Monday, September 17, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season 1: Past Prologue

Deep Space Nine, Season 1
"Past Prologue"
Airdate: January 10, 1993
3 of 173 produced
2 of 173 aired


Major Kira is visited by Tahna Los, a man from her past in the Bajoran resistance. He plays upon her trust in him to arrange a deadly plot to destroy the wormhole that has opened up so many opportunities for Bajor. Now, her loyalties are tested as she must decide between her own past and the future of all Bajorans.

Pop. Six. Squish. Uh-Uh. Cicero. LIPSCHITZ!


Matthew: Remember my reservations about the DS9 concept? In our review of the premiere, I mused that it would probably be tempting for the writers to get way into local political stuff, at the expense of science fiction. Well, it only took two episodes for me to get to a story that sorely tested these concerns. We have to face facts - there is no science fiction here, and the story revolves entirely around whether or not a terrorist from Bajor's past (not the Federation's past, or any Star Trek series' past) can or should be repatriated. Look: I get why this kind of episode needed to happen. They had to demonstrate Kira's divided loyalty in a manner that went beyond the pilot episode. But, overall, this one was kind of boring in its A plot. It is the prototypical alien of the week story, except this alien's on every week.

Kevin: I agree that the episode is a snoozer, but I have fewer reservations about episodes like this than you do. Star Trek has established its science fiction bona fides. I think DS9 had to go in a different direction not just for the sake of establishing Kira's divided loyalties, but for the sake of establishing its own tone. If DS9 and its crew encountered Asimov-level science fiction phenomena and philosophical conundrums at the same rate as the Enterprise did, it would start to strain the internal credulity that we like about the franchise. DS9's problems almost have to be of a more grounded nature, just to not make the show a retread. On top of that, Ron Moore's political sagas are among my favorite TNG stories, so the idea of a series set in the Star Trek universe but focusing on those political dramas makes me pretty happy as both a TV-viewer and a Trekkie. If this were what Star Trek was from its inception, or all that Star Trek ever did again, I agree I would miss the harder science fiction elements, but as a piece in the set, I think it has its place in fleshing out the people and societies in the Star Trek universe. But still, this was not the best outing of this idea. The Kohn Ma are never really explained. What did they do that was so bad? Every Bajoran resistance fighter seemed to condone some level of violence, so it's not really clear what makes them so bad.

Matthew: I grant that fewer high-concept sci-fi tales are needed with such a show premise. But that doesn't mean that some background sci-fi or soft sci-fi could be explored. Perhaps the "Luddite" element of the destruction of the wormhole, voluntarily consigning your world to backwater status? On the other hand, the B story was a lot of fun. It introduces the creepily homoerotic character Garak into the DS9 pantheon. What a fun character! Granted, this is another "alien of the week" that need not be sci-fi based. But when you write a character with such wit, verve, and subterranean emotion and secret life, it can be forgiven. His machinations behind the scenes are really interesting. Whose interests does he truly represent? Is there anyone whom he will  not double cross? Pitting him against Lursa and B'Etor might be a bit out of left field, and a bit of a brazen crossover appeal attempt (especially coming right after the pilot), but heck if it isn't entertaining.

Kevin: The Duras sisters felt like an obvious casting ploy, even to my ten-year-old self, but I always loved Garak. I think Andrew Robinson deserves more than a little credit for how successful the character was, but still, the character works both as the embodiment of the moral ambiguity the show explores, and he's a perfect foil for Bashir's wide-eyed optimism. Their eventual regular lunches become DS9's story writ small. I also like that while annoying as Bashir is, they at least used the annoying character they wrote in an interesting way. As for Garak's creepy hitting on Bashir, Andrew Robinson has indicated in interviews that he was explicity playing it that way, and eventually the element was dropped from their relationship, and that makes me sad, that could have been a fun, if unsettling avenue to explore for both characters.

Matthew: The closest thing to science fiction here is the attempt to... blow up the wormhole? It took forever to finally get to this plot point, so it's not fair to say that it really drove the plot in the first place. Anyhow, the story could just as well be about blowing up a railroad or a canal, so it's not science fiction. I think if the plot had been more focused on this, it could have amped up the excitement a bit. But it really only animates the last ten minutes or so. There also seems to be no acknowledgement that trying to seal the wormhole would throw a bit of a monkeywrench into the whole Bajoran religion thing. You know, the one that was "the only thing that held my people together?" Seems like an odd target for a terrorist faction of cultural isolationists -- sort of like Al Qaeda blowing up Mecca to prevent tourism.

Kevin: This is where the episode really falters, but I guess that it can be chalked up to the earliness of the script and not having a lot of mechanisms of Bajoran society hammered down yet. Had they discussed the religious implications, or hinted that the Kohn Ma's true schism with Bajor was its theology or lack thereof not its tactics, that could have been fun. Also, the plan is really, really short sighted. Removing the source of commerce for a planet recovering from the Occupation is just straight up stupid, to the point of being suicidal, and again, even as a kid, I thought less of the plot because it was such an obvious problem.


Matthew: As much as I found the Kohn Ma plot to be a yawner, Jeffrey Nordling was pretty good as Tahna Los. He delivered his lines with great conviction and had me believing the conflict between his character and Visitor's Nerys. She was good here, too, portraying her inner conflict well. Avery Brooks played his disdain for Kira's maneuvering very well. He kept it restrained but still dramatic.

Kevin: I was not a big a fan of Nordling. I found his line readings a tad too agressive. I did like Nana Visitor a great deal this episode, particularly in her scene with Odo. Conflict can be hard to play without making it invisible or tortured (for the viewer anyway), and I thought she really nailed it. Even without having the full backstory of the Occupation developed, I understood what Kira was feeling.

Matthew: Vaughn Armstrong is great. I'm glad he got to play a human in Enterprise eventually, but he takes the alien roles and runs with them. I wish we had gotten more of him on screen. Andrew Robinson was superb as a Cardassian as well, really chewing the scenes and bringing a lot of charm to an otherwise charmless show (what does it say that the Cardassians are the most engaging characters thus far?). Robinson's presence is a real boon to Siddig El Fadil, who gets someone to play off of for comic effect. Their opening scene was quite funny.

Kevin: I loved the scene in his tailor's shop dressing room. Robinson played really well of Marsh and Walsh's Duras sisters, and Bashir being torn between terrified and elated at his role in all this was a hoot. And a little trivia note: the Admiral was played by Leonard Nimoy's wife. The More You Know.

Production Values

Matthew: This was a pretty ho-hum episode as far as visual effects went. Odo turns into a mouse - a pretty decent effect, though still not great. It definitely shows its age. The runabout shots looked pretty good. Overall, though, there is a definite "bottle" feel to the show. I wish we had gotten another look at Bajor, or perhaps one of these colonies they referred to.

Kevin:  The colonies would have been fun, but the wormhole costs money and clearly they were harvesting it where they could.

Matthew: In an episode with a tailor, it seems like we ought to mention costumes. Lursa and B'Etor had nice looking duds - they seemed a little richer and more fashionable than their TNG wear. The suit that Garak was "selling" to Bashir had some very pronounced shoulder pads, and the color was very "sci fi show in the 90s."

Kevin: I liked Garak's outfit here, but not as much as later ones, when it really crystalizes as a personal style as a subset of broader Cardassian fashions.


Matthew: I'm torn between a 2 and a 3. On the one hand, the Kohn Ma story was lackluster. On the other, Garak is a wonderful addition to the show's cast of characters, and he enlivens any scene he's in. But I'm going  to have to give this a 2 overall. The majority of the show was a political tale without much bite and without any science fiction. The conflict wasn't well developed and really only served the needs of character development.

Kevin: Even setting aside my lack of annoyance at the absence of a science fiction element, that primary plot is still pretty boring. It's a lot of "show me, don't tell me" problems given that all the interesting stuff happens off camera. There are some nice scenes for Kira that foreshadow better scenes in better episodes later. I will agree with the 2, for a total of 4. 

1 comment:

  1. I always find it hilarious, and with that I mean contemptible, when Cardassians chase some Bajoran and want them arrested for having committed terrible acts against Cardassians. I mean really? And then how often Sisko and others actually seriously give credence to this absurd notion. As if Bajor wasnt occupied for half a century by those Cardassians and as if they didnt have every right to do whatever it takes to escape from under their yoke, including murder every single one of them. You dont get to commit mass murder and then call those those whom you mass murder and who rise up against you murderers.

    I guess for any occupying force it is easier and just more convenient to call those in the resistance to the occupation terrorists and criminals - it makes occupying and stealing their land, subjugating its population and systematically disenfranchising and murdering it easier. Because if it is just merely a bunch of terrorists you are dealing with, then no one needs to take them seriously or cares, cause, who gives a shit about a bunch of terrorists, right?

    In realty, of course, when a nation, a peoples have no other recourse, when everyone around them is doing nothing to help but merely standing by and watching the occupying force do whatever they want with them, then the underground becomes the only avenue available for you to fight back.