Nutshell: A weird mix of entertaining and patience-straining moments.
There's a moment in "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" that took me by complete surprise. Kasidy is talking to Ben about a problem the others are having with the Vic Fontaine holosuite program. Ben isn't very receptive; he doesn't care much about Vic's program, or even like it, really. Then, after some more conversation, Ben airs his true feelings: He does not like the historic lie that exists inside Vic's program, which erases all traces of racism from its 1962 Las Vegas setting, in the interests of safe entertainment for all. This is actually something that had crossed my mind in a scene prior to this one, where Kasidy plays the slot machines while talking to a white security guard. (Dare I broach the subject of race in a review of an episode that's not really about race? It appears so.)
This is, I believe, the first time Sisko, or any Star Trek character, has identified himself in dialog as "black." Even last year's "Far Beyond the Stars," about racism in the 1950s, left the racial issues in the 1950s. In that episode's coda, when Sisko reflected upon those visions, his comments were about the nature of Benny Russell's existence, not Benny Russell's struggles as a black man.
So now, after decades of Gene Roddenberry "color blindness," the producers of DS9 have tapped into something that could analyze race in an interesting way from a historic perspective without abandoning anything in the 24th century as we know it. This issue is worthy of serious screen time. But you won't be finding it here: "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" raises the issue and then promptly steamrollers through it. With a few heartfelt words, Kasidy is able to change Sisko's mind with a sentiment that isn't unreasonable, but in a way that strikes me as too quick given Sisko's adamancy on such matters of history. Then it quickly becomes a non-issue for the rest of the episode.
What's up with that? Did the writers simply want to cover that base so we wouldn't think it went forgotten, and then bypass it as quickly as possible?
That sets the tone for my mixed feelings on "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang," an episode that exists simply to be entertaining, and not probing, challenging, vital, or necessary. For what it sets out to do, it delivers. Does it deliver it well?
Q&A time: Since it sets out not to do much else but be entertaining filler, is that worth a good review? Maybe I need to ask more questions. Was I bored? Not really. Was I caught up in the plot? At times. Was I thinking the whole episode was gratuitous? No, because I was distracted by feelings of enjoyment and whimsy. Were there stretches where I stared at the screen in disinterest? Certainly.
"Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang," with an abundance of period sets and costumes, is a luxuriously produced episode that aims for pure style. At times it succeeds. At other times it feels simply gratuitous. It sometimes reminded me of Voyager's "Bride of Chaotica!" Both shows are set in fantasy settings and go out of their way to do something their respective series do not usually do. Yet neither can quite cut itself loose from the jeopardy baggage of their premises. Correction: "Badda-Bing" almost works because of the jeopardy, since it features an interesting response to that jeopardy in the form of the crew's careful planning. Even so, there were stretches in the show's first three acts that I had a general feeling of "C'mon, get on with it already!"
Perhaps my patience with DS9 fluff pieces is simply wearing thin. Perhaps, nothing; definitely. With all that's (allegedly) going on in the DS9 universe, do we really need a story about Vic Fontaine being threatened by mobsters? Now, from what Ron Moore has said in his online postings, "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" marks the end of DS9 fluff and from here on out it's all meaty stuff (and there's still 11 hours' worth of screen time left, which is plenty of time to say what needs to be said), but the entertainment value to be found in "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" is not enough to overcome the cumulative effect of stand-alone irrelevance to the big picture ("Paper Moon" and "Chimera" notwithstanding) we've had since the New Year.
The plot is simple: In Vic's program, holographic mobsters led by the vengeful Franky Eyes (Robert Miano) take over Vic's lounge and turn it into a noisy casino. They beat up Vic and tell him to get out of town. The rest of the episode is about the crew's plan for getting rid of the mobsters and restoring Vic's lounge to the way it was. They come up with the idea of robbing the casino safe so that when Big Mob Boss Mr. Zeemo (Marc Lawrence) comes into town, Franky Eyes will be accused of stealing Zeemo's cut, thereby all but assuring an instant end to Franky.
A few words on holosuite plotting. Contrived? Yes, albeit it's not as annoying as it could've been. Turns out Vic's holo-program had been equipped by its programming designer, some guy named Felix, with a "jack-in-the-box" surprise, intended to randomly spice up the program before it could get boring, I guess. In other words, "It's not a bug, it's a feature!"
Fine and good, but this still permits the existence of plenty of holosuite rules that lie outside the users' control and make me a little leery. Characters can't be deleted, the program can't be paused, and the game can't be reset without also resetting Vic Fontaine's memory to day one. How convenient. Naturally, no one wants to do that, including Vic himself. Another rule in the game: If Vic "dies," his presence in the program will be "deleted from the matrix permanently."
I'm probably a fool for even thinking about the implications of holosuite nonsense. Suffice it to say the mobsters must be dealt with by using the game's rules rather than having the real people controlling the program. I'm glad, however, that the only person in jeopardy here is Vic, rather than the whole crew in another silly holodeck-gone-awry paradigm.
Enjoyment of this episode might very well depend upon whether you like Vic's lounge setting or not. I happen to like James Darren's presence on the series quite a bit, so I found most of this episode watchable, even if not compelling. And the largeness of the music brought out an energy and a style that I often found hard to resist. In critical terms, I must stress that an episode like "It's Only a Paper Moon" supplies the benefit of atmosphere and relevance, whereas "Badda-Bing" is atmosphere without much of any relevance.
Overall, "Badda-Bing" is an episode that is variable for its first three acts and then solid for its last two. That is to say, I found the episode a lot more interesting when it was playing out its caper rather than just supplying its setting for the sake of atmosphere alone. In the opening acts, the characters realize the nature of Vic's dilemma and think of ways to overcome it. Sisko's dilemma over Vic's historical inaccuracy is acknowledged and then dropped. Impatience for me began to set in.
The closing two acts were much more entertaining, because that's where we see the caper unfold. All of this is style, timing, and direction. Fortunately, we have director Mike Vejar, who is very solid when it comes to execution. I enjoyed the way every stage of the plan was calculated and shown to the audience in advance. This made the real execution of the plan, where things inevitably go wrong, more exciting to watch.
Every character gets their own special role in the plan (except Worf, who doesn't engage in this sort of fantasy triviality), from rolling dice at the craps table to playing poker, etc., though I must admit that not all the roles were necessary. Why, for example, do Sisko and Vic both have to stand at the dice table? Because we need to get every major character into the setting, that's why.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this story apart from the all-too-quickly abandoned Sisko issue is the way it handles Kira. In short, I do not need to see Kira as the clichéd sexy distraction, and certainly not at the length we see it here. It's boring and generally insulting to the character's usual strength. Plus there's the fact that she's trying to distract Franky Eyes, who just isn't interesting enough as the villain. Sure, he looks the part, but the part gives him a slew of typical lines that don't make his villain fun to hate, but instead just kind of annoying.
Mike Starr is a little more fun as Cicci, a big guy who can be very cruel at times (shoving a sandwich down a guy's throat and telling him to go back to the kitchen and get another one), yet can turn on a dime to being klutzily charismatic (his bashful hiring of Ezri).
I'm sure it comes as no surprise that the master plan works out in the end and Vic's lounge is restored to its normal state. But I liked the ending featuring the singing duet of James Darren and Avery Brooks. Is it in line with Sisko's character to be up on stage singing with Vic, in light of his previous feelings? I dunno; Sisko has never struck me as the type to release his serious feelings so quickly. But it's also obvious that this was more a moment that the producers and actors wanted to do because they could—and with time running out, realized that now, if ever, was the time to do it. On that level, I very much liked the sentiment.
Beyond that there's not much to say about "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang." It's not a particularly fresh hour, but it's not annoying either. And although it's not as funny a holosuite show as "Take Me Out to the Holosuite," it's more stylish. It's whimsically gratuitous fun with enough goodwill and good execution to earn a "pass." It also serves as a big patience-strainer for those of us desperately wanting to get back into the series' focus.
This middle stretch of the season has proven extremely limiting in getting us to where the series needs to go. I'm ready to get back into the real core of the series. Fortunately, it appears the series will be heading that direction immediately.
Next week: Bashir goes undercover with Section 31. At last, a plot that matters.