Friday, January 18, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 2: Rivals

Deep Space Nine, Season 2
Airdate: January 2, 1994
30 of 173 produced
30 of 173 aired


A competitor to Quark arrives on the station, bringing some strange machinery in tow. When strange coincidences and pieces of luck both good and bad start conspicuously occurring, though, the crew must find out how and why their fortunes have been altered.

In the future, racquetball will have a zillion targets on the wall, and shiny jumpsuits. And sound effects.


Matthew: There are things I like about this episode. Unfortunately, the execution of the A story is not one of them. The idea of a machine that somehow skews probability is interesting, if perhaps problematic to explain in a 45 minute teleplay. Just what is being altered by the machine? Is there some sort of force in the universe that governs probability, and this force is being altered? If this is the case, I have serious problems. How can the forces dictating the spin of neutrinos be the same as those that govern whether people stub their toes, or whether a swindled couple (who are apparently on a different planet) sue a con artist?

Kevin: The probability aspect bothered me too, even as a kid. It seemed like the episode was saying that probability or randomness is some kind of force that was being manipulated by the device, which just doesn't make sense. I think there is a way to work it into existing science, and existing Star Trek science. Like maybe it could be like what happened to Worf in Parallels. Since all outcomes happen in some quantum universe, then maybe the device could be nudging people into the universes occupied by the unlikely results. But as it is, it just doesn't make sense. It's a neat idea, but it doesn't have a payoff in the episode.

Matthew: The other giant problem with the A story is that the gambling machine is utterly unconvincing as something that would hold the interest of anyone over the age of one. I'm pretty sure my 15 month-old son would toss it aside after a few plays. How can we imagine that anyone would invest money into it? If it were psychoactive, that might be one thing. If it were elaborate and beautiful (like a one armed bandit, or a pachinko machine), that might be another. Here, nada. So two major aspects of the A story are no-goes from the very outset.

Kevin: How the hell do you know if you win? It doesn't seem clear at all. I think the best gambling games are the ones that give you at least the hint of strategy or choice. Even if you know the odds are really against you, you end up feeling like you've accomplished something. I think it's part of why poker got so huge in recent years. But this is less than even a slot machine, which as Matt points out, is at least visually hypnotic.

Matthew: Personal interactions between characters, on the other hand, carry the whole episode. I enjoyed the development of Bashir vs. O'Brien, since it pushed their relationship from one of cordial dislike into a realm of greater animosity, but also one of mutual respect. Sports have a funny way of doing that, and it works very well here. Seeing Keiko support O'Brien, even when she thinks he's being childish, was really great, too.

Kevin: I love the O'Briens' marriage. It always reads as genuine in a way a lot of even non-sci-fi shows fail at. I also really liked little asides like "Win or lose, tonight...we celebrate." Star Trek has a spotty track record portraying sex in a way that is not dancing Orion girls, so it's always nice to see genuine, but not eerily exploitative sexuality portrayed on the show. The Bashir/O'Brien relationship eventual becomes a major point for the characters and the show and I like how they develop it. There's something really nice about they almost grudgingly come to depend on each other. Something I didn't think about until years later is that as much as Voyager really nailed three-dimensional female characters, I think DS9 manages to explore actual, non-supermen and how they relate to each other, via Bashir and O'Brien.

Matthew: I like the position this puts Quark in, and it offers us some nice comic relief. I can't say that the Martus character, or any of his crooked dealings, were particularly interesting. Had I been writing or editing this, I'd have focused more scenes on how Quark reacts to an empty establishment, and less on whether Martus has swindled another wealthy dowager.

Kevin: The producers originally conceived of Martus as a recurring character, but obviously, it didn't pan out. It almost seems like the character would be a better fit on TNG. There, like the Qs and Okonas and Berlinghoff Rasmussens, the con artist tweaking Picard's nose has a little more bite. DS9 already has Quark, and you aren't going to top that.


Matthew: Colm Meaney, everyman extraordinaire, was the best part of this episode, since it was both his vulnerability and his humor that kind of made the whole thing worth watching. He was very funny aping Bashir, he was identifiable when we see him struggling with losing a step. Rosalind Chao should be in more episodes. She's perfect in the role.

Kevin: Much like Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, Colm Meany and Rosalind Chao have discussed how intimate playing a couple for so long makes you, and really shines. They can really portray all the aspects of a long term relationship. Her playful teasing in this episode is as real as her genuine disgust at him in "Cardassians." More than any other couple, except maybe Tom and B'elanna, they really seem like an actual couple that goes through things together, and it makes them really interesting to watch. And Colm Meany getting flustered playing racquetball is just comedy gold, you adorable, ruddy-faced Irishman, you.

Matthew: Armin Shimerman was very funny yet again, especially the laugh he delivers after Rom departs for Martus' employ. He really showed a wide range, from simpering and sniveling to gloating and preening. This was a really good Quark episode for me.

Kevin: For such an over the top character in over the top situations, I don't think in the show's entire run, you could lay "overacting" at his feet. Shimerman has amazing instincts how to pitch everything for its best effect. It's really a master class in inhabiting a role.

Matthew: Chris Sarandon was pretty good as Martus, but not great. The script didn't do him many favors, but he was believable as both an inhabitant of this universe, as well as a con man. His various marks were adequate.

Kevin: Adequate, I agree. A more energetic script would have been more fun, but I don't have any complaints about him, specifically. I know they were trying for a different take on Guinan's listening skills, but it didn't quite come off. Quark is a far better inversion of the bartender with a sympathetic ear.

Production Values

Matthew: The machine design just doesn't cut it, and might have really materially harmed the story. I don't think the script specified enough for the machine to interest patrons, but the design sealed the deal. A ball with a few lights and an annoying little chime? Yawn. As I say above, not even adequate for a child's toy (which Quark describes it as resembling). We were also treated to some pretty bad CGI when Sisko and Dax  use phasers to destroy the larger machines.

Kevin: The problem is, especially for the big ones, they looked like the equivalent of a kit-bash model, just thrown together by the production team to save time and money.

Matthew: There was some very elaborate wardrobe in this episode. Quark's outfits of course sparkle, but Martus and his various paramours have quite the blingy outfits, too. I liked them overall. The racquetball court... wow. I can't even imagine playing a game in such an environment. It was pretty obviously just a repainted holosuite set.

Kevin: I don't remember if it's a reuse of the set from "Suddenly Human," but it's definitely reminiscent. I liked the choice of costuming for O'Brien and Bashir. It made sense for the characters and Bashir's outfit is hilariously silly.


Matthew: Meh, it's a 2. The "A" story is both stupid and fluffy, but the characters carry the day just enough to keep this from the bottom of the dregs. It's a real shame, because I think there was the germ of a good episode here.

Kevin: There's just no life to this episode. I don't care enough about the lead guest star or his problems. The Basir/O'Brien stuff really keeps this afloat, though. I agree with the 2, for a total of 4.

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