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WARNING: The article below, a review of DS9's "Starship Down", contains spoilers which are protected by small holographic talking rabbits. Proceed no further without caution.

In brief: Some tactical moments that were quite nice, coupled with disaster-movie moments that sat there and shrugged. Pretty neutral overall.

Brief summary: A diplomatic mission gone awry sends the Defiant into a planet's atmosphere to rescue an ally -- but a battle with the Jem'Hadar leaves the ship in need of help itself.

"Starship Down" bears an awful lot of similarity to TNG's take on disaster movies, the aptly-named "Disaster" from a few years ago. Both have the ship in serious distress; both have the regular cast trapped in various locations, unable to communicate with one another; and neither is particularly powerful. Where "Disaster" felt almost offensively dumb to me, however, "Starship Down" is merely rather neutral.

In part, that's because "Starship Down" had a cause that didn't come out of left field. In "Disaster", the whole situation came about because of random chance; the Enterprise hit a "quantum filament". Here, there was a mission that turned ugly, and Sisko chose to send the Defiant into the atmosphere. As a result, there was at least some sense of purpose to the show. Similarly, with the Jem'Hadar ships lurking in the Mutara Nebula ... er, sorry, the planet's atmosphere :-) ... there was an external threat, which did at least something to alleviate the "Towering Inferno in Space" sense that "Disaster" suffered from in spades.

One thing that worked against "Starship Down", however, was its premise. "Disaster" didn't need to explain why all the regular cast members were on the Enterprise; the regular cast members were always on the Enterprise. The Defiant, however, is not the Enterprise, and it felt suspicious to see virtually everyone on board. (They did, at least, leave out Odo -- though that's its own cheat, since with his shapeshifting abilities Odo could have done a great deal to help the various members of the crew here.) Sisko is clearly understandable, as is Quark given the situation, and potentially Worf -- but Kira? Dax? O'Brien? Bashir? I couldn't swallow it, and that made the rest of the episode harder to take in turn.

The best parts of the episode were those that got away from the "ship in distress" motif and instead focused on the tactical issues at hand, namely rescuing the Karemma ship from the Jem'Hadar in a situation where no one can see each other. While those sequences bore some similarity to other Trek products (not to mention various submarine warfare sequences, which is where films like ST2 got their inspiration anyway), they still worked, particularly because everyone showed thought and really reasoned their way out of problems. I liked the echolocation idea of Kira and Dax's (not to mention the idea that Kira's the one who thought of it); I liked the initial use of the atmospheric probes as a weapon, especially when the "isn't it possible that it'll target us?" question was raised; and I liked Worf's ploy to draw in the second Jem'Hadar ship, all the more so because it wasn't spelled out absolutely word for word what he did. (It's clear from the visuals and strongly suggested by dialogue, but not hand-delivered on a plate.) The battle sequences were nothing deeper than your standard
shoot-em-up fare, but they were good standard shoot-em-up fare.

Where the show tried to deepen was in the character moments brought on by isolating the crew in various parts of the ship: Kira and Sisko on the bridge, Bashir and Dax in the turbolift, etc. Unfortunately, those passages more or less completely failed to inspire me with any enthusiasm at all; they weren't overly bad, but they were bumps on a log.

The Kira/Sisko stuff was one of the two pairings better designed, as it is interesting to notice how little this captain and first officer pal around, and Kira's beliefs do make for an interesting challenge for Sisko to deal with on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the execution here left a little something to be desired. For one thing, her Bajoran folk-tale felt rather tired; but mostly, it's just that Kira felt a little off to me. I understand her being torn between treating Sisko as a commanding officer and treating him as the Emissary, but I don't quite see her being this tortured over it; it felt as if the Emissary half was being overemphasized like crazy. (The ending also didn't impress me. I don't care what they've just gone through; Sisko sounded way too perky. Unless Bashir prescribed some interesting medication, I couldn't buy it.)

The Bashir/Dax stuff fared even less well. While it had one of the few classic lines of the episode ("now that I know you better, I realize ... it was just a really stupid thing to do"), it also threw the pair of them together in the hopes, it seemed, of injecting some sexual tension into the show. As much as I hate the put-down "oh, it's soap-opera stuff" most of the time, I think this really *was* a standard soaps tactic, and one I didn't care for. Either let them grow together naturally again if it's going to happen, or let them be the friends they've been for a
while. Anything induced artificially is going to feel like a scam in some ways.

As for Quark and Hanok ... well, this was the Quark I'm used to, not the hugely entertaining one of "Little Green Men". Yet again, we see Ferengi deal with other traders; yet again, we see Ferengi nailed for cheating and condemned; yet again, we see Ferengi go on about how wonderful greed and risk and gambling are; and yet again, we see the poor, unenlightened non-Ferengi realize that there's something to that. After the first few dozen iterations, it really does tend to get a little old. The two best points to this pairing were one, the fact that James Cromwell inserted a lot of Odo-like mannerisms into Hanok, which could have made Quark unconsciously really want to win this one; and two, the actual defusing of the Jem'Hadar torpedo, which was
cutely done. The rest was fairly straightforward Ferengi material.

That leaves us with the tale of Worf and the engineering drones. :-) Fortunately, aside from being a little bit overdone here and there, this worked out pretty well. This wasn't a case of Worf being a clueless git, the way "Hippocratic Oath" set him up; this was really a case of differing management styles being put to the test, I think, and O'Brien served nicely as the voice of experience. Jay Baker also helped out quite a bit as Stevens, I think; while Muniz was a nondescript extra, Stevens had a certain Reg Barclay feel to him that felt particularly
right. In any case, this grouping of characters was the most effective of the four.

All in all, then, the tactical elements worked and the character elements didn't, which is actually something of a switch from the way DS9 usually functions. Some smaller comments, then:

-- The "let's sum up all of the recovery in one quick voice-over!" treatment of the ending struck me as appallingly bad. Sure, the Jem'Hadar were out of the way, but the ship was still in really bad shape from what we could tell, and it didn't strike me as obvious that they'd be able to clean things up enough in time to save Bashir and
Dax (particularly since they didn't even know they were alive). Something else should have been jettisoned here to make room for a better ending.

-- Speaking of which, while we got to see some small portion of grief for Dax's apparent demise, the suddenness of the ending kept us from seeing any sense of relief or surprise that she wasn't actually dead. That rankles a bit as well.

-- So, that mystery female ensign on the bridge went down to look for a medic. Must've been a long trip; she never came back. :-)

-- The actual effects of the atmosphere, particularly the Defiant's entry, were marvelous.

-- Why was Stevens reporting on Defiant repairs to Worf? O'Brien or Sisko would both have made sense, but Worf's not in command of the Defiant under normal circumstances.

-- Having DS9 and B5 air back-to-back in Los Angeles proved quite amusing this week, as both shows featured a pair of characters trapped in an elevator. Just a cute happenstance. :-)

That seems to about cover it. DS9 has still managed to avoid a complete clunker this season, but "Starship Down" strikes me as the weakest of the lot so far. So, summing up:

Writing: Disaster scenarios are almost impossible to write convincingly, I think, and this wasn't.
Directing: Solid in the tactical, battle moments; iffy elsewhere.
Acting: Good work from Meaney and a few others, somewhat erratic from many of the guests.

OVERALL: I think this one's a 6.5; weaker than the rest, but still
okay.

NEXT WEEK:

Power and temptation, in the mists of Klingon legend.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu
"Well, we'll worry about that tomorrow."
"That's easy for you to say -- it's your day off."

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