Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



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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15 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.

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).
Elliott - Wed, Sep 23, 2015 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
Teaser : ***, 5%

A drunk widowed Milf decides to buy a mining operation. She tells this creepy guy all about her plans while Odo looks on incredulously. As soon as creepy 90s dude suggests that he “help” her with her investment, Odo drags him out of the bar. Turns out the creep is an El'Aurian (the first we have met since Guinan). Martus, the “listener,” is some sort of extortionist. Odo throws him in a cell. There's very little to say about any of this. It's rather straight-forward, well-acted and clear, but not exactly riveting either. Things could go either way.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

Plot B : O'Brien happily enters his newly-built racquetball arena (I assume “built” means “designed” as in the holodeck/suite programme, not physically by hand. I mean, he can't get the station to function properly as it is). He discovers Bashir, suited up and ready to go, apparently uninvited. Also uninvited are Bashir's comments about how he beat a Vulcan at the game while at the Academy. The dialogue is very efficient in setting up the dynamics here: Bashir is 1. younger, 2. more talented, 3. more eager, and 4. more competitive. I'm also pleased to report that the writers have honed their writing between the two considerably since that piece of crap, “The Storyteller”--I laughed out loud at Bashir's “I see by the lines you prefer the old-style rules.” While this is good fun, I'm hoping we get a bit of development for him; he's still very much the blank slate he was last season.

Plot A : Martus is bothered by a snoring Ent sharing his cell. The Ent wakes up and starts blabbering on about how he once had health, riches and fame but lost it all to “this”; [removes light-up 80s sextoy from cloak]. Odo, why wasn't this confiscated? The Ent explains that his toy is an ancient gambling device, then dies. The structure of the A-plot (as well as its author) would suggest a Trekkified Grimms' Tale of sorts—Martus collects the Rhinegold from a wizened sage and learns a painful and ironic lesson. But the tone is all wrong—it's this half-hearted (and very beige) comedy. I'm still feeling ambivalent.

Act 2 : **, 17%

Miles returns to his quarters sweaty and ashamed after his workout with Julian. *ahem* I think Garak is going to be jealous... The conversation between him and Keiko dusts off that ol' Season 1 trope, the DBI (DS9 Banality Indulgence). It's not that I don't think real people have these kinds of conversations (in fact, I know they do), it's just that I don't want to sit and watch them have them. It is odd to think that this is the same Miles O'Brien who can speak calmly about war combat and racial bigotry but gets himself into a mad frenzy over a game of racquetball.

In the meanwhile, Bashir shares his side of the story with Dax. It seems he attempted to spare the chief further embarrassment and/or death-by-exhaustion by trying to get out of the game.

BASHIR : I really respect him...the things he does, the kind of man he is. I just don't want to humiliate him.

The blithe visual metaphor accompanying this conversation is a little obvious, but I think it works: Bashir is after some space-catsup for his sandwich. His table's bottle is empty, so he asks another for theirs, which is also empty. Finally, he just grabs one without comment and succeeds in finding his catsup. He dresses his sandwich, looks at it, then sets it down uneaten. The man knows what he wants, asks for it politely, then finally just takes it, but is left unhappy with his success.

Plot A : Odo releases Martus and his new sextoy from his cell, charges having been dropped. He and Quark barter for his toy (for reasons that are left unclear) while Quark pours him pink lemonade. He asked for prosecco! Uh uh. You can't serve koolaide from glass jars when the characters ask for actual beverages. In spite of some genuine effort between the actors, the conversation is baffling, inane and seemingly without motivation. I don't recommend it.

Martus steps out of the bar and spots another Milf who's shutting down her business, her husband having just passed away. “You understand,” she says. I'm sorry what? What the hell is going on?

Plot B : Return to racquetball; Bashir is doing a bad job pretending to lose to Miles. And we're out.

Plot A : Martus has opened a night-club in the widow's old shoppe (presumably with her money). The entrance looks like a cheap carnival ride, so of course it's being flooded with clients.

Act 3 : *.5, 17%

Sisko flatly admits that he blackmailed Quark during “Emissary” to stay on the station while having the gall to invoke Federation morality, claiming Quark's bribes to the Cardassians don't constitute a contract in its eyes (he claims exclusive gambling rights on the station). Are we supposed to applaud Sisko for this assbaggery? Ugh.

Anway, Martus has spun his good luck sextoy into a thriving business, eh, somehow. Widow A from the teaser shows up looking for another investor in her “dream.” Widow B is on her heals wearing the latest in Playing Card Fashions. Martus proposes to her, I think.

Meanwhile, Dax has her own bout of luck running some sort of diagnostic. Oooo, “mystery”...

Plot B : Bashir decides to end his rivalry with O'Brien and calls it quits, leaving Miles blue. He pays a visit to Quark's which is woefully empty. Quark is determined to prove he can listen as well as his El'Aurian counterpart, er, rival.

QUARK : Tell me your problems. All of them.

Quark gets a bright idea to turn Miles' woes into a gambling opportunity. Holy 1-dimensional character traits Batman!

Plot A : Kira is hitting the furniture. Again. Everyone get it yet? Some people are really lucky. Some are really unlucky. Get it? Are we done yet?

Act 4 : *, 17%

Plot A/B : Quark sets up his “Grudge-Match of the Galaxy: The Mechanic versus the Doctor”! It's suppose to be funny that Quark uses his promise to donate half the proceedings to the Bajorans' Orphan Fund to strong-arm Bashir and O'Brien into playing his game, but on the heals of the last two episodes (and Sisko's unwelcome assbaggery), I can't help remembering that there are still starving orphans on Bajor and the Federation is just sitting around, gambling, wasting time. I don't care how much “funny flute music” you play, it's just not that funny.

On the heels of the reversal of luck between Quark and Marcus, everyone else's luck is also being reversed. Speaking of Marcus, he's resting his weary head on one of his not-dabbo-girl's bosom. Widow B bursts in, incensed, and orders him to leave and “take those damn things with you.” I always say I award points for clever innuendo. And boy does this sinking ship need some points.

Anyway, he decides to invest his profits in Widow A's venture. We close out the act with a closeup of one of his replicated gambling sextoys. Do you get it yet? Helloooo...

Act 5 : .5 stars, 17%

Keiko is being her awesome self:

to O'BRIEN : Win or lose, tonight, we celebrate [wink].

What a good spouse.

Quark drops by with a “gift” for Bashir (an anæsthetic). He's trying to fix the match (Quark is a crooked Capitalist. Get it? GET IT!!!!!!).

Meanwhile, Dax has discovered some quantum bullshit that reflects the luck-distribution-phenomenon. Bashir is losing badly. Neutrinos are spinning like ballerinas. Rom gets the girl. It's madness!

So, it turns out that the Ent's technology can change the laws of probability. And turn itself on. And power itself. And can be perfectly replicated. Uh huh. Fucking brilliant.

Dignity and an empty sac is worth a sac...even if you get kicked in the balls.

Episode as Functionary : *, 10%

This is the era of Menosky's writing that gave us “Masks.” Buried in here is a mythological story that could have been great fun, but the fairytale and Trek genre are so at odds that we feel this very uncomfortable tension that never really resolves. The “science” is laughably stupid and basically unexplained. Quark is one-dimensional and bland. Martus is insufferable and many of the characters (Kira, Dax and Sisko) have reverted to the dregs of their Season One selves. The only saving grace here is an amiable portrayal of the Bashir/O'Brien relationship. But even that is hampered by too little screentime, no development of the characters themselves, and a non-ending. Their story is swallowed up by the A-Plot and forgotten entirely. Skippable.

Final Score : *.5

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