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Elliott
Fri, Oct 16, 2020, 2:26pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S2: Playing God

@Trent

Hey now--this episode was holding at a solid 3.5 stars for me until the final act. I think the ending is a complete failure, but it's a very good episode for 85-90% of the run.
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Elliott
Wed, Oct 14, 2020, 7:46am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S3: The Adversary

@Trent

Just wanted to point out there is a discussion of the seasons overall on the "recap" pages. Makes it a little less crowded on the episode pages.

Enjoying your takes!
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Elliott
Wed, Oct 14, 2020, 7:45am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Begotten

@Peter G

Thanks as always for the thoughtful reply. I guess I should clarify that I don't object to the B story in concept, but in execution. Unlike in, say, "Shakaar," I agree that as the A story gets heavier and heavier, you need something to buoy it up. I'll go one step further and say that the specific idea of bringing a child into the world at the same time a child dies is smart writing (I alluded to this in the review). I'll go even further and say that it was damned clever for them to forge an episode which "corrects" two ongoing character facets (Kira's pregnancy and Odo's solid status) at the same time. On paper, all of this makes sense. In execution...this is supposed to be funny, right? I know comedy is more subjective than drama, but this kind of content actually makes me angry. It's based entirely on broad assumptions about the sexes which is regressive, lazy as hell, and completely lacking in insight. You can do comedy without turning your characters into sitcom sideshows.

The bit at the end with Kira feeling the loss of the baby was great. And it built up from absolutely nothing because she spent the entire episode rolling her eyes at those big dumb men.
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Elliott
Tue, Oct 13, 2020, 10:21pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Begotten

@William B

I hope you're well, my friend. We finally secured a contract for the next year, so I'm easing back into my routine, such as it can be.
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Elliott
Tue, Oct 13, 2020, 1:07pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Begotten

Teaser : ***.5, 5% 

Odo pays Bashir a visit, having once again injured his fleshy body. In the vein of Reg Barclay (c.f. “Realm of Fear”), he has WebMDed himself into believing he has an incurable parasite in his back. But actually, it’s just a pinched nerve arising from an overly rigid posture. Bashir reminds him that he’s not a Changeling any more and to pay attention to the damned continuity of the series before administering the magic hypo. Quark makes an appearance to make yet another a joke about holo-whores and then establish this week’s inciting incident. He has obtained a vial of goo from an Uridian which Odo identifies as a sick baby Changeling. Bashir wants to take charge of it and put it in a security field (file that one away), but mommy Odo knows best.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

Odo reminds us a bit of his backstory from “The Alternate” while Ben does his “I need to see this baby’s face” thing. Hey remember when Jake denied him the chance to touch the Universe a couple weeks ago? Are we going to talk about that? Anybody? While Bashir treats the baby of the radiation poisoning it’s been exposed to, Odo explains that, based on his own experience, he has no reason to believe it poses any direct threat to the station.

SISKO: Why would the Founders send such helpless creatures out into space?
ODO: To find out if the species they encountered posed any threat. What better way to gauge another race than to see how it treats the weak and vulnerable?

Ah. That explains why the Founders are so discriminating when they subjugate other species. Those races which have least mistreated their weak and vulnerable are spared the Changelings’ wrath, right? Obviously, the Federation would receive the least amount of ire while, say, the Cardassians would be given the harshest punishment by such fair-minded judges, right? Anyway, Sisko apparently wants to mend fences with Starfleet and gather as much data about Changeling physiology as it can and Odo wants to be the one to teach it how to shape-shift. Ben suggests contacting Dr Mora but Odo, expectedly, demurs.

Bashir claims to have all but purged the infant of the offending radiation and sets up our B plot this week; Kira is finally having the O’Brien baby, which is great. “The Darkness and the Light” is the only tale so far to make use of the pregnancy in a way that wasn’t clichéd to death and, problematic though her character can be, I’m ready for a return to form from her. Anyway, as the gentle woodwind music starts to play, Odo monologues to the infant goo which is...a little obvious in its narrative function, but well-performed nonetheless.

ODO: You see, I was once like you. I spent months in a lab being prodded and poked by a scientist who didn't recognise I was a lifeform. He thought I was a specimen, a mystery that needed to be unravelled. He never talked to me. It didn't occur to him. I didn't know what I was, or what I was supposed to do. I was lost, alone, but it's not going to be that way with you. No, I'm not going to make the same mistakes that were made with me.

We then mosey over to the B plot where Keiko, Miles and a Bajoran woman are playing with kindergarten percussion instruments and burning incense. Whenever there’s a scene in Star Trek where one character is repeatedly hitting a gong, prepare to be annoyed. Of course every god-damned fucking thing about Bajoran culture has to have a veneer of vague mysticism to it because **they’re a very spiritual people**, you know. I want to read the prophecy that explains how rattles and gongs help to grease the holy birth canal. I really do. Sigh...anyway Miles is a big doofus because he’s got a penis and we’re watching a sitcom and men have to be complete morons whenever basic biological processes take place. Bashir has to leave because Kira is taking too long with the giving birth, that inconsiderate shrew, and Shakaar finally shows up wearing a stole to match Miles’ because Deeply Religious People, QED.

Odo has inexplicably poured the baby into a clear mug and brought it to the replimat. Just sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Oh...the explanation is that we needed to give Worf a comedy line (“why are you talking to your beverage?”). Wow.

Well, we move on from being a beverage to being a puddle on the table. Auberjonois continues to make the awkward monologuing work despite itself as he describes, with palpable whiffs of regret and nostalgia, the gift it is to be a Changeling.

ODO: You can be anything. A Tarkalean hawk soaring through the sky, or a Filian python burrowing deep beneath the ground. It's all yours for the taking. I was never a very good shape-shifter.

I’m pretty sure Tarkalea is nothing but hawks and tea leaves. Anyway, Odo makes it abundantly clear (one could even say clumsily, obviously clear from a narrative perspective) that he isn’t going to repeat Mora’s “mistakes.” He promises the goo to be a better father to it than Mora was to him. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the irony plot gods have called Mora himself back to DS9 and to this very room to interrupt the monologue. He’s come to help. Cue sitcom stinger.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

The pair immediately butt heads about how to approach this parenting thing, both, it should be mentioned, with seemingly the best of intentions. There’s also a throw-away line about Starfleet trying to ferret out additional Changeling spies, which is appreciated. Mora inserts himself into Odo’s story, employing his very specific method of disarming his would-be son. While the pair are definitely playing some old tapes, when Mora begins subjecting the infant to some sort of technical doodad, Odo screams at him to stop; his determination to make good on his promise to the baby...to himself overrides the various complexes which still haunt his relationship to Dr Dad here.

ODO: Doctor Mora, I understand that you want to help, but I'm going to do this alone.
MORA: Alone? Odo, you don't know the first thing about teaching a changeling how to shape-shift.
ODO: Well then I'll just muddle through somehow. You did.

This is the basic paradox of the story...and perhaps so obvious in its human dimensions as to be dismissed as trite, but I think it rings very true. Whether Odo wants it to be true or not, his own upbringing will shape his ability to “parent” this baby Changeling. Odo intends to diametrically oppose his perception of Mora’s methods, but that still means the shape of his actions is being determined by his past. Because of course it is. Many times the effort to be original, to cast off our demons entirely, instead of letting them sit quietly at the table beside us, leads to unproductive and often self-destructive behaviour. That’s why I’ve always been fond of Picard’s retort to Q in “Hide and Q”; “What he said with irony, I say with conviction; what a piece of work is man!” But I digress.

Mora immediately demonstrates how invaluable he and the knowledge it took him years to piece together are to Odo’s efforts. But for the moment, Odo is still more concerned about stopping the succession of trauma than he is about actually helping this lifeform to grow and reach its potential. But to be fair, Mora comes across as having learnt nothing beyond the raw data he can cite from memory. He seems just as callous regarding the discomfort his suggested methods would cause in the infant as Odo remembers him being about his own growing pains. It’s quite the sight to see Odo fall prey to reverse psychology, but before you know it, he’s “insisting” Mora stick around and observe Odo’s progress.

Meanwhile, Shakaar has added a whirly dirly gizmo to the birthing chamber, just in case we needed more reasons to hate this subplot. Because of someone’s mistaken belief that they were in possession of a very clever idea, it turns out Bajoran physiology requires that the mother be fully relaxed as to produce toxic levels of *endorphins* in her system to allow the baby to be born. Uh huh. Well, I’m sure if we ever get to see a flashback to the Occupation, we will learn that Kira’s mother was the picture of tranquillity and joy when her children were born. Yeah...

I also...I can understand why Kira is irritated that this baby is cramping her style, but she’s the one who wants to do this the traditional way (in a warm baby pool in the living room)...and don’t misunderstand, that’s her right. But why is Miles so damned impatient all of a sudden? The only explanation I can think of is that he’s worried if Kira doesn’t give birth now, she’ll take his son along on another madcap assassination. Huh. Okay, I retract my statement. The midwife sends Kira back to her quarters to rest and chastises the men for being big dumb idiots because...vaginas are icky I guess.

Enough of that bullshit. Odo is making an attempt to coax the infant to shape itself into a sphere. I wish I could say the illusion of watching a bottle of motor oil being sloshed about a glass ball was convincing but...at least the acting is!

ODO: I understand that you prefer to remain shapeless. Believe me, I remember how relaxing it could be. But you have to learn to take other forms. That's what Changelings do. It can be immensely rewarding. I remember the first time Doctor Mora here coerced me into taking the shape of a cube with one of his electrostatic gadgets. Once I did it, and he turned the infernal thing off, I was perfectly content to stay a cube for hours. It was fascinating, all those right angles.

Again, the paradox undergirds the speech. Part of what’s motivating Odo to say this is an attempt to shame Dr Mora (who’s observing disapprovingly from the corner) or at least spit some venom his way over the resentment he feels about his own experience. But of course, in the same breath he’s admitting that Mora’s methods succeeded where Odo’s still haven’t.

What follows is a short montage of Odo trying and failing to teach the goo to do...anything. But he doesn’t seem to be having any success over what we learn has been a week. Dr Mora makes note that the creature isn’t growing in volume nearly quickly enough because of its lack of shape-shifting. He also does some gentle ret-conning of “Broken Link,” suggesting that Odo’s limited abilities may have allowed the Founders to lock him into his humanoid shape in the first place. This certainly tracks with the idea that the Founders wanted the One Hundred to be as helpless and vulnerable as possible.

Mora introduces another wrinkle into their rocky history, one which is, ironically, very similar to Jetrel’s. The Cardassians were putting enormous pressure on Mora to produce results with Odo and this impelled him to utilise methods that were perhaps harsher than absolutely necessary in order to speed along the process. I like this for several reasons, but most prominently because it serves as a reminder that behaviours do not arise in vacuums; we are subject to the systems around us and individual will and personal responsibility are often pretty minor factors in determining those behaviours. Odo was being probed and prodded by Dr Mora’s instruments, while Mora was being probed and prodded by the threat of an occupying army. There are even echoes of things Dukat has said to Kira:

MORA: If it wasn't for me, you'd still be sitting on a shelf somewhere, in a beaker labelled “unknown sample.”

This sounds a great deal like Dukat’s non-apology to Kira in “Indiscretion” and even a bit like Garak’s recent musings in “Things Past.” Very interesting. Sloyan and Auberjonois get a real theatrical momentum going when Sisko appears in the doorway to the lab. He’s there to inform Odo that Starfleet is licking its chops over this Changeling and (as others have noted) in a story beat very much like “The Offspring” is going to take over the project if he doesn’t start producing results. I don’t love that we are repeating one of the few unpleasant contrivances from that story...I mean, why can’t Starfleet send a specialist or two to help Odo and keep notes instead of either letting him go rogue or taking over completely? Why are middle grounds so hard? However, this does set up an additional parallel between Odo and Mora during the Occupation; now Odo is under the gun from a government that seems indifferent to the nuances of the child’s emotional needs. So it sucks, but, you know, it builds character.

Act 3 : ***, 17% 

Reluctantly, Odo consents to start using some of Dr Mora’s techniques on the Changeling. He tries to mitigate his discomfort by offering effusive apologies to the infant as he proceeds.

I see you. I hear you. I’m going to torture you.

So, Mora uses a human aphorism that originates in the Christian bible (“spare the rod...”). This clumsy writing broadcasts to us exactly what Echevarria imagined his theme to be here. It’s very useful to put Odo, the tough-on-crime hardass, into the position of being the hyper lefty P.C. baby who would, presumably, call child protective services at the suggestion of spanking. If Odo of all people considers these techniques to be abusive, based on his first-hand experience, then we are far more likely to sympathise with that position. But it’s difficult to argue with Mora:

MORA: Spare the rod, spoil the child. Odo, without discomfort the changeling will be perfectly comfortable to remain in its gelatinous state. It'll just lie there, never realising it has the ability to mimic other forms, never living up to its potential.

And, in a roundabout way, this touches on the Star Trek ethos. The drive to better oneself does require some sort of challenge or discomfort to overcome. Grandpa Sisko may not face financial ruin if his restaurant fails, but he still struggles to be the best chef and restaurateur he can be. Anyway, Odo subjects the infant to a mild shock which coaxes it into the centre of a testing platform, and Odo is elated to have elicited a responses from his ward.

MORA: I smiled the first time you did that. Little did I realise you'd end up hating me for it.

Well enough of the compelling character work, we’re back to the damned B plot. Miles is rubbing Kira’s swollen feet because I guess Keiko is too busy not having a job and that scene would rob us the opportunity to grind this sitcom bullshit into the ground. Shakaar and Miles start arguing over how best to touch Kira as she screams at them about how she’s ready to give birth. Uh huh. Clearly the sight of these two nimrods sparring over the territory that her body has become releases a toxic level of endorphins into her system. Right.

As we cut back to the A plot, Odo and Mora have accelerated their progress with the infant to the point where it’s out-performing Odo at that stage. Odo admits that the hostility he felt for Mora actually led him to underperform out of spite for his would-be father.

MORA: Well someday, if you're very lucky, this changeling will give you the satisfaction of saying, “thank you very much, you did so much for me.” Then again, it may leave the way you did. It will announce that it's striking out on its own and you will never hear from it again.

Ouch. But just then, the infant reaches out to Odo, attempting to mimic his face. It really is incredible how a small bit of CGI animation, a distinct roman nose and the performance of two actors can cause such a well of emotion. What a splendid moment.

Act 4 : ***.5, 17% 

The two men temporarily forget their animosity and trip over each other in the excitement of their progress with the Changeling. It’s an odd combination of the estranged father/son pair bonding over shared success in a scientific task they’re both invested in (which is a well-trodden trope) and the excitement of seeing the child grow and demonstrate a connection to its parent, almost like saying its first word (yet another trope). Somehow, squashing them together like this yields a sum greater than its parts. Mora congratulates Odo on his approach; having established a rapport with the infant (what we had earlier dismissed as a complete waste of time) is what is allowing the Changeling to develop so rapidly. AND it means that the relationship between it and its father/teacher is founded upon curiosity and affection instead of resentment and animosity. Odo is even able to express gratitude to Mora, and Mora is almost mowed over by a profound joy at this expression. It’s really not fair how much the sight of these two gruff assholes showing each other love and appreciation after years of intractable pain is so deeply moving.

How can we possibly ruin it all? Why, with the return of rattles, gongs and aggravating clichés, that’s how! Sigh...we’re back to the birthing chamber and it seems like it’s really going to happen this time. But of course Shakaar doesn’t want Miles to see Kira’s magical Bajoran vagina because, you know, MEN! So, they start to spar again and Kira kicks them out. Miles has to miss another one of his children being born. And Keiko backs her up. I hate all of you so very much. All of you. All of this.

All right enough of that. Odo is poking about behind Quark’s bar after hours. He’s already proved to be partial to the sauce in his human form, but at least now he’s drinking to celebrate rather than mourn his own existence. Quark is amusingly suspicious of Odo’s good mood.

QUARK: No. It doesn't fit. If you're happy, something's very wrong in the world. The centre cannot not hold.

Quark’s presence in the scene provides Auberjonois the perfect sounding board for another Odo monologue; it really makes all the difference.

ODO: It's strange. Over the past few months, I came to accept the fact that I'd never have any contact with my people again. They rejected me, they turned me into a humanoid. A part of me was lost forever. But that little ball of goo back in the lab changed everything. I feel as if I'm experiencing what it is to be a changeling again. And somehow, being a solid doesn't seem so bad anymore.

Damn it if I didn’t tear up just a little bit here. The way René’s voice breaks ever so slightly during this reveal is truly masterful. Manipulative as hell, but masterful. Of course, that means it’s time for the crisis. The computer makes contact to inform him that the Changeling is displaying strange symptoms, and in the lab, Mora confirms that the infant is dying.

Act 5 : ***.5, 17%

While Bashir and Mora attempt to save its life, we finally end the insipid B plot as Kira has Bajoran birth gasms and allows the buffoons to enter and “behave.” They bump into each other on they’re way back in to the room in an attempt to get me to break my television.

Outside the infirmary, Bashir emerges to inform Odo that there’s nothing more they can do. Odo is left to grieve with his goo. He pours the infant out into his hands and pleads with it not to die which is...the perfect whiff of irony to add to this lovely scene; Odo has returned to a state of childlike innocence.

And then, suddenly, it integrates itself into Odo’s body. Odo steps out of the infirmary, sheds his uniform and shape-shifts into that Tarkalean hawk which soars about the promenade. A well-earned bittersweet moment. I’ll come back to the implications of this at the end.

Kira says goodbye to Shakaar and Mora says goodbye to Odo. The two friends then meet and share a brief conversation about joy and loss, about that inescapable beautiful tragedy that is the cycle of life and death, about unexpected connections and missed opportunities. And they walk away together.

Episode as Functionary : ***.5, 10%

If they had managed to write the birth of Kirayoshi without all that soul-crushing sitcom drivel, we’d be looking at something close to a four-star outing here. While the early monologues are on the slow side and some of the writing is a tad sloppy and obvious, the character beats are all very well earned and take advantage of established relationships and minor plot details beautifully. The last few scenes between Odo and Mora, Odo and Quark, and Odo and Kira are all quite superb, and the episode managed to extract some tears from me.

Jammer asks, “Some of the qualms I have involve the ‘big picture’ of Odo becoming human in the first place. What exactly were the creators trying to say?” To which I reply: Odo used his experiences and his trauma to bridge the gap between solids and Changelings so that this infant, which would have died on its own anyway or likely been subjected to a similar trauma as Odo himself was, could have a profoundly meaningful impact on its Universe. Odo being restored to his shape-shifting status is *SPOILER* important to the resolution of the entire series, and it is intentional that he should recover those abilities through an act of kindness towards an unsocialised member of his race rather than somehow gain forgiveness from the Founders. Odo acted in the best spirit of Star Trek humanism and has been given the ability to extend that spirit, eventually, to resolve the coming conflict. But we’ll get there when we get there.

The A plot overcame the limitations of some unconvincing props, and bottle-show confines to tell a story with a truly dynamic range of emotional peaks and valleys. Auberjonois and Sloyan give gripping performances and I think the final twist is completely earned. The B plot is a blight against fiction and makes me want to put the entire cast into an electrostatic chamber set on full power. So all in all, this is the most consistent sequel to “The Alternate” you could imagine.

Final Score : ***
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Elliott
Sun, Oct 11, 2020, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S1: In the Hands of the Prophets

@Jason R

The Bajorans (or rather the writers) feel the need to justify their religion in material terms. This forces the stories to contrive ways around ever examining the Prophets in material terms. My personal stance is that the Bajorans absolutely should and could have a genuine religion which would create interesting, compelling stories for the series, but the show pre-occupies itself with "proving" the Prophets are divine creatures because they have magic powers, as opposed to examining the nature of divinity and belief in the context of a post-occupation society.
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Elliott
Sun, Oct 11, 2020, 3:11pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Alter Ego

Teaser : ***, 5% 

The Voyager has encountered another unique space phenomenon. Immediately, the difference in tone between the way Janeway and co. approach this “inversion nebula” and the super novae from “The Q and the Grey” is stark. Where one was gratingly boisterous and syrupy, the other is invitingly sober. This scene seems to strike the right balance between genuine, optimistic scientific curiosity and emotional restraint that personifies the Star Trek ethos regarding space exploration. It may seem like a triviality, but to me it makes a tremendous difference in the episode’s tonal appeal.

Speaking of emotional restraint, Harry is uncharacteristically distracted at his post when Janeway orders him to tech the tech. They continue the thematic place-setting:

“JANEWAY: Astro-theory never predicted this would be so lovely. Beauty and mystery, a tantalising combination.
PARIS: No argument here. Right, Tuvok?
TUVOK: I am fully capable of appreciating this phenomenon without the extraneous sentimentality humans find so necessary.
CHAKOTAY: Being moved by an emotion isn't always extraneous. Sometimes it's the whole point.

I wonder where this is going...well for now, our next stop is Tuvok’s quarters. Ensign Distracted Face visits the unsentimental Vulcan while he plays with a ball of paper clips. He explains to Kim that these paper clips are actually a Very Smart Vulcan version of chess and Kim reveals something actually kind of startling; he wants Tuvok to teach him to purge his emotions.

KIM: I also know that Vulcans use certain techniques...
TUVOK: The t'san s'at, the intellectual deconstruction of emotional patterns.
KIM: I'm willing to learn.

It turns out Harry is in love with a hologram called Marayna. Hoo boy. There’s a lot to talk about here. First, let’s discuss Harry. His few featured scenes in Season 2 did manage to contextualise his social awkwardness and reveal that he tends to gravitate towards relationships with damaged people, like Paris and Torres. His ersatz romance with Libby in “Non Sequitur” was so tepid compared to the infinitely more compelling hurt-comfort homo-eroticism in “The Chute,” that these seem almost comical in juxtaposition. And of course, there’s his fear of infantilisation memorably portrayed in “The Thaw.” While the idea of purging all emotion because you’re in love with a hologram may seem like an extreme response, there’s something familiar in Harry’s desire to re-invent himself like this. As far as he knows, falling “in love with a computer subroutine,” as Tuvok bluntly puts it, is another symptom of his own immaturity, that thing that he’s so afraid makes the captain and the rest of the crew baby him. So he takes this as a sign that his own emotional problems run deeper than developing a misplaced crush. His desire to try on Vulcan spiritual philosophy is quite a bit like folks trying out fad religions like Kabbalah, or western Buddhism, or even Scientology. It’s a quick fix for a profound spiritual crisis.

On the other hand, the word choices around Tuvok’s description of Vulcan philosophy hearkens back to the more interesting parts of “Innocence.” Whether it’s fear of the Morrock or desire for holo-love, Vulcans learn to objectify their emotions and thus prevent them from affecting their decision-making or general sense of well-being. This is a double-edged sword, as we saw in the first scene. Any degree of emotional control means limiting your own potential to enjoy life in particular moments. Pure Dionysiac excess is a like the inversion nebula, quick to burn itself out. And Vulcan emotion is similarly potent stuff; so Tuvok’s choice to live so far down the spectrum of emotional control may be excessive by our standards, but it still relevant to us. The Vulcan version of humanity (remember, all races in Star Trek are aspects of the human condition) is a useful tool to have in the box, assuming we aren’t ready to flame out entirely.

And we have to mention that the “character falls for a hologram” thread is something that takes us all the way back to “11001001.” Riker, per his idiom, wasn’t going to let any social stigma around fucking a subroutine get in the way of Number One, but he ended up being let off the hook by the revelation that Minuet’s remarkable personality stemmed from the Binars’ interference. Still, although her programme was more advanced than what the Federation should have been able to conjure, she wasn’t any less an artificial being who stole Riker’s heart. But as the years went on, we saw the Enterprise create Moriarty, a remarkable facsimile of Leah Brahms, and eventually a new emergent species of artificial life in, um, “Emergence.” It was the Doctor’s feelings that were given attention in “Lifesigns;” Pel’s were addressed by Kes, but as an especially compassionate and open-minded alien, her perspective can’t be taken as typical. Our best gauge for contemporary social standards regarding developing feelings for holograms is probably the problematic story between Geordi and Brahms in “Booby Trap” and “Galaxy’s Child.” The only thing which seems to justify Geordi’s feelings is the conceit that holo-Brahms’ personality is based on a “real” person. I think it’s pretty fair to assume that the nonplussed look Picard gives him when he interrupts the brainstorming session in the holodeck is a typical response one could expect. Given that, Tuvok’s incredulity and Kim’s embarrassment seem to fit right in here.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

Tuvok begins by cataloguing Harry’s feelings, objectifying each emotional facet of Harry’s response to Marayna. The poetic nuances of attraction and romance are to Vulcans like the life-cycle of a fruit fly: small, simplistic, and readily comprehensible.

TUVOK: Does your daily routine seem somehow empty, perhaps even ludicrous?
KIM: Yes!
TUVOK: You are experiencing shon-ha'lock, the engulfment. It is the most intense and psychologically perilous form of eros. I believe humans call it love at first sight.

Interesting, amusing and insightful all at once. When Tuvok is given this kind of sharp dialogue, it really shows off the appeal of the character. The pair enter the holodeck, where of course the resort programme is already running, with Neelix doing his thing. I don’t know if it’s Picardo’s direction (this is likely given the tone established in the teaser) or a reflection of the character’s new-found security within the Voyager family after “Fair Trade,” but his effusiveness doesn’t have nearly the same grating insistence that is typical for him. He’s still exuberant and all that, but there’s something more human and less performative about Phillips’ delivery. I’ll take it. It turns he’s planning a “Polynesian style” lu’au for this evening. Uh huh. I don’t know why they couldn’t just go with “Hawaiian”--it seems like in their attempts to be more inclusive with this stuff, the writers just trip over their own low-key racist dicks.

Anyway, Marayna finally appears, returning from giving Kes a hydrosailing lesson. Hydrosailing is one of those realworld things that sounds like a Trek writer trying to make a normal activity sound more futuristic than it is. Tuvok declines her offer to join a volleyball game and instead invites the hologram to join them for a chat. Marayna demonstrates that she can manipulate Harry’s hormones and feelings with nary any effort as a single feel of her knotted leg muscle is enough for Harry to give Tuvok a pleading look to rescue him from his own erection. The dialogue continues to be amusing, with an almost Laurel and Hardy charm.

MARAYNA: So Vulcans don't hydrosail, and they don't have friends?
TUVOK: We have fellowships and associations, but without the emotional dimension humans experience.

They’re called away to the bridge and on the way, Tuvok tells Harry that his emotions are “as formulaic as a mathematical equation.” Harsh, but fair.

KIM: It's all so predictable.
TUVOK: That's just what I've been trying to get you to perceive. To the trained Vulcan intellect, intense romantic love is nothing more than a set of stereotypical behaviours. Not having our discipline, typically, humans are swept along by the process until it ends.

It’s hard to argue with this. You don’t have to have a strict Darwinian take on sociology to appreciate the fact our experiences have a cyclical, patterned, almost inevitable quality to them. That’s why we can be moved by the lives of strangers or fictional characters. Reconciling this truth with what Chakotay said earlier, how the emotional responses to stimuli, no matter how formulaic, are entirely the point, we can really appreciate the value of the Tuvok character in this series. TOS had Spock of course, but Spock’s story was about the struggle between his Vulcan and Human selves. Data on TNG aspired to experience the emotions Vulcans deny themselves on purpose; another tortured soul of sorts. Tuvok by contrast seems perfectly content with himself. Tuvok is aspirational, in much the way Picard was (c.f. Data’s and Spock’s conversation in “Unification’). His discipline and stoicism afford him peace and purpose. We by contrast subject ourselves to these repeating patterns of behaviour. Some days, this can be a Kafkaesque nightmare of pure nihilism. Other days, it’s like reliving treasured memories. We can’t become Vulcans, but we can certainly emulate them.

The pair walk onto the bridge and enter the related B-plot. Janeway has pulled the Voyager close to the inversion nebula to see whatever special process keeps it from burning itself out first hand.

Act 2 : ***.5, 17%

Seeing the phenomenon up close convinces Janeway that it’s worth a more thorough investigation. If they’re very lucky they may discover how to design their consoles not to explode when their shields graze a meteorite. In the meantime she passively suggests to Tuvok that she expects him to attend Neelix’ culturally-disrespectful lu’au this evening.

We get an interlude where Tom and B’Elanna run into each other on the way to said lu’au, initiating their “I’m a big white nerd” and “I’m too hot for you, gringo, but I’ll probably settle anyway” flavour of flirtation. It turns out Harry has decided to skip the occasion, so their chaperone is going to be Vorik instead. Tom won’t be kept from his true love, however, so he bids Torres farewell with a knowing wink (after sizing up her bathing suit) and leaves her to fetch him.

Harry is in his quarters keeping himself distracted with Vulcan meditations. So, I think the Bashir/O’Brien relationship is well-utilised most of the time and I enjoy their friendship. But I often have to roll my eyes with their dated and toxic inability to express unveiled affection for each other (“Hard Time” excepted). While Paris has a little snicker at Kim’s odd behaviour here, his next instinct is to ask his friend about his feelings, diagnosing immediately that Harry is in pain and wanting to help him through it. Tom also knows Harry so well that he’s already determined the cause of Harry’s problem. And he’s a little hurt that Harry chose to seek Tuvok’s counsel instead of his best friend’s. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but the only other regular male-male relationship that demonstrates this level of open intimacy I can think of is Data’s and Geordi’s friendship. I don’t discount that, but Data’s android nature gives the writers a bit of a pass; his anatomical gender is a product of his creator’s ego more than anything endemic to himself. Harry and Tom seem to be able to be open and caring about each other’s feeling without any gay panic. I know I make jokes about it because, damn it, Star Trek needed a gay couple before it became fashionable, but I do think the dynamic that exists is under-appreciated.

Anyway, Tom has a more human solution to Harry’s dilemma.

PARIS: We have all fallen for a holodeck character. It happens. You deal with it by staying with your normal routine, not by hiding out in your quarters.

Personally, I think a little of column a and column b is in order, but Harry is frustrated with his lack of progress and would rather spend some time with his friends and so agrees to replicate himself his own hideous Hawaiian shirt and attend the lu’au.

At Disney’s Moana Experience or whatever, we find most of our regulars enjoying themselves--the EMH is kissing holo-ladies (thank you Mr Director), Janeway is on Chakotay’s arm--while Tuvok meanders about unimpressed. He refuses Neelix’ offer to wear a lei. Again, Neelix is himself, but he isn’t pushy or self-important about it. He respects Tuvok’s refusal, even though it disappoints him, and then moves on to something else. Tuvok prepares himself for an evening of testing his Vulcan patience but is surprised to see Marayna in a corner playing with the Vulcan paper clips. Hmm.

He approaches her and Vulcan-splains her error in trying to play the game like a human.

TUVOK: Kal-toh is not about striving for balance. It is about finding the seeds of order, even in the midst of profound chaos.

She decided to teach herself to play specifically to provide Tuvok an opponent. This is “perceptive” as Tuvok admits, but not outside the bounds of a well-programmed hologram designed to entertain guests of the resort, is it? But her perceptiveness cuts much deeper.

MARAYNA: I think you're tying to isolate yourself and make a public protest at the same time...You didn't want to be here in the first place. Being the only one without a lei sets you apart from the others, allowing you to symbolically maintain your solitude. And since everybody can see that you're the only one without a lei, you're letting them know that you'd rather be somewhere else.
TUVOK: Your logic is impeccable.

...which is Vulcan for “dat ass.” Marayna then removes her lei, a symbol her of solidarity. She too would rather be somewhere else, it seems.

Meanwhile, Vorik has taken the liberty of booking a table for himself and Torres, to both her and Paris’ surprise. I’m sure this is a love triangle we will never revisit. Anyway, this leaves Tom free to dine with Harry, but the latter is too distracted by the sight of Marayna to enjoy himself and, sensing he’s hit the line, Tom backs off and lets him retreat back to his quarters.

After the party, Tuvok and Marayna are still deep in conversation on the holodeck. She demonstrates a keen insight on the foundational principles of Vulcan emotional suppression, citing the “illusion of control” over such phenomena as the tides and the currents of the sea. It’s simultaneously intellectual, probing, and poetic, a classically Vulcan combination of attributes while still delivered with a certain degree of personality that allows Marayna to be her own unique character outside of the Vulcan paradigm. The episode quite efficiently shows us why both Harry and Tuvok would be attracted to this person. Marayna escalates to the point where she’s pawing at Tuvok in a way we would expect to end with a passionate kiss. Tuvok returns this gesture with a promise to “perhaps” return the next day. For a Vulcan, this downright sensual behaviour.

Act 3 : ***, 17% 

The Voyager’s investigations have confirmed the existence of a dampening field of some sort keeping the nebula from blowing itself up. It seems as though there’s a “feedback loop” by which the chain reactions trigger the creation of the dampening effect, finding, you might say, “the seeds of order, even in the midst of profound chaos.” A still-distracted Harry is assigned to work out and replicate the mechanics of this phenomenon with the deflector dish which, remember, can do anything. Having acquired the necessary data, Janeway orders Tom to resume their course home, but he encounters a problem.

Assuming the nebula is affecting their systems somehow (genre-savvy, aren’t they?), the la’au gang work to track down the issue in Engineering. Harry demonstrates feminism by repeating back Torres’ diagnosis to her as though he hasn’t heard a word she said, which, he hasn’t. Under Picardo’s restrained direction, Dawson really excels at channelling Torres’ acerbic nature into an EMH-esque dry humour that helps carry the scene. We feel sorry for Harry, but avoid an emotional pile-on because Torres isn’t angry or disappointed with him, she teases him because she cares about him, echoing the Harry/Tom scene from before. It’s a subtle bit of characterisation, but this whole script is about those subtle moments.

KIM: What did Tom say to you?
TORRES: Not a single word. I saw the way you were looking at Marayna yesterday.
KIM: Hi. My name's Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim.

She tells him to sort himself out before he accidentally ejects the warp core. He decides the best place to start is to confront Marayna on the holodeck. When he arrives, he discovers that she’s already running and mid-paper clips with Tuvok, who has apparently made good on his promise from the previous evening. Upon discovering the two of them together, Harry is incensed bordering on enraged that Tuvok would betray his trust like this. What I like about this is that it hearkens back to Janeway’s infamous line from “Prime Factors”; “You can use logic to justify almost anything.” In a rules-lawyer-y way, Tuvok is *justified* here; Marayna isn’t a real person; Vulcans don’t engage in sexual relationships with real people the way humans do anyway; the only thing Tuvok has done with this non-person is play some paper clips and chat; ergo, Tuvok has done nothing wrong. However, Tuvok has shown that he understands human emotions to the extent that he’s able to catalogue them like species of insects. Maybe he shouldn’t *have* to care about Harry’s feelings here, but to assume he wouldn’t have expected them is dishonest. No, Tuvok has put his own interests ahead of Harry’s emotional needs. And that is by no means a crime, but it is, to a degree, selfish. But Harry and Tuvok aren’t really friends, are they? So it’s okay not to consider the feelings of a non-friend? Well apparently not, as Tuvok is so desperate to salvage their relationship that he deletes Marayna without a second’s pause to prove just how much he doesn’t care about her to Harry. This fails to appease Harry for now, but it excellently unfolds the complexity of this situation. We are able to see the layers of Tuvok’s character, the loneliness William B expounded upon in his comment and the fragility of his ego, without violating the Vulcan-ness of his characterisation the way, say, “Meld” did. In most Vulcan stories, we have to un-Vulcan our character(s) in order to get a the juicy bits underneath (“Amok Time,” “Sarek,” “Meld,” etc.). The fact that we don’t go there in this story is a testament to Joe Menosky’s skill as a writer. Very often the spectacle in his stories overshadows the subtlety of his characterisations. I’m glad he’s given a chance to shine here.

Meanwhile, the Voyager is still stuck inside the magic nebula and Torres is more convinced than ever that a computer malfunction is to blame. She’s able to get the aft thrusters working well enough to push the ship clear by tomorrow, which appeases Janeway. It turns out this computer malfunction has a name as Tuvok returns to his quarters to discover Marayna playing paper clips. She has avoided deletion, downloaded herself into the Doctor’s mobile emitter, and cheerfully parked herself here. Well that’s a bit of a yikes.

Act 4 : **.5, 17% 

TUVOK: I deleted you from the holodeck.
MARAYNA: But you only did that for Harry's benefit. I know you wanted to keep seeing me. I like Harry, but you're different. You're not like anyone else...You're like a new world to me, Tuvok. I want to know everything about you. I didn't realise how lonely my existence was, and I can't go back to the way things were, not without you.

Again, the script clings tightly to its characterisation. Tuvok is intrigued by Marayna, and by her apparent sentience, but doesn’t hesitate to call for security at this violation of the established order. The chaos has been exposed and, however tempting it may be to ride the wave, it’s time to close this particular door. Marayna, however, becomes a bit unhinged at this betrayal and shuts off the intruder alert by an apparent act of will, revealing a troubling degree of autonomy for this sentient hologram. Marayna’s schizophrenia is a disappointing and rushed element to this otherwise subtle story. It’s not exactly out of bounds, but it is out of step with what we saw of her and Tuvok on the holodeck. Then again, all we’ve seen of her so far is getting exactly what she wanted, first from Harry and then from Tuvok; all the attention she desired was pretty much immediately rewarded. So, yes I find it too broad for my tastes, but it by no means breaks the story either.

In the conference room, the crew discuss this issue. Chakotay brings up Moriarty and Harry admits that this now eight-year-old event from “Elementary, Dear Data” is something they teach at the academy. Tuvok admits to the crew that her motivation is likely her feelings for himself, while the crew respond, Harry buries his head in his hands and Janeway sizes her old friend up, somewhat amazed at this news. Again, it’s all about the subtlety, this time in the direction. Harry’s story hasn’t been forgotten and neither has Janeway’s and Tuvok’s friendship, it’s just not being delivered to the audience on a silver platter. Anyway, their working theory is that instead of Marayna having been conjured by a slip of the tongue from an overzealous chief Engineer, the (presumably now-corrected) holodeck has given rise to a new intelligence by virtue of some mysterious property of the magic nebula. Janeway looks Tuvok straight in the eye and tells him to resolve this situation “one way or another.” In other words, she lets her friend know that he has shown her his cards; if this issue is being perpetuated by a, shall we say, untoward relationship between himself and this person, then he had better handle it better than he has handled his non-friendship with Harry.

The gang goes to the holodeck to confront her and are met by the gentle Hawaiian music of the resort programme. As they mill about the flowers and ocean air with phasers out, the discontinuity of the tone creates a creepy atmosphere, as Paris directly points out. Torres accesses a control panel and discovers that the holodeck is actually being tapped by a signal from outside the ship. Immediately upon making this discovery, one of the hula girls begins strangling her with a lei, all while wearing her Disney Resort smile. The other holodeck characters keep Paris and Tuvok busy, too, creating a macabre tone that reminds me of the horrific heights of “The Thaw.” Eventually, they’re able to break free of the holodeck, but the nebula scornfully responds by lighting up around the Voyager, causing damage. Marayna makes contact with the bridge and demands that Tuvok return to the holodeck she’ll, you know, destroy the Voyager. This is...too much. Too TV trope-y for what had been such a nuanced character story.

Act 5 : ***.5, 17%

Tuvok enters the resort and examines a discarded mask. Does this mean anything? Nah. Marayna greets him, convinced that, having removed any prying eyes and outside expectations of behaviour, the two of them can consummate their relationship and discard the masks, if you will. While they chat, the crew is able to relay a transporter beam along the alien signal and beam Tuvok to her location. In response, the plasma streams start to really burn up, lady-rage metaphors that they are. Chakotay notes that the shields are down to 47 [duh] per cent. Thank you, sir.

Tuvok materialises aboard an space station and discovers the real Marayna, a heavily prosthetic-ed alien about to destroy the Voyager from her control panel. She has begun an ignition sequence, her passions having boiled over into a homicidal fit of pique. Tuvok is forced to rely on his understanding of their relationship and her emotions (which he failed to do with Harry) to try and talk her down. We learn that, for some insane reason, Marayna’s people have allowed her to live alone in this station for who knows how long, containing the inversion nebula so that they can enjoy its beauty. While this is a little contrived from a , world-building perspective, it does make for a nifty metaphor about emotional labour, the hidden cost of seemingly effortless beauty. And this ties in nicely with the earlier discussion about loneliness and emotional control, that is an illusion, but a compelling, thrilling, beautiful, purpose-defining illusion nonetheless. We learn that part of what made Marayna so perceptive about Tuvok’s unspoken motivations for self-isolation at the lu’au was recognising a similar motivation in herself.

MARAYNA: I watch the ships when they pass by. They don't even know I'm here...I prefer to be here, alone...I never expected to find something as diverting as your holodeck. I never expected to find you. You are like nothing else I've ever encountered.

She is, in essence, letting us in on part of what’s going on under the surface with Tuvok; he watches the crew evolve, things like Tom’s and B’Ellana’s flirtation or Harry’s infatuation and makes a point of letting everyone around him know how much he doesn’t give a fuck. But when something “diverting” comes along, such as an insightful hologram who sees through his defences, those deep currents of Vulcan emotion are nigh impossible to contain. In retrospect, Tuvok’s seemingly innocent interactions with Marayna on the holodeck reveal a well of pain. For a Vulcan to engage in any behaviour due to something like loneliness is actually remarkable. Again in retrospect, if we examine Marayna’s change of tone in Act 4 from the perspective of someone who’s been living in complete solitude for god knows how long, it’s far more understandable.

Marayna casually admits to examining all the little details of the lives of passing aliens. That’s...creepy, but it’s not too dissimilar from Tuvok’s taxonomical evaluation of Harry’s feelings. Much like how the Ferengi have dozens of words for “rain” because their world is inundated by it, Vulcans have all these detailed words describing emotional experiences because they are inundated by emotions. You might call them neurotic by necessity.

More immediately, what Marayna expresses here when she tells Tuvok that she can’t be without him is, to me at least, a very special feeling of having found a person who truly understands you. When I think back on all the one-off Trek romances we’ve seen, this is believable for that reason. It’s not unlike Commander Darren and Picard from “Lessons.” When someone “gets” you, it’s difficult let it go.

TUVOK: I must admit, I have found our conversations stimulating. Your insight and intelligence, fresh and unexpected. In other circumstances, I would be willing to spend time in your company, to continue to share knowledge and ideas...I do not have a complete understanding of emotions, but I believe that if you truly care for me, you will not pursue this course of action.

And so let him go she does, but not before a final reckoning. As he beams away, she asks, “will you always be alone?” And all he can do is scrutinise her wordlessly as he dematerialises.

The brief epilogue sees Tuvok begin to answer this question. He decides to reconcile with Harry, promising to teach him how to play paper clips. Much like how the game itself is described, this strikes an unexpected balance in the story’s approach to emotions and relationships. Instead of dismissing Harry’s distress as pathetic, Tuvok is willing to be a little vulnerable with him and invite him into his frame of mind more intimately. Maybe there’s still some room for Harry to adopt Vulcan objectivity, but there’s also room for Tuvok to develop meaningful relationships outside of the isolation he’s restricted himself to thus far.

Episode as Functionary : ***.25, 10%

The fourth act was a bit disappointing as I watched as it seemed like the subtlety in characterisation had been chucked for broader strokes. The ship-in-danger angle still is less than stellar to be certain, but the final conversations recontextualise those moments in such a way as to make some of the contrivance more understandable. It’s tough from a rating perspective because I can’t un-feel my irritation with those scenes just because I understand them better, hence the odd score. As a Tuvok story and as a Vulcan story, this is top shelf. We get a pretty thorough insight into an often inscrutable character without introducing a gimmick into the plot. The B story is of course a metaphor for issue under examination within the A story, which keys us in to how to read between the lines. I like how the crew assumes the nebula is naturally keeping itself from burning out, but in reality, that process is intentional and artificial, just like Vulcan discipline.

Tuvok is somehow able to be a dynamic character without at any point violating his Vulcan nature, and Russ delivers as usual. There’s only one scene in the whole show that can be seen as superfluous, the brief interaction between Tom and Torres in the corridor. But this conversation is useful to the series at large, serves as a contrast for the way more conventionally emotional people interact regarding a budding romance, and segues effectively into the following scene with Harry.

The test is going to be whether Tuvok is truly impelled to develop meaningful relationships with the rest of the crew. What is to become of his loneliness? His invitation to Kim at the episode’s close suggests the beginnings of something here. We shall see.

Final Score : ***
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Elliott
Wed, Sep 9, 2020, 9:33am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S3: Destiny

@Trish

Well, there are two ways to watch any show, I suppose; either the narrative is attempting to say something about our Universe, using its own as an allegorical framework, or it isn't. If we watch Star Trek with the lens you recommend, then every timeKira or Sisko or whoever makes a comment about religious belief, we are meant to take no lesson with us to the real world. 1. I don't think that's what the writers intended, 2. but even setting that aside, why would I bother paying attention to such moralising if it's not meant to correlate with actual religion in some way?

There are narratives in which fictional religions work like actual religions, and thus allegorise them properly, like the Church of All Worlds. And of course there are lots of pseudo-spiritual supernatural elements in fantasy and science fiction, like the Jedi/Sith. And there are fictions in which supernatural elements exist to drive the narrative but have no spiritual or religious significance in-universe, like in The Lord of the Rings. DS9 tries to do all three of these at once and, in my view, fails for precisely that reason. They aren't compatible. But the attempt to do all of these means that it is natural we would focus upon whichever dimension of the "super natural" element speaks to us in a particular moment. You say that this story is an integral part of Sisko's arc over the series, in a LotR sort of way. This is true. But that doesn't mean the show isn't interested in the other dimensions. The writing draws attention to these other facets and it's more than fair to scrutinise the show on those terms.
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Elliott
Sun, Sep 6, 2020, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S4: For the Cause

@Dreubarik

"Of course, DS9 ultimately sides with the Federation: Warmongering is indeed a step too far for the defense of those values. But highlighting the imperialist tension that comes with an imposition of "modernity," even when that modernity is an idealized roddenberrian paradise, is a great thing for Star Trek to do.

The episode (and generally the maquis plot) should make the point about economic needs having already been met more explictly. But I think this is more a case of Star Trek writers in the 1990s assuming that it was already very implicit in how the Federation is presented than a result of them not having it in mind."

These issues are connected, though. In order for the Maquis to be seen sympathetically, there has to be *cause* for which their escalation of violence can be justified. Material disenfranchisement is, at least, a debatable justification, but this disenfranchisement is at odds with the "implicit assumptions" you grant to the writers here.

If the Maquis are being materially disenfranchised, then the entire underlying economic structure of the Federation is suspect. That is one argument that can be made, although this requires some explanation as to how we got here. If they are not, then the libertarian social values you mention impel them to insurrection do not, at least to my way of thinking, justify their actions. Remember, the Maquis didn't "want to be left alone," as Eddington claimed. That may have been what the Indians in "Journey's End" agreed to, but the Maquis thought the Federation should end their peace treaty with Cardassia in order to allow the folks in the DMZ to live the way they wanted. In other words, their personal lifestyle choices not being impinged upon at all should require the Federation to continue a war which costs lives on both sides. That is a petulant and selfish attitude.
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Elliott
Sat, Sep 5, 2020, 9:09pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S5: The Outcast

@James G

"If this episode had been made in the present day it would probably be interpreted by some as being about attitudes to trans or non-binary people. But it isn't, so let's not go there."

Interesting perspective. What's interesting about this episode is that the intended allegory fails pretty miserably. There's a quote floating somewhere around the internet where this episode is described something like "one woman's struggle for cock against lesbian tyranny."

But, if viewed as an allegory for non-binary or transgender identity, it actually works much better. True, the writers fell into it by accident, but...we are watching these episodes in 2020. We can certainly make some allowances for idiosyncrasies of the time the shows were produced, but I don't see a problem in redeeming a pretty lame episode by applying a more contemporary social framework.
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Elliott
Thu, Sep 3, 2020, 1:47pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

"So congratulations! Booming, Trent, Elliott... you've managed to prove that Cody is a fallible human being. A person who (oh, the horror!!!!) is not aware of their own blind spots, and (oh, the double horror!!!!) gets defensive when being attacked."

Enough irony in that statement to plug all the plotholes in "Threshold."
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Elliott
Wed, Sep 2, 2020, 7:23pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Cody

It doesn't matter what your intention was. Nobody intends to be homophobic or racist. I'm not here to chastise you or offer you life advice; I'm just telling you what happened.
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Elliott
Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 2:23pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Darkness and the Light

@Omicron

Congratulations on intentionally missing the point.

"This is absolutely nothing like the current situation in the US, where minority members have many other ways to voice their concern and be heard. "

And how has their "being heard" curbed the violence against them?

"Where, indeed, there are millions of people who are so sympathetic to their cause that they are willing to give them a carte-blanche permit to do whatever crimes they want in the alleged name of racial justice."

The Federation also gave the Bajoran Resistance "carte-blanche permission" to do whatever they wanted during the Occupation, but they weren't the ones in control of the situation, were they?

Is systemic racism in the US exactly the same as the Bajoran Occupation?

No, but there are important similarities.

Are BLM protests, including those that involve looting and violence, exactly the same as Bajoran terrorism?

Also no, but there are important similarities.

If you deny this, all you're doing is making excuses for systemic oppression.
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Elliott
Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 12:38pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Darkness and the Light

Teaser : ***.5, 5%

We begin with another round of DS9 Religious Action Madlibs.

“I am Vedek [so and so]...and I welcome you to the [made up place] retreat. Today we begin [things religious people do all the time] prayer and meditation as preparation for our Days of [vaguely Christ-y word] Atonement.”

The Vedeks all do their thing and appeal to the gods, but they are apparently in a vengeful mood as So and So is blasted by the Arc of the Wormhole or whatever.

Over on DS9, Kira is looking for pregnancy remedies from Bashir when Odo interrupts to deliver the news of the of sacercide. It turns out So and So was an old Shakaar Cell friend of Kira's. She returns to the O'Brien's quarters and her own (very little) room to say a prayer for the dead Vedek, but is interrupted by news of a short message. She plays it back, a Jigsaw-esque “That's one!” and an image of So and So on her screen. Creepy!

Act 1 : ***, 17%

Kira, Sisko and Odo deduce that Shakaar (the cell, not the guy) is the general target of this Jigsaw Person. Odo wants to up the fascist ante on incoming ships, of course, and Sisko agrees...of course.

SISKO: I'm sorry about your friend.
KIRA: He died serving the Prophets. They'll take care of him.
SISKO: I'm sure they will.

Oh? Are you having visions again, or are you just being polite, Captain?

The next morning, Miles finds Kira on the Replimat to let her vent. She's frustrated that her unexpected pregnancy is keeping her from tracking Jigsaw Guy down and defending her friends from potential assassination. Thank the Prophets for that. Kira has been way too nonchalant about this baby she didn't ask for cramping her style. I mean, I think Kira's insane half the time, but ever since Ziyal moved onto the station she's been kind of, well, boring. Miles reminds her that her job is to be a womb, apparently, but Odo interrupts this low-key sexist remark with news of another message for her.

She arrives in Ops to receive the message and Sisko tells her to keep the messenger talking for a bit so they can trace the call, you know like in the movies. The messenger is a woman called Fala (la la la, fa la la la...'tis the season to be jo--). Kira assures the command crew that she's harmless but has a good reason to try and keep her location a secret. You never know when Jack Skellington might show up and steal your mojo. Kira continues the conversation in relative privacy. Jingle Bell Rock here is certain that she's going to be the next person on Jigsaw Guy's kill list, and begs Kira to help her out. She promises to reroute Dax and Worf to Bajor, pick her up and bring her to safety on DS9.

Well, in case you didn't get enough of Worf's and Jadzia's toxic relationship in “Let He Who Is Without Sin,” we pick up with them bickering on a runabout. Jadzia lost a bunch of latinum gambling. Awesome. The woman in the relationship isn't good with her money, how original. Ugh...won't something end this hackneyed misery? Oh good, another murder! This one is actually murder-by-transporter (don't tell Reg Barclay). They try to beam Deck the Halls aboard but some sort of interference causes the transporter to cook her body to a crisp. Gruesome.

Act 2 : ***.5, 17%

Bashir confirms that the pile of ashes on the transporter pad is indeed dead (thank you, doctor) and Odo confirms that this was not a boat accident. Jigsaw Guy has a sophisticated understanding of Starfleet security, as well as an intimate knowledge of the Shakaar Cell. Strike the Harp here was not officially a member, but she fed the cell information for years from her position as a janitor for the Cardassians without being caught.

KIRA: But she was always so afraid. Afraid that she'd be caught and executed. But she never stopped. I once told her that I thought she was braver than all of us, because she had to live with her fear every day. Even after the occupation was over, she didn't want anyone to know that she was secretly helping us. She was worried that someone would come looking for her for revenge.
SISKO: Looks like her fears were well founded.

Sisko...did you really need to have the last word in this scene? Jesus...

Jigsaw Man leaves Kira another recording in a case of brandy. But Quark got his hands on it first and so the message is playing right out on the promenade. Classy.

Kira and Odo continue the investigation into Jigsaw Man's identity, likely a victim of a Shakaar attack in which Kira played a prominent role. And while they're talking, a third message (and third murder victim) comes in on Odo's monitors playing “that's three.”

KIRA: No, I'm not all right! I haven't slept in three days, someone is killing my friends, and my back...!

Well, Kira now has a security detail in and around the Chief's quarters. She goes to her room to lie down but hears a scuffle in the living room. One of the few possessions she's kept with her in her tiny room is naturally a gun, so she takes it out and prepares to ambush the phantom behind the door.

Act 3 : ***.5, 17%

For...drama's sake I guess, Kira turns off all the lights and then enters the living area as stealthily as a pregnant woman can. Finally, we learn that the intruders are Nick Fury and Leukocyte from “Shakaar.” They reprise their whole 1990s rogues with hearts of gold shtick and explain how they bypassed all the new security measures. That's reassuring. Regardless, Kira's happy to see them. They're confident that as soon as Odo comes up with a name, they'll be able to take care of the rest. Hubris, you say?

KIRA: The occupation is over. We can't go around fighting private wars. Times have changed. We have got to change with it. Leave this for the authorities.

LUPAZA: Maybe you feel that way now, but trust me, when you find out who killed Latha and Fala, and maybe now Mobara, you're not going to want to leave it to someone else. You're going to want him dead and you're going to want us to do it.
KIRA: Maybe so.

The re-appearance of these two makes this an obvious sequel to “Shakaar,” but for Kira, this is a thread that goes all the way back to stories like “Progress,” “Necessary Evil” and “Collaborators.” For the first time, Kira really seems to have internalised the lesson she kept failing to learn. The fact that her instinct is to scold her friends over this issue testifies to this change. Of course, the question remains, if pushed hard enough, will Kira revert to her old ways?

FUREL: We'll sleep out here. The couch is a little short, but it's probably as comfortable as our bed.
KIRA: Well, since Keiko's visiting her parents with Molly, I guess there's room.

Thank you Exposition Fairy! Anyway, after a gag where Nick Fury and Leukocyte nearly shoot Miles in the face, Odo confirms to Sisko that the third victim is indeed dead. Not just dead, but exploded. As in his head exploded. Yikes. While they speculate on Kira's fate at the hands of this wacko, she, Dax and...I guess Nog is back home...are analysing the audio recordings.

NOG: It's a female. And it's not Cardassian.

I uh...no. I'm just going to sweep this one into the “it was the 90s” bin. There will be more appropriate times to tackle this subject. Together, they discover that the voice being used to record the messages is Kira's own. This means that the seemingly practical step of disguising the voice was just a red herring, an intentionally sadistic and “unnecessary” step in all of this. Unnecessary to the efficacy of the murders, but not necessarily to their larger purpose.

Did I say sadistic? Well, a bomb has gone off in the O'Brien's quarters which means, of course, that Nick Fury and Leukocyte are dead as disco. In the commotion, Kira has stormed her way down to the habitat ring, driven purely by rage and anguish. She punches her way past Starfleet security (I don't know if this says more about Kira's badass-ness or Starfleet security's infamous ineptitude). Before she can expose the station, herself and the O'Brien's baby to space (the explosion caused a hull breach), the baby seems to object and causes her to collapse with pregnancy pains.

Act 4 : ****, 17%

When Bashir awakens her in the infirmary, Kira immediately cries out for the baby, clearly horrified that she may have hurt it. It turns out that everything is okay. Bashir leaves and Odo enters the scene. The lighting, set-dressing and deliberate symmetry of the camera all cast a spotlight on Kira and her dilemma; the stage has been set for a soliloquy and Visitor delivers.

KIRA:...And when that hatch opened and that first Cardassian stepped out, I just started firing. And I didn't stop till I'd discharged the entire power cell. When it was all over, I was so relieved that I didn't let anyone down that I was almost giddy. Furel kept telling me to stop grinning, that it made me look younger, but I couldn't help it. I was one of them. I was in the Resistance.

I'm reminded of Bitchwhore's line from “Rapture” about how Kira and the Resistance “had their guns” while she “had only [her] faith” to protect her. What becomes clear here is that the violence with which Kira was raised, which brought her through adolescence into adulthood, was inexorably linked to the adopted family which kept her alive and gave her purpose. The darkness and the light of her past can't be separated. The darkness IS the light. The suffering IS the hope. The anger IS the love.

Odo explains how the latest execution took place and admits that he's narrowed down the list of 25 suspects to a few Cardassians with the skills, motive and opportunity to carry out the attacks. Kira asks to see the list, but Odo is worried Kira would take it and go right for the counter-revenge vendetta. She asks to be kept informed, but the moment Odo leaves the room, she hauls her sore, pregnant body to the control panel and beams herself into his office. She steals the list and beams herself away (a pre-programmed protocol, it should be noted) just before he strolls in through the door and issues a knowing “harrumph.”

We see that Kira has stolen a runabout and that she erased the names on Odo's list to prevent her friends from tracking her.

SISKO: Prepare the Defiant. I want to leave in ten minutes. See if we can pick up her ion trail.
WORF: It will be difficult. Our sensor logs show that Major Kira masked her engine emissions with a polaron field. The runabout's particle—
SISKO: I know what the difficulties are. You have your orders. Dismissed.

I did enjoy that little bit of self-aware technobabble-dismissal.

Kira logs her progress and we learn that she's “eliminated” three of the suspects already...and thankfully clarifies that she means “from suspicion,” because at this point, I could believe her plan was just to kill all 25 people on the list. The fourth name leads her to Jigsaw's lair where a holographic decoy allows Jigsaw himself to stun her. He's cast in shadow, almost identically to the informant from back in “Improbable Cause” (and it turns out for similar reasons). He throws her onto another biobed under moody lighting, mirroring the scene of her soliloquy, and places a restraining field around her. She awakens to the sound of Jigsaw objectifying her situation in overwrought prose (“...like a needle to its heart”). However, his rambling leaves no ambiguity in his certainty that Kira will die.

Act 5 : ***.5, 17%

After a little mutual repartee, Kira is able to get Jigsaw to break his objectifying prose and address her directly.

SILARAN: No, Kira! I didn't murder anyone. You did! You killed them all.
KIRA: There. That wasn't so hard, was it? Now we can talk.
...
SILARAN: I thought you might have changed, might have found a path out of the darkness.
KIRA: What am I supposed to be repentant for? What're you talking about?
SILARAN: That is part of your guilt. You did this to me...
[Jigsaw reveals his horribly mutilated face]
SILARAN: ...and you don't even know who I am.

Kira doesn't budge. She's confronted this issue before, she thinks. In “Collaborators,” and in “Indiscretion” both, she made it clear that she isn't going to be compromised by moral subtleties. They were at war with oppressors, fighting for their lives and their freedom. Buuut...

KIRA: None of us liked killing.

That's not exactly true, is it. “Liked” may be an insufficient word to capture it, but Kira certainly *liked* the feeling of discharging her phaser on her first night as a soldier with the Shakaar. And her friends certainly *liked* the prospect of killing Jigsaw here in retaliation for his murders. This hearkens all the way back to “Duet” and Marritza's chilling lines about feeling “clean” while covered in blood. This was revealed to be an intentionally hollow sentiment. One does not feel clean with blood on his hands. Kira has had the opportunity over the last four years to redeem herself, to find new meaning and shed herself of the stains of the Occupation. This poor bastard may not have had that opportunity.

Jigsaw justifies his actions by noting that his murders have been discreet. He took extreme care to target only those whom he has deemed guilty and sparing entirely any bystanders, the other monks, O'Brien and his family...and he's going to be equally discreet with Kira. He won't kill the baby, only her. Of course, Jigsaw's discretion is purchased by the luxury of his position. His only goal is retribution against the people who maimed him, while the Resistance was trying to overthrow an occupying force.

I sidestepped a different timely issue with Nog, but I have to draw the connection between this story and the current hot topic of protests and looting. Like Jigsaw, many claim that the indiscriminate destruction of property condemns the actions of such protesters. The reaction against this of some others is to separate the light from the darkness and note that only *some* of the protestors are destroying property or behaving violently. And, like Jigsaw, this betrays a luxury of purpose in such thinking. It suggests that protests aren't something anyone *needs* to do, that there isn't a Cardassian-Occupation-level systemic issue looming over a particular class of people. When the people are looting and rioting, or when they're committing terrorism like the Shakaar, it is a symptom of systemic rot, not an individual behaviour to police. There are complexities and ironies to Kira's motivations and justifications that she needs to consider (see before when she “eliminated” some of the suspects on Odo's list, culling the light from the dark), but in the end, she's still right. In the face of systemic oppression, the casualty of innocents is ultimately the fault of the oppressors, not the resistors. This is the same reason why, even though Dukat may have been right that Bajor came into its own because of its resistance to Cardassia, he's still wrong. This is why, even though the Prophets may have a plan for Bajor enduring the Occupation, it's still sadistic of them to let it happen. And this is why, even though it may be true that innocent bystanders may have their property destroyed or even be injured in the chaos of mass protests, it is wrong to condemn the protests on that basis. You can't separate the darkness from the light. Muddying this truth only serves to justify and prolong the oppression itself.

But as I said, Kira does need to face up to the ironies and complexities of her position. Politically, it's fairly clear-cut, but personally...well, now she's begging Jigsaw not to induce the birth of the baby, which has complicated medical needs, not to mention belongs to other people to whom she swore to be its protector. She manages only to convince him to give her a sedative...which is perhaps a little too easy, but the rest of this is so compelling, I can overlook it. Yes, even when Jigsaw releases the restraining field for absolutely no reason just because he thinks Kira's been sedated. And so she escapes and shoots Jigsaw, putting an end to his misery.

Sisko and co. eventually arrive so that Bashir can explain how he Herbs she's been taking all episode prevented the sedative from working. I think Linda has the correct interpretation (from her comment in 2017) of the final line: Kira recognises that she has real guilt, despite the existential needs that drove her and the rest of the Resistance. It wasn't all a matter of fulfilling those needs, she took some measure of pleasure and joy in her actions. I don't think this is wrong or inexcusable—I think it's very human. But it is complicated. What still doesn't hold up for me is that, exactly like in “Shakaar,” Sisko is going to take zero actions to hold Kira accountable for what she did here. Like, I get that Kira has been through a lot, but she's your first officer and she went completely rogue, stole files, stole a ship, put her life at risk and killed a man without a trial. Yes, it was self-defence, but she shouldn't have been there in the first place. Given how easy it was for Kira to track him down, Odo would have before long. This was not a matter of existential need. This was personal.

Episode as Functionary : ***.5, 10%

William B correct that Jigsaw Man is a dark mirror for Kira herself. He was innocent of the crimes of his people, insofar as one can be innocent (did he have an obligation to fight back, to resist his own evil government?), just as Kira was an innocent. But the Occupational violence against her people turned her into a killer, and in turn, her actions turned Jigsaw Man into a deformed murderer. I appreciate the complexity of the issues here, the subtlety of the messaging and focus on character. This really does feel like a throwback to Season 2, but in a good way. Most of the issues that dragged that season's episodes down for me have been ironed out, and the production is excellent, with striking visuals and engrossing performances. Sisko is still...Sisko, but that isn't a huge deal here.

One detail in the story that I think is under-appreciated is how well the side characters are integrated into the narrative. Kira's journey is being established by her relationships with a foetus, a couple of characters we've only seen once before, and a couple of new characters that get killed minutes after they are introduced. It may have been even more effective to have all the characters Jigsaw kills be people we've met before and care about (like Shakaar himself?), but I think the writers strike just the right balance between drawing upon continuity and asking the audience to use its imagination to fill in the gaps with the new characters.

The main negative to the story is that it does chicken out from having Miles confront Kira. I thought his early comments to her were on the unfortunately misogynistic side, but even I think he deserves to have some words with her over her choices here. They've all decided this baby is going to come to term—and we see that Kira is sincerely concerned about it—so methinks there has to be some sort of reckoning over this.

Final Score : ***.5
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 8:29am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Jason R

That's the most obtuse argument I've seen in a while on this site, and that is saying something. Plenty of men and women consent to all sorts of sex acts, all of which (including the most vanilla) could be dangerous depending on the situation. I'm not continuing this debate as it is so far out to sea at this point, Davy Jones would ignore us. I'm telling you, as a gay man, that there was some low-key homophobia in Cody's reaction to Booming's intentionally provocative escalation. That's the last thing I want to say on the subject.

"it isn't really the act that matters but who the perpetrator and who the victim was."

All of these things matter, actually.
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 7:51am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Cody

For something to be rape, it has to be non-consensual. There's no reason to infer anyone's comments about Tal or Chakotay were meant to be non-consensual. If the only distinguishing feature between the two sex acts is the gender of the participants, then this is homophobic.

@Jason R

15 year old with a medical degree, huh? Poor taste makes for bad jokes.
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Sat, Aug 29, 2020, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

Wow, is this still going on?

1. Yes, Cody, it was a bit homophobic.
2. No, Trent, I don't think rape was implied; it was just an unnecessary and juvenile comment.
3. DS9 generally sucks at talking about religion.
4. As Janeway said, William B, "We didn't ask to be involved, but we are."
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Fri, Aug 28, 2020, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Fair Trade

Teaser : **, 5%

Neelix is playing an old tape with Tuvok, insisting he's ready to be a full-fledged security officer and complaining that he wasn't invited (again) to a training session.

TUVOK: If you recall, Mister Neelix, I did not guarantee you a position.
...
NEELIX: I've been working hard at this. I really do feel I have a great deal to contribute to the Voyager beyond my current role.

It is very difficult to make a character with Neelix' role work on Star Trek. Guinan was typically great, but she was a secondary character, not a main cast member; they brought her in when they needed her. Quark has the advantage here because his job connects him to various facets of the DS9 universe; he has history with the Bajorans and the Cardassians, he has an ongoing subplot related to his own people, he has under-the-table dealings with various space mafiosi, AND he's the bar tender for DS9's Starfleet personnel. He can put on various hats as the story demands, and he can even be the hero of the small Ferengi stories like “Looking for Parmach...” without watering down the main thrust of the series. Ever since his introduction in “Caretaker,” Voyager has been casting about for ways to make Neelix seem useful, from “Parturition” and “Investigations” to “Warlord” and “Macrocosm.” But in pretty much every instance, this effort only serves to highlight how useless he is. The smartest thing about the set up in this episode is that Neelix seems to be conscious of this dynamic. A lot of the time, you really want to strangle Neelix (hi Tuvok) and tell him to shut up and be grateful that he gets to take a daily bath. But we know from “Jetrel” especially that Neelix has a massive inferiority complex. That's a very real facet of human nature to explore, but it isn't heroic. Voyager finally seems to be accepting this fact and looking for ways to continue his arc without pissing off the audience.

I also want to briefly mention the complaints about the Kes breakup here. If the breakup happened in “Warlord” (and it did), then we barely saw either him or Kes in “The Q and the Grey” (just that paycheque-collecting scene in the beginning), and then we saw a bit of Neelix in “Macrocosm.” Given what happened in “Warlord,” there is absolutely no chance that a Neelix still in a relationship with Kes would have arrived at a ship with a missing crew and not gone on and on about needing to rescue his “sweetie.” There would have been an exchange where Janeway reassures him, yadda yadda. We know this. On the contrary, his new ambassadorial role and pestering of Tuvok all suggest that he's looking for ways to fill the void left by the breakup. Do we really need to have a scene where he gives a personal log explicitly stating that he's feeling lonely now, or can we read some context clues?

Anyway, Tuvok isn't the only victim of Neelix' ennui, as his next stop is to pester Torres over a similar gambit to become a grease monkey. As we might recall from “Threshold,” this is probably a bad idea. The scene also introduces us to Ensign Vorik who decided to change his name after “Lower Decks” so they wouldn't blow the budget paying Rene Echevarria every time he shows up. With Hogan and Jonas dead, and Joe Carey trapped in a pocket dimension or whatever, Torres needs a new number 2. I do like the idea of having more than one Vulcan around. It can feel a little pat sometimes when Spock, Worf, Data, Troi, Guinan, Odo and Dax are the only members of their kind to interact with.

Janeway calls Neelix to the bridge before Torres sends him to the sickbay with a bloody nose. The Voyager has encountered some lightning-filled purple dust in space which Neelix identifies as the Naked Expanse or something. Sounds fun.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

JANEWAY: Looks like we'll be counting on your knowledge of the Delta quadrant even more than usual, Neelix.

Just a little twist of the knife. Neelix does know of a small trading depot on the outskirts of the expanse, but its exact coordinates elude him. The first time I travelled to Europe, it was alone and to countries where I barely spoke the language, and it was in the days before smart phones. I spent hours memorising maps and street names so that I would be able to get around and avoid getting conscripted into a sexually confusing music video or whatever else happens to lost teens in Berlin. Now, I don't think I could find my way to the nearest hardware store without google maps. The actual point of the exchange is that Chakotay finds the station with sensors and everyone is happy to proceed, but Neelix feels like a bit of a failure.

The Voyager makes contact with Baccarat or whatever, the station administrator, and make plans to board and trade for provisions. Paris does his job of post-conversation one-liner and then is assigned to the away team with Janeway, Chakotay, and of course Neelix. Janeway herself meets Baccarat in his office, which is essentially the nightmare scenario you imagine when you're in a public bathroom. He has cameras fixed on seemingly every corner of the station and sentinels the activities of every visitor and inhabitant all by himself. If not for the fact that this eats up so much of his time and attention that he can barely make eye contact with Janeway, you'd be forgiven for assuming this to be his masturbatorium.

While she puts up her spatterguard, Chakotay and Paris apparently look like they're in the market for some space LSD. They reject the dealer's offer in a way that would make Tasha Yar very proud and Tom makes yet *another* post-conversation quip.

Neelix meanwhile is scouring the station for a map of the Naked Expanse but also receives something he didn't bargain for, an old friend called Wix. I think about this episode every time I have to update my website. Too bad Echevarria didn't think to copyright that name instead of Taurik. The two Talaxians get caught up over space beers and Wix finds himself impressed with Neelix' lot on the Voyager. Impressed and a little jealous. See, Wix hasn't had an easy time of it, coincidentally, ever since he and Neelix last saw each other.

NEELIX: I don't think I ever told you how much I valued what you did.
WIXIBAN: You'd have done the same for me.
NEELIX: Yes, I would have. But you were the one who got caught. I owe you a great deal. If there's anything I can do to help...

Like I said, this is a brave thing to do. The implication here is that Neelix most definitely would not have “done the same” for his friend. Our introduction to Neelix in “Caretaker” saw him lying to the Voyager crew to save his girlfriend and showing little remorse for it. And he admitted to hiding from the draft on Talax not for the sake of pacifist convictions, but simple cowardice. That doesn't mean he lacks convictions but he isn't heroic. This is substantially different from the “grey” characters over on DS9 who may choose to do awful things for potentially good reasons. No one accuses Sisko, Garak, Eddington or Sloan of being cowards (well, except for me). Depending on what side of the ethical/moral debates you land on, all of them are aspirational in some way. It is remarkable that the writers chose to make a non-aspirational character like Neelix a protagonist in the show. For the most part it backfired, but I think what makes Neelix appealing in a limited way is the fact that he represents the selves we are ashamed to admit to.

After putting his good fortune to words, Neelix' shame surfaces as he tells Wix he suspects his time on the Voyager is about to end. Remember what Q said in “The Q and the Grey”:

Q: I understand that you acquire things for [Janeway], create little interesting diversions, prepare little tasty treats. After all, why else would she be so fond of your fur-lined face?

Neelix rebuffed him, but, yeah, I think this struck very close to home, which is why he tells Wix:

NEELIX: The main reason Captain Janeway needed me was as a guide, to give her information about this quadrant. But I've never been beyond the Nekrit Expanse. I can't tell her anything about what's ahead...They don't really need a cook, and I don't think our Captain really requires an Ambassador. I've tried to find some other area where I might be useful, but, the truth is, I'm not needed.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

While Vorik makes some repairs to Neelix' replicator in the Mess Hall (I'm guessing the All Leola Root Buffet wasn't popular), Chakotay shows up with Wix in tow. Neelix' old friend managed to find the actual gadgets Paris and Chakotay were looking for when they were offered drugs AND he takes the time to talk up Neelix' “varied” talents. Philips makes the most of the uncomfortable set-up here managing to induce genuine feelings of anxiety while still being funny.

He dismisses Vorik and confronts Wix over what he assumes was stolen goods acquired for his ship.

WIXIBAN: Of course not. I wouldn't do that to you. Neelix, I need the work. I don't live on a comfortable starship. No one looks out for me except me. Maybe you've forgotten what that feels like...I've been stuck on that trash heap of a space station for three years. My ship's been impounded. I can't afford to give Bahrat what he wants to get it back. Do you begrudge me an opportunity to make a *fair trade?*

Ooo ooo he said it, he said the name of the thing! Wix is actually bursting with good news, having located some perineum or whatever it was Janeway was looking for and even a map for Neelix. Getting the map will require Neelix to help his old friend with another trade. He's going to help some dying orphans with a lung disease by trading in medical supplies. Aww. And as luck would have it, this beneficent trade will make Wix juuuust enough money to get his ship back from Baccarat. Gee willickers. Neelix is so myopic about his own needs (as he is wont to be) that he misses the obvious truth-massaging going on here. Wix needs Neelix to help him procure a shuttle to acquire the “medicine” AND he needs Neelix not to tell anybody what's actually happening here...er, because Baccarat will keep 20% of the profit, darn him! Neelix clearly knows that he's being lied to, but feigning ignorance is the only way he's going to get his hands on the map. And at this point, while he wouldn't *want* to screw Baccarat out of his commission necessarily, he owes Wix a big favour and this is about as severe a crime as fudging write-offs on your tax return. Again, Neelix isn't aspirational, but he's relatable.

Next thing we see, Neelix and Wix have already picked up their goods and are shuttling back to the station. Neelix is irritable. At first it seems like this is because Janeway's supply of perineum is less than half what he promised, but...

NEELIX: I don't like keeping the whole truth from Commander Chakotay. It's not honest.
WIXIBAN: I don't remember you ever being so squeamish about twisting the truth.
NEELIX: Wix, I'm not what I used to be.
WIXIBAN: Neither am I. We've both tried to change our lives. You've done it. Now I have the same chance.

I really like this juxtaposition. Neelix has “made” a better life for himself in that his material conditions are better than they were. But his methods aren't really any different from Wix'; he's lied, padded his own experience and abilities (remember his alleged survivor skills from “Basics”?), and manipulated Captain Janeway into keeping him around, just like Q said. I'm reminded of Sisko's line from “The Maquis”: “It's easy to be a saint in paradise.” The solution, then, is to make more paradise. More paradise, more saints. Neelix didn't actually earn his place on the Voyager, and that doesn't matter. He's become a better person by proximity. But old habits die hard, and at this point, Neelix' reform only manifests as guilt, not action.

Wix grabs a phaser before the pair beam to the station (“just a precaution,” don't you know?). The cargo bay they find themselves in is lit in Nouveau Ominous Noir, but Neelix' consternation over this obviously bad idea is interrupted by the arrival of the contact, who just so happens to be LSD man. Well it turns out Wix may be slimier than Neelix, but hardly any brighter as LSD man shoots at the pair instead of paying them. In the end, the phaser fire sets off an alarm, LSD man is shot by Wix, the drugs they were smuggling are stolen, and the Talaxian pair are forced to beam away empty-handed.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

Neelix is angry (with himself) and insists they come clean to Janeway immediately.

WIXIBAN: Do you really want to do that? How is it going to look to your shipmates when they find out you were once a contraband smuggler, and that you were involved in this ugly business tonight? You think your position on the Voyager is precarious now? Wait till they discover the whole truth about you.

Twist the knife.

WIXIBAN: So you'd let Bahrat put me in cryostatic suspension? I guess you would. You did let me spend a year in that Ubean prison...I never told you what it was like in there, did I? About eating worms to stay alive. Sleeping in a cell where the vermin chew on you all night. Being punished in ways you couldn't imagine.

Twist again. Neelix agrees to keep the incident a secret but considers his debt paid and their relationship at an end.

Oh did I say twist? Well when Neelix returns to the Voyager, Baccarat is there along with a livid Janeway informing the senior staff that LSD man was actually murdered. They don't know by whom, but they've identified the energy signature of Wix' phaser. Whoopsie.

Tuvok is assigned to investigate and the next thing we see, Neelix is entering his office for an interview. He's obviously extremely nervous, but Tuvok is only suspicious of Wix. He wants Neelix' help questioning his friend, er, “acquaintance.” And so, we see the trio aboard the station. Tuvok is his usually inscrutable self, Neelix is dripping with guilt and fear, and Wix seems to be a skilled liar.

TUVOK: Where were you at the time of the shooting?
WIXIBAN: In bed, asleep.
TUVOK: Can anyone corroborate that?
WIXIBAN: Alas, Mister Tuvok, I sleep alone.

Alas, Wix' quarters don't seem to interest Baccarat and his creepy voyeurism. Anyway, Tuvok leaves for now and Wix has even worse news to share; the people supplying the drugs (“mean as fire snakes!”) aren't happy and are demanding something in payment, a sample of the Voyager's warp plasma. Wix has promised them that Neelix can acquire it. Despite their conflicts, Wix is so confident that Neelix will look out for Number One in the end, that he doesn't even wait for him to answer. He just tells him when and where to meet him for the trade.

Act 4 : ***, 17%

Paris is looking for a containment unit for bio-memedic gels they're going to collect tomorrow. File that one away. Of course, the specific unit can't be replicated and is instead somewhere in this disorganised room full of empty containers because...Anyway, Neelix arrives to give him a hand and provide a little character follow-up to “Investigations.” He asks Tom what it was that landed him in prison.

PARIS: I've thought a lot about that, and it comes down to one simple fact. I didn't tell the truth. I made a mistake, which happens to people, but if I'd admitted that mistake it would have been a lot better. But I lied about it, and it nearly ruined my life.

I like the sentiment here, but this is contrived as hell. I think a scene with Harry, Torres, Tom and Neelix in the Mess Hall or at the resort would have worked much better.

-Torres makes a biting but still flirtatious remark about Tom's time in prison.
-Neelix over-politely asks Tom if he wouldn't mind explaining just what got him there, pulled out of the reverie of his own predicament.
-Tom tells a somewhat smoothed-over version of events.
-Harry shakes his head and bluntly reminds his friend that it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't lied about it.
-Paris admits that this is true.
-Torres, Kim and Tom take a drink in quiet unison.
-The camera lingers on Neelix, who's left his cup untouched.

There was an opportunity here for a more fleshed out scene that felt natural and conveyed the message without feeling like an after-school special.

Under the pretence of logging some time near the engine, Neelix gets Vorik to grant him access to the warp core. We see him crawl his way to a port and prepare to steal three grams of plasma. The camera lingers on Neelix' face, a look of pained resignation washes over him and he slumps, defeated.

Then we see Neelix meet Wixiban on the station. He tells his friend that he couldn't go through with it. One touch I like is how Philips is playing this with something like joy. He's in big trouble, but Neelix is happy that his ethics have outgrown his self-interest. And that is how you take an unlikeable protagonist with non-aspirational characteristics and make him an effective hero in a Star Trek story. Well done.

Ah, but we have one more knife-twist before the final act. Baccarat and his guards arrive and order “you two” to be still and prepare for arrest. But the “two” in question aren't the Talaxians, it's actually Tom and Chakotay who are hauled off. Baccarat presents his circumstantial evidence to Janeway, footage of her men having that anti-drug PSA in Act 1. One interesting touch here is Baccarat's admission that he has to charge *somebody* with a crime or risk anarchy on the station. This reminds me a bit of “Tribunal,” where the carceral system was shown to be more about servicing political ends than actually delivering justice, which, you know, it is. Defund the damned police.

Act 5 : ***.5, 17%

Given the increased stakes, Neelix and Wix confess their crime to Baccarat, but Neelix proposes a Fair Trade for letting them off the hook for it. The pair convince the administrator that his threats of imprisonment and mass surveillance masturbatorium aren't particularly effective in deterring crime. It's far more likely that minor offenders like Wix end up paying for the unpunished crimes of the big players like LSD man and his ilk. Boy this sounds familiar...Anyway, if Neelix and Wix can turn the king pin over to Baccarat by pretending to deliver the warp plasma, the charges against them will be dropped. Baccarat will also provide a sample of plasma to use instead of the Voyager's. The details of Neelix' plan are left intentionally vague. Once again, it's self interest (Wix' only option other than death and imprisonment is to go along with this, and the likely outcome is that the pair will die and Baccart won't have to deal with them anymore) facilitate this slight of hand.

So, the Talaxian duo find themselves in a dark alley once again while Baccarat observes his cameras being tampered with and prepares to move in and make the arrest. When the drug kings arrive, Neelix presses a button on the plasma storage unit. The dealers immediately discover that the sample isn't pure, but Neelix informs them they're under arrest...oh and that he opened up the unit to leak plasma into the air, meaning any weapons discharge or transporter beam would kill them all.

TOSIN: Then you will die with me, little man.
NEELIX: No problem at all, if it means getting rid of an Orillian lung maggot like you. Go ahead. You'd be doing me a favour. I have nothing to lose. Fire away!
WIXIBAN: Neelix!
NEELIX: Shoot. What are you waiting for? Fire!

Between the cinematography, the music, and Philips' chilling nihilistic performance, this is a substantially dark turn for this episode. While the leap to suicide is more abrupt than in “Hard Time,” I do think the story manages to earn this moment; Neelix isn't being motivated solely by his guilt and his fear like O'Brien was, but there is a degree of positive emotion in the mix. He found that his conscience was stronger than his ego and if Neelix were to die right now, he could actually live with himself. Additionally, there's the looming prospect that even if his plan works perfectly and he and Wix aren't killed, Neelix will be left behind as Janeway not only will have no more use for him, but she'll be motivated to put someone who lied and nearly stole from her off her ship. Well, Baccarat shows up, someone panics and there's a great big explosion that vaporises at least one person while the Talaxians duck for cover. (Yes it's that same big dumb green explosion from “Macrocosm”)

Jump cut and Neelix is awakening in the sick bay. The EMH and Kes get a couple of cameo lines and Tuvok informs him that all the loose ends have been tied up; Chakotay and Tom are free, the drug dealers are in custody, and Wix has departed. We are left to wonder what kind of choices he might make now that he's had a brush with paradise.

Janeway arrives, seething in that oh-so-JaneWay of hers and the rest of the cast disperse. She demands an explanation.

NEELIX: I just took one step. A step that seemed perfectly reasonable. And that step lead to another and another, and before I knew what I was involved in something I didn't know how to handle.
JANEWAY: What was it? What was so important that you were willing to throw away your principles?

File that one away, too. Anyway, Neelix explains about his inadequacy and his fears of being put off the ship. Janeway quotes “The First Duty,” which is amusing on several levels given the re-named Taurik and Paris play peripheral roles in this story. It's also a way to acknowledge Neelix' efforts to find a job with Tuvok or Torres—if Neelix is going to take on Starfleet duties at some point, he's got to get the basics first.

NEELIX: But, I can't guide you. I can't advise you. I don't know what's coming.
JANEWAY: Well, that's not the point, is it? None of us knows what's coming. That's what Starfleet is all about. We are all in this together, Neelix, and we have to be able to count on each other no matter how hard it gets.

A little schmaltzy and on the nose? Yeah. But Neelix' effervescent gratitude at being assigned the “Learning Curve” toothbrush-scrubbing of shame punishment made me crack a smile.

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

I don't have too much to say here. I think the writers had a specific task of rescuing the Neelix character from the lows of Season 2 and setting him back on the path we saw in “Jetrel.” They pulled it off without ignoring what transpired in between, showing us the way his relationships with Tom, Tuvok, Janeway and Kes have changed. Wixiban made a good foil, the plot was sensible, the production was smart, and Philips delivered the goods. The Naked Expanse begins the Voyager tradition of temporarily introducing unique areas of space for the ship to pass through and communicate progress on its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant to the audience. For the first two seasons, it felt like the Voyager was spinning its wheels in space given how they kept running into Caligula and Seska. There were a couple of things that could have been better here; the conversation with Paris was way on the nose, and there's maybe one too many clichéd elements, but I'd say the writers succeeded in their task and created an enjoyable episode in the process.

Final Score : ***
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Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 8:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Peter G

"I'm not sure, in any case, why your argument needs to rest on this being true while the Greek gods are not moral authorities. So what? Your overall point is that Abrahamic religion is not about physical reality (which is incidentally not true) while pagan religion was and is therefore made obsolete by science; and therefore the Bajorans' view is both Abrahamic and yet apparently made obsolete by science, and therefore doesn't fit into this schema."

Because without that schema, there is no allegory to actual religion. And without the allegory, the messaging around the topic is fallacious. Think of an episode like "Hero Worship." The actual condition of a child imitating an emotionless robot is entirely fictional. But the boy's and Data's situation fits into the same schema as certain kinds of trauma and personal development respectively. But unlike Trent, I actually think nuBSG did religion correctly. The gods of that Universe may very well be real or they may not be, meaning that the degree to which the characters manifest faith in them actually matters.

"But objectively saying they're misrepresenting Christianity or something just seems way off base to me."

That's not exactly what I'm saying. The Bajoran religion uses a pastiche of religious imagery (which I do find irritating in the same way I find things like "Oprellian Amoeba" and "Rigellian Field Mouse" annoying), but structurally it works pretty much like any contemporary Western faith (including a westernised version of Buddhism) except in the most important way, which is what this entire debate is about.

"The Bajorans have largely decided to follow those goals, and it's no surprise that the entire planet is practically unified in belief in them, which also pretty much invalidates direct comparison to Earth religion. They are united for obvious reasons, because their religion is based on a real, demonstrable thing. "

I have two thoughts about this. First of all, most alien worlds in Trek are united in a way that likens them more to modern nation states than planets. Klingons are all united and Romulans are all united and humans are all united in their respective belief systems, are they not? But more importantly, the real and demonstrable part of their religion didn't become apparent until Sisko made contact with the Prophets five years ago. I think it would have been unrealistic and silly to have Bajor become a planet of agnostics after this, but for there to be no theological reaction to the discovery the gods are actual a collection of monotone afterimages hanging out in vanilla soft serve should have a consequence or two.

"Either way I can't help but feel that all of these objections are really just objections to religion, and that the only tolerable presence religion could have in media (for you, I guess) would be where it 'knows it place' and admits that it's basically nonsense for making people feel good."

This is a projection. I will praise a depiction of religion that is thoughtful, nuanced and relevant. This ain't it.

@Booming

I didn't realise you were German. I actually wouldn't be surprised if some of the communication problems between you and the rest of this group aren't at least partially a result of a language barrier.

@Jason R

Enjoy.

https://www.thecollector.com/incest-ancient-greece-rome/
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 2:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Jason R

I mean possibly, but we all do that. What is objectively true about the structure of their mythology is that the interests of the gods were at odds with each other and frequently with the interests of human beings. In Abrahamic religions (including the way they tried to write the Bajorans), there is one absolute moral authority. There may be many Prophets, but they don't diverge from each other in terms of their plans for Bajor.
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Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 2:31pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Jason R

"I could be wrong, bit I always presumed that ordinary Greeks would have worshipped various Gods in a sincere and not cynical way. So when an ordinary Greek put an offering out for Zeus he wasn't secretly thinking that Zeus was a virgin raping capricious bastard to be bought off out of fear."

It is possible to be both cynical and sincere.
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Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 2:24pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Peter G

The text of the show is that the Bajorans' view that the WAs are divine is justified because the aren't linear beings. Every time there is an episode about proving the Bajorans right, this is the framing:

"In the Hands of the Prophets"

SISKO: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn't they be considered Prophets?

"Destiny"

KIRA: The prophecy came true. All of it. We just misinterpreted Trakor's words.

"Accession"

SISKO: The Bajorans believe you are their Prophets, that you've chosen one of us to be your Emissary.
PROPHET 1: We are of Bajor.
SISKO: Go on.
PROPHET 2: They are linear.
PROPHET 3: It limits them.
PROPHET 4: They do not understand.

"Destiny"

WINN: What is it, Emissary? Have the Prophets revealed something to you?
SISKO: Locusts. They'll destroy Bajor unless it stands alone.

The Bajorans should be allowed to have faith in unprovable, divine beings. That creates all the space that is needed to talk about the value of faith and the conflicts it creates. These writers so completely miss the point that they want to prove the Bajorans aren't dummies for believing in things that can't be. That's not *my* assessment of religion, that's *their* assessment. They have no confidence in being able to write about actual faith.

"So no, the Ancients didn't believe their own gods were immoral."

You are misinterpreting what I have written. The Greeks followed the laws of their gods, yes, but that was out of punitive fear. The laws of the gods provided structure in Greek society (which is of course the underlying reason Socrates was executed). My point is that the Greeks believed Zeus held you to specific standards of conduct for his own reasons, not because it was immutably "good."
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Trent

1. I appreciate the monicker of whistling butt admirer.

2. "Blossoming flowers? Bajoran orbs? Wormhole aliens? The miracle of life? A growing tree? These visible or testable phenomenon are proof of the divine! And if your science begins to explain them, then it has only explained God's immutable laws!"

Yes, but you are describing the numinous dimension of the Universe, which I already concede is precisely the dimension of life religion tackles. A blossoming flower can be understood scientifically in terms of the intersection of chemistry, physics and biology, but the 'divinity' and 'miraculousness' of the flower is a theological question that can't be answered by science. These things intersect for religious people, but one can't substitute the other. Some religious people certainly deny science when it conflicts with their beliefs; that's a part of the experience and something they tried to manage in "In the Hands of the Prophets," but the series is very careful not to depict the Bajorans this way. Kira isn't a science-denier.

"If Jesus or Vishnu were to appear on Earth today, religious believers would be like the Bajorans. They'd be scientifically advanced people who attribute divinity and mystery to the new arrivals. Be something known or Unknowable, visible or supposed, they're going to appeal to God."

Let's stick with Jesus as something I think is a little more theologically familiar on this site. Christians believe Jesus to have existed on Earth as a man. But this is understood to be a specific, partial and temporary divestment of his divine nature. Most Christians believe Jesus performed miracles, for which there is of course no evidence. The paradigm is still in place where the supernatural elements require faith in the unprovable.

@Jason R

"Okay but you realize in Greek myth, to use an example, mortals could at times impact, even injure their Gods and did so in Greek myth all the time."

I'm not sure if you're aware of the fact that you keep repeating points I've made many times in this debate, but yes to the first part--the Greek gods are an example where, like the Prophets, the deities are subject to the laws of the Universe. They can be injured, have sex, etc.

"And yet, contrary to what you asserted, the Greeks nevertheless considered at times their Gods as moral authorities in a manner analogous to the judeo christian God."

This is absolutely not true. The Greeks did not view the gods as especially virtuous, let alone arbiters of virtue. The gods were capricious and mortals felt the need to appease them in order to be successful in life. The gods took sides in human affairs for their own petty reasons all the time. They were jealous and vindictive.

"If a Bajoran has faith that the Prophets are good and have a righteous plan for Bajor, notwithstanding the knowledge that they are actual aliens who can be affected (even killed) how is that any different than a Greek worshipping Aphrodite, notwithstanding the knowledge that she could be influenced by or even injured by mortals or demigods?"

I think that should be clear now; ascribing moral authority to a deity requires that the deity exist outside the Universe's physical laws. If a god can be pricked by a pin, then he can be struck with jealousy. And no sane people would view a god who can be jealous as immutably good.
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Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 12:04pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

@Jason R

YES! That's the point I've made a hundred times now; when you lack a scientific understanding of the world, gods fill that void; they provide creation myths and explanations for weather, etc. Barring that lack of knowledge (or wilful ignorance), in the real world, the purpose of god(s) is about something else, it's about the numinous, which is to say, a part of the universe isn't measurable or appreciable by science, no matter how advanced. The Bajorans don't have any illusions about what makes the weather. They don't attribute natural phenomena to the Prophets. They treat their gods the same way modern Christians, Muslims and Jews treat their god. That's why the allegory falls apart, because the god of Abraham can't be vaporised by a space station or imprisoned in a fire cave. If the writers tried to make Bajoran religion like that of pre-Enlightenment nature-god pagans, they would be forced to depict them like, say, the Mentakans, a people who haven't yet developed technology or science to the point that they understand the natural world.
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 11:35am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Rapture

The issue with DS9 vis-a-vis religion isn't that it presents the relatively controversial perspective (for Trek) that maybe having religious faith is good actually, it's that the arguments within the show on the topic use strawmen for actual religious faith. If a "non-believer," like Dax were to say "I don't believe in the Prophets," she looks like an idiot because they're right fucking there, in the wormhole, doing stuff. One doesn't have to be a member of the Bajoran religion to recognise that the beings they call Prophets both exist and can do things. In the real world, saying "I (don't) believe in God," is an assessment of something unprovable. How such belief or non-belief affects your life is a topic worthy of exploration but that conversation is circumvented in most of the allegories we see in DS9. It is my opinion that this is partially the result of an overzealousness on the writers' part to present an anti-TNG perspective on their series. We see this on a number of topics, like the military aspects of Starfleet, economics, etc. In trying way too hard, they end up punching straw men. Not always, I think they get it right sometimes, but with religion, it's pretty much always a fallacious allegory.

@James

Hindus do not expect to run into Vishnu. The polytheism isn't the distinguishing factor here.

@Rahul

You can just say "they/them."

@Booming

What makes me sad is that I think you're actually right about a number of conclusions you draw (not all of them), but the way in which you make your arguments makes it nigh impossible to side with you. Like, I think Cody B has some messed up politics based on the very limited window I have on their views through this site, but you threw every ad hominem, stereotypical grab-bag of anti-right slurs one could think of at them. That's not going to convince anybody of anything other than that you're too angry to have a conversation with. And this is coming from someone who is probably one of the most left-wing commentors here.
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