Which brings me to my point -- DS9 is about relationships. (Now that’s a smooth segue, people.) Because Roddenberry had already shuffled off to that great nebula in the sky, DS9 decided, hey, why not have main characters who aren’t a big, happy family all the time? The show had a couple conflicts built in, with the Federation personnel on one side, and those representing the Bajoran Provisional Government on the other. As it matured, other more nuanced relationships sprung to the fore, including those between Sisko and Kira, Kira and Odo, Odo and Garak, and so on. The writers were adept and finding new ways for the ensemble to bounce off one another and draw things from characters that were not immediately apparent. No relationship would come to define the show more than the odd couple of Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien. This week’s episode, “The Storyteller,” introduces that pairing, and good thing, too, because there’s f--k all else going on here.
The basic plot is this: Bashir gets a distress call from a Bajoran village, and O’Brien is tasked with chauffeuring him down. What Bashir assumes to be some kind of horrible plague turns out to be one old man dying of old age. But, this isn’t any old man, this is the “Sirah,” some kind of special position in this village. Once a year, for five consecutive nights, the Sirah has to lead the village in the battle against the Dal’Rok, a fearsome monster that comes out of the woods. This battle is mostly just narrating a story while the wind kicks up. And, the Dal’Rok pretty much just looks like a blob of shaving cream floating in the sky. If it seems like an especially silly episode of TNG, that’s because it was originally written as one. They dusted the script off and rewrote it for Bashir and O’Brien.
Anyway, the Sirah dies, and O’Brien gets named the new Sirah. He’s not up to the task, and the Sirah’s apprentice has to take over, thus saving the village. So, what’s up with the Dal’Rok? You’d think the Cardassians would notice a photon torpedo-spewing flying wad of Gillette, wouldn’t you? Turns out that a long time ago, the village was being torn apart with internal strife, so the first Sirah used a fragment from one of the Orbs of the Prophets (Remember them?) to turn that strife into an external enemy. Now, the village unites against the Dal’Rok, guided by the Sirah’s narration, and defeats it. It’s still silly, but I did appreciate that bit of an explanation. The Prophets are so alien, their technology is basically magic, and I’m fine with this.
The best scenes of the episode are between Bashir and O’Brien, polar opposites in nearly every way. Bashir is a young officer and bachelor with an upper-class British accent, naïvely searching for adventure on the frontier. O’Brien is a middle-aged married man with a kid, defiantly working-class Irish, an enlisted man and a veteran haunted by the war against the Cardassians. The episode opens with O’Brien’s palpable distaste for Bashir, and it’s actually refreshing to see someone in the Star Trek universe just dislike someone for personal reasons. Granted, they come around in the end, but there was a bit of a struggle there. Bashir and O’Brien are sort of the two everyman heroes of the show (until that changes in one of their cases . . . stay tuned), these two guys from Earth facing impossible odds yet somehow always come out on top. They’re perfect Starfleet characters, too; both are fundamentally decent, though burdened with flaws -- Bashir’s arrogance, and O’Brien’s anti-Cardassian racism and Charlie Brown-caliber luck -- that would have made them black sheep on the Enterprise.
Meanwhile, back on the station, Sisko is hosting talks between two rival factions of Bajorans, the Paqu and the Navot. I personally enjoy this kind of thing, as sci-fi can often get very homogenous when it comes to the depiction of alien races. Having separate tribes, or clans, or ethnicities, or countries, or whatever these are, on Bajor is a refreshing change that gives the impression of a richer world. The border between these two groups has always been a river, and the Cardassians diverted that river during the Occupation, placing a bunch of Navot land into Paqu hands (if you go by the letter of the treaty). Now, the conflict between these two has the potential to explode into full civil war.
Complicating matters is the Tetrarch of the Paqu: she’s fifteen years old (played by the 23-year-old Gina Philips of Jeepers Creepers), and she has something to prove. She has made the mistake that should be readily identifiable to modern politically minded audiences: she believes that compromise is the same thing as weakness. Lucky for her, she runs into Jake and Nog, the latter of whom is instantly smitten, because she’s played by 23-year-old Gina Philips. The boys engage with her as equals, which is a refreshing change for a young woman used to the burden of leadership. It’s tough to be a Tetrarch, I guess.
The crazy thing is Nog has a solution to the problem. While the Federation has been butting its head futilely against the two factions, Nog asks the Tetrarch some salient questions: namely, how much do the Navot want the land, and what would they be willing to give up for it? Essentially, what Nog is doing is using the good side of capitalism. Everyone gets something they want by giving up something they don’t want quite as much. The Tetrarch takes that lesson and returns the land in exchange for trading concessions.
Yep. Trading concessions and a shaving cream monster. It’s not DS9’s finest hour, but there’s some good stuff to be found in there.
Next up: Jake and Nog enter the fast-paced, high-powered world of Cardassian condiment trading.