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Friday, 8 April 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-02: Emissary, Part II

This is the second and final part of my Emissary article. You can go to part one by clicking the text that says 'part one' here: Part one.

WARNING: THIS IS BASICALLY ALL SPOILERS.



Previously, in the first half of this episode, Odo had got on board Gul Dukat's ship disguised as a bag and sabotaged it to give Sisko a chance to discover the Celestial Temple first.

But it takes a bit of percussive maintenance by O'Brien to get him back again. We get to see Deep Space Nine's transporter in operation here, and as expected for Cardassian tech it's a: kinda broken and b: brown. We've got a guy made of brown goop wearing a brown uniform who infiltrated a brown ship by hiding in a brown bag and now he's beaming back in a cloud of swirly brown sparkles.

I like the shift in focus as it activates by the way, I don't remember a whole lot of that happening in Next Gen. Then again I didn't remember it in this either.

Anyway, with the Cardassians temporarily out of commission, Sisko and Dax are free to fly off to the Denorios Belt to look for the Bajorans' legendary Celestial Temple to get Kai Opaka to speak up and stop a civil war. Captain Kirk never had to put up with this kind of crap.


ACT FIVE.


They found it!

See, this is why the Federation is practically running this part of space: because Starfleet officers are able to notice a simple pattern and solve a puzzle that's been baffling the Bajorans for 10,000 years in around a day or two.

But of course they're Starfleet and are drawn to anomalies like moths to a flame, so they end up driving right into the thing and disappearing off DS9's sensors.

Whoa... those chairs sure have a lot of tubes on them. Do they double as spacesuits for emergencies or something?

Inside the anomaly is a really weird and expensive looking effect sequence, with the outside of the tunnel rippling like they're flying through invisible omnidirectional rain. I can't help but notice the director's being very careful to avoid angles that'd show the runabout's side windows now, as it'd be more money they'd have to spend.

The two of them are barely have a chance to start swapping technobabble before they're spat out the other side into sensible space again. But they're not in the Denorios Belt any more. In fact the computer seems to think they're in the Gamma Quadrant, 70,000 light years from Bajor. They've just travelled through the galaxy's only known stable wormhole!

The thing that bothers me though, is that there's no on screen display to show the journey they've just made, or what a 'Gamma Quadrant' is anyway. They cover insane distances every time they turn on the warp drive, and 'quadrant' has often seemed interchangeable with 'sector'. I want to see how this compares to an average Star Trek journey!

Here's how I have it in my head. In Star Trek: Voyager the hero ship is thrown 75,000 light years into the Delta Quadrant and it's said that it'll take them 75 years to get back. It definitely didn't take anyone a year to get from Earth to Bajor so I'm assuming they're less than 1,000 light years apart. So if our side of the Celestial Temple wormhole is somewhere near the yellow dot, then the exit point has to be somewhere in the purple area. And that's pretty damn far away.

Anyway Sisko and Dax decide they don't want to be in the purple area any more, so they turn around and head back through the implausibly elaborate special effect...

...and end up on location in a park somewhere in LA. Well if they were going to get sidetracked by weirdness, at least they ended up some place nice. Sisko doesn't see it that way though.

I mean that literally, to him the place looks like 3D rendered rocky wasteland right out of a mid 90s video game.

Eventually another orb drops by, scans Dax, teleports her inside, and flies back to Bajor. The DS9 crew figure out that it's come from where Sisko disappeared and beam it on board, ending up with Dax instead.

Sisko on the other hand is stuck in a pure white void, getting flashes of images from his past. When the people in his memories start asking questions he figures out that he's actually speaking with Bajor's gods, the Prophets, and they're trying to communicate with him! They're curious about this human concept called... time.

Yep they're advanced enough to have built a wormhole that bridges the galaxy, but they haven't come across time yet, so it's up to Sisko to explain cause and effect.

Back on DS9 Kira's in command and she realises that if Bajor is going to stake a claim on the wormhole, they're going to need a Federation presence there to back it up. So they're going to move the station 160,000,000km to the Denorios Belt. Without warp drive.

Fortunately Dax has a cunning science plan involving subspace fields and deflectors that'll lower the inertial mass and O'Brien somehow knows all the buttons to press to do that on this alien outpost he's just arrived at. I guess manning a transporter console on the Enterprise for 6 years gave him plenty of time to read Cardassian instruction manuals.

It's just occurred to me that the first real conflict on this station between the Bajoran and Starfleet crews is going to be over whether the computer's language settings are put on 'Bajoran' or 'Federation English'.

Anyway, the end result of all the technobabble is that both Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine have a dramatic scene in their pilot where the station's moved into position by thrusters. Not that I think either series was copying the other, it's just funny how the similarities start adding up over time. You can already add 'tough non-nonsense female second in command' to the list for instance, though that's something only a fool would complain about, as Kira and Ivanova are both awesome.

I do have one problem with Kira though, and that's that she seems almost too competent at her job in this episode. I can buy her as a leader no problem, but she was a resistance fighter until very recently, so how did she get so comfortable running a space station so soon?

Meanwhile Sisko's been having a bit of trouble with the Prophets, as they want to destroy him before he destroys them. I guess Sisko must have explained what 'before' means while the episode was focused on O'Brien.

Also they keep switching memories on him, so one minute he's chatting with a Jennifer Prophet on the beach, the next he's speaking to a Locutus Prophet on the viewscreen of the Saratoga. It can't be easy for Sisko as they're digging up all his trauma.

It couldn't have been easy for Avery Brooks either, filming one continuous scene scattered so many days apart, but he does a fantastic job at making the conversation feel natural. He's a weird actor, but he really nails it at times.

With DS9 station on the move to the wormhole, Kira leads a rescue team out on a runabout to get there first and rescue Sisko, with Odo tagging along. He talked his way on board by dropping some backstory, explaining that his arc for the series is going to involve finding out where he came from and meeting his people. He feels that the answers might be on the other side of the wormhole.

But they run into Dukat's ship along the way, now considerably less sabotaged, and he's planning to enter the wormhole too! They make a genuine effort to warn him not to, even though they were about to do the exact same thing themselves, but he sends his cruiser inside regardless... and then the wormhole explodes. So now Kira's left in stunned silence, contemplating all the letters she's going to have to write later.
'Dear Starfleet, I regret to inform you that the commanding officer I didn't want here has been lost in a tragic and inexplicable event that left no evidence. It is with great sadness that I accept his job.'

'Dear Cardassian Empire, I regret to inform you that the ship you sent over with Space Hitler on it has vanished in mysterious circumstances. Please don't consider this an act of war.'

'Dear Bajoran people, I regret to inform you that all our gods just blew up.'


ACT SEVEN.


Inside the wormhole Sisko's still alive and Prophets are being as awkward as ever. Plus now they've forgotten what 'before' means! Or maybe they haven't learned it yet. If they don't know what time is, maybe this conversation is happening entirely out of order for them. It's all so damn vague!

Sisko tries to explain linear existence using baseball as an example (establishing right from episode 1 that he's obsessed with the sport), showing that corporeal beings like himself don't know for sure what the consequences of their actions will be and they value that uncertainty. Basically, this is getting very Star Trek.

The good news is that the station has finally arrived in the Denorios Belt. The bad news is that three angry Cardassian warships are here as well and Gul Jasad is waiting for a good explanation for what happened to Dukat.

Kira tells them exactly what happened with a huge grin on her face, that Dukat flew through a wormhole they just discovered, which then disappeared without a trace, but Jasad doesn't believe her for some reason.

One thing I've never noticed until now is that the camera on the Cardassian bridge likes to switch between two zoom levels to enhance the drama. There's always a scene of Kira talking in between so it's not obvious it's happening, but now that I've seen it I can't unsee it.

Jasad is plenty pissed right now and gives her an hour to surrender the station. The Enterprise is on its way to back them up but it won't be here for at least another day, so they're in serious trouble here. Oh, plus the station's shields don't work and they have like six torpedoes left.


ACT EIGHT.


Sisko's still trying to explain linear existence and the human emotion called happiness, but the aliens just don't get it, and being forced to relive Jennifer's death like this is starting to get to him now. He tells them about what happened on the Saratoga during the Borg attack and they ask him why he exists here. If he experiences linear time like he claims then why does he exist here.

The penny drops. He was the one bringing them to his memories of the Saratoga. Turns out that the episode is really all about Sisko not being able to move past his wife's death and let her go. It kind of makes it easier to overlook the fact that the Prophets make no sense when the point of these scenes was actually to let him work through his trauma.

DS9's still screwed though.

With 20 hours to go until the Enterprise gets here Kira decides to bluff, firing off all six torpedoes as warning shot to show that she's got a lot more firepower to spare than the Cardassian ships can detect.

They don't fall for it.

O'Brien tries to run a tech through the tech to fire a tech beam, but that doesn't do them a lot of good. Apparently just pressing the 'fire phaser' button a few times is far too prosaic for a Starfleet engineer, which is a shame as getting too space sciency in a scene like this only hurts the drama.

Down on the Promenade it's pandemonium, with sparks raining down and metal ceiling beams landing on people. Sometimes it's the people who are landing on the beams, but it's okay as they actually seem pretty soft.

Whoa, hang on guys, this is an expensive carpet! Nice looking explosion though.

With all these injured people around, Dr. Bashir finally gets his opportunity to display some competency, so everyone gets a turn to do something in the end! Except for Jake, but then his actor had some screen time playing one of the Prophets, so it's okay.

The station is getting its ass kicked here, it really is as rubbish as everyone said it was, so Kira has no choice but to surrender to the Cardassians.

Oh, never mind. The wormhole's back and so's Dukat's ship... and it's being towed out by Sisko's runabout! Dukat orders the other ships to stand down, so that all worked out.

Plus the Prophets have agreed to allow safe passage to all ships travelling to the Gamma Quadrant, so now they've got a good premise for a TV show!

The Enterprise finally arrives and this time Sisko gets to chat to Picard in his own office. 

Picard explains that with the wormhole out there, the station will become a leading centre for commerce and scientific exploration, and one of Starfleet's most important posts. Not the kind of position for someone who isn't sure he wants to be here (and is only a lowly commander). Sisko's a changed man though. He's grown fond of the station, he's put his tragedy behind him, and he's even forgiven Picard. So he makes it clear that he's happy to keep the job and shakes the Captain's hand.

Well I'm glad they sorted that out!

Now that DS9's open for business ships have begun to arrive. They can't exactly dock though, as O'Brien reveals that most of the airlocks are broken, but that just gives him something else to worry about. O'Brien's life is one of constant suffering.


CONCLUSION

Pilot episodes are tricky, especially when they have to set up seven main characters (most of which are aliens), a broken 24th century alien space station, the political situation of two major alien races, and a wormhole to the other side of the galaxy that doubles as a home to a race of mysterious non-corporeal entities that exist outside, communicate using memories and are worshipped as gods. So I can forgive Emissary for being a bit unfocused.

The episode apparently cost more money to make than Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country did a couple of years earlier, and I can believe it. They build some massive standing sets for this series and it's got spaceships and phaser beams flying around all over the place. Also I'll never take location filming for granted again after watching Babylon 5, and there's a surprising amount of fresh air in this episode. Sisko inadvertently takes the Prophets (and the production team) to a park, a beach and a baseball field just trying to communicate with them.

That's where the story goes a bit off the rails though, as the weirdness in the wormhole isn't as compelling as the drama unfolding outside. Plus I got distracted with trying to figure out how the Prophets make any kind of sense. They built a wormhole across the galaxy... to live in. They sent out magic orbs that led the Bajorans to worship them as gods... just because. They have a linear conversation... to learn what linear time is. But their scenes are retroactively redeemed when it's revealed they were secretly more about Sisko needing to move past his grief, resolving the story set up in the prologue. Star Trek, Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager all start with godlike beings setting up the premise, but DS9's more about how the characters continue to be affected by their presence.

Speaking of the characters, they're not really fully formed at this point, but they are interesting. The first officer is a religious former terrorist, the security chief is a miserable puddle of goop, Dax has her past lives and Bashir... is an arrogant dick. Plus Sisko is a space station commander, a single parent and the Emissary of the Prophets, though it's weird how little anyone seems to care about that last part right now, considering the episode's actually called Emissary. I was expecting Kai Opaka or a monk to show up at the end and say something like "The Emissary's journey is only just beginning... we'll be getting 7 seasons out of this we hope," but nah. The weakest link of them is maybe Quark weirdly, as he's basically unrecognisable in this episode (and not just because he has a different nose). I mean sure he's a conniving greedy sexist criminal, they've nailed down those aspects, but he's very dour. He doesn't have his charm turned on yet.

Overall I think I like the episode, despite the necessary exposition and the painfully bland standard issue Star Trek spin-off soundtrack. It's probably not going to make it onto my 'top 20 DS9 episodes list', but it's definitely earned its place onto my 'top 5 Star Trek pilot episodes' list.

ODO'S MORPH OF THE WEEK:

A bag full of cash.


Deep Space Nine will return in two weeks with Past Prologue. But next up on Sci-Fi Adventures is Babylon 5 episode 1, Midnight on the Firing Line.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment if you're in a comment leaving mood. I'm still only just getting started here, and your feedback will help me get my writing on the right track. Also I suppose you could talk about the episode Emissary as well.

Though I have to warn you that it's January 1993 right now, so if I see any comments revealing things from later in the series I'll have to quarantine them to protect the timeline.

2 comments:

  1. I cracked up at the letters, good work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We've got a guy made of brown goop wearing a brown uniform who infiltrated a brown ship by hiding in a brown bag and now he's beaming back in a cloud of swirly brown sparkles.

    That is my strongest memory of DS9, and one confirmed by the SyFy repeats; it was very brown. Also, it seemed to have been filmed in soft focus for some reason.

    ReplyDelete