WARNING: It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, at least if you want to avoid spoilers for DS9's "Paradise Lost" that lurk below.
In brief: Some nice character work and a generally solid show, but a major disappointment from part one.
Brief summary: Sisko learns of a plot within Starfleet to place Earth under military rule for its "protection", and finds himself in conflict with his old mentor.
"Paradise Lost" was a very mixed bag for me. There was a great deal about it to like, mostly moments taken in isolation and some nice strategizing or speechmaking on Sisko's part. On the other hand, various pieces of story logic have somehow eluded me, and the ending was Trek reset-button writing at its most blatant. On the
whole, that left a show which, while certainly good from an objective standpoint, felt considerably lacking.
Let's begin at the beginning. Sisko's somewhat rapid discovery that the planet-wide power outage was Starfleet sabotage rather than Changeling sabotage was slightly unsurprising to me, but primarily because the preview from the previous week had made it fairly plain that something was up. (Lisa hadn't seen the preview beforehand, and was somewhat surprised by the revelation.) Surprising or not, however, it was an effectively made set of scenes, from Sisko's conversation with the head of the Academy, to his confrontation with Nog, to most especially his masterful "interrogation" of the Red Squad cadet who was involved in the actual sabotage. Apparently a great many people were far more astute than I in catching on in "Homefront" that the Red Squad references were going to be important; while I'm still not sure I like the idea of an Academy group this openly involved in the plot, I have to admit that it was put to extremely good use.
From a logic standpoint, however, my feeling from last week that the relay sabotage was a bit implausible became far stronger this time. When Changelings were involved, whose abilities are far enough beyond the Federation's that they could almost be sabotaging the relays by magic, that's one thing; but when it's a single group, that's quite another. Regardless of how much inside information they have, I simply don't think that sort of "flip a switch, turn off the whole planet when you leave" strategy should be feasible. You couldn't do that to the planet now; to think that the planet will become so interconnected that it sets itself up for those risks later is simply silly. It's a comparatively minor point, but it still grates.
A more satisfying point was one that made the conspiracy idea more plausible. Although Leyton and company were committing acts that were treasonous by really any sane definition of the term, they believed they were heroes rather than villains. Leyton himself argued many times that what they were doing was necessary in order to save the Federation from the greater threat posed by the Changelings. I think the vast majority of viewers are unlikely to agree with that particular justification, at least to the extreme extent to which Leyton
took it -- but it's plausible to find someone who believes as Leyton did. It's plausible to find a whole lotta someones who believe that way, in fact -- which is why the conspiracy on some level felt so workable. That's a powerful asset.
After that, however, the internal logic to the story starts to fray around the edges a bit. First of all, the chronology as given to President Jaresh-Inyo suggests that Leyton's anxiety level jumped up sharply after the bombing of the conference shown on video at the start of "Homefront", and presumably that Leyton's actual "timetable to takeover" kicked into high gear at that point. If that's correct, then the wormhole "sabotage" is difficult at best to fit into that chronology, as it started right before the bombing. I certainly don't find it implausible that Leyton might have had some ideas kicking around the back of his head as far back as last season's "The Adversary" (which is when Odo said Leyton began to be concerned), particularly since the events between the Federation and the Klingons since that time have made the situation even less stable. I do, however, find it implausible that he would decide to take over Earth before evidence surfaced that Earth itself was in fact threatened -- and that's what we seem to have been presented with. [The wormhole issue generally doesn't work anyway, I think, since we had no particular evidence that news of the wormhole's actions propagated that publicly or that quickly.]
The timing point could be mitigated if one proposed that Leyton also bombed the conference, but that would strike me as a solution worse than the problem. One, it seems well beyond the pale even for Leyton; and two, since there's no real evidence of it we'd be faced with some sloppy writing. I'd prefer to think of this as a timetable glitch.
Much of the remainder of the story is Sisko brooding, then deciding what to do and facing down all the roadblocks that surface in the process. Most of this is quite good, but once the premises had been set in place none of it came as a particular surprise. I doubt anyone found it unexpected that Leyton would find a way to get Sisko out of the way, for instance; perhaps not the way he did it, by framing him as a shapeshifter, but somehow. After that, virtually everything from Sisko's escape to Captain Benteen's final decision not to destroy her fellow officers had echoes of things we'd seen before; Leyton's repeated discussions of loyalty and the chain of command, for instance, bore a marked similarity to Pressman/Riker discussions in TNG's "The Pegasus" [hardly surprising, since Ron Moore did the story here and wrote "The Pegasus"].
What the resolution came down to, then, as it very often does, was the execution -- and "Paradise Lost" was no slouch when it came to that. The centerpieces were Sisko's various confrontations with Leyton, be it in Sisko's cell, at the restaurant, or in Leyton's office; all of those confrontations came off extremely well. Sisko tried his best to keep his sense of personal betrayal out of his debates, and managed it without qualms until Leyton mentioned loyalty. Sisko's sudden outburst at this final straw had most people I know who saw the
episodes saying "about time!" and applauding the response. The battle sequences between the Defiant and the Lakota were excellent, with some nice tactics and nice effects all around (and some good shots showing the relative sizes of the two ships, too). Leyton's final capitulation without really capitulating was also excellent, from Sisko's "you're fighting the WRONG WAR!" to Leyton's calm removal of his pips and quiet hope that Sisko wasn't the one making a mistake.
So, in many ways, "Paradise Lost" was a solid piece of work. What's missing, then?
For one thing, Sisko's father. It's a good thing that he was willing to take blood screenings this time, because so far as I could tell he had been replaced -- with a Stepford Dad. No complaints about being told what to do ... no worries about his personal freedoms ... no function other than to be the grinning voice of sage wisdom. That's not what drew me to the character in "Homefront", and it sure as hell didn't draw me to him this time.
More important, though, was the lack of any real follow-through. The closing minute or two of the show brought any sense of foreboding the show had crashing down so hard that it almost hurt to watch. A large contingent of Starfleet officers has plotted a military takeover of Earth, going so far as to likely include the assassination of
the Federation president; this faction has ordered one starship to fire on another, and the entire population of the planet has been duped by this faction into initially supporting them. Yet, somehow, we're supposed to believe that with Leyton's surrender and (presumably) the exposure of the coup attempt, that everything will go back to normal in a matter of days -- that Earth and the rest of the Federation will meekly go back to its normal business without even the slightest hue and cry about how Starfleet officers could have strayed so far. That,
simply put, is not believable. It's not believable, it's not viable, and it is NOT palatable. Trek has had problems with "reset-button" writing many times over in the past, where huge galaxy-spanning events were returned to the status quo without a peep, so the frustration's nothing new -- but this one, striking at the very heart of the Federation both geographically and psychologically, hurts a great deal.
What my essential complaint about "Paradise Lost" comes down to, then, is commitment. Modern Trek, whether it's TNG or DS9 (or Voyager, but not so much there) has all too many times tried to do a huge "event" show. And while the shows work in isolation, the fact that it's rarely if ever dealt with puts a huge strain on credibility, and makes it more and more difficult for viewers to care. Why bother, if everything resets at the end? DS9 has on the whole been substantially better about showing consequences than any other Trek series to date, so I have some slight hope that we'll see the repercussions of "Paradise Lost" -- but my gut is telling me that we won't, and that stinks.
Enough ranting, as this is beginning to get rather lengthy. A few other points here and there:
-- The scene between Sisko and the O'Brien-Changeling was ...interesting. On the whole, I think I liked it, but it took me time to be sure. One thing worth noting is that "O'Brien's" note that he enjoys Sisko's company implies that he's experienced it before at length. So who's Sisko been talking to so much that isn't what he/she seems?
-- I mentioned last week that Robert Foxworth's appearance was calling to mind "Babylon 5" parallels, as his recurring role on B5 was somewhat similar to Leyton's, at least through "Homefront". Well, between the plot against the president and the Changeling's "Be seeing you" farewell, those parallels were growing rather substantially more intense.
-- One is led to wonder why, if Sisko and Odo could produce hard evidence of Leyton's treason, they didn't bring it to Jaresh-Inyo the first time they talked to him instead of tipping their hand. Given the paranoid nature of the situation, for them not to have thought about that is foolish.
-- Stepford Dad or not, the conversation about Sisko's old crushes was a treat to watch, particularly since I see that sort of brooding and pining roughly every day in one or another of my students. :-)
-- I imagine that Leyton faked the blood test with some sort of holographic projector in the sample container. If not, the only other explanation I'd have for it is that Leyton's got a Changeling working for him, and I don't think I'm willing to make that leap.
That should about cover it. "Paradise Lost", despite the major concerns I had about it, is fundamentally a decent show -- but I'd recommend avoiding the last scene for those who want to think we'll see this dealt with later.
So, summing up:
Writing: In isolation -- pretty good, though with a few lapses of logic. In context -- I'm not sanguine. (Characterization was good.)
Directing: No complaints -- the battle sequence was nice, the near-darkness conversation between Sisko and Odo, and many of the Sisko/Leyton scenes stood out.
Acting: Occasionally I think Brooks went a little too over the top, but all in all it's solid.
OVERALL: A 7, I think.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "The Visitor". A must-see if you missed it the first time (and possibly even if you didn't!)
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Don't kid yourself, Ben. This Pandora's box of yours -- we're opening it together."
-- Admiral Leyton