Star Trek

Why do Klingons hate Tribbles?

It's a simple question really. Why do Klingons hate Tribbles, those cuddly balls of fluff from the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles"? Dax and Sisko with Tribbles all around

Tribbles occur in three episodes in the Star Trek franchise: The Trouble with Tribbles from the original series, More Tribbles, More Trouble from The Animated Series, and again in Trials and Tribble-ations in DS9, which involves time travel back to The Trouble with Tribbles. They're one of the most memorable creatures from the original series, perhaps only outdone by the classic Gorn fight. But where the Gorn is every bit a guy in a rubber suit, tribbles are cute little balls of fluff. Think of it like a cat without the pointy bits, and with a constant desire to cuddle.

Kirk holds up some tribbles towards Doctor McCoy

Unless you're a Klingon. Tribbles hate Klingons, and Klingons hate tribbles. There have been a few explanations why. Some have suggested that both species have highly advanced senses of smell, and can't stand each other's stench. This seems rather unlikely. Why should a tribble be much different from any other small mammalian style, furry creature?

What is known, is that a tribble infestation affected several Klingon colonies, destroying their crops and their economies. This kicked off the Great Tribble Hunt, where Klingon warriors exterminated all tribbles, causing a vast genocide, and wiping them out completely.

How did this infestation start, exactly? Well, neither Uhura, Scotty, nor Spock really want to take the credit for it, but all the tribbles were transported from the Enterprise to a visiting Klingon cruiser. So, one could argue that the crew of the Enterprise was indirectly responsible for the chain of events which led to the mass genocide of the tribble species. No wonder that none of them wants to take the credit.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/sKLyXjMT07I]

But the reason the Klingons began the extermination of thee tribbles was this future infestation, yet there still appears to be some intense dislike between them already. It is quite possible that this was not the first tribble infestation the Klingons have encountered in the past, and that there had been previous, unsuccessful extermination attempts.

Interestingly, in More Tribbles, More Trouble, it is said that the Klingon infestations were due to Cyrano Jones, a human trader, rather than the crew of the Enterprise. This seems to be an attempt to avoid the crew taking responsibility for an ecological disaster, even though they end up sending more tribbles home with the Klingons at the end of the episode.

Cyrano Jones, a human trader, holds a tribble, a soft ball of fur.

It seems likely that there have been multiple incidents in the past, which have led the Klingons to label tribbles an ecological menace. The Klingons had already started a genetic engineering project to attempt to eradicate the creatures. It is interesting to note, however, that it is only the Klingons who have such an intense hatred for tribbles.

In the end, I like to think of the Klingon-Tribble relationship like that of an adult with no experience with children, and a baby. Everyone else coos over the baby, which makes happy baby noises, until the adult tries to hold it. At this point, the happy noises change to incessant squalling. Needless to say, both parties develop a dislike for each other.

Quark doesn't seem to be as impressed with the tribbles

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: Battle Lines

I think that Battle Lines is the third episode to give us a peek behind the curtains of the wormhole. Along with Captive Pursuit, and Vortex, we start to see glimpses of galactic civilization on the other side.

Myths and Legends

From Captive Pursuit, we get a genetically engineered version of The Most Dangerous Game: hunting sentient creatures for sport.

In Vortex, aside from exploring some of Odo's origins, we see a planetary government which punishes dissent with the death of the entire family.

In Battle Lines, two warring factions, the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, are raised from the dead to continue their fight, without any hope for eventual victory. They claim this is done as a form of punishment. This bears echoes of Tartarus, the Greek abyss used to imprison and torment the worst of the villains and gods.

Sisko stands against warriors with edged weapons

Just like with Sisyphus' boulder, the war is not something that can ever be resolved. Its an eternal torment. There is a similar battle in Norse myth where the warriors are continually resurrected to fight the next day.

The Kai and Prophecy

Kai Opaka views the wormhole

From this basis in myth, we get to the story. Kai Opaka, the religious leader from Bajor who named Sisko the Emissary to the Prophets, has arrived on the station. She's obviously preoccupied with the wormhole, and shows every sign that she won't return, even giving jewelry to O'Brien's daughter.

Kai Opaka gives a gift to O'Brien

When the runabout crashes, the Kai dies in the impact. It seems a pointless death, bringing to mind Tasha Yar's passing. Just like Tasha in Yesterday's Enterprise, the Kai is resurrected, although without the whole temporal displacement thing happening. Like the Ennis and Nol-Ennis, she becomes trapped in the world, but with a different purpose.

The runabout goes through the wormhole

Kira

We see the most change in this episode from Kira. The opening has a great scene where she reads the Cardassian report on her, where she is described as a minor operator who runs errands for the resistance. We haven't yet seen direct evidence of the Bajoran resistance, but Kira clearly sees herself defined by her actions and her perseverance during those times.

Busted while viewing Kira's file

With her insecurity brought to the surface with the Cardassian report, Kira fan girls over the Kai. She's desperately seeking her approval, perhaps to reaffirm that she's followed the correct path.

Kira idolizes Kai OPaka

Kira sees the struggle of her own people, mirrored in the fight between the Ennis and Nol-Ennis. It's not a perfect mirror, as Kira is quick to point out. The Bajorans fought for life, for a future. The warring factions in this episode are locked in a battle to the death, without even the hope of death.

On Technobabble

There's a great line in this episode referring to technobabble. O'Brien starts spouting off that he can send a probe to find the runabout's magnetic fields using a differential magnetometer. Without missing a beat, Dax says that she's never heard of it before, and asks how it works. Star Trek has always made terminology up to "sound like science". It's the Maltese Falcon of science fiction: the terminology is very rarely important, in storytelling terms. What it enables is the ability to move the plot forward. In this case, the technobabble serves a few useful purposes:

  • Shows how O'Brien can innovate as an engineer, instead of just fixing things on the station. Engineering is important on Star Trek. While he may have started as the Transporter chief on TNG, O'Brien is well within the engineering tradition.
  • gives Dax and O'Brien a reason for taking so long to find the Runabout.
  • allows a meta-reference to the pointlessness of technobabble.
  • a way to solve the problem of getting a transporter lock through the dampening field to make a rescue

Bashir's Dilemma

While researching the technology responsible for resurrecting the dead on the planet, Bashir wonders if it would be best to alter the programming to once again permit the release of final death. When the Ennis hear of this possibility, they instead see an actual victory, where they can finally wipe out the enemy for good. Rather than be party to this, Sisko, Kira and Bashir are transported back to the roundabout, leaving those imprisoned behind.

This is new territory for Star Trek. The suggestion of death as the answer, brought forth by a Starfleet medical officer doesn't exactly jive with Roddenberry's vision. Its interesting to see how while the characters explore ways to effect meaningful change on the planet, yet instead hightail it out of there. It seems unusual, but perhaps it's an acknowledgement that sometimes, people just aren't ready for change. As a piece of social commentary, this can bring some heavy implications to the state of international relations. This is the kind of thing people mean when they say that DS9 is a darker show than TOS or TNG.

Changes

The changes from this episode are deeper than what they first appear. While Kai Opaka was a minor character on the show, she was influential, as well as peaceful and supportive of Sisko in particular. The honeymoon's over, sweetheart. Opaka's replacement isn't going to be all sugar and spice. Also of note is that Kira's sense of awe for the Kai is not alone. Many other Bajorans would feel similarly. Now not only is the Kai gone, but she was left on the other side of the wormhole by the Federation, in the eyes of some.

Battle Lines first aired 25 April 1993. Teleplay by Richard Danus and Evan Carlos Somers. Story by Hilary J. Bader. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: The Nagus

The Nagus was a much harder episode to watch than I remember. Wallace Shawn is as amusing as ever, but the multiple levels of racism in the episode is disturbing. There are obviously redeeming values in the episode, but they have to do mostly with the subplot. Grand Nagus Quark

You don't have to look back far in human history to see other cultures similarly vilified, with statements like "they just don't share our values". What a farce. In some ways, the regular Ferengi characters are more human than the other crew members, even if Rom is still woefully underdeveloped.

Quark and Rom

Maybe this was intended to be about the values present in the Star Trek world, which has long been sanitized of the more negative aspects of the human condition. The idealized Roddenberry vision did away with money and greed, something integral to the Ferengi. Just because they weren't in Roddenberry's dream of the future doesn't immediately divorce them from human values though, especially when presented to a modern audience. This is what bothers me.

Grand Nagus Zek

The other Ferengi are cardboard cut outs, and their council meeting to discuss the Gamma quadrant is cartoonish. This is the danger of relying on comedy at the expense of character development. Sadly, we don't really see much character development in Quark, despite many opportunities to do so. He gains great power (among Ferengi) but abuses his friends. He suffers treachery, including from family. He remains unwilling to ask for help. He fails to show gratitude. His pride and stubbornness match the Ferengi greed.

While I suppose there is value in showing how a character remains steadfast in refusing to change, it's far more interesting to show how events can cause changes. In this episode, we end where we began (the sign of an episode of the week) rather than drive forward on an important story arc.

Where we do see character development this episode is in the arguably more important subplot, with Jake and Nog. While the primary "Quark as Nagus" plot is a plot-of-the-week, interactions with Nog are of far greater value. We see the lengths that Jake Sisko goes through in order to remain friends with Nog, even after Rom pulls him from "that hew-mon school". Their friendship, the act of bridging their differences is an important story arc in its own right, and is further developed as the series progresses.

Jake and Nog

I can't understand why Chief O'Brien is allowed to teach the kids while Keiko is away from the station. It's not that he's incompetent, although he has little experience interacting with teenagers. The thing is, the station seems to always be on the brink of breaking down. How can he dedicate time to instruction when the station may finally fall apart? What this does bring us, is a reason for O'Brien to interact with Nog, and form some strong opinions. O'Brien dislikes Nog, and disapproves of his influence on Jake. In time, we will see his opinion change drastically. It's a good way to start things off.

The way that O'Brien states his opinions to Commander Sisko, that he dislikes Nog's influence on Jake, is also important, as it frames the episode's conclusion, where Sisko learns of Jake's influence on Nog. Jake's relationship with Nog is what redeems this episode for me.  There are some good moments from Commander Sisko, when he says that he trusts Jake's judgement (although later he checks up on him, you know, just in case), and the final scene, where he accepts that his son is friends with a Ferengi, but the momentum in this episode is all about Jake and Nog.

The Nagus first aired March 21, 1993. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, story by David Livingston. Directed by David Livingston.

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: The Passenger

I found the implications of this episode deeply disturbing, and not just because it's another Bashir episode. Don't get me wrong, Bashir eventually becomes a likeable character, but he's still very much the condescending jerk in The Passenger. The episode starts on one of the runabouts, on a return trip from some conference. Kira suffers from Bashir's tremendous ego about his medical expertise. Soon, they encounter a ship in distress, to which they beam aboard to give assistance. Here, we get the best scene in the episode, as a dying prisoner grips Bashir by the throat, demanding that he be saved.

Bashir Choked

 

There are some decent plot misdirections in the episode. Once we discover that Vantika transferred his consciousness to a new host, we are left guessing as to who. Possible suspects include the new Starfleet security officer, Primmin, the Kobliad security officer Kajada, and finally, our man Bashir. While the clue was of course in the opening scene, it's interesting to look at some of the reasons the other characters were likely candidates.

First, Kajada could have been Vantika all along, before Bashir and Kira rescued her. With the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde split personality in place, the idea of a security officer fighting to find a hidden personality would be interesting. She would have become the thing she hates the most. This could have turned out to be a more interesting twist, but it doesn't offer as much character development for Bashir.

The other main candidate would be Primmin. As a new crew member, and a Starfleet security officer to boot. Just give him a red shirt and he's toast. Wisely, the writers avoid this route, and instead use Primmin as a foil for Odo.

Primmin

This episode introduced a new Starfleet security officer, Lieutenant Primmin, supposedly to oversee the security details of some important cargo shipments. This of course adds tension in Odo's role as the chief of security on the station. Primmin comes across as a close minded, by the books security officer. He's not well adapted to running security on a space station, where the free flow of trade is essential. He's openly dismissive of Odo, as a non-Starfleet local. While his opinion changes over the episode, Primmin doesn't really endear himself to the viewers.

Primmin

Handling interpersonal conflicts is an important part of team building, which is based on good, open communication. There is little evidence that Primmin is ready for any kind of command role, as he lacks understanding and empathy with "outsiders".

Senior Staff

How do you best inject a new character into a television show? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't use this as an example.

The question of motive

One major issue I have with the plot is that of motive. Kajada explains that Vantika was attempting to steal a shipment of some special ore used to prolong life among the Kobliad. This motivation seems to fall apart once Vantika's consciousness has been transferred. If it can't directly prolong his life, why is he still trying to hijack the shipment? It doesn't really speak very well of someone who has cheated death so many times.

Bashir onscreen

Although I must say, Bashir's ego does seem to suit Vantika. It's probably best not to read too much into this though. While he looks much more dangerous like this, his speech patterns are.. how shall we say? Reminiscent of Shatner.

A most disturbing act

However, the biggest shock of this episode is in the final scene. When Kajada receives custody of the prisoner--now a collection of information on a Petri dish--she draws a weapon and disintegrates it in front of Sisko, Dax, and Bashir. While Sisko appears somewhat disturbed by this, Dax and Bashir remain expressionless.

The murder of Vantika

While Vantika's biological body died at the beginning of the episode, there has been substantial evidence throughout the episode that his consciousness remains alive in this status chamber. Should we not then consider this the cold-blooded murder of a prisoner in custody? That the only reaction is a relatively minor reaction from Sisko is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the episode, especially when we consider Dax's situation.

As a joined Trill, Dax has relevant experience: after the biological death of the host, the memories and experiences are transferred at the next Trill joining. While in the case of Trills, this is a symbiotic joining, while with Bashir and Vantika, we see a very forceful control being exerted.

In the end, I'm not sure what is more concerning: that the main cast doesn't see this action as an issue, or that the writers themselves didn't consider this worth discussing further, especially as so much time in TNG was spent determining whether Data was an autonomous being worthy of rights and freedoms, or whether he was merely "property".

The Passenger first aired February 21, 1993. Teleplay by Morgan Gendel, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, and Michael Piller. Story by Morgan Gendel. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: Dax

Courtroom drama isn't exactly what comes to mind when you think of Star Trek, although the judicial system of the future has played a prominent role in some episodes. We don't have a full-on court case in Dax, but rather an extradition hearing for Jadzia Dax, in place of the Dax symbiont's former host, Curzon Dax. Jadzia Dax

The episode is named "Dax" as it's the first episode that really explores Jadzia Dax's past lives, and the symbiotic relationships that Trills have with their hosts. While we learn a great deal about Trills in this episode, particularly about Dax, many further questions are raised, as the A.V. Club review has noted. This isn't a bad thing though. These are valuable story hooks, allowing for further character development and plot hooks for later episodes. Always leave your audience looking for more.

This a great episode on a number of points. It explores a philosophical question about a "perfect" crime, as well as examining issues of identity, loyalty and friendship. Who is Jadzia Dax, and in what ways is she different from Sisko's old friend, Curzon? Even as Sisko is working to connect his friendship with Curzon to that of Jadzia, this episode works both to complicate and simplify matters.

The major plot is that Curzon Dax was one of a very few people who could have sent a transmission to an enemy of the Klaestronians, committing treason and betraying his close friend, a general who was killed and posthumously made a national hero. Some thirty years later, his son is persecuting Jadzia Dax for the supposed crimes of her former host.

The General's Son

Dax is of course innocent. The general himself colluded with the enemy, who betrayed and killed him. Dax has an alibi as well: the General's wife. Rather than risk her reputation, and the heroic status awarded posthumously to the general, Dax holds her peace, ready to accept responsibility for the betrayal: extradition to a planet which has the death penalty.

Death normally isn't final for a Trill, as when the symbiont is transferred to a new host, it brings all memories along with it. In this case, however, it is the Dax symbiont in particular that is being prosecuted, and would then suffer a final death.

It's interesting to see that to remain true to her vow of silence regarding her relationship with the general's wife, Dax essentially denies her friendship with Sisko, stating the Sisko was Curzon's friend. Sisko, in turn, defends Jadzia Dax as a separate entity from Curzon.

Sisko and Dax

When Bashir testifies about how Jadzia's brainwaves are different from that of Curzon, thus showing that they are separate people. In the cross-examination, Bashir reluctantly admits that there is no evidence that the symbiont's individual brainwaves altered appreciably from Curzon to Jadzia. Curiously, no mention was made to whether Jadzia's brainwaves were altered during the joining. The audience learns of her many accomplishments of her own accord, prior to being joined with the symbiont, but we don't get a feel for how she was changed by this irreversible change. How much of her personality is due to the symbiont? Jadzia is very self-assured, extremely confident, and willing to sacrifice her own life for her principles.

Sisko, however, approaches the case with a particular result in mind, and directs his team to find the "correct" answer, although he admits to wanting to know of any incorrect answers as well. An interesting nuance.

Odo and Quark

Speaking of personal principles, there are some good personal performances by Quark and Odo. The extradition hearing needs a location, and with a little prompting from Odo, Quark "offers" his bar for the location. It's a small scene, but this relationship is built upon small scenes. Quark, as always, wants any concessions he makes a goodwill gesture, in spite of any coercion.

Quark

Dax is a very philosophical episode. While much of the case focuses on technicalities, such as whether Jadzia Dax is or isn't the "person" who committed treason, it is in the end a moot point, as Dax has an alibi. We entirely sidestep any question of whether the Federation should allow extradition to a government that has a death penalty, a reminder that Star Trek exists in a world formed by ideologies in the USA.

Dax first aired on February 14, 1993. Teleplay by D.C. Fontana & Peter Allan Fields. Story by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by David Carson.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Q-Less

It seems too much to ask for two stellar episodes back to back this early in the season. While Q-Less is nowhere near the disaster of Babel, its also nowhere as great as Captive Pursuit. Q-Less is kind of middling. I think it's partly because the series had yet to find its legs, and the writers tried to use Q to differentiate the show from TNG, rather than truly explore how it's different. Q

The episode begins with Bashir framing his Starfleet medical exams in terms of a great battle, while attempting to woo a Bajoran woman. Bashir mentions at this point that he was the salutatorian, and not the valedictorian of his class, having made a mistake awash in techno-babble of post-something, pre-something that sounds the same. As "brilliant" as Bashir assures us he is, and as full of self-assured bravado, this seems an unlikely mistake for him to have made. It's a little seed of a story to be examined further in later episodes.

Sisko's encounter with Q in Quark's is entirely framed within the relationship Q had with Picard; Q acts as the aggressor, presenting Sisko with the opportunity to show the baser instincts of humanity. Where Picard - ever the statesman - would refuse to react, Sisko doesn't hold back, and hits Q back. While this may be effective in characterizing Sisko, it is once again compared to Picard. It really comes across as a cheap tactic, and not nearly as effective as doing something different.

Sisko hits Q

More to the point, aside from this brief encounter with Sisko, Q seems rather disinterested in anyone other than Vash, whom Q had convinced to run away to explore the galaxy in the TNG episode "Qpid". Q is quick to play the martyr, unjustly accused for threatening to tear the station apart, but fails to offer any suggestions or aid in solving the problem. This could be seen as part of his test for humanity. If they can't solve a little problem like this, why should humanity be allowed to spread like a disease across the galaxy?

Yet the crew is eager to blame Q, rather than ask him in humility if he was responsible. I do have the feeling that if he was asked, Q would answer honestly (the nickname "God of Lies" does tend to be misinterpreted).

Q's motivations in this episode are completely out of character. It's difficult to believe that Q would be so enamoured of his companion that he would spend so much effort keeping her around. From what we've seen in TNG, he is far more… inconstant. Q is like a child with new toys. He's always interested in new ones, but quickly loses interest. Aside from his promise to Picard in Qpid to keep Vash safe, there is little to suggest that Q wouldn't just abandon Vash somewhere when he encounters something shiny.

Q and Vash

There are some other comparisons to be made with "Encounter at Farpoint", as the source of this anomaly turns out to be a embryonic life form which turns into a space-borne alien. Aside from being the source of the danger threatening the station, it's essentially a MacGuffin.

The creature in Q-Less

Vash's subplot involves selling artifacts from the Gamma quadrant through Quark. While there are some amusing interactions here, the Ferengi susceptibility to people massaging their ear lobes seems a rather obvious evolutionary flaw. This practice was first introduced in the TNG episodee "Ménage à Troi". Despite Quark's inability to resist Vash, he shows the Ferengi business sense when running the auction, cutting short the lectures on the items for sale, distilling them to "Friends, it's rare, it's beautiful, and it's a gamma quadrant original, and it can be yours for the right price." While he's not a brilliant orator, he knows his customer base well.

Although Q's motives don't match my expectations, it's easy to forget this, and just watch John de Lancie. He's a brilliant actor, and he's quite good at portraying Q. It's just sad to see his character and his acting wasted on an episode that could have been so much better, had they focused on Q's normal behaviour. I would have loved to see Q's character developed further, or at least seen some real tests of the DS9 crew. But as John de Lancie notes in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, "Q is best used when he deals with large philosophical issues. And skirt-chasing just isn't one of them".

Q-Less first aired February 7, 1993. Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Story by Hannah Louise Shearer. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Captive Pursuit

As boring as I found Babel, it was quickly followed by one of the best early episodes of the series, Captive Pursuit. While in the last several episodes, DS9 has seen increased traffic due to the wormhole, this is the first episode in which we encounter life from the other side. First contact, the essence of diplomatic relations. So what do we learn about life on the other side of the wormhole? The first creature from the other side is an alien who calls himself Tosk. He has some pretty advanced survival techniques, such as the ability to camouflage himself by turning invisible, only requiring 17 minutes of rest per cycle, and has nutrient sacs embedded around his body for sustenance. Tosk is extremely skittish, reacting quickly to unknown noises. He really seems like a fugitive from justice, a cornered rat, with a built-in flight or fight reflex.

Tosk on his ship

We thus get our first hint that things on the other side of the wormhole are perhaps worthy of caution. A region which has developed a race like Tosk, either through natural selection, or, as it turns out, through genetic manipulation, is a dangerous place.

As if to make up for the lack of screen time in Babel, O'Brien is the primary contact for Tosk. It's a combination of his technical aptitude, and generally non-confrontational nature that makes him a good fit. Through O'Brien, we learn that technology from the other side of the wormhole is roughly comparable to that of the Federation, if slightly unfamiliar.

Closeup of Tosk from DS9 Captive Pursuit

This brings us to the next race that comes through the wormhole, Hunters in search of their prey: sentient life. Their entry onto the station isn't very diplomatic either. They beam directly aboard, and blast their way to where Tosk is being held, then they demand his release.

Captive Pursuit  Hunters

This raises an interesting ethical and diplomatic issue. The callous treatment of Tosk flies in the face of Federation values. If they refuse to hand him over, they risk future relations with an alien race, but if they hand him over, they're condemning Tosk to degradation and imprisonment. The Hunters seem disgusted that they have found Tosk alive. It's not sporting, it would seem.

Captive Pursuit  Hunted Unhelmed

While Sisko reluctantly agrees to release Tosk, O'Brien decides to take matters into his own hands. He plays upon Odo's insecurity, telling him that the prisoner transfer is a Starfleet matter, as orders from Sisko. He then leaves his com badge behind, and then ambushes the Hunters, allowing Tosk to escape.

Captive Pursuit  Hunter shot

So much for a peaceful first contact. First the Hunters blast open the brig, and then a Starfleet officer goes rogue and incapacitates the aliens? Of course, as O'Brien points out, when he discusses his actions with Sisko, it would have been an easy thing for Sisko to stop him, by activating force fields in the station to block him off. Although O'Brien disobeyed orders, he did so in a way that preserved the ideals of the Federation, and in a way, enabled the glory of the Hunt to continue. There doesn't seem to be any long-term consequences for O'Brien, as after Tosk escapes, the Hunters seem pleased that the hunt has started once more, apparently smoothing over relations, even after a firefight.

All in all, Captive Pursuit is an excellent episode, giving some added characterization to O'Brien and Sisko, while introducing aliens from the Gamma quadrant.

Captive Pursuit first aired January 31, 1993. Teleplay by Jill Sherman Donner & Michael Piller. Story by Jill Sherman Donner. Directed by Corey Allen

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Babel

Right after a powerful, thematic episode like A Man Alone, Babel is the first episode that really feels like a one-off episode. While it's not completely without its redeeming factors, it doesn't really have any big themes, nor does it really focus on any one character. The episode begins with an overworked O'Brien working desperately to maintain DS9's computer systems. Everything is breaking down, and everything is a priority. It's a workload that isn't shared with the rest of the command crew. After all, they have time to complain about how the replicators aren't working, and are creating a horrible cup of coffee. The slackers.

O'Brien fixing the replicators

Really, in this episode, O'Brien doesn't get any respect. In fact, once he repairs the replicator, triggering the release of an aphasia virus, he is soon written out of the episode, being unable to communicate. This is actually the first of the "poor O'Brien" episodes, although his role in this episode is short.

Computer automation

This is the first time in the series we see Quark with access to computer systems he shouldn't have. He uses a physical control rod system to change his access level, something that none of the earlier Star Trek series have used. It's another good way in which the series sets itself apart.

Quark gaining access to the computer systems

There are several other problems with computer automation. When Bashir is attempting to find a cure for the virus, he needs to tell the computer when to run the next batch of tests. Wouldn't it be easier to have the computer to run through them all automatically?

A similar situation occurs when Kira attempts to locate a Bajoran scientist on the surface. She has a database query to help, but she has to tell the computer to run the command against different databases on the planet, individually. Again, wouldn't it be easier to run it against all of them in one go? I think the writers were attempting to show how disorganized the Bajorans are, but it leads me to believe that their software engineers are seriously lacking in skill.

The virus

Let's consider this virus for a moment. It's initially replicated at the molecular level, infecting anyone who consumes food from the repaired replicator. When enough people on the station are infected, it suddenly becomes aerosol. This explanation of a critical mass causing the type of transmission to change is a little suspect, unless the virus was engineered to reproduce in this way.

When O'Brien is symptomatic, and run through some medical tests, Bashir determines that O'Brien's mind is fully functional, but that auditory and visual stimuli are being mistranslated. Since nobody can understand anyone else, the infected are shipped off to an emergency medical ward for observation.

While watching the episode, I began to wonder exactly how unstable the aphasia is. The initial attempts at communication from anyone newly infected with the virus seem to repeat several nonsense phrases. There appears to be no attempt to determine how stable this mapping is, and whether a simple translation service could make sense of what people were saying.

The words on the PADD computer are the same nonesense O'Brien is saying

The progression of the virus also seems strange. It was at Sisko's request that the replicator was initially fixed, triggering the release of the virus. While O'Brien was the first to try the replicator, thus infecting himself, Sisko is one of the last to succumb. While everyone else becomes aphasiac, but is perfectly capable of walking around, and waiting in quarantine for some time, Sisko immediately collapses in Ops. This wasn't adequately explained, and was rather distracting.

To cure the virus, Kira kidnaps Sermak Ren, who had been an associate of the virus' creator. While he initially threatens her with legal consequences, these threats are ignored after he starts working on a cure, having been infected himself. For a series that opens with the promise of long term consequences for your actions, this episode really fails to follow the trend. The only action that appears to have long term consequences in this episode is the installation of the virus itself, some eighteen years prior to the episode.

Overall, I was rather disappointed with Babel. This was a one-off episode, with limited ability to further any ongoing story arcs, or any advanced characterization. The writers didn't even manage to use the wormhole for anything.

Babel originally aired January 24, 1993. Teleplay by Michael McGreevey and Naren Shankar. Story by Sally Caves and Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Paul Lynch.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: A Man Alone

While Past Prologue had one main theme, loyalty, There are two primary themes in A Man Alone: relationships, and racism. The writers manage to weave together these threads while fleshing out more of the more reclusive member of the DS9 crew, Constable Odo. A Man Alone  Bashir

Bashir and Dax

The episode opens with Doctor Bashir shamelessly flirting with Jadzia Dax, a scene which essentially repeats itself through the episode. Her response is friendly, but evasive. She explains that relationships for Trills are a little difficult, and that joined Trills attempt to "rise up" above their desires. Instead of being discouraged, Bashir, ever the optimist, decides that this means that he still has hope.

Sisko and Dax, redux

Fast on the heels of Bashir attempting to woo Dax, is a scene where Sisko and Dax share a meal, and re-establish the close friendship he had with Curzon Dax, the previous host for the Trill Dax. It's a good scene, and shows more depth to their relationship, and explores why Trills don't always reconnect with the friends of past hosts.

Odo and Quark

Odo and Quark make great foils for each other. The law man and the con man. It's all about testing boundaries. While they seem to be each other's worst enemies, there's a certain level of respect shared between the two of them. It's a constant game of cat and mouse, with Odo keeping Quark to a low level of dishonesty.

Odo and Quark

O'Brien and Keiko

As O'Brien was an established character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, he has a fairly developed back story, including his wife Keiko, a botanist, and their daughter Molly. This episode begins to explore the family tensions in place in changing careers.

This invites comparison to the other family unit on DS9, Commander Sisko and his son, Jake. With Sisko being an only parent, his decision to live on a distant space station requires less compromise than that of the O'Briens. In order for O'Brien to take his promotion, the direct downside is that Keiko's career is put on hold.

O'Brien and his wife have several arguments in public, about Keiko's role on the station, or rather, lack thereof. There's precious little need for a botanist in the iron clad corridors of Deep Space Nine, nor does it seem a proper place to raise a young child.

With a bit of handwaving, the show's writers suggest that instead of being a botanist, Keiko should become a teacher for the children of Deep Space Nine, providing structured learning in a classroom environment.

While her arguments towards an integrated classroom environment, with children from various cultures learn together is a good one, she seems completely unprepared to develop a worthwhile curriculum, which takes culturally sensitive issues in mind. This is really the weakest part of the episode, and really just comes across as a way to give Keiko something to do on the show.

This role change appears to address two holes in the plot: it gives Keiko a meaningful role on the station, and allows for an educational setting in which Jake Sisko and Nog can interact, but it really feels contrived, and not in a good way.

As socially progressive as Star Trek often attempts to be, this provides an example of how O'Brien's career has essentially relegated his wife to a traditional gender role of mother and educator. The future feels so very enlightened.

Odo and the Rule of Law

When Odo realizes that Ibudan, a former Bajoran smuggler and profiteer was on the station, he does his best to kick him off the station. His report to Sisko on the matter brings up a great piece of dialogue.

"If he hasn't done anything wrong, you can't force him to leave."

"Watch me."

"Mr. Odo, you're not going to take the law into your own hands."

"The law? Commander, the laws change depending on whose making them.  Cardassians one day, the Federation the next.  But justice is justice."

What we learn about Odo here is that he has remained the chief of security on the station since sometime during the Cardassian occupation. This is one of the charges the Bajorans on the station bring against Sisko later in the episode, suggesting that somehow, Odo was a Cardassian collaborator. Here, Odo explains that his views on justice haven't been influenced by any legal requirements. His is impartial, a "disinterested" observer of the human condition. He is the man alone.

Racism on DS9

Now that we've gotten all the fun relationship issues out of the way, let's move on to the second, less savoury theme. This is far from the first time that Star Trek has dealt with issues of race, and it's far from the last time this theme will be explored in DS9, though not always for the best. As J. Emmet Winn notes in his article "Racial Issues and Star Trek's Deep Space Nine" (Kinema: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media, Spring 2003), the actual depiction of race, especially the Ferengi, isn't always a progressive view. Certainly, we can see evidence of xenophobia in this episode, even in Commander Sisko, who wants his son Jake to have nothing to do with "that Ferengi boy", as he sees Nog as a troublemaker.

The founding of the school, and Keiko's attempts at creating a multiracial classroom allows us to foreground issues of desegregation, as different cultures come closer together.

The most explicit racism in this episode however, is seen in the Bajoran persecution of Odo, who is framed for the murder of Ibudan. The parallels to racism in contemporary society is fairly clear: ethnic slurs are scrawled across the walls of his trashed workplace. In Odo's case, the word "SHIFTER" appears. He is hounded by an angry mob, unwilling to wait for the justice system to deliberate over the evidence. Thrown objects break storefront windows. The mob leader even asks how you put a noose around the neck of a shapeshifter.

Odo enters his office to see SHIFTER written on the wall

Racial integration in the United States has been… problematic, and it's clear that the problem is ongoing. Where one person sees a kid with a hoodie and a pack of skittles, another sees a threat to their neighbourhood. How the situation is handled is what matters. A measured response allows all the evidence to come out, while a hasty decision is irreversible.

In A Man Alone, the situation is defused, although as the Captain's Log states at the end, to the best of his knowledge, Odo has not received any apologies for the actions of others during the protest. Sadly, that's often how issues of racism are dealt with in our world too.

A Man Alone first aired January 17, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by Gerald Sanford and Michael Piller. Directed by Paul Lynch.

 

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Past Prologue

Where Emissary focused on developing the character of Benjamin Sisko, the second episode spreads things out a bit. In Past Prologue, we get to see a great deal more of Major Kira in this episode, as well as have Dr. Bashir meet the sole remaining Cardassian on the station, Garak, a clothier by trade, as well as a potential spy. The theme of the episode is that of divided loyalties. Who do you place your faith in, who do you really trust?

Garak and Bashir

Garak and Bashir

When I first announced that I was going to be watching and reviewing Deep Space Nine, the reaction was pretty immediate: Garak is a real fan favourite. As I started to watch this episode, I was quick to remember why.

The opening dialogue between Bashir and Garak is a great piece of characterization. Once again, Bashir comes across as rather lacking in social graces, although we can see how he's trying desperately to come up with small talk. For his part, Garak acts the part of a skilled diplomat, smoothing over Bashir's confusion. Garak's dialogue is exceptionally crafted, playing upon multiple layers of ambiguity. Nothing is as it seems, which is exactly the point. When he calls himself "plain, simple Garak," the viewer knows that he is anything but a plain, simple character. When Garak "makes contact" with Bashir, we start one of the great friendships in the series.

Of particular note is that when Bashir heads to Ops to gleefully report this "contact" to others, including Miles O'Brien, he is essentially ignored by O'Brien, aside from rolled eyes. The O'Brien/Bashir friendship is one of the greatest in the series, and it pretty much falls flat at the beginning. Just as Garak and Bashir make unlikely friends, so too do O'Brien and Bashir.

As tactless and naïve as Bashir is in this episode, his enthusiasm is infectious. I still didn't get much of a feel of depth to his character in this episode, yet. 

Kira's Loyalty

The major part of the episode explores Major Kira's loyalties to Bajor, and the checkered past of the Bajoran resistance to Cardassian rule. As the liaison officer to the Bajoran Provisional Government, Kira's loyalty is not to Starfleet, as she has made abundantly clear. In this episode, her past loyalty to Bajoran freedom fighters such as Tahna Los is tested against her new position. This quickly becomes a moral dilemma for Kira, as she discovers that her old friend is planning further terrorist attacks against the station and the wormhole.

Kira turns to Odo for advice, revealing a deep, existing friendship between the two. She really opens up at this point, admitting her uncertainty about where her loyalties lie. Odo's enigmatic reply is that "the only important thing is not to betray yourself." Eventually, Kira turns to Sisko, revealing what she knows about Tahna's plans. In rejecting her friend, Kira chooses a society where Bajor can take participate on an equal footing with other galactic powers. Kira wants Bajor to be progressive, she wants to reconcile splinter groups, and help her people heal. Most importantly, Kira recognizes that their best chance to do so involves continued cooperation with the Federation.

One of the big takeaways from this episode is that Kira will really go to bat for a cause that aligns with her plan for Bajor. She will navigate any bureaucracy needed, and will quite forcefully argue for a cause she believes in.

Bajor for Bajorans

This is our first look at how different sections of Bajoran society have responded to the Cardassian occupation and withdrawal of Bajor. The wormhole's existence raises Bajor's importance in the quadrant, making an isolationist position more difficult to accept. Tahna Los represents the first of those who is fighting for independence from all outside influence.

Kira speaks passionately about Bajor becoming a power in their own right, although she admits that it won't happen overnight.

DS9 Ops

It was nice to see the writers and director using the raised command platform in DS9 Ops so effectively in this episode, when Kira thanks Sisko for his help in arranging amnesty for Tahna Los and other members of the Kohn-Ma. Curtly, he reminds her to remember that the next time she is insubordinate and goes over his head to Starfleet. With the camera angle, the viewer is looking up past Kira to Sisko in a position of power. It's a simple camera trick to emphasize power differences, but it's quite effective nonetheless. This power dynamic feeds into our understanding of Cardassian architecture, as noted in the previous episode.

Klingon Involvement

This is the first of many episodes which bring the Klingons into play. While the presence of the Duras sisters Lursa and B'Etor in this episode give some insight into the current state of the Klingon Empire, their role in the episode is relatively minor. This is a follow-up to the events from the TNG episodes Redemption and Redemption II, which saw civil war in the Klingon Empire, led by the House of Duras.

Their appearance in DS9 is another contextual link to TNG, without requiring a member of the main cast. It also widens the scope of the show, from dealing with the Cardassians and Bajorans, to a larger stage.

Past Prologue first aired January 10th, 1993. Written by Katharyn Powers. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

 

ST:DS9 Reviews: Emissary

Galaxy_class_docked_at_DS9.jpg

The first episode of any television series is important. For completely new shows, it can determine whether a studio will buy an initial season. While the risks are less for a spinoff of a popular show with a built-in audience, especially a flagship show like Star Trek, there are still important tasks to accomplish. The pilot needs to give clear links to the earlier show, usually including cameo guest appearances from an actor on the earlier series. A pilot episode needs to set the scene and establish setting, and it has to introduce and characterize the major characters.

The Enterprise-D docked at DS9

As the pilot episode for DS9, Emissary establishes a number of major themes and story arcs. We also see the important links to TNG, most importantly The Best of Both Worlds, and Encounter at Farpoint. Perhaps most importantly, Emissary introduces the major characters, allowing the audience to identify with them. While it must introduce the main cast, there is a clear focus on the lead role, in this case, Commander Benjamin Sisko.

Characterization

While Sisko is fully developed as a character in this episode, the rest of the cast is filled in with brief introductions, giving us a taste for their personalities. Before we get to Sisko, here are some of the first impressions from how the characters are portrayed in this episode.

Chief Miles O'Brien is a character already familiar to viewers of TNG. Colm Meany is a great actor, and we finally get to see a lot more of his character in this series. A non-commissioned officer, O'Brien is the Everyman. He's instantly relatable, and acts as a bridge back to TNG. He really doesn't need that much introduction in the episode, and instead we see how he adapts to the changes in position. He takes on the "engineer" role, like Scotty from TOS and Geordi from TNG.

Kira Nerys is the Bajoran representative on the station. She comes across as fierce, proud, stubborn and angry. After fighting to free Bajor from the Cardassians, she is frustrated that they have immediately given control of the station to the Federation. We immediately get the sense that there is going to be intense friction between her and the Federation rules. She has vastly different motivations than Sisko, with different loyalties. A beautiful moment for her character is when she orders O'Brien to fire all six of the station's photon torpedoes across the bow of a Cardassian warship, hoping that she can bluff her way beyond any real confrontation.

Jadzia Dax is a joined Trill, a human-alien symbiotic entity, whose previous host had worked closely with Sisko in the past. Immediate impressions are of wisdom, age, and bemused detachment. In this episode, the writers use a religious artifact, an Orb, to present us with a flashback to the transfer of the symbiont from the previous host. There's definitely a sense of mystery with Dax.

Doctor Bashir is a young, brash, brilliant doctor, with little experience in the field. He's completely without any sense of tact. He definitely lacks McCoy's wry sense of knowing sarcasm.

Odo is the station's chief of security. As a shapeshifter, he's an outsider, very much fulfilling the same role as Spock and Data, with hints of an unknown origin story.

Then there's Quark, the Ferengi bartender, who is quite possibly one of the most amusing characters in Star Trek. Since the Ferengi were introduced in the TNG episode The Last Outpost, they were always conniving little creatures. While profit is certainly still an issue, we see already signs of the importance of the family unit.

Sisko

Finally, we get to Sisko. He's a complicated character, especially in this first episode. He's the lead character of the series as a whole, as well as this episode in particular. In this beginning episode, we see a broken man begin a path to healing.

The great tragedy in TNG was The Best of Both Worlds, when Captain Picard is surgically altered as Locutus of Borg. Here, the Borg represent a loss of humanity, a loss of individuality. In the opening scene of DS9, we see these same events through the eyes of Benjamin Sisko, where his wife Jennifer is killed in the massacre at Wolf 359. This very personal loss leaves Sisko to raise their son Jake alone.

This is a moment which defines Sisko. When he meets with Picard, we get a sense of resentment and anger towards the senior officer. To Sisko, Picard personifies the Borg, and is a reminder of what he has lost.

Sisko's loss not only defines him as a character, but also defines DS9 as a Star Trek series. TNG showed the Borg wreaking havoc at Wolf 359. DS9 shows the human impact. In the earlier series, events nearly always reset by the end of the episode. Even in the episode Cause and Effect, where the Enterprise is stuck in a temporal loop, leading to the destruction of the ship and loss of all hands multiple times, by the end of the episode, the disaster is averted, and everything has returned to normal. The only enduring loss in TNG is the death of Natasha Yar in the episode Skin of Evil. The most dramatic change in TNG is the assimilation of Picard into Locutus, which is ultimately reversed.

In Emissary, we Sisko finally come to terms with his loss, and start the healing process. We see this change framed by two conversations with Picard. In the first meeting, the audience can see a sullen resentment, as Sisko voices a desire to retire his commission, and live life as a civilian. During the second meeting, Sisko rescinds this wish, and voices a very strong desire to make a go of his new command. So what exactly happens in the meantime that we see such a drastic reversal in Sisko's outlook?

Some of the most awkward dialogue in DS9. Not that it's really terrible, but just awkward. This is a first contact event with an alien species that differs considerably from those that normally appear on Star Trek. While Star Trek has been criticized in the past for having aliens that are human, except for pointy ears, or a brow ridge, in this episode, the Prophets are extra-temporal beings: they don't exist in linear time, but seem to experience all moments at once. In a way, the relative similarities between the alien races in Star Trek has always been minor, emphasizing a common humanity. In DS9, we start to explore a consciousness without our common frames of reference, something truly alien.

Sisko tries to teach the Prophets about cause and effect, and linear time. The whole conversation is an analogy for the way DS9 itself will handle plot lines, with the long term effects of actions carrying on into further episodes. There are some useful analogies made here to the value humanity places on unpredictability, such as the enjoyment one receives from a baseball game. Every pitch is unpredictable, and it is the random nature of the game that gives it meaning.

While Sisko works to show them the value of a linear progression of time, he also comes to realize that he too is stuck in the past, at the moment of Jennifer's death. This is not only the moment where the healing begins, but also the point that the Prophets find common ground with Sisko, and by extension, humanity.

Story Arcs

The Prophets and their wormhole play an important role in the series. The wormhole obviously brings the Bajor system into play as an area of strategic importance, while the presence of the Prophets plays a religious role in Bajoran society, which is also an ongoing theme throughout the show. Sisko has been named the Emissary, a role that will deepen as the series progresses.

The role of the Federation, as part of the command on the outpost is also brought into question. How can Bajor gain independence while inviting the Federation to set up on their doorstep?

Despite the current peace, ongoing tensions with the Cardassians remain high. The presence of the wormhole puts Bajorans back into play, causing the Cardassians to regret relinquishing control. 

The Bajorans themselves see themselves as a recently emancipated group. The similarities to slavery in the United States are easy to see, especially with the racial tensions on DS9.

Many other themes have been suggested through the character introductions, and will be developed further in the next few episodes as the characters are fleshed out.

Emissary originally aired on January 3, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller, with story by Michael Piller and Rick Berman. Directed by David Carson.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Reviews

Almost twenty years ago, the first episode of Deep Space Nine aired. For the first time, not one, but two Start Trek series were in first run syndication.  After The Next Generation ended, Voyageur started, and again, two series of Star Trek were in first run syndication at the same time. Star Trek Deep Space Nine header image

Deep Space Nine was a different show than the others. Most obviously, it took place on a space station, and not a starship. Unlike the other shows, where the location could shift drastically from episode to episode, in Deep Space Nine, the location remained the same, with a rotating cast of visiting characters.

When DS9 first aired, I was a big fan of TNG. While I made an effort to watch the new show, the first season was a little too slow for my liking. By the time things started happening, the serial nature of the show had developed in completely unexpected directions, I had no idea on what was going on.

In essence, I failed to watch DS9 because it was different. I had become accustomed to one-off stories with an alien of the week. I quite reasonably assumed that two or three seasons in, I should be able to pick up any random episode, and pick up exactly where I left off. I can't even claim that I wasn't warned. During the first episode, the merits of a linear timeline with real consequences for actions is highlighted as one of humanity's greatest strengths.

Deep Space Nine space station

One of DS9's greatest strengths is paradoxically also its greatest weakness: a complex serial storyline. This kept me from watching it faithfully in the first run, but also fascinated me on DVD.

How does the series hold up today? I've started to watch the series again, and plan on writing my response to the show. In particular, I'm going to look at the craft of storytelling. How did the writers develop the story arcs, how effective is their characterization, and how do they deal with relevant social issues? How effectively do they integrate previous Star Trek canon? What works, and what doesn't, from a writing perspective. While I may, from time to time, comment on some of the acting, especially when it comes to characterization, I'm not really going to comment on special effects, other than when required for story purposes. For instance, there's this big wormhole which appears in space near Bajor. This wormhole is important for the story, but very little about the special effects associated with it matter to the story.

This also isn't going to be a plot review, although I'm not going to hold back on any plot reveals. The show is nearly twenty years old. The statute of limitations on spoilers is long since over. Consider yourself warned. If you're really looking for a plot recap, check out Memory Alpha.

This blog series will quite obviously take a long time to complete. Some posts will be longer than others. The first post will review the pilot episode, Emissary. It will likely be one of the longer reviews, as there is much to cover in the introduction.