“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.
“It’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise.”
-- Commander Benjamin Sisko
The above quote comes during a rant to Kira about Picard-nemesis Admiral Nechayev. She asks Sisko to “establish a dialogue” and while Sisko is far too disciplined an officer to call her out, that doesn’t stop him from uncorking a monologue as soon as Nechayev’s gone. He points out that Earth is a paradise, and that’s a problem when it comes to the Federation’s thinking. They can’t wrap their brains around anything but the perfection they see around them, and it’s cost both empathy and ability to problem-solve in the real world. He’s talking about privilege here, a term that’s only just beginning to assert itself in the national dialogue. He might as well be saying that it’s easy for the Federation to trust the Cardassians, because Cardassians don’t choke Starfleet personnel to death on camera. DS9 once again shows how relevant it is over twenty years later.
“Education is power. Joy is vulnerability.”
-- Gul Dukat
Of all Sisko’s nemeses, none got under his skin quite like the Maquis. No one likes it when their entire worldview gets called into question. So, while Sisko might hate the Borg, Gul Dukat, and the Dominion, he could also couch that hatred in the comforting balm that these people were not Federation. They had embraced the wrong ethos, so any evil they committed fit comfortably into Sisko’s own driving philosophy. The Maquis, though . . . they had no excuse.
“It is a good day to die.”
-- Lieutenant Jadzia Dax
Star Trek has always had a complicated relationship with its past. As forward thinking as the show is, it remains stubbornly mired in the time period in which it was made. The cheesy sets and optimism of TOS mark it as a child of the ‘60s, the wall-to-wall carpeting and a therapist on the bridge crew mark TNG as a product of the ‘80s, the jittery camera work and focus on mindless action mark the reboot as modern, and so on. Subsequent entries in the franchise always struggle to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, and sometimes these go far enough to suggest embarrassment. To reach a wider audience, the new entry has to look down, blush, and mutter, “Okay, I guess the Gorn look a little silly now . . . but there’s some other cool things . . . ” As much guff as DS9 gets for being un-Treklike, it is the only one of the modern shows that proudly wears its love for TOS on its sleeve.