Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Rocks and Shoals"

****

Air date: 10/6/1997
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Michael Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Do you really want to give up your life for 'the order of things'?"
"It is not my life to give up, Captain ... and it never was."

— Sisko and Remata'Klan

Nutshell: Excellent. Powerfully envisioned and executed drama. The trend continues.

In last week's review to the gripping "A Time to Stand," I said that I wouldn't want Trek to always be so gritty, dark, and intense like it's certain to be throughout this war, because "that's not what Trek's about."

I still believe that, but, hell—if episodes were always as good as "A Time to Stand" and now this week's almost-as-bleak "Rocks and Shoals," we'd still have an awesome television series of powerhouse drama. Is it what Roddenberry would have wanted?—what he had envisioned? I don't know, but nor right now do I care.

"Rocks and Shoals" is another very strong hour of DS9, further capitalizing on the thus far stellar trend of the war arc. The storyline has many notions and events that aren't very uplifting, but they're morally conscious in their conveyed ideals.

On the surface, the main plot is reminiscent of last season's "The Ship"—Sisko and the crew find themselves stranded on a barren planet along with a squadron of Jem'Hadar soldiers. The themes here are different however, with plot developments that analyze trust and dedication, treachery and betrayal. It's the deepest and most emotionally satisfying episode involving the Jem'Hadar yet created, analyzing with a scrutinizing eye their role in the Dominion—sort of like fourth season's "To the Death," but with an effective, tragic slant of realization that proves so much more relevant.

The plot is rudimentary, of course, and that's the way it should be. Sure, it's a tad convenient for the story that Sisko's ship happens to crash on the same planet and in the same vicinity of where another Jem'Hadar fighter went down just two days before—but no matter. This episode is about the situation that ensues.

The stranded Jem'Hadar soldiers have with them their Vorta overseer Keevan (Christopher Shea), who was badly injured in the crash. Without medical attention he most certainly will die, and without his supply of ketracel the Jem'Hadar will die as well.

While surveying for survival needs, Garak and Nog are captured by the Jem'Hadar soldiers. Keevan uses the prisoners as a bargaining chip—and sends one of his soldiers to inform Sisko that he would like to make a deal: Sisko's captured men in exchange for a doctor.

Bashir is able to heal Keevan, after which Keevan reveals his intentions and also another proposal. You see, Keevan has a problem: Most of the ketracel white he was holding for the Jem'Hadar was destroyed when their ship crashed. He doesn't have enough to last until rescue arrives. All that remains in one vial, and when it's gone the Jem'Hadar will go mad, killing everybody—including Keevan and eventually each other. So Keevan wants to make a deal that will save his own neck. He informs Sisko that he is ordering the Jem'Hadar to attack the Captain's camp the following day. And he provides Sisko with the battle plan he has ordered the Jem'Hadar to execute. In short, Keevan has set up his own men for slaughter. In exchange for the attack plan, Keevan will surrender to Sisko and give him some communications equipment that was damaged in the crash—which O'Brien would likely be able to repair.

This puts Sisko and the crew in a moral bind. Even war has rules; but if they agree to Keevan's proposal, they would be killing the Jem'Hadar without a fair fight. I liked the scene where the crew acknowledges this problem, but, as Sisko notes, they don't really have a choice. Keevan is sending his soldiers whether Sisko chooses to use the information or not. Ultimately, it's either the deaths of the Jem'Hadar, or the deaths of everyone.

The moral dilemma is nicely addressed by the story, but even better is a scene that addresses the Jem'Hadar loyalty—a scene where Sisko informs Jem'Hadar squadron commander Remata'Klan (Phil Morris), that Keevan has sold them out—that the Jem'Hadar are locked in a crossfire with nowhere to go. Sisko asks Remata'Klan to surrender while he can.

Within Remata'Klan's choice is where the story becomes a fully realized tragedy—and an exceptional piece of work. Remata'Klan is no fool. He's merely incapable of violating his Dominion ethics. He refuses surrender because it's not what his Vorta ordered. And if his Vorta wants Remata'Klan and his unit to die, then they die.

What's remarkable about this episode is that it almost paints the Jem'Hadar as victims. Ron Moore's probing teleplay is so fair to their situation and even-handed in its approach that we actually feel sympathy for Remata'Klan and his men. They may be fierce, merciless, efficient soldiers—but they're that way because the Dominion manufactured them that way. They have a rigid obedience code that prohibits them from defying the higher power of the Dominion. They believe in the Dominion's "order of things." The episode's most telling line comes when Sisko asks Remata'Klan if he really wants to die for "the order of things." Remata'Klan's reply: "It is not my life to give up, Captain ... and it never was."

It's quite a task to turn a terrible enemy into believably sympathetic characters, but "Rocks and Shoals" does it wonderfully, making Remata'Klan the most respectable and dimensional Jem'Hadar character yet created. Phil Morris' compelling rendition is one of a dedicated man not simply unwilling to go against higher forces, but incapable of doing so. He's the tragedy's central figure—he knows he has been betrayed by his Dominion superior, but it's not relevant. He follows his orders to the letter, because that's what the nature of his existence demands.

In watching Remata'Klan come to this decision without a single doubt in his mind, something occurred to me that I hadn't really considered before: One could argue that the Dominion are like the Borg in that they see individuality as inefficient and dangerous. Remata'Klan seems to be exactly what the Founders would've sought in their military: unwavering obedience and dedication until death. Jem'Hadar soldiers who seek independence (like the ones in "Hippocratic Oath") would likely be considered "defective products" of the Dominion. There's a lot of good meat in "Rocks and Shoals," and the episode raises many themes that prove interesting under scrutiny.

There's also a B-story taking place back on the station—which from the looks of things, will be an ongoing part of the story structure in the shows as long as the Dominion occupies the station. This week's example—which takes up much less screen time than the A-story yet proves equally powerful—skillfully documents Kira's bottled frustration of Bajor being on its way to Dominion occupation.

Consider her position: Every day she wakes up and goes to work for a presence she fundamentally opposes. Terok Nor has become a symbol of Bajoran limitation; and by relying on Dominion resources to sustain the economy, even Bajor itself has taken the first step in being sucked into the Dominion's assimilation process. And Kira—aware of the prospect of another planet-wide Occupation (note the capital "O")—has had to sit there and take it every day. Worse yet, her position has turned her into a bureaucrat who speaks in defense of the Dominion, telling other Bajorans not to turn to violence or opposition that could make a volatile situation worse. Nana Visitor's stellar and subtle performance shows how much it's eating away at her, and how powerless she feels.

When Vedek Yassim (Lilyan Chauvin) comes to Kira with concern over Vorta officials landing on Bajor, Kira finds herself defending a move that she herself disagrees with. Yassim remarks that "evil must be opposed." I'm sure that deep down Kira certainly agrees. But she also wants Bajor to remain neutral. Bajoran uprisings can not only lead to eventual trouble with the Dominion, but can also begin with divisions and trouble internal to Bajor.

It's truly wonderful to see the writers thinking about Dominion issues specific to Bajor. Bringing the Dominion storyline to Bajor is good; showing how it affects Bajor is great. Yassim's credible presence in the story feels like a return to first- and second-season Bajoran issues. Sensible scenes like Jake's interview with Odo and Kira keenly highlight how station life for Bajorans has changed. And Yassim's public protest—that is, hanging herself on the promenade as she reiterates "Evil must be opposed"—is a message that hits Kira and us with the force of a sledgehammer.

It's surprising how much the B-story accomplishes in so little screen time. Many of Kira's thoughts are conveyed through visuals that require no dialog. Michael Vejar's direction of these sequences is exemplary. A montage in which Kira wakes and begins her shift is done twice—once before the hanging and once afterward. The message is clear: Kira can not sit idly anymore. She can no longer live day to day on Terok Nor remaining silent and powerless. She decides she must fight back.

This notion is inspiring—and very appropriate given Kira's past. Her dialog with Odo about the impossibility of her remaining "neutral" is about as believable as anything Kira has ever said, and it's a key reason why these last two episodes have been so riveting. These characters are caught up in a really big mess, and how they react to it returns us to the basics of their personas.

Evil must be opposed, indeed. But how will it be opposed? How will Kira and Odo carry out the "New Resistance"? How will Kira undermine Dukat? Will Odo still be able to "walk the line" in his "collaborative" involvements with Weyoun and the local governing body? The answers will surely make things very interesting in the coming weeks.

Turning to technical concerns:

  • Michael Vejar actually gets to shoot in bright outdoor lighting this time (opposed to last season where the two episodes he directed—"The Darkness and the Light" and "Empok Nor"—were primarily shot in darkness). He definitely proves himself capable; "Rocks and Shoals" is a wonderfully executed and stunningly photographed episode that feels like a feature film. Also, Vejar's atypical use of slow motion is particularly nice, adding dramatic flourish to the episode's key moments of tragedy.
  • David Bell's score is terrific; I'm really beginning to think the "musical guidelines" on Trek have been relaxed or revised, because lately music has been a bigger, more noticeable factor in the episodes—more so than it has in years.
  • The special effects and tactical moments that opened the episode were pretty impressive. It was quite a sight watching the crew's fighter run out of control into the nebula and plummet toward the planet.

That about covers it. "Rocks and Shoals" is a very focused, powerful, and probing episode that continues to prove that the DS9 creators have been and will be thinking about the Dominion war in its larger themes, in addition to keeping us on the edges of our seats to see how the plot game will play out. In the process, it doesn't pull punches by sparing us unfortunate circumstances or giving us easy answers. The saga continues...

Next week: Worf's son Alexander returns, and with a more "Klingon" attitude than when we saw him last.

Previous episode: A Time to Stand
Next episode: Sons and Daughters

Season Index

26 comments on this review

stallion - Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
How come they couldn't use the stun setting and have Bashier keep them in that condition?
AeC - Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
There's an even subtler psychological element to Remata'Klan's unwavering and ultimately fatal obedience. At the start of the episode, he speaks of how he questioned the Vorta's orders and how it was not his place to do so. Whether his resultant feelings were guilt at what seemed a very mild disobedience or just a reminder/reinforcement of the Dominion's rules on the all-important Order of Things, I wonder if he would have been so willing to walk proudly into his doom had that incident not taken place. The seeds of dissent that he clearly had buried somewhere in him might have sprouted at a more opportune time and saved his and his men's skins.

On another note, this past Wednesday was the 45th anniversary of Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation. Having this somewhat fresh in my mind made Vedek Yassim's suicide hit all the harder upon re-watching the episode this evening.
Blue - Sat, Mar 21, 2009 - 4:24pm (USA Central)
Great episode, they were firing on all cylinders here. I'm SO glad they're not trying to wrap up the war arc quickly; the occupied DS9 brings a wealth of mine-able material, and they should tap that vein dry.
Aldo Johnson - Fri, Sep 18, 2009 - 12:49am (USA Central)
I like the subtle touches of the episode. O'Brien saying 4-letter words but chastises Nog for doing the same. The way Kira looks up and sees, really sees, the Cardassians and Jem'Hadar working on the bridge.

There were also some gorgeous shots, like the rope around the railing. Gave me shivers when I saw it. The view of the ship from above as it crashes was gorgeous. And so is Ensign Neeley ;-)
J - Thu, Oct 29, 2009 - 8:18am (USA Central)
Yeah, Neeley (Lt.) was easy on the eyes. I remember on Ron Moore's Q and As on AOL, there were a good number of fans calling for her to make more appearances.

I was highly impressed with the effects shot of the crashed Jem'Hadar fighter sinking in the distance. It was convincing.
Nic - Sun, May 9, 2010 - 10:11pm (USA Central)
I had to wait 24 hours before commenting on this episode, to let it sink it. This is probably the most disturbing episode of Star Trek I've ever seen, and not necessarily because the character's actions were questionable, but because there were no right decisions. Sisko and Kira essentially both made the WRONG choice in the end, but it was the least wrong choice from the options available. Ouch.

On a more nitpicky note, it seems I am the only one who was under the impression that the Jem'Hadar unit that Sisko encountered on the surface was actually from one of the ships that attacked them in the teaser. This explains the 'convenience' of their meeting, and I also assumed that it had taken Sisko & co. two days to stabalize Dax's position and pack everything they needed into boxes so they could swim out. In either case, the CG shot of the ship sinking into water is what really makes no sense. It makes it look like they only had 30 seconds to get out of there.
Marco P. - Wed, Aug 11, 2010 - 6:09am (USA Central)
Two words: TOP NOTCH. Thank you Ronald D. Moore for gifting us with a riveting story, a great script where each dialogue is entirely relevant (no empty words), and for keeping me literally glued to the screen for the very first time since I've started watching DS9 episodes. This episode not only does the Jem'Hadar a great service by making us truly understand their philosophy and role in the Dominion, it also makes for excellent television.

This episode is foreshadowing of the excellence in writing Ron D. Moore later demonstrated with Battlestar Galactica. I am right with Jammer on this one: if episodes were always as good as "Rocks and Shoals", we would all have a fantastic time revisiting the series.
megan - Wed, Sep 22, 2010 - 10:48pm (USA Central)
Hey are you THEE MARCO PALMIERI? of the DS9 continuation books?!?! Cool you like to rewatch the initial DS9 stories. I've got ALL of your DS9 post series books. The only version of the Trek universe that I follow.
Nebula Nox - Thu, Mar 29, 2012 - 1:30pm (USA Central)
The Vedek's suicide is one of the most powerful moments of Star Trek. It reminds us that in order to oppose evil we need to take risks and sometimes we must make the ultimate sacrifice.
Jack - Fri, May 18, 2012 - 8:52pm (USA Central)
What are the odds that shaking the head back and forth means the same thing in our language and Jem Hadarese?
John - Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - 12:26am (USA Central)
I think this one has to be up there as one of the best of the whole series.

As you say Jammer, it’s the little touches, and I think that's what separates it from other top episodes. A couple of things that others haven’t mentioned yet;

- The way the Jem’Hadar all surround Bashir when he’s about to operate on the Vorta and he mistakes their child-like curiosity for hostile intent. Just shows us how little love there is between these supposed comrades.

- The way the writers use Kira’s pragmatism (of all people! - only developed slowly over the years of the show) to lead us to dismiss Jake and later Yassim as being effectively overly naive. Before spinning us around full circle as Kira realises that she’s forgotten that not-acting is in itself a crime. Brilliantly written and superbly paced.
Arachnea - Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - 12:05am (USA Central)
Just two nitpicks about this episode:

1. the continuity of the one I had with "A Call to Arms"; why is Jake allowed to roam freely on a Dominion/cardassian station ? I understand why from a storytelling point of view, but he ressembles too much a 20th century cliché journalist who asks horrible insidious questions. If the writers wanted to keep him in the loop (other than in a cell or an interrogation chamber), they could have done better than that.

2. If the Vorta dies, he'll be "resurrected" by cloning. So, even knowing that, I guess the survivor instinct has taken over :p.
Latex Zebra - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
Just watched this for the first time in ages. What a fool I am. An amazing episode.
This is what Star Trek is about really. Excellent stories that make you think.
Too many great moments to go into. Must say I love that the Vorta is a real slimey bastard. His last line about what would have happened if he had more white and his swagger was brilliant and chilling.

Oh and I'm sure its mentioned somewhere that stun doesn't work on the Jem'Hadar.
Kotas - Sun, Oct 27, 2013 - 8:19am (USA Central)

Another good solid episode.

7/10
Nick P. - Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - 9:25am (USA Central)
I liked this episode, but I can't say I love it like everyone else seems to. I have a problem with the ending. Why is the Vorta ratting out the his own soldiers "wrong"? Why is Sisko so pretentious about it? Why in the hell would he TELL THE JEM'HADAR? My problem is the Vorta is correct in every point. He does not have enough white to maintain the Jem'Hadar, so they will become killing machines then turn on each other. so how is getting them ambushed and than surrendering wrong? I don't get it. It seems to me a smart tactical decision. And I really don't get Siskos snarky attitude about it all. I really don't think there is an "moral issue" here, there is a problem, and a solution, and the Jem'hadar were going to die ANYWAYS......
Rawthar - Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - 9:58pm (USA Central)
Another "O'Brien must suffer" episode - he ripped his pants!

Without any words spoken, Brooks wrenchingly communicated Sisko's realization that he lost a man because he tried to do the 'honorable' thing. A lot of parallels to 'The Ship' in terms trust issues with Vorta too. Great episode.
Krog - Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - 5:44am (USA Central)
Nick P.,

Sociopaths often are confused by normal human emotions. The Vorta betrays his men, who he has promised to care for, in order to save himself. He did not seek any alternate solutions, even when given the opportunity by Sisko.

Sisko has empathy for the inherent dignity of all living creatures, even his enemies (a defining characteristic of the Star Trek ethos). Sisko sought to avoid conflict by seeking a solution that would allow for everyone to live. The Vorta, on the other hand, used violence (against both Sisko and his own men) to achieve his goals.

The real tragedy is that the Jem'hadar were bred and conditioned to be obedient killers. The inherent dignity of living creatures has been squashed in them, to the point where they refuse to save their own lives. It's heartbreaking.

This episode shows that the Dominion is truly evil. Bioengineering and indoctrinating sentient life forms to sacrifice themselves for your own gain is sickening.
Vylora - Sun, Mar 2, 2014 - 11:55pm (USA Central)
Only two episodes into season six and DS9 continues to pull no punches. Not only do they set this one up to continue the wonderfully-paced and well-written arc but also to stand alone to work on its own terms. If the previous episode is the gritty fallout that brings up difficult questions; then this is the brooding aftermath that has no easy answers.

I've had no complaints watching this back in the day and I definitely don't have any now. Remarkable job.

4 stars.
Trekker - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
Good and Gritty Drama, if it had been persistent, DS9 might have redefined television, but the next episode turned into fluff.

9/10 for what it is as an episode, 7.5/10 for what it represents in the greater scheme of the Dominion War and Early season 6
Paul - Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - 10:52am (USA Central)
@Trekker: I read something interesting about DS9 that said it suffered from being between two eras of television. After DS9 went off the air, highly serialized shows, starting with "The Sopranos", started appearing. DS9, at its best, is like a lot of those shows, obviously including Battlestar Galactica.

But, DS9 still tried to be too episodic. The six-episode arc to begin this season is quite strong -- but it's all resolved too easily. That life on DS9 essentially returns to normal after "Sacrifice of Angels" is tough to swallow. Even if you get past the Kira/Odo stuff, it's pretty weird that Quark and Rom are still treated the same way as they were in earlier seasons after their actions essentially allowed Starfleet to retake the station. Granted, Kira acknowledges those actions in "The Magnificent Ferengi", but it's still hard to get past.

The seventh season is probably weaker than the sixth on this, because the early-season episodes like "Badda Bing, Banda Bang", "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", and a lot of the Ezri stuff is so far off the main war storyline.

Tim - Sat, Apr 5, 2014 - 10:02pm (USA Central)
Sisko's attempt to give the Jem Hadar a fair chance to surrender gets one of his men killed. One wonders how he would have felt about that if Nog or O'Brien had died instead of a random redshirt.

Interesting that a man who would later become an accessory to murder can't bring himself to gun down enemy soldiers in self defense on the battlefield.
PetetongLaw - Wed, Jun 4, 2014 - 10:46am (USA Central)
I just re-watched this episode on Netflix and was really impressed with the way the production values have withstood the test of time.

I agree with the comments about Lt Neely. It's rare on Trek to have a red shirt who captivates your attention.
Robert - Wed, Jun 4, 2014 - 10:58am (USA Central)
"Interesting that a man who would later become an accessory to murder can't bring himself to gun down enemy soldiers in self defense on the battlefield."

Do you really not see a difference between senseless, purposeless murder and murdering a key person to swing the entire war your way?

"To fight a battle under these circumstances would serve no purpose. I'm prepared to offer terms. Hear me out. I know that need more Ketracel White. My doctor can sedate your men and keep them alive until we're rescued. After that, we can put you into medical stasis until we secure a new supply."

Sisko didn't want to murder them because it was pointless. They weren't trying to capture an objective, and the Jem'Hadar had lost the battle before it began. Sisko was trying not to have a massacre (and he ended up having it anyway). Ironically his attempt to stop it was so alien to them and their response so alien to him that it was doomed from the start. But he didn't see it that way. His failure to understand the Jem'Hadar cost him his man.
Tim - Thu, Jun 5, 2014 - 7:49am (USA Central)
Robert,

I guess I would argue that it's not "senseless, purposeless murder" in the situation they were in. It also seemed too sterile, even by Star Trek standards. The redshirt (whom never got a name, if I recall correctly) is barely mourned. If anything Sisko seems more upset about killing the Jem Hadar than losing one of his own, which is interesting because I'm pretty sure he doesn't have to write letters to the families of the dead Jem Hadar....

It strikes me as contrived. In the novelization of the episode (written by the same writers) Sisko even has a line about admiring the Jem Hadar's "quick assessment of the geology" or some such after his man goes down. What kind of CO feels anything but anger and/or regret watching one of his men die? What kind of CO places his men in harm's way so he can soothe his conscience?

Sisko is most definitely not the person I would want to follow over the top, particularly if I was fighting an enemy as ruthless as the Dominion. As usual, Garek has the most poignant observation, "Correction, humans have rules. Rules that make victory a little harder to achieve, in my opinion."
NCC-1701-Z - Mon, Jun 16, 2014 - 2:08am (USA Central)
Garak: "In case, you've forgotten we're in a war."
O'Brien: "There are rules, Garak, even in a war."
Garak: "Correction. Humans have rules in war. Rules that tend to make victory a little harder to achieve, in my opinion."

This exchange seems very prescient considering the events of "In the Pale Moonlight."

Great episode, I liked how it gave us an inside perspective on the Jem'Hadar. Also, great subplot involving Kira - her strongest one over the course of the entire 6-ep arc.

As for those asking why they couldn't have used the stun setting on the Jem'Hadar, I read somewhere on Memory Alpha that the stun setting doesn't work on them, although it was never stated explicitly on screen to my knowledge.
Quarky - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 5:27pm (USA Central)
This is one of my favorite episodes of ds9. Phil Morris has a lot to do with it. I can't believe that is the same man who played Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld. Ha.

And since I like nitpicking here are are the only things I had an issue with. Why does Jake keep calling it an Occupation? Kira specifically said the the bajoran government welcomes the dominion plus they signed a non aggression treaty. The Bajoran government is perfectly fine with them on the station. Yet jakes keep calling it the occupation. Its annoying. Weyoun rightfully called him out on it. I wish when Jake was interviewing Odo that Odo or Kira had pointed out that this wasn't an occupation and any bajoran who had a problem with it should speak with their government. Now we all know the only reason they welcomed the dominion to ds9 was because Sisko recommended it. It's not an occupation. The other issue i have is Kira disobeying Sisko and forming a resistance. Sisko who she believes is a religious figure told her what to do. In a previous ep she told Sisko that the bajorans would do anything the emissary asks of them. I'm not a fan of the whole worshipping the wormhole aliens storyline but if the writers are gonna force it then let's be consistent.

These are minor problems. I can watch this ep over and over. I find it fascinating to watch how brainwashed the jem hadar and vorta are. Plus you have have great battles, awesome scenery and Sisko and company agreeing to shoot them down in the valley to win. Something that kinda shows starfleet will do whatever it takes just like in pale moonlight. Of course Nog is brainwashed by starfleet and can't understand why they would go against their principles. Great ep.

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