Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Storyteller"

***

Air date: 5/3/1993
Teleplay by Kurt Michael Bensmiller and Ira Steven Behr
Story by Kurt Michael Bensmiller
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The Storyteller" is one of those lightweight shows that shouldn't really work as well as it does, but it manages to get past the part of your brain looking for probing drama and simply leaves you with a silly grin on your face. The two plot lines are fairly mundane, in which (a) O'Brien and Bashir travel to a Bajoran village to aid a dying leader, only to get caught up in a Bajoran ritual; and (b) Sisko moderates a negotiation for two feuding Bajoran areas on the brink of a civil war, only to find out that the leader of one of the sides is a young girl named Varis (Gina Philips) who looks to be about 15 years old.

The familiar A/B-story structure is nothing compelling, and the plot is hardly one of the season's more important. Yet this show works very well, because it's so well characterized, and it knows better than to take its plots too seriously. On one hand we have O'Brien and Bashir, who, paired for the first time, promise to be one of the series' most reliable comic combinations. Bashir is young, naive, and annoying, whereas O'Brien is an experienced, serious personality who isn't big on wasting time. Dropping O'Brien unwittingly and unwillingly into the middle of a Bajoran ritual situation is successfully milked for all the low-key comedy it's worth. Meaney plays the role straight—flabbergasted over being mistaken as the successor to the village's dying Sirah—which proves to be one of the show's best ideas. What doesn't quite work here is the idea of the Dal'Rok, a fantasy-like cloud of darkness that feeds off negative emotions to threaten the village—an idea rooted in Bajoran mysticism that really strains the boundaries of believability.

Meanwhile, the B-story, involving Jake and Nog's adolescent mayhem and the way they come to know Varis, is surprisingly palatable and very entertaining. One amusing scene features the three of them breaking into Odo's office to steal his bucket—a humorously appropriate notion. There's not much depth in this episode, but the execution definitely makes it good for some genuine smiles.

Previous episode: Battle Lines
Next episode: Progress

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14 comments on this review

John - Sun, Jul 1, 2012 - 2:12am (USA Central)
O'Brien's lame pep-talk was pretty funny... "Ok, let's really try to focus..."

But this is a pretty ordinary and corny episode really; the O'Brien/Bashir partnership being the only thing that works.

The 'child' actors are all very flat and DS9's first season had far too many annoyingly dumb mobs.
William - Wed, Jul 25, 2012 - 8:07pm (USA Central)
I pretty much agree with your analysis (Thank you again for these. I'm enjoying them).

I liked the B-plot better. And we got yet more Ferengi redemption -- this time Nog unwittingly helps two Bajoran factions avoid bloodshed. I kind of liked Nog and Jake have a much more mature friend who carries adult concerns and responsibilities.

The other plot was OK. I wanted to like it more -- I wanted to like a lot of the Bajoran plots in Season 1 more, because there was so much potential there. They just always seemed to find lightweight actors and unmemorable storylines.

The good news is they do find their Bajoran stride in time.
Cail Corishev - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 12:48pm (USA Central)
I've been going back and forth between early DS9 and early Voyager lately, and got to wondering why I enjoy an episode like this so much better than when Voyager did the equivalent. There's nothing special about either story here. The A story is a typical Monster of the Week with a fairly obvious conclusion, that could have been done on any Trek. The B story is about a kid who needs to grow up and learn to compromise -- not exactly anything new.

I think it's because the rapport between people -- O'Brien and Bashir, Jake and Nog, Odo and Quark -- was already so strong that it's a pleasure to watch them even when the stories are fairly banal. (That may also explain why I find Dax stories so tedious -- she never clicked with any of the other characters that way.) I don't know whether that's due to great acting, great casting, or dumb luck, but it turns a lot of so-so stories into solid episodes for me.
Van_Patten - Thu, Nov 1, 2012 - 2:16pm (USA Central)
I can recall my first exposure to DS9 back in the mists of 1995 when the show first aired onbBritish network television, on Thursday nights. Due to my then job requiring me to work till 9pm in the evening, I would set up the VCR to record the episodes. One misstep saw the recording cut off the last three minutes of 'Babel' whilst a power outage caused me to miss 'The Storyteller' completely so I didn't watch this episode until about 3 years later, and it remains probably the episode in Season 1 I have seen the fewest times.

I agree with Jammer, much to my surprise this episode worked far better than on paper it should. I groaned outwardly upon seeing Varis (Gina Phillips) but her scenes with Nog and Jake worked surprisingly well. Although not the focus of the episode, the ever reliable Rene Auberjonois ( does he ever strike a wrong note?) is as good as ever.

The main highlight of the episode was that it marks the first real interaction between O'Brien and Bashir, a theme that would recur throughout the series run. Those scenes, from the opening in the runabout strike me as wholly on the money. I can well believe that O'Brien, being the enlisted, experienced engineer and all round 'fixer' would find Bashir's naïveté and enthusiasm intensely irritating, and although the story is extremely lightweight, Imfound my self enjoying it far more than I expected. As Carl Corishev points out, I think had the Voyager ensemble done this in season 1(I'd need to consult Memory Alpha to see if there is an equivalent, unless any Voyager stalwarts can help me out?), it'd have been rated a Turkey but the cast chemistry lifts this one into an unexpectedly strong 3 stars for me.
grumpy_otter - Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - 8:36am (USA Central)
I am SEETHING! Unlike Jammer, I thought both stories could have been brilliant and I was enjoying both of them until the idiocies started to pile up.

First, the story of the Tetrarch, which had so much potential. A young girl of immense poise and strength has had to take over her father's role and is finding it difficult. The other negotiator obviously thinks of her as a child and she has to not only represent her people, but earn his respect. A good setup with lots of potential.

She finds good advice for the situation in the oddest of places--from a Ferengi. When Nog suggested that her situation might be an opportunity, I thought that was very well-done. She has an idea for something that she could want from the opposing side, and in return will concede the land "stolen" by the Cardassians.

And then it derails into her search for a parental figure. Instead of learning and growing through the influence of kids her own age, she has to be soothed by Sisko. I was really disappointed--either exploration ("knowledge from the young" or "guiding mentor") would have worked by itself, but to conflate the two took away the strength of either effort. And then we don't even get to see the payoff of the negotiation!

Jake and Nog were great in this episode--it was disappointing to see their contributions made secondary to Sisko. The bucket trick was funny too--I actually gasped when I though Nog had dumped Odo all over Jake's shirt! I think Odo thought it was funny, too--he had a little grin when he sent the kids to clean up the oatmeal.

The writers should have focused on ONE idea for the growth of the Tetrarch--trying to do two made both of them weak. But that was just disappointing--the other story is the one that got my knickers in a twist.

The setup for Julian and Chief's adventure was great! Their interactions were terrific and that Bajoran village was a beautiful set--made me want to live there. But then we met the Sirah. I can't remember the TNG episode--wasn't he the actor who played the floating head who transported the Enterprise far out into space to meet them? A little distracting. And the leader of the village was another very familiar character actor--this is getting a bit much! So far, every episode has had very recognizable guests.

But back to the story itself--I was actually a little tense. Apparently a scary thing shows up and the Sirah has to fight it off with the help of the village--cool. And the situation with Chief trying to be the new Sirah was good.

Then when the Sirah's apprentice tried to kill the Chief, it all went to hell. First, Chief forgets his homicidal attack right away? But that's a small thing compared to the bullshit that follows.

The Dal'Rok was CREATED by the first Sirah to unite the village. Okay, I can buy that as a solution to prevent conflict. But once the village has gotten used to working together, wouldn't it have been time to reveal it wasn't "real?" As a lesson to teach them they didn't need to be fighting?

And apparently this whole situation with the Chief was orchestrated by the dying Sirah so they would accept his apprentice. How about, instead, you false-prophecy-perpetuating selfish old bastard, you take the opportunity of your upcoming death to dismantle the myth of the demonic entity? The apprentice knew the truth--they could have worked together to show the people the truth.

But NOOOOO, it is better to continue a lie for the sake of harmony instead of pursuing truth. I am so sick of people being treated as children who can't handle truth. That's what made me give up on BSG.

I'm so mad I could just spit.
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 30, 2013 - 3:51pm (USA Central)
While not outstanding it is in the tradition of Star Trek moralising...

O'Brien as the Sirah was hilarious "once upon a time...", and then there's the evolving friendship between him and Bashir.

The kids weren't as annoying as they could have been, and did actually serve a purpose here.
azcats - Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - 10:45am (USA Central)
i would say this is the beginning of the "bro-mance." i did like this one better than harry and tom from voyager.

hmm...i might even like it better than data and geordi on TNG.

i liked that Chief thought Bashir was annoying at first. bashir really did grow up during the series.

oatmeal scene was great.

as for grump otter. i think they continued the myth...because it ALWAYS made sure they had unity. look at the B story. almost civil war. i doubt civil war would happen here...
Snitch - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
This new age mumbo jumbo episode with the children leader illogical subplot made me quit watching DS-9 in its original run. It can't be good. The apprentice tries to murder O'Brien and what, nothing. Overall total crap in my book, 1/2 a star.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 1:59pm (USA Central)

The main plot is just not good.

2/10
kmfrob - Fri, Nov 22, 2013 - 10:10am (USA Central)
I just don't get it...

I've come to DS9 after watching Enterprise (big fan of TNG when I was a kid though), and I'm reading these reviews as I go along. But what is beginning to annoy me is that there were plenty of episodes of ENT as least or more entertaining than this that you give lower scores to. Now I read your reviews for ENT carefully and I'd say that a lot of your scores and reviews were fair judgements, but it just seems that you apply a completely different scoring system when it comes to DS9. I mean ultimately it makes no difference to my enjoyment of the shows, but it just seems like ENT has been cast in a much more negative light than I think it deserves.

Anyway, I do DS9's heavy handedness with its life and morality lessons a little jarring at times, and Sisko is painful to watch, but the show is growing on me I admit!
Elliott - Mon, Dec 2, 2013 - 7:53pm (USA Central)
I really mean it, if I were religious, I would be extremely angry with the DS9 writers for portraying the Bajorans as such a pathetically credulous and weak-minded race who excuse ALL of their incompetences with "belief". What a disaster.
Yanks - Mon, Jun 23, 2014 - 11:03am (USA Central)
I'm not sure where to start. Just watched this episode recently (usually a skipper for me) and I echo many of the complaints I've read here.

Here's one that I haven't read yet. This bracelet was made from a hunk of an orb? ... (slaps forehead) ... really? Did someone just go up with a hammer and pic the orb that creates the lightning bolt zapping stay-puff marshmallow man and chisel off a chunk? lol

How realistic is this approach to uniting a village? Let’s create a bad guy that's purprose is to unite the villagers, but let’s just have him show up 5 times in a row once a year after the harvest is complete regardless of the mood of the village? (slaps forehead again)

This is just another "religion is stupid" Star Trek episode. For GODS sake, the village folks LINED UP THEIR VIRGINS for Obrien!! (no wonder the old Sirah kept his job for so long) The Sirah apprentice tried to KILL Obrien because he HAD to be THE ONE (hearing BAB5's Zathras here).

On a lighter note, I enjoyed the "B" story. I did find it odd that this girl didn't have any security at her cabin and that Jake and Nog just barged right in without an invite. I do think Sisko should have shown this young girl what real war is somehow as she was so eager to go there...

1/2 out of 4 stars because I like Jake and Nog and the Odo bucket joke was pretty darn funny.

(oh, aren't there any Bajoran adults that can represent and negotiate for group of people? Would they really have gone to war because she was stupid and incompetent?)
Dusty - Fri, Aug 8, 2014 - 1:38am (USA Central)
The Dal'roch story verges on ridiculous, especially the awkward apprentice who tried to stab O'Brien and Bashir (and he's a protagonist!). I didn't think the acting was very good either. But the B-story with Jake, Nog, and the Bajoran girl was okay. I wish it got more time so we could actually see her land, her people, and the resolution of their conflict. I'd give this one 1 1/2 stars, no more.
Elliott - Thu, Aug 14, 2014 - 11:26pm (USA Central)
Teaser : ***, 5%

Let's start out with the implications of the Station Log : a land dispute between two rival “factions” of Bajorans could trigger a civil war. So, presumably these factions have armies to wage this war. Armies which sure as hell would have been useful, what, a year ago when Bajor was still occupied by the Cardassians. Or are we talking about some sort of Tennessee feud?

Anyway, O'Brien tries to get out of his away mission with Bashir, and who can blame him? But Sisko's kind of a sadist, so he sends him packing.

So, Kira fills Sisko in on some of the details of the rivalry and, again, a lot doesn't make sense. “The Paqu don't like contact with outsiders”? How could they avoid it when Bajor was being raped and pillaged? How could an enslaved people have any say in such a custom? Sisko tells Kira that he's conducted similar mediations before. When? As a first officer? With Kurzon maybe? I thought this was a captains prerogative. These are little nits, but they're kind of aggravating when most of the issues could have been side-stepped by having the dispute be from a hitherfore unknown race, rather than the heavily historied Bajorans.

So, the Paqu Tetrarch is revealed to be an adolescent girl, and I'm having flashbacks to “The Daupin” already.

Act 1 : **, 17%

“Do I annoy you?” Well, there's a great way to start a conversation. I always feel for actors who have to purposefully play irritating characters. Majel Barret, Ethan Phillips, and you Mr Siddig, all have my sympathy. For Miles' part, I think he does a good job of conveying his irritation while not going overboard into full-blown sarcasm.

The arrive at the “jeopardised” village to find an old Bajoran man on the verge of death whose continued existence is apparently crucial to the village's survival.

Meanwhile in the B plot, Sisko tries to find some common ground between these factions. The Navot representative is of course and old, gluttonous fat dude.

What is it about Bajoran women? Ro, Kira and this Tetrarch are all so emotionally volatile, throwing tantrums and getting self-righteous at the drop of a hat. At least this girl can use her youth as an excuse. So, apparently, the Cardassians diverted a river which demarcates the separation of the two's territories. Thus leaving a larger plot of land to the Tetrarch's side (the Paqu) than would naturally have been there. While I can understand that the Paqu would want to hold on to this new land, there is absolutely no moral justification for her position. The Paqu's territory was artificially increased by an *occupying* force. To hold on to that land not only constitutes robbery, but is rather insulting to the Paqu and Navot who died under Cardassian rule, possibly being forced to divert the river themselves.

On to the C Plot (that's not usually a good sign). Nog and Jake are hanging around as they do (don't these kids have homework, or something else to do with their time?). Nog spots the Tetrarch bitching her way through the promenade and declares her to be “the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.”

Back to the A plot; The Balrog? Wait a minute, I know who you are old Bajoran, man! You're Gandalf, aren't you! You can't fool me with that crinkly nose. Were you dreaming about eagles? So, because every other Bajoran in season 1 is portrayed like a Jedi, Gandalf declares O'Brien to be “sent from the Prophets” based on touching his ear—I mean his hands. Heh.

“Only the Syrah is strong enough to defeat it.” Have you tried a Pinot? Maybe a white wine would work better. So far this whole plot has just seemed rather silly.

Act 2 : .5 stars, 17%

Jake and Nog invite themselves into the Tetrarch's quarters and they invite her to see the wormhole, which is pretty much the pick-up line of choice for everyone on DS9.

So Gandalf the Rosé treks outside with difficulty to confront a storm. Miles says the tricorder isn't registering an atmospheric disturbance. Um, maybe this disturbance isn't being caused by natural weather patterns, but the wind is so high you can barely open your eyes, I think the atmosphere is unquestionable disturbed at the moment there, smart guy.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” And a space marshmallow appears while Gandalf recites bad poetry. So, and I can't believe I have to write this, the village's good vibes start emanating from their foreheads to repel the Balrog.

And just as I was trying to decide if the story's maturity had descended more to Captain Planet levels or Sailor Moon, Gandalf dies in as cheesy a manner as possible, clutching his chest and falling dramatically. I had to pause the episode while I laughed at this stupidity. So, Balrog the marshmallow goes all Old Testament on the village and starts hurling thunderbolts at the buildings.

Act 3 : *.5, 17%

Oh he's not dead—“YOU SHALL NOT PA—“ oh we did that. Um, “THE VILLAGE SHALL NOT BE DESTROYED!”

Dear god, I had to pause again. So, in order for the villagers to focus their good vibes, Gandalf just has to whisper Miles his lines so he can shout them at the people. I just—I'm so fucking confused. It seems like, for whatever reason, the villagers can let their powers combine unless they hear a specific script. So why must only this one dude say the lines? Is no one else in the village able to retain trite pseudo-incantation speak? So the marshmallow Balrog retreats and Gandalf finally dies. The magistrate names O'Brien the new King of Cheese to protect the village.

Let me digress briefly; as someone who applauds the exploration of myth-making in Star Trek, the optimistic part of my brain believes that the intentions behind this story were genuinely good. The fact that the magistrate puts it as “someone new to *tell the story*” is key. This village is living out a legend, and they need this ritual to survive. The problem is that the allegorical power of such a story is buried under first of all an obtuse exaggeration of the allegory (even by Trek standards); the Balrog is a physical threat to the village. Second of all, the execution is so unforgivably horrendous in just about every way as to wipe away any potential subtlety in, ironically, the story-telling.

Back in the B Plot, Sisko confronts Dauphin 2.0 and calls her out on her obstinacy, but she's hearing none of it. Well, with 40 seconds expended on most interesting of the 3 plots, we run back in to the C Plot, the boys find the Tetrarch and the three of them bond a little. It's refreshing to have the young people be able to discuss some darker themes—all three of them lost their mothers, and the Dauphin her father as well.

So, Bashir is doing his best Chris Pine, pompously eating his apple while remarking on the “fascinating” event he and Miles witnessed. O'Brien is understandably frustrated and exasperated at the situation, while the villagers continue to impress us in just how moronic they all are, including offering the Chief his choice of three young girls to use as prostitutes. Well, that's just great. What a noble and enlightened people the Bajorans are! Rather than reacting with warranted disgust at this notion, Bashir just laughs and O'Brien stomps around complaining.

So, O'Brien *finally* has the first good idea in the episode, namely doing some science to figure out what exactly Marshmallow Balrog is and how to destroy it.

Act 4 : **, 17%

C Plot : Opportunity + Instinct = Profit. Maybe the Underwear Gnomes wrote the Rules of Acquisition. So the little rascals break into Odo's office to steal his bucket. Nog fills the bucket with oatmeal so he can embarrass Jake I guess, because there couldn't be any Ferengi that is sticky and slimy, no that's not their style. Odo and Sisko find them, at which point it becomes painfully obvious that the Dauphin here shouldn't be leading negotiations that could result in war.

A Plot : We get another entry into the Almanac of all the Reasons these Villagers are Idiots as some repressed woman asks O'Brien to bless her child because a few hours ago, Gandalf anointed him as his successor. All I could think of as Bashir smilingly encourages this behaviour is Picard's speech from “Who Watches the Watchers.” How far we've sunk.

So the Sommelier apprentice tries to assassination the poor chief in a scene that is so confused as to the tone it's nearly nauseating. The dialogue suggests it's supposed to be funny (and really, that's the only successful way you could play such a goofy scene), but the music and editing seem to want to play it serious. Anyway, the would-be assassin claims that he's the real Captain Planet.

Act 5 : **, 17%

At this point, my suspicions about the origins of this story's mythical potential are confirmed as the apprentice explains that the marshmallow is a purposefully-designed entity meant to teach the village a lesson about unity. Again, huge potential, totally wasted. I mean, this whole process depends on this crux of the “story” which the Syrah must relate, but what the hell was the story Gandalf told? It was like 4 lines of bland nothing. You can't write a story about a story and fail to tell a good story!!

B Plot : The Dauphin lets us know that the only real reason she's refusing to do the right thing and give the Nevot back their land is because she doesn't want to look weak. Classic inferiority complex, but it makes sense given her history and how young she is. Anyway, it seems she as a CLEVER PLAN.

A Plot : Twist – O'Brien was chosen by Gandalf in order to set him up as a false Syrah so the apprentice could step in and toast the marshmallow. The scene is just as as stupid and trite as in the third act, but now, it's lost the comic shock value and is just boring. Of course, the villagers just as quickly accept the new guy as their saviour as they had both accepted and rejected O'Brien. These villagers are so DAMNED STUPID.

B & C Plots : So her CLEVER PLAN is to propose free trade for the Paqu in exchange for giving the Navot back their land. That sure was worth sitting through this drivel wasn't it?

Cue some corny closing material, and we're done.

Episode as Functionary : *.5, 10%

Not good, folks. The main plots mythical elements are so overshadowed by cornball execution and laughably idiotic motivations and reactions that it's basically a totally lost cause. Bashir's comments don't seem to stem from his character; it's like he was trying to be as irritating as possible. I mean, why encourage the villagers to treat O'Brien like a religious figure? I can understand a little bit of mild taunting, but shouldn't he be concerned at all? The other two plots are a little better. The Dauphin's plight is reasonable enough and her interactions with the boys are thankfully more understated than I was worried they would be, but the young actress' performance is quite wooden and underwhelming. It's a skipper.

Final Score : *.5

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