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

Season Index

28 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.
Roger - Fri, Oct 2, 2015 - 2:45am (USA Central)
Too contrived. Crew breaks up neatly into pairs. And because four of them are created, there's not nearly enough time to really do something with them. We end up with ham-fisted dialogs.

Quark-Karemma is painful, Quark ripped off the Karemma and now paints it as some sort of big game and the Karemma just accepts it and basically goes 180 on his personality. Shouldn't it be Quark, the regular cast member, who get some character development out of situations like this? Maybe something along the lines of "if the Ferengi are just comically greedy all the time, nobody will do business with them and I use personal credibility and situations become more tense than they ought to be".

Kira-Sisko is painfully dull and not credible, as Kira hasn't really seemed too spiritual before and I never got the vibe that Sisko is the Emissary to her. They've tried to paint her more religious in recent episodes, so maybe this is akin to Siskos dad cheating death retroactively.

Bashir-Dax really just boils down to Julian telling her his crush story, which wasn't a secret to either Jadzia or the audience. Waste of time.

Worf-engineers is way too transparently set up as a learning-a-lesson bit. And I think I remember Worf having those "don't be a bone-headed judgemental hard-ass all the time" lessons before. With Alexander on the Enterprise, with Odo just a couple of episodes ago and I'm sure there were a couple more somewhere.

And then there's the whole contrived setup. How is the Karemma dealing with the Federation through the Ferengi any kind of cover? I'm fairly sure the Dominion forbade all Alpha Quadrant activity on their side of the wormhole. Not that they do anything proactively about it, such as, um, guarding the wormhole...

Then, as usual, a Federation vessel lets the enemy take the first shot. You can say it's in character, but it's plain stupid. There's a zero percent chance that the Jem Hadar are going to negotiate, but sure, let's hail them first.

And yeah, in every encounter before this, the Defiant has just ripped through Jem Hadar vessels like nothing - literally nothing, as no other Alpha Quadrant vessel has this kind of firepower. But here, they don't seem to get off one shot. The Jem Hadar go after the Karemma unimpeded. And while they were able to just annihilate state-of-the-art Cardassian and Romulan warships with single shots, the Karemma FREIGHTER takes a beating like Rocky. Just so they can decent into the hostile atmosphere of the planet and set up this episode.

1.5/4 for me.
Robert - Fri, Oct 2, 2015 - 6:27am (USA Central)
@Roger - Kira has always been religious. She agreed with Vedek Winn against Keiko in S1. She disagreed with Bariel's sermons. Kira is a very compartmentalized character, which they touch on in "Battle Lines" where you find that she was starting to fail to keep her past and her religion separate because she'd become afraid that the prophets wouldn't forgive her violence.

She was pretty religious in S1/2 though, it was there to see. And Sisko/Kira never seemed that close. So if the writers decided to provide a reason (that she was compartmentalizing her work from her life) and to change it I think that's ok. The ending he invites her to a baseball game never fails to elicit a smile from me.

The rest are weaker (IMHO). I get what they are trying to do with Worf (OUR Worf it's in command and he's a fish out of water in command) but I can't believe that watching Riker/Picard for 8 years would leave him to be THIS dense. The story needed more subtlety.

I think Dax/Bashir was a last hurrah for the pairing before Worf. It was cute as a D plot. It wouldn't have been better than that.

I thought Quark getting his business associate hooked on gambling was funny, but I'm not sure I'd miss it if it were replaced with something else.
William B - Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
I feel about this about how it seems Jammer feels about "Disaster" and "Civil Defense," neither of which I'm a huge fan of, but both of which I do kind of end up liking more than this one. I guess this episode is a little more "serious"; "Disaster" wasn't afraid to get goofy (Worf's delivery, Data's head, frere Jacques), and "Civil Defense's" best scenes played up the comedy in the tense situation before it became a boring procedural. This episode features a particularly plausible threat, stripped to its simplest form (there are Jem'Hadar enemy ships) and runs with it, or, should I say, gingerly strolls with it.

Even on those terms, I do have some plot issues here, foremost among them that the whole story takes place because the Dominion interrupts the Defiant's meeting with the Karemma and Sisko decides to protect the Karemma...and then at the end, the Karemma are just going to be taken back to the GQ after some fun dabo times, the end. First, if the Karemma are going to use the Ferengi as a neutral intermediary because they are afraid of the Dominion, shouldn't Sisko go talk to the Karemma on a neutral ship (Ferengi, some other freighter) rather than on the Federation's most heavily-armed warship to continue this illusion? More importantly, if the Dominion is going to destroy Karemma ships for talking with the Federation, are they not going to still destroy Karemma for talking to the Federation a few days later? Is the Dominion suddenly requiring a lot of due process -- "we need proof they are talking to each other! we can only punish our serfs when we actually catch them!" does not sound like their style. Maybe we're meant to understand that the Jem'Hadar ships did not communicate with the Dominion at large, but that does not make any sense to me. And someone needs to bring the Karemma back, so, uh...I guess that a neutral ship can do that. This all even assumes the basic premise that the Dominion really would consider any Alpha Quadrant species "neutral" at all, which I tend to doubt.

As a submarine warfare story, the episode is sort of okay, but I have to point out that it is a little hard to take it seriously when the episode's climax comes about when Worf says something like "I have a plan...we will need one phaser burst...my plan only requires one single burst," and the plan turns out to be...shooting a ship with a phaser continuously until it explodes. I can see why Worf is on the fast-track to command now.

Anyway this is somewhat an excuse for the two-person character vignettes, so, here we go:

Bashir & Dax: Sorry, how much fluorine is Dax supposed to have inhaled again? How did either survive the complete depressurization? Oh well, whatever. Their talk is...fine, and it mostly makes explicit what we have mostly been able to observe ourselves: that Julian has eased up on his crush on Jadzia, and that as a result she is more comfortable with him. I do wish she had said "two" or "three" years ago she would have taken his actions as being an attempt to be a hero, because I'm not all that convinced that Dax was writing off Bashir's actions in "Equilibrium" as posing for ego reasons. It is not that much of a scene though.

Worf & O'Brien: I think the idea here is to show that Worf has not adapted to command, and it's not completely implausible, though as others have pointed out Worf was on the Enterprise for years and saw how his superiors acted. Moreover, the way he dealt with Sito in "Lower Decks" (and to some extent his attitude about Astor in "The Bonding") suggests to me that he actually is capable of doling out praise and recognizing good work rather than just expecting it. In fact, even in "Disaster," there was that hilarious moment where he said "You bore that well" as reassurance to the guy whose broken limb he set. So I dunno. What I do like is the introduction of Muniz, and also that other guy, who have the right mixture of gentle dorky and harried to seem plausible as engineering grunts who, as O'Brien suggest, just want to do a job.

Quark & Hanok: It's pretty unnecessary, yes, but this is my favourite of the four. Shimerman and Cromwell really get into it here and give the episode a dose of energy that is somewhat lacking in the other scenes, many of which are just people sitting around with one person half-unconscious. Yes, it is weird how quickly Hanok seems to forget the operative problem was that Quark cheated him, not that Quark likes gambling, which is a pretty different issue. Still, the suggestion that Hanok does not like being cheated but his biggest objection to working with Quark again is not that he can't trust Quark to be honest with him but that he can't trust Quark to be a *competent businessman* is pretty fun. This is a good place to see Quark's articulation of the Ferengi code; often the show places Quark's values up against Federation ones in ways that are a little strawman-y, but this is a new character and so Quark's articulation of the value of risk gets almost Kirkesque, except that this is shown through the lens of *personal* profit rather than societal gain. Quark pointing out that you always assume everyone is out to screw you furthers the general idea of Ferengi culture -- that in spite of their conniving behaviour, they do have a kind of meritocratic structure, where people are given almost unlimited freedom to play the game the best they can...and then take pleasure in the game itself. Quark really likes the feeling of getting latinum even more than latinum, I think. This also, by the way, makes me happy that we have "Body Parts" coming up, because the idea that a whole society is built around people *assuming* everyone is being somewhat dishonest would naturally require certain uncrossable lines (games have to have rules). Anyway, not that substantial but pretty fun.

I will say, this must be a weird episode for anyone who is or knows someone with a gambling addiction to watch.

Sisko & Kira: I think at this point I'm going to have to accept that the writers have done a kind of retcon on both the Emissary's role in Bajoran religious life and on Kira's particular relationship to him. "Destiny" tried to paper over the fact that Kira never acted like she revered Sisko as a religious figure by having her say that she guesses she's always known and didn't want to admit it to herself, etc., which was pretty lazy but at least was some sort of attempt. Here, we get the impression that there has been an annual Emissary celebration! for the past three years (I assume starting a year after "Emissary" took place) which is awesome and everyone loves but Sisko stays away from. Look, besides Opaka (who treated Sisko as a kind of mentor who will go on to great things), and Winn expressly for political gain, Bajorans did not treat Sisko with that much reverence in season one or two, and it's unclear when exactly this society-wide change happened, or if we are meant to assume that Bajorans always treated Sisko the way Kira talks about him now. My best guess that makes sense of the story is that, for Kira especially (and to some extent most Bajorans) at first were so flabbergasted by the appearance of the wormhole that they had no idea what to make of it, and only eventually started to realize that Sisko was The Emissary, though by then habits had already formed. But...I dunno, it is hard for me to make sense of it, for some of the same reason that having Kira be portrayed as more and more intensely religious when we barely even saw her reaction to the discovery that the Prophets actually lived in the wormhole and Sisko talked to them back in s1.

Kira suggesting that maybe Sisko keeps her at arm's length because religion, similarly, made me roll my eyes a bit. For season one, Kira was openly, constantly antagonistic to him, so much so that they had an entire episode based around a metaphor of their conflict blowing up to include the whole station ("Dramatis Personae"). Kira's extreme YOU CAN'T DIE reaction to Sisko's impending death felt false to me -- though I admit that I can't think of any occasions in which Sisko's life was in enough jeopardy for Kira to be freaking out about it this much, though I feel like I should be able to think of some examples. (Maybe "The Search, Part II" where the Defiant may have been blown up?) I'm also not all that positive that Sisko keeps her at a greater distance than he does with O'Brien, with whom Sisko also mostly talks about work, and *occasionally* about his son...because his son works with O'Brien. However, if Kira wants to be better friends with Sisko but is usually embarrassed to talk about it, this seems like a good time, and NV's smile when she puts on the baseball cap at the end is cute.

Spoiler note: It is funny that Kira's extremely lame-sounding fable about three brothers who find a giant kava root and then argue what to do with the money and (zzzzz...) is basically the plot of "The Sword of Kahless," next up!

So overall I don't like this episode that much; I find most of the character work kind of obvious and a little weak, and the plot is thin. That said, I don't have that much *against* the episode, nor do I think it makes any terrible missteps, so much as reveal some systemic flaws of the show at this point (esp. with the Kira/Sisko scenes). And James Cromwell is always a delight. So I think I'll give this a middle-of-the-road 2 stars.

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