“I think you’ve made a terrible mistake. All of you. Maybe we could have helped you. Maybe we could have helped each other. The Skrreeans are farmers, Kira. You have famine on your planet. Perhaps we could have made that peninsula bloom again. We’ll never know, will we? Fifty years of Cardassian rule have made you all frightened and suspicious. I feel sorry for you.”
The nature of longform fiction — by which I mean anything where the first installment is released before the later episodes are even written, such as a TV show or series of books — guarantees a certain amount of flab. Superfluous characters, plots that never go anywhere, or foreshadowing that never pays off are all inevitable when the writers have only the vaguest idea of where the story is ultimately going. It’s understandable that as fans we want everything to be part of a brilliant creator’s master plan, but that is not a realistic desire. It’s so rare, especially in the early days of intense serialization, that when it happens it feels a bit like magic. That’s the special part of this week’s episode, the innocuously named “Sanctuary.”
A few episodes ago, the writers hid a mention of the Dominion in a deceptively silly Ferengi episode, deliberately violating the unwritten contract that nothing really important happens in those. This episode brings the next mention of the Dominion, but instead of the trading consortium hinted at in “Rules of Acquisition,” this time the Dominion are shadowy imperialists, ruthlessly conquering a planet and creating a diaspora of a second race. Realistically, the Dominion would look different based on the cultures contacting it: a mercantile species like the Ferengi probably would find its trading arm, though the fact that a peaceful race of farmers like the Skrreea first encountered the Dominion as a faceless army is somewhat disturbing.
The Skrreea arrive through the wormhole in a damaged ship, and despite looking pretty human, their language is impenetrable to the universal translator. The best part of this small plot point is that it’s not fixed by someone fiddling with a few knobs on a machine or reversing the polarity of the tachyon stream — the computer just needs to hear the Skrreea talk more, and, eventually, it figures out what they’re trying to say. It’s a minor device that allows the show to preserve the mystery of the new race and underscore just how alien things are on the other side of the wormhole. This couldn’t be done with makeup, because, spoiler alert, there are a s–t ton of Skrreea in this episode. The makeup artists needed something simple they could slather on fifty extras.
Once the computer works out their particular brand of moonman language, Haneek, the leader of the small Skrreean family group that first made it through the wormhole, relates her origin story. The Skrreea were farmers when a race of hyphen-enthusiasts called the T-Rogorans conquered and enslaved them, executing all the leaders. Later, the Dominion crushed the T-Rogorans, prompting the Skrreea to flee in a makeshift fleet. Their goal was legendary of the Eye of the Universe, beyond which would be the promised land of Kentanna. Described as a “planet of sorrow,” it’s pretty obvious what the Skrreea are going to think as soon as they find Bajor.
That’s right, the Skrreea are intergalactic boat people. Their design promotes this, from their unpleasantly bumpy skin which sheds over everything, to the rags the men wear on their heads, they’re intended to appear as unattractive and unpleasant as possible. Their matriarchal society, which includes Haneek having two men and explaining that men are much too emotional to be leaders, is designed to trigger discomfort in the western viewer. While Starfleet and, by extension, the Bajoran Provisional Government welcome the Skrreea onto DS9 for refitting and repairs, the sudden massive influx of this strange culture provokes hostility in the locals. Nog especially delights in playing cruel pranks on Haneek’s son.
Haneek bonds with Kira quickly, primarily because she’s the ranking woman on the station. In one scene, before the translator is working, Kira replicates the Skrreea some food. This just seems wildly irresponsible to me. How do they know that this isn’t a terrible poison? Chocolate is fine for us but will kill a dog and we’re from the same goddamn planet. Hell, even allergies can kill people. I have a friend that will explode if he even thinks about peanuts. I think. I’m not really clear on how allergies work. The scene reminded me of Guy’s rant in Galaxy Quest, “Hey! Don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air? You don’t know!”
Haneek discovers Bajor and understandably assumes this is Kentanna. I’ve always been entertained the way people will decide some piece of land is the property that was prophesied, and then get really indignant when the people who live there disagree. The Bajorans, presently suffering through a famine, don’t want to take in three million refugees. Starfleet provides a planet for them, but the Skrreea are grumpy about not getting their first choice. Hey, a planet’s a planet. Sure, maybe it was a safety planet, but we can’t always get into Harvard . . . planet. Sorry, that whole thing got away from me there. Anyway, the whole thing ends in tragedy when Haneek’s hotheaded son decides to try to land on Bajor, and the local military sends a couple interceptors to stop it. On TNG, the boy might have gotten out alive, but this is DS9.
As an odd side note, there’s a wisp of a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s a Bajoran musician, who is supposedly a genius but can’t get work in the present climate. He’s a friend of Kira’s and she got him a job playing at Quark’s. The bizarre thing is that he never wears a Bajoran earring. Not once. I couldn’t help wonder if that was a sign of a Bajoran atheist? I mean, really the answer is that the actor didn’t want one, or they couldn’t find one that fit, but in the context of the show, what does it mean? And, how does one become an atheist when the gods are real aliens who live in a wormhole? Maybe it’s someone who accepts the gods as natural phenomena. Or maybe it’s someone who believes that just because, say, a chair exists, doesn’t mean you should get all into believing in it. The chair will be fine either way.
The Skrreea vanish off to wherever one-off alien races vanish to (Drayton II in this case), and no one ever mentions them again. The Dominion, however, will be back.
Next up: Prince Quarkerdink