Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Assignment"


Air date: 10/28/1996
Teleplay by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson
Story by David R. Long & Robert Lederman
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Well, I'd better be going. I left a patient on the operating table." — Bashir

Nutshell: Another mixed bag. A nice, claustrophobic setup, but the plot can't deliver the goods in the end.

Keiko O'Brien returns from Bajor to reveal to Miles that she is, in fact, an entity who has taken possession of Keiko's body. Threatening to kill her, the entity forces O'Brien into a position where he must help her by modifying the station's equipment in ways that even he can't understand the reasons behind.

Given the basic premise, there's a reasonable amount that can be said about "The Assignment" and some of the effects it has. The idea of an alien body snatcher is certainly nothing new, and it's quite often a premise that can come off more corny than anything else (Voyager's "Cathexis" comes to mind). The mild silliness factor evident in Keiko's "convincing" of O'Brien that she's, well, not really Keiko—her trick of "killing" Keiko very briefly and then bringing her back—had me somewhat apprehensive from the start. Fortunately, the story begins to find a solid direction once it gets going, and is fairly effective to a point.

The best thing about "The Assignment" is the way it puts its central character into the toughest of binds, leaving him virtually no option but to do exactly what the alien wants. The Keiko-alien comes right out and tells him from the start—help me or else your wife dies... period. And she has O'Brien completely figured out—she possesses all the knowledge the real Keiko has, and she has already thought of every solution that initially comes to O'Brien's mind and lists them off, telling him not to even bother trying them. If he does, Keiko will die.

This is a great situation for inducing frustration and claustrophobia. What do you do when the most valuable person in your life depends on your carrying out actions with consequences you are not at all certain of—which could very well be disastrous? That's the real hook in "The Assignment," as we follow O'Brien around the station wondering what he's going to do to get out of this mess.

The episode's opening acts successfully convey the sense that O'Brien is completely trapped and helpless. In a scene set in his quarters, O'Brien must pretend (at his own birthday party with a dozen guests, no less) that he's having a good time and things are perfectly normal, when, in fact, his wife is a very skillful alien who makes a more convincing Keiko than Keiko herself. O'Brien's tension builds and builds, yet he has to maintain a cool surface to avoid arousing suspicion. (He breaks a glass in his bare hand—a rather nice touch to display his stress.)

There are a number of nice touches here that punctuate the tension. Take for example, the scene where the Keiko-alien refuses to let Miles sleep on the couch. When Miles wakes up the next morning with his hand on Keiko's thigh, his smile quickly turns to an appropriately hateful look. And the subtle scene where the Keiko-alien calls Miles on the viewscreen while brushing Molly's hair—and pulls Molly's hair intentionally to send a message—is a rather potent little highlight. The alien displays plenty of subtle villainy through the episode, and most of it works pretty well.

And, as usual, Meaney's performance is stellar work—convincing and even-handed, projecting the right amount of emotion without going overboard.

Much of O'Brien's frustration mounts from the fact that the Keiko-alien constantly leaves him in the dark. She simply gives him an ultimatum and expects him to perform, without telling him what will happen next or explaining why he's doing what he's doing. She asks him to reconfigure some communications equipment. He does. Then she tells him it was all just a test to see if she could trust him. Hell, I'd be mad.

No, O'Brien's real task is a massive engineering feat. And after considering his options and deciding he can't risk carrying out the alien's demands, he reluctantly goes to see Sisko. But as he's walking down the promenade on his way to see the captain, the Keiko-alien promptly throws herself over the promenade's second level. Keiko's injuries are not life-threatening, but the implications are; the alien simply knows Miles too well to be fooled, and if he doesn't agree to be honest and conforming then Keiko will suffer the consequences. So the Keiko-alien gives O'Brien a 13-hour deadline to complete a 36-hour job. ("You're resourceful," she tells him. "I know you can get it done.")

An interesting dilemma seems to want to surface here—the idea of "how far would you go?" in order to protect a loved one. What if it meant putting the deaths of others on your hands? At first Miles tells the alien that he will not agree to anything that will jeopardize the lives of anyone one the station, but I'm not so sure. As the show progresses and O'Brien finds his back completely against the wall, it seems that he might be capable of anything to get this alien to surrender his wife. One interesting scene with Dax shows O'Brien trying to subtly talk himself into believing that what he's done isn't really sabotage—it's just "an unexplained variance" in the systems.

This could've been truly powerful material. O'Brien is a good, honest man, but who is to say what he could be capable of with his wife in such grave danger—or, for that matter, what any of us would be capable of? It's not an issue to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, "The Assignment" chooses not to follow through with this issue. Instead, it decides to slant away from character and go straight for plot. That in itself isn't something I have any objections to. There's a bigger problem here, and its name is Rom.

Not only does Rom further affirm himself here as DS9's most needlessly annoying character, but his role is to provide the comic relief to a story that should not have such comic relief at such inopportune times. "The Assignment" should be a thoroughly gripping, intense story, but the writers choose to put some of the plot's most pivotal moments in the hands of such a silly character, and, as a result, the tension is sabotaged at key moments. And that's too bad.

A big part of the problem is that Rom is so pointlessly stupid. Are we supposed to believe that anyone could honestly buy the story O'Brien uses when he recruits Rom to help him complete the engineering job? ("It's a top-secret project that Sisko and the others know about but have to pretend they don't." Uh-huh.) Rom buys it in a heartbeat, either because he's the biggest chump on the station or because he's a world-class suck-up trying to score points with the boss (or both). Neither option is particularly appealing.

At one point in the story Rom asks O'Brien, "I have to stay here and play the idiot?" At this point, perhaps O'Brien should've clued Rom in that he is an idiot. Forgive my Rom-bashing, but I'm irked the way the writers have taken this character and reduced him to nothing I want to see. The fact that he's completely atypical as far as Ferengi go doesn't help him the way I would expect it to, because the comedy he's provided with instead of the usual "Ferengi are greedy so they're funny" is the "Rom is dumb so he's funny." No, thank you.

Once Dax stumbles upon the rigging of the station, Sisko begins looking for the saboteur. O'Brien suddenly finds himself involved in an investigation where he's supposed to hunt down himself (sort of like Kevin Costner in No Way Out). So in order to buy himself more time, he feeds Odo Rom, his partner in crime.

This provides O'Brien with just enough time to finish the tech work, but he still isn't sure what the results of his job will be. As Odo's interrogation of Rom proves unsuccessful, he grants Rom permission to talk with O'Brien, resulting in plot revelations that are uncovered a tad to bluntly for my tastes. In this sequence, Rom reveals to O'Brien that the modifications to the systems will cause a focused beam that when directed into the wormhole will kill the wormhole aliens. Further, it would seem that the alien holding Keiko hostage is one of several "false prophets" who were expelled from the wormhole centuries ago—and is using O'Brien to destroy its enemies so it can reclaim the wormhole for itself.

So will someone tell me when Rom suddenly grew a brain? How can he be such a dullard in one scene, yet able to figure out the entire episode's problem—which even O'Brien couldn't solve—in the next? I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. It strains the confines of my credulity. Even if I did buy it, I would still object to the way the plot and motivations are all completely explained in a single dialog-heavy scene.

The ending doesn't exactly have the finesse I could've hoped for, either. Once O'Brien finds out what he's dealing with, the anticipation of how O'Brien will outsmart and thwart this clever alien then becomes the driving force behind the episode's hopeful success. Unfortunately, the ending's plot workings are less than what they could've been. Sure, the confrontation between Odo and O'Brien once Odo figures out O'Brien is the mind behind the apparent subterfuge is adeptly written and works well enough, but the primary showdown between O'Brien and the Keiko-alien, on the other hand, is underwhelming. O'Brien merely contacts her on his communicator and tells her to meet him in a Runabout so they can finish the job, the intentions of which he has now figured out. But one thing bothers me about this: How is it that the alien only selectively knows O'Brien's intentions? I find it hard to believe she would know with such certainty that O'Brien intends to go inform Sisko earlier in the episode, yet doesn't know that he's lying when he says he "doesn't give a damn about the wormhole aliens." In retrospect, the alien seems pretty silly for trusting O'Brien to take her into such an obviously vulnerable position.

The way the plausibility level shifts by the end of the episode makes O'Brien's solution to his dilemma too easy. And, unfortunately, these plot manipulations are simply not clever enough to be very interesting or to overcome the fact that they're ultimately implausible. It's a shame to see such a potent setup reduced to such a standard conclusion. And the initial question of "how far would you go?" ultimately becomes a non-issue.

As a quick aside, let me note that "The Assignment" is a staff effort by a writers/director team with names I haven't seen in the series' credits very many times—some never before. Composer Gregory Smith (whose score was pretty good, might I add) is also unknown to me. "The Assignment" isn't a bad episode by any means. This group's work is solid, entertaining, and effective for the most part. If only they had wrapped things up better and used Rom more effectively (or not at all) then they could've had a real winner here.

Previous episode: Nor the Battle to the Strong
Next episode: Trials and Tribble-ations

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29 comments on this review

Anthony2816 - Fri, Apr 4, 2008 - 1:50am (USA Central)
"How can he be such a dullard in one scene, yet able to figure out the entire episode's problem--which even O'Brien couldn't solve--in the next?"

I think Rom is an idiot savant type. Clueless in many aspects, but near genius in a few...like engineering.
AeC - Sun, Jun 1, 2008 - 4:05pm (USA Central)
Honestly, the thing I liked least about this episode was Smith's score. Way too in-your-face and a little too heavy on the suspense movie clich├ęs. Beyond that, though, I thought it worked a lot better than I'd remembered it from the last time I saw it however many years ago. Maybe not exceptional, but a strong "Put O'Brien through the wringer" show.
Aldo Johnson - Thu, Jul 30, 2009 - 3:39am (USA Central)
Maybe Rom isn't a dullard, just a coward. After all, he's been the handyman for Quark's bar, and there was that episode that displays his ingeniousness (using a spatula as a conduit or something like that). He simply doesn't want to or is too afraid to stand up to his brother.

As to believing O'Brien's story, yes, that was bad. Perhaps Max Grodenchick should've played it a bit more skeptically. But he proved that he is able to pick up on things, even on the purpose of the "modifications." So he does have brains, just not guts.
Nic - Sun, Feb 21, 2010 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
I thought the tension was built up nicely - mostly thanks to Rosalind Chao's performance - and was not really bothered by Rom's presence, but the effects in the ending were god-awful.
Larrylongballs - Sat, Mar 6, 2010 - 7:43am (USA Central)
This episode set up two major story arcs. Roms career that led to him getting a promotion, a wife and eventually the job of Negus. It also set up the Par Wraiths which led into the amazing arc of Gul Dukat in s6 and 7 as well as the later episode where KIra and Jake are possessed.

So I do think this episode deserves at least a retrosprective 3 for the story elements that it introduced in what appeared to be a stand alone episode on a first viewing.
Jeff O'Connor - Sun, Oct 17, 2010 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
Nah, I'm not a fan of 'retrospective scores'. My review thread intentionally avoids them. Episodes should be criticized based on what they offer within 43 minutes, not three seasons.
CZ - Thu, Dec 23, 2010 - 2:09am (USA Central)
I can easily believe in a character like Rom. How many engineers do you know IRL who are "clueless" in many ways (esp socially), yet gifted in the finer technicalities of their field? ;)

Yeah, it's a stereotype, but it really doesn't bother me that Rom's character is the way it is. Plus, I don't really think his character is "dumb" so much as "naive"... it even makes him charming, in my eyes. His enthusiasm for his job is quite innocent, in a way. Too bad others interpret him as an annoying dullard.
Nick M - Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - 9:17am (USA Central)
Jammer, I think you are too hard on the Rom character much of the time. You have to look at it from the view of who he has always been:

- spoiled as the baby of the family by Moogie

- loved by Quark, but in the worst way. Nothing is ever good enough, constantly called an idiot and beaten down mentally and verbally by a bully of a big brother who abuses him to make himself feel like a big shot

- a man who has a son who he loves more than anything, but it is obvious the son is humiliated by him

Rom also is that individual who is always looking to new experiences (like trying the new food for breakfast) that repulse other Ferengi, he doesn't follow his own people's traditions. He's a tecnical wizard in a culture that values the "lobes" for greed and profit. Like so many others on DS9, Rom is an outcast.

I guess I am defending Rom because I always liked the sincere naivety he has. He just wants to be part of a group that accepts him, that LIKES him. He is a good person, but yes he is (for the most part) a lemming. I think he was misunderstood by a lot of the people watching DS9 who viewed him, sadly like Quark did. An idiot.
Stubb - Mon, Jul 25, 2011 - 7:39am (USA Central)
I'll defend Rom's character too. Aside from Colm Meaney's typically strong performance, I felt Rom was the most pleasant surprise in this episode. He has engineering talent, but is also naive and easily duped. Rom offers more than we see at first glance. To me, that equals complexity. And Grodenchick's acting was fine.
Elliott - Tue, Aug 16, 2011 - 10:20pm (USA Central)
Baffling. Baffling that an episode in season 5 DS9 should actually be moving, engaging, thoughtful and uniquely executed and Jammer should give it 2.5 stars. True Rom's early stupidity warrants marking off perhaps half a star, but other than that there's almost nothing wrong with the episode, and it's quite engaging from beginning to end. The acting is stellar (save some obligatory and pointless scene-chewing from Brooks) and the music is among the very best scores I've heard on Trek since TNG season 2.

The one truly glaring issue is with the Pagh Wraiths, in that their motivation is purely cartoonish (something regarding the prophets that was at least attempted to circumvent earlier on this series). It will of course lead to the most abysmal lows of season 7, but that fact shouldn't mire too much the fact that this was a standout episode.
Snitch - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 4:41am (USA Central)
I liked this episode, the mystery at the beginning, the creepy micromanaging of O'Brien had me entertained. The end is a bit too tidy.
3 Stars from me
John - Sun, Aug 26, 2012 - 11:22pm (USA Central)
A surprisingly decent episode with some 4-star elements mixed in with general run of the mill stuff.

I would put Rosalind Chao's perfermance right up there with Meaney's. And also credit the writing staff and the director for keeping all the alien-possession cliches down to a minimum.

And strange that you would berate the use of Rom here Jammer. Not my favourite character by a long shot but his inclusion in this episode worked almost perfectly for me.
Patrick - Mon, Aug 27, 2012 - 12:34am (USA Central)
This episode missed one of the great opportunities for intra-series continuity--in this case a TNG/DS9 bit of continuity.

In TNG's "Power Play", O'Brien was possessed by an energy creature that was violent to Keiko, where in this episode the tables are turned between them via a different entity.

I know there's just a ton of story threads that the writers have to keep together to make the Star Trek universe seem realistic, but with all of DS9's constant call-backs to events from TNG (including mentioning Matt Frewer's guest character!) this would have been ripe for a mention.

It could have been after Keiko had been recovered and in sickbay and she'd mention to him, "Now we're even". O'Brien would look puzzled. "Remember when you were possessed on the Enterprise". O'Brien would say something like: "Yeah, well now you know how I felt".

It's just a Trekkie thing.
Cail Corishev - Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - 11:05am (USA Central)
It's hard to rate an episode starring one of my favorite characters and one of my least-liked. I was kinda hoping the alien would kill Keiko, and let Chief off the hook, which I'm pretty sure wasn't what the writers were going for.
Jack - Fri, Feb 1, 2013 - 3:24pm (USA Central)
It's a little strange that Odo could be knocked out by a blow to the head, since it's really just a "head". I guess the "when I'm mimicking a rock, I'm a rock" line from some other episode applies here too.
Bilbo - Fri, Mar 1, 2013 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
Jack -- no, that really is Odo's brain in his head. Remember, the Founders had changed him into a "solid" for punishment.
Chris - Fri, May 24, 2013 - 4:16am (USA Central)
Jack - That was the whole *point* of Odo being injured in that scene. He is now as vulnerable as any other humanoid.
ProgHead777 - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 12:46am (USA Central)
I look at Rom as a genius who's been told he's an idiot for so long by his abusive brother (and probably other Ferengi, as well) that he himself sometimes forgets that he's not one.

Since it was only acknowledged once or twice in the above comments (and not at all by Jammer) I would like to also point out Rosalind Chao's fine performance in this episode.
Kotas - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 9:17pm (USA Central)

Rom development is the highlight here. The main story was pretty poor. Loved one controlled by alien is a tired concept and evil Keiko is very annoying.

Nissa - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 6:06pm (USA Central)
Jammer, buddy, I think you're letting your personal bias against Nog mess up this episode for you. Honestly, I really enjoy it, and Nog was at least plausible in this episode. He wasn't as bad as he was other times. I really loved this one, and I'll watch it again.

Though I agree with Cail Corishev above; I don't like Keiko. That makes me like the episode better, because she gets hurt. Hehe. Actually, the actress does a lot better when she's not Keiko. She's a great paghwraith.
Dusty - Tue, Feb 4, 2014 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
I wasn't expecting much out of this episode. Keiko is one of the few characters I can't bring myself to care about, but by making it mostly about O'Brien's untenable situation and Nog's loyalty to him, this one scores big on suspense. I can't help but put myself in O'Brien's shoes and think of what I would do in his situation.
Jack - Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
@ Bilbo & Chris...

Okay...duh! Odo is a solid here.

I have to be careful watching episodes out of order and context :)
Jay - Sat, Feb 15, 2014 - 1:28pm (USA Central)
Keiko-Wraith kept saying that the beam would kill every Prophet in a split second "before they could even see it", but when O'Brien has it strike the runabout instead, it takes a good ten seconds for Keiko-Wraith to melodramatically yield to its demise.
Bravestarr - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 1:05pm (USA Central)
The whole episode I was putting myself in O'Brien's shoes and I could just imagine the seething rage this guy has for wraith. I would've like some more anger from Colm kind of like "I'm going to get/kill you." and the final payoff where he does "Told I'd find a way to kill you."

That would've been badass.

As for Rom being an idiot but figuring out what the wraith was doing. O'brien said it himself "I couldn't see the forest for the trees."

O'brien was looking at the details, Rom just figured it out by looking at the big picture.
Vylora - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 2:12am (USA Central)
I appreciate the episode for growing Rom's character and most of the scenes between Miles and Keiko. Unfortunately none of the other aspects played out as well as they could have. It also didn't help being bookended with cringe-worthy opening and closing scenes.

Irregardless of it being the introduction of the Pah-Wraiths and their future impact, this one alone just didn't do it for me. A few nicely realized moments saves this from a total loss.

2 stars.
Yanks - Thu, Aug 7, 2014 - 2:41pm (USA Central)
Keiko's best when she's not Keiko.

Rom does have engineering brilliance, if lacking common sense. How many really smart folks do you know that can't tie their own shoes? ...

"ROM: I have to stay here and play the idiot?
O'BRIEN: I'm afraid so. No matter what Odo asks you
ROM: I'm Quark's brother. I know the role."


3 stars for me.
gata4 - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 4:51pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode, chiefly due to the fun Rosalind Chao was having with her role of 'bad Keiko'. And Rom is clearly some kind of idiot savant character. The thing that didn't have any immediate continuity for me was that this Pagh Wraith was supposed to have been banished from the Celestial Temple, yet seem to have no trouble at all communicating with Miles, unlike the Prophets themselves. THEY can barely string two words together, all this "It is the Sisko, it is tem-por-al" etc.
Dave in NC - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 9:16pm (USA Central)
@ gata4

The "Celestial Temple" (the wormhole) may exist outside of time, but the Fire Caves don't. The Pah-Wraiths seem to have snagged enough unwary souls to earn it a bad reputation . . . it's likely they had tens of thousands of years (and people) in which to learn how to communicate on a temporal level.
Dave in NC - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 9:17pm (USA Central)
Another thought occurred to me: why would the Prophets imprison their archenemies on Bajor when there were plenty of uninhabited moons/other planets in their solar system?

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