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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-15: Progress

Episode:15|Writer:Peter Allan Fields|Air Date:09-May-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm digging through another episode of Deep Space Nine. A Kira episode in fact, which means more Bajoran problems.

Progress is Peter Allan Fields' second episode of DS9 after co-writing Dax with D.C. Fontana, and he'd have his name on eight more scripts before the end of its run. Stories like Necessary Evil, For the Uniform, In the Pale Moonlight, Duet... oh plus he also wrote The Inner Light for Next Gen. It's been a long while since I've seen either series, but I feel like they were some of the good ones. So you'd think that I'd be getting my hopes up right about now, but there's another piece of writing I need to take into account and that's the words "SEASON 1" on the box this episode came in. It's rarely a good omen for science fiction series, especially this one.

I'll be recapping the entire episode and sharing my opinions along the way, so you should expect SPOILERS for any episode (or movie) so far. Everything that comes after is safe though.



The episode opens with Jake and Nog playing cards in Quark's after closing, which probably puts this considerably past his bedtime. It also means this might be the second episode in a row to have a Jake and Nog B-plot, with I'm tentatively considering to be a good omen.

Jake just wants to play cards, but Nog overhears Quark berating Rom over an order of yamok sauce he was supposed to cancel. Now he's got 5,000 wrappages of the stuff taking up space in his storeroom. Which is interesting as the bar was utterly shut down when the replicator broke several episodes ago. But now it turns out he's got food in stock!

Anyway, Nog senses opportunity here...

Meanwhile, a few floor upstairs in Ops, the crew are keeping an eye on a Bajoran project to tap the molten core of one of their numerous moons to turn it into an energy production facility. Wait, they're doing what? Did they not see what happened to the Klingon moon in Star Trek VI?

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Booooooooooooooooooom is what happened.

The thing about moons, is that they tend to hang around close to a planet, so if disaster were to happen, they'd be the first to get a faceful of it.

Minister Toran is a bit nervous about it all, as the Bajorans are counting on this project to heat a few hundred thousand homes this winter. I'm sure that's supposed to sound like a big number, but it really doesn't. Especially as it turns out that the moon is a habitable world. You wouldn't make a country or a continent utterly lifeless to power a small city, so it's ridiculous they're doing it to an entire moon.

I get that the Bajorans are struggling to recover from their nightmarish occupation, but showing them carrying out large scale space projects isn't selling me on their lack of resources.

I mean look, Bajor actually looks quite healthy from orbit! Oh hang on, this is the moon they're about to wreck.

Dax and Kira are making an inspection, checking that it's absolutely clear of lifeforms before they carry out the project. Wow, now I'm suddenly reminded of another Star Trek movie.

It's nice they've paired the two of them up again as they work well together and it gives Dax a chance to be a person instead of a text to speech interface for the station's sensors. Plus I love Kira's reaction when Dax jokes that she was tempted to accept Morn's offer of dinner.

Of course it's Dax, so who knows if she even is joking.

Suddenly they pick up a humanoid presence, and it's definitely not one of the project's thermologists. So Kira's beaming down alone to check it out. Wait, alone? She's not going to bring Dax and leave their ship floating on its own in orbit like they usually do? Wow, they're being reasonably cautious for once!

Though it turns out that she really should've brought Dax. That humanoid presence they picked up was an infestation of grumpy farmers and they've got pitchforks!


ACT ONE.


After the credits a third farmer explains that the two people pointing farm tools at her are just bit freaked out by her uniform. Though he doesn't much like uniformed bullies either.

She manages to talk her way into not getting a door slammed in her face, but getting him and the others to leave the moon before the mining starts is going to be much harder, so she decides to stay for supper. I can just imagine Dax waiting up there alone in the space van, eating a Pot Noodle and wondering why Kira's been gone for an hour.

Back on the station, Jake and Nog are trying to get the attention of a cargo ship captain to put phase one of Nog's yamok sauce scheme into action.

Oh awesome, Jake's actor is still stuck wearing that crap onesie that got oatmealed last week. He's not Starfleet, he doesn't need a bloody jumpsuit! They should give him a shirt or a jacket or a cape or something.

The Lissepain captain on the other hand looks pretty great. That is definitely not a typical Star Trek bumpy forehead alien. Though Nog's going to have speak a little louder to get his words up to those ears.

They explain that they've got yamok sauce to sell, but all the captain's got to trade with them is self-sealing stem bolts so this is a dead end. Jake convinces Nog to take the deal though, because... why not? I'm thinking they should've probably checked the value of stem-bolts first though, because they might have just traded 5000 wrappages for 500 wrappages worth of bolts.

Not that they even have any wrappages of yamok sauce to trade at this point. That's phase two.

Now back to the cheap bumpy nose aliens.

Seems it's going to take three hours for the food to be ready, so Kira frees Dax from her A-plot and begins to come to terms with the fact that this is the character she'll be talking to for the rest of the episode.

The old farmer's patronising, stubborn, charming and insulting; he likes to switch to whichever will get a reaction from his guest. It's like he's keeping his options open to whether he wants to win her sympathy or drive her away in frustration. Kira takes it all in stride though.

He reveals he's called Mullibok and he knows full well they're going to start tapping the moon's core in a week. But he's been living here 40 years, ever since he escaped a Cardassian labour camp, and he's sure that if he leaves now he'll die.

Solar panels, that's what they need! Imagine how much energy you could get by covering half a moon in solar panels. Or, they could get that Dal'Rok bracelet that makes emotions manifest in reality from the Storyteller village on Bajor and rig up some kind of generator fuelled by Mullibok's curmudgeonly stubbornness. You could heat 100,000 homes with that easily.


ACT TWO.


Back on the station, Nog's having way more luck as he effortlessly tricks Quark into giving him the job of taking the yamok sauce to the matter reclamation unit. So now it's all theirs to do what they like with it. The woman in purple is so confused by their surreptitious cheering.

Hey I wonder if Kira's shifted that old guy yet.

Nope, now he's telling tall tales about how he started out here ploughing the ground with his fingernails and grinding clay with his teeth. Then he takes her out to see his concrete beehive. Apparently it's going to be a kiln one day.

For someone who hasn't been able to talk with someone in 40 years (his two friends are mute), Mullibok's pretty good at steering conversations where he wants them to go. He lures her into talking about how the Bajoran resistance kicked the Cardassians off their world. They succeeded because they hung on like fanatics, just as he's doing here. She used to fight in the resistance, now she's become the one plundering a world's resources for the good of her people.

This is beginning to stand out to me as being one of the smartest scripts of the season, as far as dialogue goes at least. Who was the writer again? Oh right, I remember now.


ACT THREE.


On DS9 Jake and Nog have successfully swapped 5000 wrappages for 100 self-sealing stem bolts. Trouble is that they don't actually know what self-sealing stem bolts are. They cunningly manoeuvre Chief O'Brien into telling them, but he admits that he's got no idea either. Someone should look them up on the damn internet already! It's not like we haven't seen characters doing it before in Next Gen (and the Original Series for that matter).

They eventually figure out a plan: the stem bolts were originally brought here for a Bajoran who couldn't pay for them, so all they need to do is find out who the original buyer was and sell them the self-sealing stem bolts they want at a price they can afford.

But first Nog wants to play with them for a bit I guess. Maybe he's imagining all the things he could do with the thing if he ever figured out what it did. Though judging by the dollar signs in his eyes, I'm guessing it's more likely he's thinking of all those bars of latinum he'll soon be holding.

Meanwhile Kira's A-plot is still slouching forwards. She's back on the station now, discussing the situation with the minister. Seems that there's an alternate environmentally friendly way to tap the moon for power without rendering it uninhabitable... but they'd really like to get that power as soon as possible, so she's getting sent back to make Mullibok leave. Kira's not happy about forcing people from their homes, saying "If we're going to act like Cardassians, why did we bother to get rid of them in the first place!" But she'll do her job.

I'm sure the minister's doing the right thing here, making a bad long term decision to resolve important short term problems, the trouble is that the episode doesn't really sell the problems on Bajor. Every time the series visits the planet it's all picturesque landscapes, with ancient buildings surrounded by trees. The one community they've visited was well off enough to shower O'Brien with gifts. We just haven't seen a level of suffering that justifies wrecking a perfectly good moon.

I know what they need to do! They need to get one of those Starfleet hologram ships used to secretly move communities off world... and then they need to park it somewhere and plug the engines into the power grid. A small nuclear power plant can keep a few 100,000 people warm, a starship's matter/anti-matter reactor should generate enough power to add a fair amount of zeros to that I expect.

Kira returns to the moon and leads a team of beige-shirt security officers to drag Mullibok's silent friends out of the scenery. They must have been hiding right up next to the backdrop.

Mullibok's content at first to chat this out with Kira in his usual way as he works on his kiln, but when he sees the other two being dragged off he freaks out and starts attacking the security team.

Man, I think Dax had the right idea earlier. Stay on the runabout. Always stay on the runabout.

Just to make things worse, the other Bajoran officer whips out his pistol and opens fire at him. They were supposed to be saving these poor farmers! There wasn't even any need to drag them anywhere, as they could've just beamed them up!

I love the expressions in this shot. The security guy almost looks like an action figure for some reason (I think it's the plastic hair).

They got Mullibok! It's not just a low stun shot either, the guy's been hurt here. Bad enough for Dr. Bashir to have to make another 2 hour trip to Bajor. I guess someone else will be piloting him this time as I suspect O'Brien will be nowhere to be found after what happened last week.


ACT FOUR.


Wow, Cardassian technology is surprisingly low tech when you get the case open. Those chips look like they were borrowed from a Commodore 64.

This is all part of Nog and Jake latest ingenious plan! Actually it's just an extension of their previous plan where they sell the stem bolts... self-sealing stem bolts to the guy who wanted them in the first place, as they're cleverly causing interference with the signal to disguise their identity. Trouble is that he really can't afford them at any price. All he has is a bit of land to offer them, and again they don't know if they're being ripped off or not because they can't be bothered to do the research.

Nog wants out, as this is clearly getting them nowhere, but again Jake drags him into making the deal. The question of who's going to pay to ship the self-sealing stem bolts to Bajor when no one here has any money is quietly sidestepped.

Bashir returns to the station with bad news for Sisko: the other two Bajorans have been evacuated, but Kira's staying to look after the injured Mullibok. Which is kind of the opposite of what she was ordered to do.

This could seriously threaten her career so Sisko decides to he'll have to pull the same trick he did in Dax (by the same writer), and reshape reality through force of will. He explains that Kira is remaining on the moon at the doctor's request for the next day or two, and then tells Bashir to make it true. So Bashir makes the request.

Then Sisko heads over to the moon himself. He's not here for Mullibok though, he's made the trip to speak with Kira. Turns out he's come to consider her a friend and would rather she didn't ruin her career over this.

Kira's used to being the underdog fighting impossible odds, but now she's on the other side and she can't stand it. She doesn't even know if she can help Sisko with his materiel subsistence report any more, but he leaves her a runabout in orbit for when she figures out what she's doing. I guess he must have towed it here.

I'd be more concerned about her losing her job over this if the moon wasn't going to be made uninhabitable in a few days. Bashir's request should cover her until then. Plus Bashir and O'Brien decided to take a couple of days off in a Bajoran village last week and they haven't been fired! But then I suppose they've both got cushy Starfleet jobs.


ACT FIVE.


Huh, why are we still here? I want to get back to the stem bolts! Uh self-sealing stem bolts I mean.

This is a solid episode I reckon, but there's one massive issue with it that it's struggling to overcome, and that's that I don't really want to watch Kira trying to deal with a stubborn old man for 20 minutes. I'm sure these scenes have entertained a lot of other people over the years but they're not holding my interest.

Back on the station, Nog and Jake are back to playing cards again, and arguing about all this worthless dirt they're now stuck with, when they overhear Odo talking to Quark about the Bajoran government wanting to build a reclamation facility on the land. Trouble is that they can't find a way to get in touch with the 'Noh-Jay Consortium' that owns it to make a deal.

Quark determined to find the owner and get involved in the deal, so Nog comes over to Quark with a proposal, and when he sees Nog and Jake there together he figures out what's gone on almost immediately. I like Smart Quark, he needs to show up more often.

Though he'd be smarter if he made the deals himself instead of throwing his wrappages away. Then again it was pure luck that the land they got was immediately worth something. Pure implausible luck.

The best part of all this is that Rom's still paying for the wrappages out of his own paycheck for making the mistake of ordering them in the first place. Half his wages, for the next six years.

Back in the A-plot, Mullibok's recovering from the phaser blast and together they've almost got their concrete beehive built.

He puts the final brick onto it and they fire it up.

Then she whips out her gun and fires at it...

...blowing the kiln to pieces in a single shot! Hmm, I wonder how many homes a hand phaser power pack could heat.

She explains that he's finished his job so she's finishing hers. Mullibok counters that as long as the cottage still stands, he's staying right here. Probably not the smartest thing he could've said to Major Kira, as she just gets a stick from the burning kiln and sets his house on fire, getting an early start on the 'heating Bajoran homes' part of the project.

This is why Kira's one of my favourite characters. She does end up paralysed by torn loyalties and difficult decisions on occasion, but she always ends up burning something down or blowing something up afterwards.

He says again that if he leaves he'll die, but she's too stubborn to give up on impossible causes and tells him she won't let him. The end.


CONCLUSION

Progress is a 30 minute episode squeezed into 2 hours, or at least that's how it felt to me. It was like there's some weird time dilation going on around the Kira scenes that made them last twice as long. I know it doesn't help that I've seen it before and I know where it's going, but I found my attention was fading.

The A-plot is about Kira coming to terms with the fact that now she's the one kicking people out of their homes and stripping their world of its resources. She gets to re-enact the Bajoran occupation in miniature! Though unlike the Cardassians she vows to look after the guy afterwards instead of sending him to work in ore processing. I found this more compelling than the time she suddenly broke into tears over her violent past in Battle Lines, as we've seen the steps that brought her here. She's dealing with the consequences of her choice in episodes like Past Prologue to work with her new government instead of remaining a rebel.

But I think her story's hurt by the fact that we don't see why making a world uninhabitable is so necessary. We've been told that Bajor was ruined by the occupation, but this would've been the time to really make it clear how much people are still suffering there. The ones that aren't living happily in cosy villages occasionally threatened by imaginary milkshake monsters, I mean. It kind of shoots itself in the foot again by showing that even Mullibok's living comfortably on his crappy moon with no power at all.

The A-plot is also about talking. Lots and lots of talking, between two people, on the subject of one of them being a mean old stubborn lying bastard. The writing and acting is good enough to keep it interesting, a step above a lot of episodes so far, but I found I just wanted to get back to the B-plot.

The B-plot is about Jake learning to covet wealth and Nog developing his faith in the Great Material Continuum... though the episode doesn't actually mention the Continuum as that's a Ferengi belief the writers won't invent until season 7's Treachery, Faith and the Great River. I should probably hate that Jake and Nog keep getting their own stories, but I really don't, and this is probably my favourite of them so far.

Plus the two plots kind of come together at the end, as Jake and Nog also find themselves the lone holdout on a piece of land the Bajoran government needs for a project. But unlike Mullibok who stubbornly holds on to his lost cause, they immediately cash out, find happiness and move on! I guess there's a moral in that story, but who knows if it's intentional.

So overall I'd say that Progress is about my fourth favourite episode of this season so far. But there's so much room for improvement.


Next on DS9: O'Brien versus Rumpelstiltskin in If Wishes Were Horses. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm starting Babylon 5's A Voice in the Wilderness two-parter.

2 comments:

  1. This was looking like a bog standard TNG "moral" episode -- I'm sure they've done "natives versus progress" a few times -- and so I was expecting the usual cop out compromise solution where everyone is friends. I was not expecting Kira to blow everything up. Crikey.

    I am pleased that the B plot is more or less Only Fools and Horses in space. Jake is, of course, Rodney.

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    1. You should have more faith in Major Kira! In her first appearance she fired off literally every photon torpedo the station had and since then she's managed to set off a massive bomb in the Gamma Quadrant, fought off alien hunters with a phaser in each hand, took on a lynch mob unarmed, caused a cave in and buried a group of immortals alive, kidnapped an innocent man and infected him with a deadly plague, beamed onto an exploding spaceship and put it out with a hose, and got mad and threw some asshole's tray right onto the damn floor during an imaginary party. If anyone was going to solve a moral dilemma by blowing it up, it's her.

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