The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S5E13)’

“I think it’s time for me to become the villain.”
    -- Captain Benjamin Sisko


If there’s one thing any study of history will teach you, it’s that terms like “hero” and “villain” are largely a matter of perspective. Sure, there are outliers (pretty much entirely on the villain side) who most non-sociopaths can all agree were bad, but, for the most part, one culture’s noble defender of freedom is another culture’s bloody handed madman bent on destruction.

What is easy for history is often difficult in fiction. Because history is shaped by millions of people all firmly convinced they are the main character in a vast saga, it’s easy to find conflicting viewpoints. Fiction is shaped by one person, or in the case of more collaborative media like television, a small group of people. This narrowing of perspective makes it very easy to fall entirely in line with the hero’s point of view. The bad guys are bad because they are bad, not because they have a different viewpoint or come from a different culture or are striking out against a bad situation. Sadly, this kind of thinking isn’t confined to the fictional, but this is hardly the place for a political rant.

Star Trek as a whole is a mixed bag, appropriate for a property that has existed in various forms for half a century and counting. For the most part, though, Federation officers are depicted as unimpeachable paragons of morality. Kirk and Picard were heroes of the highest sort, perhaps flirting with a few lines but never actually crossing any. Janeway and Archer crossed all sorts of lines, but the writing was haphazard enough that it was never clear if that was the intention. Kate Mulgrew has gone on record as saying she believed Janeway was bipolar, as that would explain her erratic behavior. Sisko, as befitting my favorite Trek captain, crosses lines, and when he does so, it’s the intention of the writing staff that we question whether or not this was the right thing to do.

Sisko has the richest rogue’s gallery of any of the Trek captain -- once again, the serialized nature of the show comes in handy -- with antagonists spanning the gamut from friendly dictators to sanctimonious religious leaders to genocidal shapeshifters. Of all of them, it’s the traitorous Michael Eddington that Sisko despises more than any other, and this is the episode that explores that loathing.

Ever since Eddington betrayed the Federation and absconded with the industrial replicators intended for Cardassia, Sisko has been pursuing him. This has led to the kind of undercover operations that Starfleet captains routinely participate in but never make too much sense. It doesn’t matter, because it allows a short scene where Eddington gets the drop on Sisko and explains that none of this is personal. If Sisko, and the Federation, would stop hounding the Maquis, they’ll never have to worry about them again. Sisko refuses, and Avery Brooks does an excellent job of conveying the volcanic anger he’s only barely controlling to Eddington’s face.

Other than this one moment, the entirety of the remaining scenes between Sisko and Eddington take place when they are on different ships. Because using the viewscreen so often for such long conversations would be dramatic death, they created a holo-communicator for this episode which basically allows the actors to share the same space. While it does give a bit more urgency to their scenes together, it is a little weird when this technology never really shows up again (outside of one short appearance in Sisko’s office). Maybe it was like the picture phone in real life, and no one wanted it.

The traitorous (although Eddington would claim he owes allegiance to a higher cause) security man escapes his first confrontation with Sisko and when the Defiant pursues, he activates a cascade virus in the Defiant’s systems, effectively crippling it. When they go hunting for Eddington again (against Starfleet’s implicit orders), the Defiant is only half-functional. It’s an excellent decision by the writers, as the Defiant is the ship equivalent of Worf on bath salts and would carve through Maquis raiders like a hot bat’leth through targ meat. The Defiant at half-strength allows the threat to remain real. It also lets the writers do more submarine movie homages which was probably the real reason they did it.

Odo discovers a couple more of these viruses in DS9’s systems, noting that Eddington could have shut the station down if he wanted to. Then, he wryly asks Sisko if he ever reminded Starfleet that they stationed Eddington at DS9 because they didn’t trust Odo. “No,” says Sisko. “Please do.”

Starfleet, noting that Eddington’s familiarity with Sisko is precisely what gives him an edge, takes Sisko off the hunt. Later, while working a heavy bag, Sisko rants to Dax. It’s the first time he’s ever been beaten, first time he’s ever been taken off an assignment. Eddington isn’t special either. He’s not a Changeling, or a Trill, a wormhole alien. That’s what really gets Sisko. There’s no excuse. No balm for the wound.

Eddington then embarks on his boldest or most evil (again, there’s that perspective) plan of all. Using apparently harmless material from a hijacking, he creates biogenic weapons that will poison planets for Cardassians but are utterly harmless to humans. Sisko catches him at one site (thanks to some solid detective work from Odo), but Eddington forces Sisko to make a choice by opening fire on a transport evacuating Cardassian civilians and sending it tumbling into the planet’s gravity well. Sisko chooses to save the civilians, because that’s not a line a hero should ever cross. It’s important to note here that Eddington never kills anyone, not even a Cardassian. He puts them in situations where they will be killed if they, or if someone else, do not act to save them. In this way, he maintains the status of hero in his own mind.

Sisko, however, learns to embrace the role Eddington has written for him. Eddington takes to calling Sisko “Javert” and even sends over a copy of Les Miserables, suggesting Sisko read it. In Eddington’s mind, he’s Jean Valjean, unjustly pursued by a myopic figure of authority. Sisko decides that if Eddington sees him as a villain, he’ll go ahead and be a villain. He issues what amounts to a terrorist warning to every human colony in the DMZ, then heads to one armed with a biogenic weapon that is the reverse of the one Eddington used on the Cardassians. This one only renders the planet poisonous to humans. Eddington calls Sisko’s bluff and to his horror learns Sisko wasn’t bluffing. He launches the weapon at the planet. Granted, unlike Eddington, Sisko doesn’t shoot at any evacuating transports, but still, it’s a stunning action for a Trek captain to take.

Eddington, his fantasy of being a heroic Hugo character fulfilled, surrenders to his Javert. The two poisoned planets are essentially exchanged between inhabitants, which really was the whole genesis of the conflict to begin with. Maybe I’m crazy, but I would have taken the opportunity to get the hell out of the DMZ. Although I have the advantage of knowing things are going to get a whole lot worse there very soon.


Next up: Garak gets an unexpected call.

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