Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Looking For Par’Mach In All The Wrong Places”/“...Nor The Battle To The Strong”
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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Looking For Par’Mach In All The Wrong Places”/“...Nor The Battle To The Strong”

“Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places“ (season five, episode three; originally aired 10/14/1996)

In which the key to a woman’s heart is through her bat’leth

Dax and Worf have sex. Apart from that, little of consequence occurs in “Looking For Par’Mach In All The Wrong Places,” a title as goofily indulgent as the majority of the script. Unless you were really hoping for Quark to get it together and finally screw that Klingon woman we haven’t seen in a few seasons, this isn’t an hour with much weight at all, but given what comes before and after it in the schedule, that might be a good thing; it’s nice to have a light, silly bit of fluff before we get back to the agonies of war. And overall, this is an entertaining enough attempt at sex comedy, made palatable by Dorn, Shimerman, and Farrell’s efforts to keep things moving, and the Dax/Worf hook-up makes decent sense. The actors don’t have amazing chemistry together, but they do seem to fit together well, forming a connection that doesn’t reduce either character. It’s hard to say at this point just how this pairing will affect the show in the long run, but the signs are promising in that it all seems pretty low-key. Worf didn’t realize Dax was into him, Dax played along for a while, then she finally made her move, and that’s that. No major drama or pining necessary.

Out of everything that happens in “Par’Mach,” the most ridiculous is the brief flirtation between O’Brien and Kira which raises some weird issues, and then gets quickly, and mercifully, dropped. It makes a certain amount of sense that there’d be boundary issues between them. First Kira is carrying “his” baby (and while it gets mocked in the cold open of the next episode, the constant referrals to Miles’ as the owner of the kid get old), and then she’s living with the O’Briens, and now the Chief is giving her regular massages, sampling the medicine Bashir prescribes her, and basically getting involved with every aspect of her life. Inevitably, tensions would arise, and a mutual attraction is certainly less unpleasant to watch than the fighting Bashir and Quark eavesdrop on in the cold open. But it’s just such an unexpected flare up of chemistry between two actors who’ve never seemed all that interested in one another before. So far as we know, Kira’s still in a relationship with Shakaar, and apart from O’Brien’s solicitude and his general Colm Meaney-ness, it’s hard to know what the draw is. And it’s not like O’Brien’s desire is reasonable, either—he’s never looked at another woman apart from Keiko, not even when she was away from the station for months. Pregnancy hormones on the one side, intimate physical contact with a friend on the other... I dunno. It doesn’t really seem to fit either character, and it’s never as funny as it needs to be to justify itself. While the pregnancy swap was a clever way to keep Nana Visitor on the show, it hasn’t lent itself to exciting storylines, and this is no exception. There are a few laughs, but mostly it just doesn’t work.

Thankfully, the main plot, with Worf seeing and immediately falling for Grilka (Mary Kay Adams), a Klingon woman and head of household who we haven’t seen since “The House Of Quark,” is more effective. It’s still wafer thin, but there are some legitimate laughs, and the development of Worf and Dax’s relationship is welcome. The set-up: Grilka arrives on the station with her bodyguard and her maester (or whatever he’s called) in tow, to ask Quark for some help looking over her accounts. The war with the Federation has hit the House of Grilka hard, and she needs to pick up extra cash anyway she can. But this is an almost entirely irrelevant plot detail, introduced at the beginning to give Grilka a reason for being on the station, and then forgotten. It’s worth mentioning only because it’s a reminder how well the show uses it’s big story arc to connect smaller, less important stories together. Quark wooing Grilka has nothing to do with the fight against the Founders, but at least we’re reminded that the machinations the Founders have set in motion effect everything in ways that are impossible to predict.

Worf being Worf, he sets about pitching woo in the appropriate Klingon fashion, ie shouting and picking fights and insulting Grilka’s companions. He’s quickly informed that his attentions are not wanted; given the standing of his house, there’s no way Grilka could entertain a proposal from him without severely hurting her own standing in the Empire. This bums Worf out, and he turns to Dax for comfort, which Dax provides as best she can, all the while politely questioning Worf’s affections for the lady. Which, even if she wasn’t interested in Worf herself, would be a reasonable thing to do. Worf has never so much as conversed with Grilka before he decides she’s his everything, and while that’s necessary for the plot to unfold the way it does, it makes him look like a star-crossed idiot. Maybe if Worf was 15 years-old, this would be reasonable, but he isn’t; he’s been married, and had a kid, and dated other women, so he’s had some experience. It’s possible to hand-wave this as a case of loneliness and over-compensating for exile (Worf is still struggling with being alone, so of course he’d be attracted to someone he sees as representing the highest ideals of Klingon culture), but really, he’s drawn to Grilka so that when Quark comes by looking for some tips on how to seduce a Klingon female, Worf can go full Cyrano on him.

Using plotlines from classic drama is a time-worn tradition on television (and in literature and theater and film), and it often yields terrific results; the only drawback is that it can take a bit of character shifting to make everyone fit into the appropriate roles. Quark really really wanting to have sex with Grilka makes sense from their last encounter, and Dax basically just hangs out in the background, offering advice and occasional sarcasm. (She’s like a living Twitter feed!) But Worf’s infatuation could’ve used a little more justification, given that he’s been so stand-offish and private since arriving on DS9. Which isn’t to say the feelings don’t make sense, or that his desire for privacy indicates some fundamental lack of interest in sex; just that the episode is so eager to get to the loopy, “Worf feeds Quark some info about Klingon mating, and Quark keeps digging himself in deeper” angle that it has to use character shortcuts. Viewed from another angle, this is a sad but ultimately redemptive story about how Worf’s devotion to a culture that keeps shutting him out leads him to a relationship with an actual equal. That it’s largely played for laughs isn’t inherently bad, but it does come across as a bit thin.

There’s also the fact that Grilka barely registers. At one point, Dax takes Worf to task for worshipping an ideal, but given how little we see of the real thing, and how much of her on-screen time is spent responding to Quark/Worf’s overtures, it’s hard to see Grilka as anything but. She got more to do in “The House Of Quark,” so I guess there’s some history established, and it’s not like this episode is really about her, but the idea of essentially finding a way into a woman’s bed through a series of specific, pre-planned gestures blurs the line between romantic engagement and a Leisure Suit Larry game (or just The Game, I guess), and the fact that Grilka simply exists to be coveted makes the whole thing a little on the awkward side. Still, Mary Kay Adams gives her role some winning energy, and it’s clear from the start that she’s doing exactly what she wants to do; Quark doesn’t trick her into sex so much as he works very, very hard to give her a reason to jump him, and when she does, there’s no question who’s the aggressor. In fact, there’s something charming about the way Grilka and Dax’s stories both climax (heh) with women putting the moves on men. In the last scene, Quark, Worf, and Dax all check themselves into the infirmary after violent bouts of love-making, and while in theory this could’ve been disturbing, it’s all played cheerfully, like most everything else in the hour. Worf asks Dax what their hook-up means in the long term, but Dax doesn’t want to commit just yet. Of course she doesn’t. It’s not that kind of episode.

Stray observations:

  • Kira’s long, increasingly romantic description of her friend’s house on Bajor is a very well-played joke. I love how both O’Brien and Kira get more incredulous as it goes on.
  • Odo and Kira are having their meetings still! That’s nice. (Also, is it just me or is Odo smiling more often now that he’s a solid?)
  • “War. What is it good for. If you ask me, absolutely nothing.” -Quark, getting his Edwin Starr on.
  • “I will apologize for this at a later time.” -Worf, right before picking a fight with Morn in order to attract Grilka’s attention.
  • Oh, and Worf uses a thingie so he can control Quark’s actions while Quark fights with Grilka’s bodyguard. I’m not sure how this works, because I don’t know how Worf can see what the bodyguard is doing during the fight, but the fight scene was entertaining.

“Nor To The Battle The Strong” (season five, episode four; originally aired 10/21/1996)

In which Jake gets in over his head…

Note to aspiring journalists/writers/artists/fools: never, ever get excited about getting to the good stuff. Never look forward to your first war. Never complain about the dull tedium of normal, not-getting-shot-at living, because really all you’re doing is complaining that your skin is still solid enough to keep your organs in. Do your best to treasure peace, quiet, tedious life, because if you don’t, God or whomever is in charge of ironic fates will use your ignorance as an excuse to ruin your life. Maybe you’ll get away with only some bad memories and the taste of shame coating the next five thousand meals. Maybe you’ll lose the use of your legs. It’s one of the unbreakable laws of drama that eventually, hubris must be punished, and while you may learn some important lessons about the cost of fighting, and what death really looks like, you’re better off just staying in bed. If you don’t, you’ll probably have to meet some guy named Steve, and he’ll tell you about the girl he left behind, and then you’ll watch his face get blown off.

To be fair, it’s not like Jake Sisko was doing anything that wrong. We haven’t had a ton of Jake-centric episodes the past couple of seasons, and one of them (“The Muse”) was probably one of the worst hours I’ve seen on the show; but between “Nor To The Battle The Strong” and “The Visitor,” the character can definitely work, particularly when he’s put in situations where he’s observing a situation and trying to come to terms with his place in it. In “The Visitor,” Jake was on the outside of his father’s situation, just as his father was on the outside of the timeline, and over the course of his life, the younger Sisko struggled with what it’s like to be someone actually stuck inside one of those crazy time travel stories that have been with the franchise from the beginning. In this latest episode, he visits a war zone with Dr. Bashir, at first interested in recording the situation for an article he’s supposed to write, but almost immediately becoming involved with what’s happening, and learning about parts of himself he would’ve rather kept hidden. In both cases, it's Jake’s awareness of himself that both help him keep going, and punish him. In “The Visitor,” a less empathetic man, a man incapable of imagining what life might be like for his father, skipping like a stone across the decades, might have moved on, or treated the intervals as some kind of religious experience. In “Battle,” someone less inclined to observe might have had an easier time doing what needed to be done; and someone less relentlessly introspective would’ve been less troubled by his cowardice in the face of physical danger.

Unfortunately, Jake’s positioned in just the right place to find himself in Hell, and “Battle” does a surprisingly unsparing job of putting him there. Things unfold in a predictable enough fashion, at least at first. Jake and Bashir are returning in a roundabout after attending a medical conference; Bashir delivered a presentation at the conference, and Jake has a job writing an article about him. It’s not going well, despite Bashir’s effusiveness, mostly because Jake is bored, and doesn’t understand half of what the good doctor is throwing at him. But then the roundabout gets a distress signal from a nearby planet; the Klingons have attacked a system, casualties are flooding in, there’s a hospital that needs help, that sort of thing. Bashir wants to bring Jake back to the station before going to assist, but Jake pleads to come along. To his mind, this is a terrific opportunity to get to write the kind of article he wants to write, something thrilling and intense and passionate about the dangers of life in the trenches.

In case you forgot my opening paragraph, what happens next is some totally expected bubble-bursting. The hospital is underground, and in constant, chaotic flux. Patients scream from beds, or lie slumped over against rocks, dead or dying, and there are always more coming in. Wherever Jake stands, he’s always in someone’s way, and eventually he’s given up on note-taking and is just helping out as best he can, mostly carrying the injured too and from beds, and, occasionally, the morgue. (Which is just a big cavern off to one side full of bags.) Given that Jake is a good kid, and a smart one, the transition from “Golly gee, a war!” to “Dear god, make it stop” is a quick one, and for a while, at least, he’s contributing, just another member of the team, wearing the same scrubs as everyone else. And yeah, this is all pretty familiar. I don’t mean that as a detriment, either; this was well done, and there was an efficiency and professionalism to everyone that made the insanity of the conflict just beyond them all the more apparent.

Then things take a turn. It starts with a patient Jake is trying to help, a young Starfleet cadet with a broken foot. He claims it was injured by falling rocks, but Bashir scans the wound and discovers it was made by phaser fire. Jake stays with the cadet for a few moments, and you realize that the reason the man lied about his injury was because it was self-inflicted. He saw what was happening, he saw all the dying and the screaming around him, and he just couldn’t handle it, so he shot himself in the foot. As he explains, this was very tricky work, and took some planning. Maybe that’s how he justifies it to himself. He may be a coward, but at least he isn’t lazy.

Jake doesn’t seem much bothered by this; he chats with Kirby (Andrew Kavovit), another body-hauler, and they discuss how bad things are going to get. Back on Deep Space Nine, Sisko has learned that the Klingon attack has crossed over into the same zone as the hospital where Bashir and Jake are working. Sisko immediately leaves with Dax on the Defiant to come to the rescue, but long before they get there, a Klingon bombardment knocks out power in the caves. Bashir and Jake offer to go get the portable generator out of their runabout (which they landed nearby, since leaving it in orbit would have made too tempting a target), and when they go outside, they’re almost immediately bombarded by exploding shells. In the middle of the assault, Bashir gets ahead of Jake, and is knocked down by shell. Jake hesitates for a split-second, and then turns tail and runs blindly away.

The moment isn’t overplayed or even underlined; when it happened, I wasn’t immediately sure if we were supposedly to think Jake had reacted out of panicky fear, or if he’d just assumed Bashir was dead, or what. That’s important, because while Jake never entirely forgives himself for his behavior, there’s little sense that the moral framework of the episode is designed to punish him. Yes, it would have been more heroic for him to rush forward and try and help his friend, but that decision wasn’t one he had that much conscious control over. That’s one of the reasons the immediacy of war is so horrifying; it can reduce anyone to a frightened animal, acting purely on instinct. Things get worse when Jake finds a soldier bleeding to death in the mud on the side of a hill. The soldier’s teeth-grinding intensity could’ve come across as camp, but it doesn’t—instead, it just feels like the next step in a nightmare that goes on and on. Jake can’t even stop the guy from dying. He can’t even give himself the illusion that, by running this way, he made the smart choice because he was able to save a life. The guy just dies, in horrible pain, and Jake starts running again. (According to the IMDB cast page, the guy is Chief Burke, played by Danny Goldring. He looks like they beamed him in from Vietnam circa 1969.)

Jake is a wreck for the rest of the episode, mumbling and sullen around people who had become his friends, unable to tell Bashir what had really happened, and finally snapping at Kirby and the others when he can’t stand their jokes about dying anymore. We don’t get to know the hospital staff of “Battle” in-depth, but we know them just well enough to like them, and the script does a fine job giving just enough of a sketch of everyone to imagine they were spun out of some completely different show. They deal with war the way combat docs on TV always do, with a lot of callow jokes and long nights, and there’s something very human and beaten in the way Jake blows up at them. There’s no easy resolution to all of this, either. The Klingons finally arrive in the caves, and everyone escapes, but Jake gets inadvertently left behind. He grabs a phaser lying on a desk, ducks behind cover, and starts firing wildly around. It’s not an action hero moment, and when his blind-firing happens to bring down a large part of the ceiling on the attacking Klingons’ heads, it’s a matter of luck that he doesn’t kill himself in the process.

This is not an episode intent on lecturing us about much of anything. Yes, there’s a definitely impression of the horrors of combat, but it’s presented almost as a simple matter of fact, just this thing that’s happening that these people have to deal with. It’s not like the Federation started the war; and weirdly, there’s not a lot of raging against the Klingons either (not any, if I remember right). War is more like a natural element, a constant presence, and Jake learns, to his horror, that crisis does not lead inevitably to transcendence. The only peace he finds in the end is by writing it all down, and being as honest and straightforward as possible, because that’s who he is. To me, “Battle” comes down to the fact that people like Jake are just as valuable as people like Bashir and Captain Sisko and Kira and the rest, and that the great value of civilization is that it builds cities and creates laws and turns on the lights to protect people who don’t always know what to do when the violence starts. Society exists so that cowards can become something more. Having the Federation, and a loving father, allows someone like Jake to exist, and, better still, find his way home.

Stray observations:

  • “Listen to me, I’m actually rooting for the plague.” -Jake, being self-aware.
  • I unironically love Jake’s civilian clothes. That coat is amazing.
  • There’s a bit more with Sisko and Dax on the Defiant—she tells him a story about one of her past lives which is only mildly comforting—but while it’s nicely acted, I wonder if the episode would’ve been better off without it. Anytime we leave Jake, some of the intensity gets lost. I can understand not wanting to go all out on a show like this, but it’s still frustrating. (I do like the idea that Odo injured himself because he forgot he was a solid.)
  • I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned before, but I like the idea that Klingons have no problem killing the wounded and civilians, because to them, that’s just an honorable death.

Next week: O’Brien gets “The Assignment,” and we take a trip back to a long time ago in “Trials And Tribble-ations.” 

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