Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Good and Bad of Deep Space Nine: Last Part

Hey y'all.  In the interest of talking about something different, here's the final part of my DS9 rant. Don't worry, I've got some buffer coming up, and it'll be here soon so there isn't only DS9 for this month.

Damar and Garak:
I don't have a lot to say about Damar.  He's a Cardassian, a soldier who worked for Gul Dukat from the time the Cardassians occupied Bajor.  He's had little to do over the course of the show, but he slowly goes from the background to the forefront of the story, and is eventually in charge of the Cardassian effort to liberate themselves from their foolish alliance with the Dominion.  His arc is a nice one, and it's great to see a glorified extra become a main character toward the end.

Damar goes from being the blind follower of Dukat, to a too-sincere soldier, to a complete drunk, to the hero of the Cardassians.  Probably one of the single most disappointing things about the ending was his death in the last episode.  It just didn't work.  For one thing, the audience never gets too strong of a connection to him until the end.  His emotional connection to the viewer wasn't well developed to the point where his death was a tragedy.  Instead, it felt gratuitous, like the writers were "cleaning up" some of the lesser characters just to have them out of the way.

Garak, on the other hand, was someone the viewers loved.  His every performance was good, even when he had to share the screen with Ezri.  And you know what?  He should have died.  And why not?  Garak's only outing was an episode, Afterimage, that he shared with Ezri so that her counselor status could be established (and never used again).  Garak doesn't get much of anything to do until the end of the season where he appears at Kira's side to go help the Cardassians rebel against the Dominion.

In no way is this assistance an actual plot point for Garak.  He's just there to support other characters, and then be sad in the end when his homeworld is trashed and nobody he loves is alive anymore.  He has literally nothing, not even some sort of position by which he can help other Cardassians.  So there's nothing to lose by killing him off.  Besides, he's a beloved character.  Killing him off would give the audience pause, making them protest the death of their most beloved Cardassian, and scorn the fact that they're only left with Damar, someone who has not nearly the dramatic factor that almost every other Cardassian has had to this point.  There's a time and place for manipulating the audience.

On the other hand, nothing about Damar's or Garak's plotlines was really all that offensive, other than where it concerned the mirror Garak.  Damar's death was a waste, and so was underutilizing Garak, but neither flaw is fatal.

Gul Dukat and Kai Winn:
The pairing of these two is strange, but not unnatural.  After all, these two want the same things: respect without sacrifice.  Winn's is much more obvious, what with her conflict being presented up front and center.  She wanted to be the Kai of the Bajorans, only to have her respect cut out from under her by Sisko's ascension as Emissary.  In season seven, Winn is contacted by those she thinks are the Prophets.  Only they turn out to be the pagh'wraith, who are manipulating her into doing what they want.  She attempts to beg forgiveness from the Prophets, but ultimately is unable.  She contacts Kira for advice, but when Kira says that Winn should leave the office of Kai, Winn refuses.  She ends up deciding to help the pagh'wraigh be free of their imprisonment in the fire caves of Bajor.

I really, really like Winn's plotline.  It's something that's very relatable.  Winn is desperate for attention from her gods, only to receive nothing in return.  Instead of learning humility, however, Winn takes a desperate path, one that she thinks will bring value to her life.  This plotline is the culmination of many of Winn's appearances, and proves that she's a childlike entity, always desperate both for self-worth and control.  Not unlike a stubborn three-year-old, now that I think about it.

Because Dukat is more subtle in character, his motivations are less obvious.  From his past appearances, we can see he wants to be thought of as a beloved, generous leader who showers everyone with hope and good feeling.  Strangely enough, he's always trying to persuade the wrong people.  He tries to convince the Bajorans, despite having occupied their planet.  He tries to convince Kira, despite the fact she hates him.  He tries to convince Sisko, because he respects the captain, and wants that same respect in return.  And won't get it.

The weakest part of this is his relationship with Sisko.  Season seven, as well as the tail end of season six, tried to make the two look like rivals, despite the fact that the two rarely confronted one another, and Dukat argued more with Kira.  Despite this, Dukat's characterization is strong, and he's acted well.  This is especially potent, given that he's suffered a mental breakdown.  This breakdown makes him likewise in desperate need for love, and yet he continually insists on getting it from people who have every reason not to like him.

In other words, they both have "everything" to gain from the pagh'wraith, including the love and respect they both desired all along, in particular from those who wouldn't give it to them.

The writers were pretty smart to put the two together.  Both of them will do anything to get what they want, setting expectations high for what they do together.  Dukat, who has been willingly serving the pagh'wraith for longer, tricks the Kai into thinking that he's a Bajoran farmer (and Marc Alaimo is really good looking when his makeup is minimized).  The pagh'wraiths make Winn think she's heard from the Prophets, and that the farmer, Anjohl Tennan (pun detected: "angel to none"), is someone who will "guide her" on her path.  Only then the pagh'wraith reveal themselves, and Winn turns to them once she learns the only way to regain the trust of the Prophets is to give up her power, she decides to go for it and join the pagh'wraith.

What makes this plotline good is that Winn and Dukat still don't trust one another, despite both serving the same false gods.  They both want power, and they're not eager to share it, despite not knowing if said power can be shared.  Winn has the advantage in that she's the only person who can read the Bajoran texts, as she is the Kai of Bajor.  Apparently the pagh'wraith were sent into imprisonment in the fire caves long ago, and these texts are the only ways for the pagh'wraith to be freed.  Which makes you wonder why the Bajorans didn't just destroy these texts rather than keep them around for thousands of years, but whatever.

What makes this plotline not good is the fact that it's so rushed.  While the first part of it works where Winn and Dukat both react to each other, this plotline is delayed and pushed back into the last episode for its climax.  Scenes of Winn and Dukat going through the fire caves are interspersed throughout battle scenes where the Dominion is being cleaned up, which makes the battle feel very short, or their trip through the caves feel unnaturally long.  Not to mention that they're cut off from the main characters throughout most of this, giving no one the chance to react.  Also, Winn gets on Dukat's case for being a killer, despite the fact that releasing the pagh'wraith will kill the majority of people on Bajor.  Weird.

And then this storyline is resolved in the quickest way possible.  The battle against the Dominion is over, and then Sisko gets a "feeling" that something is going on, and he takes the trek through the apparently super long to get through caves in what appears to be seconds.  Either that or Winn and Dukat are just really, really slow.  Whichever is the case, time feels out a sync, and that's still a no-no for the writers.

Then a plotline that has been built up forever gets wrapped up in three minutes.  Winn sacrifices Dukat to the pagh'wraith, but then the PW resurrect him in Cardassian form again, because they like him better than wimpy girl Winn.  Just as Dukat is about something, Sisko shows up and a very short, lame struggle ensues.  Winn dies in the midst of this, in the attempt to betray Dukat.  It ends with Sisko pushing Dukat and the path'wraith text into the fire of the fire caves.  Seriously, the Bajorans really should have burned that a long time ago.  And why did Sisko come by himself?  It would have been easier if he'd brought some help along. Maybe he wouldn't have died.

So in the end, as interesting as Winn and Dukat are when paired together, this storyline didn't get enough attention, and the truncated ending feels like some obligatory way to end that part of the series.  Winn's death makes sense, but Dukat's....I don't know.  It feels way too shallow for a complex character like Dukat.

Sisko and Kasidy:
I don't care about their marriage.  Not in the slightest.  They're not very interesting as a couple, and feel artificially put together.  Penny Johnson does okay at the Kasidy role, but since Kasidy isn't well defined by the writers, it doesn't work.

To be fair, Kasidy gets much more definition in this final season than she ever did in the past.  I have a feeling that the writers didn't have much in mind when they first brought up the character.  I will say that, despite telling Sisko's secrets behind his back, she was most fun in the baseball episode.  I also liked her appearance in Badda-Bing Badda-Bang, where she talks about how the '50s hologram program was what the real 1950s should have been.  The potential for Kasidy to be a good, rich character was all there, but it never got to full fruition.

It doesn't help that she has no real plotline in season seven.  Sure, Kasidy is still transporting stuff for Bajor (is there a reason why her job never got an episodic focus?), but primarily she's in the background, someone to bounce Sisko's personality off of.  Which would be okay if she were more interesting.  Instead we are treated to scenes of her squabbling with Sisko, lecturing Sisko, and telling his secrets behind his back.  Oh, and there's a lovely little bit of "we're not a traditional couple!" by having Kasidy be bad at cooking.  While the bit where she burns the peppers was pretty cute, the scene is still really boring.  It's like the writers just wrote a few tidbits for her so that the audience wouldn't forget she's there.

Sisko, strangely enough, is much in the same boat.  Sure, there's that whole "orb of the Emissary" thing in the first couple of episodes, and that flashback to the Benny the Writer was really entertaining, but Sisko is a dang background character on the series where he's supposed to be the captain.  The only episode after that that's specifically focused on him is Take Me Out to the Holosuite, the baseball episode with nothing to do with the Dominion War or any of the other episodes.

Later on he marries Kasidy against the will of the Prophets, and that's a nice bit, for what it's worth. Still, it's strange he would marry a person who doesn't believe in the Prophets, being the Emissary and all.  After that, Sisko does some battle stuff, and we've been over how unremarkable DS9 battle scenes can be.  Then Sisko is forced to the fire caves on Bajor, where he has a melodramatic confrontation with Gul Dukat and Kai Winn.  After he falls into the fire pit with Dukat, the Prophets save him (or does his body get burned?) and he becomes incorporeal like them.  After one last visit to Kasidy, he disappears with vague hints of returning at some point.

Okaaaaay.  Quite frankly, the whole Emissary thing should have come to a head before the end of the series, so that Sisko could become incorporeal and then the other characters have to deal with the consequences.  And we'd get some idea of what the Prophets want him to do.  As is, it feels like an afterthought.  To make it worse, nobody reacts to him disappearing.  Starfleet, who never liked the Emissary thing, doesn't freak out.  Kira doesn't come up with some zany rationalization for the Prophets taking Sisko away.  Skeptics don't come out of the woodwork, claiming that Sisko is just dead.  Instead they all portray this change as natural, and one of the last shots of the show is Kira walking through the station as though nothing is off.  Sure, Kira believes more in the Prophets than anyone else on the station, but why isn't Quark's bar full of suspicious onlookers who are there like nerds searching for Area 51?

And so Kasidy is left with only Sisko's son Jake (another character who got nothing to do this last season), and pregnant to boot.  In all fairness, the Prophets did warn Sisko there would be consequences to marrying her against their advice.  Of course, this might have made a difference if they'd warned Kasidy instead, but whatever.

I just don't know how to comment on Kasidy and Sisko.  Sisko is almost never up front leading something, and Kasidy's life has no relevance to his, or to the operations of the station as a whole. There's no real reason for her to be around, other than for a love interest with a guy she has no chemistry with.  Characters need to have at least two purposes: an in-world purpose, such as an important job or relationship, and an out-world purpose, which is what the writer intends for the character, such as main character, side character, or redshirt. Obviously she's a side character, but her in-world purpose of being a love interest feels like an exercise in sitcom female stereotypes.  That is, domineering, dismissive, and in no way interested in her husband's life.  Why did the guy marry you again?

Maybe I'm going on too much about that, but Sisko, out of all the captains, is the best at being a husband.  He's a cook, he's romantic, and he makes his love an obvious priority in his life.  Kirk loved no one more than his spaceship, and he of course loved Spock and McCoy more than any women. Nobody marries a man just to be number 4 in his life, and that's assuming that Sulu and Chekov don't rank higher. As for Picard, people like his looks, but he's not a very lively, interesting person.  He always acts awkwardly when someone he likes is on his ship.  Janeway's not a dude, so I won't rate her.  I haven't watched Enterprise enough to know Captain Archer very well, but in what I have seen, he comes across as self-righteous and lecturing.

Come on.  Sisko is the hot, devoted, family man.  Who ends up becoming incorporeal.  Um....okay, not so great right there, but other than that, he's a great catch.  And he marries someone who doesn't share his beliefs, doesn't acknowledge his emotions, tells secrets behind his back, lectures him like a mom, and has nothing in common with him other than baseball.

I'm spending too much time talking about this.  Basically, I'd like Sisko's plotline better if we saw the consequences of his transformation, and perhaps the Prophets' reason for doing that to him.  Besides, if he's the great Emissary who is ascending in power, shouldn't something really cool happen to him?

Okay, now who's left?  Nobody worth ranting about?  Mm'kay, then just some final points.

- There are a lot of pointless conversations this season.  For example, Quark talks to Vic Fontaine in the bar about how "hard" it is to be a bartender, as though this is comparable to being a soldier. Yeah, no.  Then there's a bit where the Klingon general Martok gives Sisko marriage advice, which was as cliche-ridden as everything Martok says.  Then there's a bit where Sisko and Kasidy bicker about him trying to interfere with her job so that she'll be safe.  All boring, and all without consequence.

- Huh.  There's one bit where everyone is at Vic's bar, listening to him sing.  At this point, Odo hasn't cured the other changelings of their sickness.  I wonder how many of them died while he was puttering around.

- Talk about your multiple endings.  DS9's almost got the Lord of the Rings films beat for that.

- The seventh season could have used a lot more streamlining.  There's just so many characters and plotlines that don't have any proper conclusion.  Granted, that's much harder to do when there's a war on and the characters aren't all bundled on a ship together, but yeah.  Some things they could have done to fix that:

1. Cut Ezri from the cast.
2. End either the Dominion War or the Emissary plotline sooner so that the other would have proper time to end and we can see some consequences.
3. Cut Worf from the cast by sending him off with the other Klingons.
4. Cut the mirror episode.
5. Have Dukat's plot involve more characters.
6. Let the obligatory Ferengi episode concern Quark's involvement in the war, not Nog's struggle through his eyes or Rom's ascension to Grand Nagus.  People like the Nog episodes so those can stay, but Quark is hanging around like a flamed appendix the whole season, and he needs some real plot.
7. Give Kira, Bashir, and O'Brien more things to do that actually relate to the Dominion War, even if only distantly.  Odo's only a security officer, so he's fine as is.
8. Make Sisko's transformation awesome, and give him a serious episode.

Final Note:

I know, I know, this is all academic, as the series is over and done with.  There's no real need to talk about any of this.  I just, well, wanted to.  It's strange, though.  I've been watching some Voyager lately, and while DS9 is easily the better series, none of Voyager's flaws bothered me as much as DS9's.  That, and because Voyager doesn't have several problems, but rather only a few that encompass the entire series, there's less to talk about.

As for DS9, I'll say it's okay.  Yes, it's an aberration from Gene Roddenberry's vision for Star Trek. Yes, it's soap-opera-ish.  But it's not bad, and has a few episodes that are really good standouts. Eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds, as they say.  While the ending of the series wasn't all that great, it did have some good concepts, and certain areas they did really good, but others really bad. They just tried to do too much, and it all ended up a bit scatterbrained.

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