Airdate: January 1, 1996
81 of 173 produced
81 of 173 aired
Sisko is called back to Earth after a terrorist attack on a diplomatic meeting indicates the presence of violent changelings. While there he must balance the preservation of the idyllic way of life that humans have achieved with the sacrifices demanded by heightened security.
Welcome to Earth! Where material want and menial toil have been eliminated from the human experience. Well, except for Jose, your busboy.
Matthew: It should not go unsaid that this episode was eerily prescient, especially appearing as it does in early 1996. Maybe it says something that the writers and producers of DS9, despite being in the same post-cold-war/nascent Internet boom haze that we all were, found it necessary to poke holes in the veneer and ask what it might take to bring it all crashing down. That they hit on exactly the right answer (which would come to pass a scant 5 years later) needs to be lauded. But this setup isn't just one that succeeds in hindsight. It's a cracking good story on its own terms, and asks interesting questions about the Trek universe at the same time that it advances both the larger Dominion arc and gives us interesting development of the Sisko family. I'm also very glad that they didn't contrive to get the whole DS9 crew assigned to Earth for whatever arbitrary reason - a la "Past Tense."
Kevin: I think this is the kind of story that Deep Space Nine is uniquely situated to tell. It's increasingly serialized format allows the show to follow up on consequences and the moral gray areas all its characters have variously encountered shows that this show can go to darker places. When TNG approaches this kind of story, the result is The Drumhead, a solid story, but with key differences. There, the threat Satie claimed to be fighting was a bit of a boogeyman, and the threat she posed was dispensed with in one episode. Here, the Dominion is a very real, ongoing threat. We'll get to the problems with the mechanics of Leyton's plan next week, but I don't think it's even intimated that Leyton was a participant, active or passive in the bombing. I always read it that he simply capitalized quickly on the situation. So you can't just dismiss the security concerns by dismissing the underlying threat. And particularly when its being argued by Odo, the position is a valid one, and not merely a straw man set up again the pro-civil liberty argument. I also like how rather than merely discuss the two opposing viewpoints, they play it out with Sisko and his father. Both have reasonable points. If they aren't proactive in looking, a changeling infiltrator won't reveal himself until it is too late, but Joseph makes the valid point that in their world, he does not have to disprove anything. Someone has to present him with affirmative evidence before making a search. The best part is that the resolution is the vindication of either viewpoint per se, but the well-played warning that paranoia presents at least as much of a threat as the threat you are worried about. In sum, the plot is not only prescient, but it does a superb job of exploring the issues without preaching about them.
Matthew: The look we get of Earth in the 24th century is certainly interesting, if not entirely explicable. Sisko's restaurant has charm to spare - but why does it, and how can it, exist? Who would work as a busboy, and who would fold napkins into silverware? What do people pay for their food with? Is it free? I am open to the notion that a satisfying answer might not even be possible. But to just leave these questions be irritates me, especially since there are several scenes padding the length of this show that could have been cut (especially the Odo's furniture bit) in order to address these more interesting questions. I liked the look at Earth as being balanced between two types of government - the civilian Federation government, with its president and its constitution, and Starfleet, a military hierarchy. It is simply an interesting setup, pregnant with story possibility, and lots of rich resonance for we, the 20th and 21st century viewers.
Kevin: I agree on the implicit problems of a service sector in an economy without scarcity. Any kind of answer would have been at least interesting. I was less bothered by the character scenes at the top of the hour, as I liked seeing everyone's reactions. I liked that they confirmed that the Federation has a true civilian government. Starfleet has so many departments with so many powerful people, you forget that they aren't actually in charge of everything. Not yet, anyway...
Matthew: I loved the continuity references and incorporation. Bringing Nog back makes a lot of sense and gives us a further development of his story. Talking about how this crisis compares to "the Borg scare" and how it is the greatest threat "since the last World War" is wonderful.The character of Joseph Sisko gives us a fine avatar for the life of a civilian on Earth. The way he personifies the hopes, fears, and prejudices of a citizen or Earth is great. The President was also a fine character, seeming very much like a genial bureaucrat who has humility (but not incompetence) in the face of a crisis that seems beyond his pay grade.
Kevin: I liked the way they pitched the President. He's not merely an officious and stupid dignitary. You get the impression that he was probably a good administrator for the undoubtedly massive bureaucracy of the Federation, but is now out of his depth for this kind of crisis. I liked seeing Nog again too, and that they work him into the overall story. Sisko made a comment in "The Maquis" how it was easy to be a saint in paradise, and they really nailed the character of his father. He is the man this world produces. He seems to spend his time doing something he loves (and ostensibly only for that reason), he is concerned about his world, and has a strong sense of his individual freedoms and rights in the world, and of course freaks out when they are threatened, from an either internal or external source.
Matthew: What can be said about Brock Peters? The man radiates credibility. He was credible as a military man in the TOS movies, and he is credible as an irascible old fart in this story. It was a stroke of casting genius, and I can't wait to see him reprise the role. Robert Foxworth is great as Leyton, bringing just the right mix of guile and authority to the role. Susan Gibney is great, we wish she were a regular, and here she is especially impressive for not seeming at all like Leah Brahms, who she brought to such vivid life in TNG. Memory Alpha mentions some disappointment with Herschel Sparber as the President. I don't share it. The character needed to be just a bit out of his depth, and Sparber captured this quite well.
Kevin: All three generations of Siskos had a great rapport. Foxworth and Gibney both did awesome jobs, and particularly for their characters, inhabited both the world and their command roles really well. I had no problems buying both of them in their parts. I agree on the President. He wasn't as imposing as some of his predecessors, but I think that underscores a Federation that long ago put the Klingon conflict behind them.
Matthew: Avery Brooks turns in a restrained performance rich with inner life. You could see the gears turning and the internal compromises being made. I liked Rene Auberjonois a lot here, too, because he played Odo exactly as he needed to be - an order-seeking authoritarian, as opposed to some sort of emotionally pained victim. Aron Eisenberg, to me, has a bit of a coming out party in this episode. Nog is not played for laughs at all, and he stands up to the other actors as a credible player in the drama that unfolds.
Kevin: I really like that Odo took the view he did rather than be the cheap avatar for a "racism is bad" allegory. He has repeatedly demonstrated he will break rules on privacy in the name of justice, so it makes sense he is advocating the President do that same. I think the entire cast did a great job of infusing everyone with a tension and an uncertainty that gave some real depth to the crisis.
Matthew: This is a classic example of making a lot out of very little. There are really only 3 sets and one location, but a creative use of matte paintings (likely digitally achieved), some good set dressings, and some expert lighting really make "earth" come alive. The sunrise in Paris was terrific, and the way Sisko's earth office was dressed was really good. Sisko's Restaurant looked like a real place, and was either great set design or perfect location scouting.
Kevin: The lighting guy really earned his paycheck this week. The pale, early morning light gave the final conference scene a sense of surreality and disquiet. The offices were great. I can't say enough about the restaurant. Like the house in "The Visitor," the depth of detail was lush and gorgeous. I almost have to believe it was a real place. The glass was frosted. Most of all, I've always wanted to eat there, which is good, since they were going for "restaurant."
Matthew: The visual effects in this episode focus mostly on shape-shifting, and they're well done on the whole. The bird effect looked convincing, as did the briefcase. The handshake melding of the two changelings was an improvement on previous attempts at this sort of effect, too. As far as props go, I liked the blood test syringes.
Kevin: This is less of an effects episode, but the few they threw in were great. All the changeling effects were well done and looked real, particularly the one of Leyton turning into a bird.
Matthew: This could probably be argued as a 4 or a 5, but I think it is so strong in each area of our system that it rates a 5 despite a few writing issues that I personally have. It's just darned entertaining, and it has the virtue of being both a good political story as well as a good science fiction story (the action is precipitated by an alien shape-shifting threat, and the technological responses available to counter it).
Kevin: I agree with the 5. The Visitor packs more raw emotional punch, but in terms of exploring and stretching the Star Trek narrative and world, you can't beat this episode and it's a highlight of the season thus far and the series as a whole. That makes a total of 10.