The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E20)’

“Someone once said, ‘Life is a search to find the peace that you once had when you were safe inside your mother.’”
     -- Lwaxana Troi

“Write what you know” is the most common piece of advice writers get. It’s also terrible advice, since it would completely eliminate a ton of genres a lot of people really like. It’s also part of the reason so many fictional characters are professional writers. Writers might not know what it’s like to be a cop in inner-city Detroit, or an architect in Zurich, or a masked vigilante in Hong Kong, but we have a pretty good idea of how a writer conducts their day-to-day. When I started, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about writers, but as my career as progressed, I’ve found it almost unavoidable.

Jake Sisko’s writing makes sense in this context, and it’s always nice to see someone in the Trek universe who has no desire to join Starfleet. Like a real kid, Jake had no idea what he wanted to do with this life, and the writers found his character organically. First he was just a little kid, then he was pressured by his dad into apprenticing with Chief O’Brien, then he was a poetry-writing dom-jot hustler. This season’s standout “The Visitor” laid out Jake’s destiny as a writer of prose.

Jake has been absent for large swaths of the fourth season. I will forever be grateful to the writers for the decision to use the character sparingly. Not because I don’t like Jake -- I do, and more to the point, I think he’s a well-drawn and important character -- but because shoe-horning him into every episode would afflict him with the Skyler White Curse. Generally speaking, a hero’s family only exists in the narrative to provide a contrast with their crazy life. Because the writers aren’t sure what to do with them and still want them around, they inevitably turn into wet blankets. Any character whose only goal is to stop awesome people from being awesome is not going to be fun to watch. The DS9 writers use Jake just enough, to show that Sisko is a great father and that Jake growing into his own man.

Writers writing about writing, however, can get a little weird. It’s an odd process, and when doing it seriously, looks more like craft than art. This can turn off the casual observer. People tend to like the romantic notion that writers sit down and mainline lightning from the Almighty Muse, writing like people possessed. The idea that we might plan ahead and coldly pace our characters through a story is looked at as some kind of betrayal. So in fictional representations, there’s a lot of talk about inspiration, about not knowing where the story is going, about writing what’s in your gut. To paraphrase Archer, that’s how you get plot holes.

They also can indulge a writer’s fantasies about what writing should be like. Imagine, for example, a beautiful woman who does nothing but massage your head and watches you write, all while teetering at the edge of a shattering orgasm, your art being the entire purpose of her existence. Ridiculous, right? Well, it’s the plot of this episode. An alien, Onaya, who has serves as a muse to tons of artists all over the galaxy (including Keats, because why not), has her sights set on Jake. Problem is, as she inspires, she also kills, feeding on the creative energy that’s being produced. She unlocks the complex machine of the novel in Jake’s mind (in a nice bit of continuity, it’s Anslem, the book mentioned in “The Visitor”), while simultaneously destroying him. And yes, this means there are multiple scenes where a main character is writing. Riveting stuff.

The other plot concerns Lwaxana Troi’s return to the station. She’s pregnant, so hooray for medical science, but her new husband has some weird cultural mores. He’s from a species -- the Tavnians -- where the children are strictly segregated by gender. Because the baby is a boy, he’ll be taken away from Lwaxana to be raised by the husband Jeyal (played by Michael “Kang” Ansara, in his inauspicious final DS9 appearance). Lwaxana initially wants to hide out with Odo, but soon Jeyal locates her and they need a plan B.

Odo works out that a green card marriage will satisfy Jeyal’s race’s laws, and afterwards they can get a quiet divorce. The problem is, the Tavnians have a narratively-convenient wedding ceremony where the new husband has to convince those attending (including the ex, if there is one) that he really, really, honestly wants to marry the woman. The ex is even allowed to confront him in the middle of it if he wishes. Since Odo has an adversarial relationship with his feelings, this is a slightly worse fate than his present exile.

Of course, he comes through in the end, with a touching speech about what Lwaxana means to him. It’s the only thing in this entire mess of an episode that works. Essentially, before her, he assumed he was ugly and unappealing to all humanoids, a party trick to be used for amusement and discarded just as quickly. Lwaxana, through her weird stalking (he doesn’t say that, but still), showed him that he did have something to offer. She made him feel like a whole person for the first time. It’s a pretty good reason to want to marry someone, if you ask me. It’s not the most important, though, as Lwaxana later points out. He doesn’t love her, and without that, she would only resent him.

This episode is pretty terrible, possibly worst in the fourth season. This whole thing was stitched together from two separate pitches, like a Frankenstein monster with fetal alcohol syndrome. Majel Barrett Roddenberry pitched the Lwaxana story, but that wasn’t working for a full episode, so writer Rene Echevarria tried to turn it into a four-couple love story featuring plots for Rom/Leeta, Sisko/Kasidy, and O’Brien/Keiko. The other couples were thrown out, and the whole thing was welded to the Jake/Onaya story. They don’t really work together thematically (maybe they’re both about commitment?), and neither one of them is very compelling.

The real irony is that an episode based so strongly in the divine power of inspiration should find itself lacking any of that ineffable quality.

Next up: There’s a Maquis traitor in their midst.

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