Nutshell: Corny and overplayed at times, but an amiable outing overall.
Let me begin this review with a massive digression. I live in Central Illinois, about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. For those of you who are completely not up on baseball, there was a home run race this past season between Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals. There's a long-standing rivalry in my parts; there are a lot of Cubs fans and Cardinals fans, and the rivalry exists through the fans as much as it does through the teams themselves.
So, yes, as a Cubs fan I was rooting for Sosa, and McGwire ended up with the record, but that's not the point. The point is that it's been a great year for baseball—even for a cynical fair-weather fan like myself who was down on the sport (it's simply too often boring to watch) even before the strike. Having Cal Ripken bring his streak to an end also helped a season full of great moments.
What's my point? Well, I guess it's that if you're going to make an episode in which Sisko and the crew of DS9 pick up bats and gloves for a game of baseball against a Vulcan crew, you might as well do it in a year when baseball is doing well.
Really, "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" couldn't have aired at a much better time. Those who complain this episode is too much of a waste-of-time fluff piece to belong in DS9's final season are perhaps taking this series a bit too seriously (there's still plenty of time for the meatier stuff). Even so, I'll admit that this is precisely the sort of episode that may or may not work for you.
While it worked for me, I'll also admit that I don't want to see many more fluff episodes during season seven. We have important stuff to cover before it's all over. Time right now may still be abundant, but that won't be the case as the months roll by.
But one fluff piece at this juncture is absolutely fine, and given Sisko's avid passion for baseball—a character trait that goes back to episode one—this is a show that I think needed to be made for the sake of itself. It's not by any means a visionary comic piece (that honor still goes to fifth season's "In the Cards"), but it's got enough charm to get by.
At times, this episode is about as obvious and hammy as it can be. There are the typical scenes where a fly ball goes way over Rom's head, or where Bashir and Dax both call a fly ball and then it drops between them. Ha ha. Like "The Magnificent Ferengi" last year, Chip Chalmers' direction is adequate, though not all that invigorating.
But I'm electing, if for no other reason (though there are others), to give this episode three stars because of the conversation Bashir and O'Brien have about chewing gum. Without recapping the entire exchange, I'll just say the point where Miles says "scotch" is a masterstroke of comic timing on the part of the multitalented Colm Meaney.
What sets the whole baseball game in motion is also fairly delicious. Captain Solok (Gregory Wagrowski), a Vulcan captain with a crew composed entirely of Vulcans (whom he believes is the "finest in the fleet"), swings by DS9 for a repair layover and challenges Sisko and his crew to a game of baseball. Well, Sisko knows that his crew is the "finest in the fleet," so he'll be damned if he doesn't accept this challenge and beat Solok—to a pulp if possible. The first scene between Sisko and Solok sets the stage wonderfully: Sisko obviously hates this guy, and the conversation is about as icy as any conversation Sisko has had since the early seasons of Gul Dukat or Kai Winn.
Later, we find out why Sisko so much wants to trounce Solok in a competition: Sisko and Solok have a bitter rivalry that goes all the way back to the academy days. Unfortunately, Sisko has been at the butt end of this rivalry on every occasion. Solok, being a particularly arrogant Vulcan, has taken every opportunity over the years to use a single emotional oversight on Sisko's part as an example that Vulcan logic is superior to human emotionalism.
Now, I should probably register a complaint here regarding the social implications of an "all-Vulcan crew." While I don't look at Sisko and Solok's competition here as being racially motivated (any more than I see the cultural pride of Klingons as anti-human), I do wonder why Starfleet would have a ship with an all-Vulcan crew. It's perhaps a measure of a specific cultural circumstance, and I don't think it boils down to intentional segregation, but the question is still there, and without a given answer.
But, really, this isn't a matter of race; it's a matter of rivalry. Rivalries can become ugly things (just ask anyone in the Chicago area about the Green Bay Packers), and "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" captures that irrational ugliness well.
Next comes Sisko's baseball tryouts. I must say it was amusing watching the crew of DS9 read over baseball rules, including complex aspects like "the infield fly rule." The subsequent field practice was a little on the stale and predictable side (Rom being as much of an idiot at baseball as everything else, for example), but watching Sisko get so wrapped up in the whole thing was simultaneously amusing and frightening—especially when he kicks Rom off the team for being, well, terrible at baseball.
There are plenty of genuinely funny moments to make up for the ones that come off as staged and trite. Watching Odo practice his umpiring "moves" was fun, and Worf's deathly competitive attitude benefited from a few nicely placed lines like, "Death to the opposition!" (Besides, no one can make the line "We will destroy them" sound half as good as Worf.)
The game between Sisko's team (the "Niners") and the Vulcans plays a lot like a standard sports movie, with the predictably big moments and the exaggerated competitiveness (Sisko really wants to win). There's even a scene where Sisko argues with Umpire Odo and gets himself thrown out of the game. Even better is the later scene when Odo throws Solok out ("Yer gone!" Odo says with an evil grin).
I won't recap the whole game, but I particularly liked the fact that, for once, a sports story can end without Our Heroes winning the game. In fact, Our Heroes get beat 10-1. Let's face it: Most of the Niners have never played baseball before, and two weeks to prepare is not going to make them a solid team. The question ultimately becomes whether or not the Niners—and, more specifically, Sisko—can have fun despite the bitterness of the rivalry and the fact that they don't have a prayer against Solok's team.
Somewhere along the line, it becomes clear that to score once against Solok's team would be satisfaction enough for the Niners. What's amusing here is that Our Heroes get to celebrate for scoring one run to the Vulcans' 10. And the eventual "manufactured triumph" is just as stinging to Solok as a real one. In many ways, Sisko wins this round in the Solok/Sisko rivalry, because he's able to overcome his own pride and Solok's attempts to provoke him. Putting Rom into the game at the last minute (where he cluelessly bumbles his way into bunting in the Niners' only run) is the perfect way to demonstrate that baseball is really "just a game" for Sisko, where having fun through the unpredictability of the sport is its most important quality. He won't let Solok ruin that.
"Take Me Out to the Holosuite" isn't what I would call particularly good DS9, but it's too likable to resist, so I'm not going to be a stick in the mud by trying. Seeing as the second half of the season is likely to become DS9 Wrap-Up Central, we might as well take our fluff pieces while we still can (although I doubt I'll be so generous next time). I enjoyed this episode, even if it was more for what it was than for what it did.
Next week: The return of Bashir's crazies.