WARNING: This article contains many spoilers for DS9's "Rivals", all of which are competing to be "most important spoiler of the article". Pay their antics no mind, but avoid the article if you don't want spoilers.
In brief: some very amusing bits, some slightly amusing bits, and some fairly dull bits. Another piece of Quark-centered fluff, in essence.
"Rivals" is the third new DS9 in a row that's left me with a feeling that can be summed up in one word: "And?" None of them has been particularly bad, but none of them has possessed that certain spark that makes me sit up and take notice, either. Neither particularly good nor particularly bad, "Rivals" was just mostly, well, there.
Take Chris Sarandon's performance, for instance. Given the popularity of "The Princess Bride", I'd be surprised if most viewers didn't have Prince Humperdinck rather strongly in mind from the moment Martus showed up on
screen. I definitely did, I'll say that much. And while Sarandon did a reasonably decent job, it was evident that he wasn't enjoying himself nearly as much as he did in TPB. There were a few scenes where Martus was supposed to be bored, but more often the feeling I got out of it was that Sarandon was bored walking through the role. There are a few things out there that can turn me off a portrayal faster than seeing signs that the actor's bored, but not many.
Basically, I think "Rivals" didn't quite manage to live up to its comic potential, except in a few places. Quark's frustration had the potential to be hilarious, and wasn't. Quark's underhandedness in the "grudge match" should have been hilarious, and only was occasionally. The racquetball plot should have been great fun, and ... well, okay, so most of it was pretty good. :-) "Rivals" was a pretty good case of attempted humor.
Let me go into a few things that did work, though, because so far this review has felt pretty negative. For starters, the racquetball plot was the one part of the show I more or less connected with. Both O'Brien and Bashir seemed well in character (especially O'Brien) and great foils for each other, as usual. As soon as it became apparent that we'd have an O'Brien/Bashir series of matchups, I figured that section of the show would be good, and I was right.
It was many of the little things in that plot that worked best. O'Brien's little jog around the Promenade after his first loss, for instance, was a scream. Bashir's concern for O'Brien's health was a little overplayed, but I was on the floor watching his relentless search for a working ketchup bottle. :-) Their mutual frustration at Quark's "promotional" setup was cute, and was also about the only time Quark seemed even remotely sly. Also, while
Quark's attempt to slip Bashir a mickey was visible from the other end of the wormhole, Bashir's absolute no-nonsense demeanor in response was fun.
Plotwise, however, I have to say I'm not impressed. I can deal with Martus using the Infinite Improbability Drive, more or less. I can deal with it making strange things happen on the station (even if the definition of neutrino spins they used is, shall we say, a bit misleading). However, I've got two problems with the whole premise, one of which is fairly crucial from a character standpoint:
1) The lesser objection is that it wasn't at all clear how the odds were determined of actually winning or losing. If it's random chance, shouldn't someone who wins once be able to basically win forever, barring great improbabilities against those set up by the gizmo? Not a big problem, but it felt odd.
2) Much more importantly, Martus gaining possession of this device depends entirely on Odo never having confiscated *a completely unknown device* from an alien prisoner. Odo is not that stupid -- if he finds a machine he doesn't recognize, he'll hold onto it until he's convinced it's not dangerous. I would have greatly preferred it if Martus had simply shown up with it, or if he'd cheated someone out of it in a business deal or
something -- this way tends to go against characters we know.
[As an aside, I recently saw a special on Douglas Adams in which he mentions that he invented the Infinite Improbability Drive because he needed to save
his characters, and the only solution was so incredibly improbable as to be stupid to write. Thus, he created something that deliberately let him do incredibly improbable things. This device seemed similar, but is a little
out of place in a show that usually tries to be serious SF.]
Basically, the broad strokes of the plot -- Martus gets a luck-changer, causes Quark's problems while he's lucky, then gets screwed over when his luck changes -- are ones that I could have, and did in most relevant ways, predict as soon as the device was displayed on screen. Now, I usually prefer character over plot anyway (such as in "Lois & Clark", which I'm really enjoying -- end of free plug), but only when the character moments are enough to compensate. This was sometimes, but only sometimes.
One twist of the plot I didn't predict until very near the end, however, (and even then, Lisa beat me to it by half an act), was Alsia also being a con artist, and managing to successfully scam Martus. That was great comic
irony, and made the ending a lot of fun.
The single best scene in the show, incidentally, had to be when O'Brien and Bashir realize something's off on the laws of probability by O'Brien throwing the racquetball off walls. I don't know why, but something about hearing a few dozen ricochets and then having the ball land right in O'Brien's hand just struck me as screamingly funny. Good job.
Character-wise, it was a pretty mixed bag. O'Brien was excellent, particularly in his grumbling to himself about Bashir and in his reactions to Bashir's all-too-obvious "defeat" early on. Bashir was pretty good, though a bit less ... mature than we've seen from him recently. The bits we saw of Kira and Dax were good, particularly because for once Dax actually figured out the mystery rather than coming on clues someone else then had to
translate for her. (I also liked little touches like Dax having her feet up on the science console, personally -- it just seemed to fit.) Quark had his moments, but far too few. Sisko felt a bit off to me, and Martus wasn't nearly the entertaining character I expected him to be.
That pretty much takes care of all the major points. A few small points, then, and I'm off:
-- The entire plot with Roana (the widow Martus romances) seemed a complete waste of time to me. Martus philandering and covering it up was done fifteen years ago on "Soap", and was much funnier there. (Incidentally, until Alsia was revealed as a con artist, it looked like DS9 had a two-for-one sale on widows this week. What gives?)
-- "Never trust a man wearing a better suit than your own." Not difficult in Quark's case, but I loved Martus's suit once he became club proprietor. Tacky as all hell, but I'd love to have one around for special occasions. :-)
-- Speaking of clothing, we seemed to have a lot more male exposure here than is normal for Trek. Between the two shirtless shots of O'Brien and Bashir's what-religion-am-I racquetball outfit, it seemed a serious gender
reversal from the usual skimpy Dabo girl outfits (though, of course, we had one of those as well). Nothing particularly wrong with that -- it just stood out as notable (particularly Bashir's outfit, I imagine -- but I'll leave
that up to the drooling Siddig el Fadil fans to comment on ;-) ).
-- Keiko gave O'Brien a scarf with her perfume on it? Mightn't that be a wee bit distracting during a game? Just a thought.
That about covers it. "Rivals" wasn't terrific and wasn't awful -- it just was. It's a show worth watching once, definitely, but I have to hope that DS9 gets back to the promise it's shown in several of its shows this year --
this sort of thing should be an occasional break, not the status quo.
So, to wrap up:
Plot: Where? Oh, you mean that collection of standard cliches ... well, fine. The racquetball subplot was a lot of fun.
Plot Handling: Not up to David Livingston's usual standards. A few scenes and shots stood out (such as the racquetball shot I mentioned earlier, and a great turbolift shot), but kind of pedestrian.
Characterization: Very good O'Brien and Bashir, decent Quark, seriously dull Martus.
OVERALL: Call it a 6. Okay, but not great.
Odo's mentor shows up, and Odo searches for home again. Some definite potential here...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I think that is the first time someone has dared insult me."
"It won't be the last."
-- "The Princess Bride"