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.