WARNING: This is a review from a very unhappy man.

So I'm sittin' down in the livin' room, watching this DS9 episode. I go to the computer, and alluvasudden, "Badda-bing, Badda-bang," out pops a review with spoilers. Who'da thunk?

In brief: A completely dumb premise with one shockingly inappropriate bit of characterization, but not without its occasional goofy charms.

Brief summary: When Vic Fontaine's holographic hotel is inexplicably bought out by the mob, it falls to the DS9 crew to save their favorite singer and his haunt.

I'll admit right at the outset that I didn't particularly expect to like "Badda-bing, Badda-bang." The only time I've particularly cared for Vic Fontaine as a character was in "It's Only a Paper Moon," and he was as successful as he was there because a fantasy character was absolutely needed to counter the all-too-frequent doses of reality Nog had gotten at the time. Apart from that, Vic has always struck me as extremely out of place, regardless of what personal charm James Darren might have, and the added idea of "we have to drop everything to go help a holodeck character" struck me as a bad one. Despite my attempts not to prejudge, I did say to someone in e-mail a few hours before the review that I expected this one to be dismal.

Those with less of a knee-jerk objection to the premise and the character of Vic than I, then, may like a lot more of "Badda-bing, Badda-bang" than I did -- but amazingly, in the final analysis I'm coming out pretty neutral on it. There were a lot of moments in the show that left me bored and/or angry at actions coming out of left field, but at worst the episode ends up wasting time; at best, it can be entertaining in spots if you're willing to turn off your brain and just run with it.

The premise of the episode is, unfortunately, every bit as contrived as early rumors made it out to be. Basically, it turns out that Bashir's old friend Felix (who designed the Vic program) also installed a "jack-in-the-box" program designed to spice things up. As a result, the entire environment changes mid-song from Vic's usual scenario to one where an old rival of his, now with the mob, has bought Vic's hotel and fired him outright. More importantly, however, the only way to solve the problem is to do so in a "period-specific" fashion; if the program is reset manually, Vic loses his memories and goes back to the genial character we first met in "His Way," and if Vic is killed within the program for some reason, he stays dead. Naturally, this means Our Heroes have to devise an intricate Cunning Plan [TM] to save the casino from Frankie Eyes in a true early-'60s fashion.

So what's wrong with that? Nothing, I suppose, unless you stop and really think about it.

Concern #1: Vic has been set up from day one as Uber-Hologram Guy, who is aware of his true nature and who can transfer his matrix wherever he wants. Even assuming, then, that it's possible to design a holosuite program the way Felix has (about which I also have some serious questions), it should be trivial for Vic to store himself in some other program while O'Brien works his engineering magic and "removes" Frankie in a more traditional way.

Concern #2: For the second time this year, we're seeing the entire senior staff (eventually including Sisko) spend all their time in the holosuites for a period of at least several days, possibly longer. While I was able to swallow it in "Take Me Out to the Holosuite," where the Dominion might have been regrouping after the Prophets returned, having it happen twice in a year is starting to suggest that our gallant crew needs some serious reassignment.

Concern #3: I don't buy Vic as the hologram everyone loves and must save as though he were everyone's best friend. Never have. We typically don't have this many characters involved when a real person is in crisis -- so why here? I'm with Worf here -- while I don't actively dislike Vic, I don't consider him important enough to worry over one way or the other, and the fact that everyone within the show does strikes me as the writers just flat-out insisting "but everyone DOES love him" without giving us a reason why they should. (Nog's loyalty I can understand, and ditto Odo/Kira to a lesser extent. The rest -- no.)

Concern #4: Finally, with a scant eleven hours of DS9 left before the series ends, spending another episode on holodeck hijinks is just a little worrying to me.

A lot of this comes down to suspension of disbelief; for me, at least, this episode involves enough hand-waving that my disbelief would have to merit expulsion rather than suspension. As always, your mileage may vary, particularly if you're a big Vic fan (and I know there are some of you out there; I just don't know why).

All of that said, however, the remainder of the episode is basically the crew's plan to get Frankie Eyes out and Vic Fontaine back in. Roughly, it comes down to a scheme to steal a cool million dollars from the casino so that Frankie's boss, notorious gangster Carl Zeemo, doesn't get his "skim" for the month and will ... "remove" Frankie from his current position. I have a few minor questions about how Odo and Kira came up with all their information (particularly the notion that Frankie would talk so freely about his financial dealings to a woman he's never met), but let's leave that as it may be.

The initial setup for the plan is actually pretty cute, ranging from Ezri the waitress slipping a "count-man" a Bashir-designed mickey to Kasidy Yates accusing O'Brien of stealing her chips to Nog cracking a safe and stuffing money into Odo the Living Handbag. Is it hokey? Absolutely -- but as this still is a holosuite program, one designed by a friend of Bashir's no less, having some sort of elaborately silly chain of events to solve this problem actually tracks reasonably well for me. Everyone gets a chance to "play," and the details of the plan have their amusing moments. (I particularly liked Vic advising O'Brien to play innocent when accused of robbery, with O'Brien's subsequent knowing deadpan, "I am innocent. I never met this woman before in my life!") At worst, this middle section of the show felt a bit slow; it never particularly annoyed me.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The one aspect of the setup that seemed surreally inappropriate to me was Kasidy's attempt to get Sisko involved. More to the point, Sisko's reason for avoiding Vic's program is the problem. When Kasidy presses him for a reason, Sisko eventually says that it's the historical lie the program represents: in 1962 Las Vegas, black people weren't welcome as customers, and as a result he's not comfortable going into a program which suggests otherwise.

To me, this had pretty much the same effect as all of the times "Voyager" attempted to call attention to Janeway's gender: it makes absolutely no sense to me at all. In this case, we've seen Sisko as captain for six and a half years, and never has he used the term "our people" to exclude people by race or even by species. (Usually, "our people" means either Starfleet personnel or the DS9 crew, both of which are reasonably diverse considering the necessity of humanoid actors.) So far as we've ever heard, race has been a complete non-issue for Sisko throughout his life. The only time racism has gotten a mention is in "Far Beyond the Stars," and that was an exception in a host of ways. Sisko's worries here felt entirely tacked-on and random; worse, they felt like a bone being thrown to Black History Month without any actual feeling behind it, since it didn't come out of the character honestly. If Behr and Beimler's shared intent was to make the viewer scratch his/her forehead and say, "okay, where the hell did THAT come from?" then it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, but somehow I doubt they intended for the momentum of their story to be blunted so thoroughly.

(I almost wonder if that scene was suggested by Avery Brooks, as I could easily see him raising those objections to the Vegas setting. I certainly felt as though I was hearing Brooks rather than Sisko during the scene.)

That said, however, a lot of the later scenes in the show were done with a nice flourish, Sisko's entrance into the conspiracy among them. The best of that lot came at the end of the "everyone gets ready" montage; as the entire group swaggers its way down the Promenade heading for Quark's, both the cinematography and the music captured the moment perfectly. (I do feel a bit sorry for Armin Shimerman, though; he spent hours in makeup for precisely one line. Ouch.)

The execution of the plan didn't quite capture that same feeling of inspired lunacy that permeated "the Cards" a couple of years ago, but it had its moments. In this case, it was pretty obvious that things wouldn't go perfectly according to plan; the only question was how many different obstacles were going to crop up. Between Zeemo arriving early, Ezri's spilled drinks, and a better-locked safe than expected, I think everyone got their share -- and by the time Sisko starts tossing his money up in the air as a final distraction, you're either right there enjoying it or completely annoyed. I pretty much wound up in the first category ... although I thought Sisko's final bit was somewhat over-the-top. (Actually, I thought the "uh-oh, it's got an auto-relock tumbler" was annoying; even in a holosuite program, you can't escape <technobabble> problems?)

At long last, then, Frankie has been tricked and banished (including a wonderfully directed scene where he passes by everyone on his way to execution), and everything's back to normal. Naturally, this means we have to get a song: after all, Vic hasn't finished a song all episode. This time, however, there's one final twist: Vic invites Sisko up to sing a duet. I found this one awfully odd, too, though more in a "huh?" sense than in anything upsetting. Sisko has never really been one for singing in public so far as we've seen, and while Brooks clearly has a good singing voice, it felt at odds with what we know of the character. Still, this one accomplished some foreshadowing (at least, I assume the "The best is yet to come!" is a neon sign pointed directly at the audience), and also, unlike just about any song I've heard from Vic to date, actually left me humming it a few hours later.

Other thoughts:

-- So let me get this straight. O'Brien and Bashir, who apparently consider the Alamo a personal enough program that they won't let Kira or Ezri in it, will invite Vic to join them. These guys need help.

-- Alexander Siddig seemed strangely off for much of the show this time. His "Chief ... are you thinking what I'm thinking?" worked well, but a lot of his early scenes of the episode felt oddly distant.

-- The issue of getting money for Sisko's "high-roller" act should never have come up in the first place. You have replicators, guys.

-- Did we have to have the joke about O'Brien getting strip-searched?

-- I got a big kick out of Odo being nicknamed "Stretch" for some reason.

-- This may have been the second consecutive episode in which we saw an actor who normally plays Klingons in a new role. Last week it was J.G. Hertzler; this time I'm almost certain that "Bobby Reilly," the actor who played the count-man whom Ezri serves, is actually Robert O'Reilly, aka Gowron. If I'm right, it's appropriate; those with really long memories may recall that the very firs* Trek role O'Reilly played was of a holographic gangster, in TNG's "Manhunt."

-- Speaking of familiar faces, there's one in the preview which I want to comment on as well -- but I'll wait until the "Next week" blurb, as some people might not want to be spoiled about it.

That should pretty much do it. "Badda-bing, Badda-bang" clearly didn't intend to be anything more than an hour's diversion, and in that it was at least halfway successful. The premise is way too flimsy for words, and the Serious Political Statement from Sisko halfway through makes absolutely no sense from a character standpoint, but most of the work within the program is done with a fair bit of style and flair, which can sometimes go a long way. Don't go out of your way to catch this one unless you're a big Vic fan and can suspend disbelief easily, but it's not a "must-avoid" either.

Wrapping up:

Writing: The plan was cute; I have problems with a lot of the rest, particularly Sisko and the premise.
Directing: Vejar's done better, but for the most part this was fun. The slow-motion bits were put to good use.
Acting: Siddig felt off this week, and Penny Johnson's done better, but most everyone else was okay.

OVERALL: Hmm. Let's say 5; if you have fewer objections to the setup or to Sisko's posturing than I do, adjust accordingly.

Section 31 returns, and Bashir goes undercover for them.

[And I'm almost dead certain I saw John Fleck as a Romulan; if so, this could be the same one who brainwashed Geordi many years ago. Food for thought...]

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) <*>
"Vic isn't just another holosuite program ... he's more like a friend."
-- Kasidy Yates, channeling insistent writers

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