WARNING: Spoilers for DS9's "Rocks and Shoals" lurk around every corner.
In brief: Another strong offering, though again the station-side part is the strongest.
You know, I'm starting to wonder if six episodes are going to be *enough* to really cover all the ground this Federation/Dominion war is opening. So far, the first two episodes have opened some very interesting doors and asked some very interesting questions -- and while any move to a more extended format strikes me as a huge improvement over "take the station back in a single show," I'm hoping the sixth episode of the season doesn't turn into a huge "sweep it all under the rug" festival, as that would be equally or even more annoying.
But, that's a worry for a few weeks down the line; let's take care of this week. "Rocks and Shoals" had an awful lot to recommend it -- if "A Time to Stand" made the war stand out as a pretty bleak time to be living in, "Rocks and Shoals" basically made things seem even worse in a few areas, particularly on the station. As before, the advertised "A" plot was actually the less compelling of the two (and based on the preview for "Sons and Daughters", we may have a third example coming right up) -- but this time, the "A" story was far more interesting than last time, and with far fewer questionable moments.
Based on the preview (Sisko and company stranded with ten Jem'Hadar), I rather expected "Rocks and Shoals" to be "The Ship, Mark 2" in a lot of ways. Instead, I got something that was both weaker and stronger. "Rocks and Shoals" didn't ooze so much tension that the crew was about to come to blows with each other, but what it *did* do was give us a Jem'Hadar character who was actually interesting, namely Third Remata'klan.
A year and a half ago, in "To the Death", we were told that the genetically engineered loyalty of the Jem'Hadar wasn't all it was cracked up to be. However, we weren't really given any reason to care or to agree with it -- we were just *told* it, flat-out. "Rocks and Shoals" told us far more, and did it by showing us: we got to see, mostly through Remata'klan and Sisko's attempts to turn him against Keevan, that the Jem'Hadar often know full well when they're being misused, but that it rarely manages to do much good. As Remata'klan says, there's no need for the Founders and the Vorta to earn Jem'Hadar loyalty; they always have it. That tends to lessen any hopes Sisko and company might have about turning the tide of war by breaking those ties, and finally seems to have strengthened the Jem'Hadar as characters. For the most part, they're still "bad guys who are just bad", but we're seeing more and more cases where individual Jem'Hadar can be interesting.
The overall structure of the story, with the Vorta basically playing both sides against the middle, was certainly solid enough; the Vorta have always seemed to be the sleaziest part of the Dominion, with "all the moral fiber of Jack the Ripper" [to swipe a quote from another SF series], and Keevan's willingness to sacrifice his men so that he could live on was certainly plausible. The ending, with the Jem'Hadar nobly running into certain death followed by Keevan strolling through the carnage with an annoyingly superior smirk on his face, was really powerful -- and were I in Sisko's position, I don't know if I'd have struggled quite so hard to avoid shooting Keevan down.
There were a couple of questionable moments in that plot, but nothing too worrisome. For one, I thought Garak gave up his web of lies *way* too easily under the circumstances; there were plenty of good "explanations" for why he had a Starfleet combadge, and I was a little surprised he didn't use them. (Nog's presence mitigates that a bit, as he's even in a Starfleet uniform, so perhaps Garak just decided it wasn't worth the pretense.)
The other plot point that I thought was, if not questionable, certainly unnecessary, was the wounding of Dax. Unless this is being used to set something up an episode or three down the line (which, nowadays, seems possible), it struck me as completely superfluous to the episode at hand; there was no time pressure created by it to force them to escape, and there was no particular moment Dax's presence would have spoiled (a la any TNG episode without Troi where a reasonable empath would have ended the story half an hour early). Were it not for the presence of Lieutenant Neeley, I'd have almost speculated if Dax were taken out to make the story purely a "guy thing"; as it is, the whole wounding of Dax felt a little ... well, inexplicable. If this sets something up later, I'll have to go back and look at it again; as it is, that part didn't impress me.
What did impress me, as is often the case, was all the little touches we saw during the story. Garak's "Cadet, this is no time to lie down on the job" was something I could have taken or left, but the Garak/Nog confrontation about "that unfortunate incident" late last season (in the forgettable "Empok Nor") rang very true, as did the laughter about O'Brien ripping his pants, Bashir's evaluation of Keevan ("you ... ARE alive"), and the general sense of gallows humor surrounding much of the story. Those little touches are often discounted, but they go a long way towards making these characters people rather than playthings, and are quite valuable.
That leaves the other half of the show -- and for the second week in a row, the side of the episode set on the station proved more interesting. We've had plenty of "wartime" shows like the "A" stories of the past two weeks -- desperate missions, last stands, soldier-to-soldier camaraderie, etc. -- and if we toss in other shows, genre or not, they're in many ways a common sight. What is *not* common is to see the Cardassian/Dominion occupation in action, and to see what the defeated (excuse me; forcibly "allied") people have to live with, day after day. That's a far rarer sight, and in a lot of ways a far more interesting one. After all, we know Sisko and company will eventually get off the planet and the war will be one; but we don't know whether Kira will be able to live with herself afterwards, or what's going to become of Jake. There's a far greater sense of uncertainty in that half of the story, and that's giving us a lot to chew on.
Kira's plight this week was, in some ways, even more chilling than her scene with Dukat last week. The feeling of powerlessness she had last week is a pretty terrible one -- but in many ways, couldn't you argue that it's even worse to see yourself doing things you used to despise seeing others do? Her situation here recalled Sisko's statement back in the first season that Kira was "on the other side now" -- only this time, the "other side" is really the enemy, and Kira mostly realized it for herself. Kira's guilt over sleeping in a comfortable bed and eating regular meals while "half the Alpha Quadrant is out there right now fighting for my freedom" is exactly the sort of guilt she *should* be feeling right now, and it's a pleasure to see it being addressed. The challenge for her now is to fight back without doing it too openly, and I'm curious to see how that works out.
And then there's Jake, poor man. This week, we mostly saw him as a catalyst rather than as a character, but the fact that Kira and Odo are getting less and less willing to talk to him has got to be hard on him. I still think he's got difficult times ahead, and may well end up writing propaganda for the Dominion while convincing himself he's "getting the story out" -- but for now, all any of us can do is wait and see.
I don't often mention the direction explicitly, but in this case I think Michael Vejar deserves special praise. His past DS9 work, in "The Darkness and the Light" and "Empok Nor", oozed atmosphere, but it was mostly atmosphere for atmosphere's sake. This time, he had a lot more to do, and he did it; we got some striking deja vu sequences in Kira's start of the day, a lot of good location shooting, and several effective uses of slow motion (particularly in Vedek Yassim's suicide, though the Jem'Hadar suicide run was appropriate as well). While I've often said that the best directors are the ones you *don't* notice, Vejar was so strikingly and effectively different in this case that I thought it was worth pointing out.
All in all, then, "Rocks and Shoals" was a good, solid show with very few false notes. Some shorter points:
-- The FX shot of the wounded Jem'Hadar ship heading down to the planet was really pretty, though I would've liked to have seen exactly what Garak saw as well.
-- The fact that Jem'Hadar eventually become unable to camouflage themselves when sufficiently weakened is an interesting little piece of information.
-- I do wonder how exactly Sisko and company expect to get home now. Yes, they've got a communications system -- but they're still in enemy territory. Besides, I wouldn't put it past Keevan to rig the thing to only send Dominion-frequency signals.
-- Speaking of which, I particularly liked Keevan's allusions to Starfleet engineers being able to "turn rocks into replicators". It's good to see that there's *something* which impresses the Dominion.
-- Yassim's suicide really took me by surprise, and was extremely effective. It's also interesting that we saw her hang herself in the Promenade; she's not the first Bajoran religious figure to do so, and the previous time also involved collaboration with an occupying force...
-- This week had not one, but two episodes of "Life Imitates Art?" First off, there's been a great deal in the news lately about one of the reasonably high-up bureaucrats from the Vichy France regime finally being brought into court after more than fifty years -- which has certain echoes to Kira's referring to herself as a collaborator. More strikingly, this episode saw the debut (and departure) of Vedek Yassim, one of Bajor's spiritual leaders ... just as a Sheik Abdel _Yassin_, one of the spiritual leaders of Hamas, was released from prison. Given that the episode was finished quite some time ago, the timeliness is rather eerie.
That should do it. While neither episode of DS9's arc this season has been perfect, they're two for two on delivering really solid work. I hope the rest of the story plays out as well.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some slightly questionable moments and actions, but no punches pulled. Directing: Very striking, and very welcome. Acting: Even the Jem'Hadar worked out well this time; no complaints.
OVERALL: 9.5; good work.
We get to see what Worf's been up to, and he finds out what his son's been up to...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "Half the Alpha Quadrant is out there right now, fighting for my freedom, but not me. What am I doing? I'm eating a full meal every day, sleeping in a soft bed, even write reports for the murderers who run this station." -- Kira Copyright 1997, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.