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Monday, 18 April 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-03: Past Prologue

Episode:3|Writer:Katharyn Powers|Air Date:10-Jan-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, the sci-fi continues with the first normal length episode of Deep Space Nine. Well the first one aired anyway, as A Man Alone was filmed first. Sometimes TV series move a later episode forward like this so that they can make a better first impression and show off the cast when they're more comfortable in their roles, so that's my theory for what happened here.

I knew a lot about Emissary going in, but I remember next to nothing about Past Prologue, except that it has flashbacks in it... maybe. It could be an early gem that's slipped my mind or it could be utterly unworthy of being stored in my brain cells, I don't know. I haven't even checked the plot summary on the box.

One thing I do know though is that my writing is going to be filled with SPOILERS for the entire episode (but nothing that aired after it), so stop here if that bothers you.



Confusingly the episode's labelled '404' on the DVD menu, with the next episode as '403' and Emissary as '721'. You might assume that they've dressed up the menu with some meaningless computer text, like with that 'scan analysis' down on the right, but these are actually the episodes' production codes. Handy for people who worked on the show, kind of misleading for everyone else.

Also I'm annoyed that they haven't given me any commentaries! I want to hear the director go through all the tricks they used to get it made within the budget, and the cast take the piss out of each other while they struggle to remember the plot. I do like the 3D rendered space station spinning around in the background though; it gives me a glimpse into a parallel universe where DS9 had Babylon 5's visual effects.

The episode begins with OH SHIT IT'S GARAK! I didn't know Garak was in the series so early, I though he appeared in season 2 or something. I guess this is one of the good episodes then.

Garak's a Cardassian, the race that just got only just got finished with occupying and strip-mining Bajor, so the fact he's still living on a Bajoran space station after literally all the others left says a lot about him. Actually it says very little, as the guy lives to mislead.

Right now though he's enjoying tormenting Dr. Bashir, as the man obviously has no idea how to react to the cheerful and slightly camp Cardassian as he comes by his table to introduce himself. Garak assures him that he's just a plain simple tailor with a shop on the Promenade, but Bashir's heard the rumours going around that he's a spy and he's doing a comically poor job of hiding how excited/terrified he is to meet with him.

The thing about Garak, is that he practically speaks in italics. When he invites the doctor to... visit his 'clothes shop', it's not entirely clear what he's inferring. Though he probably is just inviting him to drop by, buy some clothes and maybe have a chat.

Afterwards Bashir runs straight up to Ops to tell everyone that the spy's made contact with him, but they don't quite share his enthusiasm. They won't even put a wire on him, you know in case Garak tries to buy his Federation medical secrets.

They're soon all distracted with something else anyway, as they pick up a small Bajoran craft being chased by a Cardassian cruiser in Bajoran space. Considering that she only just got finished fighting to win back that space, Kira is not pleased.

I love that big screen. I'm scared it's going to snap off its mounts and crush one of the actors, but it looks great.

The Cardassian ship's far too busy firing phasers to answer their hails, but the Bajoran vessel requests the station's assistance. I hate how Cardassian ships fire out of their navigational deflector by the way, that's for navigational deflecting dammit! Next they'll be landing shuttles in the impulse engines, or shooting tractor beams from the, uh... Bussard ramscoops.

Chief O'Brien's on the case, beaming the sole occupant out of the exploding ship at the last moment. He didn't even need to kick the console to get it working this time! Poor O'Brien, he got promoted and given the job of keeping an entire space station running, and he still has to do his old transporter room job on top of that.

The guy they rescued is okay! He's a little stunned but like they say, any transporter beam you can walk away from without being duplicated, sent to a mirror universe, split into your good and evil selves, turned into a kid, dispersed as pure energy, or melted into a malformed screaming mess of meat and bones is a good one.

He tells them he's called Tahna Los and he'd like a bit of political asylum if any's going. Then he realises that Kira's here! So they apparently know each other then.

That wasn't a bad teaser actually. It had comedy, an explosion and Garak, and it sets up the drama to come. Who is this guy? How does he know Kira? Why were the Cardassians so keen to kill him? Will Bashir go to check out the clothes shop?


OPENING CREDITS.


At there you go, the wormhole’s been added to the end of the titles now. Also it looks like the glowing bits of that runabout have slipped off a bit.

I'm amazed that so much of this sequence it's aligned correctly really considering how many layered element it's been built from. The station alone must have been filmed like six times over for all the various windows and lights. It's just a shame it was composited onto video tape so the final result's so low-res and fuzzy.


ACT ONE.


I have to admit, I'm getting kind of bored by the opening credits now. They're almost two minutes long and kind of sedate... hey, that's Vaughn Armstrong! I'm fairly sure this guy holds the record for playing the most characters in Star Trek, as the man's been a Klingon three times, a Cardassian twice, a Hirogen, a Keetassan, a Vidiian, a Borg, and on Enterprise he even played a human! And his evil mirror universe duplicate too.

The Cardassian's a bit annoyed that they snatched Tahna away from the exploding ship, as he really wanted to blow him up. He explains that the guy's Kohn-Ma (which is apparently bad) and he's committed heinous crimes against the Cardassians. Sisko invites him to dock his ship and come aboard to talk about it, then tells O'Brien to keep Gul Danar busy with phony docking regulations. I guess they must already know each other then because I don't remember him giving his name.

Damn, Sisko. Don't you know it's totally inappropriate to grab your subordinate by the arm and drag her against the wall for a chat. Seems that these two aren't exactly friends right now.

Sisko's a bit concerned that Kira has divided loyalties here, but she's not taking any shit from him. She admits she fought alongside Tahna in the underground, but she's not Kohn-Ma herself, and her loyalties are to Bajor. The Kohn-Ma are a terrorist group currently killing Cardassians and assassinating Bajoran polticians like the occupation never ended, but Kira believes they need to be repatriated, and having Tahna around gives them an opportunity.

Huh, Tahna was a human the whole time? Sorry, I just find that it's easier to suspend my disbelief about aliens like Vulcans and Bajorans when they're covered up. Kira could've had feathers under that uniform for all we knew, but now we can see she's utterly identical to us from the nose down. 

Tahna freely admits that he's committed terrorist acts against the Cardassians since they left Bajor, so they've had plenty of legitimate reasons to chase him, but he's putting that behind him now. He claims he's had enough of killing.

Sisko kicked Kira out of his conversation with Tahna, so she calls his boss up to whine about him, saying he obviously doesn't understand the issues involved! I'm not sure how the chain of command works when a Bajoran officer is working for Starfleet on a Bajoran station, but I get the feeling this isn't the done thing.

I'm glad there's some tension between Kira and Sisko right now. She understands Bajor needs the Federation's protection for a while, but she's not particularly impressed with Sisko's decisions, and that's interesting considering that she's very religious and he's the Emissary who spoke to her gods.

Hey Gul Damar has finally managed to dock his ship (I'm surprised he didn't just beam over) and the ordeal hasn't improved his mood any. He feels Tahna needs to be punished for the crimes that no one's denying he committed, but Sisko knows that if a Federation officer gives over a Bajoran freedom fighter to the Cardassians it's going to undermine his position. So he's giving Tahna asylum.

Then something really strange happens: he presses a button to open the door and let him out. Does Deep Space Nine really not have automatic doors? I'm going to have to keep an eye out next time someone leaves a room, because I've never noticed before.


ACT TWO.


Now that Tahna has asylum on the station, Kira's happy to show him his new quarters, but he's not keen on this comfortable bed she's found. I mean he likes his actual bed just fine, he just doesn't like that Bajor's in bed with the Federation to the point where she's taking orders from a Starfleet commander.

They have a long chat about her position on the station, the Federation, the wormhole, Bajor finally taking its place in the quadrant, and how he's not interested in any of it. As far as he's concerned, Bajor should be for the Bajorans and everyone else needs to leave them alone. But he promises her that he really is done with the Kohn-Ma, and there maybe be others who'll follow him if Kira can arrange amnesty for them.

Meanwhile on the Promenade, Odo has to deal with a pair of guest stars who refuse to hand over their weapons.

It's Lursa and B'Etor, the Duras sisters from Next Gen! They recently spent a bit of time as leaders of the losing faction in a Klingon civil war, but now they've been reduced to scaring Bajoran deputies and shoving civilians around. Man those two have a lot of... hair on display. It's right down past their boob windows.

Odo wants to throw them in jail and give the Klingon High Council a call to pick them up, and he looks so sad when Sisko tells him he can't.

Then we get another Bashir and Garak scene in Quark's bar, where Garak tries to draw his attention to the Klingons... and who they're meeting with.

Personally my attention's drawn to these two having a fist bump war. But Bashir, Garak... and Odo all see the Duras sisters walking off to chat with Tahna alone.

They head to a cargo bay to speak privately (followed by a cute little rat), and we learn that they're expecting a payment from him that he hasn't been able to get yet.

But it turns out that the rat was Odo and he heard the whole thing! Not the best looking morphing effect I've ever seen on television, but it was 1993 so I'll give them a break.


ACT THREE.


Back in Ops, Kira happily telling Sisko about all the progress she's made in arranging amnesty for the Kohn-Ma, and how it couldn't have happened without his support. He tells her to mention it to the admiral next time they have a chat, though if she goes over his head again, he'll have hers on a platter. So that ruined her good mood.

Odo goes to have a chat with Sisko about Tahna, and Sisko figures out that the Kohn-Ma terrorists supposedly coming in for Bajoran amnesty are actually bringing the Duras sisters their money! But they'll keep this to themselves for now.

Now the episode moves to focus on a mirror inside Garak's shop, where we see him visited by the Duras sisters. Better catching Garak's reflection than the sound guy I suppose.

Garak offers them some silk lingerie, because the man has no fear, but the worst they do is hiss at him. They've heard the rumours that he's a Cardassian agent, and they're looking to sell Tahna out to his government. First though they want to know what he's worth to them, so he types something on his PADD.

They literally spit on his offer, but...

...Garak's always happy to haggle.

Kira drops by to tell Tahna the good news: she's managed to convince the provisional government to give the Kohn-Ma amnesty! Tahna replies by telling her she's become an excellent politician, which isn't the nicest way to say 'thanks'. He also lets slip that he already knew she was on the station before he came here. I knew that 'Kohn-Ma' sounded a little too close to 'con man'!

Tahna never had any intention of quitting the Kohn-Ma, as he's convinced he's still fighting for the freedom of Bajor, while Kira works with the provisional government and the Federation despite her open distrust of both of them. In fact he accuses her of being their "dance instructor" which is... an interesting way of putting it.

He has a plan to get rid of the Federation non-violently, without anyone getting hurt, and he needs her help. If she really wants to ensure Bajor's independence, she can prove it by getting him access to a runabout. Because they both know that when Bajor gets comfortable with the Federation, they'll never be rid of them. Like Captain Picard said in Emissary, it's literally Sisko's job to do everything short of violating the Prime Directive to get them to sign up and become a member.


ACT FOUR.


Kira doesn't know what to do any more, so she pays a visit to her closest friend on the station, Constable Odo. They have a really well acted chat which leads to her realising that the real question is whether she can live with the consequences of what Tahna is planning to do, but Odo went and mentioned a 'Joranian ostrich' and that took me right out of it. There's only so many times you can hear characters attach an alien place to an mundane object or animal before it gets as irritating as Venusian ants in your Kashyyykian pants. Though I concede that it is a thing we do in real life.

Anyway Odo calls Sisko down so Kira can tell him everything. 

Meanwhile Garak went to speak with Bashir again, this time drawing his attention to a pair of Kohn-ma terrorists chatting with Tahna on the Promende (presumably bringing him the money for the Klingons). He invites the Doctor to visit his shop for a new suit... at exactly 20:55 hours tonight. Bashir doesn't really understand and things have gotten a little too serious for him now that Klingons and terrorists are involved, but Garak makes it clear that he is going to visit his shop for a new suit.

He goes to Sisko for guidance, but he tells him he could definitely use a new suit.

So Bashir turns up at the shop and Garak shoves him into a changing room.

The doctor briefly considers what he would look like if he ever took that jumpsuit off, but then hears talking outside. It's Lursa and B'Etor here to find out if the Cardassians want to trade for Tahna or not. Apparently Garak really does have still contacts in Cardassia as he's able to make the deal, but he also manages to get them to reveal they'll be giving him bilitrium.

Once they're gone Garak reveals to Bashir that Tahna was being chased by the Cardassians for stealing an anti-matter converter, and bilitrium + an anti-matter converter = boom. Bashir brings this info to Sisko and the others, and they decide that to find out what the Kohn-Ma are planning they're going to have to catch them in the act. So Kira's going to get him the runabout he wants.


ACT FIVE.


Wow, I never knew that Klingon Bird of Preys were so tiny.

Kira flies Tanha to his meeting with the Duras sisters in the USS Yangtzee Kiang, with Sisko and O'Brien hiding nearby in the USS Ganges. After Tahna gets his bilitrium, the Ganges comes over to catch him holding the bomb, with the Cardassian warship Garak called closing in as well.

Inside the Yangtzee Kiang, Kira runs to grab a phaser, but is stopped by Tahna, who tells her that if she doesn't set a course for DS9 he'll detonate the bomb here and destroy all six colonies on Bajor VIII. Damn man, how powerful is this tiny bomb? They should be using these instead of photon torpedoes.

Tahna finally explains what his plan is: he's going to use the bomb to collapse the entrance to the wormhole. Without the wormhole the area becomes worthless to the Cardassians, so they won't need the Federation around any more! It'll also cut Bajor off from its gods or perhaps even kill them, but hey no one ever said Tahna was a religious man. In fact no one's saying anything about the Prophets at all this week, which is... odd.

But Kira's got her own cunning plan, as she hammers her palm down onto one of the buttons, causing a hard turn that sends Tahna flying into a wall. Either that or she was just being heavy handed with the hardware again. She really does like to press those touch screen buttons hard.

Wait, what's all that grey outside the window? Isn't that where space is supposed to be? Did she leave a door hanging open or something?

Kira's quick thinking drops the runabout our of warp and sends it hurtling full impulse through the wormhole. Then some quick stuntwork keeps Tahna from detonating the bomb, for a little while at least.

Well that was underwhelming. The bomb was fired from the front of the ship, so it should've gone flying off towards the top left of the frame. Instead it it looks like it drifted forward about a meter and then exploded in a harmless flash of blue.

Tahna has Kira at gunpoint again, but the Ganges has caught up and the Cardassians are on the way, so he's going to have to surrender to someone here. After a moment's thought he decides to choose the people less likely to blow him up or torture him.

It's cool that they bothered to composite in the Yangtzee Kiang outside the window, but it's kind of ruined this shot as neither character turns to look at it. In fact the characters are acting like they've pointed the Ganges right at the Kiang and they're looking at the ship out of the front window.

Still, it's nice to be able to see out of the windows at all. In later seasons the crew get bored of the infinite majesty of space and close the window shutters. It's much cheaper that way.

Wow, that’s it? Kira and Sisko get back to the station with the prisoner in custody and then just walk away without a word?

I think I’m getting used to Babylon 5 wrapping things up in the fourth act and then having an fifth act epilogue, because this seemed very abrupt. I suppose I should be glad it didn't just end in the runabouts.


CONCLUSION

I couldn't remember much about Past Prologue before rewatching it, but one thing I was fairly sure about was that it was a crap start to a mediocre season. Turns out my memory is rubbish though as this was pretty decent actually. I also expected some flashbacks to the smoky occupation-era of the station but that didn't happen, so maybe that episode's the one I don't like.

It's not the most gripping episode of Deep Space Nine, but it's nice to see them wringing some drama out of Starfleet's presence in the Bajor system, instead of just having everyone be friends from the start. We already know the Federation's end goal is bringing Bajor in as a member, and this episode makes it clear that Kira only wants them around until Bajor's strong enough to defend itself, so there's some actual conflicting agendas and hostility between characters in a Star Trek series! Not a great deal mind you, they're at least respectful to each other in the end, but it's nice to see people behaving a bit more like people. Even they had to make half of them aliens to do it.

Somehow it feels like there's an episode or two missing though (and I don't mean A Man Alone), as so far the only person who seems to care much about the wormhole is the man who wanted to blow it up. They've found a stargate to the other side of the galaxy! Which is also Bajoran heaven! They can fly inside and maybe meet their gods! How is this station not packed to capacity, surrounded by Bajoran ships right now?

Personally the one thing that kind of put me off going back to Deep Space Nine was a concern that the sonic wallpaper music would drive me mad with its droning blandness, but I actually didn't notice it at all this time. In fact I'm not entirely sure this episode even had music, though it sure had a lot of beeping in it. Every time anyone touched a screen there was a high pitched chirp. I don't know how the crew can stand it.

Speaking of the crew, the cast were on form and pretty much in character this week, with the exception of Jake and Quark who didn't turn up. I didn't even know there was an episode with no Quark in it. Even Lursa and B'etor were used well as the Next Gen guest stars of the week, playing their part without hogging the screen time. The standouts have to be Bashir and Garak though, with the naive young doctor doing a fantastic impression of a fidgety deer in headlights.

Somehow I doubt this is going to end up as my favourite episode this season (because I already liked Emissary more), but it's almost certainly the best episode without Quark. It's also the first episode of Star Trek without an Enterprise in it, so you can add that to the trivia section of your brain.

ODO'S MORPH OF THE WEEK:

A little rat.


Deep Space Nine will return in two weeks with A Man Alone. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about another Doctor Who episode from series 9, The Witch's Familiar.

If you want to share your opinions on topics like 'this episode' and 'my website', then you'll find that the message box below is a fine place to type your words.

2 comments:

  1. I was never much a fan of DS9 -- too browny-grey and soft focus -- but I could watch Garak, Bashir, and O'Brien all day. If only it was a buddy show with those three.

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    1. But Garak's the greyest thing in the series!

      I could watch Bashir and O'Brien too, but I'm going to have to wait until the writers get around to giving them an episode. I'm not sure they've even interacted yet, unless you count the time O'Brien silently rolled his eyes at him.

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