“Bar Association” (season four, episode 15; originally aired 2/19/1996)
In which (some of) the workers of DS9 unite…
It’s funny how relevant Deep Space Nine can be, even when it’s telling small, comedic stories like this one. But then, the battle between labor and management is always going to be relevant, because certain basic problems will always arise. The workers want to be treated fairly, to earn a living wage and have time for a life outside of their job; the management wants to maximize profits any way it can. Not to mention the fact that the people in power tend to have wealth, and wealth means political influence, influence that can be used to shape law to favor exploitation. Or the way various dogmas and ideologies can be combined to convince the downtrodden that they deserve their place on the social scale, that they are inferior and weak and greedy just because they want a basic share of dignity. Until we somehow figure out a perfect system (which, well, don’t hold your breath), it’s a conflict that’s never really going to go away. Just seems like it’s been in the news a lot more lately, between attacks on teachers and the attempted destruction of unions. (It makes sense, sadly. When money’s tight, other people’s rights are always the easiest to sacrifice.) A lot of “Bar Association” is played for laughs, but Rom’s quest to do what’s right by himself and his co-workers never is. Because it’s important, then and now and whenever the issue arises.
Remember Leeta? The friendly Bajoran woman who works as a Dabo girl and is apparently dating Bashir? Well, she’s not happy with how Quark has been treating his brother; Rom has some kind of hideous ear infection, but because Quark won’t allow sick time, he has to work until he literally collapses on the job. Leeta, because she’s a nice person, yells at Quark for being so cruel, and Quark, because he’s true blue Ferengi, ignores her. The next day, he tells everyone that due to a drop in customers (caused by a Bajoran month of cleansing), he has to cut they’re wages by a third. He might bring the wages back up if business improves, but probably not. Rom, who’s patiently endured the ear pain and the collapsing, finally snaps, due in no small part to a casual aside from Bashir. The doctor mentioned a union, and Rom latches on to the idea. The only problem is, unions are illegal in Ferengi law. Even openly discussing them is an arrestable offense. (Or worse: something that can get your assets seized and your family fined.)
The biggest weakness of “Bar Association” is that Rom gets what he wants a little too easy. The setup is terrific: Quark’s shock over his brother’s emerging spine, the workers arguing whether or not they dare to stand up for themselves, the arrival of Brunt and his thugs to take care of the problem, that’s all solid. Then Quark gets the crap kicked out of him, and he and Rom make an arrangement that allows Quark to keep (what’s left of his) face, and Rom to get what he thinks the bar employees deserve. This isn’t terrible, and the final scene between Quark and Rom is quite sweet, but there’s a lack of direct conflict that holds the hour back. Once Rom makes up his mind to strike, he does it, and nothing, not even the sight of his brother with a collapsed eye socket, changes his mind. Which is cool: it’s good to see Rom being the hero and standing up for himself. But it robs the episode of tension, because you know he’ll win in the end. Even Brunt, as loathsome as he is, can’t really do much besides spout threats. Oh sure, he has his henchmen beat up Quark, but as scares go, that’s firmly in the comical category. Despite O’Brien’s story about his distant ancestor, Sean, who was killed for being a strike organizer, there’s never any danger here.
Given that this is a Ferengi-centric story, and those tend to focus on the humor, maybe looking for stakes is approaching the hour from the wrong angle. But in the past, the really excellent Quark and Rom episodes have found ways to generate tension without sacrificing humor; in fact, the tension adds to the humor. This story is a little too easy on everyone, apart from Quark, who needed to learn some kind of lesson for being such a jerk. Still, there’s no denying it’s fun to watch. Leeta is as charming as ever, and any hour of television in which a major character quotes from The Communist Manifesto in a wholly positive light wins some points. And while the main plot never gets much beyond an idle, it does lead to an unexpected conclusion. Quark gives in to Rom’s demands, provided Rom disband the union, which Rom does; he also quits work at the bar, and takes up a job as an engineer on the station. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming. As Rom points out, he does better when Quark isn’t around, and for all his ambition and goodwill, he doesn’t fit neatly into proper Ferengi society. He lacks the necessary killer instinct. (i.e. the lobes) But that doesn’t make him useless, and as good as it is to see Quark grant his employees some rights, it’s even more satisfying that the perpetually put-upon Rom figures his way out of a career path that was always going to end with him and his brother miserable.
The episode’s secondary plotline is another look at Worf’s struggles to come to terms with life on DS9; you could argue that the two stories are connected by characters who refuse to compromise themselves despite significant pressure from outsiders to do so. And both Worf and Rom do find their way to a kind of happy ending, albeit in different ways. Once again, Worf is defined by his need for order, and his unwillingness to accept that the station will ever be as professional and free from disruption as the Enterprise. As Odo points out, it’s not as if the Enterprise was exactly worry-free. It’s more that everyone on board the ship was part of a larger organization, one with rules and deadlines and responsibilities. There are Starfleet personnel aboard DS9, but there are also civilians from all over the galaxy. That means there are going to be occasional bad apples, like the thief Worf catches trying to make off with his tooth sharpener. At Worf’s previous workplace, this sort of event would be considered an anomaly, so far outside the norm that it almost certainly stemmed from some sort of larger, potentially episode-filling crisis. Now, though, he’s told repeatedly that he just has to deal with it. Life is going to be messy, whether he likes it or not.
Well, Worf doesn’t like it, and given that DS9 isn’t just his office but his home, he needs to find some way to get comfortable. What works about this plot is that Worf isn’t being completely unreasonable. Yes, he’s stiff and strict about the rules, and that doesn’t make him as immediately endearing as the rest of the crew (regardless of what happens between them, it was a smart move to show Dax caring about Worf, because it makes him more likeable), but there’s an integrity to him that’s admirable. And he’s not entirely inflexible either; if Worf simply yelled at everyone for failing him, he’d be a dick, but instead, he does the yelling (or growling), but then comes to his senses, apologizes, and tries to work out what he needs to do to resolve his concerns. In fits and starts, we’re getting to see a man at the hard business of self-improvement, step by tortuous step. He’s even developing his sense of humor. In the end, he decides to move his quarters on to the Defiant; he’s clearly fond of the ship, and the isolation and routine it will allow him to maintain means that he can deal with the station’s insanity on his own terms. Dax assures him that he’ll adapt to DS9 in time. “Perhaps in the end, it will be all of you who have to adapt to me,” he says, grinning. It’s a funny kind of cheerful threat; sounds like a good Klingon joke to me.
- Rom asking a woman (in this case Leeta) to grope his ears (he’s been—ahem—groping them himself a lot lately) is just as gross as it was the last time they did that gag.
- LeVar Burton directed this episode. Some of the jokes get pushed a little hard, but for the most part, he did a fine job.
- It was great hearing O’Brien explain why he prefers DS9 to the Enterprise: all the imperfections give him something to do.
- Not surprisingly, Odo isn’t a fan of the union, but Sisko has ordered him not to interfere. I like that; we’re clearly supposed to be on Rom’s side, but the show doesn’t force all the other characters to agree.
- Great moments in editing: they might have cut it just a little too soon, but the jump from O’Brien and Bashir following Worf into the bar, to the three of them standing in a cell while Sisko lectures them, is unexpected and funny.
“Accession” (season four, episode 16; originally aired 2/26/1999)
In which Sisko accepts who he is…
Whoa, Keiko is pregnant again! Looks like things are going to get a little bit cra-a-a-azy! [Record scratches.]
Okay, so she’s not that pregnant yet, and the news mostly serves to remind O’Brien that life changes, and his imagined idyllic reunion with his daughter and wife will never work out exactly like he planned. (It also leads to one of the funniest jokes I’ve seen on the show yet: Worf helped Keiko give birth to Molly back on the Enterprise, and when Quark tells him she’s having a baby, he panics.) The writers’ ability to get at the complexity of married life in just a few short scenes is gratifyingly deft; the moral is basically, “It’s good to have friends,” but it’s delivered so sensibly and honestly that its very simplicity gives the scenes weight. Keiko and Molly come back home from Bajor, and while O’Brien is overjoyed to have them back, there’s a certain awkwardness. Not a marriage-threatening awkwardness; just the inevitable small distances that form between people when they have time to build their own lives. O’Brien is determined to make the most of their time together, but Keiko, realizing the problem, pushes him back toward Bashir. It’s a cute sequence that does well by everyone involved, and fills out “Accession” quite nicely.
What’s odd, though, is that so much happens in the episode’s main storyline it’s a wonder the writers brought in more material. A long-lost Bajoran poet appears out of the wormhole; he declares himself the new Emissary; Sisko gladly steps down the from the job; the new Emissary starts advocating drastic social change; Sisko realizes his mistake; the two visit the Prophets together; the poet goes back to his own time, and Sisko re-assumes his duty. It’s a fairly complex arc, dealing with the challenges of faith, the necessity of responsibility, and giving us another glimpse at the wormhole aliens and their curiously straightforward method of being utterly confounding. The stakes are high, and while the brevity is in some ways beneficial (Sisko’s soul-searching takes place largely off-screen, which means we’re spared weeks of him getting frustrated, shouting at someone for no reason, and then punching his desk), it also means simplifying and shortcutting the way the Emissary’s misreading of the Prophets proves potentially disastrous for his people.
About that misreading: Akorem was last seen over 200 years ago, and in his day, Bajor operated under a strict caste system called the D’Jarras. Under the D’Jarras, a person’s place in life was defined by his or her last name; when the poet hears Kira referred to as “major,” he’s shocked, because “Kira” should mark her as an artist, not a member of the military. What starts as evidence of just how long Akorem has been out of the loop (as well a interesting piece of Bajor trivia) becomes unpleasant when Akorem decides that the main reason the Prophets brought him back was to bring back the castes. With support from the vedeks and Kai Winn (who doesn’t appear in the episode; her name is bad enough), Akorem starts giving speeches about how important it is that everyone know exactly what their place is in the world. Even Kira goes along with it, although it makes her desperately unhappy, and Sisko is left in the unfortunate position of watching a society purposefully try and push itself into the past, and knowing it’s no small way his fault. And if Akorem succeeds in his aims, the Federation will have no choice but to reject Bajor’s application.
It’s a difficult criticism to pin down, but the ease with which Akorem makes his wishes known, and the speed with which those wishes are followed, doesn’t sit quite right. The idea that some Bajorans would be open to, or even willingly embrace, the castes isn’t an issue; we’ve seen evidence of the culture’s deep religious roots before, and there will always be people who will except a new old idea, especially if it offers them a certain level of safety and continuity. But apart from Sisko’s objections, no one seems to be taking issue with the poet’s demands. Even Kira does her best to go along with the idea, working to find a replacement for herself on the station, and struggling through some pretty terrible bits of sculpture. She’s not happy about it, but she doesn’t ever question going against the new rules. Given the rapidity of the change, and the fact that Akorem offers no real reason for it beyond his own desire to return to what’s familiar to him, it’s hard to accept that this would go over as quickly and seemingly as smoothly as it does. A vedek kills someone for being “unclean,” but we never see the person he kills, nor do we hear any Bajorans objecting to the decision. This makes Bajor look like a bunch of easily led children who need help from an outsider to get their shit together. That’s an awkward angle, to say the least. The planet was in a rough spot when the show began, but by now, they’ve managed to rise above the Cardassians; the Dominion and the Klingons are threats, but without any immediate danger. If the Bajorans were frightened, split, rife with troubles, their acceptance of Akorem’s teachings would be easier to swallow. As it is, given how quickly (and how one-sidedly) it all goes down, it comes across less as a disheartening social movement, and more as a moral crisis for Sisko, and Sisko alone, to overcome.
This is a necessary crisis, though, and while I have some misgivings about the premise, I’m glad to see the show grappling with Sisko’s role as a religious icon again. After my criticisms of the pilot (which I don’t exactly remember, and am too lazy to look up, but I’m sure they were eloquent and devastating), I’ve come around on the Prophets, and the Emissary, and what the hell it all means. For one, having a main character on a science fiction show serving double duty as a kind of unwilling mystic is a terrific idea. It doesn’t come up a whole lot, but when it does (like Kira trying to deal with her relationship with Sisko in “Starship Down”), it raises issues that don’t often get raised on mainstream television. While some of the execution in “Accession” is clumsy and heavy-handed, there’s enough depth for the episode to mostly work. Sisko’s role is presented matter of factly. He runs DS9, and every so often, Bajorans will come to him and ask him for a blessing, which he reluctantly, but sincerely, gives. The casualness of that is fascinating. Sisko isn’t comfortable with how the Bajorans see him, but he has a sense of duty and honor, and he’s not a cruel man; so he tries to give them what they need, while at the same time chafing at the obligation. At some point, he needed to experience some kind of difficulty which would force him to make up his mind once and for all, and that’s what “Accession” provides.
Another reason I’m started to dig the Prophets comes from the conversation Sisko and Akorem have with them at the climax of the episode. Again, this happens a little quickly, and a little too easily; after some discussion, Akorem gets to go back to his own time, with no memory of his trip to the present, which makes still more hash of the past, as Sisko and Kira allude to in the last scene. But the actual conversation, with its usual arrangement of odd tenses and strangely placed articles, is possible to interpret in multiple ways. The more you listen, the more it seems as though the wormhole aliens don’t really have any particular desire for Bajor, and are, instead, reflecting Bajor’s own desires back on itself. So Akorem is troubled by the future, and he decides that means the Prophets want the past back. Or, even more interestingly, the aliens could somehow be aware of Sisko’s complaints, and offer him a potential replacement. Not necessarily to teach him a lesson, but simply because they’re intrigued.
Or maybe it is to teach him a lesson, as part of some larger plan. They do keep saying “You are Bajor,” and who knows what that means. However you interpret it, it’s open to interpretation, and that makes it more dramatically interesting than a more literal, “We’re gods, do what we say” approach. In terms of character, the important part of “Accession” happens before Akorem and Sisko go back into the wormhole; the real crux of the matter is Sisko’s decision to re-assume his duties. The aliens themselves are fascinating and weird, but the end result isn’t really in doubt. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to see Sisko give one more blessing at the episode’s end, and then smile afterwards. It’s not easy being the Emissary, but it has its rewards.
- Worf on learning when Keiko is due to give birth: “Seven months. Unfortunately, I will be away from the station at that time. Far away. Visiting my parents. On Earth.” (This is one of those jokes that starts funny, then goes on a bit long, and then gets funny again.)
- Kira asking Sisko to meet with her potential replacement is very well done; both actors are very good at selling the sentiment. “I don’t doubt that I can find someone to fill your post, but to replace you?”
- A brief, but useful guest appearance by Kai Opaka, when Sisko suffers something Bashir says is called an “orb shadow.”
- When Akorem is returned to his own time, he gets to finish his unfinished poem. Somebody call Dirk Gently.
Next week: Worf violates the “Rules Of Engagement,” and O’Brien suffers more “Hard Time.”