“On this station, you are the thin, beige line between order and chaos.”
-- Lwaxana Troi to Odo
Majel Barrett was the first lady of Star Trek. Though her name or her face might not be instantly recognizable, she appears in TNG, DS9, and Voyager as the voice of the Federation computer. She’s also integral to the mythology of the franchise, playing both Spock’s non-Kirk love, Nurse Chapel, and Counselor Deanna Troi’s mom, Lwaxana. It’s the latter role that has probably made the bigger impact on modern fans, and this week, she’s bringing the act to Deep Space Nine.
“Too many people dream of places they’ll never go, wish for things they’ll never have, instead of paying adequate attention to their real lives.”
-- Constable Odo
I’m going to level with you guys here. This is a tough one to write about. Not just because it’s bad, but because it’s bad in precisely the ways I’ve previously complained about in Season One’s other lowlights. It feels like a terrible episode of TNG. The characters have yet to come to life. It’s so very, very silly in that way only bad Star Trek can be. But, when picked apart, the episode actually does have some fascinating territory to cover.
“You know what the Cardassians were like. What weapons they had. We didn’t stand a chance against them!”
“How’d you beat ‘em then?”
--Kira and Mullibok
When people say they hate DS9, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about this episode. That’s not to say it’s bad; on the contrary, it has some nice character work for Nana Visitor’s Major Kira and a great guest turn by Brian Keith as cranky Bajoran farmer Mullibok. It just exemplifies everything that people complain about whenever DS9 comes up in conversation. It’s slow. They don’t go anywhere. Bajorans are annoying. Sometimes, I think that the people who dislike DS9 (also known as “The Factually Incorrect”) have only ever seen this episode. That would be like judging the entirety of TNG on “The Royale.”
“For all we know, you really were sent by the Prophets.”
“I was sent by Commander Sisko!”
- Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien
Roddenberry’s vision was of a future where all men are brothers. (Sorry, gay guys.) There would be no interpersonal conflict in the utopian Federation, which makes writing for Star Trek a unique challenge. Fortunately, the show happened to be about a bunch of maniacs piled into a starship zooming around space, looking for trouble. Yes, I realize I just made Captain Kirk sound like some kind of space greaser, but, in my defense, that’s exactly what he was. Kirk existed to punch half the things and have sex with the other half. If he had just been a fist attached to a penis, his job performance would not have suffered in the least.
“When you cease to fear death the rules of war change.”
The narrative of the first season of DS9, and it’s a point I’ve made over and over and will likely continue to make, is the writers trying to understand the kinds of stories they can tell within the format of the show. Eventually, they’ll learn that DS9 is the great paradox of Trek shows: to work within the format, they have to break that same format, and we’ll end up with some of the most bracing, fascinating, and, yes, dark storytelling the franchise has ever seen. With this first season, the writers are stumbling around, flirting with various elements that will grow to define the series, and many that will get mercifully abandoned. To their credit, they recognize when something is working and when something isn’t (Haven’t heard from Primmin lately, have we?), and developing the show in that direction. This week’s episode, “Battle Lines,” is nearly recognizable as the series I love.
“You think the whole galaxy is plotting around you, don’t you? Paranoia must run in your species, Odo. Maybe that’s why no one has ever seen another shapeshifter. They’re all hiding!” -- Quark
It’s pretty easy to see why Odo was the first breakout character of the show. It’s like they took a checklist of all the things guaranteed to connect with an audience and applied it to him. Loner with a mysterious past? Check. Only one of his kind? Check. Cool powers? Check. Gruff exterior masking a deep inner pain only curable with the love of a good woman? You better believe that’s a check. It’s a wonder that more people didn’t grow up nursing an impossible Odo crush or wander around conventions wearing Team Odo shirts. “Vortex,” the eleventh episode of the first season, once again turns the spotlight on our favorite grouchy ball of amber protoplasm, but instead of focusing solely on Odo’s preoccupation with justice, it tests that against the great unanswered question of his origin.
“Never trust anyone who places your prosperity above their own.”
-- Grand Nagus Zek
The Ferengi were originally intended as TNG’s Klingons, the shadowy foil to the shiny, happy Federation. Introduced with some fanfare in “The Last Outpost,” the cannibalistic monsters of that episode, with their energy whips and Worf-beating prowess, are scarcely recognizable as the cheerfully greedy space capitalists that we know and presumably love. The Ferengi never worked as a convincing other (even their name, derived from the Arabic faranji, or “foreigner,” states this purpose for the race), but they do function as a fascinating and often hilarious counterpoint to Starfleet. They’re basically a bunch of hard-charging capitalist hustlers from the go-go ‘80s trying to exist in the middle of a post-scarcity utopian economy. The stories practically write themselves.
“No favorite of mine!”
-- Avery Brooks on this episode
The most bracing thing about the Trek universe is how different the basic pitches for each show are. TOS is about one tiny ship exploring a huge and terrifying galaxy. TNG is about the flagship of a mighty utopia, juggling exploration and diplomacy with aplomb. DS9 was a highly serialized space opera, dealing with the dark side of utopia. Voyager was a lost vessel, a survival adventure against the backdrop of unexplored space. Yet, for the first season, every Star Trek show thinks it’s the one before it. Voyager featured a mutiny, some imported villains from DS9, and the kind of skullduggery that a lost ship really can’t afford. TNG had cheeseball sets, unconvincing bad guys, and scripts that seemed to date from the ‘60s. It’s not just that the first season thinks it’s the show previous, it’s that it thinks it’s only the bad parts of that show. This brings me to “Move Along Home,” this week’s episode of DS9, which really feels like a bad TNG episode.
“Fate has granted me a gift, Major. A gift to be a healer.”
--Dr. Julian Bashir
It’s tough to know what to make of DS9’s resident medical officer on first blush. He’s naïve, arrogant, and oblivious to all but the most blatant social cues. He’s eager for challenges, but doesn’t yet know what those challenges mean. He embodies the can-do, starry-eyed, boyish sense of adventure that the British Empire always imagined it had. He is a pretty bold creation by the writing staff, if they intended him as I believe they did: a character as intentionally obnoxious as possible, that they might eventually redeem somehow. Bashir’s character becomes even more fascinating in retrospect, as a later revelation places his early overweening arrogance in a much darker context.
“I’m telling you, I knew the man!”
“But, did you know the symbiont inside the man?”
-- Commander Sisko and Constable Odo
On my first trip through DS9, I always dreaded Dax episodes. Not because they were bad, but because they meant that this week I wasn’t getting a Kira episode, or an Odo episode, or the black tar heroin of episodes, a Garak episode. On this trip through the show, I’m hoping to analyze exactly why Dax episodes don’t quite work as well as others. Your mileage may vary, of course. It’s possible Dax is your favorite character, and, in that case, don’t let me curb your enjoyment. On the surface, I get the appeal. Dax is a classic, strong woman archetype. She’s tough, she’s smart, and uniquely for that niche, she’s wise. Unlike many later heroines, Dax is refreshingly sex-positive, and the show never wags its finger or clucks its tongue at her for it. And, because I would be remiss if I didn’t point it out, she’s played by the ridiculously gorgeous Terry Farrell.