“Defiant” (season three, episode 9; originally aired 11/21/1994)
In which a familiar face returns…
Last week (last Friday, in fact) marked the 25th anniversary of the première of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s only appropriate, then, that both parts of this week’s double feature involve crossover between TNG and DS9. That’s a concept that nearly always sounds cooler than it is, although given that both shows exist in the same storytelling universe, there’s at least some justification for Jonathan Frakes popping into Quark’s for a drink. By now, Picard’s Enterprise had been off the airwaves for over a year, so I imagine the sudden appearance of Riker in the cold open must’ve been an exciting moment for fans of both shows. But this sort of reunion always feels a little forced, a trifle pandering. Will Riker was a terrific presence on TNG, but he doesn’t really belong on this space station—he should be off captaining his own ship by now, and having his own adventures. Which is why the reveal that he’s not Will Riker is so cool. Will is a known quantity; he can have an edge, but he’s a good guy through and through, and he plays by the rules. Tom Riker, on the other hand, is unstable, desperate, and maybe a little nuts.
In case you don’t remember, or your experience with TNG isn’t as encyclopedic as mine (ha!), the episode fills you in: Tom, an exact genetic duplicate of everyone’s favorite first officer, was created in a transporter accident which resulted in two Rikers, one of which continued on up the ranks in Starfleet, the other of which was stuck in an abandoned science station for eight years. “Second Chances,” Tom’s debut (and sole appearance) on TNG is worth checking out, but for the context of “Defiant,” all you need to know is that Tom wasn’t happy to find out that someone else had his name and his life. He comes into this episode with a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove himself as the “better” Riker (or at least distinguish himself from his more successful counterpart), and the most recent manifestation of this drive is his involvement with the Maquis, which has driven him to the somewhat rash decision of stealing the Defiant and making a run on Cardassian territory.
That’s not to say Tom isn’t sincere. This is another Ron Moore script, and Moore excels at writing likeable characters pushed to make extreme, and often foolhardy, decisions. Tom’s commitment to the Maquis is passionate enough to earn Kira’s affections, even while she questions if his goals are worthwhile. On the Enterprise, Will Riker was TNG’s James T. Kirk, a two-fisted hero who thought good intentions and moral clarity were the best way to approach any problem. Picard’s maturity helped temper Will’s brashness, but Tom doesn’t have any authority figure holding him back, and, since Will is already on the career path, he must spend all his time in Starfleet living in the shadow of the life he thought was his. He gave himself a new name, and now he’s trying to find his own way—which brings us back to that whole ship-stealing thing. It’s a great sequence, as Tom does a good job impersonating the other Riker, right up until he gets what he wants: the access codes to the ship. Then he stuns Kira, beams two other members of the Maquis aboard, and flees.
If “Defiant” has a downside, it’s that, as a character, Tom never really comes into focus. Jonathan Frakes is certainly game, and there’s dramatic potential in the concept, but most of his scenes are either standard “We’re flying into enemy territory, this is very intense” Star Trek boilerplate or Kira trying to argue him into being responsible. To a degree, this makes sense; Tom is interesting, but Kira’s the one we’re invested in, and this is yet another opportunity to contrast her resistance-fighter past against her more law-abiding present. Listening to her explain the difference between a terrorist and a hero is fascinating, and well-argued, so if the episode shortchanges its guest star in favor of her, I’m not going to complain that much. (Hence the “If.”)
Still, this vagueness is problematic when it comes time for the episode’s climax, as Kira works to convince Tom that his cause is lost, and his best bet is to turn himself in to Dukat and his men in order to save his crew. This should be at least moderately suspenseful, because up until this point, Tom has shown no inclination toward turning back or stepping down, not even when the odds are very clearly against him. He’s determined, and what’s more, everything we know about him indicates a man who’s decided to give everything he has to his principles. It’s not unbelievable that he’d stand down in the end, given that he’s not an idiot and the lives of his crew were at stake, but the sequence ought to make us wonder just what he’s going to do, and whether the Riker we know is gone forever. Instead, he listens, thinks a bit, and then goes along with surrendering. The implication is that Kira, with her fervor and top-notch debate skills, managed to wear him down over the course of their journey, but there’s just not enough to Tom for this to register one way or the other. He’s most compelling at the start, when we don’t know his motivations or who he really is. The second half of the episode, he could be any random guest star, just another Starfleet officer so frustrated by the system they decided to take things into their own hands. It still works well enough, but it seems like a missed opportunity.
Even if the ending falls a few degrees shy of greatness, the rest of the hour is strong enough to make up for it; I can even see arguing that the compromised conclusion is part of the point, showing how fiery ideals often fizzle in the light of basic political reality. The latter is best exemplified by the episode’s other plotline, which focuses on Sisko and his efforts to get the Defiant back before lives are lost, and Cardassian treaties are shattered. To do this, Sisko has to travel to Cardassia to work with Gul Dukat and his team; he also has to confess certain technical aspects of the Defiant, like its cloaking device, that he would’ve rather kept secret. Not that Korinas, the Obsidian Order member observing Sisko and Dukat’s team-up, didn’t already know about the cloak. Korinas knows an awful lot, actually, more than even Dukat—and that leads to some complications.
It’s always impressive how much excitement the various Trek series are able to wring out of confrontations which are basically just people standing in various rooms threatening people in other rooms, and “Defiant” is no exception. Sisko’s efforts to figure out where his ship is headed demonstrate once again just how sharp he is, and the importance he puts on protecting his own; Tom’s ill-advised foray would almost certainly lead to a Cardassian backlash against DS9 if he succeeded by even a fraction, and besides, that’s Sisko’s ship he stole, dammit, and you just don’t do that. As always, the interplay between Dukat and Sisko makes for thrilling television, and the effort to place Dukat in a proper context, at odds with the Obsidian Order and missing a playdate with his son, effectively expand on an already rich antagonist. The son speech in particular is a fine piece of work, well-written and beautifully performed; Dukat complains in a way that makes him both more vulnerable, and more of a creep.
Combine all this with the suggestion that the Obsidian Order (which is gradually growing in importance in the show’s mythology) is planning some big military move, and you have an episode that reinforces and strengthens the series’ universe, while finding plenty of time for character drama and a cool crossover from a different show. The conclusion isn’t quite as slam bang as the hour which leads up to it, but there’s an appropriateness to that, deflating as it may be. Tom Riker thought the righteousness of his cause would see him through, but in the end, he’s stuck in a life sentence in a Cardassian labor camp, and who knows if anyone will remember his name.
- Oh, and Tom kissed Kira before he went away for good. It’s sweet, and the episode sets up their attraction early on, but it still seems less romantic, and more like a contractual obligation.
- Tom reveals himself by pulling off a third of his beard to reveal a clearly villainous goattee. Some things never change.
- “You’re trying to be a hero. Terrorists don’t get to be heroes.” Great line from Kira. I wish the episode had found a way to show us this more, rather than just have her come out and say it, but it’s still a great line.
“Fascination” (season three, episode 10; originally aired)
In which everyone is in the mood for love…
Ah, the classic “love potion” episode, where characters who normally wouldn’t dream of approaching one another suddenly develop passionate attachments designed to evaporate before the end credits. There’s no actual potion in “Fascination,” just Lwaxana Troi sending off empathic hot flashes due to a bad case of the made-up flu, but the principle remains the same: a large chunk of the show’s ensemble is going to embarrass themselves horribly, there’s going to be a lot of awkwardness, and maybe some groping, all of it played for laughs.
I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of the device, primarily because it’s so lightweight. Romantic entanglements on a show are only fun to watch if there is actual consequence behind them, and while Bashir explains that all of the temporary infatuations are based on some deeply buried subconscious desire, he immediately follows that up with, “Best not to think about it.” So none of these means anything. That can be enjoyable in its own way, and this isn’t a terrible episode by any means, but it did end up feeling fairly pointless to me by the end.
It’s mostly because I hate laughter, really, because if you can get past the automatic cringe factor of Jake hitting on Kira, or Vedek Bareil aggressively pursuing Dax, there are some funny bits here. I did chuckle; I’m not made of stone. But the joke of someone being really, really into someone who isn’t into them in any way really only has one note, and that note gets creepy really fast. As a kid, I couldn’t stand Pepe Le Pew cartoons because they always played like gore-free horror shorts to me: Horrible monster pursues terrified victim until victim is forced to capitulate to the fell creature’s desire. Yes, the “monster” was an animated skunk with an outrageous French accent, but he was still a jerk, and that kind of aggressiveness never struck me as all that funny, especially when you take into account just how frightened his targets always seemed to be. None of the targets of unwanted affection in “Fascination” are scared, exactly (although Dax comes close, and Keiko looks like she’s about to shriek when Quark briefly accosts her), but the premise of the humor is misguided. There’s only one joke, and it never varies; the only time it really works is Sisko’s party, when everyone comes crashing together. Oh, and Kira and Bashir’s aggressive make-out is amusing because they’re both into it, even while realizing they probably shouldn’t be. That creates a chance for some good physical comedy, and both actors go to it with gusto.
The other couples, though… When Jake turns his attentions to Kira, we’re supposed to believe it’s part of his coping mechanism for dealing with his breakup with Marta. Clearly something is wrong, though, because as goofy and childish as Jake can sometimes be, he’s not a fool; the fact that Kira is very clearly not into him (and good lord is that scene hard to watch) should’ve ended his crush, or at the very least given him pause before going after her again. But instead, he runs around the station trying to find her. That’s fine for a completely non-threatening 16-year-old, but when Bareil gets into the game, deciding he and Dax are made for each other, it’s no longer amusing. Bareil overdoes the goofiness, but even with that, his constant attempts at physical contact are painful to watch. Then Dax starts groping Sisko. The actors do their best, but the material doesn’t have anywhere to go. The only drama comes from waiting to see who’ll be next to fall, and hoping someone will figure out the problem before the station descends into a giant orgy.
For a Lwaxana Troi episode, there’s surprisingly little of the lady, for good and for ill. In her first appearance on the show (“The Forsaken”), her scenes with Odo were a highpoint; they started off much in the same vein as the romances do in this episode (which makes sense—not only is Lwaxana making everyone hot for each other, she’s giving them her technique), but by the end, Troi’s openness and willingness to accept just about anything won the shapeshifter over. Given that Odo’s clearly pining for Kira, who just as clearly has no idea and is still with Bareil, now would seem a perfect time for Lwaxana to swoop in. But while Lwaxana stays with Odo in every scene they share, she’s not truly present. Maybe it’s the sickness taking it out of her, or the way the episode is shaped, but it’s easy to forget she’s even around, and apart from being the root cause of the craziness, she’s not particularly relevant to the story. Which is good and bad; good because too much Lwaxana can be tiresome, but bad because without her yearning for Odo to ground the premise, there are no stakes, and no real drama. There’s a sweet moment at the end, when Lwaxana tells Odo she knows he’s attracted to Kira, because she understands hopeless yearning, but it would’ve been nice to get something like this sooner. Odo’s crush, in its realness, can be funny and sweet and melancholy all at once. Bareil groping Dax has maybe one level to it, if that.
Which means we need to look elsewhere if we want to find any sincerity in this hour at all, and that leaves us with O’Brien, visiting Keiko and Molly for the first time in months. As is so often the case with O’Brien and Keiko stories, this one tries to say some fairly complex and honest things about relationships, and while Keiko comes off as a more of the bad guy than usual, it still fundamentally demonstrates the requirements of a real marriage: two people, compromising again and again. O’Brien is hoping for a magical two days of station time with his family, but when his wife and daughter arrive, Molly is sick and Keiko is stressed. There’s an inevitability to this that makes it more resonant than a hundred of Lwaxana’s empathic mindwipes, and it only gets worse when Keiko tells O’Brien that she’ll need to be on Bajor for a few months longer than they’d originally planned. Here it gets a little mean, as O’Brien is frustrated about the increased time away, and Keiko is bothered by his frustration—this should be an even argument, but given the couples’ history, it’s easy to read Keiko’s response as ungenerous. But then, it’s not like O’Brien is behaving like a prince.
In the end, the two make peace, O’Brien apologizes for being insensitive, and Keiko wears the red dress he likes so much. It’s a nice reminder of the value and solidity of actual relationships amid all the madness. The fact that all the crushes we see are driven by at least some residual feeling doesn’t bode well for Kira and Bareil, unless it’s irrelevant, which it probably is. (The idea that Dax is in some way attracted to Sisko is just strange, considering he’s constantly calling her “Old Man.”) “Fascination” is lightweight, fitfully amusing entry that’s nowhere as bad as it could’ve been, but will still be easy to forget in the morning.
- All of this takes place during the Bajoran Gratitude Festival. I appreciate how consistently the show brings in Bajoran culture; it’s always kind of goofy, but it helps add texture to the world, and the actors (Nana Visitor especially) commit to it.
- Hana Hatae, the little girl who plays Molly, is just ridiculously cute.
- Avery Brooks’ various facial expressions as Dax gropes him are spectacular, and go a long way toward making those scenes work.
Next week: We dive into the time travel well with parts one and two of “Past Tense.”