“The Siege” (season 2, episode 3; originally aired 10/10/1993)
In which Sisko gets his Die Hard on
Let’s get this out of the way first: this ends way too easily. After three episodes of buildup to conflict, after Jaro and Winn’s stratagems, after the Cardassian villainy and guerrilla warfare on the station, all Sisko and his team need to save the day is a ship’s manifest. Kira gets it to the ministers, and with barely an objection, Jaro slinks away, and Winn goes with the flow. It’s abrupt, right up to the oh-so-convenient death of Li Nalas. (Which I totally called, in case you forgot.) This is one of the main difficulties of multi-part stories. You’ve got to shake up the status quo enough to justify the format, while at the same time finding some way to make sure everything gets back to roughly the way it started. That’s a tall order, and the ending is the trickiest part. The details of this particular ending make sense, like Winn’s sudden-but-inevitable-betrayal of Jaro once the wind turns, but it’s something of an anticlimax after all that buildup.
Really, though, the only reason this is noticeable is that the build-up of “The Siege” is pretty damn awesome. I know enough about future seasons of Deep Space Nine to know that the shit is going to get real somewhere down the line, and viewed as a preview of coming attractions, this episode hits all the right notes to convince me of the show’s ability to convey a wide-scale conflict. There’s a terrific sense running through most of the hour of events escalating out of control, partly because of Jaro and Winn’s manipulations, but also because past a certain point, that’s just what events do. There are a few too many smirking villains here for the conflict to be morally complex, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an empty battle, driven by a corrupt, power-hungry few who use empty patriotism to achieve their own ends. It’s not good guys versus bad guys. It’s good guys versus a few bad guys and a lot of confused guys, and that takes all the fun out of shooting people with a laser gun.
Well, some of the fun. The conclusion to DS9’s first three-parter is taken up by two main storylines: Sisko and his team’s combined effort to disrupt and throw off a Bajoran-led occupation of the station, and Dax and Kira’s rush to get the proof of Cardassian involvement to the Barjoran ministers. After the long buildup of “The Circle,” this is mostly action, and rousing stuff at that; whatever reservations I have about the very end, there’s no denying that the show does its level best to deliver on the promise of parts one and two, and I can appreciate the effort, even if I don’t always love the results. This is like a series making the first fumbling moves toward self-definition, and it’s all the more remarkable because it’s heading in a new direction for the Star Trek franchise. There is a complex political situation which, easy ending or no, won’t be going away any time soon. These are villains who are powered, in part, by the social unrest which they encourage but did not themselves create.
When we left last week, Bajoran warships were headed to Deep Space Nine to oust the remaining Federation personnel. Sisko has decided to stay, and gives a speech explaining to his crew what “staying” means: it’s dangerous, with an uncertain outcome, and there’s no chance of any Starfleet backup arriving in the nick of time. A small group of fighters remains on the station, while everyone else evacuates (and Quark takes advantages of the chaos to try and make some money), and it’s a sign in this episode’s favor that this sequence works, even though we know the evacuation is only temporary. The whole thing may run a little longer than it needs to, and I’m not sure I really needed another fight between Keiko and O’Brien, but all of the drama over departure works to sell the fact that, whatever those of us in the audience know about the restrictions of episodic television (and those damnable “To Be Continued… ” tags), the crisis is very real for the people stuck inside it. This raises the stakes for the story, and also drives home the unsettling, awful quickness with which events can go awry. Two episodes ago, the Circle was just a group of creeps spray-painting slogans. Now they’ve taken over the government, and supposedly reasonable men are making threats.
This is something that Star Trek: The Next Generation never quite managed to sell. It could give us planets at war, and it could make heavy-handed proclamations about the horrors of conflict, but I can’t think of an episode that demonstrated as well as this three-parter does the surreal speed with which aggressive debate can lead to outright hostilities. It’s not perfect; while this episode does find Kira standing on the floor of the Bajoran government while ministers rage around her, it never really justifies the her vision from “The Circle.” (I’ve already gone into my reservations about the out-and-out villainy of Jaro and Winn.) Plus, while there’s tension and decently high stakes, this is all still comparatively safe. Li Nalas dies, but he’s a guest star, and he had death written on his face from the first time we saw him. And it’s not even death that’s a problem, not really. The reason I criticized the “To Be Continued… ” in last week’s review is because it’s a clue from the show’s writers to reassure us that our view of the show, and of the show’s world, isn’t going to be seriously questioned. This is hand-holding, and that hand-holding pervades this episode. It’s a mark of how high in my estimation DS9 has already risen that I’m entertained but mildly disappointed with a storyline like this one.
Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, and a very reluctant Quark stay on the station to fight back against General Krim (Stephen Macht, who we first met in “The Circle”) and his men. This conflict is arguably unnecessary. Kira and Dax have split off from the others with their crucial cargo manifest, and the conflict on Bajor between the Circle and sanity is only resolved after Kira brings the manifest in front of the council. Nothing that Sisko or the others do has much impact on Kira’s mission, but the guerrilla combat on DS9 is enjoyable enough that it’s hard to object. There’s a lot of running around and artful sabotage, and Odo proves once again he’s a good shapeshifter to have in a fight. Hell, Sisko’s team even manages to get right up close to the general himself before the battle comes to a conclusion. Having everyone crawling around the ducts and choking down O’Brien’s beloved combat rations helps create the illusion of danger, and the fact that this comes as the climax of a multi-episode arc gives it more weight than a regular standalone. Boil it down to its essence, there’s not a lot of change here, but it certainly feels epic in its best moments, and that’s something.
What else? Well, Kira and Dax make a great team, with Kira’s gung-ho enthusiasm bringing out a different, more distinctive side to Dax than we usually see. Steven Weber pops up for a guest turn as the venomous Colonel Day, making this maybe the most guest-star heavy run of episodes I’ve ever seen on a Trek show. And I suppose we should take a moment for Li Nalas’s passing, although it’s a death which inspires little in the way of real sorrow. While Nalas’s rescue back in “The Homecoming” started this mess, he’s never been a huge presence on the show; this fit his character, and, in those few moments when he did take center stage, gave him a certain tired gravity. But it also has the unfortunate effect of rendering his demise perfunctory, like the death of a celebrity you thought had been gone for years. Kira’s sorrow over his passing is convincing, and I love Sisko and O’Brien’s chat about the importance of remembering Nalas in the right way. It’s just—he gets taken out by a phaser blast after the battle is basically over. That’s not very deft storytelling, which basically sums up whatever issues I have with this odd little trilogy: an unfortunate lack of deftness. Thankfully, with its demonstrable willingness to explore Bajoran politics and challenge our heroes on their home turf, this episode demonstrates a heartening desire to improve.
- Odo can turn himself into a tripwire. I’m torn between thinking that’s awesome, and wondering if it hurts when someone trips over him.
- Kira and Dax’s flight in the Barjoan resistance ship is one of the best examples of convincing flight combat I’ve seen on TV, pre-Battlestar Galactica.
- Bareil and Kira hug. Sigh. I think I know where this is going, and… sigh.
“Invasive Procedures” (season 2, episode 4; originally aired 10/17/1993)
In which Dax goes under the knife
Shows will often repeat structures—that’s what procedurals are all about, really—but the connection between the first-season episode “Dax” and this one is more than just a matter of structure. Once again, everyone’s favorite Trill nominally takes center stage, for reasons which are based entirely on the symbiont inside her chest, and once again, Dax spends a large part of the episode sidelined from the main action, reduced to a McGuffin whose only purpose is to inspire her fellow castmates to make passioned, tearful speeches on her behalf. Once again, we’re given a fascinating glimpse into what it means to be a Trill, and the moral and ethical complexities raised by the relationship between host and slug-thing—and once again, this glimpse renders Dax herself frustratingly opaque. We learned more about her in her few scenes with Kira last episode than we do here. This is a better episode than “Dax,” with a better story hook and a pair of good guest stars, but it’s curious how the show keeps ostensibly trying to deepen Dax’s character, while only serving to make her more and more obscure. Terry Farrell has demonstrated herself entirely capable of being charming and funny and likeable when the script gives her the means to do so, so why all the obfuscation?
Putting that to one side for the moment, “Invasive Procedures” works well enough as a standalone, succeeding largely on the shoulders of John Glover. Glover, a character actor who you may recognize from his turn as Daniel Clamp in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (he also made a terrific Devil on the short-lived Fox series Brimstone), plays Verad, a Trill who spent a good part of his life studying and training to be a symbiont host. He failed to pass the selection process, however, and it has made him bitter and determined to get what he considers rightfully his. I’m not sure if this is the first time we’ve heard that not every Trill gets a symbiont; I think Dax may have brought it up before, but it’s definitely the first time we’ve seen that knowledge from the other side. Verad makes an excellent villain, someone driven by a need we can relate to (I doubt most of us want a stomach slug, but it’s not hard to empathize with loss and shame and a fear of mediocrity) while still being willing to do whatever it takes to see that need is satisfied. We see two versions of Verad over the course of the episode, and Glover does a fine job selling both. When he arrives on the station, the Trill is nervous, shy, and awkward, but once he gets Dax inside him (wow, that doesn’t sound filthy at all), he’s confident and self-assured. The clear distinction between Verad and Verad Dax helps make the character even more sympathetic. He’s willing to let Jadzia die to get what he wants, but given how much happier and stronger he appears when he succeeds, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from.
That’s another reason why this episode works better than it might have, by the way—the fact that Verad does, at least for a little while, get what he wants. And fairly quickly, too. It takes some time to set up the circumstances: The station is in the grip of a plasma storm, so all non-essential personnel have temporary disembarked. A ship approaches, docks, and then a pair of Klingons take control, making sure to force Odo into a stasis box which renders him harmless. It’s a smart move, and one that seems obvious in retrospect; at the time, though, it made me realize that Odo is basically the Data of this show in more ways than one. (One of the big headaches on TNG was dealing with Data every time a new threat appeared on board the Enterprise.) With only a skeleton crew to offer resistance, the Klingons, Verad, and an ex-prostitute named Mareel (Megan Gallagher) take over almost immediately. Verad explains what he wants, and Dax, realizing it’s her life or her friends’, gives in. Bashir protests, but he’s not given many options, and a few minutes later, we’re in the infirmary, and the stomach slug is exchanged.
Obviously there’s no serious threat that Jadzia will die, or that she’ll lose the Dax symbiont forever, but it is a great way to both make the danger more immediate, and give the second half of the episode a new spin. Once Verad and Dax are joined, Verad’s behavior shifts (as described above), but he doesn’t suddenly change his mind about wanting the symbiont, nor does he become more concerned about Jadzia’s well-being. Meanwhile, the Dax-less Jadzia is frightened and unwell. “Invasive Procedures” might have been stronger if it had spent more time with Jadzia after the surgery. As fascinating as it is to see what effect the joining has on Verad, he’s a one-shot guest star. Jadzia Dax, on the other hand, is with us for the duration, and she deserves more than a tearful line to Bashir before letting everyone else do all the heavy lifting.
I’m not sure what to make of Quark in this one. His willingness to override the security measures of the station for outsiders puts him firmly back in the villain camp, but his dismay at the rage this inspires in the rest of the crew drives him to actually act like a hero for once. Maybe the problem is that Armin Shimerman is so good at his job that I keep expecting Quark to be smarter than this, but even taking that into account, this is really, really stupid. Being greedy is one thing, but doing something that could theoretically get him thrown off the station as well as getting others killed, is just bad business. I can accept that he doesn’t know what Verad is planning, but “overriding security” isn’t something you do casually (especially when it can be so easily traced back to you). It stretches credibility that he could engage in this kind of behavior on regular basis and still work on the station. Still, the fact that he tackles a Klingon and gets Odo out of the box speaks to his credit, so I’d say this is largely a wash.
Another point of comparison between this and “Dax”: “Invasive Procedures” has some great Sisko moments, as he first tries to defend his friend’s life, then forces Mareel to face some hard truths. He gets a chance to take out a Klingon himself, and fares a lot better than Quark (this fight scene is great, as Sisko is absolutely ruthless). Best of all, he proves just how far he’s willing to go when Verad Dax tries to pull the old, “You won’t shoot me, Benjamin,” trick. “Don’t call me Benjamin,” Sisko snarls, and fires, risk to the symbiont be damned.
This isn’t the show’s finest hour. The conceit of emptying out the station for a “plasma storm” is goofy, especially coming so soon after the emotional evacuation of “The Siege,” and most of the drama rests too heavily on the shoulders of the guest star. Glover is more than up to the task, but his presence reduces everyone else to the position of reacting to his drama, as opposed to being the centers of their own. But the episode is better than “Dax” by far. It’s tighter, and less driven by back-story. The premise may not be the best, but the execution is solid, and it’s great to see Sisko kick some ass. And guest star or no, Verad is a tragedy, a man so tormented by a loss of purpose that he loses everything else. In the end, Jadzia and Dax are rejoined, and she’s back to her old self—but she’s sadder. Verad is a part of her now, and always will be; she understands him. It’s too bad he couldn’t feel the same.
- What race is Mareel? All those forehead bumps blur together after a while.
- For such a complicated surgery, there is surprisingly little blood in the transplant of the symbiont.
Next week: We deal with some “Cardassians” and meet up with “Melora.”