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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S1E16)’

“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.

This is the last of the first season episodes that bring characters from TNG over to its sister show, and it feels the most organic, despite the compelling argument to be made that Lwaxana only exists due to nepotism.  She’s a Federation ambassador, after all, and what with the Gamma Quadrant right there, there’s a lot of things to ambassad . . . ambassa . . . uh . . . talk to on behalf of Starfleet.  Her group (Gaggle? Herd? Swarm?) of four ambassadors are on DS9 for an eventual fact-finding trip through the wormhole, whatever that means.  In the meantime, Dr. Bashir has been assigned as their handler, mostly so Sisko doesn’t have to deal with it.  Lwaxana has other things on her mind.  The same ones she always does.

After Odo effortlessly finds her stolen brooch, she is smitten and proceeds to stalk Odo through the station.  After watching Dr. Bashir do much the same thing to Dax last week, it was illuminating to see the other side of it.  And, Bashir, as inappropriate as he is, was never as bad as Lwaxana.  At one point, she even corners Odo in his office, leaning in for a kiss while the Constable nearly cowers.  I couldn’t help but flip the genders in my mind (Although Odo is technically genderless or bi-gendered depending on your point of view, he manifests and identifies as male.) and came to the conclusion that Odo should have tased her.  As with the other cases of extreme sexual aggression, I can’t help but think that social mores really have changed in the last twenty years (at least from the perspective of someone who has been with the same woman for the last seventeen of those years, is painfully shy and awkward when it comes to romance, and perhaps, most importantly, is a medium to large-sized man).  Maybe things haven’t changed at all, and I was only seeing what it’s like for women?  In that case, ladies, you should tase some motherf---ers.  Because that was not okay.

It’s not the only reference to sexual assault in this episode either.  When Bashir is complaining about having to babysit the pathologically miserable ambassadors, Sisko tells him that Curzon Dax used to love to assign him (Sisko, that is.) to do the same thing.  That stopped when Sisko caught an ambassador dragging a young ensign into his quarters against her will.  Sisko punched the guy out, because Sisko is awesome.  Still, though, what the hell, Federation?  This was supposed to be a utopia.  And, before people want to blame DS9 for darkening Roddenberry’s vision, remember that Tasha Yar came from a failed colony infested with -- and these are her words -- “rape gangs,” so Roddenberry was being plenty dark on his own.  It’s a weird moment, and after Sisko related the story, I couldn’t help but wonder about the screening process Starfleet uses.  A sex criminal would be the worst person to pick as an ambassador! Even over someone who sells Amway.

The main engine of the plot is an alien probe coming through the wormhole and downloading some code into DS9’s computer.  This code turns out to be a non-biological lifeform of some kind, relishing the attention it receives from O’Brien as he’s forced to fix the computer.  So, the creature begins causing failures all around the station.  O’Brien comes up with an elegant and very Starfleety solution to the problem, building what amounts to a doghouse of computer code to keep the lifeform entertained without destroying it.  And, that’s where it stays through the entire run of the show.

The Lwaxana and Odo plot does recover from the initial weirdness, as the two of them end up stuck in a turbolift sabotaged by the lifeform’s quest for attention.  References have been made to Odo’s need to return to his liquid state every sixteen hours to regenerate, but this is the first time we get to see it.  At the beginning of their time together, Lwaxana does nothing but yammer on about her life.  Eventually, she begins to question Odo about his, and we learn that he was raised in a lab and in his early days was humiliated as what amounts to a sentient party trick.  “‘Odo, be a chair.’ I’m a chair.  ‘Odo be a razorcat.’ I’m a razorcat,” he bitterly reminisces.  Odo’s early dehumanization sheds light on his present, humorless facade.  When he can no longer hold his shape and is literally melting, he still can’t bring himself to revert to liquid.  Odo is horribly ashamed of this quirk of biology, protesting that it’s a private matter.  Lwaxana comforts him here, taking off her wig to show that she’s not so different.  It’s a wonderful scene, and the first time I understood what it was all those men saw in Lwaxana in the first place.  Odo allows himself to become his reddish-amber blob, and she holds him on her lap.

As for the ambassadors, they’re mostly dedicated to being awful.  There is a great moment when the Vulcan ambassador goes to mansplain something at Dax, but Bashir stops him, gently pointing out that the “young woman” over there has over three hundred years of experience.  (Be that guy, Julian! Respect Dax for being cool!)  The lifeform’s quest for attention becomes potentially deadly when Bashir and the three non-Lwaxana ambassadors are trapped by a plasma fire.  Fortunately, Bashir steps up and saves them all, to their grateful praise.  He even accepts the compliment well, brushing it off as “being in the right place at the right time.”  He’s learning!


Next up: The crew discovers LARPing.

Justin Robinson is the author of many novels and can be found in his lair at captainsupermarket.com.  He would like to emphasize that, contrary to rumors, he is, in fact, a mammal, though still has not obtained documentation to prove it.

Favorite Golden Girl:  Rose
Favorite Cheese Form:  Melted
Favorite God: Hanuman