Friday, November 16, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season 1: Duet

Deep Space Nine, Season 1
Airdate: June 13, 1993
18 of 173 produced
18 of 173 aired


Kira is forced to reevaluate her reflexive hatred against Cardassians when an apparent Cardassian war criminal turns out to be more than he first appears.

Sooner or later, Coach will put me in for real.


Matthew: So I think it is fair to say that this is the first "serious issue" episode of DS9. Previous shows like "Progress" had generally been serious in tone, but "Duet" is the first show I think that explicitly evokes a big historical event on Earth, plays the entire story very straight (i.e. not mixing the plot with lighter B and C plots), and makes a "big statement" at the end. And you know what? I think it's about damn time. This and the following season finale are certainly highlights of season one. It's great to start out well and go out on a bang and all, but what the heck happened to everything in between?

Kevin: Several of the cast cite this as one of, if not the best episode of the series, and it's easy to see why. The key to a good political drama, particularly one in a science fiction setting with a fictionalized polity, is to anchor the conflict in and around a character I care about. The acting certainly sells it, but it has a foundation in a good script. I also like that they didn't sugar coat the horrors of Gallitep. When Kira was rattling off the things that were done there, it's actually upsetting for the viewer. I think this might be the first and only use of the word "rape" in the franchise, and as a result, it really packs a punch. The result is that I care about Kira and her outrage and it makes the episode engaging the whole way through.

Matthew: Clearly, we are meant to take this story as a reference to Nazi war crimes and the prosecution of criminals after the fact. That alone gives the plot resonance and drama. But the writers did a clever thing here, they used a "big plot" to actually force one of the characters, Kira in this case, to grow and change. When we discover that all is not as it seems with out Cardassian war criminal, Kira is forced to reevaluate her prejudices against all Cardassians, and to sympathize with this particular Cardassian's plight. It's a really positive moment for the character. Now, Kira has gotten plenty of development already, but that doesn't mean that this is any less welcome. It's written very well, with the possible exception of the punctuating dialogue in the final scene. Kevin found it more hokey than I did.

Kevin: I really liked that they showed Kira's doubt and had her admit that she wanted him to be guilty. It was a great scene for the character, and it makes the resolution highlight even more how far she has come. Moral gray areas tend to be more dramatically interesting than moral certainties, and this is certainly the best example of it on this show so far.I do think the last line could have been cut and just gone right to pull back on the camera. It's not "It's not linear" levels of distracting, but was still the one sentence too far in explaining the scene.

Matthew: Odo and Sisko are given meaty things to do in the plot - Sisko maintaining a sort of reserved objectivity as the USA stand-in, and Odo maintaining objectivity out of a simple desire for probity. But when he does discover the truth, Odo is given a very nice scene revealing it to Kira, which shows that he also cares about her feelings.

Kevin: Odo and Kira's friendship is a great arc of the series, and it never quite gets the fan mention of Odo/Quark or Bashir/O'Brien, but there's a lovely camaraderie and respect between the two. Setting aside the romance angle of season 6 and 7, up to that moment, I always liked watching the two of them interact. To extent the story has a "b-plot" it would be Odo's investigation into Marrtiza's claims, and that really serves the episode in that it provides an organic way of getting through a lot of exposition, and when Odo asks out loud the questions we're all thinking, it validates the writers and the character.

Matthew: This episode may contain the most gratuitous "Enhance!" moment in all of television. Maybe this is more the fault of the way the effect was rendered, but it calls into the question nonetheless some of the creakiness of the plot. Identifications hinge on "photographs," and guilt hinges on a disease that could only be contracted on one day, ever (if the element that caused it left no residual effects in the mine, wouldn't it also dissipate quickly in the body?), and apparently affects Bajorans and Cardassians alike. The mechanics of Aamin Marritza's subterfuge elude me to some degree, and seem too clever by half. He is pretending to be a famous war criminal, but tries to escape capture initially and deflect suspicion? He has gotten surgery to look like someone, but that person's appearance requires a fantastical enhancement of one photograph to become apparent to his accusers? On the other hand, if Gul Darhe'el is so famous, wouldn't it be a simple matter to establish that anyone with the syndrome in question could not possibly be him, or that he had died several years prior, having had a funeral attended by half the planet? You'd think word of his demise might have escaped Cardassia. I'm not saying that any of this derails the story entirely, but thoughts do nag just a bit when you really subject the plot to scrutiny.

Kevin: I do agree that the reveal/uncertainty around Darhe'el's identity could have been more deftly handled, but both the photo scene and the peculiar nature of Kalla-Nohra serve to give the episode a stark choice for Kira. He is Darhe'el or he is not. He was at Gallitep or he was not. I think the writers fiddled with the reality of the situation a little to make sure there was no wiggle room for deciding who he was and what he had done, at least for Kira. Like you say, it's not flawless, but it's not distracting.

Matthew: When all is said and done, the character story for Marritza really works. We understand and agree with Kira's character conversion because we feel the same thing (despite any nagging logic issues). Marritza as a character gives us a complex, sympathetic Cardassian figure. He's not the all-out monster that many of them are portrayed as, but someone who couldn't take the bloody emotional toll of the Occupation. But he's also not a total sop. He's acting in favor of what he sees as a greater good, not for Bajorans, but for his fellow Cardassians.

Kevin: What I really love about the episode is that it works its reveals with real mastery. When he first admits being Darhe'el his ego and brutality are horrifying. Then the audience learns something Kira doesn't know and the same ranting takes on a manic quality, because we know even if she doesn't, that more is going on here. Finally when Kira learns the truth, the ranting dissolves perfectly into remorse. The rate at which they doled out information was both organic and suspenseful, and makes for really compelling viewing.


Matthew: Harris Yulin was superb. He seemed every bit a manipulative egomaniac during his character's attempted deception, and his breakdown was genuinely affecting. When he described hearing screams and started to sob, the episode left the world of just DS9 and entered a world of real human pathos. It's the most genuine emotional moment in the series so far.

Kevin: He really came through on two of our major criteria for the guest actor. He acted through the latex like it wasn't there and he inhabited the world. Matt points this out in the podcast, but it bears repeating in writing. The obvious Holocaust and Nazi-hunting parallels really serve the actors here as it gives them something to connect to and invigorate their performance. The performance Yulin gives, sans make-up of course, would serve any World War II drama without missing a beat.

Matthew: Nana Visitor could have just been Shouty Kira, but she really did a great job of turning her character around when the truth was revealed. She does a lot of great things with her face and her voice that bring us along on Kira's emotional journey. I think this is her best Season One work.

Kevin: I think this episode represents the final abandonment of Shouty Kira. Had Michelle Forbes agreed to be on DS9, I think she would have played it more agressively throughout, and I think she would have sold it, but I am glad they stopped telling Nana Visitor to act like Ro, as I assume they did. Visitor is at her best when she is portraying barely restrained emotion, be it laughter or tears. The scene in the security office with Sisko where she has to turn away to collect herself is really subtle and effective.

Matthew: The rest of the cast takes a bit of a backseat, but none of them ruin the tight story on display, and that's saying something. Avery Brooks doesn't chew any scenery, Siddig El Fadil doesn't mug and caper annoyingly. Auberjonois and Shimerman do good work as usual. Terry Farrell gets one "comic" scene in the teaser and one kind of obvious moralizing scene. They were just OK.

Kevin: Farrell and Visitor have a really nice rapport that the show does an eventual really good job of portraying as genuine friendship, and it starts with scenes like this. I think the strength of actors like Shimmerman and Auberjonois is that they can really find the way for their character to credibly interact with whatever is going on. Of course Quark asks if they like to gamble, and it's to Shimmerman's credit that while it certainly is played for the light chuckle it gets, that it doesn't read as cheap or just done for the sake of the joke. It's completely in keeping with his character he would ask that, and it plays that way.

Production Values

Matthew: It doesn't get more "bottle" than this episode. We are treated to no exterior locations, no special effects, just sets and costumes. But it all works, because it is ably directed and filmed. I was never bored because of the bottle nature of the show. The only production aspect I might question is the enhancement of the photograph. It could have been portrayed as less magical, if they had just enhanced an unobscured blurry figure, as opposed to magically reconstructing him from no information.

Kevin: I really like Cardassian civilian wear. I like the earth tones and color blocking, and I like that the shapes in the clothes mimic Cardassian bodies. The cross shoulder band of read actually draws attention to Marritza's Cardassian neck, which you would think a Cardassian would want to do. Along with the chunky, granola knit-wear for Bajorans, it's among the most effective, consistent costuming in the franchise. I love the security set in this episode, and the little touches, like Odo's com panel. It's all shot and lit beautifully and it really serves an already awesome episode.


Matthew: Had the acting been less than it was, this would probably be a 4. It's a very good story with a few nagging logic issues. But the acting was great, and definitely brings this up to a 5 level of excellence. It's clearly the best episode of the season. Although that sounds like the award for tallest dwarf, it's not. This is legitimately good and memorable, and finally a good taste of the topical, dark, emotionally complex stories that DS9 should have been doing for the past 20 episodes, instead of crap like Move Along Home and The Storyteller. So many of those shows flounder around between A, B, and C stories, struggling to find a tone and to focus on the right things. This episode maintains focus and intensity all the way through.

Kevin: When I defend DS9, this is one of the episodes I am thinking of. This is almost a story TNG couldn't tell. The crew of the Enterprise-D is made of Siskos and Odos, looking for truth and upholding Starfleet ideals. It doesn't occur to Picard in The Drumhead to actually distrust Simon Tarses for his Romulan heritage. Kira, on the other hand, reflexively hates this man for who he is and what he represents, so watching her deal with that, and watching it come up against those Starfleet ideals the audience shares can't but make for a good drama. A tightly written script with some superb acting really cement this as the best of season 1. I agree with a five for the DS9's first and long-overdue 10.


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