Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Empok Nor"

**

Air date: 5/19/1997
Teleplay by Hans Beimler
Story by Bryan Fuller
Directed by Michael Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"He asked me to get a coil spanner for him. I just turned my back for a second."
"That's a shame ... and the worst part of it is this isn't a coil spanner."

— Amaro and Garak, upon the death of Boq'ta

Nutshell: A reasonable setup premise, but it goes off the rails. Too much madness and not enough insight.

I'll give "Empok Nor" one thing—it's effectively photographed, with dark lighting and ominous atmosphere. This episode looks really good. Director Michael Vejar, who also directed "The Darkness and the Light" earlier this season, has shown a talent for utilizing lighting effectively and building intensity with pure technique.

Unfortunately, Vejar does not have the story backing him up that he had in "Darkness and Light." The premise of "Empok Nor," from regular scripter Hans Beimler, built from a story by Bryan Fuller (who also had story credit on "Darkness and Light"), begins on very reasonable terms, but it becomes increasingly inane as it advances. By the last two acts everything falls apart, and not even the actors can survive the lack of decent actions and dialog.

The initial premise is simple: When O'Brien needs parts to make repairs to DS9, he and his salvage team—consisting of Nog, Pechetti (Tom Hodges), Stolzoff (Marjean Holden), Boq'ta (Andy Milder), and Amaro (Jeffrey King)—venture to the abandoned Empok Nor, a Cardassian station with a design identical to DS9's which has been deserted for more than a year. (Quick note: I find it difficult to imagine the given notion that O'Brien can't build the parts he needs because of incompatibilities with Federation technology. You'd think after being on DS9 4¸ years the crew would've come up with workarounds to these sorts of problems, but never mind—that's a trivial complaint.) The danger in O'Brien's mission is that Cardassians booby-trap their property before leaving it, so that others cannot so easily claim it. To circumvent these traps, Sisko bribes Garak into accompanying O'Brien's team as the resident expert on standard Cardassian booby-trap methods. Once upon Empok Nor, O'Brien's crew finds itself hunted by two "Third Battalion" Cardassian soldiers (their motto: "death to all") who are awakened from stasis upon the crew's entering station.

The first half of "Empok Nor" works reasonably well. The trip to the station on the Runabout is quite fascinating, teaming O'Brien and Garak for a meaty dialog scene—a character combination I don't believe we've seen before. Garak prods at O'Brien's past, asking him personal questions about his duty as a soldier during the Cardassian/Federation border wars. This is easily the best dialog in the show. It uses both Garak's personality as a strategist (who very much wants to play a Cardassian strategy game called "Kotra" against the chief) as well as scoring consistency points by bringing up O'Brien's past as a soldier fighting Cardassians. The result is a sensible scene that utilizes the dynamics of each character.

Once Garak, O'Brien, and the engineering/security team reach Empok Nor, there are effective moments of suspense. Vejar adds some very nice directing touches. I like, for example, that the external shots of Empok Nor always show the station at a canted angle. And the lighting effects and production design of the interiors are superb. Even though the sets are obviously the same sets that are used every week, it doesn't feel like the same place—it actually feels like an abandoned station far from reality.

Once the crew finds the abandoned stasis chambers sans Cardassian soldiers, Empok Nor becomes a place crawling with impending doom. I liked the unexpected scene where Nog returns to the docking pylon to find the Runabout floating away ("That's not right," indeed) just before it explodes. Vejar shoots the scene skillfully, and we realize the crew is trapped without a means of escape. (I liked the premise of being trapped, but I don't think I care for the destruction of yet another nameless Runabout—the fourth one this season. It's beginning to feel like the Voyager cliche of of the shuttle loss tally.)

Also, the deaths of Pechetti and Stolzoff when they're attacked by the Cardassian soldiers—despite the obvious inevitability of their demise—were skillfully carried out with a reasonable amount suspense. The setup of the extended quiet and darkness was a calculated attempt to make us jump when the predators attacked—and jump I did.

Garak discovers that the Cardassian soldiers are filled with some "psychotropic drug" that makes them excessively paranoid and gives them violent dispositions. Garak wants to stand and fight, but O'Brien wants to send out a distress signal first, and he needs a team effort to do it. Garak goes off on his own hunt; O'Brien and his remaining team rig the communications.

It's about here that "Empok Nor" completely derails, undermining the successes within the show's first half with an ineffective second half that bears very little scrutiny. One annoyance is the way the plot so murkily handles the reasons and purpose behind the two soldiers' existence on the station. The conjectural dialog between Garak and O'Brien hints at some specific explanations (like a military experiment "gone wrong"), but the episode doesn't seem to know any more than they do. I know, we're not supposed to care about the reasons, we're just supposed to get wrapped up in the suspense—but the way the episode stands, the explanation of the soldiers is either overwritten or it's underwritten. The writers should've said less about the Cardassians to make them more undefined and thus more intimidating, autonomous killers. Or the writers should've made things more clear, so that the reasons for the Cardassian government leaving them behind would be more interesting. As it is, the dialog is just a bit too clear-cut, yet too unfinished to be much more than a distraction.

The really big problem with this episode, however, is that Garak is exposed to this psychotropic drug, which turns him against O'Brien and the remaining crew. Garak's slow but steady personality transformation is handled okay, but once he kills the two Cardassian soldiers and reaches his full state of villainy, it's all downhill. The last two acts of the episode exercise the immortal Trekkian motif of "regular cast member goes insane," as the convenience of the plot hijacks Garak's personality to "bring out the worst in him." He stabs Amaro after phasering the Cardassian who snuffed Boq'ta, leaving behind only O'Brien and Nog.

The way the episode reduces Garak to a raving lunatic doesn't work for a number of reasons. First of all, it takes very careful handling to successfully pull off a ploy where a character changes personalities because of a plot contrivance. Unfortunately, there's nothing special about what happens here. It's pedestrian. Secondly, Garak as a character is most effective when using his pointed humor and sly wit in situations. Turning him into something as inherently superficial as "evil Garak" doesn't really suit his personality—especially the way it's conveyed here. Garak's wit is forfeited in favor of less-than-stellar Die Hard-like mind games where he and O'Brien talk over their communicators about war and killing, etc.

That brings me to the other issue at hand—the attempt by the writers to incorporate into the "battle of wits" the facets of Garak and O'Brien's personalities highlighted in the Runabout scene. I see what they were going for here, with the hints that O'Brien has to "become a soldier again" to battle another Cardassian, and Garak's desire for the "fun" of fighting the war hero in O'Brien. Unfortunately, what might've seemed okay in theory doesn't work in practice. The last two acts, for all their exposition on the violence of the distant past, end up being too shallow and rooted in lackluster plotting to really mean anything. Either you deal seriously with these types of issues, or you don't deal with them at all. What you shouldn't do is set them up for half-attempted scrutiny within such an over-the-top premise.

The rest of the show revolves around the plotting of these games between O'Brien and Garak, few of which work. Garak's kidnapping of Nog (since obviously Nog can't die) is a completely predictable action cliche. Ga. Garak's hanging the bodies of O'Brien's crew along the promenade is supposed to have shocking effects, but doesn't—it's merely glib. Then there's the goofy dialog coming from Garak, who we normally expect to deliver good lines. (Holding a phaser on O'Brien, he says, "I'll admit that I'm tempted to end this right now. But that would be depriving myself of too much enjoyment." Then the two duke it out. Please, give me a break.)

It also doesn't help the episode's cause knowing that neither Garak nor O'Brien will suffer any real consequences of their actions. (Since Garak is acting outside the range of normal behavior, he's not really responsible for anything he does. Nor is O'Brien responsible, for he's forced to defend himself.) And, of course, despite the casual killing of four people earlier in the show, we know that Garak, O'Brien, and Nog will all survive what is supposed to be the "final showdown." O'Brien renders Garak unconscious with a cleverly rigged explosion—which in any other situation would be fatal to the enemy; but here, since it's Garak, is not. It's as arbitrary as the toss of a coin. (And, naturally, once Garak is disabled, there's a cut back to DS9 and everything's fine. No mention of how or when O'Brien and the others were rescued. Blah.)

I suppose in one way, this episode does have one consequence, although it's not one I care for. This battle creates a quiet rift between these characters (as subtly shown in the concluding scene in the infirmary). I doubt O'Brien will easily get over the fact that Garak killed one of his men. Nor will knowing that O'Brien tried to kill Garak make things easier from Garak's view (even though he does understand). There's likely to be uneasy silence between these two (assuming the events here aren't forgotten by next week). Too bad. The possibilities of an open dialog between these two—as effectively demonstrated in the Runabout scene—could've been much more intriguing.

This episode should've just stuck with its original simple premise—that of hunting the enemy—instead of suddenly taking on the conjured twist of a "fighting one of your own" motif. The atmosphere could've made the simpler premise work.

Ultimately, I suppose the latter passages of the show ride on whether or not you buy Garak's psychotropic drug-induced state of dementia, and if you think it creates results that work dramatically. I don't buy any of it for a second—it merely creates weak drama based on zany, ineffective dialog exchanges.

"Empok Nor" definitely had its moments, and, as I said, I liked the look of the episode. But you can't get everywhere on looks alone.

Previous episode: Blaze of Glory
Next episode: In the Cards

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41 comments on this review

Daniel
Tue, Dec 11, 2007, 3:10am (UTC -5)
This episode really isn't great, but it's hard for me to hate anything with Garak involved. Probably would've given it 3 stars just for that.
Tex
Tue, Mar 2, 2010, 1:22pm (UTC -5)
I second that, Garak always commands the screen, even in a mediocre episode!
Nic
Mon, May 3, 2010, 8:15am (UTC -5)
Garak is now probably my favorite character in the entire Trek canon, but I still didn't like this episode. Even early on in the Runabout scene I was 100% sure that all four "new" chaaracters would die. And as you said, what's the point of having Garak go crazy if it doesn't have any consequences? Psychotropic drug or not, murder is still murder.
Carbetarian
Thu, Aug 26, 2010, 11:51pm (UTC -5)
I like that this episode is at least referenced again next season in Rocks and Shoals (I think that's the name of the episode... It's the one with Kevan, the vorta who is willing to sell out all his Jem Hadar soldiers in order to get medical help) when Nog tells Garak that he can walk next to him, or in front of him; but he'll never let him out of his sight again.

Also, this episode actually managed to freak me out the first time I saw it! It was very low budget horror movie the way it was played out. It wasn't exactly stellar, but I thought it was entertaining enough.

And finally, I concur with all of the above statements about Garak! I love both Garak and Nog, actually.
Carbetarian
Fri, Aug 27, 2010, 11:39pm (UTC -5)
I just wanted to add one other thing to my last comment. That little scene in the beggining where Nog and O'Brian are fixing whatever they're supposed to fixing at Quarks is pretty hilarious, only because it kind of comes out of nowhere. I didn't see it coming the first time, and I forget that it's there on repeat viewing. So, it always gets a bit of a chuckle out of me.
Neil
Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 12:54am (UTC -5)
My only complaint to add to Jammer's accurate observations is this: Garak and O'Brien had that conversation about O'Brien's heroic soldiering, on the runabout a long time before Garak was under the influence of any drugs.

But his attitude at that point was very antagonistic toward O'Brien, and while I know Garak is always playing mind-games when he talks about people's pasts, in this case it was way more aggressive and just plain mean than normal, and I don't think O'Brien's done anything in DS9 to make Garak hate him more than anyone else.

It really felt like he was already on the drugs before they entered the abandoned station, which of course was impossible, but the writers seemed to get Garak's personality *completely* wrong in that initial discussion.
jon
Fri, Feb 4, 2011, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
One of the things about this epsiode was Andy Robinson take on Garak and how it is similiar to his portrayal of Scorpio in Dirty Harry
Jacob Sisko
Wed, Feb 9, 2011, 4:59am (UTC -5)
I personally thought this episode was worse than "Let he who is without sin", although that one was quite bad. But at least that episode had some attractive women in swimsuits. This episode's premise is completely ridiculous. In addition to what Jammer has mentioned, I just couldn't get past one particular conversation between Pechetti and Stolzoff. How can a Starfleet officer with several years of training point her rifle at an ally casually, then respond to his "Do you mind not aiming that at me" with a "Don't worry, safety's on". An engineer no less, who should know that all machines can and will fail at some point. Lazy writing in a lazily done episode with no real consequences. I'll pass.
Aaron B.
Mon, Sep 5, 2011, 5:11am (UTC -5)
Neil, I thought that conversation gave a nice bit of insight into Garak. He's lived on the same station with Chief for five years, but he's never shown any antagonism toward him. Yet Garak, despite being exiled, is a patriot and cares about his fellow Cardassians, and Chief is famous for killing himself a whole bunch of "Cardies." Garak rarely exposes how he really feels about things, but here you can see how he resents that and would like to match himself up against O'Brien and get a little payback -- if only in a board game -- for his people.
Krysek
Sun, Oct 30, 2011, 6:01pm (UTC -5)
It could have been good as a spookhouse episode but really once the drug came into play, it was downhill. I guess it gives the writers a chance to have Garac murder someone and get away with it just to annoy people, who don't go for those excuses. Also, without redshirts, I guess the new tip-off is blue people; if there is a blue in your crew, you probably won't make it. And I think Garac just antagonizes O Brien early just because he is getting tired of people trusting him or liking him, I don't think he really cares about anything but him.
Matrix
Mon, Nov 7, 2011, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
Echo much of the above comments but surprised no one yet has mentioned the spoonhead remark made by one of the yellowshirts. I liked it, it felt very in the moment and an evolution of the chief's cardies remarks throughout the series (and a nod to thing's past).
Grumpy
Wed, Aug 15, 2012, 3:01pm (UTC -5)
I had misremembered this episode, thinking much of it was spent in the (First Contact surplus) spacesuits, when only one brief scene uses one. I was also mistaken as to its overall quality: like Jammer at the time, I thought it was hollow and pointless, but upon reviewing I like it more.

As a "screw with O'Brien" episode, this is more revealing than, say, "Whispers" or even "Hard Time." That angle would've been lost if the antagonist hadn't been someone who knew the chief well, which is why Garak had to be the bad guy.

Between this and "The Ship," it's clear Beimler enjoyed showing O'Brien's interaction with regular joes. (Might've been better if the security and engineering joes had been more clearly delineated, but that's the original series' mistake of putting them both in the same color shirts.)
John
Thu, Sep 13, 2012, 7:49am (UTC -5)
I thought this one was alright.

Not great but good action entertainment.

Would have benefited from a better musical score.
William
Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 8:29pm (UTC -5)
Jammer, I'm usually with you, but I liked this one better than and most of the others. It's not great DS9, but it's good. 3 stars.
DavidK
Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 5:09am (UTC -5)
This one is sort of a guilty pleasure for me. It's not very deep, but I do enjoy it.

Also re: Grumpy's comments about engineering and security staff wearing the same colour, that always bothered me, but it really stuck out in this episode. Science and medical I can sort of understand, the line between the two can be quite flexible. Engineering and security though is just confusing. On top of that, you've got the vague position of Operations Officer for Data and Harry Kim, a posting that seems to require both science and engineering, yet is also yellow. And another sidenote, flight controllers like Ro, Wesley and Tom Paris wear red, I suppose because it loosely falls into the "administration" side of command, as Memory Alpha points out.

None of this is inconsistent, but it's not very clear. A couple more colours would have been nice! In fact the TOS-era movie uniforms had a good array of department colours, although that patch was much less obvious.
Grumpy
Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 2:02pm (UTC -5)
Starfleet divisions, it seems to me, parallel divisions in real-life space programs. Command is the equivalent of NASA's pilot astronauts (who steer spacecraft and command missions); Sciences the mission specialists (NASA's first group of scientist astronauts included MDs as well as geologists); and Operations is like Russia's engineer cosmonauts. If the series had been more conscious of this parallel -- or even of the naval distinction between engineering and gunnery! -- we wouldn't have seen bilge rats wearing security guard uniforms. Or maybe it's vice versa.
Cail Corishev
Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 1:55pm (UTC -5)
I enjoy this one, though I concede most of Jammer's objections. On the conversation on the Runabout at the beginning: it made me realize we've never seen Garak and O'Brien interact much on the show before, which is interesting. Both men have become close to Bashir over the last 4-5 years, but not to each other. Why? Maybe because of what leaked through in that scene: Garak resents Chief's reputation as a Cardie-killer, and Chief still isn't particularly comfortable around Cardassians.
Sean
Tue, Jul 30, 2013, 2:01am (UTC -5)
This one's mindless action. Good mindless action, but not much to it. They brought along redshirts to die, of course. That much was obvious. One of the reasons I don't like this one or The Ship is because of that. When there's redshirts, the episode is usually not very good. DS9 usually avoids redshirts, which is one of its strong suits, but sometimes we have episodes like these.
Kotas
Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 4:33pm (UTC -5)

A decent episode, although I wish they didn't kill off all of the young engineers.

6/10
K'Elvis
Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 12:45pm (UTC -5)
O'Brien has gone from someone who hated Cardassians to one who, if he doesn't necessarily like them, can see them as people. Garak likes to get under people's skin, needling them to see how they react. I don't think he was seriously disturbed by O'Brien's war record, Garak just saw this as a soft spot to poke. By observing reactions, he can see who is a potential enemy or a potential friend, and under what circumstances they might be friend or enemy. Essentially, Garak was asking "I'm a Cardassian and you've fought Cardassians. Where do I stand?"

Under the effect of the drug, Garak's needling is morphed into seriousness. When people are whipped up into a frenzy, any excuse will do. Garak was going to start attacking non-Cardassians either way, he just clutched at whatever was the nearest excuse. There is a point where he observes that it felt good to kill the Cardassians. If he had realized at that point that he was under the influence of a drug, he might have been able to control himself.

It just seems that events are glossed over too easily. Even if Garak was not held accountable for his actions, it seems implausible that he would have been able to go on with his life on the station normally.
William B
Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
@K'Elvis, I agree, but I think O'Brien's history may account for why he is so forgiving. a) he know what it is like to be, essentially, possessed (TNG's "Power Play"); b) he knows what it is like for a *loved* one to be possessed ("The Assignment"); c) he knows what it's like to have his personality altered in a damaging way that is not actually his fault ("Hard Time"). And in general, I'm reminded of what he said in "The Wounded": "I don't hate you, Cardassian. I hate what I've become." The episode's concept is that Garak encounters a substance left over from the war (or, the past, at least) which renders him xenophobic and a killer-soldier, and so part of the story is "about" the way hatred from wartime doesn't go away but can be reawakened. O'Brien is sympathetic to what Garak goes through, because it reminds him of his own difficulty dealing with what he did in the war, and the part of him that was permanently changed by the war. Some of what Garak did is based on traits that are actually in Garak, and so it makes sense that he feels bad (and that, SPOILERS Nog doesn't trust him in "Rocks and Shoals"), but ultimately he is a victim of forces greater than him, and O'Brien understands that very well by this point. I think O'Brien would probably put a word in in Garak's defense, and as the leader of the team I think this would go a long way.

Now, Garak getting like six months imprisonment for *attempted genocide* in "Broken Link" is another story....
easrwest101
Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 7:22am (UTC -5)
I agree with Jammer on this one, the setup dialogue, sets, lighting etc in the first half are all great but are all wasted with a poorly scripted 2nd half that spirals down a predictable, pedestrian, gruesome and frankly "by the numbers" crew member goes insane path, a waste of the actors time and also seemed to lose all the tension and momentum from the first half. Would be interesting to hear what happened to the script and shooting process to see what happened.
Vylora
Sun, Mar 2, 2014, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
This episode is asymptomatic of a mostly recurring theme of the fifth season. That theme seems to be to start with a great idea and then falter in the execution story-wise. Whether its the whole episode or smaller plot details.

I suppose this was fairly entertaining enough. Andrew Robinson and Colm Meaney are always reliable in their respective characters. Of course simply enjoying a performance can't save an episode from itself. I can't help but feel the drug-induced angle to the plot could've been much better utilized in terms of overall plot. The way it's handled here leaves me with the sense that Garak was made to be evil for evils' sake.

Good potential with great directing, reliably good performances and absolutely no follow through on premise. Entertaining but ultimately disappointing.

2 stars.
Josh
Sun, Mar 2, 2014, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
You mean symptomatic?
Vylora
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 5:26am (UTC -5)
Yes I do mean 'symptomatic'. :p
2piix
Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 4:10pm (UTC -5)
I saw the board game scene very differently. I saw Garak reaching out to O'Brien. It's no secret that O'Brien is wary of Cardassians. Especially because his reputation precedes him. I think Garak was acknowledging that reputation, and offering respect as a fellow soldier. Also, I think Garak was saying "We're not so different. Let's play." This is the same message he was communicating under the influence of the drug, too. The game just got real.
LongKahn
Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 4:06pm (UTC -5)
Am I the only one who wishes Garak would have killed Nog? It would have had more of an impact and I wouldn't have to constantly roll my eyes in seasons 6 and 7 every time nog is on the bridge of the defiant while presumably still receiving reading lessons from Jake.
Yanks
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 1:53pm (UTC -5)
What's not to like here for me. Another Garak heavy episode!!

Interesting we never learned the answer to this:

"GARAK: I'm not convinced Stolzoff was right about our Cardassian friends. Why would anyone voluntarily seal themselves into a stasis tube, perhaps for years, just to guard an abandoned station? Even the Third Battalion isn't that fanatical. Something else is going on."

I'll rate higher than Jammer, I liked the second half of this episode. The Garak v O'Brien match-up was intriguing.

Of course, Robinson most aptly chews the scenery with everything he's given in this one.

3.0 stars. Probably 3.5 had there been a reason for those Cardi-cubes on Empok Nor...
Dusty
Sat, Nov 1, 2014, 5:17am (UTC -5)
A great-looking episode with an interesting premise, but the poor writing and unbelievable third act really hurt it. The actors do what they can but it doesn't add up to much. If they dropped the whole "evil Garak" idea and stayed focused on the Cardassian soldiers and why they were there, O'Brien and Garak still could have worked out their issue by going after the killers together.
Del_Duio
Thu, Dec 11, 2014, 11:17am (UTC -5)
Just saw this again last night. I think the powers that be were really trying hard to get Andrew Robinson to channel his inner Scorpio Killer again (from Dirty Harry). While my daughter definitely liked the episode, I do feel it falls a bit flat in places. A two star review is a pretty good assessment.
Vii
Mon, Mar 2, 2015, 6:55pm (UTC -5)
This episode was fun to watch, it was kind of like DS9's version of Resident Evil. As so many people have commented before me, Garak makes every episode he's in. The death of the red shirts and the whiney Bolian was predictable but still gave the audience a rueful grin, although I too wish that they hadn't ALL been killed.

One of the most interesting things here is seeing how the Chief's character has developed since his initial appearances in TNG. People here have compared him to his reaction to Cardassians in 'The Wounded,' which is admittedly what I think of every time I see him interacting with any Cardassians - in this case Garak. He's come a long way since the prejudiced, PTSD officer who baulks at Cardassians.

Another thing is Garak's comments on Setlik III and his constant reminders to the rest of the away crew, and in fact the rest of the DS9 members during the whole run of the show, of how race is such a huge part of our identity that it can never be completely eradicated. How far can friendships and prejudices go? I just finished watching 'For the Cause' yesterday, where Eddington makes his amazing speech to Sisko - "Everyone should want to be in the Federation." For them, if you're not with the Federation then you're against them.

Ultimately DS9 is a how about how people struggle to overcome their racial boundaries and prejudices, but realise that they can only go so far. Worf is a pretty good example - all Ferengis and Cardassians to him, for instance, are by default 'dishonourable', and the decent Ferengi or Cardassian is to him the exception rather than the rule. In 'Looking for par'Mach,' I felt a bit annoyed when he constantly belittled Quark for being a Ferengi during the first half of the episode. In 'What you leave behind,' when Bashir attempts to comfort Garak in the aftermath of the destruction of Cardassia, Garak tells him "Spare me your insufferable Federation optimism." DS9's a realistic reminder, in contrast to the kumbaya optimism of TNG and VOY, that races are and always will be that different, and that those differences can never be truly reconciled, only temporarily buried.
Nathan B.
Sun, Jul 26, 2015, 8:29pm (UTC -5)
Great review by Jammer. I thought this episode was a bit like a DS9 equivalent to TNG's "Schisms"--it was an episode with an overall horror feel, although this one was much more like a conventional B-horror-movie, what with all our red-shirt extras being killed off. That was bad writing, in a way, and not only because it was incredibly predictable, both by the canons of horror and of Trek. I don't like horror as a genre, but every now and then it's interesting to see something really different from the usual Trek fare.
John Smith
Wed, Sep 30, 2015, 10:18pm (UTC -5)
This episode doesn't make a lot of sense. 2 killers out there vs a group of not well trained officers. Instead of making the Cardassians their top priority, Miles split them up and made them do other minor tasks so that they got picked off. Was Miles really a soldier?
MartinB
Wed, Dec 9, 2015, 2:29pm (UTC -5)
I don't think going after the Cardassians as a team would have made much of a difference, not with Crewman "Unsafety First" Stoltzoff on the team. She managed to keep her phaser rifle pointed at the one person in the room who she wasn't meant to shoot while protecting him, even AFTER he asked her not to! I was glad when she got thrown over the equally unsafe Promenade upper railing...

Empok Nor was always shown at dutch angles, even in other episode, apparently so it looked different to DS9. But wouldn't having it be a station of a different type to DS9 make more sense anyway? Terok Nor was originally an ore processing facility over Bajor, so what could Empok Nor's function have been given that it was seemingly sat in open space, or at the very least not in orbit of one of the Trivas System's planets?
William B
Sun, Jan 10, 2016, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
I found Garak's needling of O'Brien a little odd at the beginning of the episode -- it was just a bit more aggressive than the more indirect modes he tends to use to have fun with others around him. The idea that Garak might have been put off by O'Brien's war record and wanted to talk to him about killing Cardassians might make some sense, but it still seemed too blunt somehow. Then Garak started asking O'Brien why he and Bashir spend all those hours in the holodeck together, and it clicked: Garak is jealous that O'Brien is Bashir's BFF now, and so is poking holes in O'Brien as friendship-rival, on a completely different playing field. Ha.

Anyway I talked about this episode a bit above. I think that the metaphor of the psychotropic drug is that is has to do with how nationalism, xenophobia and bloodlust can be brought to the surface in times of conflict and war, and it makes a particular amount of sense to do this story right now, now that Cardassians are overtly enemies of the Federation again. Garak feels a certain pull toward his people which he is not even consciously aware of, and the battle cry burrows into him. The Cardassian government attempts to create a kind of mass psychosis in Cardassians to make them better soldiers, which after all is what extreme militaristic governments do. The sudden shift of allegiances, and the horror of that, actually gets at the feelings of betrayal the AQ peoples are bound to have over Cardassia's change in loyalties, while also, through Garak, suggesting the way individual Cardassians can be swept up in a kind of mass militaristic psychosis by their leaders. O'Brien has to call on his ex-soldier while also integrating it with who he is now, and unlike Garak can think clearly outside the war. ("I'm an engineer.")

Still, I can't help but think that having Garak go to the other side via drugs would have worked better if the Garak-as-villain actually paid off what Garak's actual villainy is like. Garak used to be a torturer and assassin; I don't think he was a thug who wanted badly to get into fights-to-the-death. "The Die is Cast" had Garak go through the motions of torture even though he no longer enjoyed it, but this episode could have added to the character and our understanding by showing something of what Garak may have behaved like when he was younger, more violent, and more secure in the absolute rightness of hurting and killing for Cardassia. I tend to think that Obsidian Order Interrogator Garak would be scary as hell, and I think current Garak would prefer not to think about the fact that he used to hurt and kill people but also actively enjoyed it.

I enjoyed the final scene between Garak and O'Brien, particularly Garak asking O'Brien to send his regrets and apologies to the wife of the man Garak killed. I think O'Brien mostly gets Garak here, as I said in my previous comment on the episode. Garak is suitably chastened, I think because to some degree he only brought up the Setlek III needling of O'Brien because he really did think that both their fighting days were far in the past, and had not recognized what could be brought up.

The episode is heavy on atmosphere and Vejar does some effective work. I like the way the various goldshirts are given distinctive personalities, too. And some of the ideas here are fine. But the episode doesn't end up meaning much, and the final struggles get more and more ridiculous as they go on. 2 stars sounds right.
James
Sun, Jan 17, 2016, 7:49am (UTC -5)
I would have preferred if this episode never existed. Why does Empok Nor look exactly the same as DS9? It's incredibly lazy and detracts from the feeling that DS9 is a unique station. Now it's just another carbon copy of all the other Cardassian stations dotted around the Alpha Quadrant.

Imagine if TOS showed us dozens of identical Enterprises, all out there exploring and boldly going. It would have devalued the sense that we were watching something unique. That's what Empok Nor did for me, knowing that DS9 came off the factory line instead of something with its own architecture and history behind it.

By the way, Babylon 5 did this concept before and did it much better. They visited Babylon 4, the previous station to be built. It looked different, inside and outside. As a result it was a much more interesting episode and enriched the franchise's universe.
Chrome
Sun, Jan 17, 2016, 11:21am (UTC -5)
"Why does Empok Nor look exactly the same as DS9? It's incredibly lazy and detracts from the feeling that DS9 is a unique station."

I don't see what the problem is. The Enterprise D has several sister ships including the Yamato which we saw destroyed in TNG as early as season 2. The Cardassian stations probably had the same architect, but at least we know Turok Nor was built by Bajoran slave labor.
James
Sun, Jan 17, 2016, 1:18pm (UTC -5)
Yes I understand the in-universe explanation, I just think it is lazy on the show's part. In TNG's case, it was probably that they didn't want to go to the trouble of building new ship models for one episode. Since DS9 is CGI, that shouldn't be an excuse even though the interior shots look identical to Terok Nor. It would have been a more interesting episode had it not been shot on sets we have seen every week.
Chrome
Sun, Jan 17, 2016, 11:49pm (UTC -5)
DS9 isn't CGI. If you read the memory alpha entry for the show you can see the original handmade DS9 model along with sketches. And CGI can be extremely expensive if you want it to look realistic, which would've been quite a feat in the Toy Story 1 era when this episode aired.

Also, they really added some new sets for this episode and changed the lighting and atmosphere of the usual set. I'm not sure how that's lazy on a technical level.

Yes, it would be cool if they gave us a brand new station model for this single episode, but there are thin budgets for most broadcast TV shows, so we as the audience need to be reasonable.
Diamond Dave
Mon, Jan 25, 2016, 7:47am (UTC -5)
Essentially a haunted house story with a horror movie feel. Unusual enough for DS9 but stymied by a flawed execution. The major problem is that if Garak has gone paranoid enough to be knifing people in the guts then he is not going to simply take Nog hostage - but of course we know the supporting cast is expendable, so that's not going to happen. Garak's dialogue is also increasingly risible as the episode continues, and it all builds to a somewhat melodramatic and overwrought conclusion.

The score is also intrusive to boot. 2 stars.
Luke
Thu, May 19, 2016, 4:42am (UTC -5)
O'Brien, Nog, Garak and four walking skeletons..... erm, I mean four never-before-seen crew members.... go off to a really spooky abandoned station that just so happens to be haunted.... erm, I mean inhibited by deranged, psychotic killers. Gee, I wonder who's going to survive this little tale. :-P Seriously folks, this is easily the worst case of pointless red-shirt deaths that "Deep Space Nine" ever gave us. This is legitimately TOS: "The Apple" territory right here! All four new characters are murdered in one way or another and all three previously established characters manage to survive. Give me a freaking break! Though, I suppose "Empok Nor" does have two elements that "The Apple" didn't. It does have some social progress on display, as the female (non-white female, I might add) character is allowed to die; that's at least something, I guess. And it's not total shit.

The atmosphere of this episode is phenomenal! On that alone I can't justify giving it a below-average score, because it is simply sumptuous. The lighting, the mood, the directing, the editing, everything gives the episode a true sense of unreality and dread that permeates every single second. Given that everything takes place on the exact same sets we see week in and week out, that is quite an accomplishment. Jammer is absolutely right that Empok Nor really does feel like a different station than DS9.

Unfortunately, the only other good thing about the episode is Andrew Robinson's performance. He does sell "crazy Garak" reasonably well, but given that this is the exact type of role that made him famous to begin with (as the Scorpio Killer in "Dirty Harry") it's not surprising that he could make it work. Still, even if Robinson can make something from nothing, at the end of the day we're still left with nothing. This simply isn't the way Garak should be used. He's at his best when spinning elaborate deceptions and sparring with others in a game of wits. Turning him an out-of-his-mind villain just for the sake of zany shenanigans is a real disservice to the character. And the plot really does go off the rails once Garak kills the final Cardassian. Why were the soldiers left behind? Why were they exposed to such a questionable drug? How are O'Brien, Nog and Garak rescued? Were they able to get all the parts they needed for the DS9 repairs or just the one critical part? How are the families of the crew members murdered by the soldiers responding to this? Who cares?! Garak is acting loony! Sorry, but that's just not enough, a good performance not withstanding.

Tonally it's an absolute masterpiece. Story-wise.... not so much.

6/10

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