Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Ascent"

***

Air date: 11/25/1996
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Well, I guess you're not as successful a businessman as you think you are."
"Which means you spent the last ten years of your life trying to catch a nobody—with little success, I might add. So you tell me, which one of us is the bigger failure?"

— Odo and Quark

Nutshell: A bit repetitive and obvious at times, but the dialog works wonders with the characters.

"The Ascent" is a premise based on a bit of a cliche—the idea that two adversaries must put aside their differences in an effort to work together to survive. It hardly matters. A show like this is not about whether or not the characters will succeed; it's about what the two characters learn about one other and themselves in the process.

Like many Trek episodes, "The Ascent" is divided into two stories: an A-story that proves somewhat urgent crosscut with a B-story that is little more than entertaining fluff. Behr and Wolfe have successfully balanced these two stories together. While a silly B-story can often sabotage the efforts of an A-story, this doesn't happen here. Instead, the crosscutting between the story lines actually helps draw the situation into something that seems like the many days it's supposed to be rather than the much shorter period that the constraints of a one-hour time slot tends to make it feel like.

It's hard to believe "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." and "The Ascent" were both written by the same two people. The two are virtually antitheses of one other based on a similar structure. Both are situations based on dialog and relationships, but where the former episode failed miserably, here it works extremely well. Part of it, I think, is in the nature of the relationship. Trek tends to drop the ball when it comes to exploring relationships between men and women. There is too much emphasis on standard cliches and sophomoric sex jokes. And usually things feel forced, not genuine.

On the other hand, the relationship here—between Quark and Odo—represents character interaction at its finest. The dialog is sharp, acerbic, and genuine. It's sensible and credible, because it's based on a relationship built during the past four years of DS9's run. (The relationship between Dax and Worf, on the other hand, was built in four minutes.) Most importantly, it adds up to something, because in the end both Odo and Quark come to realize some new things about themselves and one other.

The episode opens as Odo arrests Quark, announcing that it's the day he has been waiting for the past ten years. Quark has been summoned to appear in Federation court in connection with a shady, subversive group known as the Orion Syndicate. (It's of great irony that Quark, much to Odo's surprise, later turns out to be a witness, not a suspect, in the Orion proceedings.) While in a Runabout en route to Federation court, a bomb on board set by the Orions to assassinate Quark explodes, forcing Quark and Odo to crash-land their shuttle on a frigid, rocky planet. (Scratch yet another Runabout—do these things even survive long enough to get names any more?)

They have minimal rations, no supplies, and the damaged communications system can't permeate the atmosphere. The only option is to begin the ascent—to carry the comm panel up a nearby mountain such that they might be high enough to get a signal out, before they either freeze or starve to death. In the meantime, they must rely on one other, and have little to do but talk and climb.

Since its genesis, the relationship between Quark and Odo has been something that requires a decoder ring, and that's perhaps why it's always been so interesting and entertaining. These two guys obviously don't hate one other; in fact, they probably wouldn't be complete without one other. It makes me wonder if Odo would truly be happy to catch Quark and send him away after ten years of pursuit. What would he do without Quark to keep him on his toes? At the same time, what fun would Quark's silly scheming plots be without Odo looking over his shoulder?

No, these two aren't enemies, they're merely rivals. Still, calling their rivalry "friendly" would probably not be accurate. Each gets genuinely annoyed when the other's actions disturbs his work schedule. But underneath the constant insult-trading, posturing, and threatening lies two people who know they're friends of sorts, but also know that their friendship is something that can never be voiced verbally. They must talk in code and never spell out their true feelings—because that's just the way their relationship is. The closing scene of the episode is great because it highlights this: The two characters verbally "confirm" their hatred of one other... but then break into a chuckle that reveals all.

And that's what "The Ascent" is all about. It's about these two friends and the way they never have, and probably never will, admit to their friendship. When mixed with sharp dialog, highly commendable performances and believable characterizations, these two personalities highlight what an asset to DS9 as a series these types of relationships are—it's the type of thing that defines the show. Plot lines come and go, but the characters are the real permanence, and the way "The Ascent" reminds of this is priceless—it's the reason fans tune into Star Trek week after week.

So as tensions mount and the situation looks bleak, a physical fight between Odo and Quark ultimately ensues. While this is perhaps an overly obvious result and it conveniently allows the added plot twist of Odo breaking his leg after an accidental roll down the slope, it's one of those things that just had to happen sooner or later for the sake of completeness.

What the rest of this story line is about is survival. The climb is a towering task entailing more than a week of walking, and after Odo breaks his leg, Quark has to build a stretcher and carry him up the mountain the rest of the way. Without food, heat, or supplies, this is nearly impossible. After briefly giving up several times, Quark somehow makes it high enough to get the signal out. That's perhaps a given, but the way the episode conveys the trip is respectable, despite the repetitive nature of the plot. Thanks to some strong performances and decent technical work, there wasn't a moment I didn't believe the two characters weren't really on a mountain, freezing, tired, and starving.

The light but identifiable B-story centers around Nog's return to the station, now a sophomore cadet assigned to field study. Jake moves out of his quarters with his father and into new quarters with Nog. Nog, however, has been changed by the academy. He is now very disciplined but also extremely (for lack of a better expression) anal-retentive. Jake is a laid-back slob. Can you say roommate problems? This is something I can understand based on personal experience and the testimony of many acquaintances.

Sisko gets some amusing little moments in the plot, as his talk with Rom about their respective sons proves enlightening (although Rom's admittedly amusing gag of thinking his son's behavior change is because he has been replaced by a Changeling impostor does little to alter my recently-voiced opinion that he's a dimwit). My favorite line, however, comes near the end, when Sisko lays down the law concerning the two's rooming squabbles: "I know you can make it work, because I'm your captain [to Nog] and I'm your father [to Jake], and what I say goes [to both]. Good day, gentleman." The notion is very amusing... and is extremely Sisko.

"The Ascent" is a character episode all the way—classic DS9.

Previous episode: Things Past
Next episode: Rapture

Season Index

25 comments on this review

Blue - Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - 6:02pm (USA Central)
About Rom, I think it's been firmly established that he's some sort of idiot-savant- great at all things technical, but pretty hopeless when it comes to anything else. Aside from the first season attempt to kill Quark, Rom's character has been pretty consistent.
Nic - Sun, Feb 28, 2010 - 10:06pm (USA Central)
As good as this episode was, I couldn't help but notice that the size of the transmitter was just a contrivance to add difficulty to their journey. We've seen subspace transmitters before and they are usually at least four times smaller.
Jay - Sun, Nov 21, 2010 - 3:13pm (USA Central)
Agreed, Nic.

This episode came to my mind when I saw the later VOY episode where DOc's mobile emmitter was this huge backpack.
Ingrid Rose Stonecipher - Sun, Dec 5, 2010 - 9:25am (USA Central)
I think you're right about the fact that Odo and Quark became friends and ''The Ascent' episode was a good episode . I don't think Rom is as stupid as some people think he is though . He's not perfect and isn't one of the smartest people in the world but he lead a strike when he working for his brother and won.
Peter Cordes - Sat, Sep 24, 2011 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
The setup for the crash is so typical of star trek. Discover something dangerous. Do you take half a minute to call DS9 and tell them what's up before you try something that might destroy your ship or comm system? nope. /facepalm

Same thing for every episode where someone working alone hears or sees something weird. They could take 5 seconds to say "computer, alert security in 30 seconds unless I cancel this request". Don't even need to waste any other people's time if it was a false alarm, but no, much better to leave the bridge unaware of the body snatcher that's going to try to take over the ship.
Jack - Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - 5:52pm (USA Central)
The damage was awfully selective here to further the plot...the hull of the runabout was more or less still in tact after the crash, but somehow the comm system, the replicators, and (most ridiculously) all but two of the emergency rations ((were those two packs in a different place than the rest?)) were lost.
Jack - Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
As for the Nog and Jake story...if Jake is really as much of a slob as presented here (clothes in the replicator?...please) if I were Nog I'd have kicked his ass when I got home, station commander's son or not.
Vulcan Logic - Thu, Nov 24, 2011 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
Oh stop being a killjoy Jack. It was a great episode.
Jay - Sun, Mar 4, 2012 - 2:08pm (USA Central)
@ Jack: you left oput how the explosion destroyed all but one EV suit.

It was rather ridiculous how selective the explosion was...similar to the intelligent phenomenon in disaster movies that always strike right in the middle of the most urban area they can find.
Snitch - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 11:31pm (USA Central)
I never could believe the whole Odo, Quark rivalry, it was just too fake, this outing did not help matters, all to predictable.
1-1/2 Stars
TMLS - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 5:44am (USA Central)
So Quark offers Odo "Vulcan Love Slave" - with the current "50 Shades of Grey" obsession you have to wonder if it's a 24th century re-write ;)
microfish - Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - 1:38pm (USA Central)
Quark: "Care for a game of fizzbin?" ROFLMAO
You've got to love that nod to TOS
Herman - Mon, Jan 7, 2013 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
Pretty solid episode, the main story was way better than the secondary, if only because the former's characters are much more interesting (BTW, I think Shimerman is one of the best actors of the show - although he wasn't brilliant in this ep).

I found Nog's pronounced bulge in his new uniform quite disturbing, though.
Chris Harrison - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 10:55pm (USA Central)
Has the Federation abandoned habeas corpus by the 24th century? Or did Odo not reveal the charges against Quark because he was so sure he already knew what the situation was?
WafflesMcDuff - Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - 9:46am (USA Central)
They haven't eliminated habeus corpus. Odo didn't even know he was transporting Quark as a witness, not a suspect.
Kotas - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 9:27pm (USA Central)

As much as I like interactions between Quark and Odo, this was not a good episode. The scenario was not believable.

3/10
Dusty - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
If it weren't for this episode, I wouldn't be a Star Trek fan. I watched it with my dad when it first aired and loved it. Ever since then DS9 has stayed deep in the back of my mind, and 17 years later here I am, finally watching the series and 'The Ascent' again. I still love it.
Klovis Mann - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 2:28pm (USA Central)
....DS9 meets "The Edge".....

......I thought switching back and forth from the "A" story to the "B" story lacked balance......the Nog/Jake bickering tended to trivialize the Quark/Odo life and death struggle we're supposedly invested in....

......nice location shooting tho.....

.....There are quite a few complaints in these threads re: Quark and the Ferengi.....I agree to some extent.... the Ferengi episodes are among my least favorite.....I attribute that to weak writing......

......that said, Armin Shimerman deserves a shout out, not only for this episode but for his work throughout the series....he consistently makes hay out of thin material....I put him up there with Rene Aberjonois and Colm Meaney as best of cast.....

......This episode didn't hold my attention.....
Vylora - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 3:19pm (USA Central)
Quark and Odo together were great as usual. While the situation they were in made it that much more entertaining - the setup for it didn't really pay off. The B-plot was a mildly pleasant diversion.

Worth watching mainly for the camaraderie-in-code of the A-plot and is enough for a guarded 3 stars.
Paul - Thu, May 8, 2014 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
I watched this one on Netflix last night. It holds up well because of the acting and because the writing is reasonable. I do wonder why Odo didn't check to see why he was asked to escort Quark, but I guess that's a bit of a conceit.

It's also interesting because this episode is much more like the first three seasons -- pre-Worf, pre-Dominion war and buildup -- where a couple of the DS9 characters just have an adventure. That doesn't make it better or worse. But it is different.
Rivus - Thu, May 8, 2014 - 2:57pm (USA Central)
@Paul

I think this episode and the one preceding it are very heavy on showing that Odo, while a fantastic constable, is not without his faults. It feels as if the writers came to this decision to give more 'humanity' to his character, even before he lost his ability as Things Past made clear.

Also, I like the little nod in the B-plot where Jake's writing is named "Past Prologue", the title to S1E2. I have suspicions that the writers of the show view Jake as symbolic of their positions, which in my mind makes me think that "The Muse" and "The Visitor" could both have some abstracted autobiographical motivation to them (The Muse in a writer's dealings with damaging substances, and The Visitor in a writer dealing with loss). I can't say for certain, but I wouldn't put it past them.
Rivus - Thu, May 8, 2014 - 3:56pm (USA Central)
Oh also (alert:spoilers to "Rapture"), further solidifying my point... Jake gets to make the decision that prevents Sisko from witnessing the final vision. The writers know that they cannot reveal *everything* crucial to the plot, even cryptically. That would kill some of the mystery, and by extension the suspense that goes with a good story.
William - Sun, Jun 22, 2014 - 4:56am (USA Central)
I really like this episode. It shows how to characters who don't like each other, really do like each other in a respectful way. I think for myself that I can learn from this and hopefully use it in real life to others I seamed to not get along, but respect anyway. "Like getting on with others more than not" :)
Yanks - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 9:01am (USA Central)
This is an above average episode because of the sheer amount of screen time Arim and Rene get.

Love the banter back and forth between these two and we get plenty of it here.

"ODO: Stop trying to be a hero. You'll get to the top faster if you leave me behind.
QUARK: Don't you get it? I'm not trying to rescue you. I'm taking you along as emergency rations. If you die, I'm going to eat you.
ODO: You're joking.
QUARK: Waste not, want not. Comfortable?"

lol...

Nog comes back and is all "bootcamp". Even if you don't like the character (and I like him) you have to admire his dedication and determination to become a Star Fleet Officer. Whether or not he's a good leader in the future is really irrelevant, he's trying his best and I have to respect him for that.

3.0 for me.
$G - Mon, Sep 8, 2014 - 9:40pm (USA Central)
I'm not big on this one. This is my second time through the series - the first being a decade ago - and I found it even more dull than the first time.

Odo and Quark are good together, but in this case I'm not sure just sticking two actors in a scene together to let them play off each other is enough. There's a lot of climbing, fighting, helping, but it all feels very cliche and both characters surviving is almost a foregone conclusion. That the B-story exists and Odo and Quark's plot STILL feels drawn out (to me at least) shows there isn't much more to add to the "these characters are rivals but still kind of like each other" idea. Honestly, it was already expressed well enough throughout the series, most recently in "Broken Link" before sick Odo leaves the station to visit the Great Link. That 30-second exchange said as much as all the scenes this episode gives the two characters.

It all just feels redundant and forced to me, though it's kind of neat to see the fragility of Odo's new body.

I'd give it a low 2 1/2 on Jammer's scale. Watchable, I guess, but absolutely skippable.

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