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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 2-10: Sanctuary

Episode:30|Writer:Frederick Rappaport|Air Date:28-Nov-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'd like to apologise for my inability to stick to my long-term plans for the site. I didn't actually tell anyone I was planning to get a Deep Space Nine episode review posted on January 3rd in time for the 25th anniversary, but I was. Also the plan was to have reached a good episode by then, so that I could celebrate the series, and instead I've ended up with... Sanctuary. By the writer of Move Along Home. I'm so sorry.

Not that I'm saying that Sanctuary's a bad episode. No, it would make much more sense to save that bombshell until later in the review.

By the way, every time I start writing about a DS9 episode I check the episode's air date to put in the box above, and then I invariably add '1993' to the post's labels because every single episode I've rewatched and reviewed so far was first aired during the same 12 months. That's 30 episodes in one year, how is that even possible? Well 29 really, seeing as Emissary aired as one feature-length story. But Sanctuary was the penultimate Star Trek episode of 1993, with Next Gen's Parallels bringing the franchise's busiest ever year of television to an end a day later. There will never be more episodes of Trek airing in a year ever again. Unless Discovery gets three spin-offs and they're all released simultaneously.

I'd also planned to make this one of my quick reviews, without the long recap, but it didn't work out. I ended up with a long rant about a four-minute scene that happens in the fourth act and barely mentioned anything else. So I've gone and rewritten the whole thing, to give you more SPOILERS and to give me just a little more reason to resent watching it.



The episode begins with Sisko bringing Kira into his office to tell her to get her own work done first before spending the rest of the day yelling at Bajoran ministers on monitor screens. She thought it was more of an angry whisper, and Bajor is in trouble, but she sees his point.

Her duties apparently include running down to the promenade to see what Quark's whining about now, and it turns out it's the musician he's got performing there. Varani's mesmerising Quark's clientèle by playing the Deep Space Nine theme on his sci-fi woodwind prop, which you can see in my scruffly stitched together screencap of the panning shot above. So I guess the DS9 theme's actually a Bajoran song then? Makes sense to me.

That's the guy who played Nilz Baris in the Original Series episode The Trouble with Tribbles playing Varani by the way. He's the first actor from that episode to show up on DS9, but definitely not the last.

Varani's a friend of Kira's and he's slumming it here in Quark's because musicians can't be choosy about venues these days. Which seems weird to me, because they're two years out of a fifty year occupation, you'd think there'd be more opportunities for him now. He's hoping that the ministers back on Bajor will put some of their resources towards rebuilding the Jalandra Forum as their people need to reclaim their artistic heritage for the sake of their self worth (plus he'd rather play in an exhibition hall than a bar in a space airport.).

I'm spotting a theme here, with the Bajoran Provisional Government not doing anything that Kira wants them to do. Five minutes in and there's still not a whole lot of story going on though.

But as soon as she gets back to Ops a group of Gamma Quadrant aliens come through the wormhole in a broken ship and need to be beamed to safety! So they do that. And that's the end of the teaser.

C'mon episode, you've got to give me a little more that that to keep me hooked through the opening titles! They're kind of dull and last almost two minutes. Well okay I always skip them, but people watching it in 1993 didn't have that option. Except for the people who taped it to watch later I suppose...

Anyway what's more interesting is the actors who have beamed aboard, as the guy on the right is played by Andrew Koenig, who was Walter Koenig's son, and the guy on the left is played by Leland Orser in his first Star Trek appearance. The guy shows up everywhere (often looking a bit concerned), but I mainly know him from Alien: Resurrection, Seven and the Daredevil movie.


ACT ONE


These aliens might look human in this screencap, but in close ups it's clear that's not quite the case. They've got gross skin and fancy hair, you see. Plus it soon becomes obvious that the universal translator isn't working on them, so they've got no way to communicate. Hey maybe that should've been what they ended the teaser on, not that it's much more interesting than what we got.

Unfortunately it's not usually all that fun watching people struggling to communicate with each other, that's why Stargate: SG-1 dropped the idea almost immediately despite it being a big part of the movie. There's only been one Trek episode about translation problems that's been any good, and that's Next Gen's Darmok. Unless there's another one I'm forgetting. Plus it's not necessarily a great idea to show the universal translator failing to work, because it gets viewers wondering how the hell it ever worked in the first place, when they should be focusing on the story.

The aliens seem to respond to Kira, so Sisko tells her to lead them to the infirmary, which means going through the promenade. The aliens are shocked by all they see there, as they've never been to a shopping centre before. But also they're confused and uncooperative, so Sisko tells Kira to handle it. Then in the next scene they're confused and uncooperative and Sisko tells Kira to handle it. Then in the next scene they're confused and uncooperative and Sisko tells Kira to handle it. Then in the next scene they're confused and uncooperative and Sisko tells Kira to handle it.

It's basically this. This is what watching this episode is like.

I've been watching the episode with a friend until now, someone so stubborn that he never quits something he's started watching no matter how bad it is (he even made it through the first season of Legends of Tomorrow with me), but after a scene where Kira tries to show them that their replicated food is edible he checked out because he just couldn't take any more.

But I had to keep watching because I've got this bloody review to write.

How do they know that it's edible for them anyway? For all their know their alien food will kill them!

Around quarter of an hour into the story the universal translator mercifully kicks in and we learn from the group's leader that her people are the Skrreea and they've got a whole lot of ships full of refugees on the other side of the Eye. The Eye of the Universe. You know, the tunnel? The crew stare back at her blankly.

I know I'm nitpicking here, but the four seconds it took them to catch on that she meant 'the wormhole' felt more like a minute to me.

Also it turns out that the universal translator failure was a cunning way for the writer to delay the shocking revelation that there are three million of them out there on ships who need their help. Again maybe this would have been a better place to end the teaser. They could've had Kira talking about her musician friend to Sisko in his office at the start, then fit the whole communication failure thing into two minutes in Ops.


ACT TWO


Alright, now the crew finally have something interesting to deal with. But first there's an exposition dump, with the characters all asking the Skrreen leader to elaborate on various things, like they're exhausting all the dialogue options in their Mass Effect conversation wheel.

Their leader, Haneek, reveals that Skrreen society is matriarchal, mostly because their men are too emotional and can't stop picking up things in the promenade they know they're not supposed to. Then she explains that she's not an actual leader, she's just a farmer who got hold of a spaceship and went off looking for the wormhole. Their legends say that the Eye of the Universe will lead them to their new homeworld, Kentanna. A planet of sorrow where the Skrreean will sow seeds of joy. I think I know where this is going.

Turns out that the Skrreens were in much the same situation as the Bajorans, except they lived under occupation for 800 years instead of 50. Plus the Bajorans kicked the Cardassians out on their own and then invited the friendly Federation to drop by, while the Skrreen's oppressors were invaded by an even worse group of oppressors... who were part of the Dominion. We first heard that name three episodes back, when Rules of Acquisition told us that the Dominion is who you do business with in the Gamma Quadrant, and this new information isn't all that encouraging. Unless you're hoping for the writers to actually do something with that unexplored stretch of Gamma Quadrant the station's sitting next to, in which case it is.

Plus we also learn that Deep Space Nine can only hold 7000 people, which seems a little on the low side. Babylon 5 can hold 250,000 without breaking a sweat! Though 3 million refugees would be a bit much; even Stargate's city of Atlantis would likely struggle with that. The Death Star could totally handle it though.

Anyway Kira drops by Haneek's quarters with a present for her: a dress she was looking at in the promenade. Turns out she was looking at it because she hated it though and they all have a laugh.

Kira came by pretty late, as she woke her and her husbands up (though Haneek doesn't know that word), as she wanted to tell her than they've found some Skrreean ships and she thinks it'll be best if she's there to greet them. The Skrreeans don't have any leaders left, but Haneek was the first one to find the wormhole so she's the closest they've got. I can get on board Kira's train of thought there, seeing that her boss became the Bajoran Emissary by being first to find the wormhole on this side. Not that there's a chance that anyone will mention that this episode.

Hey Nog's back! He has shown up in season two already, but that was ages ago back in The Siege.

Nog's amazed that Jake's been on a date with one of Quark's Dabo girls and that he doesn't think it's a big deal. To this is the first time that Jake's Dabo girl girlfriend Mardah gets mentioned in the series, though we don't get to see her yet, so it's not as obvious yet how much of an age difference there is. The guy's only like 15 right now!

But the scene's actually about the two of them spying on that Skrreen played by Andrew Koenig as he steals some unattended food. Nog thinks he's an idiot for not knowing about the replicators and to be honest been there's nothing in the episode so far to contradict that. The male Skrreens have all been portrayed as kind of clueless, to the point where I have to wonder why. Where's the episode going with this?

Soon the first of the Skrreen ships arrives at the station and they get to come on board and enjoy the promenade, with its many things to pick up and be told to put back down.

So a religious people who've suffered oppression have finally discovered the wormhole from their legends. But unlike the Bajorans they're flooding the station and reacting with awe! I feel like this is what episode two of the first season should've been like, except with a promenade full of Bajoran extras all trying to get a glimpse of their Celestial Temple. Yeah I know Bajor was a wreck after the occupation (and still is to a degree), but three million Skrreean refugees managed to find warp-capable spaceships and make the trip, and these guys didn't exactly have an easy time of things either.

Oh man, I hope there's enough air for them all. That would be a dark ending, if they overtaxed DS9's life support and all suffocated.


ACT THREE



Act three begins with Nog running from a group of Skrreean, straight into Odo. He thought it'd be funny to spray them with stink vapour but they didn't see the funny side and now they want to beat him up, so Odo drags him to his office... by the ear. Damn man, for a Ferengi that's got to be child abuse.

Quark comes by the security office later to pick him up (Nog's dad is busy doing stock inventory and Quark didn't want him to lose count, so his actor doesn't get paid this week), and gets him to give a half-hearted apology. Which leads to Quark giving his opinion on the refugees, which is that they're nothing but trouble. They drop bits of flaking skin everywhere and they never buy anything!

Odo's not so bothered about any of that, but the threat of Quark going out of business because of them brings a rare smile to his face. Probably not his first smile in the series, but the Odo Grin Count has to be in the single digits at this point.

Over in Quark's, Kira's friend's Varani is still playing music and it hasn't gotten any better, though the crowd doesn't seem so hypnotised any more at least. The camera pans over to reveal that Haneek sitting with four other Skrreens with equally powerful hair styles and we learn that they've voted to officially make her their leader. So now she's the one responsible for getting 3 million people to Kentanna, no pressure.

Kira comes over to be reassuring, followed by Varani.

Oh no, he's got little holographic versions of himself to give out! He thought she should have a gift in the spirit of friendship, seeing as the Bajorans have gone through similar misery.

Haneek goes back to her quarters, followed by the guy Nog sprayed with the vapour, who we learn is called Tumak. He tells her he's going to get a wash, which gives her an idea: maybe Bajor is the planet of sorrow she's been looking for! The script says that she looks down at Varani's hologram box and thinks back to what he said, but in the actual scene the box is out of shot so it seems like she's looking down in thought as she considers that Tumak is angry and stinks, before checking star charts with renewed purpose.

Tumak's also got a good idea of what he wants to do next, as the next time we see him he's on the promenade, going after Nog in revenge.

We leads to a rare Jake/Quark team up as they take on the Skrreeans together! Well Jake mostly just rolls around on the floor as Quark throws the others away. Quark couragously beating up teenagers to save his nephew is easily the highlight of the episode for me so far. Sure he probably charged him for it later, but it was nice to see the guy stand up for his family, while everyone else there on the promenade just stood and watched.

Plus he got to physically intimate someone for the first time in his life, and I got this amazing looping clip out of it (with a little editing to get the time down).

Tumak's really frustrated that he wasn't allowed to attack someone in public and decides that he's not really welcome here.

Meanwhile Dax and Sisko have been looking for a new home for the Skrreea and have come up with the planet Draylon II. It's not perfect... actually it is perfect, they've found them the ideal world. It's amazing that no one else has colonised it yet.

But Haneek's got good news for them as well! She's decided that Bajor is Kentanna, so they're all going to move there instead. It's a planet of sorrow you see; Draylon II would be far too upbeat and cheerful. Maybe Bajor ticks some other prophecy boxes too, but that's all we're told.


ACT FOUR


Hey we're finally getting a glimpse of the Skrreean's ragtag fugitive fleet!

This is the most ships we've ever seen around Deep Space Nine, though they don't quite look as alien as they should do. The two in the middle of the shot are a reuse of the Promellian battle cruiser that showed up in Next Gen's Booby Trap. Apparently the ones off in the distance were built from model kits parts; pieces of cars and planes and suchlike.

Kira's musician friend makes yet another appearance, this time to... hey I just realised that he's not wearing a Bajoran earring! Is he a rare atheist Bajoran?

Varani wants Kira to express his regret to Haneek that the Bajorans aren't going to let them immigrate to Bajor. Because there ain't no way that's ever going to happen. Bajor's a mess, they've still got a provisional government, they lost their spiritual leader last year, and they don't even have a decent exhibition hall!

I'm not sure what to think of this scene really. Either it's Varani saying a lot of nice things but not welcoming the idea of having these folks as actual neighbours, or it's him being genuinely remorseful but pragmatic. He's totally right though, as in the very next scene the minister who Kira likes to argue with on monitor screens comes to the station and tells Haneek that the Skrreean can't immirate to Bajor.

And just like that it's over with. We had an actual dilemma going on for a minute but the episode spent so long on padding earlier that it doesn't have time to actually explore it.

But it turns out that the minister is played by Kitty Swink, who is Quark actor Armin Shimerman's wife, so that's cool.

The Provisional Government's reasoning for denying their request is that Bajor is struggling too much to look after their own people to add an additional three million mouths to feed. And they really are, seeing as they wrecked a perfectly good moon last season just to heat a few hundred thousand homes. Haneek explains that the Skrreea are farmers, they'd wouldn't be a burden on them, they'd be growing extra food to solve the Bajoran's famine problems! The legends clearly say that they're supposed to sow seeds of joy on the planet of sorrow (she doesn't mention this though).

But the Provisional Government has ran predictions to see if the Skrreea could even grow enough crops to survive with Bajor's crappy soil and the results aren't happy. If things go bad for them, the Bajorans will have three million extra people that they'll feel obligated to give aid to, despite Haneek repeatedly saying they don't want any help. Kira spent the teaser complaining the Provisional Government's stupid bureaucratic excuses, but even she has to admit they've got a pretty good one this time.

Have they made the best decision for everyone though, or are they purely acting in their own self-interest because they don't much want three million refugees with flaky skin moving in? Take the Federation out of the equation and it does seem like they're screwing over these poor desperate people with nowhere else to go. But the Federation are in the equation, and they've found a much better planet for them, so really the issue here is that Haneek has latched onto her theory that Bajor is Kentanna and won't accept alternatives. Maybe Bajor matches the legendary description of Kentanna is a dozen different ways, we don't know. She doesn't use the legend as part of her argument, despite it being the only factor in her decision making, so we only know what we already heard.

Kira comes by to see Haneek later, but she pretty much feels she betrayed her. She acted like a friend right until she needed her, then she stabbed her in the back!

For someone who was just a farmer up until a few days ago, Haneek sure is convinced that's she's right and that anyone who disgrees with her is working against her. She's got reasons to be frustrated and angry, but she kind of comes off like a bit of a lunatic here and Kira's clearly thrown off by her reaction.

Speaking of people who've been angrily lashing out, Tumak's finally figured out how to use the replicator and he's queuing up in the Replimat when Jake comes by to bury the hatchet. Nobody gets thrown to the ground this time, but Tumak asks Jake if he wants to go to Draylon II, then says he doesn't either and turns his back to him. I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for the guy as he's got no say in where these people decide he should go, but it's not like Jake's got it any better. He didn't choose to come to this crappy Cardassian space station out on the frontier! He's been dragged around different starships and starbases his whole life, moving each time his dad was reassigned or the Borg blew up his home. But Jake doesn't mention that, because the episode seems strangely averse to actually discussing anything he's not a dick.


ACT FIVE


So now the Skrreean situation has been abruptly dealt with, the episode can finally end. But it doesn't. 

That little git Tumak has stolen a ship and he's making a run for Bajor! I knew he didn't want to go to Draylon II, but the episode didn't give any hint he was sold on the idea that the planet is Kentanna. I had no idea he felt such a need to get down there and start growing crops to help with the Bajoran famine!

He chose a ship with a radiation leak and he's ignoring all their calls, so he's in real trouble here. Especially as two Bajoran vessels are coming to intercept.

We don't actually get to see them though; they're just dots on a screen. I guess they blew the budget on extras and that fleet made of model kit parts.

Weirdly we never see a shot of Tumak in the cockpit either, on a monitor or otherwise, though they do call up a Bajoran general to get him to give the order to call off his ships and let the damaged Skreean vessel land. But the dumbass starts to open fire on them and a phaser beam ignites the radiation leak, blowing his ship up. Which I guess is a thing that can happen.

We've basically had two spaceship suicide runs two episodes in a row, which is weird. And this time around it seems like even less of a tragedy, as they've somehow made a desperate refugee far less sympathetic than the arrogant egomaniac terraformer who flew into a star in Second Sight.

But it's a sad ending for the Skrreeans returning to their ships for the trip to Draylon II. Haneek feels like the Bajorans have made a terrible mistake, as they could've helped them. But 50 years of Cardassian rule has made them all suspicious and she pities them. Also she knows now that Bajor is not Kentanna, because of how unwelcoming they've been.

Man, if she's that bothered about the poor Bajorans she can send some food back from that paradise planet Sisko found for them. An entire planet, all to themselves, their own homeworld, free of charge, with no risk of starving to death because the soil can't support them. Really they should be hurrying over there, because if the Bajorans had enough ships they'd be nicking it first.

So the Skrreeans are all miserable and now they're all going off to an awesome planet they don't even want so they can be miserable there. It'll be a planet of sorrow, but I'm sure they'll be happier once they start getting some crops planted. Really when you think about it, if their prophecy says that they end up on Kentanna, then wherever they settle must be Kentanna!


CONCLUSION

Sanctuary is a story about refugees, that much I'm sure of. A sadly timeless topic for an episode. What I'm supposed to be taking from it though, I really don't know.

The episode burns up the first quarter of an hour on tedious, repetitive scenes about the Skrreeans' frustrating inability to communicate and how they'll only trust Kira, then there's another 15 minutes of them hanging about on the station annoying people before we finally get to the big dilemma in the fourth act and Kira's epic betrayal. Well, that's how Haneek sees it anyway, and it the episode does seem to treat the end result as a moral failure on the part of the Bajorans. Millions of farmers turned up to help the Bajorans out of a famine, but they turned them away due to their paranoia and Kira chose to do nothing to change their minds. It's a tragedy!

But this doesn't quite work for me for a number of reasons. First, the Skrreeans are deliberately portrayed as being obnoxious and gross, and the males are childish assholes. We get one likeable Skrreean character and she turns on the crew so fast when she doesn't get what she wants, even though she's only wanted it for like two minutes. Seems to me that when the 3 million people fleeing from oppression in your refugee story aren't sympathetic, then something's gone wrong. When I think of the Skrreeans I think of the guy constantly picking things up off someone else's table even when he was told not to, the guy stealing leftovers when there's a replicator next to him, and the guy who took a broken ship to Bajor despite being warned it'd kill him. Sure those were all the same guy, but he's only other real Skrreean character in the story besides Haneek and we're repeatedly shown that these folks are continually going after things that aren't good for them even when they're warned not to by people genuinely trying to help them.

And that's the other problem right there: there are people with the willingness and resources to properly help the Skrreeans. The Bajorans are struggling to recover from a long occupation and their farmland isn't in a condition to properly support themselves, never mind others. Meanwhile, the Federation is offering the Skrreeans a free planet all to themselves, with all the conditions they need to thrive. You can't really relate the situation to our current day refugee problems because there's an easy solution to the crisis right there! The only reason the Skrreeans don't go for it is because of their vaguely defined legends; no one seems to have any other issues with it. The episode could've made more of a deal about their battered ships not being able to make the trip, or the lack of local communities giving them no one to trade with, or maybe Bajor could've had special properties they needed to live, but we got nothing.

Maybe this would've worked better if they'd drawn more parallels between the Bajorans and the Skrreeans, made a bigger deal of the fact that the wormhole is at the centre of both their religions, compared their belief in Kentanna with the Bajoran belief in the Celestial Temple... but they didn't. They could've at least shown us why Bajor fits their prophecy, beyond 'it's a planet of sorrow' but we don't get that either. We got more discussion about their matriarchal society than anything else in the end, and that seemed to be there for no reason than to make them a little more alien and to undermine everything Tumak did by portraying him as an idiot. No one even brought up the idea of sending a few Skrreeans to Bajor at first to see how well they do with the soil. Or the idea of using the Skrreean fleet to bring some soil over from the other planet. Or any ideas at all.

Plus worse than all of that, I didn't just enjoy watching it. The actors did what they could with it, they're definitely not the problem, but this is a failed Kira episode. Which is a shame really, because she's had some of the best stories so far. In fact, I'm going to put this down near the bottom of my episode rankings, just underneath Move Along Home. That seems like the right place for it to live.



COMING SOON
Deep Space Nine will return with Rivals. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about Discovery's The Wolf Inside.

By reading this final sentence you have been reminded to leave a comment.

3 comments:

  1. I remember Haneek very well, which is weird because it's not a particularly striking costume design, but nothing else about this episode sticks in the mind. As it turns out, that's probably a good thing.

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  2. Famines don't usually happen because there's a lack of farmers. Dropping 3 million more people onto land that's not producing won't suddenly produce produce.

    Still, it's weird that there's a global famine. Is all of Bajor's farming done in Bajoran Iowa? And how is there famine at all in a society that has replicators? I know replicators have to be built and take energy to use, but the same is true of farming and farm equipment. Plus, I assume the Federation has been giving them industrial replicators as part of a relief effort. Maybe the Provisional Government should be focusing on making a reliable source of food available instead of relying on folks scrabbling in lousy soil. And isn't there any interplanetary trade? Heck, they could charge a toll for wormhole use, if nothing else, then use the money to import food. They have a space station right there! Heck, they've already founded a colony with a great irrigation system in the Gamma Quadrant! Where'd those resources come from?

    I guess part of my problem is that we almost never see Bajor, and when we do, it doesn't seem that bad. The planet appears to have a population roughly the same as Wyoming, scattered in small cities and even smaller villages, and yet the people consume inordinate quantities of resources, as Ray reminded us with the moon converted for heating houses. (?) Three million people really isn't that many on a planetary scale; Earth has individual cities with five times that many people, in Third World countries! I can't believe the Cardassians sucked the planet dry in 50 years, not with operations the size of Terok Nor. Writers are so bad with scale, and it destroys their credibility when they try to make me think a whole planet is suffering and starving when everyone we see is living in an intact temple or a nice suburban house.

    Sorry, this is just me griping about the show's premise in general, rather than talking about this specific episode, which sucked. I think it would have been darkly funny if we'd been told in a couple of years that Draylon II had been sterilized of all life by the Jem'Hadar.

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    Replies
    1. If I remember right they did eventually make an episode all about Bajor's soil problems and what they were doing to solve them, but it's still a season and a half away. So I've got that to look forward to in 2019.

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