Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Emperor's New Cloak"/"Field Of Fire"

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Emperor's New Cloak"/"Field Of Fire"

“The Emperor’s New Cloak” (season 7, episode 12; originally aired 2/3/1999)

In which Quark and Rom break on through to the other side...

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

God, even the title is stupid. It’s a pun on the fairy tale and the fact that Grand Nagus Zek begs Quark and Rom to seal a cloaking device to save him from the mirror universe, but the actual plot has no parallels with the original story, and, oh who gives a damn. Clearly the writers did not. “The Emperor’s New Cloak” isn’t as awful as “Profit And Lace,” and it has a few funny bits scattered through its running time, but there’s no reason for it to exist. Now, to be fair, there are 25 episodes in Deep Space Nine’s final season, and the episode order existed before the writers sat down to come up with storylines; they’re filling a space, not creating the space as they fill it, and that inevitably means some episodes are going to be more obligation than inspiration. But the trick is to hide that lack of vitality as well as possible. Mashing together a Ferengi-centric episode with a Mirror Universe episode has a certain economy to it, no question, and it’s true that the Mirror Universe has become tired enough that about the only approach left is the sort of broad, slightly dark comedy Ferengi storylines usually deal in, but, well…

If I could leave a review as an ellipsis, it would be this one, but I doubt that would go over well with my editors. I think I’ve harangued about the problems with repeat visits to the Mirror Universe so many times by now that my complaints are almost as tiresome as the dimension itself. It’s just hard to care about the long-term problems of a setting that was initially created solely to offer a startling contrast to the “normal” reality of the show. The more the Alliance and the Rebellion take on shape, the more the shock wears off and the thinner the characters become; and the refusal of the writers to decide on a consistent philosophy for the setting (as Rom keeps pointing out, in one of the episode’s best, most telling, jokes) means that the fun of spotting the differences gets lost in a lot of metaphysical confusion.

For example: Other Bashir isn’t well-developed enough in his own right for me to care about him. He’s interesting only in the way he reflects back on the regular Bashir. But since that reflection has been established numerous times, and since this Bashir is, while aggressive and violent, still basically working for the “good” guys, the comparison has lost any real value. It’s neat that the other O’Brien and the other Bashir seem to be chums, but that’s as far as it goes. (I do still think O’Brien’s fundamental consistency over all universes is a nice character beat.) By trying to turn what is essentially a one-note conceptual punchline into a sustainable reality with a consistent mythology, the writers robbed the Mirror Universe of its vitality and danger. It’s just a place people sometimes go now, with no cost to the transit, and no real spark.

Sure, “The Emperor’s New Cloak” tries to create a sense of danger: Zek is being held by the Intendant (a character whose shtick has grown so old her lines must be read off bumper stickers), and needs Quark and Rom to bring him a cloaking device to rescue him, but it’s all a trap planned by the Intendant and other Ezri, and so on and whatever. There are just enough threats and violence to keep characters from floating off into the space, but the urgency is lacking throughout. The closest we get to a surprise is other Brunt’s sad death, and while it’s amusing to see the Mirror Universe episode continue its tradition of murdering Ferengis, other Brunt’s doomed friendship with other Ezri just isn’t enough to hang all of this on.

Maybe that’s the real reason we get one last Mirror Universe story before the end (I’ve been informed that this is the last one; if this person was lying to me, I will hunt them down and not leave until they apologize). Not the death of other Brunt, who is friendly and loyal to a fault, but to give Ezri a chance to show off her dark side. Which is fine, I guess? Nicole de Boer isn’t exactly threatening, although she does all right. There’s an intimate moment between other Ezri and the Intendant about half-way through the episode, a twist to show that Quark and Rom are even more screwed than they’d initially realized, and it’s pretty cheesy exploitation-wise, although it makes sense that the Intendant would be willing to use sex to get what she wants from anyone. I mean, that is literally her entire character. Ostensibly, there’s a throughline about Quark having “feelings” for the regular Ezri (who is currently getting closer to Bashir, a potential relationship I know I should have feelings about one way or the other, but mostly just seems fine to me), and how he bonds a bit with other Ezri, although thank god that doesn’t go anywhere.

What struck me the most this time through the MU was how much the place had taken on the tone of some cheesy ‘80s action cartoon, full of shouting, ineffectual villains, goofy twists, and no real consequences whatsoever. Take away the sex stuff (which becomes less and less present with each iteration) and the body count (other Brunt does die), and you could put this between the original Transformers and G.I. Joe and nobody would bat an eye. It’s amusing enough to see Worf rant and complain like some second rate Megatron, but Garak’s one note Starscream routine gets old fast, which is not something I thought I’d ever say about an Andrew Robinson performance. The actor tries, but there’s just not a whole lot to do.

The only time any of this works are the few moments when the MU actually serves its original function: as a way to contextualize the characters we actually give a damn about. Rom’s endless nitpicking is both a funny way to hang a lampshade on some half-assed writing, and a character bit perfectly in keeping with his regular level-headed approach to life. Where everyone else just rolls with what’s happening, Rom is convinced he’s stupid, and so he actually puts the time in to try and understand the contradictions, even though you really can’t. And as unappealing as other Garak has become, the scene of Quark, Rom, and Zek getting the better of him by rubbing in just how much craftier and smarter non-MU Garak is is enjoyable enough, if only because it’s fun to hear anyone try and describe the greatness of our Garak. Also, other Garak dies horribly at the end, so I suppose that’s something.

On the whole, this was too jokey and disengaged to be anything but a chore. Zek’s decision to try and branch out into the Mirror Universe sort of makes sense, in that the Nagus is always looking for the next untapped market, but “sort of making sense” doesn’t mean that anyone desperately needed to see what would happen if he did. Besides, that’s just an excuse to get Zek into the MU where he can get captured and held for ransom, which in itself is really just an excuse to get Quark and Rom involved, which in itself is really just an excuse to fill an episode slot, which is really just an excuse to get us that much closer to the series finale. And now I’m sad. Thanks a lot, stupid television show.

Stray observations:

  • Straight dudes, talkin’ ‘bout DS9: Mirror Universe Ezri is very attractive. The Joan Jett look is a good fit for her.

  • So Vic Fontaine is real in the Mirror Universe? The writers are trolling us now.

  • I don’t need to hear Quark praying to his god about “sealing the deal” with Ezri. Just, no.

  • Ha ha, other Leeta wants nothing to do with Rom! That’s so weird.

  • Thank god we won’t have to deal with the Intendant again. What started as a striking, enjoyably campy turn by one of the series’ best actors has turned into a trap, forcing Nana Visitor to reduce herself to the same tired “Oh wow, I am very sensual and want to fuck everything and use sex as a weapon, that’s so hot!” shtick every time the character appears. It’s embarrassing, and her final (please god) appearance barely registers.

“Field Of Fire” (season 7, episode 13; originally aired 2/10/1999)

In which Ezri needs to make the lambs stop screaming...

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

Do you watch Hannibal? You should. Or, at the very least, you should give it a try. The show is definitely not for everyone—it has distinct, odd rhythms, and the violence, while beautiful, is intense and often shockingly graphic. But it’s one of the best shows on the air right now, and its nightmarish visions and sharp, complex character work more than justify the occasional pained shudder. (If you’re like me, the shudders are actually part of the appeal.) The serial killer genre has gotten so old it regularly forgets where it left the keys to the stabbing room, but Hannibal takes a whole host of stale ideas and imbues them with fresh, monstrous life. Using mythology from a handful of Thomas Harris novels, the show follows Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a profiler with the gift/curse of “total empathy,” in his work tracking killers for the FBI. Along the way, he meets a psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Hannibal has secrets. Things progress from there.

It’s an exceptional work, and one that deserves more viewers than it has. I mention it here because I like talking about it, but also because “Field Of Fire” has, if not exactly the same premise, than at least a few shared ideas. A nice young man is murdered on the station, and everyone’s at a loss. Ezri, who was the last person to see him alive, is despondent, and decides it’s her job to find his killer. I’m not sure why; you’d think Odo would be the one on the case, as Ezri doesn’t have a lot of legal experience. She does have a counseling degree (or whatever the future equivalent of such a degree would be) as a therapist, so I supposed she’d have some insight into disturbed psyches. More importantly, one of Dax’s past hosts was a killer himself, and if she allows him out of the memory hole, he might be able to provide the crucial insight that leads Ezri to the murderer. Just like, say, a profile is able to imagine themselves in someone else’s (bloody) shoes.

Look, let’s be honest: I wasted a paragraph talking about Hannibal because there really isn’t a whole lot to talk about in “Field Of Fire.” Chalk it up to my fundamental immaturity as a reviewer, but like “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” this is a slog; and unlike “Cloak,” this episode has precious little humor to recommend it. The mystery that gets Ezri to awaken Joran (Leigh McCloskey) is almost an after-thought, even though the killer murders three people, which seems like a lot for a non-battle situation. Sure, there are occupations and Pah-Wraiths and system failures and all sorts of craziness, but multiple murders with no overt connection, apart from a very specific sort of gun—that’s something new. You’d think people on the station would be freaking out, especially once O’Brien realizes (in probably the coolest part of the story) that the killer is using a weapon with a small teleportation device attached, allowing him or her (SPOILER: it’s a him) to shoot anyone from long range. The killer literally kills people alone in their rooms behind closed doors. That’s terrifying, and yet we get no sense whatsoever that anyone on DS9 apart from the main ensemble knows or cares.

Instead, we follow Ezri around as she worries about what’s happening, grows increasingly determined to solve the case, and then, after an inadvertent pep talk from Worf of all people (“You are Dax. It is your way.”), decides to get in touch with Joran. For the rest of the episode, the two form a deadly serious buddy-cop duo, as Joran urges Ezri to savor the evil, and Ezri argues with him in public places because she’s an idiot. It’s terribly silly, and not particularly convincing; regardless of whomever has held the symbiont in the past, Ezri is about as threatening as a sprinkle-free cupcake, and the possibility of her being seduced by the darkside is as likely as Quark becoming a Marxist. As Ezri and her phantasmal partner come closer to the killer, will Joran’s more violent impulses take control? No, they won’t, although Ezri does briefly hold a knife at some guy, and Sisko is really upset about it.

Actually, that’s such a dumb exchange it’s worth focusing on for a second. Ezri and Joran are sitting in Quark’s when an ensign tries to run out of the bar. Thinking that Odo’s men have finally tracked down the killer, Ezri uses a chair to trip the fugitive, then tackles him; when he throws her, she grabs a knife and threatens him with it. This is apparently some monstrous breach in protocol, although a.) the guy was bigger than she was and b.) he’d just hit her. Sisko’s lecture is supposed to be a sign that Ezri is getting in too deep with Joran, that she’s losing her objectivity and her grip, but given the context, it plays like a ludicrous overreaction to what was actually a sensible, if somewhat overheated, tactical move. Pretty much all of Ezri’s “struggles” with Joran play like this; we’re supposed to be disturbed at the moral and psychological risk she’s taking, but the seductions are trite, and the moral complexity of the situation never requires her to make any difficult choices.

It doesn’t help that the resolution of the mystery is painfully trite. Ezri realizes that the one element connecting all three victims is that each has a framed photograph in their room of themselves smiling with their loved ones. She then makes the leap that this must mean the killer hates emotion, which leads her to the assumption that a Vulcan might be involved—not a normal Vulcan, but someone who has cause to be violently angry at anyone who expresses happiness. This is a large deductive jump with very little to back it up, and it gets worse when Ezri and Joran board a turbolift and a Vulcan boards as well; Joran immediately decides that this Vulcan is the killer, and he’s right. Seriously: Ezri comes up with a theory, and minutes later she runs into the killer, entirely by coincidence.

This is lousy plotting, and the fact that there’s ultimately no twist to the story—the Vulcan is murdering people because he lost most of his crew when his ship was destroyed, so now he’s crazy and whatever—makes it worse. The final confrontation has Ezri and the killer staring each other down over their magic teleportation weapons, Joran urging her to pull the trigger, but when she does, she shoots the Vulcan in the shoulder, and he helpfully shoots back too late to actually do any damage. Ezri then resists any urge to kill the Vulcan in cold blood. There’s no ambiguity about any of it, and no indication that any of this will leave scars on Ezri’s tender psyche. The mystery is uninteresting, the killer is ineptly characterized, and the only positive in the resolution is that we probably won’t have to go through this again.

But hey, I found bright spots in “The Emperor’s New Cloak,” I might as well try and find some here. The cold open, which introduces the Vulcan’s first victim, is fun in a this is what Star Trek would look like if it was Law & Order kind of way. And while Joran wasn’t a richly defined figure, I enjoyed McCloskey’s performance. He wasn’t scary or even remotely threatening, but I liked his voice for some reason. Look, at this point, I’ll take what I can get. This is a not very good episode that wasn’t a complete catastrophe, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things get better soon.

Stray observations:

  • More references to the Alamo program; it’s even a minor plot point, as Bashir and O’Brien first refuse to allow Ilario to join them in the holosuite (their immediate refusal is hilariously dickish; they don’t even seem to consider his request at all), and then the two of them chat about feeling guilty over the whole thing. The chat gives Bashir a chance to talk about how settlers used to get very attached to their firearms, which in turn provides O’Brien with a crucial piece in solving the murder.

  • Worf is apparently the only person on the station to be concerned that there’s a murderer on the loose. Which is good of him, although his “concern” leads him to follow Ezri around without her knowledge, and then, when she catches him at it, lecture her on how she needs to stay in her quarters at night. You have issues, Worf.
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