“For The Uniform” (season five, episode 13; originally aired 2/3/1997)
In which Sisko gets his man…
It’s hard to sell complexity in fiction. It’s hard to sell complexity anywhere, really, because the whole world is full of that shit and who wants to pay for more? But with stories, especially stories that seem to fall in the easily graspable confinement of genre, that uphill battle turns into more a straight up climb, one with few clear hand-holds, and a lot of distance to the bottom. Escapism is arguably the first, and easiest, goal of narrative: life sucks most of the time, so you give your audience a place they can go to where things make a basic kind of sense, where cause and effect holds sway, the bad guys suffer, the good guys win out. And if that doesn’t satisfy, maybe the good guys aren’t so great, and the bad guys are sympathetic; maybe you blur the lines. But the further that goes, the harder it is to pull off, partly because there are more moving pieces to account for, and partly because it’s unsettling to see heroes turn monstrous. Unless this was a stated intention from the beginning, it feels like a violation of some sort of promise. We’re supposed to be able to root for these people—if we can’t root for them, if the whole idea of “rooting” is called into question, what then?
“For The Uniform” puts Sisko in an impossible position, and then proceeds to nudge him into making a seemingly unthinkable choice. It’s an odd fit for a Star Trek episode. Captains in the franchise have made tough calls in the past, but Sisko’s decision to play the villain in order to force Eddington’s hand feels distinct, a kind of bar-raising that is at once thrilling and more than a little disconcerting. The whole episode seems designed to push our comfort zones, especially when it comes to its leading man; Sisko is an angry man, but in the past, that anger has been directly proportional to the level of offense that inspired it. In this case, though, the balance is a bit off. Eddington’s actions deserve censure and justice, no question, but Sisko’s raging need to catch him goes beyond simple law and order. Something in what Eddington has done offends Sisko to his very core, and the story depends on how much you’re willing to accept the explanation for his fury. I think it works, but the episode’s climax depends on a kind of behavior that changes a lot of my assumptions about Sisko. It clarifies him in interesting ways, but those ways will only really work if the clarification lasts. This is the sort of twist which can pay off down the line, but if forgotten or ignored, looks cheap in retrospect; a shock without regard to consequence.
But before we get there, “For The Uniform” is often a very fun piece of work, in spite of all its sturm und drang. At its heart, the episode is a basic chase story, and it makes the smart choice of creating a seemingly uncatchable villain. I never thought much about Eddington while he was a Federation officer—given the nature of the show, I suspected him vaguely, but never had any serious expectations until his sudden betrayal of our heroes. But while we may never see the character again, this hour gives Ken Marshall plenty of opportunities to show why turning traitor was the best choice the writers could’ve made for his character. Regardless of why it happened, outlaw Eddington makes for a terrific opponent, and Marshall’s clipped, calm delivery makes the character’s various taunts throughout the episode all the more infuriating. It’s not hard to understand at least some of Sisko’s anger. If I had to deal with that smug, condescending bastard mocking me at every turn, I’d be pissed off too. (I mean, the dude emails him a copy of Les Misérables, and then takes the time to explain the incredibly obvious reference. Goddamn rebel hipster lit critics.)
Another reason the episode is a pleasure to watch is the effort the writers take to put Sisko at a disadvantage. During a chase sequence at the start of the hour, Eddington sets off a “cascade virus” (no idea if this is real or not, but as technobabble goes, that’s top-shelf material; the phrase is at once poetic and suggestive of collapse) in the Defiant’s computers that wipes the ship’s memory banks, effectively setting them back weeks of repair time. Given how long Eddington was on Deep Space Nine before revealing himself, he had plenty of opportunities to install viruses and other forms of sabotage into the station’s systems. Odo finds at least two viruses lurking in the system already, and he was only able to recognize those because they matched the virus on the Defiant. So, Eddington thinks ahead, which raises the stakes; but what’s also neat is how, when Sisko ultimately decides to take the Defiant back out on the chase before the ship is completely repaired, the show finds a way to make space travel look challenging again. That’s not something you see a lot on Trek, and since part of the appeal of the franchise is fabulous future technology, that’s not a flaw. But it’s still nice to, every once in a while, remind us of the machinery and effort it takes to fly between the stars. (The earlier episode with Jake and Sisko flying an old Bajoran designed craft did a good job with this; some of the battle scenes in “For The Uniform” also reminded me of Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan.)
Eddington’s lingering effect on DS9 serves another purpose as well: It gets to the heart of what’s driving Sisko out of his mind. In a great scene between him and Dax, he rants to her about what’s really getting to him: Eddington is human. Not a Changeling, not some Cardassian spy, not some super genius alien, but a regular old person, a person who worked with him in plain sight for months on end, and of whom Sisko never suspected a thing. That’s what really galls. He’s mad because Eddington has betrayed Starfleet, and pulled a fast one on Sisko himself, but what sticks in the deepest is the way the anonymous, friendly balding man has forced the captain to question his ability to do his job. This is personal when it shouldn’t be personal, and that depth of frustration colors everything Sisko does, and makes his decision to poison a Maquis planet all the more difficult to parse. He crossed a line, but was his action necessary? Eddington wasn’t showing any signs of backing down, and the poison idea came from him; he was using biogenic weapons to poison Cardassian-settled planets in the D.M.Z. with material that would make them uninhabitable for the Cardassians. Capturing him was a high priority, especially after he was able to gut the Malinche.
And yet, there’s a line. There has to be a difference between Sisko and Eddington; it’s right there in the episode’s title. Acting on behalf of Starfleet, doing something “for the uniform” means protecting the honor of an institution that deserves defending, and Sisko’s willingness to cross the line, to embrace Eddington’s concept of their conflict, is both intensely clever, and hard to reconcile. The captain realizes that, if he’s Javert, then Eddington must see himself as Valjean, the noble hero who gives his entire life to the protection and well-being of others. Anyone with that kind of strong, idealized self-image is vulnerable to attack, and Sisko decides on the weak point: By giving in to his obsession, he forces Eddington into a position where it’s either sacrifice himself and save the rest of the colonies, or watch the people he’s given up everything to protect lose their last remaining sanctuary.
It’s a bold move on Sisko’s part, even though the episode makes an effort to minimize the damage. The torpedoes he fires don’t directly kill anyone; they just make the planets unlivable for Bajoran settlers. After the dust clears, the Cardassians who were evicted from their home by Eddington take over the planet Sisko forced the Maquis to abandon, and vice versa. So no harm done, and I do respect the show’s willingness to follow through on Sisko’s intensity without overtly condemning him for his behavior; as with Kira’s time in the resistance, we’re left to judge for ourselves if Sisko’s actions were appropriate. His decision to embrace his inner villain presages, in a small way, the current run of TV antiheroes, and the attraction of characters that make strong decisions, morality be damned. But lingering doubts remain. For one, it’s strange to end the hour with Eddington still able to cling to his delusions of heroism. For all Sisko’s determination to make the other man pay, Eddington’s self-esteem is intact. And even though Sisko’s actions weren’t exactly evil, something is lost in making them. Some small piece of integrity. Maybe that’s the point, though. You fight so long against an enemy you never see, something has to give eventually.
- I love the “holographic communicator” that O’Brien just happened to rig up before the episode. From a practical standpoint, it allows Sisko and Eddington more face time; without it, they’d be restricted to the cold open, and a lot of bickering through the view screen. But I also like the idea of Trek technology that’s really just useful because it looks cool.
- Nog relays messages to engineering when the Defiant sets out post-virus. I was expecting some jokes about Nog being irritatingly enthusiastic, but there aren’t any, which is cool. (Although he does yell loudly.)
- Dax is totally accepting of Sisko’s decision, which makes sense. Their last conversation (“You know, sometimes I like it when the bad guys wins.”) lets him off too easily, though. Again, it depends on whether or not the writers return to this particular well. Once Sisko decided to play baddie, capturing Eddington was almost ridiculously easy. The temptation to pull the same kind of trick again will be all the higher when the next crisis arrives.
“In Purgatory’s Shadow” (season five, episode 14; originally aired 2/10/1997)
In which BASHIR IS A CHANGELING…
There’s a lot to talk about in this episode, but let’s get this out of the way first: How long has Bashir been a Changeling?
This season hasn’t really had a Bashir-centric storyline. Looking over the run to this point, I’d have a hard time believing the Bashir we saw in “Trials And Tribble-ations” wasn’t the real thing; a Changeling would have a hard time keeping up the O’Brien/Bashir chemistry. I doubt the Bashir who broke up with Leeta (or whom Leeta broke up with, or who mutually agreed to end a relationship with etc.) was a phony, and the Bashir of “Things Past” was too invested in Odo and the others’ fate to not be himself. But I can’t be sure about that one, and after that point, all bets are off. Maybe the writers have confirmed one way or the other, but there’s a brilliant creepiness to Julian popping out at the Jem’Hadar internment camp without any significant setup or foreshadowing. Sure, the fake Bashir had been acting a little sharper than usual back on the station. While the Changeling’s ability to see through Garak’s lie wasn’t surprising, his clear, smug pleasure at catching the Cardassian wasn’t like the doctor we’ve come to know and love; and there was a certain arrogance to the way he carried himself, a certain “God, you idiots are so easy to fool” subtext under his few lines. But this is all in retrospect. At the time, the reveal that the station’s Bashir wasn’t the real thing blew my freakin’ mind.
But back up a bit, because “In Purgatory’s Shadow” isn’t really about Bashir. After a few weeks of character dalliances, time travel, and vacation spots, this episode returns us to what’s presumably the season’s over-arcing plotline: the incipient war with the Dominion. And where earlier stories about the buildup to the war have contented themselves with conspiracy theory and suggestion, this one dives straight in. By the end of the hour, Garak, Worf, and Bashir are trapped in Internment Camp 317; the fake Bashir has managed to short circuit DS9’s one hope at closing off the wormhole; and Sisko and the others are staring at a fleet of Jem’Hadar warships. As cliffhangers go, this is pretty swell. Not Locutus of the Borg level, maybe, but the Dominion threat is a more integral part of DS9’s design than the Borg ever were in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This plays like the start of a long awaited pay-off, and even if it isn’t, even if the writers find someway to walk this back (and they’ll have to find something, as we’re barely past the season’s midpoint), the status quo has been changed. The Founders have once again demonstrated their intent and raised the stakes of the entire series.
This is a two-parter, though, and as is so often the case with two-parters, the first half is less a story in its own right than a bunch of scenes setting up part two. Compare/contrast this with “For The Uniform.” In the former, we spend most of the hour onboard the Defiant; the focus is on Sisko, and his hunt, and there’s very little in the script that doesn’t involve him or reflect back on him. In “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” there’s an adorable cold open with Kira helping Odo resettle his Changeling furniture; then we find out about a Cardassian code signal from the Gamma Quadrant; then Garak interprets it, lies, tries to go off by himself, gets caught; Sisko decides to let Garak go after the signal anyway, but only if Worf goes with him; aaaaaand 20 minutes later, they leave.
Well, maybe not 20 minutes. I didn’t have a stop-watch. But it takes half a dozen scenes before Worf and Garak are on that shuttle together, and it takes a few scenes after that before they get picked up by the Jem’Hadar. Most of these scenes are solid enough, character-building exchanges that remind us of/work to establish relationships, but they don’t move the plot forward much, and there’s a kind of drag to the first half of the episode that can be a little frustrating at times. Garak and Ziyal’s friendship (which may be something more) is interesting, and Gul Dukat’s anger at discovering that friendship could lead somewhere, but it doesn’t tie into what we really care about. The fact that Ziyal ultimately turns on her father, and disobeys his order to leave the station, is moderately satisfying (it’s always fun to see someone say no to Dukat), but given everything else that’s going on, it’s a small blip on the corner of a very busy radar a screen.
Then again, it’s hard to really say how any of this fits together before we get to next week’s second half. I doubt Worf and Dax’s exchange about goodbyes and Klingon opera is going to matter all that much, but it was a decent conversation between the two of them that made their relationship seem not completely horrible, so there’s that. One relationship that does pay off in this episode is one that I’d long thought closed for good: Garak and Enabran Tain. After Tain’s disappearance in “The Die Is Cast,” it seemed plausible enough that the former head of the Obsidian Order was dead, victim to his own hubris and inability to recognize the true nature of the Dominion threat. This assumption was neither confirmed nor denied when Garak asked for information from the female Changeling; she told him Tain was dead, but by her logic, all Cardassians were dead. They just hadn’t realized it yet. The transmission Garak translates at the start of the story is supposedly a message from Tain, but that could mean anything. The Founders are tricksome, and when Worf and Garak stumble across the Jem’Hadar fleet, it looks like they’ve fallen into another trap.
Garak and Worf haven’t hurt the Dominion invasion in any substantial way, but their discovery of the threat wasn’t planned. Tain really did send the message, and he’s trapped in the same Internment Camp that Garak and Worf are sent to. I’ll allow it, although it’s convenient—especially considering that General Martok is there to, getting beat up by Jem’Hadar soldiers. (Sorry, that was redundant.) But it’s worth the convenience to see Garak struggle once more with failing to live up to the expectations of his former boss; after all, it’s doubtful Tain sent a message purely for the pleasure of the tailor’s company, and Worf and Garak don’t seem to be doing so great on the “rescue” front. It’s hilarious to watch Garak complaining to Bashir about Tain’s attitude, given that Tain is dying, and Bashir has been stuck in hell for a month now. And then the final reveal, as Tain slips away: He’s Garak’s father. Their connection always made sense, but now it just clicks into place a little clearer, just as Garak himself comes a trifle more into focus.
Really, that's the main non-plot effect of the episode: bringing things into focus. It’s a reminder of the complacency of the past few weeks, as our heroes have struggled with their own personal demons while forgetting the big hulking threat still lurking the next galaxy over. That’s how the show tells its stories, but that’s also how life tends to work: The darkness on the horizon is terrifying, but without form, the terror fades away, turns into acceptance. The Changelings want everyone dead, but hey, there’s a station to run, debts to be repaid, lives to lead. We’re only really as a capable as the immediate crisis demands of us. Everything else is just background.
“In Purgatory’s Shadow” is mostly about setting the table for the meal to come, but it offers up some quality silverware, and the smells coming from the kitchen have my mouth watering. (Yeah, that metaphor isn’t great, but it was one of those “I’m in this now, and I’m going to keep being in this until we get through it together” moments.) The sight of the fleet coming through the wormhole as Sisko’s last ditch attempt to stop them fails is shocking enough, but the more intimate questions are the ones that attract the most interest. Like, is someone on the station going to figure out who Bashir is before it’s too late? (Or too late-er, I guess.) And what will the Changelings make of the fact that Odo got his mojo back? What’s Sisko going to do next? And back in the Internment Camp, how are Garak, Worf, Mortak, and Bashir going to escape? That last has me especially excited, because I’m a sucker for great escape stories, and also because Garak now has a very specific reason to hate the Changelings. He once tried to murder their entire race. That probably isn’t an option right now, but he’s not someone you want for an enemy. There are plenty of ways of changing your shape. Also, Worf is, really good at punching things. That should probably come in handy.
- Odo has self-help books on dating. That is adorable.
- Gul Dukat: still an asshole.
- “At the first sign of betrayal, I will kill him, but I promise to bring the body back intact.” “I assume that’s a joke.” “We will see.”—Worf can do funny.
- Man, that scene with Worf and Garak in the shuttle is just the definition of time-killing. It’s not terrible, and I guess it’s entertaining to watch Garak screw with the easily trusting Worf, but after all the talk that precedes it, it’s hard not wish they’d gotten to the fireworks factory a few minutes earlier.
- “I should have killed your mother before you were born.”—Tain, not big on fatherly love. (That said, his anecdote about meeting Garak when Garak was just a boy is surprisingly emotional.)
Next week: The saga continues with “By Inferno’s Light,” and Bashir learns some tough truths in “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?”