“Marriage is the greatest adventure of them all. It’s filled with pitfalls and setbacks and mistakes, but it’s a journey worth taking, ‘cause you take it together.”
— Chief Miles O’Brien
There’s an unfortunate truism that has become more and more apparent in the current Age of Antiheroes on television: nobody likes the wife. Beyond simple misogyny, there’s a pretty simple and obvious reason for this. If you’re tuning in to watch a serial killer dispatch bad guys, a high school teacher cook meth, or a retired cake maker operate his toddler MMA league (Call me, FX!), anyone who stands in the way of this is going to be roundly loathed by the audience. It doesn’t matter that the wife often has pretty sound, logical reasons for not wanting her husband to hunt dangerous people for money/engage in violent drug wars/watch babies pummel each other. She is standing in the way of entertainment, and so she is a monster on par with a combination of Hitler and Godzilla, vaporizing joy with her atomic fire breath.
Making any character a family man is a dangerous proposition. By definition, the family contrasts with all the crazy adventures the hero goes on. Their scenes are quiet and relatively mundane, showing that while this guy is an action hero, he’s also a normal dude. (It’s worth noting here that he always is a dude; I can’t think of a single example going the other way, though it’s possible I’m not watching the right shows.) If the wife complains, no matter how rational her arguments, she’s a shrill, unlikeable shrew. If she says nothing, she’s a doormat. Give her too much of an inner life and there’s the risk she’s going to eat up valuable screentime, which really should be devoted to the hero’s hijinks. While the hero, by virtue of being the audience PoV character can do all manner of crazy, evil things and retain audience sympathy, the minute the wife character steps out of line, and she’s lost the audience forever.
This is not my long-winded and needlessly digressive way to introduce some plot about Keiko O’Brien’s transformation into Hitlerzilla. (Call me, Sony!) It’s more to acknowledge that the character is a difficult one, and Rosalind Chao does a great deal with a role that is pretty thankless. It would have been very easy to make Keiko the shapeless, supportive wife or the merciless henpecker, but the writers chose a more interesting and realistic third path. Keiko and Miles O’Brien love each other deeply, but the move to DS9, while great for O’Brien, kind of destroyed Keiko’s career. Remember, she used to be a botanist on the flagship of the Federation. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do for Keiko on DS9 (the show and the station), so she was often relegated to the fringes. The writers were careful to remain true to the core of the character, no matter how far into the background she receded. In this week’s episode, she plays a vital role, both as inspiration to her husband and as the practical means of his rescue.
Bashir and O’Brien have been loaned to a pair of alien races — the T’Lani and the Kelleruns — to assist in destroying their stockpile of biological weapons called harvesters. It’s possible I wasn’t looking close enough, but it looked to me like the only differences between the two races were hairstyle — Kelleruns have phallic towers of glossy black hair, while the T’Lani make wings out of their Felicity-brown curls — and color choice in clothes — Kelleruns wear gray uniforms reminiscent of the Romulan garb, while T’Lani like olive drab. This suggests that the two races are related, or are even merely different ethnicities of the same species. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, right as Dr. Bashir is ready to destroy the last canister of liquid death, Kellerun soldiers barge in and kill everyone. Well, almost everyone. What they didn’t know is that O’Brien is a killing machine who really only holds his seething violence inside because he doesn’t want to rule the Alpha Quadrant as a priest-king. He dispatches the two Kelleruns, and in the process gets splashed with some harvester.
And, here’s what I don’t get about the harvesters. The canister holding it gets blown apart in the initial firefight, yet the only person infected with it is O’Brien. It has to splash on his exposed skin to do anything. This was their terrifying bio weapon? It’s not even airborne? Color me extremely not impressed.
Anyway, Bashir and O’Brien get the Kellerun guns — which previously appeared as the weapons of the Hunters in “Captive Pursuit” and will soon become very familiar as the sidearms for the Jem’Hadar — and transport to the surface of the world, which has been turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland by the harvesters. Presumably, the Kelleruns went down there with super-soakers or something. While O’Brien desperately staves off the effects of the weapon, he works on repairing a comm system while bonding with Bashir. Remember, the two men are exact opposites, and their differences have been mined for story before, notably in the otherwise terrible first season episode “The Storyteller.”
The T’Lani and the Kelleruns bring the news to Sisko that O’Brien accidentally tripped a security protocol that proceeded to vaporize everyone in the room. The crew reacts as expected: Kira is angry and ready to lash out at T’Lani and Kelleruns; Odo wants to investigate; and Dax is melancholy. The best moment comes courtesy of Quark, who serves Dax and Kira drinks on the house and toasts to the two men as good customers who “always paid their bar bills on time,” and follows it with the nicest of the Rules of Acquisition: “Good customers are as rare as latinum. Treasure them.” It’s really sweet coming from a Ferengi. Keiko, however, does not accept the official version, specifically because the video shows O’Brien drinking coffee in the afternoon, which he never, ever does. (And, of course, I’m instantly thinking of that similar moment in Airplane!) It’s something only a wife would catch. Armed with this, Sisko and Dax search for the missing crew.
While O’Brien deteriorates, most of his conversation with Bashir revolves around love. Bashir talks about the one that got away, while O’Brien talks up the importance of marriage. Though he doesn’t see it at the time, marriage gets a pretty compelling case here. Keiko is the reason anyone is looking for them, and without her, both of them would be dead. The pursuit also brings out the hardened veteran inside O’Brien, cautioning Bashir against disturbing some conveniently found supplies (Cardassians used to booby trap those with pressure grenades.) and outlining their only, terrible hope for any kind of rescue.
The plot initially appears to be a case of the Kelleruns striking at an opportune time to wipe out the T’Lani once and for all. The truth is more complex. Neither side could live with anyone knowing the secrets of the harvesters. Once the weapons were destroyed, the knowledge had to go as well, meaning their scientists, as well as the loan personnel from the Federation, were to be executed. Sisko and Dax show up just in time and, using a clever ruse, manage to escape with only a destroyed runabout (the Ganges, for those keeping track) as the butcher’s bill. What I don’t get here is that this is an act of war — Sisko says as much to both races. Starfleet is one of the great powers of the Alpha Quadrant. Did they just crush the T’Lani and the Kelleruns? What happened after this?
Who knows? The point is that the heroes get home thanks to one wife’s knowledge of her husband’s habits. The kicker comes when Keiko informs Miles of how she knew something was off. O’Brien, confused, says, “I drink coffee in the afternoons all the time!”
Next up: Someone’s negging Chief O’Brien!