“Blaze Of Glory” (season 5, episode 23; originally aired 5/12/1997)
In which Eddington goes down in a—wait for it…
(Available on Netflix and Amazon.)
Did Eddington have to die? From a story perspective, I’d say no, not really; while his betrayal of his duties and decision to join up with the Maquis was shocking, it wasn’t such a wrenching horror that it needed a fatality to balance the equation. Sisko’s obsessive pursuit ended up putting the man behind bars, and that would’ve been a perfectly reasonable place to leave it, with Eddington jailed and forced to watch as his former friends are hunted down and killed. The character was a good one (a bit of a cipher, but his sudden heel turn made him much more interesting), but not so memorable as to require a more definitive resolution than “He lost.” Structurally, he was used most effectively as a goad for his nemesis, a way to show Sisko in a determined, slightly less flattering light. Basically, he was never the main character of this tale, and not even a show-stealing secondary figure like Garak. He had a function, and he served it, and no more was required. I even feel like this paragraph explaining things is getting redundant.
But psychologically speaking? Yeah, he had to go. While it’s a trait that was only really established in “For The Uniform” and this episode, Eddington was someone who had molded his life to fit a very specific kind of arc. Sisko used this against him in their previous confrontation, reasoning that Eddington had a deep, unshakable need to be the hero; exploiting that need made him vulnerable. It’s a nifty concept, made all the more intriguing by how little the show seems to judge him for his apparent narcissism. Sisko is dismissive of Eddington’s political beliefs, and we usually trust Sisko, but this case is a cloudy one; the captain’s judgement is questionable, if only because it’s obvious that Eddington drives him up a fucking wall. Eddington is a self-righteous twerp, and yet, while I’d be willing to bet that the writers were much more sympathetic to Sisko’s point of view, Eddington gets to fulfill his self-assumed destiny. He gets to play the tragic hero, doomed to see much of what he loves destroyed, but able in his last moments to save some small remnant of that which he strove to protect. And then he gets shot a lot and dies.
It’s all built on a twist that plays with our expectations of how cold opens work; the real meat of the episode is the verbal sparring between its two leads, but it’s clever how long the episode is able to string us along with what turns out to be utter bullshit. In the opening scenes, Martok brings an intercepted communication to Sisko, a video message addressed to “Michael” from an apparent Maquis member, telling “Michael” that the missiles have been launched. As Martok explains, the Klingon Empire had briefly teamed up with the Maquis to try and use them against the Cardassians, giving them cloaking devices which could have potentially been attached to weapons, making those weapons impossible to detect as they soared through space. With what Sisko already knows about the Maquis’s equipment, he realizes it would be possible for the group to launch an unstoppable attack on Cardassia, killing millions of civilians, and almost certainly pissing off the Dominion enough to start a war.
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This is all fake, a ruse concocted by Eddington and his people to give them a last chance out should things take a turn for the worse. As a reveal, it happens a little too quickly to be more powerful than a “Oh. Huh,” moment, but it’s impressive in retrospect how obvious the phoniness of that “missile” story really was. There was just enough plausibility to ensure that Sisko had to get involved, and that he had to contact Eddington (Michael Eddington, to be sure), and that he had to then take Eddington to where Eddington needed to go without realizing what he was doing. But when you think about it, a single intercepted communication can mean just about anything. With Martok’s reveal about the cloaking devices (a nice, casual reminder about just how confusing all of this can be; your friends were once your enemies, your enemies may know your friends), the whole situation becomes critical even though there’s really no concrete reason to believe that message was telling the truth. The Maquis have gone to extremes before, but they aren’t monsters, and they aren’t fools. But Eddington manages to create a story that makes it look like they could be.
The middle of the episode is a chunk of screentime with Sisko and Eddington stuck on a runabout together, bantering back and forth and threatening to kill each other as you do. Both actors have a heightened performance style, with Sisko’s off-beat theatricality playing against Eddington’s Agent Smith-like over-enunciation in ways that, while a little exhausting, are nonetheless entertaining to watch. As with their previous conflicts, the psychological depths of these exchanges is less important than the energy with which both sides rant. Sometimes, outside perspectives can offer fresh insight on recurring characters, but here, Eddington’s assumptions about what drives Sisko come across as one more smoke screen, one more layer of narrative trickery. Sisko’s remarks—about how Eddington’s ego helped destroy the Maquis, by promising them more than they could hope to achieve—seem a little more dead on, although even then, it’s not like anyone could’ve seen the Dominion/Cardassian team-up coming. (Well, apart from Sisko in his magic prophet dreams.) But mostly, this just plays like theater. Sisko’s the tough cop who needs help from the crook he helped put away; Eddington is the crook, still seething over the injustice that landed him behind bars. Even Eddington’s promise to kill Sisko once their partnership concludes plays feels rote.
But maybe that’s just another part of the fake plot; Eddington so clearly relishes his role as a real life Dungeonmaster that it’s not hard to imagine him trying to embellish the script with a few touches he picked up off of old pulp fiction. “Blaze Of Glory” works best as a farewell to a character who only became interesting when he decided to reshape his own plotline, a working drudge who barely registered on audiences until the writers decided to let him re-invent himself. While there’s some tragedy here—Eddington’s wife (he has a wife) looks very sad at the end, and there are a lot of dead Maquis in that Jem’Hadar infested base—the tragedy doesn’t land as hard as that feeling of meta construction, of an end built out of the spare parts of a dozen similar bad-ass conclusions. I doubt Eddington went to rescue his friends and loved ones with the intention of sacrifice himself for their safety, but notice how quickly he’s willing to stay behind after getting shot. Sure, he’s probably right. He probably would’ve slowed the others down. But like so much of the rest of the episode, that choice was made long before the situation ever arose. Eddington knew his story, and he stuck to it. In a way, he won, although that doesn’t make him less dead.
- This week’s minor subplot: Nog believes the Klingons don’t respect him, Sisko suggests confronting them about it, Nog does, and Martok starts calling him “Cadet” instead of ignoring he exists. Very minor stuff indeed, with a nicely low-key ending that fits in loosely with the episode theme of forcing your own view of yourself on the world. Nog feels he’s worthy of respect, and even if not everyone agrees, he’ll be damned if he accepts it.
- The Badlands that Sisko and Eddington fly through on their way to the former Maquis base looked pretty darn cool.
- There’s a reference to Morn going crazy after Quark starts openly worrying about the future of the station. A decent joke that also suggests how tense things are becoming on DS9; even though the missile threat is a hoax, the Dominion is still out there, and war is still most likely on its way.
- Cal Hudson, Sisko’s friend who turned out to be part of the Maquis in the second season, is dead.
- Midway through the episode, Eddington asks Sisko if he still has Eddington’s a coin, his “lucky loonie.” As casual banter goes, it’s very random; I only note it here in case for some strange reason the damn things comes up again, and makes me look like a genius for noticing it.
- “In a way, he was the most loyal man I ever met.” -Sisko on Eddington
“Empok Nor” (season 5, episode 24; originally aired 5/19/1997)
In which Garak gets high and O’Brien suffers for it…
(Available on Netflix and Amazon.)
Here’s another episode whose set up, in broad outlines, could easily have been used on a different Trek series (just off the top of my head, I can remember Next Generation turned Worf into a monster in “Genesis”), but is helped considerably by the choice of characters involved, the history they share, and the history of the show in general. A stalk-in-the-dark horror/sci-fi piece with a surprisingly high body count, “Empok Nor” is creepy, thrilling, and horrifying by turns; the script’s only real failing is in a refusal to go much deeper under the surface of its premise than tension requires. This is, if you can get past the murders and the reminder of the lengths the Cardassian government will go to get the most out of its soldiers, a simple story. Expecting to find a station full of booby traps, O’Brien and his team find, instead, a science experiment gone wrong, one that inadvertently turns Garak from secretive but largely trustworthy ally into a homicidal monster. That’s pretty much it, and, give or take a few deaths, it unfolds about as you’d expect.
About those deaths: fans of the original series know that the franchise has a long history of killing off expendable grunts in order to make the main threat seem more, well, threatening. This practice was eschewed somewhat for TNG, but DS9 has been more than willing to kill for the sake of good storytelling. The main difference being, this show puts a bit more effort in to making sure the soon to be dead have just enough personality to trick you into thinking they might not die. This works especially well in “Empok Nor,” or at least it did on me; no one in the group O’Brien takes to the abandoned Cardassian space station is a familiar face, and none of them get much more than a quick sketch of personality, but watching them get taken down one by one is still a shock, leading up to the moment when Garak, having taken out what appeared to be this week’s monster, turns into the monster himself. This is almost too much, especially considering the pains the writers had gone to earlier in the season to establish. There’s little to separate Pechetti, Stolzoff, Boq’Ta and the rest from the usual grist to the mill; they are essentially cannon fodder. But that little difference is enough to change the tone of the episode, especially the final exchange between O’Brien and Garak which, rather than make any of the story’s themes explicit, simply serves as a reminder of what’s been lost.
Still, as sad as it is to see all those nearly nameless warm bodies get murderalized, the real heart of the episode is the sparring between its two leads. This is where the script comes close to getting past the surface premise. O’Brien is doing work in Quark’s bar, when he discovers he needs a special kind of equipment to finish his repairs, and the only real place to get that piece of equipment is from Empok Nor, a nearby abandoned Cardassian station. Because Cardassians typically booby-trap their stations before leaving, Sisko convinces Garak to go along for the trip, on the assumption that the tailor will be able to dismantle any serious threat O’Brien and his team discover. Not a bad way into the meat of the plot, although it does raise the question of just how important that particular piece of equipment O’Brien needed was. Given how bad things got the last time someone stumbled over a Cardassian trap, it would’ve been nice to have a little more pressure on O’Brien to come up with the necessary fix.
The back and forth between Garak and O’Brien starts friendly enough, but as is so often the case with Garak, things get complicated. Even before he’s affected with the psychotropic drug that turns him into a killing machine, Garak is needling O’Brien about his time as a soldier, in that playful way Garak has where you can’t be entirely sure how much he’s kidding. This sets up subtext that turns deadly later on: the way war turns soldiers into unquestioning killers, and how certain kinds of behavior are permissible in combat that would not be acceptable in polite society. While Empok Nor has a few traps waiting for the engineering team, it’s biggest trick is the two frozen Cardassian soldiers lying in wait, heavily dosed with a substance that makes them into violent xenophobes. Even more than usual, even. It’s a freakishly plausible idea: the Cardassian government, looking to make their armies even more effective, developed a way to rise their hatred of the enemy to an almost blinding rage. While the episode doesn’t explicitly reference it, if you remember, O’Brien did have a bit of a history of hating on Cardassians just for being Cardassian. He’s mellowed in his years on the station, but there’s still that lingering uncertainty between him and Garak, and this crisis just brings that uncertainty out into the open.
And yet, as much as I dig, I can’t help but feel there really isn’t all that much going on in this one. The stalk and kill sequences are spooky enough, although having seen hundreds of similar sequences before, the bloom is off the rose by now for me. The episode does make great use of the eerie, underlit corridors of Empok Nor, a place that looks a lot like DS9 but is just off enough that you keep wondering where all the corners are, and who might jump of them. Garak’s transition from his chipper, duplicitous self to someone much grimmer and kill-happy is effectively done, and while the cause of his transformation is pretty obvious (that blue goo his sticks his hand on early in the hour, in a kind of “Oh, I guess this doesn’t mean anything” way that you know is going to come back later), it isn’t underlined. Garak’s craziness develops in ways that are subtle enough to make you feel clever for catching on to them, like how he starts sweating, and rubbing his neck, and loses his cool. And the moment when Garak finally goes from suspicious to outright villain is surprising, because it’s such a definitive, hopeless kind of reversal. Yay, the danger is gone! Oh no, now it’s something worse and I’m dead!
Garak’s fight against O’Brien is mildly disappointing, though, if only because it’s so prosiac. Garak kidnaps Nog, and O’Brien rigs his equipment to explode during their mano a mano confrontation, and that’s everything. I’m glad Garak survived, and I appreciate that nod I mentioned earlier to the hard facts of what happened; when O’Brien visits Garak in Sick Bay back on Deep Space 9, both men are clearly uncomfortable, but Garak asks O’Brien to send his condolences to the widow of the man he killed. In what is, for the most part, a minor but solid entry, that’s a good bit of realism, reminding us that just because we won’t think about any of those dead folks again, in the world of the show, they will be missed. Oh, and when Garak thanks O’Brien for not killing him, O’Brien admits (a little abashed, but not ashamed of himself) that the plan was to kill him, to which Garak can only nod understandingly. Maybe the only real message here is that in battle, survival is all that matters, so it’s a good idea to try and avoid battle as much as possible.
- No subplots this time, although Pechetti’s interest in Cardassian insignia had me thinking of people who collect Nazi memorabilia. You were a strange one, Perchetti.
- Interesting that Garak went to kill the Cardassian soldiers first. The last remnants of his sanity holding sway? Or did the drug simply make him hate everyone for different reasons?
- “You’re right. I’m an engineer.” An engineer who uses an explosion to defeat his enemy, but hey, the tools at hand, I guess.
Next week: We close out the fifth season (sniff) with “In The Cards” and “Call To Arms.”