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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S2E21)’

“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.

It is also one of the most significant lines ever uttered in the entirety of the show. Ira Steven Behr, writer and eventual showrunner, had been trying to put this line into Trek since working on TNG. He wanted to question the consequences of paradise, a forbidden line of reasoning under the reign of Roddenberry, but one that would come to define DS9’s place in the franchise.

The previous lies catch us up, but you can just read that whole other rambling review I posted last week. I did notice something weird this time around. It’s a little nitpicky, but you’ll indulge me. Right? Right?

A tumbleweed just blew past me. I’ll take that as a green light.

The reason Hudson and Sisko were brought together to deal with the sabotage of that freighter is that they’re the two ranking officers on the Cardassian border. But, they’re both Commanders. You would think that a significant power like the Cardassians, against whom Starfleet fought a pretty big war, would warrant at least a Captain. I don’t really know what to do with this, but when Sisko gets his long-overdue promotion to Captain, it solves some of the problems. I personally will never understand why the Federation didn’t instantly create a rank above Admiral just for Sisko, but that’s me.

The episode begins where we left off. Hudson had just ambushed Sisko, and, true to their friendship, the conversation is cordial. Basically, they have a debate over what Hudson is doing. Sisko is on the side of the Federation: the Maquis are undermining an important treaty, while Hudson points out that the Cardassians aren’t honoring that treaty anyway and the colonists have a right to defend themselves. He makes a stab at recruiting Sisko, but you can tell he knows that’s a lost cause. Eventually, he just stuns Sisko, Kira, and Bashir and gets out of there, letting Sisko return to the station without Gul Dukat.

Legate Parn of Cardassian Central Command and Admiral Nechayev have both arrived on the station to give Sisko an earful. Nechayev wants a diplomatic solution, and Sisko doesn’t mention that Hudson is in league with the Maquis. Parn, however, is far more interesting. Everyone is expecting some saber-rattling and demands for Dukat’s return. Instead, Parn promptly throws his man under the bus, saying that, yes, there has been weapons smuggling into the DMZ and it’s all Dukat’s fault. Since they’re going to execute Dukat for his crimes anyway, Parn sees no point in a rescue. You have to love the brutality of Cardassian pragmatism. Sisko instantly susses out Dukat’s value and wisely does not share this with any but his first officer. If the Central Command wants Dukat dead, that’s reason enough to want him alive.

Dukat, meanwhile, spends this entire episode being awesome. He really is a great character, for the bulk of the series never quite falling comfortably into the villain role. It helps that Dukat never sees himself as anything but a paragon of Cardassian virtue, at every turn smugly asserting the superiority of his race. While Sakonna the Vulcan attempts a mind meld on the captive Gul, Dukat openly mocks their methods of interrogation. When Sisko and company arrive to free him and launch into negotiations, Dukat offers a weary sigh and a request to stop talking and start shooting.

After the successful rescue, Dukat enjoys a victory dinner and inquires as to what will happen to the captured Maquis. Sisko says they’ll be put on trial, and in the unlikely event they’re found innocent, will be set free. “How barbaric,” Dukat snits. “In Cardassia the verdict is always known before the trial begins.” He explains that the purpose of the Cardassian justice system is to provide comfort to the populace that justice always triumphs. Sisko asks about mistakes. “Cardassians don’t make mistakes.” It is seriously the best scene and sets the stage for a deeper glimpse into the Cardassian justice system that is only a few episodes away. Sisko deflates Dukat’s aura of smugness by informing him that the Central Command is preparing one of those comforting trials for him right now. Dukat gives up the Cardassian intermediaries in the weapons smuggling — there’s that pragmatism again — a race called the Xepolites.

Meanwhile, Quark and Sakonna are in a holding cell together, both for that whole gun-running thing. Quark decides to be amazing here, by pointing out to Sakonna that the Maquis tactics are illogical. He does it not with a human-centric defense of peace but with the Rules of Acquisition, specifically the 3rd rule: “Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.” Quark treats “peace” as a commodity here, noting that because no side has a clear advantage, peace can be “bought” at a low price. It’s perfect, as it allows Quark to solve a problem based on his own cultural heritage and displays how capitalism should work. If anything is for sale, that includes peace, right? The fact that Quark’s plan worked is shown in a great reveal: a smash cut from his crowning argument to a meeting between Sisko and Dukat as they discuss the plans Sakonna has just revealed. She’s a Vulcan! She sees that she was being illogical, so now she’s on the other side. That’s why I like Star Trek, right there. Character motivations that seem wrong at first glance but, in fact, are perfect representations of cogent worldviews.

The Maquis plan to attack a weapons depot which is hidden in the middle of Cardassian settlement. Since this obliges the Maquis to attack civilians, this will be the perfect excuse for the Central Command to go to war. Sisko gives Hudson one last chance to come back to the fold of the Federation, but Hudson refuses by phasering the uniform Sisko returned. This leads to a dogfight between three runabouts and two Maquis ships. It’s funny watching this after seeing the whole series, as in the later going, DS9 is famous for some of the biggest space battles the franchise — and this includes the movies — has ever seen. Seeing only five ships zipping around is almost quaint.

The fight comes down to Sisko versus Hudson because there really was no other way it could end. Sisko refuses the chance to kill his old friend, leaving Hudson to return to the DMZ. Apparently, Behr wanted Hudson to die in this appearance, but Michael Piller — the showrunner at the time — overruled him. After seeing the episode, Piller changed his tune. Unfortunately, this leads to Hudson being killed offscreen sometime around the fifth season. This betrayal by one of his closest friends is the initial thorn in Sisko’s side, the reason he despises the Maquis over all of his other enemies. They’re really good at betrayal, the Maquis. That will make more sense in a few seasons.

Perhaps the most DS9 moment comes at the very end of the episode. When any other Starfleet captain would be savoring his victory with a hot cup of tea or hot cup of Orion slave girl, Sisko broods. He doesn’t know if he actually stopped a war or merely delayed one. In true DS9 fashion, the answer turns out to be a bit of both.

Next up: Garak has a problem.




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