first contact

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: If Wishes Were Horses

To be honest, If Wishes Were Horses really didn't capture my imagination. Manufactured crises with deus ex machina endings just don't cut it. Still, there are some redeeming qualities in the episode, one of which is watching Bashir try to explain to Jadzia Dax why his subconscious created a version of Dax that has the single goal of seducing him. Dax passionately kisses Bashir while he checks his tricorder

Wormhole aliens

This is a different twist on a First Contact story. Some wormhole aliens tap into the subconscious minds of the inhabitants of DS9, and take on forms from their imagination. Some hand wavy techno-babble is used, but the main point is to enable a story which uses the power of imagination, something which Odo refers to as a waste of time.

It's an interesting idea, but doesn't really get developed enough. Instead of focusing on the idea of a first contact story, this is really a disaster of the week type of story. If you can't yet tell, I'm not usually a fan of this type of story, unless it can offer something exceptional in the way of character development. Sadly, there is nothing really new or novel in this episode. Bashir's infatuation with Dax is already well established, and nothing really interesting occurs.

Dax, Bashir, and Dax

Aside from the usual banter between Quark and Odo, the most amusing parts of this episode are between Dax and Bashir. Bashir is, as Dax puts it "very young", especially from the perspective of a Trill. By this, she of course means that Bashir is overly amorous, towards basically any female who moves.

When the wormhole aliens take on the forms of the crew's imaginations, one of the primary manifestations is a "dream" Dax, who just seems to want to get close to Bashir. Its amusing, and I can see why this episode may be a favourite for the actors in question. It is a little awkward to kiss your coworker's clone while she watches.

A fake Dax fawns over Bashir, who tries to look busy by listening to the real Dax.

Rumplestiltskin

A dwarf who keeps asks O'Brien what services he needs, with implied threats to his firstborn, young Molly. Quite possibly the weakest part of the episode. Apparently, this was originally written as a leprechaun, but Colm Meany protested the racial aspects of an Irish stereotype. I'm not really sure that this was much of an improvement, as I felt this was the weakest thread in the episode. Last minute changes to scripts tend to water down the script.

The dwarf Rumplestiltskin

Buck Bokai and Baseball

As I mentioned in my review of Emissary, Deep Space 9's sport of choice is baseball. While it's useful as an analogy for linear time, in this episode, baseball is used to talk about simulations. Buck Bokai was a player for an LA Kings team, and Sisko and Jake have recreated his entire career in the holosuites. There are some nice things said about the nature of audiences.

Sisko and Jake meet the baseball legend Buck Bokai from the holosuite program

Quark and Odo

There are some amusing scenes with Quark. As we've seen in previous episodes, he enjoys spending time with beautiful women... unless money is on the line. His wish fulfilment in the episode involves two scantily clad women, who promptly disappear once Quark realizes that everyone in his bar is wishing to win at the dabo table, and that Quark is rapidly going out of business.

Quark is enthralled by two scantily clad women

Soon thereafter, it turns out that Odo does have an imagination, and his deepest desire is to hold Quark in a holding cell.

The problem of the week

In the end, the crisis of the episode was a figment of the crews imagination, something that threatened to tear the station apart. Its solved by realizing that it is a figment, and that there is no anomaly.

The viewscreen shows the space anomaly which will destroy the station

After the crew solves this problem, there is a final discussion between Sisko and the wormhole aliens, before they depart. They hint at returning in the future, but thankfully, this episode is never repeated.

If Wishes Were Horses first aired 16 May 1993. Teleplay by Neil McCue Crawford, William L Crawford and Michael Piller. Story by Neil McCue Crawford and William L. Crawford. Directed by Robert Legato.

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

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.