“Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
-- Elim Garak
Theme is one of those things that makes writers clap our hands in childish glee and makes the rest of the world either roll their eyes or do nothing at all, because they never noticed. Really, there’s no reason you should notice theme on first viewing/reading/however our alien overlords process entertainment. The responsibility of the creator is first to craft a good story, and all other priorities, to paraphrase the Nostromo’s Science Officer, are rescinded. Theme makes subsequent viewings richer, basically because everything in the work is making the same point.
“If you want to know who you are, it’s important to know who you’ve been.”
-- Lieutenant Jadzia Dax
One of my selfish motives when starting this ill-advised project (I’ll be done in two years! Two!) was finding patterns that I never noticed in my previous fandom. The oddest trend I’ve found is that the fourth episode of the first three seasons is a Dax episode, and it’s invariably a bit of a let down.
“A brave Ferengi. Who would have thought it possible?”
-- Chancellor Gowron
Memory is the Cliff’s Notes of the brain. I might be dating myself with that reference, but the point stands. It grinds experiences down to the highlights, smoothing out the rough edges (if you’re normal) or sharpening them to a mirror shine (if you’re like me). In many cases, all I have are vague memories of an episode, just enough to write those silly, little “Next Up"s at the ends of these reviews. This week’s episode, “The House of Quark,” stayed with me far better than most. It might be my favorite Ferengi episode in the series (possibly tied with Season 6’s “The Magnificent Ferengi”) for the way it re-contextualizes heroism through the lens of one species playing off another.
“There’s an old saying on Cardassia: ‘Enemies make dangerous friends,’ and I fear the Dominion will make a very dangerous friend, indeed.”
-- Elim Garak
When you base a character around a single mysterious hook, you’ve got yourself a dilemma. On one hand, you probably have a breakout character, since a hook powerful enough to hang a character on tends to be fascinating. On the other, you’ve entered into a pact with your audience. They believe that because you’ve created a mystery, it’s now on you to solve it. The irony is that the audience rarely actually wants answers -- they want their personal answer to be it, or even better, something cooler than their answer, and anything less is a let down. This is, of course, impossible to do for everyone, so answering this mystery is a fool’s errand.
-- The Female Changeling
I’ve said it before, but the most common debate amongst Niners is when exactly DS9 “gets good.” While I think this is slightly the wrong question to be asking, it bears mentioning, because this week’s episode, the first of the third season, really does feel like a turn is occurring. This is not to say that Season 2 was bad -- the tail end especially is excellent -- but this hour feels like a show trying out a bunch of things and seeing what clicks.
“If the Dominion comes through the wormhole, the first battle will be fought here. And, I intend to be ready for them.”
-- Commander Benjamin Sisko
Villains define not just their heroes, but the fiction we love. Would Star Wars be as beloved without the iconic Darth Vader? Would Batman be as compelling without the Joker? Would The Road Warrior still be a masterpiece if it didn’t feature the Lord Humungus, the greatest (and most reasonable) bad guy in fiction? Villains are even important in the conflict-free vision of Star Trek. The original gave us Klingons, Romulans, Tholians, Gorn, and an exceptionally grumpy piece of ‘70s shag carpeting, most of which are remembered pretty fondly even by non-fans. This episode, titled “The Jem’Hadar,” is a fascinating one on the subject of Trek-villainy, and perhaps the most important for DS9.
“The offender, Miles O’Brien, human, officer of the Federation, Starfleet, has been found guilty of aiding and abetting seditious acts against the state. The sentence is death. Let the trial begin.”
-- Chief Archon Makbar
Sometimes, your best ideas come out of other, unrelated ideas. Remember Gul Dukat’s random-at-the-time monologue about the wonders of the Cardassian justice system in Part 2 of “The Maquis?” The trials are speedy, efficient, and determined in advance. The verdict is always guilty because Cardassians don’t make mistakes, and besides, the true purpose of the justice system is to show the people that the state is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. You know, the big three of oppressive regimes. Unfortunately, manpower shortages make them pretty much impossible goals. Automation will cure that one, too! I’m digressing into some pretty depressing territory, but can you blame me? The Cardassian Empire is frickin’ terrifying.
“The one thing I’ve learned about you humanoids is that in extreme situations, even the best of you are capable of doing terrible things.”
-- Constable Odo
If you decided to learn only one rule of writing, here’s the one you want: conflict is king. In order to tell a story, you need some form of conflict, which can be in any form you like. Person A wants to do something, and Person B would rather they didn’t. That’s it. The story is working that disagreement out, and this formula appears in everything from The Lord of the Rings (Frodo would like to throw the One Ring in Mount Doom, while Sauron would rather he didn’t.) to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (The evil developer would like to bulldoze the community center, while Turbo and Ozone would rather he didn’t.) “But, Justin,” you say, “what about Twilight? Those barely had any conflict at all, and when it did, it always got sorted out pretty easily!” Well, unseen person, if we were in the same room, I would have just slapped you across the face. So, please do that for me now. The rest of us can wait.
“This man is a doctor where he comes from. And, there’s an O’Brien there, just like me. Except he’s some kind of high-up chief of operations. And, they’re Terrans. Maybe it’s a fairy tale he made up, but it started me thinking how each of us might have turned out, had history been just a little bit different.”
-- Smiley O’Brien
What is DS9 about? Say it with me, everybody! Consequences! Yes, the point I keep harping on reaches perhaps its most ridiculous extreme in this week’s episode. We’re going to discuss that, but to get there, I need to do a quick sidebar about facial hair.
“Out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?”
“My dear doctor, they’re all true.”
“Even the lies?”
“Especially the lies.”
-- Dr. Bashir and Garak
I’ve made no secret of my love for plain, simple Garak, the Cardassian tailor who might be in exile, might be a spy, or as he suggested to Dr. Bashir in a previous episode, might be a spy in exile. It should come as no shock that this is my favorite hour of the second season. Oh, there are episodes more important to continuity, ones that are thematically richer, and ones with actual space battles. None of that compares with the chance to get the origin story of DS9’s most enigmatic inhabitant. Well, kind of. Nothing is ever plain and simple with Garak.