Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Homecoming”/“The Circle”
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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Homecoming”/“The Circle”

“The Homecoming” (season 2, episode 1; originally aired 9/26/1993)
In which Kira and O’Brien rescue a hero who longs to be forgotten

There’s something comforting about “To Be Continued.” It’s a way of saying that the game isn’t over yet; nothing’s permanent, no decisions are final; no matter how bad it looks for the heroes, there will be another episode next week for everyone to come out okay. “To Be Continued” is exiting, too. It usually comes right after a cliffhanger, and even if most cliffhangers are more satisfying in the set-up than in the resolution, they’re still a lot of fun. Plus, a two (or in this case, three) part storyline is a break from the norm. It’s special, and it carries a certain weight, no matter how silly it might be in execution. But there’s something frustrating about this as well. When I was a kid, they used to show Batman reruns on Sundays, which was great. Even better, they aired two in a row. Since every Batman was part of a two-parter, it should’ve been a perfect fit, except the local affiliate which showed the reruns didn’t really give a crap, and the episodes never aired in sequence. So every Sunday, I’d see Batman escape from death traps and wander into other death traps, without any continuity between the two. It was disconcerting. Nothing ever felt complete or fully resolved. I was always walking in on a story too early to see the end, or too late to know how it all got started.

These days, with internet streaming and DVRs, it’s a lot easier to watch things in order, which I find comforting. But there’s an essential incompleteness to a “To Be Continued” structure, one that pervades even when watching part two is as easy as clicking on the next entry in my Netflix queue. Of the two episodes we cover this week, “The Homecoming” comes the closest to being a full story in its own right. We’re given a clear plot hook, a goal, and, once that goal is accomplished, a decent exploration of the consequences. If it weren’t for the last scene, when Kira loses her job on the station to the Bajoran resistance leader she rescued from a Cardassian labor camp, this wouldn’t even need more than a single episode to play out. And in a way, that promise of continuation does this episode a disservice. Kira getting kicked out so early in the season is a surprise, and while it’s reasonable to assume she’d be back eventually, keeping a certain ambiguity would’ve been a strong choice for the show. Instead, that “To Be Continued...” pops up, and we know she’ll be back in a week or two. In its first season, Deep Space Nine embraced a loose serialization that worked fairly well, throwing out occasionally information but never straining too hard to make sure every episode was directly connected to what came before. At the start of the second season, they’re taking the more direct approach, for good and for ill.

“The Homecoming” doesn’t waste any time catching up. The cold open has Quark and Odo squabbling; Quark gets an earring from an alien hottie who wants him to deliver the item to Bajor; then Quark gives the earring to Kira (without asking for anything in exchange, which has to violate half a dozen Rules of Acquisition), and we’re off to the races. Once again, Kira is confronted by some evidence of her past, in this case, proof of life of a resistance leader named Li Nalas (Richard Beymer, the West Side Story and Twin Peaks alum who isn’t Russ Tamblyn). But while Kira is important to the episode (and even more important to the middle entry of this three-parter), this isn’t really about her struggling to come to terms with the difference between the Bajor that was and the Bajor that is. This is more about Sisko struggling with the conflicts which came to light at the end of the last season. The Bajor that is, is a mess. Many Bajorans still struggle against the Federation presence, and while this is foolish on their part, it makes a certain kind of sense. This is a people who’ve spent decades under the cruel oppression of an outside force. It stands to reason they’re going to be suspicious of any new force that takes the oppressor’s place, regardless of the fact that the Federation is non-interfering and the only thing keeping the Cardassians at bay.

To represent the part of the population that wants Sisko and the others gone, we have the Alliance For Global Unity, otherwise known as the Circle. The Circle doesn’t make an official appaerance until part two, but they make their presence known early on when O’Brien finds the group’s symbol spray painted on a wall in the station. It’s a smart way to let the audience know that despite the general warm fuzziness at the end of “Prophets,” Sisko’s job remains as complicated as ever. This even creeps into his personal life; Jake scores a date with a Bajoran girl, only to have her cancel when her father decides he doesn’t want his daughter making time with Federation folks. This is all fairly heavy-handed, but it’s effective. Again, we see the difference between DS9 and a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TNG, Picard would’ve given a speech (much like Sisko did), and then the Enterprise would have left, leaving us to assume that everything worked out okay after that for whatever planet of the week had gotten into trouble. Everyone on DS9, no one gets to just walk away. It’s a terrific metaphor for the difference between a standalone show and a serialized one. The former has the advantage of freedom and variety; the latter benefits from the sense that every action reverberates, and that no answer is ever going to be as simple as we’d like it to be. (As Doc Manhattan once said, “Nothing ever ends.”)

All of this is mostly background information in “The Homecoming.” The story here is focused on Nalas. Kira and O’Brien spearhead the rescue mission, and while it doesn’t take up a whole lot of time, it’s good TV. I don’t think Kira and O’Brien have spent much time together before, and they play off each other well, largely because of O’Brien’s level-headed refusal to be much upset about anything. With Sisko’s approval, they take a runabout to Cardassia Four and attempt what can charitably be described as a low-fi guerrilla assault, if you can call something with a space-ship and laser guns “low-fi.” Kira pretends she’s a prostitute and O’Brien is her pimp, which is fun (and I hadn’t realized how skinny Nana Visitor was), but the most important part to take away from this sequence is how devoted everyone is to Nalas. One of his fellow prisoners is responsible for smuggling Nalas’s earring off planet, in hopes someone would see it and recognize it; that same prisoner, along with several others, volunteers to give his life to buy time for Nalas to escape. We’ve already heard Kira wax rhapsodic over Nalas’s importance, but now we’ve seen the effect he has on other people first hand.

It’s an effect that Sisko hopes he can use to help strengthen the provisional government, and ease tensions between the Federation and Bajor. Except Li doesn’t act all that eager to jump into a position of command. He appears more tired than anything else, and while it’s not hard to understand why (labor camps don’t look like fun places to hang out), it’s hard to reconcile this man with the fervent devotion his words have inspired. He’s not a bad public speaker, he has a level of gravitas and sincerity, and yet he lacks Kira’s passion, or any apparent desire to re-invest himself in planetary politics. It’s tempting to think his spirit has been broken, but as we learn in a late episode scene between Li and Sisko, it’s more complicated than that. He never really had a spirit to begin with. He got the role of Supreme Rebel Bad-Ass almost entirely by accident, and now that he’s back, he wants nothing to do with authority or leadership or inspiration.

Li’s speech about shooting a Cardassian in his underwear is effective, and Beymer delivers it well. It’s curiously unsurprising to find that yet another one of Kira’s heroes has feet of clay, and while I can understand the idea--the rebellion needed symbols as much, if not more, than it needed actual brilliant leadership--it’s a little too thematically neat all the same. It makes the Bajorans look a bit like the idiots in Life Of Brian, so desperate for a messiah they’ll latch onto anyone, and while I appreciate the cynicism of that, it would’ve been nice if Nalas had been a little more competent. Then again, he doesn’t make any major mistakes between this episode and next, so it could be he’s trying to dodge responsibility by exaggerating his pointlessness; maybe all a leader needs to be really great is some patience, and the ability to say “Yes” to the right people.

“The Homecoming” is solid, if unspectacular. The performances are good, and the episode never feels overly padded, in the way that multi-part Trek episodes so often do. If I had a complaint, it’s that DS9 has proven itself capable of greater complexity last season, and this episode, while rife with difficult situations, never really puts us in the position of having to make difficult choices. The Circle is obviously bad news, and while they aren’t an easy threat to shrug off, there’s no question that Sisko and the others won’t find some way of dealing with them, a way that won’t cost them much in the way of sleepless nights. There’s good drama in this episode, and the sudden appearance of Frank Langella in the last ten minutes, playing the presumably (future self: definitely) malevolent Minister Jaro, is a welcome and completely unexpected surprise. But there’s something missing, some final push of energy to go from “decent” to “Holy #$^.” I think it’s connected with that “To Be Continued.” At the end of the hour, Kira has been replaced by Nalas, and while Li doesn’t appear to be up to anything, Jaro, clearly, has designs. But in case anyone was going to get uncomfortable or nervous or tense, the show reassures us, all of this will be resolved shortly. The eels do not eat the princess at this time.

Stray observations:

  • I’d say the episode’s biggest out and out misstep is the group of Circle members who attack Quark and brand his forehead. It’s a creepy scene to be sure, but it doesn’t make much tactical sense (why put the pressure on him, of all people?).

“The Circle” (season 2, episode 2; originally aired 10/3/1993)
In which Kira has visions, and Frank Langella is not to be trusted

Did we ever have a scene of gloating villains on TNG? We must have, surely, but I can’t remember anything quite as striking as the conversation between Jaro and Vedek Winn which comes near the end of this episode. It’s not a terrific scene, exactly; seeing Louise Fletcher and Langella work with each other is a lot of fun, but the slow, stolid tone which haunts much of the rest of the episode holds them back here, as they renew their terrible, potentially Bajor-destroying alliance. But it’s definitely striking, because it offers something this multi-part epic had been lacking: a glimpse into the villains’ heads, to give us some sort of context in which they aren’t actually the bad guys. For all their ambitions and striving, I’m not sure Jaro or Winn really consider themselves to be evil, and it’s important to get a sense of their plotting beyond the danger they pose to our heroes. And yet, while both actors fill their lines with unspoken nuance and insinuation (these two had to’ve been screwing at some point, right?), I came away from the conversation not knowing much more than I’d suspected going in.

Worse, it’s still difficult to justify either character’s behavior in terms of actual consequences. Winn wants to be Kai, and Jaro wants to rule all, and to accomplish this, both believe they need to get rid of the Federation presence on Bajor. That’s all well and good, but without the Federation around, the Cardassians will come back, and we never get the sense that either Winn or Jaro is planning for that eventuality. It makes them look shortsighted and stupid, and while bad guys don’t need to be super geniuses, it’s hard to believe either of these characters--whose villainy is so clearly based on their talent for manipulation and plotting--would be so blinded by their arrogance. This alone doesn’t kill the episode, and on the whole “The Circle” isn’t bad; it’s a step down from “The Homecoming,” in that it lacks a certain cohesion, but it builds up a good head of steam, and the ending makes much better cliffhanger than last episode’s minor concern over Kira’s job placement. But like the previous episode, there are a lot of shortcuts which undermine the story’s potential for ambiguity.

There are revelations aplenty in “The Circle,” and each one serves to simplify the crisis which threatens to overtake Bajor and the station. Odo, determined to figure out who’s selling weapons to the Circle, deputizes Quark on the assumption that he can get information which Odo doesn’t have access to. And he’s right; Quark quickly determines the Circle is buying weapons from Kressari traders, but when O’Brien searches the Kressari ship, he doesn’t find anything out of the ordinary or weapon-ish on board. Odo does his shape-shifting trick and stows-away after the Kressari leave the station, and learns that they’re buying material from the Cardassians to sell to the Bajoran revolutionaries. This isn’t unbelievable. Assuming the Cardassians still want possession of Bajor (nose-ridge fetishists?), they can’t very well openly make war against the Federation, but they can secretly encourage political strife which will force the Federation to leave. But it’s a disappointing twist, because it simplifies the conflict. The Circle has to be stopped, not just because they’re dangerous zealots, but because they’re the tools of the really, really bad guys. There’s no moral gray area here. Bajor has to be saved from itself.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jaro is the one behind the Circle, a power-hungry politician bent on manipulating an insecure populace to his own ends. This isn’t a new character type, and while it certainly isn’t an inherently awful one, it once again serves to draw obvious lines in the sand between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” and it does so in the least interesting way possible. We even discovery Jaro’s treachery via a damsel-in-distress sequence, when Kira is kidnapped from the monastery and brought to the bad guy’s secret underground lair. Jaro gets a gloating speech. Langella makes it work, because Langella doesn’t gloat so much as purr, but it’s disappointing to watch a difficult situation shake out into easy-to-follow solutions. Jaro must be defeated, and the Bajorans need to know that the Circle was supplied by Cardassians in an attempt to undermine their newfound freedom. While the immediate threat is certainly daunting, there’s none of the psychological profundity which the show gave us glimpses of last season. I’m sure Sisko will have to stay up long hours to win this one, but I doubt he’ll be losing any sleep over it.

While “The Circle” is disappointingly clear-cut, it’s not a failure of an episode by any means. As I said, I don’t think it’s quite as well-constructed as “The Homecoming,” but since it serves as the mid-point of a trilogy, that’s to be expected. Kira’s kidnapping is a goofy piece of unnecessary padding (Jaro wants her to tell him what Sisko will do after he takes control of Bajor; surely there are others he might have asked?), but up until then, her storyline had been intriguing, as she tried to find a role for herself off of DS9. There’s a fun scene early in the episode in which every major character on the show except Sisko comes by Kira’s apartments while she’s packing, and demands to know why she’s leaving without a fight. It’s frantic, and too aggressively silly at times, but it does give us a satisfying sense of how close all of these people are. One of the key signs of a strong ensemble is when a scene like this--one which relies on the assumption that the camaraderie is believable--plays without feeling forced, and the affection between Kira and the others here comes off as natural and charming. I’m less charmed by the sudden development of a potential relationship between Kira and Vedek Bareil, largely because Bareil has all the screen presence of a petrified tree stump. I’m not sure if he’s trying to seduce her or lead her to a higher path when he gives her a chance to view her destiny through an Orb, but whatever his reasons, zzzzzzzzz. Kira’s Orb vision was as weirdly suggestive and non-committal as prophetic fantasy sequences always are, and I appreciate how everything we saw (up to and including the nakedness) could either have been a suggestion of things to come, or simply commentary on the issues Kira was already dealing with. Either way, it made Kira’s next scene with Bareil very awkward, and I’m sure she was glad for any excuse to get away, even if it was a kidnapping.

While the episode is mostly about setting up all the pins to get knocked down next week, it never turned into a chore, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t rank either of these hours as highpoints of my DS9 viewing so far, but they work on the fundamental level that stories like this absolutely have to work: I want to know what happens next. And even though I’m disappointed that the conflict became as straightforward as it did, I have to hand to “The Circle” for giving as a cliffhanger which sets up precisely the right sort of expectations. After rescuring Kira from Jaro’s clutches, Sisko learns that his hands in the matter of the Circle vs. Bajor are officially tied. It’s another Prime Directive issue: despite the Cardassian involvement, the Federation can’t take a direct hand in resolving a civil dispute. A group of Bajoran assault ships are headed to Deep Space Nine to take command, and Sisko has resolved to stall as long as he can, in the hopes that he and the others can come up with some kind of solution that will keep them on the station, and Bajor out of Cardassian hands. It’s a dangerous situation, but the danger is immediate and clear, and while the odds are against them, they aren’t impossible. I hope the show expands its ambitions down the road, but for right now, I’m looking forward to a good fight.

Stray observations:

  • Li Nalas is hanging around this episode, fitting in well. It’s a credit to the episode that he doesn’t turn out to be a traitor or secretly working with Jaro. I put the odds on him heroically sacrificing himself next week at five to one.
  • I love how inept Kira is at relaxing.

Next week: We finish this three-parter with “The Siege,” and remember Dax is on this show with “Invasive Procedures.”  

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