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Friday, 7 July 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 2-01: The Homecoming

Episode:21|Writer:Ira Steven Behr|Air Date:26-Sep-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching the first episode of Deep Space Nine season 2! It's also the first part of the first three-parter in Star Trek history, and the first multi-part story in the franchise where each part has a different title.

It's not the first episode by Ira Steven Behr though, as he wrote that bloody The Nagus episode last season. But that's fine, even the best writers have their off days. Though if I ever see more than three Ferengi on screen at once I'm turning it off.

I'll be screencapping the entire episode and writing my thoughts underneath as I go, so expect SPOILERS. I'm considering any Star Trek episode made before it to be fair game, but I won't be spoiling anything that aired after it.



Season 1|Season 2
The episode begins with a panning shot across the promenade that shows they've been spending money between seasons. The producers I mean, not the Federation (they don't use money).

You can barely tell from this angle, but the walkways are wider now, the railing pylons have a curvier base and there's yellow strip lights dividing the floors. It all blends in perfectly with the original architecture though; Starfleet really made an effort to keep the original 'Cardassian forced labour camp' look intact.

Something that's much easier to see is that they've also added a second walkway running around the inside wall of the top floor, and they've knocked through into Quark's Bar. They're showing it off here by panning the camera through the wall and past some tables, until it's looking down onto the dabo table.

I had no idea any of this had been changed the first time I watched the series by the way. It wasn't until I started taking all these screencaps for the internet that I thought "Hang on..."

Oh the camera was taking us to a Quark and Odo scene! Always a good way to start an episode.

Quark's in a hurry to be elsewhere, but Odo wants to talk to him about the tip he gave him earlier about some smugglers. It actually paid off and he was able to make arrests... which means that Quark did him a favour and he can't figure out why.

Rom can't figure it out either so Quark lets him in on his scheme: he's just screwing with Odo for his own amusement. The 76th Rule of Acquisition says "Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies." The rule doesn't mention anything about deliberately ruining your chances to make some sweet smuggling money, but I guess driving Odo mad is its own reward.

It turns out that Quark was racing off to meet up with an anime-haired freighter captain who likes to pose in her plastic catsuit at the top of staircases. She asks him how his ears are and he dunks his finger in her empty drink to have a taste, presumably so that he can offer her another glass of it. I'm getting the feeling that the two of them might know each other, seeing as she's actually happy to be around him.

I like suave roguish Quark, he should show up more often.

She tells him that she was given a Bajoran earring by a Cardassian maintenance worked and asked to bring to Bajor. Nowhere specific on Bajor, just to the planet. But she won't be headed that way so she figured she'd bring it to him and see if he could get it where it needs to go.

Then it cuts to Kira praying in her old two-piece uniform without the jacket on. I'm a little surprised they've never shown her doing this until now, considering how 'religious' is the Bajorans' defining trait. The closest she's come to showing her spiritual side so far is when she cried on the zombie space pope back in Battle Lines.

Quark drops by and figures he'll see how long he can get away with annoying her before she physically throws him out of her room. She decides she wants to be properly dressed before any violence begins and goes into her bedroom to magically turn her two-piece outfit into her new one-piece jumpsuit. I'm sure it's supposed to seem like she threw a jacket and belt on, but I'm onto her.

He does quite well but when she reappears from her bedroom and grabs him, he has to pull out the mysterious earring to calm her down. In fact she’s so amazed by it that she takes it out of his hands and runs outside with it, leaving him alone in her quarters with all of her stuff. He only wanted to know how much it was worth to her!

Well that was a long-ass teaser. It lasted a full five minutes on my PAL DVD.


ACT ONE


Act one begins with Jake proving himself to be the anti-Wesley Crusher by coming to his dad for advice about a girl. Not about asking her out, he's already done that, but about where to take her on this craphole of a station. Sisko quickly rules out the holosuites or anywhere with a bed in it, so Jake says "I can see you're not ready to have this conversation yet," and strolls off to come up with his own ideas.

Kira's also there to see him as she'd like to borrow a runabout for a bit. She'd like to fly a Starfleet vessel into the Cardassia system and rescue a legendary resistance leader called Li Nalas. The earring means that he must still be alive you see, because... people don't smuggle out the earrings of dead people? She did try phoning up Bajor first, but the Bajoran Provisional Government isn't interested in launching a rescue mission and risking a war so she hoped that maybe he'd risk a war instead. It's a lot for him to think about while he's trying to enjoy his breakfast.

Season 1Season 2
Hang on, the replimat they're at looks entirely different now. There's coloured strip lights on the ceiling, strips of bubbles in the background instead of those boring grey boxes, and giant replicators taking up two of the walls. Seems like something that should've been in a replimat from the start really.

Sisko needs to put his food on hold for a while though because now O'Brien's phoning up with something else he needs to worry about. He won't actually tell him what it is though, he just says it's "something you should see." I realise that the rules of television state that you should set up mysteries to keep the audience's interest, but I feel like the rules of Sisko would state that if you're phoning up the station commander to tell him to drop his replicated raktajino and icoberry pie, and come halfway across the station to look at something, you should be giving him a damn good reason.

Oh, someone's spray painted some graffiti on the wall. Well it was bound to happen eventually, with all these dark empty hallways. The toilets would likely be a mess by now if they had any.

The reason O'Brien dragged Sisko down here is because this is the emblem of a group called the 'Alliance for Global Unity', aka 'The Circle'. They're an extremist faction who believe that Bajor should be for the Bajorans, so that's exactly who you want on a Bajoran space station run by the Federation that's a hub for alien traffic coming through the wormhole. I think I liked these kinds of stories better when I was too young to care about keeping track of the news; it's getting a bit too real now.

Odo's going to increase security across the station to be prepared for their next move, right after he's finished glaring down the empty corridor, turning his head from side to side like he's hunting for prey.


ACT TWO


After a chat with Dax (featuring the d├ębut appearance of his office baseball), Sisko decides it’s worth the risk to give Kira a runabout for her rescue mission. Li Nalas could be the leader they need to shut down the Circle (like how they brought Vedek Bareil on board to shut down Vedek Winn in the last episode).

But he insists that she brings O’Brien with her, because he’s apparently a better pilot than she is now. Even though all he did for six seasons of Next Gen was stand behind a transporter console all day and go kayaking in the evenings. Though I guess he was steering the Enterprise in the first episode, before he got demoted to transporter chief, and they don't let just any idiot pilot the flagship! That's the job for the lowest ranking regular, or an extra if they're busy.

Anyway the important thing is that we're getting a rare Kira and O’Brien team up!


ACT THREE


Hey, they came in through the door on the right side of the runabout! No one ever uses that door, what the hell?

There’s a bit of drama along the way to Cardassia IV when a navigational control post contacts them to discuss their weird subspace field emissions (they’re rigged to look like a freighter on long range scans). But they use the ‘out of visual communications range’ trick to fool them into thinking they’re shipping cargo for a Cardassian Gul and are in way too much of a rush to let them send a ship over to fix their engines.

It's just like that scene in Star Trek VI, except they don't need to get out a stack of old 'English to Cardassian' dictionaries because the universal translator's working just fine. Plus Kira can probably speak Cardassian anyway if she has to. She did live under Cardassian occupation for her entire life.

Wow, no wonder they never bothered to give Cardassia IV a real name, it looks even less interesting than Sol IV (aka Mars).

The plan was to beam Li Nalas straight onto the runabout, but they’ve hit a bit of a snag: there’s more than one Bajoran prisoner down there. Not a lot more, but their transporter can only beam two people at a time and they can't be sure he'll be one of them. Just lock onto the one person not wearing an earring, it's easy!

All shit's going to break loose the minute they start beaming people out so they're going to have to land and figure out a new plan to get inside the labor camp and rescue the POWs. Which means they're going full Rambo: First Blood Part II!

At least I think that's the plot of Rambo, I never actually saw the film. There's only a finite supply of 80s action movies and I don't want to use them all up too fast.

Always nice to see them out on location, even if it is a quarry. Though the trouble with long panning shots like this is that I can't resist stitching them together into one ultra-widescreen picture. I tried it with the pan into Quark's at the start too, though that didn't turn out so well.

It seems that the Cardassians have a dozen prisoners of war down here trapped within a forcefield wall and they're keeping them busy sorting rocks into wicker baskets. The occupation is long over now and they shouldn't really be holding anyone, so either the Cardassians really need these rocks organised or this is the posting they give to shitty guards as a punishment and they're not done tormenting them yet.

I like those smoking pipes in the background by the way, they're a cheap way to give the impression that there’s some kind of rock-processing facility underground. Plus the smoke adds a lot of atmosphere.

Kira and O'Brien stroll right up to the forcefield and try to use the 'important delivery for the Gul' trick again, except this time the delivery is her.

The guard that comes over doesn't just buy their story, he wants to buy an appointment with her for himself, so he takes the forcefield down for a moment to let her in so that he can see why he's worth two stripes of gold-pressed latinum. The poor gullible idiot.

She distracts him with the ‘unzipping her top’ trick and then knocks him down with a double-handed Kirk slam.

Like this!

There's no shower of sparks when she murders his friend, which is a bit of a disappointment, but I like the little bounce he does at the end.

She also grabs the remote for the forcefield and lets O'Brien in so that he can be player 2.

I'm a bit spoiled after watching the Stargate SG-1 pilot the other day and seeing dozens of stuntmen roll down hills in unison, but this is still some pretty good hill rolling action.

There's a proper phaser fight here, with Cardassian guards getting gunned down and Li Nalas getting wounded in the crossfire. He's not dead but they burned a gash across his back and he needs help to walk. No one tries running for cover, but I'll let them off this once because there isn't any to run for.

It's a bit strange that they don't get everyone out and then just turn the forcefield back on again to trap the Cardassians, but then they've probably got more than one remote.

Four of the prisoners decide to stay behind to hold the Cardassians off and give the others a chance to escape. Or more specifically give Li Nalas a chance to escape, despite the fact that he’d really rather they didn’t.

Sadly no one thought to grab a Cardassian rifle, so the prisoners will be covering them with a single Starfleet dustbuster phaser between them. You would've thought that Kira and O'Brien would be using alien weapons confiscated by Odo or something, but I guess no one's too bothered about leaving behind obvious clues pointing right to Deep Space Nine.

Hey I've got an idea: now they've got Li Nalas, Kira could phone the runabout up, say "Two to beam up", and then beam the rest up from there. Or she could fly closer, shoot the Cardassians with it, and pick them up.

But no, they all walk all the way back to the runabout. But two Cardassian ships are closing in and they can’t afford to stick around and wait for the four that stayed behind.
 
Hey I’ve got an idea, why not use the transporter? They were all for using it earlier so we know it’s not going to be blocked by a dampening field or something. C’mon, beam them on board!


ACT FOUR


The runabout makes it back to the station without incident and Kira and O'Brien drag the wounded Li Nalas through the airlock into the corridor. But Bashir remembers that they've actually got a sci-fi device that can move injured people around quickly and just beams him straight to the infirmary.

At least someone's using the transporter in this episode! It's the cool looking Cardassian transporter as well. I know this makes me a traitor to the Federation but I've started to prefer it to the Next Gen Starfleet look.

Kira rushes into Sisko's office still dressed in her covert ops gear to find that he's got Gul Dukat on the phone! Amazingly this is only his third appearance in the series, and two of them have been as a face on a screen.

He's just calling to let them know that the Cardassian High Command has issued a formal apology to the people of Bajor for keeping prisoners of war in a secret camp. Though it wasn't their fault really as they had no idea they were there! Even better, the prisoners left behind have been released as well.

It's all very suspicious. Good result though.

There you go, you've got a better look at the new replimat here.

When Li Nalas makes it out of the infirmary he soon notices that the Cardassian occupation's over and his people have taken the space station. Plus the Bajorans on board tend to stare at him and form large crowds. In fact he's getting more attention than the space pope did when she visited back in Battle Lines. It's nice to see the Bajorans take an interest in something more positive than lynching Odo or protesting Keiko's school.

The guy's so famous that a Bajor politician called Jaro has flown over from the planet to meet the returned hero... though when he sees the crowd he can't resist stepping in to hijack his speech. There's some great acting here from the reluctant Li and the charming Jaro, who are forcing everyone around them to raise their game. Or at least keep their game at the same level as it was in Duet and In the Hands of the Prophets.

Minister Jaro goes uncredited for this episode, but the mysterious actor underneath the Bajoran nose is actually Frank Langella, who took the role because his kids were a big fan of the series. So there you go, it turns out that someone actually did like season 1.

The episode soon finds its way into Quark's bar later that night, where the shutters are down and Quark's sharing out the week's profits between him and his brother. Knowing Quark the rest of the staff have to live off tips.

Rom's a little glum though as he doesn't feel it's fair that he only gets a seventh of the money, so Quark decides to give him an eighth instead to put him in his place. C'mon Quark he's your brother! It's like the writer was worried they made him too likeable at the start and now they're balancing it out.

Wait, I just remembered that this is an Ira Steven Behr episode! It had totally slipped my mind, maybe because the Ferengi characters haven't been written to be obnoxious and over the top. But there's one thing that I don't understand... who the hell's paying for drinks with huge bars of gold-pressed latinum? Don't they have debit cards in the future?

Rom storms off and suddenly Quark's grabbed by a gang of human-looking folks in cloaks and plastic masks. The money's still piled up on the bar but they're not here for that. They're here to shove a rag in his mouth and then sear their logo right into his forehead with a sci-fi branding iron.

This is like one of those scenes in a movie where the hero gets stuck underwater for a while, because I'm tempted to hold my breath along with them as they race to get this finished with before they have to rip the masks off, gasping for air.

It's also eerily similar to an attack that happens in an early Babylon 5 episode, where another alien with a lot of forehead gets branded in pretty much the same place by a similar group for the same reasons. The two episodes aired less than a year apart, but there was apparently no way that the writers could've been influenced by each other. It's just a weird coincidence; one more to add to the list.


ACT FIVE


Fortunately Quark lives in the Star Trek universe, where a hand-held dermal regenerator can fix the damage almost instantly without any scarring.

For some reason Li Nalas is around while they're questioning Quark, which gives Kira a chance to tell him about the Circle and why they'd want to brand a bar owner. The Bajoran Provisional Government's doing a terrible job stopping them because the Circle's better organised than they are and Bajorans are starting to turn to them instead. So they really need a well respected Kai Opaka/Vedek Bareil type figure who isn't an asshole to speak up right now. Hint hint.

Sisko arrives home from a long day of bullshit to find that Jake's even more miserable than he is because his date couldn't make it. Or to be more precise she was forbidden to go out with him because he's not a Bajoran. Being humans in the Federation, racism and xenophobia aren't things these two have ever experienced, and Jake's not finding it much fun now that he is.

Having this Circle crap waiting for him at home was the last thing Sisko wanted, but he does what he can to cheer up his son (helped by some fantastic acting by Avery Brooks) and then gets ready to go to bed. But the fun's not over yet, as he gets a call from a freighter telling him that a Bajoran citizen is trying to stowaway into the Gamma Quadrant... and it's Li Nalas.

Cut to Li in Sisko's office trying to explain his escape attempt. He tells him the story of how he was one of the few survivors of a minor resistance cell, and in his attempt to scout ahead he ended up falling down a hill right into a Cardassian in his boxer shorts. The guy had been bathing in the lake and was kind of embarrassed to be caught with his pants down like this, especially when Li shot him dead.

Turns out that the Cardassian was responsible for the massacre of several villages and Li's friends were eager to tell the story of how he took him down in hand to hand combat. The stories were passed on and embellished, the legend grew, and soon Li was a Bajoran folk hero whose exploits were almost entirely fictional. So he feels like a fraud and would rather go exile himself in the Gamma Quadrant than deal with people's expectations of him here.

But out of focus Sisko back there explains that this is the opposite of a problem! He doesn't have to be a military leader or kill people with his bare hands. What they need here is a symbol, a legend people look up to, and he's more than qualified for that. The fact that it's all based on a lie... that's not so important to Sisko right now. We're deep into the fifth act and he'd like to solve something already.

I can't help but notice that there's one glaring omission from this episode and that's the fact that Sisko's slightly legendary himself, being the Emissary of the Prophets. It got brought up last episode in In the Hands of the Prophets, but there's no attempt made here to compare Sisko and Li as unwilling icons.

After an exterior shot of the station to show the passage of time, Minister Jaro appears in ops with Li to tell them the good news: Li's been promoted to Navarch, which is a brand new rank created exclusively for him. He's also been given a job, the same job that Kira was given when she got too outspoken about the Provisional Government and they wanted her out of the way: Bajoran liaison officer to Deep Space Nine.

Now Li isn't going to be able to do anything against the Circle back on Bajor, Sisko's got a new first officer, and Kira's out of a job. So that all backfired.


Wait, that's the cliffhanger they're ending on? 'Will this main character in a Star Trek series still have their job this season?' The stakes are kind of underwhelming, especially as there must have been zero doubt in anyone's minds at the time that Kira was going anywhere.


CONCLUSION

I remembered the The Homecoming as being one the best episodes in season 2, but after rewatching it I'm hoping that it's not, because it was kind of a disappointment. It's Deep Space Nine's first proper attempt at serialisation and they've done a good job of putting the foundations down for later, but it's structured more like a first act than a story in its own right. The first half is about the daring rescue of Li Nalas and I kept waiting for something interesting to come of it, but after that the episode just kind of drifted along for another twenty minutes and then stopped.

Not that I wanted them to have a race against time to save the station from a subspace anomaly or whatever, I'm happy that they're playing to DS9's strengths (character interaction, ongoing political drama, phaser fights, Gul Dukat), but I was genuinely surprised when I reached the end of it because it hadn't built to anything.

There's a lot to like about the episode though... the upgraded sets for instance! Plus I think they may have upgraded the acting a little from season one as well. That's probably because the writers and actors know who their characters are now, but I think the guest stars they were playing off helped. They definitely did a good job casting Li Nalas as there's no mystery why even the people who worked with him in the labour camp for months believed in him. He seems like a fundamentally decent bloke, the kind of guy who would've volunteered to stay behind with a phaser to cover the others if that had been an option, and he looks like your typical legendary resistance leader. And Frank Langella as Minister Jaro is immediately believable as a charming politician with an agenda. The guy owns the screen whenever he's on it.

But the best part is that the series seems to actually be about something now! Events are moving forward, there's an overarching story starting to form and the writers aren't just killing time until the end of the season any more. The episode continues to show the growing rift we saw in In the Hands of the Prophets between the Bajorans and other races, and it's going to take at least two more episodes to deal with it, so I get to enjoy this serialisation for a little while longer. I'm looking forward to part two.



COMING SOON
Deep Space Nine will continue with The Circle. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be looking at Babylon 5 episode 28: Spider in the Web.

If you've got any opinions you want to share about The Homecoming or my site, then consider leaving a comment in the box below. And then do it.

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