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Monday, 9 January 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-18: Dramatis Personae

Episode:18|Writer:Joe Menosky|Air Date:30-May-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, the antepenultimate episode of Deep Space Nine season 1!

Dramatis Personae holds the honour of being the very first episode in Star Trek history to have a Latin phrase as its title (it refers to the cast of characters in a play). It's also the first DS9 episode by writer Joe Menosky, who didn't write a whole lot of DS9 but was considerably more prolific on Next Gen and co-wrote many of the big two-parters on Voyager with Brannon Braga. He skipped Enterprise, but he's currently on board Star Trek: Discovery as a staff writer.

I don't like a lot of his Next Gen episodes but I do like a number of his Voyager stories so I'm not sure what I'm going to think about this. Maybe the story's way better than I remember it being. Maybe it's saved by some great character scenes. Or maybe it's a season one episode and I shouldn't get my hopes up.

I'm going to recap and review the episode as I go so there'll be many many SPOILERS below, including ones for earlier Trek episodes no doubt. But the 400-something episodes that came after it are safe.



The episode begins with a good old-fashioned argument between Kira and Sisko, like in the olden days. It's nice to see them have something to butt heads about.

Seems that the Valerians used to run weapons-grade dolamide to Cardassian forces back during the occupation, and now one of their transports is requesting to dock. She believes they're still shipping weapons to the Cardassians, but Sisko explains that they can't really do much about that. Not unless she gets him evidence without searching their ship.

I was a bit confused here, because I thought she was talking about a blaxploitation movie, but a quick internet search reveals that's Dolemite. It also claimed that dolamide's a painkiller drug, but if Major Kira tells me it's for making weapons, then I'm going to believe her.

Suddenly a Klingon vessel comes out of the wormhole!

Then it explodes!

O'Brien reading a transporter signal though; it seems someone managed to beam off just before it went up in flames.

Uh... no they didn't. The transporter's an incredibly clever device, but it can't do shit when it's been blown to pieces. People have been beaming people off exploding ships since the beginning of Star Trek, but it only works while the device doing the transporting is still intact!

Anyway, they kind of handwave it by saying they've boosted the annular containment field with their own transporter (after 20 seconds of watching him materialise by magic on his own), and the Klingon arrives safely. Then he falls over, whispers "Victory," and dies. So that was worth the effort.

Transporter weirdness aside, this is a more interesting teaser than most episodes have gotten so far. Seems like there's something out there scary enough to give the Klingons a proper fight to the death, and they might be coming after our crappy space station next. You'll have to stick around through the titles to find out!

Spoiler: They weren't in a fight with anyone, there's nothing coming.


ACT ONE.


Act one starts with Bashir reporting on the Klingon's injuries, saying that he doesn't know what kind of weapon killed him yet, but he's got a test running.

The ship was on a routine bio-survey mission, but those don't usually end with explosions and whispers of 'victory' so Odo goes off to ask around to see if anyone learned anything else about what they were up to while the ship was docked for maintenance check.

O'Brien and Dax are sent to take a runabout out to look for the ship's black box, but it takes a bit of effort to get through to her as she's busy daydreaming. Then she giggles as she walks to the turbolift, clearly demonstrating signs of a personality. An early warning that something definitely ain't right here.

Hmm, we don't get to look at that part of the ceiling often, but I'm 72% sure it's not supposed to be blue.

Kira takes it upon herself to delay giving docking clearance to the Valerian transport she hates, but Sisko steps in to overrule her. She's not being overly unreasonable, as she's discovered they're visiting the same worlds that the dolamide traders used to take. If she can place them at Ultima Thule, that'll confirm it. Wait, wasn't that the villain in Conan the Barbarian?

Never mind, I was thinking of Thulsa Doom, which is barely even close. Anyway Sisko's not interested in indulging her suspicions. There'll be no delays.

Meanwhile Odo's having a chat with Quark about the Klingons. The guy's not happy about them and I don't blame him seeing as they apparently put holes in his holosuites. With them as customers he's lucky to break even! So he doesn't pay rent but he apparently has to pay for repairs? Or maybe he's considering the money he's not earning while the holosuites are offline.

Quark wants something in return for his information, so Odo offers to not take the repair crew away. Seems they were going to the Gamma Quadrant to get something that'll "make the enemies of the Klingon Empire tremble." It's like the writer was determined to find ways to make the pay off just that little bit more disappointing when we finally learn what's going on.

Suddenly Odo reacts in pain and this happens:

I'm not a doctor, but to me that does not look healthy.

Then he collapses unconscious, though as a humanoid not a puddle. Quark goes over to check on him, then panics and runs off to get Dr. Bashir.


ACT TWO.


Well Odo's not dead, so that's good news, though Bashir has no idea if he's okay or not as he's still completely alien to him. He doesn't know what caused it and he doesn't know if it'll happen again, so there's not much more he can do unless he wants to pour himself through his phoretic analyzer.

Weirdly Bashir starts asking him about the Valerian situation, apparently trying to gauge who's side Odo is on, Sisko's or Kira's. Odo's curious about what the doctor's talking about and Bashir mistakes his confusion for cunning, saying that he's probably right... it's still too early to commit oneself either way.

Up in Sisko's office, the man's acting a little... odd. Moreso than usual. He's working on something mysterious and doesn't want Kira to get a glimpse of it. He also doesn't want her raiding the Valerian ship, even though she's finally confirmed they were at the Ultima Thule station and are likely running dolamide.

She points out that this is a Bajoran station and he reminds her that it's being commanded by a Federation officer... unless she feels like challenging that. She doesn't, not yet anyway.

Out in the runabout, Dax and O'Brien are acting a little out of character as well, with O'Brien advising she doesn't get too 'friendly with the natives' and Dax drifting off into telling old stories.

Back on the station Kira brings the weirdness to Odo's office, trying to manipulate him into slipping on board the Valerian ship. Odo is definitely getting the impression that something's up at this point and agrees to keep both her and Sisko informed on what he finds there. She realises he's on to her and smiles, telling him that when it comes time to choose sides, he should remember who his friends are.

So yeah, this is basically a Mirror Universe episode now, with Odo and Quark the only normal people left out of the main cast. Everyone else's arguments and behaviour is being brought on by the latest space weirdness coming out of the wormhole, so it doesn't really matter.


ACT THREE.


Dax and O'Brien have managed to recover part of the Klingon log by this point, and of course Kira heard about it right away. She must have spies everywhere.

Sisko and Odo turn up to watch the message play on the big screen, but the commander's obviously not all that interested. There's not much to learn from it anyway as the audio keeps cutting out, though O'Brien decides to see if he can fix it. After all, the Klingons might want to know why one of their ships blew up.

Later in Quark's, Kira tries to use her charms to win Dax over to her side, but Dax isn't even in the same world as her right now. The woman can't finish a sentence without drifting off into old memories or getting lost in metaphors.

In the end Kira loses her patience and outright threatens her. She makes it plain that she's getting rid of Sisko, and her too if she gets in the way. Then she hears a glass drop from across the bar and realises that Quark's been listening in.

So she picks him up by the lapels and launches him against his replicator! Well his stunt double anyway. To make things worse the poor guy's showered with falling prop bottles on the way down.

Damn, she injured him bad enough so that Bashir couldn't just wave the hurt away with a blinky prop! Either that or he's exaggerating the injury for his own gain, seeing as he's in Odo's office to file charges.

Odo decides it's time to go pay Sisko a visit, but instead he finds O'Brien sitting behind the commander's desk. Seems that Sisko's down in his quarters where he's safe, and O'Brien's pretty much running things in his place. I've never wanted to see an alternate universe of the series where Colm Meaney plays Sisko more than I do right now.

So Odo goes down to see Sisko in his quarters, and finds he's fully off the rails at this point. He doesn't give a damn about the mutiny that took place on the Klingon ship as he's way too busy with that thing he didn't want Kira to see earlier... which turns out to be a sheet of detailed plans for a clock.


ACT FOUR.


Odo returns to his office and discovers that he can't get a message out to Starfleet or Bajor, thanks to the separate efforts of Kira and O'Brien, so he decides to watch some Klingon home movies instead on his incredibly over-elaborate video player software. I'm not a UI designer but I feel like there must be a way to have less buttons and more screen here.

O'Brien's managed to clean up the logs to the point where Odo's able to get the important part of their story. Turns out that the crew were searching for a planet to stick a colony (so much for that "make the enemies of the Klingon Empire tremble" clue), and discovered an archive of telepathic energy spheres that tell the story of an ancient power struggle that destroyed the Saltah'na.

Well that puts a new spin on 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'. For whatever dumb reason this race created a telepathic history lesson that actually dooms people to repeat it, and Odo knows how the story ends if he doesn't solve it: the same way it ended for the Klingons.

Not-Sisko has returned to his office at this point and has made an impressive amount of progress on his clock. Not-O'Brien warns him that Not-Kira's planning an attempt on his life, so he decides to actually make a decision: arrest all the Bajoran officers on the station. Not-O'Brien points out they're outnumbered and it'd make more sense to leave.

There's a bit in Star Trek: First Contact where Picard gets angry and snaps at someone in his ready room, then swings his rifle into a glass cabinet and smashes his little ships. Patrick Stewart is a great actor and I definitely bought his character's frustration in that scene...

... but Avery Brooks goes beyond anger to full on fury for a moment here and it is scary. Each of the Trek leads have their strengths and weaknesses as actors, and none of them can do outright menace like Avery Brooks.

O'Brien quickly explains that it'd only be a temporary retreat, so that they can gather a Federation fleet and return in force. The episode's promising interesting things again!

Down in the Infirmary Odo pretty much catches Not-Bashir handing a mysterious drug to a Bajoran officer (a Not-Bajoran officer?) but he's got bigger problems on his mind. He shoves the doctor against a wall and explains that what he discovered about the dead Klingon could determine who controls this station.

Determining who controls the station is pretty much Not-Bashir's favourite thing right now, so the two exchange notes and piece together what's happened here. The Klingon brought this telepathic matrix on board and everyone in Ops at the time he beamed in was affected by it. Well aside from the doctor of course! Odo agrees that Not-Bashir's perfectly normal, but explains that the power to control the energy matrix is the power to control the station and that's all Not-Bashir needs to hear to get to work on driving it out of the crew.

Meanwhile in Ops, Not-Bashir's accomplice makes his move on Not-Sisko with the drug, and very much begins to regret it as he's caught and violently beaten. Poor Not-Dax catches a backhand from Not-O'Brien as well when he figures out she's in on it. The sides have been drawn and it's Not-Sisko and Not-O'Brien versus the world.

He threw him over the railing into the maintenance pit! They're going to have a real struggle explaining this to Starfleet and the Bajoran government later.

Oh, and look, there's another blue panel in the top left of the ceiling. Seems I was entirely wrong earlier when I thought they'd forgot to matte the starfield onto a blue screen.

Whoa, Not-Sisko just leapt the railing and dropped into the pit! The man's already down Not-Sisko, he's had enough, you can stop now!

He goes to use the drug on the assassin, just to see what it does, but fortunately he's stopped by a phaser blast by Not-Kira. I mean she shoots the wall beside him, she doesn't actually kill anyone. No one has actually killed anyone yet.


ACT FIVE.


That's an interesting looking door back there, I wonder where it goes. Somewhere so secret and forbidden that it must never be seen on camera it seems. So the toilets then probably.

If I ever get to run my own Star Trek series I'm going to make it a rule that if they ever show a door on the ship, we eventually get to see what's behind it. Also I want the camera to get up close to the windows occasionally and show what the view's like out there, look around a bit.

Anyway Not-O'Brien beams them both out of Not-Kira's clutches, and they make a run for it!

They get in touch with Odo, who uses a console in the Infirmary to deactivate the security forcefields, giving them a clear path to Cargo Bay 4, so they can escape to the Valerian ship.

Not-Kira phones up next, a little upset that he's helping Not-Sisko, but Odo explains she'll find him and O'Brien trapped in Cargo Bay 4.

Not-Bashir sets up an ionic interference signal in the cargo bay calibrated to the resonance of the telepathic matrix to drive it out of those affected. Or to put it another way, he's going to exorcise the ghosts possessing their bodies.

So they all arrive in the cargo bay and we get a good look at Not-Kira's strange looking Bajoran phaser as she goes to murder Not-Sisko.

But first Not-Sisko has a speech to give, about how his name will blaze like a comet across the stars long after her petty treacheries are forgotten! Which is ironic really as we know nothing about the people involved in the destruction of the Saltah'na. Apparently all that info was left back in the archive or blown up with the spheres, and only their personalities are left.

Well whatever, it's not the crew's problem any more as Not-Bashir's field has turned everyone back to themselves! They didn't even need to use the transporter to beam out glial cells like they did to Bashir in The Passenger when he was possessed by a serial killer. Man, Bashir sure does get possessed a lot this season.

Now that the self-sustaining telepathic matrix has been exposed to the interference it's become visible as some purple fuzziness. That's a ball of personality you're looking that there, which automatically detects people of the correct rank and position to play out their story and then flies under its own power into their heads and takes control.

Fortunately it can also be flushed out into space! So we get a good look at a cargo bay door for perhaps the only time in the series as Odo opens it up to get rid of the matrix. I'm betting they used a clever in-camera foreground miniature or composited one in, but I don't actually know.

The best thing about this scene though, is watching the cast act like they're struggling to hold on as their air escapes out of a gaping hole. They're varying degrees of convincing, with Kira and Sisko on the low side of the scale, and Odo putting his heart into it.

That's a nice shot of Ops, getting most of the room in frame at once.

A bit of time has past now and Sisko's station log voice over reveals that everything's back to normal. I hope they figured out which other crewmembers were in Ops at the time the Klingon came over and flushed all their brains out too though, as it only takes one survivor to start this all over again.

Kira comes in Sisko's office to apologise for the whole 'attempted mutiny' thing, but he's not exactly going to blame her for being possessed (especially after nearly murdering someone himself). And then she leaves and the episode ends. It wasn't a long conversation.

It's a bit weird how they end the episode with him grinning while studying the clock as it's a bit too similar to the scenes of him grinning while building the thing, like it's implying he's not really cured. But it's cool that they've got him making stuff now, seeing as that becomes the character's thing. Picard has his books and archaeology, Janeway has a passion for coffee, Archer has a dog, Kirk likes to talk robots and gods to death, but Sisko cooks food, designs a house, and even puts together a spaceship or two. It's just a shame they had to have him mind controlled to introduce this trait.


CONCLUSION

If you ignore most of the plot, Dramatis Personae is basically just a remake of Babel. The whole cast aside from Odo and Quark gets infected, causing them to start talking rubbish and getting irritated. Bashir does something clever in the Infirmary to set up the solution, then Odo messes around with an airlock to save the day at the end. And I do feel like ignoring most of the plot.

All through the episode the story kept enticing me with the promise that something interesting was going to happen, before swerving in the opposite direction. What destroyed the Klingon ship, a new threat from the Gamma Quadrant? Nope it was Klingons possessed by an energy matrix. Did the Klingons set out to find a new weapon? Nope they were actually looking for a place to establish a colony. Are Kira and Sisko really coming into conflict over what to do about the dolamide smugglers? No, they're possessed. Odo's head went really weird, is something wrong with him? No.

It was nice watching the constable figure out what he could do to fix the situation and then play everyone accordingly, but he spent a lot of his time working through the mystery of what's going on as everyone went mad around him, and that wasn't much fun to watch when I already knew all the disappointing answers. Looking back at my notes I can see that as the cast drifted out of character my handwriting changed dramatically... because that's when I turned the pad 90 degrees and started writing top to bottom sideways as an excuse to pay less attention to the screen. Weirdly the notes turned out more legible this way, I can actually read a few of them this time.

This is almost like a Voyager episode in how it takes the conflicts set up in the premise of the series, exaggerates them for a one-off story, then buries them again without consequence. But my main problem is that it's not even the DS9 crew in conflict, as they're all possessed in the teaser and given a personality replacement! That's not necessarily a terrible thing mind you, as putting the cast into new roles worked great in episodes like the Original Series' Mirror Mirror, Voyager's Living Witness, Enterprise's In a Mirror, Darkly, and DS9's own Far Beyond the Stars. But it doesn't work for me here because the writer took the real tensions between the Bajoran and Starfleet crews about genuine issues and used it to kick off a story of fake characters acting out a fake drama that I had no reason to care about.

It wouldn't be so bad if the drama playing out on the station actually revealed something about the crew or gave some new insight into the tragic tale of the Saltah'na, so there was a bit of a twist or revelation at the end, but it's ultimately about nothing. And like If Wishes Were Horses, the episode's only impact on the series going forward is that it adds a new prop to Sisko's office.

I've been thinking about where I'd rank Dramatis Personae against the other episodes this season, because despite my whining there were some scenes I liked here, and I've decided that it belongs... right down at the very bottom. Some episodes have bored me, other episodes have been ridiculous, but this one undermines the impact of possible future drama for the sake of a pointless dress rehearsal. It felt like they showed me a glimpse of proper Deep Space Nine, then said 'but you don't want any of that', and that gives it negative value.



COMING SOON

Deep Space Nine will return with the penultimate episode of the season, Duet. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be going through Paul Verhoeven's violent satirical masterpiece RoboCop!

Sorry but you're going to have to hold out just a little longer for my thoughts on Babylon 5's TKO.

It's possible I suppose that you have opinions of your own about Dramatis Personae or season 1 Deep Space Nine in general. If so, why not share them in the comment box below?

1 comment:

  1. "Ultima Thule" is an old term used to refer to a place beyond the (northern) boundaries of the known world. It's also a Latin term for Greenland, a kingdom in Marvel's Kull comic (based on Robert E Howard's stories, so you weren't far off), and a Swedish rock band.

    Alas, none of them seem likely to crop up in DS9.

    ReplyDelete