Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “A Time to Stand”/“Rocks And Shoals”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “A Time to Stand”/“Rocks And Shoals”

“A Time To Stand” (season 6, episode 1; originally aired 9/29/1997)
In which we return to a bad situation...

(Available on Netflix and Amazon.) 

The war isn’t going well.

Admittedly, this depends on where you stand. If you’re with Cardassia and the Dominion, like Gul Dukat and Weyoun back on Deep Space Nine, things are pretty much okay. Dukat is lording it over his former enemies, going into full creep mode with Kira, while Weyoun uses smiles to cover steel. They have their concerns: Kira keeps pushing for a Bajoran security force on the station, and Dukat doesn’t bother to talk with Weyoun before saying no; and the minefield Sisko and the others left around the wormhole is still very much in effect, prompting some fundamental concerns about the Vorta’s access to Ketracel White. But overall, the battle is going according to plan. This, presumably, is how the Dominion has always handled conquest. Velvet glove for any race willing to capitulate to their oh-so-minor demands, and iron fist for anyone foolish enough to deny them. Their tactics depend as much on manipulation as they do on combat prowess, which is what makes them so dangerous. The Federation has dealt with brute force, first in the form of the Klingons, and then the Borg. But an enemy who’s willing to engage on multiple levels is, as far as I can remember, pretty much a first, at least on this scale.

So no, the war isn’t going well for our heroes. This puts to rest any lingering concerns that the show would take the status quo shattering finale (Sisko, Dax, Worf, Bashir, O’Brien, Nog, and Garak are off the station; Kira, Odo, Quark, and Jake stayed behind, the first three because that’s where their jobs are, the last because he’s an idiot) and put things back to normal too quickly. The first two episodes of the sixth season are taking the Dominion War very seriously, which gives the rest of the season something to play off. We know the stakes very clearly, and, just as importantly, we know this isn’t a villain that can be quickly and simply defeated. I have no idea how the show ultimately chooses to handle the Dominion threat, and if they take an easy way out (“I found a magic box that kills Vorta and makes the Jem’Hadar love kittens! Okay, they get fiercely protective of the kittens and have launched a genocidal war on dogs, but it’s a process!”), that will suck, and we’ll deal with it then. Right now, though, life is complicated, and complicated is a good place for Deep Space Nine to be.

The best example of this complexity comes from Quark’s first scene in the season. Kira and Odo are having a conversation at the bar, and Quark tries, in his slightly tone-deaf way, to console them. As occupations go, he points out, the current one isn’t so bad: no work camps, no martial law, no summary executions. While he admits he “misses” the Federation (and weirdly, he even sounds sincere), this is hardly the horrorshow it was during Kira’s years as a resistance fighter. Odo can’t help but agree, and even Kira can’t complete deny this is basically the truth. The situation is due to Sisko; in his position as the Emissary, he helped ensure that Bajor would be kept out of the fighting, which created the gray area that everyone on DS9 currently lives in. But while that’s great for the people on Bajor, and has surely saved a lot of strife and bloodshed, it means it’s harder to find where the lines are. For Kira, this is especially problematic, although it won’t become a major issue until the next episode; regardless, while we know who the villains are, some of them (Weyoun) keep resisting clear signifiers. There’s something insidious about how helpful he is, how relentlessly, endlessly polite. It’s the kind of behavior that makes righteous anger harder to maintain. Unlike, say, Dukat, whose creepy, predatory advances on Kira serve as a useful reminder of just how awful Cardassian control can be.

Things are a bit simpler for Sisko and his team. Apart from some concern about Jake (who, as mentioned, decided to stay behind so he could be a better reporter; it’s a choice so dumb I kind of respect it), and Worf’s concern that he and Jadzia’s wedding be as traditional as possible (because, well, Worf), the focus is on winning the war, and, just in case this slipped by you twice already, it’s not going great. Quickly and efficiently, the script (credited to Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler) establishes the odds against our heroes. There’s a minor exchange that serves as a symbol for the whole sorry situation: In the first few scenes we hear concerns about a mystical “Seventh Fleet” that O’Brien, Dax, and the others have set their hopes on. Given the way narrative tends to work, that gives the phrase a certain weight, a certain special importance, so that when Bashir tells Sisko and Martok that only 14 of the 112 ships of the fleet have returned, it becomes a short, short story that tells us what we need to know. This is a disaster. There is no cavalry.

Thankfully, this is the kind of crisis Sisko and the others thrive in, although rarely on such a galactic scale. While the first part of “A Time To Stand” is about establishing the current situation, the second part is a fun mini-adventure focusing on Team Sisko flying a Jem’Hadar ship (last seen in “The Ship”) into Dominion territory to take out a Ketracel White manufacturing plant, making it that much more difficult for the Vorta to maintain control. DS9 can do this sort of episode in its sleep, and everyone here is in fine form, right down to a sharp suspense sequence that serves as the episode’s climax. Garak has become an accepted member of the team, which I’m sure will last right up until it doesn’t, and Dax and Worf are still very much in, um, all right I’ll call it love. (She does jump into his arms at one point, which is weird and kind of hilarious.) The biggest character change? Bashir has stopped “hiding” his genetic manipulations, so we get a lot of Data/C-3P0-esque calculations of odds and what not. It’s a direction I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with, as right now, it doesn’t entirely gel with the Bashir we’ve always know; but it does have a nice pay off when, at the very end, when an explosion destroys the ship’s warp drive, the good doctor is able to rattle off just how long it will take them to get back to Federation space on impulse. (Spoiler: It’s a very long time.)

As premieres go, there isn’t a huge amount of story in this one. While I can see the destruction of the Ketracel White plant having important ramifications (especially given Weyoun’s earlier comments to Dukat about just how important it is to dismantle the mine field), all of the action in the latter half takes place on the bridge of the Jem’Hadar ship, which limits its scope; this feels more like a minor step forward than a major shift in fortunes. This is not a criticism. “A Time To Stand” feels like the show running head on into serialization and embracing it fully, choosing to trust the audience will be satisfied with small steps forward and the promise of things to come. There’s no closure here and even the cliffhanger is specifically focused on our heroes, and not on the larger crisis; there’s no sense that the next episode will see the end of the war and Sisko’s return to the station. Instead, we’re left to appreciate the texture of the world. Like the Jem’Hadar soldiers (actually, that is a redundant phrase) hanging out at Quark’s bar, ignoring his attempts at small talk. Or Kira’s belief that Dukat is looking to get revenge for getting beaten the last time Cardassia occupied Bajor. Or Sisko’s attempts to explain to his father why Jake got left behind. Or Jake’s doomed attempts to get Weyoun to transmit his reporting off the station. Or, and this might be especially important, the fact that the Jem’Hadar ship has no chairs; no food replicators; no med-bay; and no viewscreen. (There’s a device that the Vorta wear that simulates a viewscreen—Sisko tries it, but it gives him an awful headache and Garak takes over.) Or the fact that Sisko is forced to fire on the ship of an old friend. Between this episode and next, we’re given plenty of chances to consider who the Jem’Hadar really are, and what drives them. The genetically engineered race is the source of so much of the Dominion’s power; but they’re also a weakness. They’re victims who have made a religion out of the suffering, and if Sisko can find some way to get past that, it might be the end of all his troubles. Or not. Things aren’t as easy as they used to be.

Stray observations:

  • I’m hoping Bashir loses the stats talk soon; Data gets a pass for that sort of thing because he doesn’t know any better, but after years of (successfully) pretending to be absolutely normal, you’d think Bashir would’ve realized how irritating it is. (Or maybe this is how he deals with stress now.)
  • Sisko’s “Well… no,” when he’s talking to his dad about Jake is a great line reading.
  • Dukat’s behavior around Kira is deeply, deeply unpleasant. It’s an honest, if not fully explored, glimpse of how sexual aggressiveness can be just another way of establishing domination, and I hope it pays off with her shoving him out an airlock.
  • On Kira’s request, Odo uses his influence over Weyoun to win some concessions and ends up a member of the station’s Ruling Council. Which could be interesting.

“Rocks And Shoals” (season 6, episode 2; originally aired 10/6/1997)
In which Sisko and Kira learn the limits of reason...

(Available on Netflix and Amazon.)

The end of season five left a lot of questions unanswered, and one of the big ones was how the show would function with a third of its main ensemble split off from the rest of the group. It’s not the most exciting of mysteries, but it’s something that needed a quick and decisive answer if the show was going to work as well as it had in the past; this is the Trek series with the strongest ensemble, the one which has no real leading man standing head and shoulder above the rest. Sisko is a fine captain, and unquestionably the closest DS9 comes to a specific protagonist, but the writers have always managed to spread the wealth around in the past. And one of the ways they’ve accomplished this is by mixing and matching the cast at every opportunity. By limiting the options of who could be talking to whom, there was always a chance that season six would be handicapping itself right out of the gate. Worse, with all that space between the two groups, any attempt to focus on both could come across as too calculated, and too fundamentally disparate, to work.

“Rocks And Shoals” puts this concern to rest. While the premiere managed to mix in scenes from both settings, events back on DS9 were less of a concrete story than they were a series of moments designed to catch us back up with everyone. (Kira’s desire to get the Bajoran security force reinstated is the closest thing she and Odo have to a plot, but it’s pretty sub.) Here, though, we get two concurrent throughlines, and while Sisko and his team’s face-off against a crashed squad of Jem’Hadar and their injured Vorta leader is the more immediately thrilling, Kira’s struggles with her new role on DS9 is just as impactful, delving more deeply into all that ambiguity the previous episode established so well. Sisko, O’Brien, and the others are fighting for their lives, but they know they’re fighting on the side of what’s right. Their motives, and their hands, are clean. Poor Kira, though, is once again forced to take a reckoning of the woman she’s become, and bear with just how far she is from her revolutionary past. Yet there is something that connects the two groups. It’s something about how belief is what sustains us, and that there are times when the worst thing in the world isn’t a threat on your life, or the possibility of violence, but simply not knowing who you are.

For the planet-bound, this theme manifests itself in yet another complicated confrontation with the Jem’Hadar. The plot is fine, allowing Garak ample opportunities to do his Garak thing (lie convincingly, and then, when his lies are undone by an obvious truth, take the reveal in stride), and reminding us once again that the Vorta are manipulative, self-serving creeps, but there’s also something a little familiar about it at this point; this isn’t the first time we’ve seen our heroes face off against a Jem’Hadar squad on rocky terrain, with a manipulative Vorta trying to force the outcome. And while this is nit-picky, the coincidence of Sisko’s ship crash-landing on the same part of the same planet where another ship had already crash-landed is a bit of a stretch, especially considering the two crashes have absolutely nothing to do with one another. It’s understandable the writers would have trouble coming up with new ways for our heroes to have to deal face to face with the enemy, but hopefully the “let’s all hang out at that one outdoor location we always use for new planets and snipe at each other” hook isn’t one that’s going to dominate the season.

Still, there are enough variations to keep the episode from being a rehash. First and foremost is that Ron Moore’s script largely eschews the traditional sources of suspense. Yes, there are Jem’Hadar, and yes, they theoretically pose a threat, but the menace is never really the focus; this isn’t a thriller so much as a character study, even if it does have some thriller elements. Early in the hour, Nog and Garak get captured by the Jem’Hadar, and there’s a tense conversation in which Garak tries to pretend he’s working for the Dominion, and Keevan (Christopher Shea), the Vorta, sees through his lies. But Keevan is seriously ill, and it soon becomes apparent that his plan isn’t to attack Sisko and the others, but rather use them to save himself from the Jem’Hadar, who are certain to go insane when the meager supply of Ketracel White finally runs out. Once this comes out, the focus of the conflict shifts from physical to moral terms. How complicit is Sisko willing to be to save the lives of his crew? How far is he obligated to go to do honor to a species that was, in a sense, bred and raised to destroy him, along with all other enemies of the Founders?

The few conversations we get between Sisko and Third Remata’Klan (Phil Morris), the current leader of the Jem’Hadar squad, are among the episode’s best scenes. Apart from Kira’s arc, Remata’Klan’s story leaves the largest impression, in part because we never get the complete details of his backstory. Apparently he failed in some way—questioned the Vorta’s orders—and now he is locked into the role of taking responsibility of his men without having the authority or honor of being the First. Relations with Keevan are on shaky ground from the start, and this is a weak spot Sisko does his best to exploit; in part because it’s a good tactic to sow discord among your enemies, and in part because the captain clearly respects the Jem’Hadar and thinks that respect brings understanding. When Keevan tells Sisko and Bashir of his plan to betray his own men, Sisko is disgusted, even though the Vorta’s scheme is maybe the best chance any of them have for survival. And really, any decent person would be—leading your men into slaughter to save your own skin is a despicable act. To Keevan, the Jem’Hadar are a tool. As soon as the tool proves dangerous, it must be discarded. To Sisko, the Jem’Hadar are conscious beings, who deserve the same fundamental rights of all conscious beings; more, he thinks that belief means he can convince Remata’Klan to disobey orders. He’s wrong. The two are able to talk with each other as relative equals, and even share some basic camaraderie. But the Jem’Hadar still walk into the trap, even when they know full well it means their death. This is how they define themselves. Their lives matter less than the terms on which they live them. Maybe Sisko already understands this; but he’ll need to accept it if he wants his side to have any chance of winning.

That leaves us with Kira back on the station. Moore makes a point of showing us her routine: she gets up at 5 a.m., she boards a lift full of Cardassians, she works alongside Cardassians, she meets with Odo. When Jake lets slip that some of the Vedeks are planning a protest against the Occupation (which now includes a group of Vorta going down to Bajora—unarmed, of course), Kira and Odo decide they have to stop it, lest Dukat use the incident as an excuse to clamp down on security. So Kira talks to the Vedek, and the Vedek agrees to change her plans, although she’s not happy about it; and when it comes time for the protest, the Vedek hangs herself.

It’s a tough moment, but a necessary one. Kira has struggled with her role in a post-Cardassian Bajor since the first season, and now that Dukat and the others have returned, her position isn’t immediately clear. Because it’s so easy to rationalize making adjustments. The occupation isn’t so bad. People haven’t been killed. Maybe if you move the goal posts, maybe if you accept a little more tyranny, a few less freedoms, everything will be okay. Maybe if you smile, and if you’re patient, and you do what you’re told—maybe if you wait long enough, someone will come and rescue you. You can’t justify the risk of rebellion, because you’ve got these rules you follow now, and things are complicated, okay? It’s not as simple as it used to be.

Then a priest hangs herself, and you realize that maybe it really was that simple; maybe you just lost sight of who you need to be. I’m not sure if Kira’s plans to oppose Dukat and Weyoun will bear fruit, or if she’s just digging herself into a deeper hole; Odo supports her, but Odo would walk with her into the heart of a star if she asked him. But I’m not sure it matters if she’s “right.” Kira has more free will than the Jem’Hadar, but she’d agree with them on one fundamental point: You decide who you are, and you hold onto that as hard as you can. If you let go, if you weaken in the face of temptation, you’re lost. Remata’klan gave his life for his honor, because without it, he had nothing. Here’s hoping the price Kira pays won’t be as high.

Stray observations:

  • O’Brien hasn’t had a lot to do so far, but his irritation at discovering he’d torn his pants during the crash-landing is great.
  • “It’s not my life to give up, Captain. It never was.” -Remata’klan. What’s fascinating about the Jem’Hadar is how they’ve found a way to turn their bondage into a kind of strength. They consider themselves superior to the Vorta because of the purity of their dedication.
  • There were a couple of cadets on the Jem’Hadar ship with Sisko and the others. The guy dies in the fight with the Jem’Hadar. I don’t think he gets a name.
  • Dax is injured for the majority of the episode, but she’s fine.

Next week: We check in on some “Sons And Daughters” and then take a trip “Behind The Lines.” 

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