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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-13: Battle Lines

Episode:13|Writer:Richard Danus and Evan Carlos Somers|Air Date:25-Apr-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I've reached episode one on the fourth DVD in the first season box of Deep Space Nine. I'm still tenaciously clawing my way through season one, chipping away at it one story at a time.

Battle Lines was written by Richard Danus and Evan Carlos Somers based on a story by Hilary J. Bader and I can't off the top of my head remember what other episodes they've done. But the Memory Alpha wiki tells me that Somers wrote just three DS9 stories in the end, and the other two are Melora and Meridian, contenders for the worst episode of season two and season three respectively. I don't know where people generally rank Battle Lines in season one though, somewhere in the middle maybe? I doubt it blew anyone away but this is the season where the senior staff have to play hopscotch and a leprechaun Rumpelstiltskin shows up to steal O'Brien's daughter so it'll have to do worse than 'mediocre' to earn a spot in the lower half.

As usual I'll give no SPOILERS for future episodes, except for just then when I spoiled Rumpelstiltskin, but I will be spoiling the hell out of this episode as I recap it and share my opinions.



The episode begins in Ops with O'Brien showing Sisko some files he found left on the station's computer by the former Cardassian owners. Just logs and records on Bajoran terrorists, stuff that Gul Dukat didn't feel was worth wiping. It's all to set up a joke where Kira freaks out over being considered a "minor operative" instead of a serious terrorist threat. Not sure that'd make it into a Star Trek series these days.

Then Bashir calls; he went to an airlock to pick up some medical specimens and found the spiritual leader of the Bajoran people waiting there, so he figured they'd want to know.

Kai Opaka has never left Bajor before so it's a bit strange that she's turned up unannounced like this to take a tour of their station's Promenade. It's even stranger that no one on the Promenade seems to care much. The actual Bajoran Space Pope is actually here right now! This by far the biggest event that's ever happened on Deep Space Nine. Well aside from the leader of the Ferengi showing up a few weeks ago. Oh, also that time when Starfleet took over after the occupation and immediately discovered the home of the Bajoran gods, which is also a wormhole to the other side of the galaxy. But no one much cared about that either really.

In fact the only thing that's ever gotten these people riled up is when they wanted to lynch Odo!

While she's out and about, the Kai decides she'd also like to take a trip through the wormhole to see the Gamma Quadrant. Though she gives O'Brien her necklace to give to his daughter, almost as if she doesn't expect to come back. But if anyone was hoping to get the hat they're out of luck.


ACT ONE


Kai Opaka's moved to tears by the trip through the wormhole, but she's still not ready to go home yet.

Prophecy needs to be tested, apparently, so she convinces them to go off and do some looking around. The Starfleet officers are taken aback a bit by the idea of actually exploring the Gamma Quadrant; they only ever come out here when they need to ship a prisoner back to his oppressive homeworld. But she's the Kai so they can't exactly refuse her wishes.

They go check out a mysterious signal, get shot by a mysterious satellite network and end up falling from space onto the mysterious planet below. The runabout is utterly wrecked, the Kai is dead, and they immediately get captured by hostile locals... basically mistakes were made.

It's funny though, how this is Sisko, Kira and Bashir's first visit to a Gamma Quadrant world. You literally have to shoot these Starfleet explorers out of the sky before they'll set foot on a damn planet.

RIP USS Yangtzee Kiang, first of the runabouts to go but far from the last. The moral of the story: always take the Rio Grande.

It's nice that they went to the trouble of building the entire front section of the runabout, but I guess they ran out of time or money when it came to the engines as they've borrowed one off a Next Gen shuttlecraft. It's a shame there's no matte painting shot to show where they've crashed though, as it makes it seem that they've crashed it into a foggy studio set.


ACT TWO.


Oh no they're at it with the tricorders again. You're in Ops, you've got sensors and screens all over every bloody wall, you don't need the little handheld ones in here! Actually I think they're just testing them out. They'd better be, as they're waving phasers around too.

Sisko's runabout is over three hours late, so they've finally decided to go out and have a look for them. Actually it seems that they've got runabouts out looking already, as they've 'found a trace of a warp eddy current', but you can't carry out a rescue mission without main cast members so Dax and O'Brien have got a plan: keep sending senior officers into the Gamma Quadrant until they find the missing runabout. It seems that Lt. Primmin's gone back to his home planet, so if they get shot down it'll presumably be up to Odo and Quark to come and save them, with Nog and Jake left behind to run the station.

Meanwhile on Planet Crap, Sisko and the other survivors have been taken to a cave to meet with the leader of the Ennis, Shel-la (played by someone from Breaking Bad I believe). He's a little surprised to see that his visitors aren't from the same race, but he seems friendly enough for a miserable battle-worn soldier.

Though Bashir still has to wrestle a bit to get his medical kit off of a nameless Ennis extra to treat Kira's wounds. Hold on, is that... Patricia Tallman? Whoa, I remember seeing her in Next Gen as a stuntwoman, but I'm surprised to see her in a role with no lines after playing Lyta Alexander in Babylon 5's pilot movie.

Shel-la reveals that the Ennis are at war with a brutal enemy here on this world, and checks out one of their phasers. But he disregards it as being rubbish as they stopped using directed energy weapons centuries ago because they're "not damaging enough."

Star Trek II
Uh, Shel-la, these things can literally leave you as a scorch mark on the floor in one shot.

The conversation continues some more with Shel-la revealing that they're prisoners on this world, both the Ennis and their enemies the Nol-Ennis. The satellites in orbit are there to keep them there, presumably to prevent others from coming to pick them up as I don't see these folks starting up a space program.

So even if O'Brien and Dax manage to find them, they'll still have to survive the attack that brought their runabout down and get through the satellites to beam them up.

The episode carries on like this for a while, conversations in the dark, but just when I thought it was safe to take a nap the Nol-Ennis invaded the caves, putting the crew in the middle of a firefight!

So they run to the back of the caves and hide behind a rock.

They shot Lyta Alexander! She hadn't even gotten a line yet!

Nice sparks though. If there's one thing this series excels at, it's phaser hits. But hang on, didn't the guy say they didn't use energy weapons any more? Or was that just the Ennis.

Kira's had a really shitty day up to this point and she's had enough, so she rolls out of cover to bring the ceiling down on their attackers with a well-aimed phaser strike. Or maybe she meant to hit their heads and it was terribly aimed... either way it ended the immediate crisis. Though no one's left to appreciate it as the Ennis we met are all dead.

And then zombie Kai Opaka comes wandering in.


ACT THREE.


Bashir is amazed at Opaka arrival as he was pretty sure she was dead. Maybe he's just embarrassed that he forgot what he said at the start of The Passenger and trusted the tricorder readings.

Opaka doesn't know why she's back from the dead, but Bashir does. Her physiology has been altered by a bio-mechanical presence that's working at the cellular level to keep her alive. So she's more of a cyberzombie.

The others in the cave begin to come back to life as well, so Shel-la can get back to the exposition. He explains that his planet's leaders couldn't make peace between the Ennis and Nol-Ennis, so they dumped both sides on this moon and cursed them with immortality to make a point to the rest of civilization. Hopefully they also used a variation of the technology to curse the sick and wounded in their hospitals to not suffer and die.

Bashir goes off to the runabout with an Ennis escort to investigate the cause of their immortality, while Opaka starts investigating the cause of the conflict. Shel-la doesn't actually know how it started, but it continues because of an endless cycle of retaliation.

Kira's amazed by the revelation that they've been fighting for generations... and they're still crap at it! She starts going through all the ways they could guard the base better, but Shel-la explains that it's not that they don't know all this already, they've just given up caring.

Sisko tries a more constructive approach, telling Shel-la if he can arrange a cease-fire, he can get both sides off the moon.


ACT FOUR.


Meanwhile O'Brien and Dax are still looking for them on the USS Rio Grande, but finding the planet they crashed on is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"Bloody needle in a haystack. Needle in a haystack... what we need is a magnet!" says O'Brien, having a standard Star Trek epiphany. Then he has to explain to the station's genius science officer that he's going to scan for the runabout hull's unique magnetic resonance using probes modified with a differential magnetomer... which he has to invent right now. Dax is basically his clueless assistant in these scenes, she's very underused. So nothing new there.

Down on Planet Crap, Shel-la announces that he's worked out a cease-fire with the Nol-Ennis, and the two sides will meet near the runabout, as that's the only 'outdoor' set they've built.

Kira was already a bit of an emotional mess, with her Kai dying and then coming back as cyberzombie, but now she's also worried that her undead spiritual leader thinks of her as a violent person. She's been fighting Cardassians since she was a child and she actually breaks into tears at the thought that the Prophets won't forgive her for what she's done.

It feels like it should be a moving scene and an important step forward in Kira's character arc, but it kind of comes from nowhere as we've seen barely a hint of guilt out of her in a dozen episodes. She's mostly just seemed annoyed about having to be in weird Star Trek episodes when she just wants to run a space station. Plus she was ranting about being considered a minor operative in the teaser.

This planet is really crying out for a matte painting.

As the two sides gather to hear Sisko's proposal, Bashir points out that he's basically proposing a jailbreak, which gets a stern retort from his boss. "I don't need you to interpret the Prime Directive for me, Doctor." Not sure Captain Picard was ever so cavalier with the Prime Directive, at least not without at least two full meetings in the conference room.

So now that Sisko's got Shel-la of the Ellis and Zlangco of the Nol-Ellis in once place he can explain he's from a Federation space station... and what a Federation is anyway. That means we get a surprisingly rare description of the United Federation of Planets.
"The Federation is made up of over a hundred planets who have allied themselves for mutual scientific, cultural and defensive benefits."
Funny, I'm sure I heard Captain Pike calling it a "peacekeeping and humanitarian armada" in Star Trek 2009...

Sisko gives it his best shot to convince them he has the resources and the willingness to save them all, as implausible as that sounds, but Zlangco doesn't trust a word of it. Well he doesn't trust Shel-la at least and his instincts are right, as the man was only using Sisko to get the Nol-Ennis out in the open. So the fighting starts up again and once again Sisko's caught in the middle.

Of course Sisko can take anyone on in hand to hand combat when he's pissed off, he knocked an omnipotent god to the mat a few episodes back, but he's not omniscient and Bashir has to tackle him to the ground to avoid a regrettable meeting of a thrown tomahawk and the side of his head.

He's learned from the runabout's computer they can't afford to die here, not even once...


ACT FIVE.


... because once the microbes on the planet restore someone to life, the body becomes permanently dependant on them, and the microbes are permanently dependant on the planet. So the Kai's stuck here forever, along with everyone else. No jail break.

On the plus side, O'Brien and Dax are in orbit now and have managed to get a message through those mean bastard satellites in orbit, though transporting someone out will require some more tech work.

Sisko's apparently not feeling overly threatened here any more as he's happy to stand there with his back turned to both factions as they pick themselves up and crawl off. It's like the aftermath of a party and they're the only two people there without a hangover.

In fact he just casually walks back to the Ennis base to give the Kai the bad news about being trapped here... though she actually beats him to it. She's not leaving, no matter what he says! The Prophets want her to stay and save these people, so that's what she's going to do. Sisko's probably well aware that the Prophets he met wouldn't give a damn about these prisoners, but he's not about to debate interpretation of prophecy with the Space Pope.

Up in orbit Chief O'Brien has a cunning plan: lure one of the satellites away and then beam the crew up through the gap in the network. But nothing ever works the first time on television, so...

... huh, it worked? That's it, they just beam away, end of episode? I was expecting a bit of tension, a bit of drama, maybe even a dilemma to delay their departure.

So I'm sure Dr. Bashir's going to get right onto finding a way to alter the immortality nanites to allow the Kai to leave and then cure death across the Alpha Quadrant right? No? Well... okay then.


CONCLUSION

Well that was a dull, slow moving, tedious waste of 40 minutes.

I was pretty curious about Battle Lines at first, because I remembered very little about it. I mean I knew that they crashed on a planet in the middle of an endless war between immortal prisoners, and I knew that Kai Opaka died and came back to life, but everything else was a blur to me. But it turns out that's because nothing else happens in this episode! They go to a cave, they leave the cave, they go back to the cave, the end. And the majority of their time spent in the cave is taken up by exposition delivered in the most joyless, least inventive way possible, in one long infodump from a weary prisoner with nothing better to do.

As far as I can tell it's about three things: the futility of war when it becomes a pointless cycle of revenge, Kira coming to terms with her violent past, and the Kai facing her destiny. Trouble is that Kira's never shown any sign of guilt over what she's done or who she is up to this point. She should be coming to terms with getting dragged into weird-ass Star Trek adventures every week if anything. And the Kai has nearly no interaction at all with the people she stays behind to save aside from asking them why they started fighting. She almost disappears from the story entirely after her death in fact, and not just because of being dead.

But hey at least there was a bit of continuity here, with Kai Opaka making a second appearance and Kira dealing with her past as a terrorist. Also someone finally showed some curiosity about the Gamma Quadrant... and it got them trapped on a craphole prison planet for all eternity. The series is doing a really poor job at selling me on the wonder of being on the frontier of known space.

The episode didn't burn the flesh away from my face or anything, I wasn't in physical pain watching it, but I wasn't exactly enraptured either. So I'd say that this belongs... somewhere in the lower middle of episode rankings so far. Above Vortex and Q-Less but below Move Along Home and The Nagus. The departure of the Kai is a big deal but this is a skippable story.


Deep Space Nine will return with O'Brien getting roped into protecting a Bajoran village in The Storyteller. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, Star Trek: First Contact!

Comments are welcome! Share your thoughts about Battle Lines or my humble website.

1 comment:

  1. Lt. Primmin's gone back to his home planet, so if they get shot down it'll presumably be up to Odo and Quark to come and save them, with Nog and Jake left behind to run the station.

    That is exactly the kind of story I would expect to see in 90's Trek so I will be astounded if it hasn't happened. I bet there's a "Neelix is left in charge of Voyager" episode.

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