“His Way” (season 6, episode 20; originally aired 4/22/1998)
In which Odo doesn’t play piano...
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll have reason to say it again: Nana Visitor is a terrific actor. At the start of the series, when even Sisko was floundering a bit, Kira Nerys was the constant that held everything together. Her struggles to reconcile her revolutionary past with her bureaucratic present, combined with the inevitable edginess that comes from working for a stranger who just happens to be your version of Moses, gave texture and depth to an otherwise standard genre show. And even when Deep Space Nine found confidence with the rest of its cast, Kira (and Vistor’s performance) remained rock solid. This is the first fully realized female lead a Trek show has ever given us. That’s no knock against Gates McFadden or Marina Sirtis (or Nichelle Nichols, for that matter), all of whom did fine work with the material they were given. But Visitor is something else. Sisko is the lead, but if you squint just right, it’s not at all difficult to imagine things from Kira’s perspective. That’s valuable.
It’s also the best and worst part of “His Way,” a good-natured attempt to resolve the Odo/Kira romantic tension that doesn’t work as neatly as it thinks it does. Well, not as neatly as the writers think it does; I don’t think episodes have consciousness. (Actually, I have no idea what the writers were thinking. I’m terrible at my work.) The focus of “His Way” is on Odo’s efforts to woo Kira via the advice and counsel of a self-aware holosuite program based on a 1960s lounge-singer/Vegas type named Vic Fontaine (James Darren). This isn’t as entirely ridiculous as it sounds, and the fact that it works even remotely is a testament to the actors and the script (by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Bemler). I mean, there are full scenes of Odo pretending to play the piano as Vic sings to a room of entirely made up people. That could’ve been a disaster in so many ways, but it’s sort of charming and sweet, provided you don’t think about it very long.
If there’s one thing that “His Way” is good at, it’s in encouraging us not think about anything for very long. You have to take each development at face value. Sure, Bashir got a holosuite program that he’s so excited about, he wants to share it with his friends. Sure, the program’s centerpiece is the aforementioned lounge-singer, who is, again, self-aware; and sure, Bashir mentions this fact casually, as though it’s the least-important thing in the world, even though it raises huge questions about artificial intelligence, servitude, and consciousness. Sure, Odo, lovelorn at the thought of Kira going to Bajor to spend time with Shakaar, decides that his best chance is to consult Vic about his problems. (Actually, I do buy this. Vic’s “amazing” insight about people isn’t all that impressive, but when you’re someone who doesn’t understand the social processes that everyone else seems to take for granted, you’ll turn to anything for answers, provided that “anything” doesn’t mean you have to risk embarrassment in any way.) Sure, Vic will fixate on Odo’s woes, first giving him tips on self-confidence, then operating as a kind of digital pimp. Sure, Vic will be so determined to make Odo’s dreams come true that he’ll break into the computer system, find a holographic image of Kira, and use it to create a Kira-double to give the changeling some time to relax. Sure, Vic will trick Odo and Kira into their first date. Sure, Kira will somehow be okay with this; and sure, the whole thing will end with Odo and Kira making out on the Promenade.
It’s nuts—so nuts that I just gave you an entire episode summary, and I hardly ever do that (remember that time Betazed got invaded and I didn’t even mention it because I was talking about a car accident? Good times). The storyline repeatedly threatens to float off into the clouds, a goofy, dorky chunk of wish fulfillment both for Odo and whichever writer was still in love with the Rat Pack. Remember “The Outrageous Okona” from Star Trek: The Next Generation? That’s the episode in which Data has the holodeck create Joe Piscopo to give him comedy tips. It’s a dumb, dumb scene. But it’s a subplot in the episode, whereas here, Vic Fontaine is the main show. Darren is a hell of a lot more effective than Piscopo (who wasn’t god awful or anything), and “His Way” never becomes as cringe-inducing as Data’s doomed attempts at stand-up, but it’s still a weird way to tell this particular tale. Vic becomes the main moving figure in the action, when by all accounts the focus should be on Kira and Odo. Instead of “two people finally recognizing the depths of their feelings for each other,” it’s “shy guy uses technology to get laid.” That’s a crappy ‘80s teen comedy, not the premise of a smart, challenging show like this one usually is.
But it’s not unbearable, because the actors find some degree of authenticity buried under the foolishness. Rene Auberjonois is his usual reliable self, and he basically sells Odo’s fright and his loneliness; things get a little strained during his dinner date with Kira, but that’s probably because his gentle, loving approach kept giving me flashbacks to the Odo from “Children Of Time.” Regardless, he’s in character throughout, and his behavior makes sense. Darren is good in an utterly unexamined role. For all anyone cares, he could’ve just as easily been a genie from a bottle Odo confiscated out of one of Quark’s smuggling operations. The “holosuite” touch means he technically fits into the world of the series, but the lack of interest anyone seems to have in understanding just what the hell he is, and what he means, transforms him into a plot-mover; charming enough, but singularly distracting. If the writers really wanted to use tech to help Odo get over his cold feet, why does the tech have to be self-aware? This story shouldn’t be about him. It shouldn’t even really be about Odo learning to lighten up.
The heart of all of this is Odo feeling’s for Major Kira, and whether or not she reciprocates those feelings in a way that could lead to a romantic relationship. Odo’s ability to fake play a piano and flirt with computer programs are irrelevant, and they speak to a very frustrating blind spot on the part of the show’s writers. As good as DS9 is, its track record with convincing relationships is mixed at best, and this has all the hallmarks of a creative team deciding on an ending, but then being completely unaware of the legwork required to get there. Yes, being charming and relaxed in real life is generally a better way to meet people, but Odo isn’t trying to meet people. He’s not trying to seduce Kira, or even tell her how he feels about her. He just needs to ask her out, and then deal with whatever happens next. As light and basically harmless as so much of this episode is, too much of it comes from the same mindset that gives us “pick-up artists” as an actual term; people (men) who think romantic relationships aren’t about communication, trust, and mutual attraction, but a series of tricks designed to manipulate your “target” into fucking you. Vic’s approach is nowhere near this crude or overtly misogynistic, but the angle of the episode misses the heart of its own story, so that the moments of honesty and legitimate connection are few and far between.
Most of those moments come from or around Kira herself. She spends too much of the episode on Bajor hanging with Shakaar, but when she returns, Visitor manages to sell Kira’s changing attitude towards Odo so convincingly that it’s almost possible to believe in that final kiss. Her warmth, tentativeness, and frustration are complex and easy to relate to, which makes it all the more frustrating that the script treats her like a secondary figure, a prize to be won, instead of the character who is facing the most difficult decision of anyone. Kira’s choice is the one that matters here, not Odo’s. We already know where Odo stands when it comes to dating, re: Nerys. It’s up to her to decide if this is something she wants to move forward with, and yet the script falls to justify or ground that decision in any meaningful way. There’s some vague hand-waving about Kira “not seeing” this side of Odo before, but it’s not enough. If she wanted to pursue a relationship with him, why wouldn’t she? There’s been plenty of time. I could believe in a willingness to let things go on as they always have, and the idea that both parties would need some sort of push to move to the next level, but as is, it’s just Odo taking cool guy tips and Kira going, “Gosh!” and telling Dax about her moments of clarity.
Visitor sells this well, so well that there were moments when the hour nearly transcended its limitations; there were beats during their dinner date when Kira would look at Odo a certain way, or say a line just so, and it was possible, however briefly, to accept the fantasy. And the final shouting match between the two of them that leads to the big kiss is better than all the forced romanticism leading up to it. But Visitor is so good I found myself questioning her behavior throughout; not because the actress couldn’t keep the character consistent, but because she seemed so much more thoughtful and real than the situation allowed. Kira’s allowed a few moments of agency, but they largely serve to underline how badly the writers have handled her various romances. Apart from some vague daddy issues, there’s no sense of what Kira is looking for, and pairing off with Odo, as gratifying as it is for anyone who’s suffered the pangs of disprized love, isn’t entirely justifiable. Whether or not you accept it, this still feels like fantasy. Worse, it feels like a one-sided fantasy. Odo gets what he wants, and I guess Kira wants it to, but it would be nice to not have to guess.
- Gotta love how casually Bashir says, “He’s a program who knows he’s a program” (roughly), as if that isn’t one of the fundamental requirements of artificial intelligence.
- Once again, creating computer simulations of actual people, even when those simulations don’t behave like that person would, is really, really creepy. The fact that Vic is the one that uses Kira’s image to generate a lounge singer program makes it a little more understandable (he’s a program himself, he probably wouldn’t see the problem), but Odo’s willingness to go along with it for as long as he does is kind of sad. When he mistakes Kira for a program, and Kira finds out, I was shocked she wasn’t more upset. At the very least, it seems like it should be a bigger deal than it actually is.
- Just to be a complete spoilsport, the Odo/Kira pairing continues the show’s trend of pairing strange looking aliens with gorgeous women. Not saying it’s intentional, but it’d be nice if Bashir started dating someone two heads or something.
- “Don’t say it. Computer, end program.” Vic can turn himself on and off. HOW IS THIS NOT TERRIFYING.
“The Reckoning” (season 6, episode 21; originally aired 4/29/1998)
In which the Sisko breaks something priceless...
This is absolutely ridiculous, but I’m not going to lie: I kind of loved it. Oh, it doesn’t really fit the show, but then, neither did “His Way.” Two weeks ago, we had a hero who was willing to allow murder and forgery to go unchallenged in order to get what he wanted. Now, it’s digitized lounge singers and ghosts having wizard fights on the Promenade. The moral complexity has been shoved aside in favor of broad, crowd-pleasing comedy and loopy genre mysticism, and if you’re a fan of the series who disliked one or both of this week’s episodes, I sympathize. But while I had reservations about “His Way” (although I didn’t hate it), I found “The Reckoning” marvellously entertaining, and a nice change of pace from the show’s more serious arc stories. Oh sure, there’s a lot of grim portent about Bajor’s future, and Kai Winn is once again an unlikable (if understandable) killjoy, but the episode ends with a wizard fight. A wizard fight that is cut short by the Kai’s jealousy and cowardice, which means that the evil Pah-Wraith is still out there somewhere, which means there’s a chance of another wizard fight down the line. This is the best!
As long as I’m doing the honest thing: despite having taken notes and paid attention to every episode I’ve seen so far (which is every episode up to and including this one), I don’t have a great grasp on Bajoran mythology. I’m not sure if that’s the show’s fault or my own. When everyone started talking about Pah-Wraiths, I recognized the term, and knew it had been brought up before, but that’s about all I could remember. A simple Google search could clear up the confusion (although i just did a search to see if there was a hyphen between “Pah” and “Wraith,” and I think I inadvertently stumbled over a spoiler, so none of that, thanks), but I’m also not convinced its necessary. The trappings of mythology are there for people who enjoy them, but they’ve never been the main reason to watch a show. If you care about where the Cylons came from on Battlestar Galactica, more power to you, but that’s not really what makes Starbuck and Apollo and Adam and Roslin’s story so great. Drama comes from what happens in the moment, contextualized through history, but that history only really has an impact if we get to see it. So, a ten minute monologue explaining which Cylon model came from where and why is a lot less compelling than, say, Starbuck and Apollo beating the shit out of each other in the boxing ring while we flashback to their reasons for being upset with one another. One is recitation, the other is something that’s actually happening.
There is definitely stuff happening in “The Reckoning.” Bajoran archaeologists find a tablet with Sisko’s “name” on it (there’s a symbol for the Emissary), and Sisko, after getting a vision from the Prophets when he touches the thing, takes the tablet back to DS9 for study. There’s some squabbling with Winn over property rights, but ultimately, Sisko breaks the tablet, and Kira is possessed by one of the Prophets. Then Jake is possessed by a Pah-Wraith, and the two begin the “reckoning,” a conflict whose outcome will decide if Bajor is destined for 1000 years of peace and prosperity, or something much, much worse. So it’s not just people delivering monologues. And yet the details blur together. Why to the Prophets need to fight this specific Pah-Wraith? Why will this have any effect on Bajor? And why has Bajor been thrown into chaos before the fight begins? Winn claims it’s because Sisko removed the tablet, but given that the Prophets wanted him to break the damn thing, I doubt they cared much about where he did it.
Maybe the Pah-Wraith itself is responsible for the earthquakes and floods. Although that wouldn’t explain the ghostly shapes that come out of the tablet when it shatters. Maybe all of this will be explained at a future date. But I prefer not to know, because I don’t particularly care. The Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths are ill-defined creatures, operating on planes of existence we can barely glimpse, let alone comprehend; they are concepts, not characters, and their motives, even when defined, remain abstract. And while DS9 has done some interesting work in trying to balance religious viewpoints against the franchise’s science-fiction based perspective, the more events which are explained by “Eh, some gods did it,” the closer we are to the original Trek, with all its nutty godlike beings and half-assed causality. That worked fine back then, but this show needs a certain foundation of reality. The less we know about these Prophets, then, the better; their occasional strained interactions with “the Sisko” work best when they could be explained by either logic or, for want of a better word, magic, and too many details makes the balance harder to maintain.
As neat looking (and, okay, silly) as the battle between Kira and Jake is, it’s a sideshow; the real battle is what goes down between Winn and Sisko, and how Kira attempts to deal with both sides. Winn remains one of the show’s more effective villains. Louise Fletcher’s perpetually calm line readings give the kai a sort of infuriating invulnerability; any argument anyone tries to make, she can simply retreat behind a wall of stoic, barely discernable disdain. Whatever side she is on, that’s the side of the righteous, and the righteous are impossible to argue against effectively. The big challenge is in trying to make her more than a one note enemy. For her first few appearances, Winn’s self-centered ambition and ego were enough to justify her actions, but as the show goes on, she needs a few more shades. Not to diminish her impact or make her less threatening, but to prevent her from becoming one-note and tedious. On the whole, the writers have managed to make this work, although to a certain extent, Winn always stays removed.
That doesn’t exactly change in “The Reckoning,” but she’s… well, I don’t want to say sympathetic, exactly, but for her first few scenes, I did almost find myself agreeing with her. The problem is that Sisko decides to take the tablet from the burial site without consulting Winn or the Bajoran government. Presumably the monks on the site who brought the find to the captain’s attention weren’t bothered by him bringing it back to DS9 (at least, we don’t get a scene of Sisko, Kira, and Jake shooting a bunch of unarmed, but angry, Bajorans), but it’s still a breach in protocol. Besides, while Sisko is the Emissary, which presumably gives him a certain leeway, he’s also a representative of the Federation, and there’s something decidedly off-putting about an interstellar conglomerate casually removing priceless artifacts from planets when the mood takes them. We understand Sisko does what he does with the best of intentions, but his justification—he felt that this is what the Prophets wanted him to do—isn’t going to reassure anyone who’s in the mood to question his motives.
Which isn’t to say that Winn herself is operating from a position of purest moral authority. As Kira reminds Sisko (and us), the kai has been in a tough spot ever since Sisko arrived on the scene. His existence, and on-going relationship with the Prophets, forces her to question her heretofore unshakable conviction of her own divine value. It’s a bit like Salieri and Mozart in Amadeus, only here, the Amadeus figure isn’t a guy who crawls around making fart jokes in between composing the most beautiful music in the world. If Sisko exists, then Winn isn’t as important as she thought she was; because Sisko is the Emissary, and that means the Prophets were looking to choose someone, and that means they didn’t pick her.
While this back-and-forth between Winn and Sisko (and, for a couple of scenes, Winn and Kira) isn’t as immediately pleasurable as all those special effects, it gives the episode a story that has more relevance than some pyrotechnic antics between immortal (or seemingly immortal) beings. The Prophet/Pah-Wraith fight has supposed consequences, but even though the spirits possess the bodies of people we care about, the sequence is less like a conflict and more like a sudden tornado; potentially life-threatening, but a fundamentally external event which robs our heroes of the complexity of their responses. There’s only so much you can do when a tornado’s coming, after all. But Sisko’s refusal to leave the station, combined with his faith in the Prophets, is interesting in and of themselves, especially considering that his faith remains strong even after Jake is possessed. It tells us something about him that will be important even after the current crisis has passed.
And Winn gets the most important moment of free will in the whole hour, deciding in the heat of the battle to flood the Promenade with chroniton particles, forcing the Prophet and the Pah-Wraith (coming this fall to ABC!) to flee the station. It’s a completely unexpected choice, as it seemingly contradicts Winn’s early conviction that the prophecy must be allowed to unfold without interference—yet it makes sense. There’s a moment when Winn offers herself to the Prophet, desperate to be a part of the history unfolding before her, and the Prophet ignores her entreaties; and for all that Winn has done, and for all that her decision might lead to, it’s still possible to feel some pity for her. She’s a selfish monster who has devoted her life to the conviction that she understood her gods better than anyone. Then she met God, and It didn’t recognize her. That would ruin anybody’s day.
- I suspect that Sisko’s deal with the Prophets in the wormhole (with the candlestick) would have consequences. Possibly because the Prophets themselves suggested it would. Those consequences haven’t arrived yet, but it’s good that they haven’t been forgotten.
- This is the first chance we get to see Kira and Odo as a couple, and I think it basically works. A bit cutesy, but Odo’s respect for Kira’s spiritual wishes is a more compelling argument for their relationship than a dozen holosuite programs. They still seem more like very good friends than lovers, though.
- If Kai Winn hadn’t intervened, would Jake have died? And now that she did intervene, I wonder what happens next.
- While I appreciate the attempt to give Jake something to do before the ghost possesses him, his concerns over Sisko’s role as the Emissary aren’t telling us anything new. There’s only so much you can do with “I’m worried about you, Dad,” and “I know, son, and I love you, but that won’t affect my behavior in any way.”
- I like Dax, Super Interpreter.