Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Starship Down"


Air date: 11/13/1995
Written by David Mack & John J. Ordover
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The Captain has gotten us out of tougher spots than this. Last year, when the Romulans tried to invade the Founders' homeworld, we went up against a dozen Jem'Hadar ships."
"I know, Chief. You've told me this story."
"Well, unless you want to hear it again, you'd better get down to the torpedo bay and start working on those probes."

— O'Brien and Engineer Stevens

Nutshell: The story is a collision of about four disaster movies, but the flawless plot assembly and impressive technical credits will make you forget the shortcomings.

Sisko and crew take the Defiant through the wormhole to meet the Karemma, the financial experts of the Gamma Quadrant. The Dominion disapproves of the meeting between their cash runners and the Federation, and sends the Jem'Hadar to "punish" the Karemma for their disobedience. In an attempt to protect the Karemma, the Defiant ends up in a battle with the Jem'Hadar inside the violent atmosphere of a nearby planet.

From a storytelling standpoint, this is probably the weakest episode so far this season (except for "Little Green Men," but that was a comedy). Fortunately the episode transcends its basic storytelling with some good suspense scenes and lustrous showmanship.

On a technical level, "Starship Down" is an outstanding episode. The several battle scenes inside the windy, cloudy atmosphere boast some absolutely superb special effects with feature film quality. And if you like to see sets explode, you're in for a treat, because just about every Defiant location becomes the victim of pyrotechnic rigging.

The plot is a collection of elements that were seemingly inspired by a disaster movie, if not four disaster movies. With the ship severely damaged, key members of the crew become isolated from each other, and the episode becomes a number of sub-stories, including (A) Worf taking control of the ship from engineering so he can elude the Jem'Hadar; (B) Kira trying to keep an injured Sisko from falling unconscious and dying by telling him a story; (C) Quark and the Karemma trader Hanok (James Cromwell) discussing the ethics of trade while disarming a torpedo which has punched through the hull; and (D) Bashir and Dax locked in an isolated corridor of the ship with no life support. It sounds ridiculous, but by some extraordinary feat of plot engineering, these sub-stories all come together and work as well as they possibly could have.

This type of crosscutting and scene changing makes writing an economical synopses fairly nightmarish. I guess the best way to do this would be to look at each sub-story individually. Bear with me here...

(A) Worf taking control of engineering shows how much he has to learn about command. In a crunch, Worf wants results within seconds after he barks an order. He isn't wrong-headed—he just doesn't understand that under the circumstances his crew is only capable of so much; and he is not very tolerant when his demands can't immediately be met to the letter. This leads Chief O'Brien, speaking from experience, to tell Worf that engineers need to be given problems to solve, not concrete orders to obey. I like the fact that Worf makes mistakes—that he isn't the perfect commanding officer. It makes his situations more realistic and the character more interesting. Worf, being reasonable of course, heeds O'Brien's lesson. As a result, the ending—in which Worf hands the engineers a problem to solve, allowing the Defiant to cleverly trick and destroy the Jem'Hadar ship—displays cool-headed style and finesse.

(B) As Kira tries to keep Sisko from slipping into a coma, we again see Kira torn between seeing her superior officer as just a co-worker she respects or a religious icon for her people. This is an element of the series that is always welcome, and it's nice to see that the show remembers and cares about its history and wants us to as well. Unfortunately, things get a little bit repetitive, and this idea was already done in the far-superior "Destiny" last season. The only new element here is Kira telling Sisko that she regrets they have never spent any real off-duty time together as close friends. Unfortunately—and this is the biggest missed opportunity of the episode—the show's closing scene on the station between Sisko and Kira is far too cheery and hokey to really be poignant; it consequently undermines most of what this tries to accomplish.

There's also the question of the chain of command aboard the Defiant. It seems Worf takes command of the ship before Kira. I don't quite understand why this is since the episode doesn't take time to explain it, but at least it gives Worf something to do in addition to being the genesis for the Sisko/Kira scenes.

(C) Hanok, meanwhile, is angry at Quark for cheating him in the Karemma/Federation negotiations. To ease tensions, Quark chummily introduces Hanok to the excitements of gambling and financial risk and gain. This plotline is played mostly for laughs, and works surprisingly well. Even more surprising is how much suspense director Alexander Singer is able to milk out of the scene where they must disarm the torpedo, yet how hilarious Quark's solution to the problem proves to be. Not bad at all.

(D) Dax and Bashir trapped alone is just an excuse for gratuitous cuteness. This bit falls flat. Anyone who watches the series regularly knows the "just good friends" relationship these two have. The subplot isn't necessary beyond the need for filler to give the two characters a purpose in the latter acts of the show. However, the way the two get into the situation in the first place is nice. I like Dax's heroics of trying to repair damage when she's aware her section of the ship is about to be sealed off. Also, Bashir's actions to come to her rescue gives him a chance to show initiative.

All in all, "Starship Down" manages to work somehow. It's the best case scenario of the sum of its parts. It doesn't mean a whole lot (in particular, exchanging fire with the Jem'Hadar will apparently have no direct political consequences). Yet the episode is a decent adventure outing that looks great. Good execution and, although not all the characterization is on target, everything holds together.

Previous episode: Little Green Men
Next episode: The Sword of Kahless

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25 comments on this review

AeC - Sat, May 17, 2008 - 8:22pm (USA Central)
Not much to add except Cromwell's delivery of the line, "Perhaps I should give them a refund," is nothing short of masterful, one of the biggest laugh lines in the entire series.
Dimitris Kiminas - Tue, May 5, 2009 - 1:38am (USA Central)
Regarding the chain of command aboard the Defiant, I suppose since it is a Federation vessel, the next Starship officer should take command and Kira is not a Starfleet officer.
Jake Taylor - Mon, Dec 27, 2010 - 1:26am (USA Central)
Yes I thought it was nice to see Worf have a flaw and accept advice. Overall this story is nice, Kira amd Sisko what do we talk about work. Is very nice also.
Jay - Sun, Feb 6, 2011 - 11:34am (USA Central)
This was another disaster episode, like Civil Defense the season before. I thought the latter was better in almost every way.
Nic - Thu, Mar 31, 2011 - 10:46am (USA Central)
This is completely irrelevant, but didn't "Starship Down" air before "Little Green Men"? Every other source I've checked seems to indicate that this is the case.
Josh - Sun, Apr 3, 2011 - 1:17pm (USA Central)
Kira is the first officer of DS9. Worf commands the Defiant. That Chain is established in later episodes.
F. - Thu, May 3, 2012 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
Nothing we haven't seen before but I loved Worf in this. Pretty mediocre otherwise.
MadBaggins - Sat, Jun 16, 2012 - 7:46am (USA Central)
How can this get a higher rating than the TNG episode it ripped off: Disaster?
mike - Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - 10:03am (USA Central)
a rip off from tng disaster and pretty mediocre
John - Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 9:21am (USA Central)
I'd probably go 2-2.5 for this one.

Too cheesy, predictable and inconsequential. A bit of corny fun is all.
Cail Corishev - Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - 4:29pm (USA Central)
My only jarring thought was: won't the Dominion just be that much more cheesed off after this, and go break Hanok's planet into tiny pieces? If he thought they might kill his whole crew just for negotiating with the Federation, what's the punishment for standing by while two Dominion ships get toasted? Seems like this would be the start of Hanok's problems, not the end.
PeteTongLaw - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
It's hard to get over the lack of explosive decompression in the corridor when the forcefield gives way. Everyone should have been sucked into space.
Matt - Fri, Feb 1, 2013 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
Regarding the previous poster's comment, there was no decompression into space because the ship was in an atmosphere (positive pressure on ship exterior).

The major "physical" problem shouldn't be people getting sucked out into space, but rather the instant compression of atmosphere (and people!) resulting from the sudden equilibration with the increased hydrostatic forces when the ship breeches. Movies and shows rarely get this right (see the airspace inside the sinking ship of "A Perfect Storm" for example). The writers are apparently far removed from their high school chemistry and physics courses (or have never tried scuba diving).
Michael - Thu, Aug 8, 2013 - 10:18pm (USA Central)
RE: Matt

Yeah, that bothered me too, especially since they explicitly mention how terrifyingly high the pressure is outside the ship. The instant the force field failed the atmosphere should have rushed in and crushed everyone who wasn't completely sealed behind a bulkhead into goo. I think the reason that it played out that way was because they wanted to trap Julian and Dax together and they couldn't figure out know how else to do it. Just a guess though.
eastwest101 - Sat, Sep 7, 2013 - 11:02pm (USA Central)
Should not have worked as well as it actually did when viewed, the A, C & D stories all worked OK but the B story fell back into over acted maudalin dross/filler.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 12:51pm (USA Central)

It kept me entertained.

Jan - Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - 8:49pm (USA Central)
Defiant the submarine... with its own echo-locator and torpedoes... it worked well as it is an unusual inspiration.

The lack of casualties from the gas pressure seemed bit odd.
Dusty - Wed, Feb 12, 2014 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed every second of this one. While I can't say it's any greater than the sum of its four parts, I did find all of those parts interesting. Sisko's injury made the danger seem much more real in this episode. A good old-fashioned adventure drama. I wondered if Hanok was played by Rene Auberjonois because he looked and sounded a bit like Odo, but it was James Cromwell in another good performance.
Vylora - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 3:43am (USA Central)
Very enjoyable episode overall with only a couple minor flaws in my opinion. One of them is the commented on scene where Bashir and Dax get trapped. With the amount of atmospheric pressure on the ship, it would make sense for anyone alive in that corridor to be nearly instantaneously crushed when the force field failed. The other one is that the scenes with Kira and the wounded Sisko didn't resonate with me as well as I think they could have. I really can't put my finger on it. I did not dislike these moments, though, and the final interaction on the station, while on the verge of cloying, did make me grin.

I also do not see this as a "rip off" of TNG's "Disaster". In that ep the Enterprise ran into an undetected quantum filament. In this one the Defiant is damaged trying to rescue another ship. Guess what happens when a ship is heavily damaged? Sometimes people get separated. Telling that story relies on execution and character interaction rather than being an original premise. In this case the execution and interactions were done well on top of being a neat take on submarine action in space.

Another good bottle episode despite its lack of potential ramifications. In the scheme of things, though, I don't think it would've (or should've) affected much to begin with.

3 stars.

Quarky - Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - 3:46am (USA Central)
I can't stand the wormhole aliens being worshipped as Gods and I don't care for the emissary storyline at all but I did like the last scene with Kira and Sisko where Sisko invited her to hang out and watch a baseball game. She sees him as a religious figure so it must mean a lot to get close to him and I think Sisko was disturbed to hear she feel uncomfortable around him. So I dislike the whole emissary prophet nonsense but since it's there I did like the Kira Sisko moments. I kinda wish there would have been a moment in the series finale where Sisko said goodbye to Kira
Yanks - Tue, Aug 5, 2014 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
I'll agree with 3 stars on this one.

Loved Kira here again. So real.

I also got a kick out of Quark and Hanok.

Their "substandard merchandise" exchange in the presence of the torpedo was classic.
Domi - Fri, Oct 3, 2014 - 10:00am (USA Central)
Something wasn't quite right in this episode. The whole thing just seemed a bit off. The characters seemed so nonchalant about the fact the ship was about to be destroyed. The actors seemed bored. The pacing was very slow. The direction, lighting, and music seemed very phoned-in and bland. The ‚ÄĚcharacter growth" subtext (e.g., Worf) was very ham-fisted. Not every episode needs to be about characters finding themselves.
NCC-1701-Z - Mon, May 11, 2015 - 5:14pm (USA Central)
This is definitely somewhere in my top 10 DS9 episode list. Much like TOS's "Obsession", I consider this to be one of DS9's unsung gems, and both episodes are essentially stripped down to a straightforward action scenario and are incredibly entertaining for it. The ep definitely owes its basic premise to TNG's "Disaster", which I also enjoyed.

The character development in this episode ranged from decent to pretty good, which was also a major plus. I don't mind the lack of long-term consequences stemming from two Dominion ships shooting at a Starfleet ship, just because all the other elements of the story worked so well. Loved the submarine battle feel (slightly reminiscent of TOS "Balance of Terror"), as well as the exchange between Quark and the Karemma minister when the torpedo slammed into the mess hall. Classic.
Dukat - Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
Who is in charge of the space station while the main characters are playing Next Generation on the Defiant?
Steve - Wed, Jul 22, 2015 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
The original idea was for the Defiant to sink in an ocean. But they didn't have the budget to flood the corridors with water. So they made it a gas giant instead.

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