Deep Space Nine, Season 5
Airdate: December 30, 1996
106 of 173 produced
106 of 173 aired
An ancient painting and a freak electrical accident give Captain Sisko a series of mystical visions that lay bare not only the past but the future of Bajor. Now Sisko must decide whether to pursue the visions to their potentially fatal conclusion, or to opt for a surgery that would end them, but save his life.
This... MEANS something.
Matthew: So it cannot go without mention that this episode's whole first half turns on one of the most egregious "Enhance!" moments, well, ever. Sure, "The Vengeance Factor" had a facial reconstruction based on a side view of a cheek, but here, we're asked to believe that some painter from thousands of years ago painted the reflections of stone figures into a waterfall - utilizing such control and detail that they are not apparent to the naked eye, but are apparent to a computer, and that no one thought to consider said reflections for more than 2 millennia, despite their being really obvious in the painting, and of the one thing that could locate the fabulous lost city of B'Hala, the holy of holies, whatever. "Credulity straining" hardly does it justice.
Kevin: Yeah, the basic misunderstanding of zoom and enhance in anything from sci-fi to 24 is that it can reveal information not in the original. If the image is small and blurry in a photo, zooming in only makes the blur bigger. I think there is a way to make the reveal work, and still give Sisko credit for an inspired solution. Actually, given the age of Bajoran culture and arts, I would actually buy that they had at least crude photography then, and then the reflection could have been used to narrow down the possibilities. I would have an easier time believing that Sisko could use the reflection to narrow down the possible pictograms rather than simply figure them out.
Matthew: That said, I do think this story has a number of really good things going for it that allow it to surmount the "Oh, crap, another Bajor religion story" blues you might be tempted to slip into upon the start of the story. Federation membership, Kai Winn's change of heart, and Kasidy Yates' return are all at least marginally interesting plot elements, albeit perhaps none of them enough to carry an episode singly. This buckshot approach to writing might come off as really bad, but here all three threads were organically tied together with the A story, Sisko's religious experience. I do kind of wonder how Sisko isn't fired, demoted, or usurped after intentionally sabotaging his primary mission - I think they could have done interesting things installing an admiral or co-captain onto the station with him, accepting that religious politics meant he had to stay.
Kevin: I also would have liked Sisko, or maybe Dax calling Starfleet on its bullshit. They may not be comfortable with Sisko's role as Emissary, but are happy to reap the benefits of positive relations with the Bajorans, especially with DS9 being the flashpoint of any conflict with Cardassia and now the Dominion. They really can't wash their hands of it when it becomes inconvenient. I am thrilled Kasidy is back and would have enjoyed an episode focusing on she and Sisko as a couple. That being said, what we got was great and very affecting. Everyone actually has, at least for themselves, a legitimate point of view that they care about, so their conflict is much more interesting.
Matthew: I think the reason prior Bajoran Religion shows haven't been very interesting is that those episodes have often turned on the question of whether the elements of the religion/prophecy/whatever were correct, and whether Starfleet officers like Sisko ought to lend them credence. Frankly, when you establish in your pilot that the god of this religion are real, this kind of renders questions like that moot and dramatically inert. Here, the question is one of character - given the reality of visions X, Y and Z, how much is a particular character willing to sacrifice to see them through? The resolution of this story thread was satisfying, though it hinged on an apparent medical consent law that reads "the patient's wishes are paramount, unless someone else has anything to say about it."
Kevin: I think they only occasionally took advantage of the twist the reality of the Prophets gave the show. With concrete proof, how would that affect people of faith. That being said, I think this show actually best portrays the remaining question surrounding the Prophets, better even than the exploration we got in Destiny, does the mere exist of the Prophets mean they are gods? To Starfleet, they are wormhole aliens, so even if they do exist and they are responsible for the seemingly miraculous things attributed to them, do they deserve deference as "gods." We got a good exploration of that. The fact that the gods of Bajor apparently actually exist isn't enough for, say, Jake that he should do what they are purported to want.
Matthew: I'd like to extend a hearty thanks and congratulations to whoever finally realized that showing the mystical visions is incredibly boring, not to mention problematic. As Rudolf Otto tells us, numinous experience is ineffable. You know what that means? YOU CAN'T SHOW IT ON A TV SHOW.
Kevin: One piece of character work I liked was Kira deflecting criticism of Jake's decision with the Kai. They've always walked a fine line with Kira, portraying her faith as much more a source of comfort and cultural touchstone than blind faith in dogma, so I kind of really like this scene as a restatement of that. If the gods have a plan and everything is part of the plan, than so is this. I think it's a good way to balance the fervency of Kira's faith without turning into a blind zealot.
Matthew: Guess what? They finally wrote an episode that plays to Avery Brooks' strengths. Normally, his breathy intonations and shouty flourishes annoy me. Here, they actually fit the story. He played the role of a prophet to a tee. His scene at the end, where he was conflicted about being saved and accepting Jake's decision, had a lot of nice shades, too.
Kevin: I agree that he sold the intensity well. It really simmered and boiled over in turns.
Matthew: Penny Johnson seemed determined to remind the producers what fools they were for not keeping her on as a regular during her debut. She totally nailed her role. Her line readings arguing for stopping the visions really sold that viewpoint in the story. Cirroc Lofton was pretty effective, too, actually. Louise Fletcher was typically good as Winn, but Ernest Perry was just so-so as the Admiral.
Kevin: Thinking back over the franchise, Yates, and Johnson's portrayal of her, actually do a job we have clamored for several times over the course of this blog: the normal person in the Trek world. There is something warm and compelling human about her. She has a normal job and seems to care most about the relationships and people in her life.
Matthew: The opening shot of the episode is the painting of the lost city and its obelisk. Anyone looking at the image for more than a second is bound to think "Hey, look at the reflection in that waterfall! Hey, I can even read some alien looking figures in it!" I know I did. The whole thing made all the wonderment over the "discovery" read a bit cheesy. Also, the reflection depicted on screen only covered one of the two missing glyphs. I think the painting was the episode's biggest flaw. It could even have been explained by a line of dialogue - everyone knows the reflection is there, but no one knows what it means. Also, am I the only one who felt just a bit cheated by not getting to see some real B'Halan ruins?
Kevin: I will say I liked the scene of Sisko using the holosuite to figure it out. It reminded me of the scene from schisms. It's just fun to watch a scene be constructed in pieces, and the blurry overlay, while clearly early CGI, still worked for me.
Matthew: Sisko playing with his food, in addition to being an obvious call-out to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," was also a bit cheesy. Are we supposed to believe he carved such elaborate pieces with his dinner knife, before Jake even sits down to dinner?
Kevin: This has driven me crazy for YEARS, but this was the first episode of DS9 using the First Contact uniforms and the fit of Sisko's uniform jacket is ABSURD. The grey shoulders are so big, his communicator is on it, and not the black. It was right up there with Riker in Avery Brook's original DS9 uniform with the absurdly short sleeves in Generations.
Matthew: Here I am, giving a Bajor Religion Show a 4. What has happened here? Despite a stupid initial story hook, everything plays out in an interesting way, and it ends up telling us a fair bit about Sisko as a character.
Kevin: I think the episode did a good job of exploring the interesting questions remaining around the Prophets and the episode has actual stakes for the characters both personally and professionally. I agree with the 4, for a total of 8.