“Paradise Lost” (season 4, episode 11; originally aired 1/8/1996)
In which Sisko has this crazy conspiracy theory…
The only real criticism I can think of for this episode is Admiral Leyton’s use of the Red Squad to carry out his plans. If you squint hard enough, it’s sort of justifiable. Leyton needs a group to sabotage the power relays, but it can’t be one that’ll question his orders, or one that he won’t be able to sufficiently manipulate and move around in the aftermath to cover his tracks. But still—the planet-wide blackout is one of the key parts of his master plan. To leave it in the hands of a bunch of cadets, no matter how well-trained and eager, seems to be inviting disaster. They’re the best of their class, and so they’ll probably pull it off, but even if they do, how are you going to make sure they never tell anyone? I’m sure Leyton told a great story, and I recognize power of authority, and the incredible pressure these young people are most likely under; given how hard it is for Sisko to go against his fellow officers, it’s not unimaginable that the students would have even greater qualms. Still, it’s a bit sloppy, especially seeing as how Leyton doesn’t start shifting personnel around until after Sisko is on to him. If it wasn’t for Nog, maybe he would’ve gotten away with it. But given how far the man was willing to go, it’s hard to accept he’d settle for a “maybe.”
Then again, you could say that the admiral wanted to get caught, not because he wanted someone to stop him, but because he didn’t think his actions were in any way wrong. Nitpicking about slightly over-convenient plot twists doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a powerful, grim continuation of the Dominion War arc, a worthy conclusion to last week’s cliffhanger, and a chance once again to see how Sisko handles himself in a crisis. And one of the reasons it’s so good is that the script makes sure that every character’s point of view is understandable, and even, if you’ve got enough empathy, sympathetic. Apart from the brief appearance of a cackling Changeling (who comes to Sisko in the form of O’Brien; I love the cruelty of that—“Here’s one of your most trusted officers! Next time you see him, I wonder who he’ll be?”) the villains of “Paradise Lost” are all too human, driven to rash acts by their own fears of a threat they still don’t understand. A threat which, in turn, understands those fears all too well.
This is as dark as Star Trek really gets, but I wouldn’t say it’s hopeless. Sisko does manage to set things somewhat right again in the end. A truly dark show would have Leyton be corrupt—he wouldn’t just be angling for more power because he wanted to protect Earth, he’s also be ambitious and greedy and monomaniacal. While it’s certainly possible to draw some unflattering conclusions from the soon-to-be-ex admiral’s behavior (like the fact that his stubborn refusal to listen to Sisko gets people killed), both his response to Sisko’s charges, and Sisko’s own internal struggle at turning on his co-workers and friends, keeps Leyton from being a monster. The real message of all of this was that crises bring out extreme reactions in people, and forcing people into situations where they feel they have to make bold, potentially dangerous choices to protect themselves and the things they care about. The more uncertain the threat, the wider ranging the variety of responses, and the harder it becomes to say, “No, this is going too far,” because how do you know? “Paradise Lost” takes a definite stand on the security measures initiated in last week’s episode; the admiral and his crew have created a false panic to force the president into granting them greater control, which makes it hard to argue that the martial law order was justified or particularly effective. But it’s still possible to follow the train of reasoning that led to this moment, and I’d argue that the respect that Sisko (and the script as a whole) still shows Leyton at the end is why I don’t think this is a cynical, or needlessly pessimistic, series. Optimism is wonderful, but in order for our ideals to have any weight or value, we have to acknowledge the cost of maintaining them. To pretend everything will work out in the end simply because everyone wants it to is almost as bad as pretending we’re all fucked so why bother caring?
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There’s a sense of anti-climax that runs throughout the episode, which isn’t rare in the second half of two-parters; what makes it work here is that the lack of proper explosion after all the build-up last week is worked into the story’s structural intentions. “Homefront” was all about raising our expectations for the coming fight, for the chance to finally see the true Changeling threat in all its glory, which meant the audience was anticipating the same thing Sisko and the others were. Ever since we first learned of the Founders, that shoe has been waiting to drop; each successive appearance by a shapeshifter or Jem’Hadar squadron promises potential doom, but it’s never immediately. Which makes sense, from the writers’ perspective. Depicting a constant, on-going war would change the nature of the show significantly, and if the planning didn’t go well, could put them in a box they couldn’t really get out of. But instead of making the series seem stagnate or stalling, it fits in neatly with the real design of the Changeling assault: death by attrition.
You can see this in the conversation between Sisko and the fake O’Brien, halfway through the episode. (Time approximate.) At first, the exchange seems like the weakest of authorial contrivances; after the shock of O’Brien’s appearance wears off, it’s easy to see this as just a cheesy excuse for the bad guys to get one last gloat in, to provide some exposition about their real plans before giggling off into the shadows. Yet this is exactly how the Changelings operate. Fake O’Brien doesn’t give up any key data: he tells Sisko there are possibly as few as four shapeshifters on the planet (not counting Odo), but there’s no way to verify this, and no reason for Sisko to trust him. And trusting him would just make it worse—as the Changeling points out, look how much they’ve accomplished with so few. Look how far their reach spreads, even before they stretch out their arms. The danger isn’t the brutal, mindless determination of the Borg, or the proud warrior Klingons, or the cunning Romulans. The Founders have their fighting force, but that force is as much valuable for the power it represents as it is in actual fact. This enemy looks to win by wearing away the foundations of whatever defines the cultures they wish to destroy. The war is not a war of combat. It’s a war of confidence. And if that doesn’t seem painfully relevant to us now, you haven’t been paying attention.
Everything works out okay for now, thankfully. Oh sure, the people who died on the Lakota and the Defiant aren’t coming back, but at least Leyton doesn’t get to carry out his plan and depose the president. (I say this episode is anticlimactic by design, but the writers are smart enough to throw in a space battle near the end, just to give us some action.) I love how much it pains Sisko to turn on his former commanding officer, and I love that he shares that pain with Odo; the constable doesn’t mention it, but I’m guessing he has some idea what it feels like to do the right thing by betraying the ones you dearly wish you could trust. But Sisko does the right thing in the end, because of course he does, and Leyton stands down, and the lights come back on. (Actually, they come back earlier in the hour, but I thought that sounded cool.) There are still some questions, though. Like how Leyton was able to fake that Sisko was a Changeling in order to arrest him under false charges. Or the bomb that started this whole mess—the explosion that seemed to be Changeling initiated, and yet happened at the same time as the wormhole openings and closings that Leyton initiated in order to raise the specter of a cloaked Jem’Hadar fleet. The biggest question being, what’s going to happen next? Sisko’s noble ideals are all very well and god, but the enemy is still out there. Even if the Federation doesn’t destroy itself, there are others who’ll be more than happy to do the job.
- President Jaresh-Inyo’s makeup design is impressive, but it doesn’t quite work for me; his face seems to have handles. He does look a bit like a Dr. Seuss character come to life, though, which I like.
- I wonder how the academy is going to feel for poor Nog; in spite of all his efforts to fit in, he’s now a snitch. Sisko didn’t give him much choice in the matter, either. (Sisko does not mess around when he wants information.)
- A nice exchange between Joe Sisko and Odo about Benjamin: “Is he always such a mother hen?” “He means well.” I like the subtle connection between Sisko’s need to make sure his father’s healthy, set against Leyton’s need to protect Earth; obviously the stakes are vastly different, but Sisko shows what kind of man he is by realizing he can’t force someone to protect themselves.
“Crossfire” (season 4, episode 12; originally aired 1/29/1996)
In which you can’t always get what you want, and getting what you need is probably out of the question too…
That, right there, is an incredibly generic episode title. It’s practically meaningless; there’s a suggestion of potential violence, and of someone getting caught in the violence, but apart from that, it has no poetry, no intrigue, no real excitement. “Crossfire” is an instantly forgettable name which does not in any way warn you of the hour to come. Although really, when you boil this one down to concrete events, what’s there to warn about? Kira’s old comrade Shakaar (First Minister Shakaar now, thank you very much) comes to the station. Someone tries to kill him, and fails; Worf catches the bad guy. Kira and Shakaar embark on a romantic relationship. Odo’s heart is broken. Quark complains about some noise.
This one’s a killer, though, and while I knew Odo’s miseries would be front and center, the slow, patient way the story keeps forcing him into the worst possible situations is painful to watch, in the sort of way great storytelling can hurt you when it becomes all too familiar. Which isn’t to say that I feel I have some sort of personal connection with Odo’s unrequited love; the genius of “Crossfire” (gah, that title) is how it manages to make a specific case easy to understand and relate to. Few of us have been a member of an alien race, self-exiled into a life where no one can entirely understand your needs or even your physiology, connecting to the one person who gives your life some sense of purpose beyond blunt survival, only to see her leave you time and again, worrying each time that this may be the last. (At least, I hope few of us have been this.) But unless you’ve been incredibly lucky, you’ve loved and lost before, or loved and never had, or really wanted a puppy but your stupid landlord forbids it because he’s just a big old jerk. The point being: Odo’s situation is specific, but his condition is universal. It’s more than just loving and being unable to say it. He wants life to stay a certain way, because even though it’s not ideal, it’s as close as he can imagine things ever getting to perfect. He doesn’t want anything to change, but change is in the nature of things.
The heartache is the more accessible emotion, but I think I relate more to that yearning for permanence; to have something to hold onto and never worry it might let you go. There’s a funny, stiffly charming scene between Odo and Worf fairly early into the episode where the two bond over their shared irritation at unexpected guests and DS9’s general chaos and lack of proper discipline. The exchange is played for laughs, although not broad ones; the routine Odo describes (with Worf gruffly approving of each step) is a bit on the stringent side, and their mutual dislike of “friends” stopping by their rooms is worth a chuckle when you realize O’Brien (Worf’s apparent nemesis in the “Leave Me The Hell Alone” game) would probably take this as a challenge. But it’s a fine way to show the shapeshifter and the Klingon becoming, if not friends, then at least not openly antagonistic colleagues. It also points to the dilemma at the heart of the episode for poor Odo, although Kira’s name is never really mentioned. He resists the thought of anything new, of any disruptions in his carefully ordered world, but his undeniable feelings for the major present an irresistible force. Either he tells Kira his feelings, or he lets her go. Neither of these options is ideal: one risks the chance of heartbreak and losing a friendship he values over all others; the other means intentionally and deliberately cutting himself off from the greatest joy in his life.
The worst part is, the longer he waits, the greater the chance that the choice will be made for him. Which is what happens in “Crossfire.” Shakaar shows up, and almost immediately starts making googly eyes at Kira. You can’t imagine this comes as a complete surprise for Odo; Shakaar is more dynamic than Vedek Bareil, but he’s got the same Lands’ End-catalog good looks, the raspy voice, and the two have known each other for years. But while he managed to get through the Bareil period, we have the Dominion War to contend with now. Odo is cast out from his own people, first by choice, and then because he killed another Changeling. So the stakes for his connection to Kira are higher, and it’s all the more painful to lose her again. And the episode keeps going out of its way to rub that pain in. First, he’s in charge of Shakaar’s security detail, which means he gets to follow behind as the first minister and Kira start to take romantic walks together. Then Kira shows up late to one of their morning meetings, having already had some raktajino (which Odo specially prepared for her) with Shakaar. And then, dear God, Shakaar takes Odo aside and explains how he’s fallen for Nerys, and could the shapeshifter maybe give him some advice, or put in a good word, or I don’t know, lay over and die maybe?
It’s all kind of agonizing and, let’s be honest, more than a little high school. I’m not entirely sure I buy Shakaar turning to Odo, of all the beings on the station, to pour out his heart. It’s just too perfectly awful, in a convenient sort of way; it makes sense that most people on DS9 wouldn’t consider Odo capable of romance, but he’s also not someone who suggests the sort of open, compassionate nature you want in a confidante. Still, there’s a harsh satisfaction about the way this plays out, because when your world starts falling apart, there’s usually an almost blackly comical thoroughness to the collapse. It’s not just that Kira is falling for another man, it’s that Odo has to get his nose rubbed in it every step of the way. And that’s necessary in order to justify the closest we’ve ever come (outside the torture scene in “The Die Is Cast”) to seeing Odo have a nervous breakdown. It affects his work; when he’s distracted by Kira and Shakaar’s flirting in the turbolift, he misses a security clearance, allowing the fanatic targeting the minister (another Cardassian True Way advocate) to sabotage the lift, nearly killing everyone inside. Then he snaps, and goes on a rampage inside his quarters; you know, the place where he stresses order and continuity above all things. Quark comes up to see what the problem is, and we’re reminded once again of how great their friendship is—it may not be the most comforting thought in the world for Odo to know that the creature on the station who understands him best is also his chief antagonist, but at least there’s someone. Apart from Lwaxana Troi, no one else on DS9 seems to have ever considered that Odo might be capable of emotions more complicated and passionate than “Don’t do that” and “I’m watching you.” Quark isn’t the most comforting figure in the universe, but there’s a practicality to their relationship that will always make sense. Odo will keep on trying to catch him in the act, and Quark will keep on trying to get away with as much as he can, and that directness is what allows them to be friends, even if neither would be entirely comfortable admitting it. Everyone else keeps their motives hidden. Quark and Odo know everything there is to know about each other.
Even with Quark’s sympathies, Odo still has to make that choice. And that is what really gets to me, I think. I’ve always been a sucker for this kind of romance story, but the older I get, the less the romance seems as important as that horrible, awful feeling of something slipping away from you no matter what you do. Because that, really, is the tragedy. Maybe Odo and Kira might form a relationship; maybe they won’t. Maybe someone new will come into his life, maybe they won’t. But those morning meetings have to end. Odo can’t keep pretending he’s just friends, and if he tries, sooner or later, the truth will come out, and it will come out in the worst possible way. Odo’s quest to maintain consistency, to fight back the frenetic pulse of life just beyond his door, is doomed. It always was. And whether it’s Kira and Shakaar, or Kira and someone else, or simply time moving on, every happy moment is one that’s already slipping away.
Moving away from dorm-room philosophy (what is it about this show that makes me so mopey?), Odo decides not to share his feelings with Kira, and it’s about as sad and dignified as you could expect. I don’t know if it’s the right decision. On the one hand, Kira has started seeing Shakaar, and seems spectacularly happy about it. On the other hand, their relationship is in the early stages, so it’s not like he’d be breaking up a marriage or anything. But it’s definitely the decision that makes the most sense for the character, because it’s the one that involves the least risk, and the least change. He cancels the morning meetings; his decision to do what he can to let this go. It’s a noble act, although there’s a sort of violence in it too, both to himself and to Kira. When you care about someone, and they don’t know it, sometimes, you want to hurt them, if only to prove you can make them feel even the tiniest shred of what you’re going through. So Odo pushes her away, politely, and he loses the belt she told him she liked. When she asks about it, he says, “I’m just trying to keep to the essentials, major.”
- Sad as all this is, the episode does end on a high note, with Odo getting soundproofing installed in his apartment so Quark won’t have to deal with the noise anymore.
- It’s hard to describe, but there’s a bit when Quark points to his ears and says, “Hello?” that made me laugh pretty hard.
- “I’m so glad you’re the first person to know.”—Kira to Odo, unintentionally twisting the knife. (And it’s impossible to blame Kira for any of this. It’s not like Odo has done much dating, or ever given any sign of his feelings.)
- René Auberjonois is terrific throughout. At times, it’s like watching a puppy get kicked in the face over and over, but he keeps things grounded.
Next week: Dukat struggles to achieve a “Return To Grace,” and Tony Todd returns in “Son Of Mogh.”