“Die with honor, O’Brien.” — Tosk
From the very beginning, the Gamma Quadrant was DS9‘s most tantalizing promise. An entire sector of unexplored space, in which anything could be waiting. In the early going, it was pretty clear that the show wasn’t quite sure how to fulfill that promise. By the second season, the team of writers led by Ira Steven Behr would surpass it, but, for the time being, it was to be used for the kinds of episodes more suited to TNG. Just instead of going to the new life and new civilizations, they would have to come through the wormhole to the cast.
On a side note, Voyager made the same promise, this time with the Delta Quadrant. That show instantly squandered it by inventing yet another kind of Klingon. It’s a total coincidence that the Star Trek brass were focused on Voyager while actual writers ran DS9.
Anyway, “Captive Pursuit” is the first episode that attempts to explore all the weird stuff on the other end of the galaxy. The results are . . . mixed. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but, in light of some later revelations, it becomes a little more problematic. I’m going to have to talk about those, so here’s the fair warning for SPOILERS on a show that’s been off the air for fifteen years.
It’s a normal day in Ops, by which I mean a Dabo girl (Those are the half-naked hostesses you see at Quark’s . . . which I haven’t mentioned, so, oh yeah, there are these half-naked hostesses at Quark’s.) is complaining to Commander Sisko of sexual harassment. It seems that the contracts Quark has his Dabo girls sign include a provision specifying that they have sex with him. Quark is a Ferengi, and Ferengi don’t have the most enlightened attitudes when it comes to women. This was established over on TNG, with Ferengi being baffled that Starfleet allowed women to be part of a starship’s crew, or even wear clothes. DS9 will have a great deal of fun with these social mores, but, for the time being, they’re just re-establishing what we know about everyone’s favorite big-eared space capitalists. Sisko promises to deal with it, and that was the last we’ll ever hear about that. Actually, no, it’ll come back later. I thought I’d mention it now, because Ferengi morality is one of the more fascinating aspects of the show.
The actual plot arrives in the form of a damaged spacecraft coming through the wormhole. Its sole occupant is a crocodile-like alien who seems like he’s in a bit of a hurry to the point that he’s ready to let his ship tear itself apart rather than stop for repairs. Although, to be fair, if I went into an uncharted part of space and all of a sudden these aliens who live in a giant metal spine-monster were being all creepily friendly and offering me free stuff, I’d be expecting an anal probe at best. O’Brien talks him down (proving that, crocodile or not, he’s more of a trusting soul than I) and welcomes him to the station. O’Brien is a great, if counterintuitive, choice to establish informal first contact. This episode does a great job of establishing O’Brien’s quiet humanity and showing how he, with simple decency, can navigate the troubled waters of an alien culture. It also showcases O’Brien’s past as a soldier: it’s easy to forget that the mild-mannered guy who transported Picard on a hundred away missions was a seething cauldron of badassitude just waiting for a suitable face to blast.
The alien responds to requests for his name, species, and purpose with the useful, “I am Tosk.” If you’re playing a drinking game with this episode, and the trigger is that line, it’s probably best to have poison control on speed dial. Tosk (or the Tosk) has some pretty impressive abilities. He can turn invisible (by adopting this weird, heavyset ninja pose), can jump fifteen feet in the air, and has superhuman strength. O’Brien pretty quickly realizes that Tosk is on the run from something, but from what is impossible to say. Though Tosk lies about the damage to his ship, chalking it up to a bumpy trip through the wormhole, O’Brien knows a plasma burn when he sees one. Still, he doesn’t sense actual dishonesty or criminal intent from the guy.
And, here’s my problem with the episode. In “Babel,” when Quark wanted to use the replicators on the command deck, he had to do a little Star Trek hacking. He really wasn’t doing anything other than sticking some little, clear rods into a computer, but it was something. In this episode, Tosk strolls up to the computer in his quarters and is like, “Hey, where the weapons?” and the computer is like, “Right over here, but you need security clearance to get them!” And, I’m like, “REALLY?!” Come on, DS9, I know you’re administrated by the Federation, but you’re a Bajoran station. You need better security than that. How about when a guest asks a question like that, you tell them that the answer is inside one of Odo’s holding cells? It’ll save some time.
That’s where Tosk ends up incidentally, because Odo is good at his job. The answer to all our questions arrives around then when another ship comes through the wormhole. Ignoring hails, they beam over a group of armed and armored aliens, who immediately go after Tosk. (The beaming effects are really cool, too — I’ve always enjoyed how every species had a slightly different version of the same technology.) There’s a shootout on the Promenade, and we learn that Odo never uses a phaser, probably because if he did he’d already run the Alpha Quadrant. (Put a pin in that, folks, I’m only half joking.) The aliens are visibly disappointed that Tosk has been captured alive, and when they remove their helmets, they reveal faces that are similar, but smoother (and with full heads of long, lustrous hair) than Tosk’s. Turns out Tosks are a subspecies, a caste bred to be hunted. Sure, they’re essentially sentient game animals, but these other aliens revere the whole warrior tradition of the whole thing. Tosk, being captured alive, is the most shameful thing that could possibly happen. So, they’re pissed.
O’Brien, having bonded with Tosk, doesn’t want to see his new pal humiliated, so he stages a jailbreak. In my favorite subtle moment of the episode, O’Brien drops a racist term while crawling through conduits, referring to Cardassians as “Cardies.” Sisko figures out what’s up about halfway through, but only goes through the motions in trying to stop him. The logic is sound: the aliens were sad about the bad hunt, and now they’re getting a good one, so everyone’s happy. Right? Well, sort of. Tosk is still going off to die (with honor, so at least he’ll get into Sto’Vo’Kor or whatever), and O’Brien did disobey orders. Sisko lets him off with a slap to the wrist, which is the least O’Brien will ever suffer in the entirety of the series.
This is the SPOILERy part. The aliens of this episode are never named, but they’re definitely reptilian. Later on, we will encounter a race that’s reptilian, pretty strong, and has the ability to become invisible, and are also from the Gamma Quadrant. Now, the simple answer is that the writers just hadn’t come up with the other aliens when writing “Captive Pursuit,” and it’s a pretty big galaxy anyway, so the chances of two similar aliens with similar abilities aren’t terrible. In interviews, writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe has stated in interviews that the Hunters are, in fact, members of the Dominion, and whoever bred the Dominion’s reptilian foot soldiers did the same for the Tosks. While I personally dislike plot revelations that happen over interviews which are then assumed to be not only canon but known by fans, this is a relatively harmless bit of backstory that ties up some loose ends. Besides, we never see Hunters or Tosks again, so who cares?
Next up: Sisko establishes that the only godlike power in the Alpha Quadrant is his fist.