“Do not hug me.”
— Lt. Commander Worf
In the old days, when I wanted to get a friend interested in DS9, I would write up a viewing guide. Most people, when faced with a series this long, will understandably give up in the doldrums of the first season. Generally speaking, I advised them to skip vast swaths of Season 1, decent chunks of Season 2, and worst episode ever “Meridian” from Season 3. After that, I would tell them, is smooth sailing.
Not quite sure what I was thinking there. Not when there were abominations like “Profit and Lace” and this week’s hour, “Let He Who is Without Sin . . . ,” lurking up ahead. Though the later seasons are infinitely superior to the rocky early seasons, there are a fair amount of duds just waiting to flop across your screen. The culprit is the grueling schedule. 26-episode season orders are unheard of today, with even network stalwarts topping out at 22, and even with that many, not all are going to be gold. You expect the occasional bad episode. What becomes frustrating is proximity.
Last week, I covered one of DS9’s best episodes, and the one most accessible and lauded by the mainstream. Anyone who decided to stick around after “Trials and Tribble-ations” to see what the group who created that transcendent hour would tune in the following week to this, an episode that is continually ranked as one of the worst, and as of this writing, is the absolutely lowest-rated episode of the entire series on IMDb.
The essential problem here is tone. The writers needed to create a romantic romp, something lighter-than-air, with the humor inherent in DS9 that is so often overlooked. The plot, such that it is, demands it. Dax, the immortal libertine, and her tight-ass beau Worf are headed to pleasure planet Risa. Then, Bashir, Leeta, and finally Quark invite themselves along. Sounds like the recipe for a bedroom farce, with lots of delightful fish-out-of-water moments from Worf, sexy misunderstandings with Bashir and Leeta, and some Quark to tie it all together.
Instead, the whole thing crashes and burns quicker than if the Hindenberg were made entirely of dynamite. Risa is known for basically being a combination of a maskless Eyes Wide Shut orgy, a Jackie Treehorn beach party, and a neverending KY wrestling match, but DS9 is on network TV. In prime time. When kids are watching. That means that the sexiest thing you’re getting is Dax in a rather conservative one-piece bathing suit and sarong, and Bashir in a tank top and board shorts combo that looks designed by the Fresh Prince. Sex is referenced, but in such an oblique way that it provokes elementary school titters rather than a stirring in the brain or pants.
Which is unfortunate, because sex in the 24th Century has to be interesting. For one thing, Worf is instantly jealous of guest star Vanessa Williams, playing Arandis, a Risian native and former lover (as Tina Fey once said, that word bums me out when it’s not between “meat” and “pizza”) of Curzon’s. Worf’s jealousy, rather than arousal (as would likely be expected in a straight man who was picturing 1996 Terry Farrell and Vanessa Williams being romantic) points to the normalization of homosexual/bisexual/and so on behavior. Which, and I shouldn’t even have to say this, is a good thing. Because it was the ‘90s, though, they only ever explored this through a gorgeous woman who used to be a man, being far too squeamish to realize that in the far future, stuff is going to change. People’s parts are going to be all up in each other, and no one will care.
There’s some flirting with the idea of polyamory, as well. Though it’s becoming rapidly more mainstream now, it certainly wasn’t in 1996. Then again, one of the points of sci-fi is to be predictive. Not that the suits were going to allow a poly character on a show when they already freaked out at Andrew Robinson’s portrayal of Garak as voraciously omnisexual. Worf “catches” both Leeta and Bashir canoodling with the natives and instantly gets judgmental on them. Dax tries to calm him down, telling him “there has to be an explanation.” That the explanation isn’t just “they’re not sexually exclusive,” though, is never floated as a possibility. And, in an era with the birth control that would come with the Federation’s near magic medical technology, wouldn’t sexual partnerships become far more casual than they are now?
The explanation is that Leeta and Bashir are breaking up, but indulging in a Bajoran ritual to do so. The idea is to have a mature and honest reflection on the relationship, do some last-minute boning, and go your separate ways. Leeta explains that she has been mooning over Rom this whole time, which is kind of cute, but not enough to salvage the episode.
Most of the time is spent with Worf, who decides to be a controlling, humorless asshole. Seriously. This entire episode makes you wonder why we’re supposed to want Worf and Dax together, when they are being positioned as the show’s alpha couple. Both of them are locked in an unhealthy struggle to change the other: Worf to cage the wild Jadzia, while Dax wants Worf to loosen up. It gets so bad, Worf briefly joins a group of terrorists. Now, maybe I’m being judgmental here myself, but I don’t want my Federation heroes turned into terrorists. That’s what Kira is for.
Terrorist might be overstating it a bit. The New Essentialist Movement is concerned with what they see as decadence in the Federation, personified in the terraformed paradise of Risa. This kind of indulgence is making the Federation weak and easy prey for the Klingons, the Borg, and the Dominion. So, the only solution is making speeches and waving around de-powered phaser rifles. Worf ups the ante by disabling the weather control station. Seriously, though, who cares? It is a mildly interesting idea. After all, it was hardship that produced the most terrifying army the Earth has ever seen in Genghis Khan and his Mongols.
Eventually, Worf opens up about why he is so tightly-wound. As a child, he accidentally killed a human boy in a soccer game. Guilt and fear have turned him into this buttoned-down stoic. While it’s as good an explanation as any why Worf is so much more monastic than his Klingon brethren, it’s also worth noting this origin story never gets brought up again. It’s entirely possible the writers (all of whom disliked the episode, with Robert Hewitt Wolfe calling it the worst he’d ever done) wanted to forget it as fast as the others.
I don’t blame them.
Next up: More time-travel shenanigans.