Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Rivals"

**1/2

Air date: 1/3/1994
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Jim Trombetta and Michael Piller
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

An El'Aurian con man named Martus (Chris Sarandon) visits DS9 and stumbles across a bizarre gambling device that—once replicated and integrated into his newly established casino—inadvertently changes the laws of probability so that unforeseen unlikelihoods occur on the station.

"Rivals" is an atypical attempt at light cleverness, and it almost works. This is a relaxing, diverting hour with enough sense of whimsy to be respectably entertaining. Particularly fun to watch are the humorous character moments surrounding O'Brien and Bashir's racquetball rivalry. Watching O'Brien's frustration over Julian's youth advantage is a delight, and Bashir's own problem of having to beat a person he considers a mentor is a witty twist.

Less compelling are the implications of Martus' competitive establishment stealing all of Quark's customers—though the idea isn't completely unpalatable. Quark's idea of conning O'Brien and Bashir into a "charity" racquetball tournament to regenerate his business is somewhat inspired. And the results of the tournament prove interesting when the change in the probability laws causes the ball to always go to O'Brien—a fairly clever idea.

But there's a glaring flaw surrounding this episode, which is that the writing is far too restrained and low-key for what the premise demands. Menosky should've pushed the envelope on this one so much further into comic mayhem—or at least into mild slapstick or memorable creativity. As it stands, "Rivals" is an amiable, lightweight episode with some good ideas, but just not funny or inspired enough to maintain a real sense of energy.

Previous episode: Sanctuary
Next episode: The Alternate

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14 comments on this review

Paul York - Wed, Jun 6, 2012 - 9:23am (USA Central)
It seems improbably (implausible) that the laws of probability should be altered in this way, within a local area of spacetime. And if they were, the station would probably come apart and everyone would die, not just a few changes that we see here. However, this is sci-fi, so we accept the premise for the sake of the story. Shows how DS9 attracts all sorts of shady characters ...
Ian - Sat, Jul 21, 2012 - 10:55pm (USA Central)
Sounds like they needed an Infinite Improbibility Drive...

Also sounds like somone had read The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy...
Asian James - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 9:33am (USA Central)
I'm surprised this episode received a 2.5 out of 4 stars from Jammer. The plot about changing the law of probability is very improbable in itself. The props are awful (e.g. the gambling globes that Martus sets up in his shop) and are more painful to watch almost 20 years later after the episode was produced.

The only two saving graces about the episode are as follows:

1. Seeing the B-plot of how much O'Brien hates Bashier, and how he works so hard to defeat Bashier in futuristic racquetball. ***SPOILER ALERT*** It's fun to watch since DS9 viewers know how their friendship evolves.

2. Seeing Chris Sarandon, a.k.a. Prince Humperdinck, on-screen.

My personal rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars.
Jack - Sun, Feb 10, 2013 - 9:13pm (USA Central)
We have a scene in ops where they talk about how the infirmary is swamped, then to a scene where Bashir is in Quark's, and then back to a scene in ops where again it is mentioned that the infirmary is swamped. So why is Bashir in Quark's?
ZurielSeven - Sat, Aug 10, 2013 - 9:09am (USA Central)
Sarandon's early "I'm not listening"... Quarks near-perfect manipulations to set up the match... The reactions of the Bajoran monks... C'mon - add another half-star for this one.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 3:44pm (USA Central)

Absurd episode but somehow it kind of worked for me. The Bashir O'Brien plot was fun as well.

5/10
Yanks - Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - 11:20am (USA Central)
This is a so-so episode.

Still not sure how someone's luck can be affect by these gizmos.

Bashir/Obrien racketball, blah...

Just a miffle of the road pretty boring ep. No highs and no real lows.

2 of 4 stars from me.
DLPB - Sun, Aug 31, 2014 - 7:00am (USA Central)
This episode must rank in as one of the worst episodes in Trek history. The acting is poor, probably because the script is useless. The plot is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. This shouldn't come under "Science Fiction", but "Fiction". There's no science here, folks. The idea that probability works this way is simply insulting the viewer's intelligence.
Scott - Tue, Sep 2, 2014 - 1:05am (USA Central)
I like this episode. Of course I like a lot of episodes that most fans think are cheesy. I can watch move along home, if wishes were horses, and any ferengi episode. It's not that I don't understand why people don't like these episodes. I just have fun with them. Then when I watch a serious masterpiece like rocks and shoals I change how I watch the show.

I liked the conflict between Martus and Quark but Martus does take away some of the mystery behind Gunans race.

House always take Blue!!!!
Dusty - Thu, Nov 6, 2014 - 11:36am (USA Central)
I have an issue with the whole "luck" thing. A whole episode based on some alien doohickey altering the laws of probability? Humans MADE UP the laws of probability in an attempt to explain and organize random phenomena via mathematics. Why would alien races buy into them? And surely we would have moved on to something more sophisticated by the time we colonized space. Jadzia tracing evidence of these alterations on a subatomic level (the "spinning neutrinos" bit) just adds to the silliness.

Beyond that, it was a fun and entertaining outing, but not very memorable. Bashir and O'Brien never even resolved their rivalry. Honestly, I only watched it as closely as I did because I wanted Bashir to get beat (legitimately).
methane - Fri, Jul 3, 2015 - 11:52am (USA Central)
This is an episode that I find more entertaining now than when it first aired. When I first watched it, I groaned at the "science". Now I just accept it and find myself amused with the character interactions.
DLPB - Wed, Jul 8, 2015 - 6:43pm (USA Central)
Humans MADE UP the laws of probability in an attempt to explain and organize random phenomena via mathematics.
---------

No. Probability is a part of mathematics. We didn't invent it any more than we invented a quantity of something. We simply gave a name to it.

The only thing I like about this episode is Quark.
William B - Fri, Jul 31, 2015 - 4:01pm (USA Central)
This is an episode which examines the theme of luck, in that sometimes people have good luck and sometimes they have bad luck. It also examines the theme of rivalry, in that there are two sets of people -- Quark and Martus, Julian and Miles -- who are competing with each other, who are "rivals" if you will.

...

...

OK, that's it. I've got nothing more to say.

...

OK, OK, I'll try a bit more. The episode's depictions of the ups and downs of fortune makes it feel a bit like some kind of genie story, or some such, and the idea of a device that artificially makes one's luck good or bad has a certain appeal as a fantasy idea. The episode's attempt at a SF explanation is pretty painful, so I won't belabour that. The episode doesn't do much interesting with it, except that it does get something of the charge that the compulsive gambler feels. The real issue with those luck spheres for Martus, and for the previous owner, is that the initial run of good luck creates an artificial high which then makes the person restless and unhappy until they have that again, which is why it's often said that the worst possible thing that can happen to someone is to win big the first time they gamble, since it creates a thrill and a set of expectations that can't really be matched. Making unknown character Martus the person whose luck changes so radically was a weird choice; while, yes, it's nice to see Chris "Prince Humperdink" Sarandon in the role, there's no indication why we should care about this guy aside from the most general "all human[oid]s deserve our empathy" sense of it. The one advantage of making Martus the luck-holder is that it helps establish Quark as the real underdog hero of the episode; while Quark allows gambling at his place, and is a gambler of sorts himself, he judges each deal as it comes and uses his wits, cunning, and interpersonal skills to profit, while "listener" Martus, despite his rep as a con man, mostly ends up a passive individual, at the whim of The Fates splashing him to and fro. The passive man who bets on luck may briefly overtake the canny individual who focuses on skill, but fortunes change and eventually skill tends to win out. Comparing the way Quark makes the O'Brien/Bashir feud into a big source of profits, using the carrot of charity to lure the two in, makes Martus' "a random guy gave me a luck generator which I used to make more luck generators" approach seem even more pathetic.

The Bashir/O'Brien rivalry is pretty fun, actually, though it takes up less of the episode's runtime than I had remembered; I also think that their not resolving their rivalry in episode -- no tag, even! -- is a bit of a shame. It's a comedy plot, yes, but comedy plots still (mostly) work best as plots. Anyway, I find their scenes, along with the related ones (Julian's telling Dax that he's afraid Miles is going to have a heart attack, Miles' venting to Keiko) pretty enjoyable throughout. The personality clash/buddy cop formula is obvious but it does work here, and much better than in "The Storyteller," and I like that Julian is both much more enthusiastic about the friendship and also tries very hard to put an end to the matches while leaving Miles' dignity intact; Miles' desire to beat Julian and wipe that smug smile off his face as a way for Miles to (willingly!) choose to spend more time with the guy is a neat way to push their development without resetting Miles' fundamental attitude, nor putting them in a big life-death situation.

I get something of a kick out of the image of the ball bouncing around the room and O'Brien catching it. I don't quite know what it is, but I like it.

Comedy or no, I do think it's a bad sign when the "main plot" essentially gets resolved because, EVENTUALLY, the main cast notice something, then pick up their tricorder, and then shoot spheres with phasers, end of story, taking all of like one minute.

2-2.5 stars. Probably a high 2 -- enjoyable fluff in the B-plot, somewhat dull and very silly, but with some redeeming elements, A-plot.
William B - Fri, Jul 31, 2015 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
A bit more on Julian-Miles:

The Bashir-O'Brien friendship is between awkward supergenius and skilled everyman, and so one of the recurring elements is the way any competition between the two of them will go to Bashir, if it's actually something that requires pure physical or mental aptitude. So given the "luck" theme here, it might be worth considering that Bashir happens to have "won" a certain genetic crapshoot that O'Brien didn't. O'Brien is very smart and talented, but is not the kind of physical/mental prodigy that Julian was/is, and has several years on him to boot. O'Brien has experience, Bashir has "talent" in its rawest form, and O'Brien tries to beat Bashir head-on through sheer force of will in spite of the fact that Bashir has every physical advantage, plus training. Bashir did work hard to become an expert racquetball player and, for that matter, briefly wanted to be a great tennis player before going the "easier" route of medical student. But it is hard for O'Brien not to see him, on some level, as having on his side things which have nothing to do with how hard they worked -- Bashir is younger and happens to have been some kind of genius prodigy.

It's another instance where the retcon about Bashir's genetic engineering works wonders. The reason Bashir is so talented is that his parents rigged the game, secretly. And so this brings Bashir into parallel with Martus, and O'Brien into parallel with Quark -- Bashir's genetically enhanced mega-talent gave him an artificial leg-up which amounts to "luck," not in terms of probability but in terms of him happening to have an advantage unrelated to the effort he put in. And then when Martus starts losing, Bashir loses badly. The episode's comedy and the reversal of fortunes perhaps implies that even accidents of birth (or deliberate choices by parents to give their children an Advantage) are just as ephemeral as any other random-number-generator -- even if these accidents of birth end up determining a whole lot of what happens in a person's life. Pretty interesting, if not fully fleshed-out (and I might be imagining things, more so than usual).

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