s only fixing a situation he created. Anyway I think he’s up to 2 or 3 legitimate on-screen crimes that are forgotten once the episode runs its course.

Morn watch: No appearance. Since the station has been cleared, presumably he’s left. But we never do see the bar, so we can’t rule out Morn isn’t just sitting in there wondering where everyone went.

Overall: An important episode for Trill stuff but maybe a little contrived in the setup and payoff, and some of the symbiant stuff was a bit hokey and convenient. They kept saying how dangerous it was to swap a symbiant or use a phaser on someone with one, but then whey went ahead and did it anyway. 3 out of 5.

S2E5, “Cardassians” (writers: Gene Wolande & John Wright)

I always really dug Worf episodes in TNG as a way to frame culture clashes, postwar reconciliation, or racism, and we’ve got a similar setup here. The Bajoran/Cardassian situation might still be a little raw to have an actual Cardassian crewmember aboard, but there is Garak, a Cardassian shopkeeper on the station, who apparently has continued to have coffee meetups with Bashir. This is presented like a regular thing but I couldn’t remember when he’d even shown up before (it was only once) and had to look it up. It was back in the third episode, when he got friendly with Julian, and helped the crew ferret out a Klingon/Bajoran plot (it was an early episode I waited to long to recap and skimmed some details). Bashir still vaguely suspects him of being a spy, without any reason other than that he’s a Cardassian, because I guess their coffee meetups are made more interesting with a hint of racial profiling. Garak seems to shrug it off because he seems to enjoy hiding whatever it is he’s hiding.

The story centers around a Cardassian war orphan that had been left behind on Bajor. He was adopted by Bajoran parents and has been raised to hate Cardassians. Understandably, the Cardassian kid is pretty messed up from a lifetime of hearing that Cardassians are evil criminals by nature. When Garak gives him a friendly greeting he’s rewarded with the kid up and biting a chunk out of his hand, the news of which spreads quickly and brings attention to the whole orphan abandonment issue at both Federation and Cardassian higher levels.

The episode forks in two directions, and like the best Trek, simultaneously covers both an intricate plot and more subtle cultural ground. An elaborate Cardassian scheme is unraveled by Bashir and Garak, but mostly Garak, whose detective instincts are so accurate one might suspect he knew exactly what he was looking for. Bashir can barely keep up and isn’t getting anywhere trying to figure out what Garak is really all about. The episode resolves itself but Garak’s role doesn’t. I suspect we are going to see more of him.

The victim in all this is the Cardassian boy. It’s hard to know what to make of him though. He hates Cardassians, but of course, he is one. He loves Bajor, but is spewing all this Bajoran spiritual rhetoric he’s been indoctrinated with. I mean, none of this can ultimately be good for his mental health. No matter how much his parents love him, they’ve also pretty much warped him. Keiko takes charge while he’s on the station, and one has to think he’d have a lot better off with a little more Keiko-style no-judgement authority in his life. [Keiko for president.] Sisko is set to arbitrate a hearing to determine whether it’d be better to keep him on Bajor or return him to Cardassia. Then — I was sort of shocked by this — we barely see any of the hearing. Instead the poor kid’s fate is glossed over with some Captain’s Log narration that amounts to: “Oh yeah we decided to send Rugal back to Cardassia.” That is some stone-cold resolution, Sisko. Maybe they just ran out of time in an otherwise busy show. Though I was kinda wondering if Keiko and O’Brien would somehow end up adopting him as a neutral third party. I’d have liked if they did. Pretty ripe for material and he could get in on some Jake & Nog schemes.

Endnotes:

  • Enjoyably vile scene of Keiko preparing some Cardassian food, thinking it would be a nice gesture for Rugal. It looks like some sort of blue stew. O’Brien and the Bajoran-raised Rugal both hate it.
  • Like Armin Shimerman for Ferengi, Marc Alaimo is totally owning the role of Gul Dukat, and has entrenched himself in my brain as the prototypical Cardassian. Now I have the same problem I do for poor Armin Shimerman in that I think Marc Alaimo just looks like a Cardassian. He does have an exceedingly long neck that they factor into his makeup and costume.

Overall: Felt like the resolution with Rugal was a bit cruel, but otherwise lots of good stuff here, with some rich plotting. I did get a bit confused by the rapidly shifting revelations, and it’s quite probably I didn’t even catch everything, as intriguingly hinted at by Garak. This might be one to re-watch later on. 4 out of 5.

S2E6, “Melora” (writer: Evan Carlos Somers)

Definitely not limited to Trek, there’s a standard TV trope where a character looks forward to an opportunity to meet someone they know only by reputation. Naturally they’ve built this person up into an amazing, brilliant, wonderful human whose work has demonstrated that, finally, this will be someone who GETS IT, who understands them, who represents all of their hopes. Then they meet…and their hero turns out to be a jerk.

We recently finished a watch-through of Frasier and they went to this particular well so many times I think you could build a whole season of that show solely out of episodes with this setup. As it happens, Bashir is a bit of a poor-person’s Frasier: he’s also a cultured doctor who views himself as a naturally charismatic ladies’ man, but in practice, his smarmy courtship persona ensures he will be forever trapped in a comedy-rich cycle of excruciating dating failures.

Bashir’s object of interest is the eponymous Melora Pazlar, who has been assigned some work at DS9, but is from a race that evolved on a low-gravity planet and as such, requires accommodations to work in standard Earth gravity. They have to retrofit DS9 with accessible ramps and build a wheelchair for her–apparently regular Earth accessibility needs have been completely solved with medicine or other technologies. In preparing for her arrival, Julian has become rather smitten with her through her work and ability to overcome handicaps, which brings us around to our trope & setup. The payoff pretty much follows the formula: her tough exterior is, of course, a cover for feeling vulnerable about being dependent on others, or ever being perceived as unfit for her work, but Julian sees through it and recognizes her for who she is, eventually eroding her defenses through persistence and charm.

Despite the familiar feel, as a whole, “Melora” is a success. It’s maybe the first real glimpse past Bashir’s oily surface to understand that he’s a genuinely caring and thoughtful person. Melora isn’t just a bland foil for him, either–she’s cultured, enjoying both pleasant Vulcan classical music and horrifying Klingon cuisine, and she’s complex, learning to understand how she can work and play well with others, even if that means recognizing she occasionally needs help. I really liked how they addressed the larger ambiguous question of whether or not she should accept medical treatment to improve her adaptation to Earth-strength gravity. There’s no right answer. Damned if you do, etc.

Also someone from Quark’s past is trying to revenge murder him. It’s probably unnecessary since like, that’s probably SOP for him. But it does serve as a good vehicle for some Odo editorials about Quark’s overall negative contribution to society, and it moves the plot along.

Endnotes:

  • Greatly enjoyed the Klingon chef and musician. Klingon food and music is exactly as one would expect.
  • Standard Trek ending to a romantic story: the guest character is reassigned and (probably) never seen again. Welp.

Overall: I think writing up a review made me appreciate this episode more. Watching it felt pretty familiar, I feel like I’ve seen a million stubbornly independent characters who eventually admit some variation of “no man is an island”, but it’s a quite well-crafted skiffy example with lots of good character stuff. 4 out of 5.

QuarkWelp, I was already pretty far behind on my DS9 recaps anyway, then we went on vacation for a week, and I spent another week catching up on inessential non-DS9 aspects of my life, such as employment. So I’m going to crank this one out to get caught up.

S1E18, “Dramatis Personae” (writer: Joe Menosky)

TOS had multiple episodes where some kind of space madness would take over the ship and the only ones with immunity were Spock, because he wasn’t human, and Kirk, because no space disease could overcome the force of his sheer bold willfulness. Maybe you can’t always have a Kirk around, but you can at least have an insurance non-human aboard. Odo, you got the ball this time, buddy. A telepathic space virus or some damn thing overtakes everyone else, which causes them to lose their minds and start conspiring against each other, going a little feral, or in Sisko’s case, makes him weirdly obsessed with clocks. (It’s played sort of non-seriously but it’s a neat way to portray the emperor losing his sanity.) The non-humanoid Odo is immune and left to sort things out. It should also be noted that Quark, who is ready to turn on anyone at any time, and having never suppressed a primitive urge before, is also unaffected by the virus.

It’s a throwback plot with a throwback effect: which is to say it’s sorta boring. Lacking the usual complex plot DS9 episodes are going for, it’s a gimmick episode for the characters and their interrelationships. Some of their underlying feelings are emerging, e.g., when it comes down to it, Kira thinks she ought to be in charge. And it’s fairly fun but a few weeks later I barely remember how each of them changed.

Note for future reference: we learn that Bashir doesn’t have the first clue how to provide Odo with medical care.

Overall: 2 out of 5. Some fun touches but the setup is a little flimsy and contrived, and mostly I just got sleepy. I’ve seen this before and this time we didn’t even get to see a shirtless Sulu running around with a sword.

S1E19, “Duet” (writer: Peter Allan Fields)

This is the kind of thing that’s hard to rate because it’s decidedly not delightful. “Entertaining” is not the word I would use to describe a grim dissection of the horrific reality of wartime. The episode was indeed great. But it’s also about the aftermath of suffering Bajoran war prisoners and a low-ranking Cardassian military guy’s distress over his inability to do anything about it. Jake and Nog, where are you when we need you.

It’s framed as a mystery about the Cardassian’s real identity and Kira’s interrogation of him the comprises most of the plot. It’s well-done, we’re not at all clear who he really is or what Kira has gotten herself into, and the reveal is satisfyingly meted out as they get closer and closer to the truth. Along the way we learn more about Kira and some additional details about what the Bajorans have gone through under the Cardassian regime. Crack performance by Harris Yulin (a classic That Guy) as the Cardassian.

Overall: 5 out of 5. But I’m not watching it again.

S1E20, “In the Hands of Prophets” (writer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

I’m already tired of the battle for political/spiritual leadership among the Bajorans. It combines my disinterest in fictional political intrigue with my disinterest in fictional religious fanaticism. (I find even their nonfictional counterparts extremely pointless, so this is not a template for successfully garnering my interest.) So we’ve got the extreme conservative faction headed by Vedek Winn, who busts into Keiko’s school with some “wormholes are actually spirit temples” nonsense and proves that even in deep space they still have flat-Earthers. Keiko’s not about to knuckle under and drop the science curriculum aboard a bloody space station. [Keiko for President, fwiw.] But the Bajorans on the station get huffy and stop coming to school and work over the dispute, and Sisko tries to head things off by calling on Vedek Bareil–also an influential Bajoran leader, but at least one who has joined the 23rd century. But he’s got political considerations to worry about and can’t take too firm a stand against Winn, and if this ain’t a parable for modern politics I don’t know what is. And it’s just as frustratingly destructive, complete with the fracas erupting into some domestic terrorism.

Overall: 2 out of 5. Not a bad episode, if a little tiresome. But that could just be me, plus an episode about the scourge of regressivism is just really the last thing I want to think even more about these days.

S2E1, “Homecoming” (writers: Jeri Taylor & Ira Steven Behr)

S2E2, “The Circle” (writer: Peter Allan Fields)

S2E3, “The Siege” (writer: Michael Piller)

Ambitious three-parter to kick off season two. Following up the events of “In the Hands of Prophets”, we see that vying Bajoran factions are getting increasingly vocal well beyond the scope of just the station. Without recapping the entire three-episode arc, I can discuss the major players:

  • Li Nalas, the extremely reluctant Bajoran folk hero. Circumstances once forced him to fight off several Cardassians but he ended up a prisoner, and Kira (with an assist from O’Brien) rescues. In the meantime the stories about him have grown into legends. It’s hard to pull off a good reluctant hero, too often they basically end up being, well, Harry Potter/Luke Skywalker/Katniss Everdeen/every American saga forever. Li Nalas is a good one, though. He doesn’t morph into a Jedi badass, he just tries to be useful.
  • Jaro Essa, Bajoran governmental minister trying to re-establish provisional leadership. He barges in to DS9 and reassigns Kira to Bajor, replacing her with Nalas, which neither of them are happy about. I would describe this character as effectively hateable.
    • This leads to the best scene of the arc, when Kira is packing for her reassignment to Bajor, and all the regulars keep showing up on some flimsy pretext to say goodbye to her. Some good farce here, as pretty soon the entire cast is in her bedroom somehow. And for the first time, she claims some allegiance to them. Awww.
  • The Circle, a group of Bajoran extremists whose influence has started to appear on the station in the form of obnoxious graffiti that Odo or someone has to clean up. (I bet he gets Morn to do it for like, next to nothing. Cost of the cheapest swill at Quark’s.)
  • Some militant Bajorans, including an extremely wooden and forgettable performance by fellow ’90s TV guy Steven Weber, who I guess just had an off-week over at Wings or something and wandered over to the DS9 set, so they slapped a Bajoran nose on him for a cameo.

Eventually the larger conspiracy that’s agitating the Bajoran rift is unraveled and things go back to normal after some zap-zap phaser battles around the station. Good job everyone.

Overall: 3 out of 5. Lots of Bajoran background and some larger themes covered but the execution is a bit meh. Two tighter episodes instead of three, padded out with zap-zaps and silly bellowing Bajoran Bad Guys, would have been better.

Quark

S1E15, “Progress” (writer: Peter Allan Fields)

(A) Somewhere I’m sure there’s a famous Cardassian tale of irony where a man sells all his yamok sauce to pay for the self-sealing stem bolts his wife needs, and unbeknownst to him, and she sold her [whatever the hell self-sealing stem bolts are for] to buy the ingredients to make [some indescribably vile Cardassian dish that goes well with yamok sauce]. It plays out in real time here. Jake and Nog act out this age-old legend, taking it even further and eventually parlaying the initially useless yamok sauce surplus into a profit that makes Quark proud.

I love that the Jake and Nog antics of ep. 14 are trimmed of the needless meta-lesson in international relations, and developed into a full-blown scheme. In literally the next episode. For no ostensible purpose other than laffs and some character building. And that is just fine with me. The show tends to be rather serious in nature, every single episode seemingly has the fate of an entire race hanging in the balance. So the little bits of comic relief from Jake & Nog or Odo & Quark or a well-timed eye-roll behind Bashir’s back are tremendously effective.

Kristen especially loved the self-sealing stem bolts. She was chuckling continuously at them, they were just the most perfectly useless-seeming thing, and Jake and Nog managed to acquire a whole bloody crate of them. There’s a brilliant turnaround too, when O’Brien gets wind of them, we are lured into thinking, “Oh, an experienced engineer running an entire space station. Certainly he’ll have a use for them, will make them an offer, and it’ll go down as a standard Ferengi profit maneuver.” Instead he has no idea what they are either, kicking things into a higher, stupider gear.

(B) An old Bajoran guy doesn’t want to leave his home, but they are going to turn the moon he lives on into a massive power plant which will render it uninhabitable. Kira visits, in an attempt to convince him to leave, but his simple, contemplative attitude towards life charms her onto his side.

Kira has been such a hardass thus far, this setup is almost too perfect a way to see her caring side. It might have come off as corny, except the old guy is tremendously mellow and likable, and it’s very easy to sympathize with him. Really liked his performance. (I just learned that the actor is the same guy who played the dad in the original Parent Trap. I always like that dad, too!)

Really liked how this part contrasted the all-plot, subtext-free zany-ness of the other story too. There’s not much actually going on here plot-wise, it’s all subtext of the unstoppable force of progress, life sucks and changes and will break your heart, there are dirty jobs and someone’s gotta do ’em, and everyone has deeper complexities and is capable of surprising you.

Morn watch: The legend grows. In an inexplicable bit, Dax mentions to Kira that Morn asked her out (!). I choose to imagine he was all awkward and shy and a total gentleman gentle-whatever-Morn-is. Not like, he was drunk and slobbering and barely coherent and she didn’t have a clue who he was and now can never go back to Quark’s for fear of bumping into him.

Overall: The two stories have nothing to do with each other, but both parts show what DS9 can do well. Recommended. 5 out of 5.

S1E16, “If Wishes Were Horses” (writers: Neil McCue Crawford and William L. Crawford)

OK I wrote a lot about #15 because I liked it. I’m not going to write much about #16 because I didn’t.

  • They imagine stuff and it appears because of some space phenomenon. Most of this territory is covered in “Where No One has Gone Before” and “Imaginary Friend” from TNG and Shore Leave from TOS. The lesson is that space really wants to materialize stuff from your imagination. Bashir’s imagined Dax is especially embarrassing. Let’s uh, not go to space actually.
  • Only this time, with a creepy Rumplestiltskin (spelled right? who cares). To her credit, Kristen immediately ID’d the actor here with a “that gum you like is back in style.” Maybe it helped that things got a little Twin Peaks around DS9 this week.
  • Something mysterious space thing almost obliterates the station but then at the last second it doesn’t something something.
  • Apparently the greatest baseball player in history is a short guy with the physique of an egg. Well, Babe Ruth was no looker, either.
  • Odo fun fact: he doesn’t have a sense of smell.

Just didn’t do it for me. Mysterious imagined beings jumping in and out of your space and messing up your day has not only been done in Trek but is as irritating for the characters as it is irritating to watch. There’s a minor twist in that they are just assuming these forms to get to know the crew. Maybe more of that story would have been good instead of them just being pests.

Overall: Trek filler. Sorry. 1 out of 5.

S1E17, “The Forsaken” (writer: Jim Trombetta)

This episode also has some Trek filler in the form of: Something the computer didn’t work until we tricked it something something. Whatever, a weird probe visited and infected the computer and eventually O’Brien and Dax develop a workaround. One might call it a hack. Oy the next sys admin is going to be really annoyed. It might also be setup for future plotlines where they really explore what this advanced computer can do. Anyway, I dunno, this framework doesn’t matter much. It’s sort of forgettable and TNG taught us that it’s not that interesting to watch them Geek Squad. Though I did sorta dig the 2001 homage of removing pieces of the computer to break its memory down.

But the emotional core of “The Forsaken” is a different story. Lwaxana Troi makes an appearance and latches onto Odo, whose comfort level with her attentions make Picard’s sorry ruses to evade her seem dignified. The writers Fate traps Troi and Odo together in a turbolift during the hairiest part of O’Brien’s epic computer fiddling-about haxx0ring, and it goes on for so long that Odo starts desperately needing some rejuvenation bucket time.

Lwaxana episodes can wear a bit thin, but I liked this part quite a lot. After she exhausts her ample initial idle chatter reserves and we get some truly amazing pained Odo expressions (which is something for his featureless void of a face), they eventually get into some deeper conversations. For all her flaws, Troi is capable of some tremendous warmth and empathy–well, she is a betazoid–and she even loosens up the overstarched Odo. We get a little of his background and learn that he hates parties because everyone just expects him to do shapeshifter tricks. Eventually the emotional climax of the episode comes around when Odo reaches his breaking point and has to give up his shape, and Troi is there for him to pool in a fold in her dress rather than randomly puddle on the floor, which actually probably would be pretty dangerous for him. It’s weird. But it’s effective.

Overall: The Odo & Troi stuff was memorable. 3 out of 5.

Three more this season so I’ll break it up here.

QuarkOK, back to the usual more lengthy recaps. Also: your regular reminder that these are not spoiler-free discussions of 25-year-old television shows.

S1E11, “The Nagus” (writer: David Livingston)

A low-stakes, highly enjoyable pure character-building episode, and a good break from the recent string of rehashed Trek Standards. There’s a hint of a plot but it’s mostly about establishing some Ferengi stuff and developing a few relationships. As such, I’ll discuss in terms of characters rather than story:

  • Grand Nagus Zek – In a bit of inspired casting, played by Wallace Shawn. The Grand Nagus is the economic, and therefore political, leader of the Ferengi. As such, he is their shrewdest, greediest, surliest, and feistiest. Naturally, Quark idolizes him.
  • Quark & Rom – Usually Quark gets to be the Alpha Ferengi around the station, lording over the hapless Rom. But with the Nagus around, Quark has to fall in line, appeasing the Nagus in any way he demands.
    • The Ferengi are basically played for laughs in the Trek universe and it 100% works. They maintain a snarling facade, but saddled with a short stature and troll-like ugliness, they hardly seem dangerous. More like a neighborhood chihuahua yapping violently at passers-by from the safety of its sturdily-fenced backyard fortress. Their unrestrained avarice and selfishness makes them single-minded in their pursuit of petty schemes, but in practice it’s usually the other way around, in that they are easily lured into traps under the haziest promise of a sweet deal.
    • Since we usually only see Quark and Rom, we haven’t gotten much of a sense of the crushingly patriarchal and rigidly ranked greater Ferengi society we see in “The Nagus”. If Zek decides he wants to buy Quark’s bar, even on the slightest pretext of scent of a potential profit-generator, Quark just has to let him have it at whatever pittance Zek allows. Worse, Quark isn’t permitted to sit at the table with the Ferengi bigwigs, and spends most of the episode lamenting his sorry position, rather than stewing in his usual boastful confidence.
    • On the flip side, when Zek controversially names the low-status Quark his successor (beautifully reasoned: “I’m just not as greedy as I used to be”), Quark’s naturally inflated ego is instantly back, and we enjoy some fantastic scenes of Quark awash in his own importance.
    • Have we ever seen a Ferengi woman? Not on DS9 as yet. Maybe on TNG but I don’t remember specifics, though I have the impression that Ferengi males esteem women somewhere below household replicators. Seems ripe ground to cover as the series progresses.
  • Jake & Nog – Nog’s bad influence continues to corrupt the characteristically responsible Jake. Nog can’t deal with the boring structure of a human school and mostly just wants to loiter around the promenade and hatch schemes. I can imagine that young Ferengi tend to educate themselves not through formal means (other than memorizing the Rules of Acquisition) but through numerous failed teenage hustles until they grow shrewd enough to get a foothold in some fledgling entrepreneurship. Basically they’re a race of C-minus MBAs. Interesting to see Nog’s awkward maturation in contrast to the high-level Ferengi maneuvering taking place above him.
  • Good Sisko & Jake bits squeezed in. So far I’m really impressed with how the show builds in some plot-related character moments, it’s a worthy heir to TNG.
  • and, not to be forgotten: Morn! We are starting to love that there is a mute barfly at Quark’s appearing in one scene every single episode. Why is he even there? He must work on DS9 but spends all his leisure time at Quark’s. I’m not sure if I’d be happier to know that one particular person plays Morn, or that there is a “Morn of the Week” and a different person gets to don the Morn suit for each episode. Today, it’s the set electrician. Next week, it’s the caterer. I’m also not looking up anything about Morn in Memory Alpha, I really do not want spoilers in case he takes a turn for the relevant.

Overall: Peak DS9. 5 out of 5.

S1E12, “Vortex” (writer: Sam Rolfe)

In the early going, Quark has cruised into position as the most fun character, but Odo is probably the most interesting. The other regulars have a clear motivation and background, but Odo has been established as a mystery. He’s never met another shapeshifter and has no idea where he comes from. He sleeps in a bucket and can transform into anything, on sight, instantly and seamlessly. Since this essentially makes him a superhero–it’s basically invisibility without the need to be naked all the time*–he could probably do anything in the universe, but instead is the security officer on a distant space outpost, transmogrifying into drinking glasses or wallpaper or whatever else it takes to mete out justice. So, one might assume that whatever greater life mission he’s on, he is absolutely dedicated to fairness and adherence to the law.

* I also started wondering–and maybe this was established and I missed it–whether Odo is wearing clothes. I don’t see how he can be. Whenever he transformed he’d sort of slip out of them, right? So that means the clothes are part of his humanoid illusion…and he *is* naked all the time. It seems like you really can’t get around this inherent invisibility problem. So, dude is walking around naked all the time. Maybe that’s why they don’t want to get into it on the show.

So Odo gets tangled up in an interplanetary feud when Croden, a guy who appears to be quietly getting trashed at Quark’s bar, interferes in Quark’s transparent fencing operation with a pair of Miradorn twins. Croden is bad at being a thief but good at accidentally killing people, so he ends up botching the robbery and shooting one of the twins. He’s also really good at lying, so even though Quark isn’t, Odo can’t really get anywhere in his investigation, even though Quark probably put him up to the theft in the first place. Croden’s smooth talking about knowing stuff about shapeshifters also starts to influence Odo, aided by a tantalizing pendant made of an organic transforming material. Odo, being entirely made of organic transforming material, can’t help but be intrigued, but also is getting this information from a con artist murderer in a jail cell so like, there could be more reliable sources. Odo also has bigger problems than Quark’s endless petty crimes, as Croden’s homeworld is already after him and wants him back, and the Miradorn is ready to revenge-murder him at the first opportunity. Odo has to sneak Croden off DS9 to take him home, which sets up a longer opportunity for Croden to keep working on Odo, and it’s eventually revealed that, even though Croden doesn’t actually know anything about the shapeshifter race, he has some noble motivations. He even somehow emerges as a sympathetic figure and Odo is put in a tight situation trying to figure out how to deal with him.

In the end, this ends up being a terrific, complex episode, as long as you maybe don’t dig too deeply into what Odo actually decides. The show was conceived as something like an old west-style remote setting, and here’s a natural extension of that, where a sort of semi-lawless moral frontier justice prevails over coded, enforceable law. So Odo, as an officer of the law, who will mention such at any opportunity, and who is, I remind you, giving up being a badass invisible superhero to perform this task, just lets Croden go despite his extensive criminal history and recent murder. Well, to be fair, the murder was more or less in self-defense and that Miradorn guy was a criminal and a jerk.

Endnotes:

  • Speaking of the Miradorns, interesting concept of a race of twins. What would be the implications of one dying? I guess if was your symbiotic twin, you’d be as mad as that guy was. I wonder if we’ll see more Miradorns later in the series.
  • The Chamra Vortex felt like an homage back to Kirk et al escaping into the Mutara Nebula in Wrath of Khan. Lots of convenient nebulae in space to evade pursuit, it seems.

Overall: DS9 is bringing it early and often so far, with some deep, complex plots and characters. 5 out of 5.

S1E13, “Battle Lines” (writer: Hilary J. Bader)

Let’s say you are an important commander of a deep space starbase, maintaining a position of significant importance near a newly discovered wormhole that leads to an entirely different part of the galaxy. And, being in a very important place, and being a very important person, other important people may show up from time to time for important business (important SPACE BUSINESS). They might ask to see some local attractions. You might indulge them. Should you, in this situation, venture with the important visitor through the wormhole to the far side of the galaxy, rendering yourself immediately untethered to your station, in potentially hostile space, and incommunicado?

Well if you are Commander Sisko, yes you do.

And also:

  • Not just any important visitor, Kai Opaka, the spiritual leader of the Bajoran people, who own the very station in which you are in charge.
  • Who has never even left Bajor before. Her appearance is literally unprecedented.
  • In a runabout, the spaceship equivalent of a golf cart.
  • And then they investigate a mysterious subspace signal. Instead of, say, making a note of it.
  • And then they promptly get shot down.
  • And find themselves in an fantastically dangerous nonstop war.

I just–listen, this wasn’t a great plan.

Of course the DS9 crew eventually track them down and everything gets straightened out. In Sisko’s defense he was perhaps being manipulated a bit by Opaka, who had a persistent eerie feeling that she was going…somewhere…to do…something. She was right! She also obeyed an important TV rule, which is, if you have a really weird feeling about things, tell no one and just let stuff happen and hope it will work out OK.

Endnotes:

  • Intriguing SF idea about the endless, regenerative war. It’d be horrifying if it this wasn’t a TV-PG universe. Despite ongoing commentary about the hopeless, endless terror, recovering from each grim death appears to be about as unpleasant as rousing oneself out of a recliner. It could have been “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” nightmare territory.
  • Reverse the polarity! O’Brien invents a differential magnanometer to foil some deadly probes.
  • This is the second leader of an entire race on DS9 in three episodes. Maybe Odo should go ahead and allow for the one additional Federation guy to help out with security.

Overall: Some fun ideas here but a lot of plot holes, leaning on some tropes, and some needless technobabble. 2 out of 5.

S1E14, “The Storyteller” (writer: Kurt Michael Bensmiller)

Episodes 14 and 15 (I’ll get to the latter next post) both go with a clear A & B story format, and in both cases the B story is Jake and Nog hatching ridiculous schemes. K and I were both delighted by this development.

The A story in “The Storyteller” has another new and fun character thing: we learn that O’Brien is super annoyed by the over-chatty Bashir. For his part, Sisko is establishing a pattern of pushing his charges’ limits, in that he smirkingly makes O’Brien go on a mission with Bashir anyway. Even though we’ve also established that O’Brien is the only guy who can fix anything on DS9. Maybe nothing will break this time? Anyway perhaps Sisko is being a clever manager of people, knowing they just need some time to bond. Or perhaps he is an obnoxious boss abusing his power and demonstrating his ignorance of the value of his charges.

“The Storyteller” is a nephew of a the familiar “Trek Visits a Village” setup (“The Apple” comes to mind first, but both TOS and TNG have loads of variations on this) where they are drawn into a local crisis and need to weasel their way out. In this case, O’Brien mysteriously and quite unwillingly gains the favor of the village elder, called the Sirah, who appoints O’Brien the new Sirah as he is dying. The Sirah’s job is to tell a really good story that unites the village and wards off a monster…that turns out to be an angry cloud. O’Brien would mostly rather go back to DS9 to be with his family and fix replicators, and as he’s trying to figure out how to make that happen one of the villagers tries to murder him. It turns out the would-be murderer is the rightful successor to the old Sirah, but lost favor with the village after it turned out he was really bad at being a Sirah and everyone hates him. Well, this is the same as O’Brien, but this guy wants to fight angry clouds at least, and at least ostensibly knows how. Naturally the thoroughly unqualified O’Brien fails pitifully at Sirahmanship, and the new guy is forced to take over, but with renewed vigor and focus, and brings the village together to repel the angry cloud monster. Bashir sees the subtext: that the old Sirah knew exactly what would happen, and in making the new guy fight for the position and focus, he’d move past his previous failures. Also O’Brien and Bashir share a fun bonding moment when they both almost died.

While all this is going down on Bajor, back on DS9 Sisko is arbitrating a land dispute between two Bajoran factions. One of the factions is represented by Varis, a teenage girl, assuming leadership responsibilities after her father was killed. Like O’Brien, she is obviously not at all qualified to fulfill her expectations, though for some reason has been sent anyway, with no advisors or staff at all (?), and is immediately in over her head. However, as ostensibly the only teenage girl on DS9, Jake and Nog latch on to her, and with her negotiations failing, it isn’t long before she’s loitering around the promenade with them being all moody and teen-agery. But they actually manage to steer her in the right direction by relating their fathers’ wisdom, which for Jake is various nuggets from Sisko, and for Rom is mostly Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, because what don’t they know?

Ultimately this episode is a mini leadership and management academy lesson. Sisko and the old Sirah both push their people a bit beyond their comfort zones, being confident that they’ll succeed and grow. Well, it worked out that way, anyway–if you ignore the attempted murder and near-death by cloud monster. (There’s an alternate universe where both misread the situation and Bashir and O’Brien can’t effectively work together while the new Sirah actually really is lousy at his job and the village is destroyed. Then Sisko has to explain to Starfleet Command why he sent his Chief Engineer to his doom merely to score a managerial win.) Meanwhile the Bajor faction that stubbornly stuck with the flaws of its hereditary leadership culture, like an organization mired in routine, breaks out of its rut when Varis brings in some helpful outside consultants and things work out.

Endnotes:

  • Honestly this whole setup in the village with the predictable but inscrutable and incredibly dangerous cloud monster was pretty unsatisfying and arbitrary to me. Why hasn’t the village ever reported this phenomenon to Bajoran authorities? Maybe you’ve learned to live with it, but dang, at least mention it to Starfleet when you ask them to send you some medical help.
    • Village: “Help! We need a Doctor!”
    • Starfleet: “OK, help is on the way! Any other specialized personnel needed? Anything we should know about your village?”
    • Village: “Hmmm… nope, can’t think of anything. Thanks! See you soon!”
  • How can the tricorder not pick up a single thing about the monster? Not that we should believe tricorders are capable of analyzing literally all known and unknown universal phenomena, but that’s *even more reason to get some help with it*.
  • O’Brien’s lousy attempt at being the Sirah is actually pretty funny. Everyone in the village is just so baffled and horrified at his sorry performance. Poor O’Brien is going to have flashbacks to this every time he’s asked to give a toast.
  • Love the bit where Varis asks Jake and Nog if their fathers are good with advice. Jake: “Yes!” Nog, son of the hapless Rom: “Uh, no.”
  • Odo’s only role in this episode is to repeatedly chase loitering teens off the promenade. He appears to enjoy it.
  • It’s of dubious value to the plot, but Nog’s killer prank on Jake is the best moment of the episode. They break into Odo’s office, and Nog makes like he’s going to steal Odo’s sleeping bucket, but instead hurls some disgusting glop out of it onto Jake. Jake and Varis think it’s the sleeping, inert form of Odo, which is now splattered all over his office. But it’s just gross oatmeal.

Overall: A lot going on here and a bit contrived if you look at it too closely but it all ties together in an interesting way, and lots of good character stuff. 4 out of 5.

QuarkOne more batch of DS9 quick early recaps. I’ll add some ratings this time.

S1E7, “Q-Less”, writer: Hannah Louise Shearer. 3 out of 5.

Couple of fanservice TNG cameos from Vash (the archaeologist who once had a little something going on with Picard), and more troublesome, Q. Vash is trying to rid herself of Q after a few years roaming the galaxy with him for fun and profit. (I forgot that’s what ended up happening to her after her TNG episode but the internet reminded me.) He still wants to keep the partnership going but she’s got Quark auctioning off a bunch of alien artifacts, and just wants to get some fresh cash and get back to Earth.

This one was fine. Quark’s unreserved greed is already fun. And I can get behind a few cameos since Trek watching is a long-term thing and it’s a big universe out there, so a familiar face can be welcome. There’s some tacked-on arbitrary drama when one of the artifacts ends up being a toxic explosive, but at least that keeps the crew busy.

As for Q, my reaction to him has settled into a pattern:

First scene: Aha! Q! Hijinks are bound to ensue!

Second scene: Oh yeah, Q is an obnoxious bully.

But it’s a 45 minute show so while he’s sorta funny, you mark off the time you’ll have to put up with him, and you do for a while, then he inevitably gets bored toying with everyone and goes away.

S1E8, “Dax”, Writer: Peter Allan Fields. 4 out of 5.

We haven’t done a Dax episode yet, better get on that. Title suggestion: “Dax”. Perfect! Let’s go with it! Let’s also introduce the creepy “Dr. Bashir is going to be harassing her” angle and hope it doesn’t continue. (It will.)

How else to intro the Trill concept but a good old fashioned murder? Turns out Dax might have killed someone in her previous life and the theme of the episode is a debate about whether a Trill in a new host is a different person (and, therefore, whether the new host is responsible for what the last one did). It’s an interesting question, and the short answer is “sorta”, which I found satisfyingly complex, like messy reality. The eventual innocent verdict is also satisfying, it’s a solidly well-done courtroom drama of an episode.

Fun bit–and my cue to make a note of episode writers now that I’m getting a feel for the show–D.C. Fontana, story editor for TOS (until its lousy third season), co-wrote the teleplay.

S1E9, “The Passenger”, Writer: Morgan Gendel. 4 out of 5.

Morgan Gendel wrote the best episode of TNG, according to me. He also wrote one of the worst. So, uh, here we go.

Lets do more murders! Kira and Bashir are returning from a medical mission (in which she’s praising his fine work, but he accepts so arrogantly she is about to lay into him–so does *anyone* like Julian at this point?) when they get a distress call and from a disabled transport ship that is on fire. They pick up a passenger, Kajada, who says there’s no one else aboard, but actually there is, she just wanted to leave him behind, explaining he’s a serial murderer who started the fire and is probably mostly dead anyway. He does die, but only after giving Bashir a quick choke to establish that he’s a bad guy. Back on DS9 he’s officially deceased but only maybe he didn’t die because while they are really super sure he’s dead, Kajada insists this is a 1980s horror movie and he’s somehow actually not dead. But he is, says Bashir. But what if he isn’t, she retorts. And so it goes.

Because it’s TV, a bunch of stuff happens that makes it seem like he’s alive, and the episode gets filed under Trek crime mystery as the crew pieces things together. Pretty good one, too, lots of red herrings, and leans on some fun sci-fi elements to make it work.

This episode also introduces Lieutenant Primmin, a security officer assigned to by Starfleet to work DS9 with Odo. He seems like he’s only there to annoy Odo, though one could argue his character is not unlike a standard crime TV trope of an FBI agent getting in the way of a local investigation. Especially since I’m viewing a few episodes ahead of my writing, and know that he’ll disappear as suddenly as he showed up. But the disappointingly practical answer is: Colm Meaney was away from the show for a bit to film a TNG movie and they just needed a fill-in.

S1E10, “Move Along Home”, Writer: Michael Piller. 2 out of 5.

DS9 hosts a first contact meeting with the Wadi, who just want to go to the local saloon and gamble. Enter: Quark. He assumes they’re easy marks so immediately sets about cheating them, but they aren’t, so they immediately figure out what he’s doing. In retaliation, they set up their own game, which somehow tricks several crew into thinking they are trapped in a weird sci-fi maze they have to escape from.

I dunno, sure. Effective if not terribly memorable. It reminded me of a million TOS episodes where Kirk et al get trapped in some bizarre alien arena and have to fight/logic/whatever Scotty does/etc. their way out. Good chance for the show to get creative or have puzzles or creatures or effects I guess but they tend to be a little boring to me. Maybe they just don’t have much in the way of stakes, like, what’s going to happen really? The rules are sorta arbitrary, then after the designated 40 minutes or so they get out. Memory Alpha has a quote from Piller saying he was inspired by an episode of The Prisoner, which sounds about right. Although “Move Along Home” is missing that element of pure “what the hell?” kinda moments where you don’t know if he’s escaped, still trapped, will ever escape, or what.

I did like Quark’s perspective from the outside. He believes the crew might be in real danger, and it’s his fault for getting them into the game, so at one point he’s reduced to truly pathetic begging for their lives. The show seems to enjoy forcing Quark into admitting he actually likes anyone else, and I’m for it.

QuarkDS9 quick early recaps, continued:

S1E3, “Past Prologue”

The pilot sets up an open question about Kira’s loyalties but turns out we don’t have to wait at all for some Bajoran-style trouble. Immediately there’s temptation for her to shift her loyalty back to full-on Bajor instead of the Federation’s more egalitarian vision. Of course she doesn’t do it. I mean, she’s not going to betray Sisko and disappear in literal episode two. She’s in the credits and promotional photos! The episode is well done and interesting and all, but the show runners maybe should have waited to play this card, right? Perhaps some building tension about her role throughout the first season, not always agreeing with Sisko, capped by this episode. Having it come up in the second show is sort of pointless, there’s no real question about what’s going to happen. Also they already did the “Bajoran turns on the Federation” thing with Ro in TNG.

S1E4, “A Man Alone”

The Loyalty Tests continue, this time for Odo. A known sleazebag turns up on DS9 that Odo wants off the station, but Sisko can’t justify a removal without cause, so Odo has to put up with it. Then the sleazebag is murdered as an obvious frame-up of Odo (he even leaves behind a calendar entry that says “Get Murdered By Odo” “Appointment with Odo”). A classic-style Trek medical techno-mystery follows and of course, Odo is absolved. (Again, only episode three, credits, promo photos, etc.)

More importantly, this episode really establishes the interesting Quark-Odo relationship. Neither trusts each other and they are adversaries on the surface, but actually their mutual annoyance with each other kinda weirdly makes them friends. I think they both enjoy some empty threats and low-key snarling.

S1E5, “Babel”

It’s not clear how big the crew is on DS9. There are hints that it’s a bare-bones operation, but even the crushingly exhaustive Memory Alpha* says the minimum crew is 300 (without me reading exhaustive details, because even though I am happy to spoil anything I’ve already seen here, I certainly don’t want anything spoiled for me). Well, it’s a little unclear what all the jobs are but it’s not fixing stuff. That’s O’Brien’s burden, from antimatter flow converters to replicators. Engines I get–you probably have someone on staff, but you’d think, if anything, they’d just call a replicator guy when that breaks. Anyway, O’Brien’s grim, endless toil is just a setup for the spread of a weird infliction that scrambles everyone’s brains and renders them unable to process language. They can talk, but it comes out as unintelligible babbling (not unlike my blog). They figure out it’s caused by a sleeper virus left by the Bajoran Resistance. It’s OK though because they compel a scientist to come discover and synthesize a cure, which he does, in like 10 minutes. Which is believable because he probably sorta knew the guy that created it. This episode is silly.

* By way of example, someone has taken the time to document all uncredited roles:

A Human man

S1E6, “Captive Pursuit”

Just when we were starting to really like Quark, this episode opens with an inexplicable, and never revisited, scene about a sexual harassment complaint from one of his staff being registered with Sisko. Nothing for it though, Quark had snuck a clause into her contract that said such advances were part of the gig. Sisko tsk-tsks him and invalidates the clause, which is good enough for her. Or at least, she knows no one on this clown station is really going to do anything about it. I really don’t know what the heck this bit was supposed to accomplish character-wise. [Scowls.]

Anyway, if we pretend that scene never happened (I’m going to guess the remainder of the series does) we get a pretty good episode. Some of the best Treks are these types of cultural mysteries, where some seemingly bizarre alien behavior slowly comes into focus. In this case, the aliens have a caste system that isn’t fucking around: there are Hunters–who, uh, hunt–and there are Tosk–who they are hunting. Like typical Good Trek, it’s not altogether clear how to react. Pretty easy to argue their culture is barbaric, but then, the Prime Directive doesn’t let you do anything about it. (Unless you are Kirk and you just really really want to.) Apparently O’Brien took Replicator Repair instead of The Prime Directive And You class in the Academy, though, so he helps Tosk escape, with a wink and a nudge from Sisko. Frontier justice is served.

QuarkTime to get rolling on some DS9 write-ups. Viewing is currently ahead of writing schedule, so going to do hit the first 11 episodes of Deep Space Nine at WARP SPEED. Ha-ha, because WARP SPEED means fast!!!1! Also my memory of some of them is already fading.

Background (comma) Your Author’s

My complete experience of watching DS9 up to this point is:

  • Watching a few random episodes in college without ever watching much TNG, so having no context except for TOS, which resulted in my being generally mystified by the focus on the Bajoran-Cardassian feud and Ferengi money-obsession. Every episode seemed to be idiotic Quark schemes.
  • Watched the tribbles episode because aw, tribbles.

That’s it. But! Compared to college-me, I have so much more TV-watching experience, particularly the Star Trek variety of TV. I watched TNG around 8-9 years ago, getting into the habit of writing up brief reviews starting with ep. 517 back on the ol’ LiveJournal. Then did a systemic watch of TOS (here ya go: reviews of all of them).

So I feel that I would be a strong asset to this organization and a good fit for the position of “guy who is going to watch DS9 now”. Joining me will be my swell wife who has more recently watched TNG, remembers shows she’s seen without having to write online reviews of them, and can be pretty darn insightful. She is also a power TV watcher that will keep me churning through the episodes. You, the reader, will benefit.

S1E1 – “Emissary”

Pilot episode. Mostly Sisko focused, we learn about how his wife died, which is sad, and Avery Brooks is still learning how to portray a space boss, which is awkward. “Do I hyper-enunciate everything, mostly bellow my lines, and otherwise act as stiffly as possible? I’ll try that for this first episode,” he says. However, Patrick Stewart is around to help kick things off, and he says, “No, don’t do that. Just be cool.” But we still have to get through this first one. We also meet all the primaries and get a little sketch of them:

O’Brien: Has accepted a promotion and transfer to DS9 so he can fix more stuff. Though he had to leave behind his favorite transporter on the Enterprise.

Major Kira: Hothead Bajoran liaison that is definitely going to kill a Cardassian at some point and cause a galactic incident.

Odo: Security officer and shapeshifter that can perfectly replicate anything except a human, I guess.

Quark: A Ferengi bar & casino owner. Armin Shimerman in the role he was born to play,  Great at playing a weasel and barely even needs the makeup. Wait, that sounds mean–this is actually a compliment. He’s so bloody effective at being Quark that he’s established the archetype of what Ferenegi is. So when I think, “What does a Ferengi–a member of a fictional TV race–look like?” I think of Armin Shimerman. So in practice, when I see normal pictures of him, I think “He just looks like a Ferengi!” Such is his blessing and curse. Leonard Nimoy and Brent Spiner are like, “Well, cry me a river, Shimerman.”

Dax: A Trill, which is a race where the controlling lifeform inhabits numerous hosts over its lifetime, and assumes new corresponding identities. It’s really sort of gross.

Dr. Bashir: Ostensibly a doctor, mostly has a crush on Dax despite the gross thing.

Anyway it’s been several weeks since I watched the episode, so while I remember the character stuff, the plot has grown fuzzy. (Also a reminder: no one is paying me to write these.) But I do remember it as a great first episode, sets up the feel and the premise of the series. Instead of flying around the galaxy encountering stuff, we have a stationary perspective (except when DS9 has to use its kinda strange puny thrusters, that is) at the frontier edge of space. Right next door, a wormhole to a totally unexplored quadrant, and who knows what could be in there? Which sounds like a good setup for a TV show.

Do the thing with your fingers53. The Ultimate Computer. This episode gives me a chance to tackle two Trek things worth discussing.  First, more than just a trope, but as an overriding theme of the show, TOS spends a lot of time addressing the increasing human dependence on technology.  Household computers were 15-20 years away on Earth, but automation was a serious worry already for a lot of people who didn’t feel like being rendered obsolete.  A classic TOS maneuver is to set up technology as a savior, then have it fail where only a human can succeed.  “The Ultimate Computer” is exactly this: an incredibly advanced newfangled computer, the M5, is given free reign to run the Enterprise autonomously, much to the immediate disdain of everyone who isn’t a Vulcan or the guy who designed the computer.  For his part, Spock doesn’t like the situation much either, despite McCoy’s continued baiting of him to admit that he does.  In fact, Spock gets a perfect chance to clarify his feelings on computers: that they are simply more efficient for some tasks and always give you the logical solution, which is not always the right solution.  Anyway, of course the M5 malfunctions almost immediately (hey, I feel like I’ve written about such things before…) and begins attacking the wrong targets with overly lethal force, and the humans are all proven right, only they can’t shut the thing off until Kirk talks it into a logical trap. Of course.  Humans win again!  The other thing to bring up regarding “The Ultimate Computer” is that it forcibly addresses the convention that all away missions are headed by the most senior officers on the Enterprise, namely Kirk and Spock and whomever conveniently fits that show’s plot.  Of course this is stupid and totally unrealistic.  But, if you want to have lead characters with the most exciting jobs, this is what you do.  It’s a TV convention and we’re cool with it.  Yet during the integration of the M5, it overrides Kirk’s decision on one member of a landing party (by having a better command of some geologist’s personnel file–computers can do magic!!) and, more important, cuts McCoy and Kirk himself out of the action, deeming them “non-essential personnel.”  However, the show doesn’t attempt any, “Hey, maybe this thing’s right–we shouldn’t send the Captain on every maniacally dangerous away mission…” Instead it just says, “Computers, what do they know?” and opens the door up for more of the general thematic discussion.  Killer Spock line: “The most unfortunate lack in current computer programming is that there is nothing available to immediately replace the starship surgeon.” Overall: it’s a given that folks in the 1960s were scared of computers becoming too integrated into our lives and then malfunctioning and killing us, so the plot here is about as predictable as they come.  Nevertheless, TOS makes it a generally intelligent discussion by strong characters. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Computers can be buggered by logical traps (1)
  • The indomitable human spirit conquers all (3)
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant (6)
  • They’ve gone to the trouble to develop an override but it doesn’t work (1)
  • Anonymous redshirt killed (5)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (3)
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode (5)

54. Bread and Circuses. Seriously, TOS needs to figure out which side of the fence it’s on with regard to the Prime Directive.  This keeps coming up. Half of the episodes I’ve watched so far have either had a clear violation of it, or a thorough discussion on why you should never ever violate it.  If they want to keep harping on how important it is and expecting to get any believability mileage out of it, they need to not immediately break all the rules the next episode, or even later in the same episode.  “Bread and Circuses” tries really hard to show the consequences of total loyalty to the code, only, you know, all of the above.  If I pretend I have never seen another episode of TOS and treat this as a self-contained unit…I guess it succeeds.  They spend some deliberate time rehashing what the Prime Directive is and its overarching importance, and then a cunning bad guy essentially holds Kirk hostage and forces him to sacrifice Spock and McCoy based on the fact that Kirk would have to violate his sworn principles in order to save them.  Yet somehow Kirk gets out of it anyway, largely because he’s Kirk.  But given the overall context of the show, it’s a misfire plot-wise. Anything Prime Directive based is marginalized. So what we basically have is an action-heavy fightin’ episode that gives us a chance to have the crew be Roman Gladiators. One positive is its take on what was essentially Reality TV. The Roman bad guy is about good ratings above all else, no matter how vile the content gets. Interesting thought – I mean, is ultimate fighting or a lot of Reality TV substantively different than what the Romans used to do? (At least there’s a line just before death these days.) Finally, the show makes a disconcerting attempt to justify itself by mentioning “Hodgkin’s Law,” a theory that worlds can evolve in parallel, explaining how the Enterprise just happens to run into so many human-like civilizations. I think generally if you have to make up goofy science you’re better off just leaving things mysterious and unexplained. Killer Spock line: “Doctor, if I were able to show emotion, your new infatuation with that term [logic] would begin to annoy me.” Overall: a good character episode for Kirk, and otherwise solid but treading some tenuous ground. 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Violation of Prime Directive (6)
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant (7)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (4)
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe (5)

BONUS REVIEW!!!!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ep. 506. Trials and Tribble-ations. Took a brief detour to watch the DS9 Tribble episode. Haven’t watched any DS9 for years, and even then I watched them irregularly, out of order, and without the cache of Trek viewing that I have now. When I was doing Next Generation reviews on the ol’ LiveJournal several folks told me DS9 is the best Trek series, so I imagine I’ll get to it more fully later on, once I’m done with TOS and probably after a detour into Babylon 5.  Anyway, this gave me a taste of DS9 while being an homage to the recently watched Trouble With Tribbles.  Bottom line, mixed feelings. It’s a fairly fun episode and certainly well-done. Really seamless effects and integration into the old series. It’s clearly a labor of love here. But I couldn’t help but think the DS9 crew is a bunch of stiffs. Especially compared to the rollicking stories and characters in TOS. A lot of the humor was awkwardly done and didn’t really work. But then, I gather DS9 isn’t really that kind of show and this is well off-formula for them. Anyway, I’m glad they made the episode and it was worth the watch. It might be interesting to see if it’s more or less enjoyable once I get back to it during a full DS9 watch, around, I dunno, 2014 or something. Overall: 4 out of 5.

And back to TOS to finish up season two:

55. Assignment: Earth. My favorite part of this is the first line. Fade in: Enterprise is orbiting Earth. Kirk says something like, “Captain’s log, we went back in time and are observing 20th century Earth.” Wait, what? I had to look this up, but they did do this before, albeit accidentally, in a first season episode that I hadn’t watched recently and of which I had forgotten the specifics. But anyway, talk about a quick establish. We’re not going to dwell on how we got here, but we’re in the 20th century, got it? Got it. But actually it gets weirder. A sort of superspy government agent, Gary Seven, accidentally beams onto the ship, as he’s been traveling to a far-off advanced civilization and has returned to Earth to prevent some calamity. Of course Kirk and company can’t be sure if he’s telling the truth or not, so they don’t let him proceed, pending further discussion. Naturally he escapes anyway and much of the episode is spent on Kirk and Spock trying to chase him around on Earth without quite knowing if they should even be doing so. So the overall ideas here are fun.  There’s a time travel thing, complete with the ol’ “If I break something in the past, do I destroy the future? Or was it always supposed to be broken, by me, in the past, and if I don’t break it, THAT’s what destroys the future?” paradox question. There’s Kirk and Spock running around in modern suits on 20th century Earth, though of course Spock has to wear a hat the whole time. (I’m retroactively adding the trope about how they send Spock into a place where any non-humans will be highly suspicious, but for some reason they send him anyway rather than anyone else.) The Seven character is really intriguing because we don’t really learn a whole lot about him, his strange companion cat, or this mysterious planet he’s been visiting. (See, Hodgkin’s Law? This is how it’s done. The less said, the better.) All that said, the whole thing does sort of fall apart in the details. The plot has a lot of long segments that ultimately go nowhere. There is an embarrassing reliance on fantastically coincidental timing or naive characters accidentally hitting secret knobs just the right way. Seven uses his sonic screwdriver thing to knock out everyone in his way except the one spunky girl who ends up causing him all kinds of trouble. (I just realized Seven has these traits: he travels through time and space at will, he has a little penlike device with a ridiculous array of powerful functions, he has a ID card for every situation, he has adventuresome companions…where have I seen all this before…?) Anyway, in general, it works well, with an intriguing seed of an idea that Seven lives to shepherd Earth though a dangerous adolescence, and will continue to do so. (Apparently he does so directly in a number of spin-off novels.) Killer Spock line: “Without facts, the decision cannot be made logically. You must rely on your human intuition.”  Overall: generally a winner if you don’t look to closely. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant (8)
  • Spock’s suspicious Vulcan nature can be disguised with a good hat (3)
  • They’ve gone to the trouble to develop an override but it doesn’t work (2)
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds (2)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (5)

Thus ends the second season.  That was fast!  Of course, I started in the middle.  It’ll be on to season three next, then I’ll circle back around and re-watch from the beginning through episode 37.