Deep Space Nine, Season 2
Airdate: February 13, 1994
34 of 173 produced
34 of 173 aired
While on a survey mission, Sisko and O'Brien are surprised to find an uncharted human colony. They are even more surprised when they beam down and find themselves unable to use their technology to return to their ship. Their attempts to do so place them at odds with the colony's leader, Alixus.
We have a place for babies like you... the Box!
Matthew: OK, so here's an episode I should love, right? It's got a crazy Ayn Rand-type philosophical leader, her cult drones, and a conflict revolving around ideas. So why am I so ambivalent? First and foremost, let's tackle the "philosophy" involved. Alixus, the colony leader, espouses some sort of mish-mash of Luddite ideology, self-help manuals, and, well, and not much else. There just wasn't enough meat on the bones here to present her worldview as one that was a credible alternative to the techno-utopia of the Federation, nor enough to indict that utopia. So I kind of feel like this was a missed opportunity. How are Federation citizens truly malformed by their environs? Does it have something to do with "core behaviors" and "core identities?" Because that was left totally unclear. What exactly is it besides a lot of menial labor and a poor understanding of virology that Alixus' lifestyle offers? We get some platitudes about community. Isn't the Federation a pretty happy shiny community?
Kevin: I agree. We have an interesting idea that doesn't quite get the development it needs. I would say it gets a better development that similar stories, like, oh say..."Way to Eden," but there's another problem in there. This is not the first, by a long shot, Luddite society of former Earth or Federation citizens. Alixus' duplicity is not necessary. If a colony set off and said "leave us alone," they would be. I also personally have a problem with the arbitrary nature of a number of these philosophies, real world or science fiction based. Why are bows and arrows and their agriculture equipment okay but not tricorders or replicators? They all are fundamentally labor or time-saving devices. And in the real world, you know what I have never seen anyone who rejects modern conveniences or technology still wear? Eyeglasses. I have yet to see someone reject eyeglasses as signs of a decadent, technology-obsessed culture or the lenses of Satan. There always seems to be some arbitrary line drawn about what level of tech is okay and what is not, and it would have been fun to either see her philosophy questioned because of it, or even better, come up with an explanation.
Matthew: The battle of wills between Sisko and Alixus was, despite lacking a bit in specific policy positions, pretty successful. Now, granted, the whole hot box thing was a pretty direct ripoff of "Bridge on the River Kwai." But hey, if a story idea works, it works. I enjoyed their struggles with one another, and I wish they had had some more time to debate, as opposed to just outright fighting and labeling each other contemptible.
Kevin: Yeah, this was the best part of the episode. There was a bit of a TOS feel to this one, and it works for the episode, the captain locked in a battle of wills with the charismatic cultist. The box may not be the most original idea, but it gave some real depth to Alixus' power and convictions, and to Sisko's determination. There's something almost grisly about seeing dehydrated Sisko stumble out of the box and it raises the stakes for everyone.
Matthew: I think my biggest problem with the story was the duonetic field, Alixus crashing the ship on purpose, and the colony members' blase reaction to the big reveal. I'll tell you what - if my wife or sister or daughter were f-ing dead because of this woman's duplicity, you'd better believe I wouldn't be mild and accepting. I'd be stringing the bitch up in her stupid box and pelting her with her books. I thought her relationship with her son was creepy, too. The main problem, though, was that it invalidated her philosophy, making it a mere straw man to oppose to the Federation ideal. By using technology and lying to her community, she undercuts what are apparently the two main planks of her platform of ideas. And the episode goes from being an engaging contest of ideas to a mere villain story.
Kevin: Yeah, the platitude "maybe a lie could lead to the truth," fell really flat for me. She robbed them of their right to choose and I can't imagine any person, let alone one raised in the Federation, not rebelling at that concept. Maybe it could have been played a little differently. Maybe they could have legitimately crashed, built a new life when it became clear they couldn't escape, and then Alixus could have stumbled on the means to escape, and chosen to hide it. It would make the lie a little more gray. She would be acting to protect an extant community rather than forcing the creation of a new one. I also had a bit of the problem with the scene with Kira and Dax. Why not just use the transponder codes to take remote control? Why didn't Alixus just destroy it? Though, I did really like the line, "I'm a science officer. It's my job to have a better idea."
Matthew: Let it not be said that the issues were ones of casting. I thought Gail Strickland did a whale of a job as Alixus. She had a perfect, sinewy hippie quality physically, and her voice was one I could totally imagine as that of a sort of droning, charismatic cult-leader. I fully believed that she believed her ideas, regardless of how silly they ended up seeming by the end of the plot twists. I was not as enamored of Michael Silver's Vinod. He was played like a stolid, pec-monster dip-twit.
Kevin: Alixus was great. She really had a force behind her personality. The actress worked with the firector to really hit the right balance and, script issues aside, I think she succeeded. I think you hit the nail on the head about the quality to her voice. It's low without being harsh, and she had a great urgency when discussing her philosophy. It may not have been technobabble per se, but when mentioning things like "core identity," it really sounded like she had a clear and specific idea what she was talking about. I like Joseph, who seemed to be intentionally drawn to be like O'Brien.
Matthew: Both of our main cast members were engaging. This is really a tailor made role for Brooks, since he can be indignant, preachy, and physical, but can also smolder a bit. Colm Meaney brings just the right level of earnest dumbfoundedness to it. It's as though he can't believe anyone would put up with such nonsense.
Kevin: Speaking of a TOS feel to the episode, I've come to think that Brooks' stage experience and style puts him a lot closer to Shatner's Kirk than I realized the first time through the series. These kinds of one-on-one battle of wills, I think, will be his best episodes over the course of the series. I really liked Meaney in the scene discussing how Keiko would love it on the planet and his "black thumb." Those little conversational tidbits really sing for Meaney.
Matthew: The location shoots worked really well. I don't know what part of Planet California they were on, but it looked both believable and different than any of Trek's previous spots. The ship hull looked good, too, and was believable as a repurposed domicile. The agricultural fields also seemed realistic. Overall, the sets really worked.
Kevin: The interior shots were great, too. I liked the fact that it felt like there were a lot of different places on this world. Given that these people would have crashed in the years leading up to the premiere of TNG, I would have liked a few more explicit touches to date the ship or decor. A discarded season one uniform would have been a nice background touch. My plot issues aside, the runabout scene looked great. The detail on the runabouts was really good.
Matthew: The "homemade" clothing was just OK for me. It seemed of a piece with a lot of contemporary 90s stuff on TV. Vinod's outfit was also unnecessarily homoerotic. But I'll leave that for Kevin to adjudicate on.
Kevin: I liked the woven hairnets, as I think it fit the theme and gave the colony a bit of visual unity, the sense that a distinct culture was forming. Vinod's mini-vest is odd, but I wouldn't call it homoerotic really. If it had matching chaps, that would be a different story.
Matthew: I want to like this more than I do. I think this episode is less than the sum of its parts, but it has some good parts. So I'll go with a 3. A deeper discussion of ideas would have elevated it.
Kevin: I'm happy with a 3. I was sufficiently entertained to make a 2 never an option, but I think the idea alone should have put the episode into 4 territory. Still, as stumbles go, this is at least a better stumble. That's a total of 6 from us.