WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the premiere of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", titled "Emissary". Those not wishing to see said spoiler information are advised to avoid reading the article.
No, I wasn't lying to you when I said I wasn't planning to do DS9 reviews. I wasn't.
However, something funny happened while I watched "Emissary". I discovered that about half or more of the commentary part of my review sprang to mind unbidden. So, I took the hint. (That, and...well, let's be blunt. The number of very fervent requests I got, including some from intriguing locations, also muddied the issue further in my mind. :-) )
These reviews will be somewhat different from my TNG reviews, however. For starters, there will *not* be a synopsis. While I'm going to be daft enough to spare time to write commentary on DS9 for the time being, the synopses take a lot longer, and will not happen. (I will write them...eventually; but not in a timely manner.) They're also going to be far less "guaranteed" than the TNG reviews; if I find that the little time I'm sparing for commentary here doesn't show up, or if I find that DS9 doesn't regularly inspire me to write, they'll stop.
(I'm also not likely to see many (if indeed any) followups to this, so if you have a comment you want to make directly to me, e-mail it.)
Well, now that I've wasted a good 30+ lines talking about me rather than the show, onwards to the review. Spoilers after another Ctrl-L.
The best one-word review I could give would be "promising". There are a lot of interesting elements being put into play here, and it's way too early to tell whether they'll be dealt with well (as TNG has done on many occasions), or fumbled entirely (as, unfortunately, TNG has *also* done on many occasions). Obviously, I have high hopes for the former.
I'll start by taking a look at the various characters.
Comm. Sisko: I definitely like him. He's being written, I think, as a very down-to-earth Picard: intelligent and concerned with Starfleet's ideals, but far less reserved and distant than Picard usually is. (That's clear enough from, among other things, the first Sisko/Picard scene.) Sisko has a very quirky streak in him that I haven't quite gotten a handle on yet (those sudden
full grins being chief among those quirks), but that may still be both the writers and Avery Brooks working a few bugs out of the character. So far, so good here.
(Besides, I have to confess: I'd never seen Avery Brooks before, and that voice of his is definitely one that can carry scenes. He was a good choice.)
Odo: I can't tell yet. I very much like the way the character carried himself through most of his scenes, particularly his nonverbal response to Kira's congratulating him on his success in the sabotage. However, the scene where we got his backstory (i.e. he's the last of his kind, maybe his race is in or trough the wormhole, etc.) tried way too hard, and nobody could save it. (It reminded me of Tasha Yar's strident speech to Q in "Encounter at Farpoint", and was about as convincing.) But his abilities have been put to good use so far -- I have to admit, the bit with the "money pouch" actually hadn't occurred to me in that specific form -- and if we can avoid scenes like the one I mentioned, there'll be good stuff ahead here. (The big Odo/Quark/Sisko scene was *priceless*.)
Major Kira Nerys: Great when she's using black humor to make her points, a lot less great when she's trying to be anything other than flip. One of her best scenes was her richly deserved comeuppance to Dr. Bashir; if we can get
more of those, I'll be pleased. Some of her exchanges with Gul Jasad worked reasonably well, too. But the ultra-strident "I have been fighting a hopeless cause all my life, so I'm much more honest than you" attitude is going to get old *real* fast unless something more interesting is done with it. Adding some subtlety will work wonders.
Quark: The second Ferengi in Trek history that I've actually *liked* (the first being DaiMon Bok from "The Battle"). The plea-bargaining scene, as I've said, was fantastic, and the followups to it worked equally well. (His point about "when governments fall, people like me are lined up...and shot" was about the most concise I've ever seen a Ferengi.) He'll add some good old-fashioned dishonesty (a la Silk in Eddings's _Belgariad_ and _Malloreon_ series), and it'll probably help.
[In all honesty, however, I'll confess to a very mild bias here. The actor who plays Quark is a very good friend of a colleague of mine in the science department, so I went in very much hoping to enjoy his work.]
[Digression #2: Anybody else suddenly look around the screen for a Richard Benjamin cameo when Quark's name was first mentioned? ;-) ]
Miles O'Brien: Let's hope he's given a lot more to do in the future. I can't tell yet. Once his duties and domestic situation are more fully established, we'll see, but for now he's as much a cipher as he's been for the last year-plus on TNG. (Lots of the interest of the character seemed to die out once he got a first name. Sigh.)
Dr. Bashir: Should be a lot of fun, as long as he's not a perpetually running gag. Having been somewhat wet-behind-the-ears myself upon entering my current career only four months ago, I can readily sympathize with his attitude; I just hope he doesn't cause himself irreparable harm by exchanging feet in his mouth so *often* in the future. :-)
Jadzia Dax: Very intriguing so far, but I don't have much to go on yet. I really like the idea of a Trill regular character; if it's used well, I think Dax will be among the more interesting people to watch on the show. If it's not, it'll turn cliche. Here's hoping.
Jake Sisko: Hmm. He'll hopefully be more interesting when he gets something more to do (and has more of an effect on his father), but for now I found him a bit on the whiny side. The fishing scene didn't work a bit for me, and the
initial arrival on DS9 only worked because Brooks managed to carry the scene for them both. Jake needs the most work.
On the whole, there are a lot of interesting figures sketched out on the canvas; now they have to start moving a little more. There are signs of several very interesting relationships and dialogues forming (Sisko/Kira, Odo/Quark, Kira/Quark, Sisko/Dax, Bashir/Dax, Bashir/Kira, etc.), so we'll see what comes of them in times to come.
Character-wise, I also got the feeling that there may be a bit more of a (dare I say it? Dare, dare) *serialized* feeling to these folks than there's been on TNG. Lots of tension (for good and ill) has already been established in one way or another on this station; maybe, with luck, something will evolve there. I realize that the economic argument puts the odds against any heavy serialization, but I'm not looking for soap-opera twists where characters pair off with different people every four shows; I'm looking for characters that respond to important stimuli for longer than it takes the VCR to rewind the tape I'm putting the show on. (And unfortunately, with a few exceptions only, TNG doesn't do that. It's my biggest complaint.)
Getting away from characters and onto the story that set them up, I think it'd make sense to compare this to "Encounter at Farpoint", which had to serve the same purpose in introducing us to a set of characters. EaF managed to give us a very reasonable introduction to all the regulars (perhaps excepting Worf, who got short shrift), but had an absolutely sledgehammer-heavy story that moved at a snail's pace and beat us over the head with a Moral Theme-o-the-Week.
"Emissary" gave us at least as good an introduction to the characters, and, wonder of wonders, managed to establish some important ongoing plot points while *also* giving us a story that moved at a decent clip. (Not that it was
perfect, mind you...but I'll get to that.) Going through the show piece by piece, here are certain bits that stood out one way or the other:
The flashback prologue on the Saratoga was in-bloody-credible. Although the camerawork got a little *too* shaky for me at times, and the Saratoga seemed to take a far longer time to be destroyed than the several other casualties we saw, the scene packed quite a wallop. (Its ending, with a very pissed Sisko staring out into the starfield, was a great image.) It provided the backdrop for Sisko's anger at Picard much more than simply alluding to the incident ever could.
The fishing scene, as I said, did nothing for me, and the initial "devastation" aboard DS9 had some good bits but was a little overdone for my taste. One good bit there was the initial mention of Picard wanting to see Sisko. "Oh, he does?" -- and Sisko moves right on to another topic. Understated -- nice.
The first Sisko/Kira scene worked mostly because of clashing personality types and some snappy dialogue; the scene it set was a little routine, though.
The Picard/Sisko scene was one of two or three masterstrokes during the first hour. Others have accused Picard of being a very humorless and dry person, and in general I strongly disagree. However, given that this was all from Sisko's perspective, Picard *should* have seemed a lot more distant than he usually does, and both Stewart and director David Carson did a good job of showing it. The necessary exposition to set up the story was there, but was secondary, which was a good move; any scene where that was the primary goal would have been deathly dull. *Very* good. (It also had a great line that shows the different approach the show will take: "Unfortunately, Starfleet officers do not always have the luxury to serve in an _ideal_ environment." Given the cushy digs we always see on the TNG Enterprise, there had certainly been some question of that.)
I've already mentioned the "Quark plea-bargaining" scene, which was great -- particularly Odo's final line. The Sisko/Kira "getting one's hands dirty" scene did nothing, though; routine conflict that didn't do much beyond advance the plot.
The bits with Opaca were stilted early on, then better once they got underground to the "orb" [anybody want to tell me why they're calling something that's hourglass-shaped an orb?]. The flashback was again superb. Felecia Bell was okay as Jennifer, but the scene really owed most of its strength to Brooks. The post-flashback bits with Opaca get a little *too*
mystical for my taste, but did a fairly good job of setting up the "real" plot of the show. Bashir and Dax's arrival was nice, along with the subsequent scenes. I'm very curious to hear a lot more about Sisko and Dax's past experiences together. Dax's flashback looked incomprehensible to those who hadn't seen "The Host", and didn't seem to serve a whole lot of purpose for those who had, so I'm skeptical there.
The O'Brien-leaving-the-Enterprise scene was a direct parallel, I think, to the Data/McCoy bits in "Encounter at Farpoint", and is one of the rare things that suffers greatly by comparison. Nothing about it felt right; not the utter lack of regulars on the bridge [which would have been fine *if we'd ever seen it before*; hint, hint], and not Picard's stilted farewell, which rang false given that they've never seemed to know each other that well. I got more of a "passing the torch" sense from the Enterprise turning tail and leaving right afterwards.
The Cardassian arrival worked well, mostly because Marc Alaimo plays a great Cardassian. (I wish they'd acknowledged that he played the very first one we saw, though, and actually made this guy Gul Macet.) The actual threats made
and points exchanged were very routine, but Alaimo and Brooks played off each other so well that it didn't cause much of a problem.
Dax's "discovery" of the wormhole's location was *way* too easy, even given Dax's experience. I'm sorry, but I have difficulty believing that Dax could do in a few hours what nobody else had been able to do in months or years. It led into the extended sabotage setup, though, which was great. (Shades of "Casablanca" when Kira closed Quark down; I expected her to be vocally "shocked, SHOCKED!" at the gambling. :-) ) The end of that extended bit, with O'Brien kicking the transporter to beam back Odo, was cute *once*; it shouldn't be a habit.
After that, we hit the wormhole. The scenes in it, with Brooks talking to the aliens, were very strange, and very talky, and thus very risky to do in a pilot like this. Me -- I think it paid off; they're among my favorite scenes of the show. The point that humanity's "linearity" is all about the search for "new questions"is one that's been made before, but one that in my view is
one that needs to be made a lot *more* than it is. And while the eventual point the aliens make to him ("don't live in the past") isn't particularly tough to spot, it's played and developed very well. I'm extremely satisfied with this whole section.
(On that, I think I've also figured out an answer to a question that was bugging me. Lisa and I tried to figure out while watching why they might have wanted Sisko and not Dax; what we eventually came up with was that Sisko, living physically and mentally in two different times at the moment, was the closest analogue to themselves they could find. Ideas?)
The technobabble surrounding the wormhole and the station moving to its edge didn't do very much for me, and the bits with linear time had some inconsistencies. (The line, "It must be destroyed, *before* it destroys us," for instance, doesn't make any sense coming from the aliens, unless they have at least a rudimentary sense of linear time. They clearly do, based on other things they say, but that gets a bit muddled.)
The Cardassian threat after Dukat's ship vanishes is no big deal, mostly because Gul Jasad is among the least interesting Cardassians I've ever seen, including nonspeaking roles. :-) The actor looked like he'd be more at home playing a Chicago thug in "The Untouchables"; get him out of that snarling idiot mode. It didn't help that it set up a long speech from Kira that only partially worked, too.
Finally, the resolution is nice, except that I'd expect Sisko to still have at least a *bit* of residual hostility left towards Picard, even after his experiences in the wormhole. It was almost fine, but rankled just slightly.
That's a bit more piecemeal a commentary than I'd planned, but so be it. Most of the problems I saw above are ones I'd more or less expected; nothing is perfect when it first comes out of the gate. I'm sure the show will
change as this season progresses; if it changes in the "right" ways, we've got a nice piece of work on our hands.
Some short takes:
-- I didn't see a listing on who composed the opening theme anywhere, but I want to know. I'm not thrilled with the DS9 music I've heard so far, and the theme doesn't inspire one to greatness. It's adequate, but no more. -- Quark: "I love a woman in uniform." Lisa: "Uh-oh, we've got a very *kinky* Ferengi on our hands..." ;-)
-- The FX budget is clearly very large. I wonder how often they're going to be able to use Odo's shapeshifting ability. My hunch is not very often; with luck, that means they'll arrange very few situations where it'd make sense to use, rather than spontaneously forgetting he's on board or conveniently arranging a power loss with some form of "Odonite".
That's it. On the whole, this was a very promising beginning. If things develop well, this look at the "downtrodden side" of the Federation and Starfleet (a la _The Renegades of Pern_, perhaps) could be very interesting. The characters and situations are there; now let's see what they can do.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 8. Some bits of strained credulity, but not many; and in a situation like this, the plot has to be arranged to introduce the characters anyway.
Plot Handling: 8. A few slow bits, but mostly snappy in pace.
Characterization: 8. Kira's a *little* too annoying, and Jake needs work; the rest look good.
TOTAL: 8. A promising start. Let's see where it goes.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"You know, I didn't think I was going to like him..."
-- Odo, on Sisko
Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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