Monday, November 24, 2014

Deep Space Nine, Season 5: Empok Nor

Deep Space Nine, Season 5
"Empok Nor"
Airdate: May 19, 1997
120 of 173 produced
120 of 173 produced


Needing parts to repair the station, the Chief O'Brien leads an expedition to DS9's abandoned counterpart station, Empok Nor. When they run afoul of some left overs from the Cardassians' time there, things turn ugly.

Which of these people won't last the episode? These new uniforms make it difficult to tell.


Matthew: So it seems pretty clear that the DS9 creative staff wanted to get a few "change of pace" shows out of their system before they adopted the one pace of the upcoming Dominion War story. I am not opposed to the change of pace show in principle, but I do want it to have a little quality I call "Right To Exist." There are a few reasons an episode can have a right to exist: the entertainment value is stellar; the change of pace facilitates a key revelation about a character, or about the universe as a whole; the change of pace allows for heretofore unknown characters to take the limelight. I think this episode gets close-ish on a few of these counts, but doesn't really stick the landing on any of them. As to the first item, entertainment value, the structure of the narrative, as a horror movie with startle scares, is okay, but nothing more. I can see they were trying to go for some sort of hard boiled duel between Garak and O'Brien, but that never really materialized, either, for reasons I'll list below. And so it's just sort of "meh" on the entertainment scale. Not leaving a sentry on the runabout was pretty stupid, I must add, not to mention being a missed opportunity for a potentially dramatic red shirting.

Kevin: In terms of the redshirting, I think this was a step above the normal. Everyone got names and a little bit of history. I was still not overly invested in them, but I appreciated the attempt to make the deaths a little more meaningful. I think the episode succeeds in terms of atmosphere, if not entirely execution. The manner of the deaths was pretty creepy, certainly beyond the usual antiseptic phaser shot. Boq'ta and Stolzoff's deaths in particular were certainly at the edges of pre-watershed television. I agree with your overall assessment, but I think while watching the episode, I was thoroughly entertained by the tone it set.

Matthew: One of the reasons I found the showdown a little wanting is that neither side of it gets any real development. They tease at it with Garak calling O'Brien the hero of Setlik III, with a few additional dialogue snippets, but we never really learn about the Chief's experiences in any detail. He never loses his cool and goes Rambo on Garak. None of his prior experience really has any bearing on his actions. Similarly so for Garak. He's on drugs, he's paranoid, but at no point does this juicy opportunity to learn about either Garak's personal history or Cardassia's reach fruition.

Kevin: I think they did ultimately pull a punch. O'Brien never goes too far and Garak is cleanly absolved of culpability. I think in order for this thread to work, something has to change and stay that way for either, preferably both of the characters. Honestly, given everything else O'Brien has been through, and his stated aversion to killing from The Wounded, he could/should have had a complete fucking breakdown over this. Alternately, there was a way to explore Garak's character here. For a human, even being absolved of culpability would not absolve of guilt over something like this. What if it does for Garak? The creepiest scene this show could have had is Garak being unfazed because of either a general Cardassian ability or a Garak specific one to completely and cleanly intellectualize what had happened. Watching him calmly walk off to meet Julian for lunch could have been the best scene of the episode.

Matthew: "Lower Decks" is a change of pace show that nailed all three of my criteria. One key reason for that show's success though was the third - making us care enough about the junior crew members within a 45 minute teleplay to have us really reeling by the emotional climax. Here, eh, not so much. Pechetti came the closest to being a real character, with his desire for souvenirs. But overall, none of these characters really rose above either my indifference or above horror movie cliche. An interesting note is Amaro's use of the epithet "spoonhead" to describe their antagonist. Apparently this was viewed as controversial because Roddenberry had decreed no racism in Trek. But I think this is overblown. We've seen racism from Starfleet personnel in Roddenberry-era tales such as TOS Balance of Terror and This Side of Paradise (among others); Star Trek VI; TNG The Measure of a Man and countless negative references to Ferengi (e.g. The Price, Captain's Holiday). And O'Brien of course called them "bloody Cardies" in The Wounded.

Kevin: I hate to say this, but they could have killed Nog. I love Eisenberg, and his later outing in It's Only a Paper Moon would have been a sad loss if we didn't have it, but if you want to turn the dials up to 11 on this plot, you have kill a character I already cared about. Part of what I think made the junior crew plot work was it was made up of two people we already knew, even if it took us half the episode to remember who Sito was. So don't get me wrong. I am glad Nog survives for Nog's sake, but if you really wanted a Joss Whedon level moment of shocking the audience, Nog had to go.


Andrew Robinson and Colm Meaney turn in their typical "Pro's Pro" sorts of performances. Robinson did some nice work with facial tics to demonstrate Garak's being overcome by drugs. Meaney did a good job showing the layers of his character's personal history, even when the script was somewhat lacking on that score.

Kevin: No arguments here. Robinson, of course, played one of the leads in the first Hellraiser movie, a personal favorite of mine, which is saying something since horror is not a genre I frequent. The only other actor I've even seen who can perfectly pitch the breathiness of voice to make you completely terrified is Jeffrey Combs.

Matthew: As far as the secondary cast went, Aaron Eisenberg is the standout yet again. He's really come into his own when he is not relegated to comic relief filler with Jake. He seems professional, but also intimidated by certain situations, which makes him an unlikely but effective avatar for the viewer. Tom Hodges and Jeffrey King were pretty good as Pechetti and Amaro, but they didn't steal the show or anything.

Kevin: Eisenberg, especially after the start of the Academy plot, really does a great job with portraying a real person in this setting, second maybe only to Dwight Scultz's Barclay. Like his wanting to fit in with Red Squad or standing up for himself with Martok. He really gave the character growth, so seeing him flung into an extraordinary situation inside the universe was great.

Production Values

Matthew: The listing station was a nicely achieved effect, and looked to be CGI. The redress of the main set was a bit on the dark side for me. There were several scenes in which I failed to have a sense of place, which is not a good thing in what is supposed to be a tense game of hide and seek. Either way, I'm glad they didn't do the "strobing lights" effect to create "tension," since this is both cheap and annoying (we will get o Enterprise sooner or later...).

Kevin: The scene in the Infirmary was good. I liked the quit cuts over the skeleton rather than lingering. It made it creepier. The redress of Sisko's office was nicely done. The kotra game metaphor was laid on a little thick, but I liked the visual of Garak searching for all the pieces.

Matthew: The various fight scenes and quick cuts were effective, and helped to maintain what otherwise might have been my flagging interest. The stabbing and subsequent dialogue by Amaro was pretty gruesome and well done.

Kevin: Yeah, like I said above, I think the episode maintained its tone pretty well, even if the resolution was too pat. Right up there with Genesis for me, this a good example of Trek mining genre tropes to an episode's benefit rather than detriment.


Matthew: This is a 3 for me. It never really excels at any of the things I'd like it to, but there is a decent enough sense of tension and a few good performances keep things reasonably interesting.

Kevin: In the balance, I like this more than you did, but I have to agree with the 3 for a total of 6. A longer lasting consequence for a character we already cared about would have gotten this to at least a 4.

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