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Thursday, 5 May 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-04: A Man Alone

Episode:4|Writer:Michael Piller|Air Date:17-Jan-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching episode three of Deep Space Nine's first season, A Man Alone. Though if your going by production order it's actually episode two and if you count the pilot as a two parter it becomes episode four!

Swapping episodes around like this didn't happen all that often in Deep Space Nine, but it doesn't seem all that rare for television; I know Babylon 5 and Doctor Who both filmed episodes out of order for various reasons. Sometimes a series has to arrange production to take advantage of an actor's availability, make use of a location, or to give more time for the CGI effects to be completed etc. And sometimes the producers just want to put their better episodes at the front to show that their series isn't all bad.

It's not worth worrying about though, as I remember DS9 season one barely had any continuity to it anyway. US television in '93 still shunned serialisation outside of soaps, so the producers had to fight for their arcs, and at this point they were more interested in making it easy for new viewers to jump on board.

I do have continuity though, so I'm going to be dropping all kinds of SPOILERS for this story and every episode that aired before it. But not the ones coming after it, they're all safe. For now.




Ah there you go, proof that A Man Alone definitely comes after Past Prologue. If you can't trust a VHS cover what can you trust?

I love these UK tape covers by the way, as each one has its own painted image merged in with the wormhole/station hybrid thing going on there. The image might not make a whole lot of sense, but it's far prettier than the cheap looking Next Gen boxes with a screencap framed in a diamond.

And my DS9 DVD covers for that matter, which all have the same picture of the station on them.

I don't love the tapes covers enough to ever want to buy them though thankfully, as I've got enough problems without having 88 VHS boxes to find a home for. It was worse for US fans though, as those tapes had just the one episode on them and they weren't cheap.

The back cover gets a little strange though with its Kirk-era Starfleet badge randomly placed on the left and a made up quote in eDgy niNetiEs texT up at the top. "Open mindedness reveals the enemy" huh? Well that's good to know.

There's also some facts about Major Kira on the inside of the box alongside a giant, incredibly low res picture of her face, which I suppose makes sense considering that Past Prologue is all about Kira. A Man Alone on the other hand, not so much.

The episode begins with Dax trying to meditate with her psychic CGI detergent bubble, when Dr. Bashir strolls right in and tries to be charming. He gets as far as describing the champagne they'll have for supper before Dax finally stops him.

So he switches tack and starts talking about the bubble. Turns out it's a brain teaser that responds to neural theta waves. He decides he'll have a go himself and fails within seconds (because he can't keep his mind focused on anything but her). And Bashir's failure is complete when Sisko drops by to take Dax to supper instead, leaving the doctor as... a man alone.

Hang on, that’s the teaser? That’s supposed to entice me into sticking around through the entire 3 hour opening credits sequence? I'm starting to see why they swapped this with Past Prologue now, seeing as that episode began with Garak and explosions.


ACT ONE.


Hey Quark's back and he's his normal cheerful self now, just in time for the first proper Odo and Quark bar scene! Well almost proper, as the two of them are actually being fairly nice to each other. They're just hanging out and chatting about things going on in the bar, like Chief O'Brien having a very public argument with his wife Keiko upstairs.

If I remember right, Keiko's introduction in Next Generation was a scene in which she told Data to let her fiancée know she was calling their wedding off, and now her introduction in DS9 is a row we don't get to hear. If the writers want us to be sympathetic to this character they're going about it in a weird way.

Sisko and Dax have made their way to Quark's as well, so the scene's getting kind of crowded now. Especially when Odo notices an old nemesis of his gambling at the Dabo table.

Odo and Quark seem to have settled into character by the point, but these two aren't quite there yet. Actress Terry Farrell hasn't found the trick to make her alien character work, while Avery Brooks is struggling to come off as a human. I get that the conversation is supposed to be awkward, as he's still trying to deal with the fact that the crazy old man he used to know is now an unnaturally serene young woman, but his performance here is downright bizarre.

Meanwhile Odo's decided that he wants his nemesis off the station and grabs him. I guess he presumes the ship's he came in on is still docked. Either that or he's just going to kick him out an airlock.

It's interesting seeing Odo actually struggling with someone, as it establishes that he doesn't have superhuman strength (or superbajoran I guess). Maybe if he shapeshifted into a bear or something that'd be different... and now I resent this episode for not showing that happening.

Anyway, Sisko steps in to break up the fight, and Odo switches back to threats, saying he's got 26 hours (a Bajoran day) to get off the station.

And we're finally out of Quark's! It's unusual for an episode of Trek to just hang around in a bar for five minutes like that, probably because most episodes actually introduce a plot in their teaser. In fact they should've shaved off a few minutes and put the bar scene before the credits instead.

Elsewhere, the O'Briens have calmed down a but, and we learn that Keiko's frustrated because she's a botanist and this is a miserable grey space station with like two plants on it. Plus it's a terrible place to raise their daughter, which she demonstrates by pointing to Sisko's son Jake wandering around bored on the lower floor.

And now we're down here following Jake for a bit. Most episodes cut all over the place, but this one's been hovering around the same area of the station at the same time, shifting its focus whenever the current characters find something more interesting to look at. I think it's a great idea, but there's not all that much going on to spy on this week.

Jake's made a friend though: the Ferengi from the pilot who got arrested trying to steal ore samples. Then the episode cuts all the way up to Sisko's office using the 'character continues line from the previous scene' trick.
Jake's Ferengi friend: "My name's Nog."
Odo: "His name is Ibudan."
He's talking about his nemesis though, explaining to Sisko why he hates him. Ibudan's a black market trader who let a child die when his parents couldn't pay for the medicine. Odo managed to put him away on a murder charge during the occupation, but his victim was Cardassian so as soon as the Bajorans got their prisons back they let him go. Odo's more interested in justice than following the rules (which in this case means he wants to kick Ibudan out), but Sisko explains that if he can't work within the rules he'll have to replace him.

So Ibudan gets to stay and enjoy a massage from a woman with weird webbed fingers, and the camera can't think of anywhere more interesting to be. This really hasn't been a particularly focused episode so far, or a particularly interesting one either.

Though Ibudan does get stabbed to death, so that's kind of dramatic.


ACT TWO.


Act two begins with the most miserable shot of DS9 I've ever seen. I know they can never settle on whether the station is brown, purple or grey, but this is the first time I've ever seen it entirely monochrome. Even the yellow strips running down the core under the Promenade windows are grey.

Yes I am a little bored by this episode, how did you know?

Anyway Bashir's a little annoyed that Dax had dinner with Sisko instead of him, but she explains that Trills don't look for romance the same way humans do. They wish to live on a higher plane and rise above such temptations! Except for that one who dated Dr. Crusher on Next Gen, in the episode that first introduced the species. Also every other Trill we ever meet, especially Dax herself in later episodes. Personally, I think she's realised that 'not interested, go away forever' isn't going to work on this guy and she's trying alternate strategies.

Also Jake and Nog are getting on well enough now for Nog to show off his matchbox full of CGI bugs. They giggle at the possibilities.

C'mon Nog, if you're going to secretly plant your box of Garanian bolite bugs next to someone, at least try to be subtle about it. There's no way they haven't noticed him hovering around back there, grinning like an idiot over their shoulders. They're just being polite.

It turns out that when Garanian bolites get out they make you itch like crazy...

...and trip out. I guess the things must crawl all over every millimetre of your skin until you're coated in them like paint. Either that or Odo's watching this on a security monitor and having fun playing around with colour filters. Only two people hear their cries for help and they just stand there looking vaguely disgusted by their behaviour.

It was a cunning prank, but Nog and Jake make the rookie mistake of hiding behind a bit of fence laughing their asses off, and are dragged off by a Bajoran deputy. Keiko looks on with disapproval, as is her way.

Meanwhile the crew have discovered Ibudan's body in one of Quark's holosuites. Oh, this was the place were Dax was playing with her bubble! This Cardassian holosuite looks a lot smaller than Next Gen's giant black room with grid lines on it, but it probably cost a ton more to build. Also it can read your brain's theta waves apparently, which is just a little creepy.

The computer logs indicate that the door was opened only twice: when Ibudan came in and when the killer left, and there's so sign that anyone used a transporter. So they've got a locked room murder mystery on their hands. If this was Next Gen the solution would be obvious: Ibudan asked for a killer massage and the computer interpreted it too literally and created a sapient holographic clone of Jack the Ripper. Funny how they don't even consider the holographic masseur as a suspect.

Meanwhile Keiko decides to open a school.

Back in Sisko's office, he gets a visit by a guy called Zayra, who was hanging around with Ibudan at the beginning of the episode. He has shocking news for them about their case: before his murder Ibudan had confided in him that he was scared of Odo! Well duh, he demanded that he leave the station or else, and Sisko was there to hear it.

But I guess this means their security chief is a suspect. Also this guy, seeing as he's pretty much the only other character we've met so far outside of Nog and the regulars. Unless... Keiko killed Ibudan! It's not like she had any flowers to botanise at the time of the murder.

Ah, a little colour has returned to the station! Look at all the artifacts around the edges though; that ship up there's twinkling like a Christmas tree.

That's the ship Ibudan came in on by the way. Odo's stomping around up there doing some investigation and snooping around his computer files.

He came from Alderaan huh? I thought that place blew up a long time ago.

There's no mention of getting killed in Ibudan's calendar, and that's odd because this guy apparently liked to plan out every hour of his day in advance.

He also really likes his tennis. You can tell this text wasn't scripted by the episode writer, as he didn't call it 'Altarian Hypertennis'.

"Transit Aid" is an interesting thing to write and have in bold text, as that's where Zayra works. It's also interesting how all Ibudan's plans ended at "Odo", with no mention of the massage at all.

Elsewhere Keiko's asking Sisko for permission to set up her school. She’s got no formal teaching qualifications, or even informal ones, but it's something she's always thought about doing!

Sisko thinks it's a great idea though. After all, he's got an ex-freedom fighter upstairs running the space station with no training and she's doing a fine job. But he warns her that the students will be from different cultures, with different philosophies, and that's something she'll have to deal with.


 ACT THREE.


And the award for most 'Star Trek' looking outfit this week goes to that green alien woman on the right. She must have spent hours in make up just to stand silently in the background of this shot.

So now we’ve got a scene where a recurring guest star tries to convince a recurring guest star to allow his recurring guest star son to go to her school. This is Nog's dad Rom, who first appeared in Emissary under the name 'Ferengi Pit Boss', and is still piecing his character together. He's less of a kind hearted idiot here and more of a dick. I don't think future Rom would ever call someone "little lady".

Over in the infirmary, Bashir's reveals he found no sign that anyone had been in the holosuite except Ibudan and all the folks who walked in afterwards and contaminated the crime scene. I guess Quark must have the rooms hosed down frequently. Odo realises that all the clues point to him, as his DNA will be at the scene now and he's the only one who could shapeshift through the locked door. But how did you get the knife in there huh? Didn't think of that, did you Constable?

Wait, Odo has DNA? We also get the first mention of his 18 hour limit, after which he has to return to his natural state (of orange goop in a bucket). He was actually regenerating in his office at the time of the murder, but that's going to be hard to prove.

Over on the other side of Quark's, a mysterious old man with a hood watches as Zayra and some friends start talking all kinds of crap about Odo. Everyone's watching people this episode. Zayra riles the crowd up, talking about how he's not one of them and it's not right that a shifter who worked for the Cardassians gets to keep his job as security chief.

In the end Quark himself comes over to defend his arch-enemy, as he knows there's no way he's a killer. Also they've basically been friends all episode.

The mob decides to move things upstairs, coming by Ops to chat with Sisko about removing Odo from the murder investigation, as he's the closest they've got to a suspect. I think the commander will need to have a talk with his security chief after this, and ask him how crowds of people can just invade Ops like this. Because it's getting ridiculous now.

Meanwhile Bashir's been looking around the docked ship and taking fragments from Ibundan's quarters. He found a weird organic sample there and he thinks that it'll be an awesome idea to accelerate its growth and see what happens!

You know what's weird about this scene, now that I think about it? Dax isn't around. They had two scenes together but that subplot's just disappeared. Not that I want I much want to see him hitting on her again, but mad science is sort of her business.

But it's none of Odo's business any more as Sisko temporarily removes him from the investigation on account of him being the prime suspect, with Kira and Dax taking over. It’s a sensible move, but Odo’s still pissed off. He’s always pissed off this episode, the guy needs to show a bit of professionalism.


ACT FOUR.


Odo returns to the security office only to find that it's been vandalised in his absence, with monitors burned, consoles smashed, chairs overturned and ‘SHIFTER’ etched into the wall. Man, Kira and Dax have had this job for 10 minutes and already everything's gone to crap!

You’d think that there might be a security officer hanging around the security office (or at least a lock on the door) but I guess not.

Quark soon drops by to get in some good insults offer to find out who did it for him. Then he helps him pick up his PADDs (which leads to Odo hugging one for comfort like it's a teddy bear). I remember there being hints that the two of them had some grudging respect for each other during season 1, but they really are just friends this episode. Odo even jokes about going to work for him.

Dax eventually did turn up for the mad science in the end, and Sisko asks if she'd like to have dinner again. But Bashir assumes he's talking to him and the commander hasn't got the heart to let him down, so the two of them go to Quark's to chat about Dax's past lives. And the times she used to beat him at... bare-fist Juro Counterpunch. Wow, I take back everything I said about Avery Brooks' acting earlier, as the man actually delivered that line with a straight face.

As they're chatting they see Odo come in and sit down, and everyone else at the bar get up and walk out. He truly is... a man alone. Except for Quark and his friends sitting on the table behind him. Also the guy in the padded suit on the right. Morn would never bow to peer pressure!

Wait, Morn, where are you going? Morn, you treacherous bastard!

A least things are happier for the O'Briens, as they've pretty much got the school room set up. Keiko's even got a school bell, a present from her husband. The girl playing her daughter clearly thinks it's the best thing ever, which means she comes across as the most genuine actor in the episode (also the most adorable).

And then someone outside yells "Murderer!" so that's their happy moment ruined.

Zayra's got himself a proper angry mob in the Promenade now and they're chasing Odo into his office. This might be the closest the Promenade ever gets to feeling like a frontier town instead of a mall, with the new school teacher setting up the school house and Doc Bashir poking his head out of the infirmary door to watch the townsfolk outside harass the sheriff.

Odo mentioned earlier that some Bajorans saw Ibudan as a hero, but starting a riot over this comes across as kind of  ridiculous. Especially as there's no real evidence linking Odo to the crime and Sisko immediately listened to their concerns and agreed to take him off the case anyway. Zayra's really doing everything he can rile everyone up; he's even got Morn's there!


ACT FIVE.


Wow, Cardassian space glass is kind of shit. The crowd lobbed a bit of metal and it destroyed Odo's window. I have to admire the security chief's restraint, as if was me in there I'd take this opportunity to reveal that yes, I can shapeshift into a Talosian rhinoceros

It's not much fun for him, being on the receiving end of someone else's idea of justice. Fortunately there's rules about lynching people on the Promenade, and when the crowd starts getting violent, Kira and O'Brien step in to personally lay down the law.

SISKO WHAT ARE YOU DOING? That’s outer space up there! Phaser a hole in that ceiling and it'll be like Total Recall in here.

But this was just to get their attention so he could hit them with the heavy weaponry: a wide dispersal maximum yield Star Trek speech. Basically he tells them if they've got evidence, they can take it to a courtroom.

It's funny though that the mob are going after Odo, when Bashir is playing Frankenstein next door.

I mean holy crap, the Doctor went and grew an adult man in his lab! Accidentally! How does that even happen? That’s some good bubbling water if it can give all the nutrients you need to generate that much mass in an afternoon.

Turns out that organic material found in Ibudan's room came from a 'grow your own human' kit. Or a 'grow your own Ibudan' kit to be precise. The guy secretly made a clone of himself on the ship, got him all the way to a holosuite, bought him a massage and then waited around for a quarter of an hour to stab him.

But if Ibudan's alive, where is he?

Odo disguises himself as a chair and waits on Ibudan's ship for that mysterious hooded Bajoran that's been watching the whole thing play out in silence. Turns out that there's no record of him coming aboard the station.

They're doing a Scoobie Doo ending! That's amazing.

Odo rips off the man's mask to reveal that he was Ibudan all along! Killing your own clone is still murder, so he gets turned over to the Bajoran authorities, while his second clone gets to go free! After someone's taught him how to walk, speak, and use toilets that is.

And the episode ends with students arriving at Keiko's school. Well, four of them anyway (and Rom doesn't let Nog sit next to Jake).


CONCLUSION

A Man Alone is easily the absolute worst episode of Deep Space Nine... out of the three episodes I've seen so far.

It's got a murder mystery, an angry mob, space rocks being thrown on the promenade, and Bashir growing an adult man in his lab, and yet this episode just kind of drifts along. It wasn't terrible mind you, we're not at early Next Gen quality here, and every scene with Odo and Quark together was gold as usual, but then it'd cut away from them and I'd go back to absentmindedly sketching on my notepad.

The writers were still trying to figure out what this series was meant to be at this point, and the way the episode keeps handing the episode off to someone else to follow their story for a bit gives it a laid back 'day in the life' feeling. It also gives viewers a tour of the sets, showing where Quark, Bashir, Odo and Keiko work in the marketplace of their frontier town. Trouble is that just makes the series seem like a crappy Space Deadwood, with a mall instead of a main street, and if they're going to do that I'd rather watch Ian McShane yell anachronistic curses at people to be honest.

At least this means the writers have crossed 'murder mystery' off the list of standard plots they can use this season. Except it's more about the detective than the case, possibly because he does next to nothing to solve it until the last couple of minutes (and Bashir does most of the work). The episode establishes Odo as the outsider of the series, in the tradition of Spock and Data, and shows that he's a man alone because of his own grumpy nature. He just doesn't get the appeal of forming attachments with people, because it means making compromises and that's something he has a real problem with. But he's happy to share his misanthropic observations about humanoids to anyone who'll listen, which usually turns out to be Quark, who's developed into his opposite: cheerful, fun-loving, and entirely unscrupulous.

Speaking of characters from other series, there's no Next Gen guest stars this week! Well unless you count Keiko, which I suppose you can considering how infrequent her appearances will be. I'm not entirely keen on seeing her strained marriage with O'Brien getting more screen time, but it'd be preferable to more of the terrible Dax/Bashir/Sisko non-triangle.

Oh damn, I just remembered Sisko's scene with Dax at the start again. And that laugh of his... that haunting terrifying laugh. Right, I think I'm done thinking about this episode now.

ODO'S MORPH OF THE WEEK:

A suspiciously stylish chair sitting inside a ship's passenger quarters.


Deep Space Nine will return with Babel. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching more Doctor Who, specifically Under the Lake.

2 comments:

  1. I don't think I've seen this episode. I also don't think I'm missing much.

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    Replies
    1. It's a very skippable episode of a very skippable season.

      Delete