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.

The Pathos of Superheroes

I've always been more of a fan of the Batman, than of Superman. Even the angst teenaged Spider-man seems more engaging than Supes. I'm by no means a comic geek. Most of my exposure to these franchises has been through film and television. Admittedly, it's been many years since I actually watched one of the Superman films, and I don't think that I've made much effort to watch Superman Returns.

As a kid, I think the only Superman comics I read were the Death of Superman series, back in 1993. The fall of Superman made him more than just vulnerable. At the time, this seemed shocking, that the impervious hero could be brought down.

The Death of Superman. Superman Vol 2 Issue 75 cover

Setting aside for the moment, whether the back story of Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents' murder, or Peter Parker feeling responsible for the murder of his uncle, is felt deeper than the destruction of some distant homeland, lets consider some of the attributes of these heroes.

Superman is an alien being. Outwardly human, and with an all-American heartland upbringing, there is little about his appearance to set him aside as someone different. Yet he is stronger and faster than mere mortals. Generally invulnerable to anything, except Kryptonite. Superman's defence of Truth, Justice, and the American Way has a saccharine quality, too good to be true.

There's no fundamental conflict in his character. There are no moral choices that define his character. In the first Superman movie, when Lois Lane dies because Superman fails to stop a missile from setting off an earthquake, he goes back in time to save her. Talk about a missed opportunity for character development. Why should I feel for any of his choices when he can apparently just call for a do-over?

This is in fact the exact choice they made in The Dark Knight film. Batman is offered a choice: save District Attorney Harvey Dent, or save his love interest Rachel Dawes. Batman makes the opposite choice that Superman made: save the girl. The twist is that the Joker switched the locations: in choosing to save Rachel, he instead saves Dent. This is what character development is made of. Even though he made the arguably selfish choice, he still loses. More to the point, he also loses the moral high ground.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns cover

I'm reading The Dark Knight Returns, written and drawn by Frank Miller. This series is highly influential, and when published in 1986, reshaped the perception of Batman, probably in ways which colour my view of superheroes today. But the seeds of Batman's character were planted long before.

Batman is driven by his obsession: avenging his parent's death. He's a crime fighter, but it's driven by vengeance. Superman is a crime fighter too, I suppose, but he stands for virtue and cultural values. Superman fights for what is right. Batman fights because it feels right.

The origin stories of our heroes are all different, and this is where the current controversy comes from. The earlier versions of Superman's origins are that his home world of Krypton was destroyed, and he was the last survivor, sent as an infant to Earth.

There are rumoured changes to Superman's origin story in the new film, where Krypton still exists, and that Superman's exile to Earth is for some other reason. Some folks at io9 suggest that this will alter Superman's character in a rather fundamental way. I would tend to agree with the pageofreviews which instead suggests that this actually makes his character more interesting.

Finally, we get a choice. Why does Superman stay on Earth, when he could return to Krypton? Why should Krypton matter? Is Superman in exile any more interesting than Superman the infant refugee? Can we sow some seeds of discord into Superman's origin? Can Superman still inspire us if he has internal conflict? I think so, and it might just restore some humanity to the Man of Steel.