Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Penumbra"

***

Air date: 4/5/1999
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Steve Posey

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Best man, huh? That means I get to plan the bachelor party. Heh heh heh." — Jake, with apparently devious plans for his father

Nutshell: It's chapter one of what's essentially a 10-chapter arc. Can we really even judge yet? This chapter works well on several levels, but is held back by its unevenness.

As we head into the final stretch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the commonly adopted name for this major story arc, "Deep Space Nine: The Final Chapter," looks to be an appropriate one. With "Penumbra," we can see the latest of the groundwork being paved.

And if "Penumbra" is any indication, it's going to be tough to judge these early episodes as individuals until we know more—maybe a lot more.

I liked "Penumbra." I wasn't riveted by a lot of it, but I'm more than intrigued about where these elements will take us.

Going in favor of "Penumbra" is the fact that it revisits so many of the plot lines we need to see over the next eight weeks: Sisko's destiny, Dukat's devious planning, Worf and Dax's relationship, the disease in the Great Link, the Cardassians' role in this mess, and the inevitable connections of all said elements and more. Working against "Penumbra" is the fact these given plot elements are manipulated simultaneously and unevenly in a single episode that feels at times a little too much like a writing staff's calculated strategy. Sure, each plot piece on its own is interesting and plausible given what came before, but there are so many isolated little pieces in "Penumbra." The story's thought processes are disparate; the episode throws a little of everything together into a single stew. As of now, I don't know what that stew is all about.

But, of course, we will find out.

Hence my problem: How do we judge chapter one?

Well, for now, I'm opting to look at the hour's two most prominent storylines: (A) The relationship between Sisko and Kasidy, and (B) the relationship between Worf and Ezri.

The A-story is clearly the strongest aspect of "Penumbra," mostly because it brings with it some emotional resolution. Sisko and Kasidy's relationship is one that's been quietly developed over the span of four years of television production (it first began in season three's "Explorers"), and it's nice to see the makings of a payoff here. My biggest complaint with Trek romances has almost always been that the tired formula brings in some guest character, who then falls in love with a regular character, and then the relationship is terminated before the end of the episode. Sisko/Kasidy has been given time to develop and grow on a more realistic timetable. So now, by this point, we care a lot about the characters and the relationship; it actually means something. And when the time comes that Sisko proposes marriage, it's a truly satisfying moment.

Of course, it also helps to have performances that work. Avery Brooks' performance in his scenes here create a captivating sense of serenity. In the midst of this war and his own difficult journey of self, Sisko seems at peace. Brooks' understated performance brings an internalized understanding of Sisko that's quite spellbinding. It heightens the mood of the scenes in a truly interesting way. And it's not just his love for Kasidy that's apparent, but also his love for the world of Bajor. Sisko's announcement that he has purchased land on Bajor and his intent to build a house on this land are filled with moments of poignancy. Although this will prove most rewarding to the faithful DS9 viewer, it's ultimately Brooks that has to sell the sentiment, which he does extremely well.

Also, I like the implications that "the Emissary's wedding" could have on Bajor. As much as Sisko and Kasidy might want to make it a small event, there's Sisko's "icon status" there to render that all the more difficult.

Of course, the other problem (and what's certain to be a main focus of upcoming episodes), is the fact revealed to Sisko by the Sarah-prophet (Deborah Lacey) that his role as the Emissary conflicts with his intention to get married.

The final Sarah-prophet scene has quite an emotional punch (although Lacey's performance seemed a little too off-kilter in its attempt to be eerie), as we again look into the difficult path of "the Sisko." The Sarah-prophet's assertion that if Sisko marries Kasidy he "will know nothing but sorrow" is probably not at all what Ben wanted to hear, and, as he has in the past—most notably "Tears of the Prophets"—it looks as if he's going to have to make some tough choices between being the Emissary and being a human being.

This of course has me pondering possible tragedy scenarios for Sisko, who was the tragic hero of season six. And I've still not forgotten the statement from the Prophets from back in "Sacrifice of Angels" that "The Sisko is of Bajor but he will find no rest there"—especially considering his current house-building plans. (I could probably go on for hours about Sisko the Emissary, but we must move on.)

Less effective, but still okay, is the B-story involving Worf having gone missing after a Jem'Hadar attack that destroyed a Klingon ship he was aboard. The Defiant is forced to abandon the search, but Ezri decides to steal a runabout to go after him—simply because she can't stand the alternative of just waiting and doing nothing. ("She's a Dax. Sometimes they don't think; they just do," Sisko notes, sympathetically.)

There are strong feelings buried here that obviously are vying to come to some sort of resolution (preferably before the series ends). For Ezri, those memories are all still there. In a scene that might seem to utilize a soapish tactic but comes off as surprisingly effective nonetheless, Ezri walks through Worf's quarters as the voices from her previous life come back to her—driving home the realization that she has to help him. Her subsequent trip into the Badlands to track Worf down is nicely executed. But the important part is what this all means once she finds him.

Jadzia's death last season wasn't easy for Worf, but probably just as difficult was Ezri's appearance in "Afterimage." Worf and Ezri have done a good job of staying out of each other's way as much as possible since then, but they've long been headed for a collision. That collision comes here. Worf has never been one to easily let go of his feelings, and that's still the case here; he finds it easier to ignore Ezri than to face her.

Unfortunately, I think the writers feel it's easier to use a forced situation than to wrestle with the characters inside this confined runabout. Which is why, of course, the cliches come crawling out of the woodwork, as a Jem'Hadar attack leads to the abandonment of the runabout, leaving Worf and Ezri stranded on a planet with nothing to do but talk. Well, okay, but I was hoping for some really interesting and heartfelt dialog—a breakdown of the friction in the interests of understanding—but what we get here is disappointingly trite: a big, cliche-ridden argument that ends with Worf and Ezri clinched in each other's arms in standard romantic comedy fashion. (Sigh.)

I don't object to the Worf/Dax relationship being rekindled—not at all—but I hoped it would be more gradual and not so sudden and "spontaneous." Given Worf's attitude through every moment leading up to this one, the spontaneity comes off as way too forced. I also think the whole issue of the Trill "reassociation" taboo is just a little too easily brushed aside on Ezri's part. I'm look forward to seeing this all dealt with in the upcoming episodes, but here it proves widely variable, ranging everywhere from "the ring of truth" to "downright false."

Almost immediately following the big clinching moment, Worf and Ezri are taken prisoner by the Breen, which caught me so off guard that I'm not sure what to even make of it. How in the world do the Breen figure into all this? We've never even seen a Breen ship until now. (In fact, the only time we've ever seen a Breen was in the Dominion prison facility two years ago in the "Purgatory"/"Inferno" two-parter.) Just what are the Breen doing out here, and who are they? Are they going to be part of the bigger plot? Hmmm...

Other tidbits of the Big Plot Game are here, but I don't know what I can say about them yet beyond merely mentioning their presence. The disease infecting the Great Link (established in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River") is still a problem that Weyoun and the Vorta are researching, but so far with no success. The Female Shapeshifter makes her appearance, asking for secure communication equipment for her quarters (the long-term plot patrol awakens), and then ordering Weyoun to terminate all the Vorta currently working on the vaccine and to activate their clones as a way of instituting "a fresh perspective." (Pretty cold, lady.)

Damar is hopelessly useless these days, stuck under Weyoun's thumb, although little of this conflict is new. He's still drinking in nearly every scene, and he's still "entertaining female guests" in his quarters. The war doesn't often seem to be much on his mind, but he does take exception to the fact the Cardassians are absorbing huge losses for the Dominion. Is this a preliminary hint of possible internal conflict? (Long-term plot patrol goes on full alert.)

Then, of course, there's Dukat. He's still espousing the Paghwraiths, and now he comes to Damar so that he may be surgically altered to look like a Bajoran. What's he up to? Where is this going? Who knows?

"Penumbra" is a solid start to various elements of "The Final Chapter." I most certainly was not bored. The Sisko stuff is top-drawer. Unfortunately, the Worf/Ezri material suffers from one (or eight) too many cliches. And the rest of the plot snippets comprise little more than an interesting extended teaser. Probably every scene here is ultimately necessary. But not all of it is effective—at least, not yet. Fortunately with DS9, we can be fairly confident the payoffs are somewhere down the road. The anticipation is probably a good percentage of the fun.

Next week: Chapter two.

Previous episode: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
Next episode: 'Til Death Do Us Part

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29 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - 10:34am (USA Central)
"In fact, the only time we've ever seen a Breen was in the Dominion prison facility two years ago in the "Purgatory"/"Inferno" two-parter." Well, I hate to be a know-it-all... (No, I don't hate it! I'm a teacher!! ;o)) ...but this statement isn't true: We've seen a whole bunch of Breen in 4th seasons "Indescretion". Remember? The place Ziyal was kept prisoner?
Jammer - Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - 10:36am (USA Central)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've been corrected on this before. My error, but too late to go back and change it now. :p
ZZ in WY - Tue, May 26, 2009 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
I dunno, when I first saw this I connected the dots right away with the Breen. The female shapeshifter wanted a secure communications device to do something . . . Secretive. Only later to have Worf and Dax captured by the Breen. By this stage in the war it seemed to me the federation had a slight upper hand so it seemed natual for the dominion to seek out new allies.
Z Z
Elliott - Fri, Jan 14, 2011 - 11:48am (USA Central)
Why does Kasidy Yates' mother have a minister?
Why is it still okay that Sisko makes command decisions because "she won't forgive me"?

a lot of eye-rolling in this episode in both plots...

shouldn't Ezri have a few broken bones after she sleeps with Worf? I mean, she's very slight even compared with Jadzia...

the glaring contradictions in the religious mumbo-jumbo jump out as well "stay on the path"...okay so there's a choice "all will be as it should be"...so what difference does it make what Sisko chooses? Dumb.
Nic - Sun, Jan 30, 2011 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
This episode certainly had a few problems. I'm especially bothered by the casual dismissing of the Trill taboo which Jadzia was so worried about in "Rejoined", and Deborah Lacey's performance in the final scene - way too mechanical for a mother or even a Prophet. But overall this was a good way to kick off the arc, I actually didn't expect so much to be going on in the very first episode - which is a GOOD feeling :).
Mr. spock - Sun, Apr 29, 2012 - 6:10pm (USA Central)
I can't stand Ezri, I skip her episodes, her scenes were abysmal
Knox - Thu, May 3, 2012 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
They should trow Ezri out the airlock and get over with all her whineys.
Nick - Sun, May 6, 2012 - 5:21am (USA Central)
Gene Roddenberry had stated that humanity was free of religion in the 24th Century (The TNG episode "Who Watches the Watchers" makes this very clear.) Kassidy mentioning her mother wanting her to be married by a minister was way out of place. I'm all for exploring the darker aspects of Roddenberry's universe, but completely disregarding his wishes for his own creation is inexcusable. The writers shouldn't be injecting their own personal beliefs into the show. (Just like Michael Piller resurrecting baseball two centuries after its extinction because he was a fan). I also agree that Ezri never should have been made a regular, it just took too much away from the final season, and undermines Jadzia's death. The Trek universe is supposed to be about exploring the human condition, but they never want to let characters stay dead.
Chris Pike - Tue, May 8, 2012 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
Nick I agree with what you say about Kassidy's comment, I haven't noticed it myself but you're absolutelly right. And as for the baseball episode, baseball is not even a universally loved sport just an american favorite so it's beyond ridicolous to think that 300+ years from now in a galaxy of millions diferent civilizitations Vulcans and the non american/non human crew of ds9 would care about an american sport. Even today the rest of the world doen't even know how baseball is played.
The Sisko - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 7:43pm (USA Central)
Every time I watch season 7 I can't get past how much i hate Ezri. She brings the season down.
Laroquod - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 5:06am (USA Central)
Ezri isn't great, but she's no worse than Jadzia, really. They are approximately equivalent in acting ability and in what they contribute to the overall storylines (i.e. very little of worth). I don't find either of them annoying, however. How anyone could single out *Ezri* as annoying on a show that regularly features Rom, Moogie, and Zek, is beyond me. She's basically one of the least annoying things on a show of many annoying things.

BTW it makes perfect sense for Ezri to be very relaxed about so-called Trill 'taboos' because she received no training prior to being joined.
Laroquod - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 5:10am (USA Central)
P.S. The Vulcans don't actually care about baseball, that's not what the episode said. What the episode said was that the Vulcan captain only forced his crew to learn baseball in order to get Sisko's goat. Mind you, it makes little sense for a Vulcan to go to such lengths in service of nothing other than an emotional ploy. Vulcans and the writers of DS9 just don't mix because in order to do Vulcans right you have to take Star Trek seriously.
Knox - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 8:37am (USA Central)
At least Jadzia was not whiney and incompetent.
Jordan - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 6:19pm (USA Central)
Ezri is horrible.
Jay - Sun, Jul 1, 2012 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
Based on what we know of Klingons, I find it hard to believe that a Klingon vessel would have escape pods.
Parlyne - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 2:44am (USA Central)
Of course Klingon ships have escape pods. Death by technobabble never got anyone into Sto-vo-kor.
Jan - Wed, Jul 25, 2012 - 11:43am (USA Central)
First time watcher here. Ezri continues to grates on my nerves. I doubt if in any of my rewatches I'll see season 7 again!
Zach - Tue, Aug 14, 2012 - 11:33am (USA Central)
I hate Ezri more and more. She's terrible.
Jock Strapp - Mon, Oct 1, 2012 - 4:32pm (USA Central)
I like Ezri. But to be completely honest I wish Terry had wanted to leave sooner. That way Ezri could have been brought in with more time to slowly develop her character. But it is what it is. She did the best with what she had to work with and that isn't easy for such a long running show with many great established characters.
Caleb - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 10:16am (USA Central)
I find Ezri far less annoying than I found Jadzia. In fact, I quite like Ezri.
Kotas - Sat, Nov 9, 2013 - 6:35pm (USA Central)

Decent episode.

5/10
Ric - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 11:48pm (USA Central)
I have said this before: I prefer Ezri to Jadzia. I think Jadzia was one of the worstly conceived characters in whole Trek. Not to mention that Ezri's portrayal, as bad as it may seem, is a lot better than Jadzia's.

However, yes we didn't have enough time for this character to be properly introduced. So it feels forced to jump her into more refined business like... well, what happens in this episode. I laughed instead of having the expected reaction. Really.

But the junk part was again the magictechnobabble. Oh, the propehts say Sisko cannot merry. Tsc, our beloved captain not only thinks he is really an emissary, i.e. an special human being for the people of Bajor, but he once again blindly obeys the Prophets. Nothing against people believing in what they want, but it is certainly odd that in a 24th without religions within the Federation a man with such an easy tendency to whatever the Prophets say to is still holding such a crucial position as Sisko is.

Again, this is DS9 going far away from the boundary that exists between shading shades of grey on Roddenberry’s reality and abandoning in favor of a different take on the Federation and on Starfleet.

DavidK - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 7:54am (USA Central)
@Ric Well, the Prophets exist outside of time, their non-linear nature seems to allow them to see not only the future, but all possible futures. Therefore if I was Sisko and they said "you shouldn't get married, it's going to end badly", I'd go "well, thanks for the heads up". In retrospect, since he did get married and we saw how that ended, they were trying to save him from heartache.

I'll admit it would be nice if they spelt things out a little clearer re: the whole "nothing but sorrow" business, but a) english is their second language; b) you can level that charge at just about any prophecy-based piece of fiction; or c) maybe they don't want to trigger the timeline where Sisko does what he is told without truly understanding why, they want the timeline where Sisko makes a mistake, pays the price and learns from it.
Paul - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 9:07am (USA Central)
@Ric: It's odd to complain about how Sisko would be so affected by the Prophets by citing his (supposedly) non-religious background. Sisko's evolution on this stuff was well established throughout seven seasons. It was one of the core concepts of the entire series.

I'll grant that his actions would have been odd in the first or second season, but by season 7, Sisko has seen the Prophets predict the future on numerous occasions and (essentially) perform miracles ("Sacrifice of Angels").

As far as going too far with the "different take" on Roddenberry's vision, I can certainly buy that in much of DS9 ("In the Pale Moonlight" is as dark as Trek got, pre-Enterprise). But the religious/deity aspect was nothing new to Star Trek. TOS was full of all-powerful beings who intervened and had abilities that bordered on mystic -- the Organians, the aliens in "Arena", Trelane and his parents, etc.

The only difference with DS9's Prophets is that there was a whole society who had witnessed the powerful actions and built a religion around it. I never cared much for the pagh-wraith stuff, but having a religion built around non-corporeal aliens who occasionally intervene with corporeal and linear beings was a fascinating Star Trek concept, IMO. And, it's worth noting that most of the Federation folks (O'Brien, Dax, Ross) express doubt that the Prophets are gods of any kind even late in the series. In other words, while Sisko bought in over the course of the show, there was quite a bit of disagreement on the issue -- even by characters who witnessed the miracle-like actions for several seasons.

Lastly, while TNG was decidedly non-religious, TOS had distinct religious moments, most of them Christian. In "Bread and Circuses", the parallel Earth humans have a new religion about the "sun of God". And, in "The Ultimate Computer", Daystrom programs the M-5 computer with "the laws of man and God."
Ric - Sun, Mar 2, 2014 - 2:04am (USA Central)
@DavidK I never complained about the prophets' intentions. I agree they were trying to save Sisko from a "heartache". I was questioning Sisko giving up his free will and his freedom to try to have a life just because the prophets have advised so. Yes, they had quite a high previous success rate in predicting things. But isn't this just the sort of excuse a lot of people have used in the past to blindly follow false prophets as well? I mean, believing they have had a high success rate before in predicting things? For instance, who could know whether the aliens called prophets were even being honest and good to Sisko? Couldn't it be the case that they were actually just using Sisko for with bad intentions?Our captain was just blindly following his faith. And worse, Federation and Starfleet were just letting Sisko do that.

@Paul And so what? Yes they have been sort of "developing" Sisko's transition throughout the seasons. I was only claiming that it still looks forced, artificial and unlikely. Btw, I don't agree that Sisko's transition was truly treated as one of the core concepts of the series, but it certainly does not matter for this debate anyway. Even though, it is really annoying how the Starfleet could really keep Sisko at the DS9 after the many signs he gave that he was believing he was the emissary of the prophets, that he was making decisions solely on faith (like preventing Bajor of becoming part of the Federation), etc.

And actually that is the sort of things I was talking about when I mentioned here the departure from Roddenberry's Star Trek. Not the presence of religion by itself. E.g. Starfleet being so lenient with Sisko and, in fairness, with all sorts of misbehavior from other officers through the last seasons. I really think you missed the point when mentioning the other previous religious/deity aspect in Trek’s universe. Of course, they have appeared before, especially in TOS. And in concept, I also enjoyed quite a lot the idea of powerful aliens being seen as gods by other less powerful bipeds. This stands for a very interesting metaphor. In concept.

My criticisms are toward the execution of this concept. DS9 started to throw all the sort of Indiana Jones-ish stuff like the sacred books with blank pages that get on fire when blood touches. And no matter how absurd, ludicrous, nonsense these things became (why the hell aliens would become free when magic words are read? Why Dukat became a Lord Sith with video-game superpowers in Season 6’s finale?), to any criticism people reply throwing back the easy magictechnobabble “they were powerful aliens that existed out of linearity”. Really? Is it that easy? So we can make any sort of story become good futuristic scifi just granting that we explain first that we are talking about all-mighty aliens?

Lastly, although by “departing from Trek” I was meaning the unquestioned acceptance of a faith-blind Sisko and not the presence of religion, it is still worth mentioning something. With all due respect, this is what is usually pointless in this debate. People frequently reply to criticism towards DS9 looking backwards for examples of religions in TOS or TNG, or of all-migthy aliens such as Q. Is it that difficult to differentiate between someone saying that a series is going far from the scifi tone it had and saying that something was unprecedented? Between someone saying that in general the overall DS9 reality is departuring and someone saying "aha, this was never portrayed in Ter before"? It is not a binary game where finding an example of deity in TOS invalidates the argument that DS9 went too far. As always it is a matter of execution and of degree.
Lionheart - Tue, Mar 25, 2014 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
The biggest problem I had with the episode were the inconsistencies. The rest was pretty decent.

First off, Dukat once again affirming that he hates Bajorans by saying he's not going to stay in his Bajoran disguise for too long. As we know, Dukat does not hate Bajorans. He had a Bajoran wife and even wept when he found her remains. He spoke of her quite normally. He also had a relationship with Nerys's mother. To say that ''well, he went insane is all'' is not good enough. He's been insane on and off - this time is no different.

And secondly there's Odo asking why Sisko let Ezri go. Sisko basically replied by saying she had to do it since she was in love with Worf once. Odo should easily realize this! He's got perhaps the most profound relationship on the station, and yet he acts like he doesn't know. Seems like new writers were hired, and they didn't get Odo's stance. It would've made more sense if they put Nog in his place. Besides, I know Odo is quite headstrong; he would most likely do something similar to what Ezri did.

eastwest101 - Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 7:48pm (USA Central)
A bit early to tell yet but a bit of an "untidy" mess here that does not seem to completely come together succesfully, it seems to be in too much of a hurry to throw Worf and Ezri together, but seems to meander around some fairly uninteresting boring and woolly phophets and destiny material for Sisko. Nice twist having the Breen appear at the end - will be interesting to see if the scriptwriters can sensibly extract themselves from this "build up" episode.
Nonya - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 4:00pm (USA Central)
@Lionheart: you have a great point with Dukat. While the episode "Duet" is a great episode when taken alone, it doesn't feel consistent that Dukat actually hates Bajorans racially -- if that were the case, he'd like Cardassians. As is, we only have proof he loved Ziyal and himself.

However, I don't agree on Odo. While Odo may have known that Ezri still loved Worf, his question was why Sisko didn't take action. The question was about Sisko's motivations, not Ezri's. It's pretty strange that Sisko would let a person under his command go off by herself into enemy territory.

-

As for the Ezri vs. Jadzia thing, Ezri is at least cute. Jadzia, while a well-realized character, got on my nerves, and at times seemed to irritate other characters on purpose. Ezri...well, like someone said before, she didn't have time to develop, and it was weird that the final season of the show had someone that didn't really fit in.
Yanks - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 11:07am (USA Central)
Ric, if I may I'd like to shorten your term.

I hereby submit the following replacement for "magictechnobabble".

How about "magibabble" :) Much shorter and easier to say.

This episode to me is nothing higher than 2 stars. I don't have a problem with Ezri or Nicole, but this just diminished the taboo we learned was so prevalent in "relioned".

2 stars.

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