WARNING: This meeting of the Victor Hugo Appreciation Society is now brought to ... oh. Ahem. Sorry; spoilers ahead for DS9's "For the Uniform".
In brief: Not quite everything I would have wished for, but generally very strong.
Brief summary: Sisko continues an obsessive quest to bring in former Starfleet officer Michael Eddington, now a leader in the Maquis.
When I reviewed "The Begotten" last week, I mentioned various reasons why I might have had somewhat lowered expectations for it. Those lowered expectations may have helped the show a fair amount. Where "For the Uniform" was concerned, I had very high expectations based on the combination of the long-away Eddington as antagonist and the even-longer-away Peter Allan Fields as writer. (Fields, for those who don't follow writers' credits, was partly responsible for TNG's "The Inner Light" and for many of DS9's earlier successes, including "Duet", "Necessary Evil", and "Crossover". Not everything he did was golden, but a lot of it was -- and I've been on record several times as saying that firing him at the end of season 2 was a very big mistake on the part of the powers that be.) Those expectations may have colored my feelings a bit towards "For the Uniform"; while what it did was generally on a very high level, I'm finding myself drawn a little too strongly towards things it didn't do and could have.
Most of my impressions of the show are good ones, however. We've seen stories about obsessive chases before, to be sure: there's "The Wrath of Khan" in the TOS era, several instances in TNG (including the Cardassian-introducing "The Wounded" and the recent "First Contact"), and probably a host of others that just aren't leaping immediately to mind. We've even had literary parallels drawn much as one was drawn here: both "The Wrath of Khan" and "First Contact" drew heavily on Moby Dick, albeit with the latter from Ahab's POV and the former from the whale's. :-) The one thing I don't think we've ever really had, though, was a situation where neither the obsessor nor the obsessee was really a classic "villain" type. Khan, while charismatic, was pretty thoroughly villainous -- and the Borg have no real personality. Eddington bears some
similarities to Khan, except that his belief is primarily about the wrongness of the Federation, not about his own personal superiority over everyone else. Eddington's speech back in "For the Cause" still resonates a lot with me: his scathing indictment of the Federation has a real ring of truth in it in spots, and as a result I was a good deal more interested in both sides of the chase than I usually am.
That was thoroughly helped, though, by the performance of Kenneth Marshall and Peter Allan Fields' dialogue. When Eddington told Sisko, "I'm the one in control here, Captain," he was right on a host of different levels. As Captain Sanders pointed out to Sisko, as Sisko himself pointed out to others, and as Sisko raged about, Eddington knew Sisko so well that he managed to play him like a virtuoso -- not only using him to continually thumb his nose at Federation policy and enrage Sisko, but also using him as a catspaw for surprising other targets like the starship Malinche. It wasn't until Sisko starting seeing some of Eddington's patterns a little more rationally and discovered a way to "make it personal" on Eddington's side, rattling him, that the tide turned -- and every frustration thrown Sisko's way tended to reinforce that message.
"For the Uniform" combined a basic story whose outcome I could have guessed with moments I would never have expected to see, mostly little snatches of dialogue here and there that felt crisper than usual. Eddington's musing remark about designing his computer virus ("actually, I'm quite proud of it"), Eddington's suggestion to Sisko that "as long as you're making a list [of charges], why don't you add this?" just before pummeling the Defiant, Sisko's anger over not having seen through Eddington but even offering him a promotion, Dax's comment about Sisko's becoming like Curzon, and many others ... all of these made what could have been a potentially ordinary exercise turn into something that was a lot more fun to follow. (I particularly liked Odo's exchange with Sisko: "Have you ever reminded Starfleet Command that they stationed Eddington here
because they didn't trust me?" "No." "Please do." It's good to remember that even this kind of betrayal can lead to someone else's personal vindication.) All of the plot points -- Sisko disobeying orders, the Malinche being ambushed, Eddington placing innocents in jeopardy to distract Sisko -- are old standards, but put to good use.
And the literary allusions? Well, not being all that up on Victor Hugo, I don't know if the parallel is exactly apt, but it certainly seems so. I certainly knew enough about the story that as soon as Eddington said
he was sending over a copy of Les Miserables, I said out loud "oh, you bastard" -- and it was great fun seeing Sisko managing to use Eddington's own "gift" against him the way he did.
I said earlier, though, that I was finding myself drawn from time to time towards the things not done in "For the Uniform" -- the things that I would have expected from the show. These are really of two types: things that I think the show needed in order to have the right resonance, and things that are more my own personal wish list.
I'll start with the first type: there are three items I can think of. First, while Sisko's "playing the villain" was quite well done, I think we needed to see a scene where Sisko made it clear to Eddington that he was only playing the villain, and that he was far more in control of himself during that confrontation than he seemed. Essentially, although we as viewers got to see that Sisko was capable of manipulating Eddington as much as we'd seen the reverse done, Eddington never really had that point brought home to him, and it would have been nice to see some of Eddington's calm veneer crack under that realization. The second is more of an issue with DS9 as a whole; if Sisko had been conducting this obsessive search for Eddington for eight months, and Eddington had become this Starfleet cause celebre over that period of time, we should have had some reference to it. As good as "For the Uniform" was, the fact that it was introduced out of the blue leaves open the possibility that the issue can be removed equally quickly, which I'd rather not see. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I'm not sure Sisko learned anything here other than the uses of French melodrama. Eddington, Sanders and Dax all told Sisko, in effect, that he had to learn to walk away from obsessions before they consumed him -- given the recent events of "Rapture", that's a lesson Sisko has failed to learn before. Here,
however, that failure didn't cost him anything. Breaking orders and going after Eddington didn't cost him his career, his ship or his crew, or even his conscience -- and since he won, there's nothing preventing him from going off equally obsessively next time a challenge like this comes along. That feels like it undercuts the drama of the episode to me; when the first two-thirds of the show are drawing the parallels to Inspector Javert so well, the last third feels like someone suggested, "well, how about if Javert catches Valjean and then goes home to the wife and kids?" By the same token, the fact that Sisko is probably not going to be reprimanded, much less harshly disciplined, for destroying a planet's biosphere is also very disturbing.
(Along similar lines, having reintroduced Kasidy Yates to the station in "Rapture" and not mentioning her here is not a good idea. It feels like a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is writing.)
Then, there's the wish list. (What, like I'd miss a chance to rant about my usual DS9 manifesto? :-) ) The only significant one is that although this worked well as a deeply personal story about revenge, Eddington and the Maquis can be and should be good sources for political stories as well. Sisko's anger over being suckered is all well and good, but I liked seeing Eddington in "For the Cause" in large part because of his and the Maquis' philosophy. I'd like to see that examined. The easy way to do this is for this story not to be the last of Eddington. I don't necessarily mean that he has to escape or do something like that; in fact, I'd almost prefer he not. What I would dearly love to see (and may try to write as a short story sometime when I have a spare century if it doesn't happen) is Eddington's court-martial hearing. I suspect I'm in the minority here, but if it were done right I'd be paying rapt attention.
From the sound of it, it feels like I'm coming away from the show with a fairly negative impression, and I don't want to give people that sense -- it's far from the truth. It's more difficult to discuss the positive things in this particular episode, just because they're so tied up in little moments which are scattered everywhere in the show. Discussing them would probably entail quoting snippets of dialogue from every other scene, and that strikes me as unnecessary. So, suffice it to say that despite a couple of weaknesses I noted above, "For the Uniform" was a big hit with me, and I recommend it strongly.
A few other points, then:
-- Nitpick alert: O'Brien says as the Defiant is heading out that they have no transporters, yet Sisko refers later to beaming equipment over to the Malinche and beaming Cardassian survivors aboard. Taking out O'Brien's line or adding a quick note about repairs would have solved this.
-- Eddington's pointing out to Sisko that "they're humans" ("they" being the refugees) was interesting. Eddington disliking Cardassians is expected, but that statement implies that he'd be interested in helping his own species above all. Perhaps Eddington is not as high-minded as he wants Sisko (and us) to think?
-- Okay, so the new holo-communicator is a dramatic conceit to give us the illusion of one-on-one confrontations without a viewscreen getting in the way. Fine. It works, and given holodeck technology I'm a little surprised no one in Starfleet had thought of this use before.
-- Dax had a couple of cute barbs. Her suggestion that "the next time I go off half-cocked on some wild-eyed adventure, think back to this moment -- and be a little more understanding" seems to be to be a reference back to the Fields-written "Blood Oath" from season 2. As for her reference to Hugo's heroines being "so two-dimensional" ...I've never seen a show set in the 24th-century manage to make a gratuitous slam at Disney before. Not that I mind. :-)
-- The music has gotten a fair amount more textured and darker of late. I noticed it particularly when Sanders informs Sisko that Eddington is no longer Sisko's responsibility. As Sanders leaves, there's some very grim music playing -- I don't know why I found it so affecting, but I noticed it.
-- Speaking of Sanders, Eric Pierpoint looks very familiar to me, but I can't place why.
That should cover everything. So, wrapping up:
Writing: A lesson unlearnt hurt things a little, but the fun is in the details.
Directing: Solid; no complaints here.
Acting: Definitely no complaints; this is close to the best I've seen Kenneth Marshall, and Brooks was doing rather well for himself as well.
OVERALL: A 9, I think. Not quite perfect or everything I wanted, but very solid and very recommended.
Based on the preview music ... "Mars, the Bringer of Dominion Ships".
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Sir, have you ever reminded Starfleet Command that they stationed Eddington here because they didn't trust me?"
-- Odo and Sisko