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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-14: The Storyteller

Episode:14|Writer:Kurt Michael Bensmiller and Ira Steven Behr|Air Date:02-May-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going through another episode of Deep Space Nine season 1. Though I'm kind of tempted to just sit here and listen to the gentle hum of the DVD menu for a bit longer because I've been dreading this one. I've been dreading a lot of episodes actually, but my enthusiasm for this season drips away a little more each time.

The Storyteller actually started out as an old Star Trek: The Next Generation script, so it's a little slice of Next Gen season 7-style "Crap, we need a story, any story!" desperation in your Deep Space Nine. Plus I'm not superstitious, but if I was I'd probably make note of the fact that this may be the 14th 'hour' of DS9, but it's the 13th story.

As usual I'm going to recap the episode and share my thoughts along the way, so this will be filled with SPOILERS. But I'll only spoil episodes up to this point, nothing afterwards.



The episode begins with a Station log by Commander Sisko, explaining that he's been asked to mediate a dispute between two rival factions: the Paqu and the Navot. He doesn't mention why Bajor thinks a Federation space station commander's a good choice for the task, but it's nice to know they've already forgiven him for getting their Space Pope killed last week.

O'Brien's got a problem of his own he needs help with: seems that he's been asked to drive Dr. Bashir to Bajor for a mysterious medical emergency, and he'd appreciate it someone else could be given the job. The idea of spending hours, or any amount of time really, trapped with Bashir fills him with dread. And this is a guy who willingly spends time with his wife Keiko! He's a very tolerant man, Bashir is just that annoying.

Sisko's refuses to let him off the hook though. He and Kira have to go meet the tetrarch of the Paqu at an airlock now so they've all got things they need to do today.

Surprise, the Paqu leader is a teenage girl! The episode's pulled a Queen Amidala.

And that's the end of the scene. Kind of a shitty teaser really, as neither 'O'Brien is going for a drive' or 'a Bajoran faction leader is younger than expected' is filling me with anticipation for what happens next. Though it does at least set both plots up, instead of showing Dax meditating with a bubble or whatever.


ACT ONE.


After the station's done spinning around for two minutes while its theme plays, we join O'Brien and Bashir suffering in a runabout together. We learn that it takes over 2 hours to make the trip to Bajor, as that's how long they've been sitting in silence.

They could just use the warp drive and get there in half a second, they were warping around the star system in Past Prologue after all, but then there'd be no journey! No time to be stuck in awkward boredom. In Star Trek ships travel at the speed of plot and DS9 being in the same system as Bajor means they've got a much lower speed limit.

Bashir's actually eager to get to know O'Brien as they've barely interacted so far during the series. He's worried though that he might be... annoying him. O'Brien manages to hold back from saying "only when you open your mouth". The thing is, O'Brien's a non-commissioned officer, so despite his years of experience and position as a department head, he's one of the few people that Bashir actually outranks. He seems happy enough to call him 'sir' though, as it means not having to speak his name. But Bashir asks that he call him... Julian.

They finally reach orbit, but decide to beam down rather than landing, which means this is the first time in the series where crew members trust the runabout computer to look after the ship and beam them back again when they're done. Personally if I were O'Brien I'd make an excuse to stay up on the runabout, because abandoning it in space like this doesn't seem safe somehow.

I'm surprised that Bashir even needed him to come along actually, as it seems everyone in this series can fly a runabout. Kira knows how to pilot one, Odo knows, I bet even Quark knows. Plus the guy was even fixing one of them last week!

They materialise in a decent-sized Bajoran village set that looks like it took some time and money to build. I'm not convinced that they're actually outside, but mimicking natural light's hard. That's why the new Star Trek movies shoot their planet scenes outside in the sunlight.

Faren, the village magistrate, comes over to greet them and explain the crisis they were called in to resolve. An old man has taken ill and if he dies then the entire village dies!

Okay, that's where you end your teaser! It still wouldn't have been a good teaser but it'd be a big step up from 'surprise, the leader is just a teenager!'

Back on the station, Sisko and Kira have brought the leaders of the Navot and the Paqu together in an informal meeting just to get them talking. Seems that the treaty between them uses a river as the natural border between their territories. But the Cardassians diverted the river during the occupation to send it into Navot territory so Varis, the Paqu leader, feels the treaty gives them all the extra land on their side.

It's all a bit tense, but Quark comes by with a tray of drinks, including "Trixian bubble juice for the little lady"...

I bet Armin Shimerman was glad he decided to come into work this week.

You'd think the Ferengi on the station would've learned to stop saying 'little lady' by now. It clearly doesn't fly with either the Bajorans or Starfleet, and they've been their regular customers for the last six months.

Cut to Jake and Nog throwing stuff at people on the Promenade. Seriously, that's what they're doing here.

Odo's not impressed, but then he's never impressed. He makes them stand up, they wait 10 seconds for him to go and sit right back down again to continue their boredom.

Just then Nog notices the most beautiful thing he's ever seen! It's the Paqu tetrarch Varis storming by below them... that's the girl, not the bloke with the earring. He runs off, saying that he has to meet her.

Back on Bajor, we get a beautiful matte painting... composity thing to show the remote Bajoran village that O'Brien and Bashir are still stuck at. I looked really hard to see if the leaves move at all, but nope. It's a remarkably still day today in the jungles of Bajor.

By this point the sick old man has awoken and he's very happy to see his visitor. O'Brien that is, not Bashir. He's apparently been waiting for him... though right now he'd like them both to wait outside.

Faren comes over to chat and Bashir explains that the old man, the 'Sirah', is dying from... old age. And there's nothing he can do about it. Faren's a bit concerned about this, as the Dal'Rok will be coming soon to destroy their village! The creature comes from the woods at the end of harvest every year like clockwork and only the Sirah can stop it.

So the Starfleet officers immediately call the local Bajoran authorities to get information on the Dal'Rok and figure out what kind of threat the village faces... oh wait, they actually just stand there for a bit and look concerned as the scene fades out for an ad break.


ACT TWO.


Back on the station, Varis catches Jake and Nog fighting outside her door to see who has to be the one to ring her doorbell. Nog handles the situation smoothly though, introducing himself as Jog. Uh, Jake.

Then they just invite themselves inside! Jake even puts his feet up on her table. See, this is why he will always be a much better character than Wesley Crusher.

Varis definitely has nicer guest quarters than Tahna or Tosk got during their stay. Makes me wonder why Quark had to give up his brother's quarters to the Grand Nagus a few episodes back.

They offer her a tour of the station and she actually accepts, probably more due to curiosity about the commander's son than out of an interest in spending time with the two of them.

Back in the weird Bajoran village, it's Dal'Rok o'clock, so the villagers have all gathered outside and the Sirah has dragged himself out of bed to face the monster personally. He begins reading a poem, the wind starts picking up, and an evil vanilla milkshake being appears in the sky.

O'Brien's tricorder isn't registering any disturbance though, which seems kind of strange considering his hair's sure registering a disturbance. Can't it detect the wind?

The tricorder's being absolutely useless, but the Sirah's actually getting the job done, driving the creature away with the power of acting. Well, the power of working the crowd up so they can fire a sparkly ray of positive vibes at it anyway.

Poor O'Brien and Bashir haven't got a clue what they've ended up in the middle of, but it definitely doesn't feel like a Star Trek episode. Unless this is all some kind of a trick and they're all perfectly safe.

Nope! The Sirah collapses and everything goes to crap, with the Dal'Rok taking a chunk out of their bridge with its cloud powers. "Bloody hell," is basically O'Brien's reaction to the situation.


ACT THREE.


The Sirah calls for his successor to step in, and a guy called Hovath runs over... but Sirah ignores him and grabs O'Brien instead.

Wow, they really like reusing that angle.

Now O'Brien has to repeat the lines given to him by the Sirah, and give the crowd the courage to stand united and drive the Dal'Rok away. No matter how stupid he feels doing it.

But he pulls it off! The sparkly rays come back and send the monster packing, and the village is saved. So that's day 4 of 5 sorted out. The Dal'Rok be back one more night this harvest and then they'll be done with the place until next year.

Trouble is, the Sirah just died, and he chose O'Brien to replace him. Permanently.

The next morning, O'Brien's hanging around the Sirah's house when he finds himself showered with gifts from the villagers, much to Bashir's amusement, who tells them to bring them in and put them wherever they like. So they start covering the chair with them.

Bashir also figures out that these three women... they've got a different kind of gift to give him. Man, the Sirah really had a cosy set up going here. The Chief has to explain that he's kind of married at the moment, with a daughter. So Faren says he'd better get his wife and kid down here then, as they'll be living in the village from now on!

Faren, mate... it's a two hour trip from the station, for a job that lasts one week a year, and takes five minutes work a night. Even if the Chief takes the job it's hardly going to require his constant presence here. And surely you people all know the bloody routine themselves by now!

What's weird is that Bashir and O'Brien aren't contacting anyone about this. They should get the Bajoran Mulder and Scully on the case, as they could really do with some representative of normality down here. Even if the Bajoran government isn't set up to handle milkshake monsters, the two of them have plenty of time to get back to DS9 and have a meeting about it; see what their Bajoran liaison, science officer and commander think about this. Because this creature could well kill everyone in this village now that the one man who knew what to do is dead, and then it's going to go off to find new prey.


ACT FOUR.


Back on the station,  Nog and Jake have found Varis depressed after another wasted day of failed negotiations. She utterly refuses to back down an inch on her claim to the land and at this rate it's going to lead to civil war. Though she doesn't let slip any of the details to her new friends.

Jake talks a bit about how when he has a problem he speaks to his dad about it. Nog on the other hand gets his Ferengi on, quoting the 9th Rule of Acquisition (something something trust your instincts), and that apparently helps her come to a decision.

I think this is the start of Nog becoming the Ferengi equivalent of Worf, a guy who grows up caught between two cultures and ends up taking some of the best aspects of both. The guy's a Ferengi to the core and proud of it, but he wants to find the deal that makes everyone happy rather than the one that just makes himself rich.

He also wants to use one of Quark's security rods to break into Odo's office and steal the bucket he sleeps in.

Unfortunately Odo happened to be regenerating inside the bucket in his natural goopy form, and to make things worse Nog trips with it on the way out and throw him all over Jake's most embarrassing jumpsuit.

Nah, it's just oatmeal! It was a cunning prank that suddenly seems a lot less smart when Odo and Sisko catch them in the act. Then they do that thing again where the characters stand around in silence for a bit glaring at each other until the scene fades out.

So this is the both first time we see Odo's famous bucket and the first time Odo has to wash oatmeal out of it before he goes to sleep.

Back on Bajor, O'Brien's scanning the village trying to figure out what's really controlling the Dal'Rok. Though all he's determined so far is that it really did take a chunk out of the bridge itself last night with its cloudy milkshake tentacle; the attack wasn't faked.

Aww they put a little Bajoran nose on the baby! Also they actors are showing a lot of faith in this bridge that's been built across the set, bringing children out onto it.

This villager wants him to bless the baby, as apparently the last Sirah didn't get around to it yet. Soon a crowd begins to form again and O'Brien's day gets just a little more miserable. It's funny, Sisko found the Bajorans' Celestial Temple and spoke with their gods, but no one cares! O'Brien on the other hand is practically a religious leader to these people now. I suppose they're in short supply lately with the Sirah's death and their Kai getting stranded on that planet the other day.

This is coming across like a really sheltered village, but it's a sheltered village with a communications array powerful enough to reach a space station halfway across their solar system so there's a definite possibility that there's some tech at work responsible for the Dal'Rok. O'Brien decides to go search the Sirah's house, where it's quieter. But the Sirah's resentful ex-apprentice Hovath drops by to be snarky and useless...

...and attempt to murder him with a knife!

Man, if there's one lesson I'm taking away from this episode, it's 'don't visit Bajor'. We've got a teenage leader who'd rather start a civil war than even look for alternate solutions, annual milkshake monster attacks, and desperate villagers who'll do whatever they can to make you stay forever and read out their poetry. And when O'Brien does stay to help, someone tries to stab him out of jealousy!

I mean seriously, these people gather for five nights in a row every year to hear the Sirah tell them the same lines about how their strength and unity can drive the Dal'Rok away, and they haven't once thought that maybe it's their strength and unity and not the cheerleader at the front that's worth celebrating. After a few decades they should know the drill.

Anyway O'Brien is stabbed to death, the end.


ACT FIVE.


Actually Bashir comes in to his rescue and the two of them wrestle the knife away from the murderous apprentice.

We're in act five, so Hovath gets through his exposition quickly: three nights ago he was allowed to tell the story, but when the Dal'Rok appeared he was unable to control it and people got hurt. Seems that the Sirah is a role that's been passed on for a long while now, along with the secret truth: it's an Orb of the Prophets that's generating the creature, or a fragment of one at least. It physically manifests the villagers' emotions as a big angry blob, so the Dal'Rok is basically a visualisation of their own mental state. The Sirah then gives them the encouragement they need to conquer their negative feelings and the monster goes away.

Hey, that actually kind of almost makes sense! Prophet Ex Machina. So all they have to do is take the gem and throw it into the sun and the problem's solved. Well it's a good plan C anyway. Plan A was to give the job back to Hovath, but Faren freaks out about that and obviously scaring the villagers is counter productive. So they're at plan B: O'Brien sticks the robes on and does the job himself.

Well it's certainly nice to be back to this camera angle again. It's been a while.

O'Brien gives it his best shot at telling the story, but unfortunately he's just not that inspiring.
"Once upon a time, there was a Dal'Rok. He lived there in the woods and he hated the village."
Dude, stick to the script, don't just adlib it!

Bashir explains to the apprentice that the Sirah had his story planned out from the start. It's a tale of a unwilling Sirah who almost brings the village to ruin, and the disgraced apprentice who takes over and redeems himself to win back their trust. So Hovath steps up and bails O'Brien out and the Dal'Rok's driven off yet again.

Our heroes beam away and Hovath doesn't get arrested for attempted murder. Happy ending! Especially as he's likely getting a trio of women to keep him company tonight.

Back at the B plot, Varis has had another chat with Sisko and come away with the wisdom to trust her instincts and risk looking weak to make a compromise that benefits both sides. And Nog gets a kiss.

But then he has to join Jake in mopping up the fake Odo all over the Security Office floor. The end.


CONCLUSION

It's taken a while, but I've finally reached Deep Space Nine's first Bashir and O'Brien episode! They hit a seam of gold by putting the two of them together here, as they're the series' best double act after Odo and Quark. Jake and Nog on the other hand... they're okay. They're still future teenagers, which are always unnatural compared to regular teenagers, though their acting is pretty solid. I wouldn't have guessed that Nog's actor is actually a decade older than Jake's.

The trouble is that the characters are stuck in plots about superstitious Bajoran villagers and land negotiations, and I couldn't really bring myself to give a damn about either of them. They're thematically linked I suppose, as both are about someone trying to fill the shoes of a respected leader, but that doesn't win it many bonus points. Considering this is the both the first and last 'weirdness going on in an isolated Bajoran village' episode in the series and it has zero impact on later stories, I'm thinking the writers found that they didn't care much either.

Plus it just didn't feel right, having O'Brien and Bashir trying to solve the very serious 'giant supernatural monster' problem alone when they were basically in their back yard and could've had backup there in a heartbeat. Or they could've beamed up to their runabout, then back down to the local Federal Bureau of Weird Orb Shit office and told them to deal with it. They could've even flown back to the station for a proper Star Trek briefing room scene and a chat about the Prime Directive, then returned to Bajoran village in time for lunch.

Speaking of the village, it's interesting how the most devout Bajorans we've seen in the series so far (besides the Kai herself) are actually being misled by a con man who lives very comfortably on their gifts. Their particular religion is revealed to be a story created to scare them into getting their act together and forming a stronger community (he even lies about the Prophets sending O'Brien), and I suppose that's a very Star Trek twist... though it's surprising that the Starfleet officers are happy to allow the deception to continue. I mean sure that's what the Prime Directive tells them to do, but I bet Captain Kirk would've thrown that orb fragment into the sun and told them the truth.

For me The Storyteller was another dull episode in a string of dull episodes, so DS9 season 1 is definitely living up to its reputation. I haven't really cared about a story since Babel, and that was like 10 episodes ago! Only 6 left in this season now though, I'm nearly through.

Next on DS9: Kira listens to a miserable old man lie to her for 40 minutes in Progress. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Babylon 5's Eyes.

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you want.

3 comments:

  1. They should get the Bajoran Mulder and Scully on the case

    I wonder if an X-Files reference ever got sneaked into an episode of one of the Trek shows of the time?

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    Replies
    1. Well the guy who played Faren in this would later return to play an investigator called Luscly... with a partner called Dulmur. Not sure if that's subtle enough to count as 'sneaked in'.

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