WARNING: This article contains spoilers concerning DS9's latest episode, "The Circle." If you don't want details about the plot, don't read the article -- 'nuff said.
In brief: Wow again.
After my review of "The Homecoming" was posted, several people wrote me to say "if you thought *that* was good, wait 'til you see 'The Circle'." My appetite, understandably, was whetted -- and I wasn't disappointed.
I'm not sure, though, that I agree with those who wrote me. I think I liked "The Homecoming" a little bit better than I did "The Circle"; not by more than marginal amounts in either direction, mind you, but I don't think "The Circle" truly blew "The Homecoming" away, either.
It was, however, amazingly good. As with "The Homecoming", I felt as though I was watching history unfold in spots. As things slowly built towards the (inevitable? hmm) revolution on Bajor and threat to the station, there was a real sense of powerlessness to change anything being felt -- or I felt it, anyway. It was a rare, and very welcome feeling for Trek.
By far, the most overwhelming feeling in "The Circle" was the feeling of impending disaster from the Circle itself. As we slowly find out that it can infiltrate the station on any level, including vandalizing cargo bays and even marking Sisko's quarters, we get worried -- but when we see that they can even violate the monastery grounds on Bajor itself with impunity, we get really worried. Given the snail's pace at which things seem to get done by
the Bajoran government (such as the delay in transporting "Gul Darheel" back in "Duet"), it seems that the Circle truly is better organized and better equipped than the government to get things done. Given the ever-present threat of coups in many countries to this day (such as the recent unsuccessful one just this past week in Russia), the mere thought of one happening on Bajor tends to chill the blood a bit.
There are several stories happening here, all intertwining. There's Kira's departure (and, presumably, subsequent reinstatement, though it hasn't happened yet), the spiritual crisis within the Vedek Assembly and the election of the next Kai, the revolution on Bajor and possible overthrow of the government, and the looming Cardassian threat on the station. All four are separate stories worthy of consideration, but all four also intertwine a hell of a lot. This is one of the most textured storylines I can remember seeing from Trek in a long time, and that's a very valuable feeling.
Kira's story, as the most personal, was one of the strongest parts of the show, and contained what are probably the two best scenes of the show. By those, I mean the "goodbye, farewell, so long, best wishes, get the hell out of my quarters already!" scene at the start of act one and the vision she is given by "the orb of prophecy and change." The former was absolutely hilarious in spots, reminding me of Tom Stoppard in terms of wordplay and several different film scenes in terms of director's conceits :-), and the latter was, like Data's dream in "Birthright", breathtaking.
The vision sequence was extremely odd, somewhat disturbing in spots (at least to me -- somehow the image of Kira and Bareil together is a little worrying for me, and I don't know why), and very, very good. There's a lot of hidden information in there (I think -- I can't tell, because it's hidden! :-) ), and a lot of meaning that I hope we get to figure out in "The Siege". I also thought that the revelation of differing orbs having differing properties
was a fascinating point, as was the most mature use of sexual imagery I think I've ever seen on Trek. Too often, any sort of sexual feeling on Trek has been over-the-top or played for laughs -- here, there was a lot of passion and a lot of ... well, I want to say "reality", but it's just the reverse; as a dream, it's completely unreal.
There's also the further question of this: did Kira and Bareil have exactly the same vision? Just what was Kira doing in Bareil's vision, and just what is it going to mean down the line? I'm looking forward to finding out the answers -- and given that "The Siege" is already likely to be a very full show, I'm not entirely sure we'll find out until another few episodes have gone by. As long as it *is* answered, I've no problem with that at all.
The spiritual crisis in the Assembly was an expected turn, and actually didn't work for me nearly as well as it might have. While I think all of the ideas within it are excellent ones, and I think it's going to turn out fine, I thought Louise Fletcher was a bit off in the Winn/Bareil scene. Winn was written just fine -- as mocking as ever -- but somehow I thought things were a little too singsong, at least until Winn brought up the "consultation"
issue, which I thought was excellently done.
The plot to overthrow the government was probably the closest thing to a "main" plot that "The Circle" had, and worked just fine. While much of it was foreshadowed and predictable ahead of time (I'm not sure *anyone* was
surprised to see Jaro as the Circle's head), it was all well played out and smartly done. In particular, of course, Frank Langella was a beautiful casting choice to play Jaro. Some actors might have turned lines like "I know the future. It belongs to me." into fairly pretentious stuff, but from Langella they sound legit -- a scary thought, in some ways. Langella looked and sounded like just the sort of person who'd be heading an organization
like the Circle: Jaro's one of the _truly_ dangerous people in the world, one with a cloak of respectability and an unswerving sense of his own perfection. Even his motivation, about not letting Bajor be victimized, is suspect -- I'm not sure Bajor would be any less victimized under his rule than under any other one. The scene between him and Kira while she's imprisoned is, aside from the orb sequence, one of the best of the show.
Then, of course, there's the wider issue of what happens to the station. While it's no surprise at all that the Cardassians are involved and trying to get the Federation out, it was at least a mild surprise that they're doing it
as completely behind-the-scenes as they are. And, more to the point, all of the fifth-act scenes about the looming threat to DS9 were beautifully menacing. In particular, the conversation between Sisko and Admiral Chekote ("The Prime Directive applies, Ben.") really brought home for me why so many fans get frustrated by said directive. Halfway through the conversation, I realized where it was headed and got very annoyed at the attitude there -- just as the filmmakers clearly intended. Beautifully done.
So, in general, "The Circle" was wonderful. A few more, smaller issues:
-- Li Nalas was much more subdued, and I'm sorry to say much less interesting, than he was in "The Homecoming." However, I suspect that that's the point. Li wasn't the focus here, because he's stuck on the station, where he is basically useless. He will, no doubt, figure much more strongly in "The Siege", and I have a fairly large suspicion that he won't survive the show. Pity, as I still think there's a lot of mileage to be had
in the character.
-- The rescue of Kira was, as in Li's rescue earlier, a good example of "action for a point" rather than a be-all and end-all, but I have two mild problems with it. First, there was a little creative continuity-bending with O'Brien being able to get everyone out of there at once when he couldn't get more than two Bajorans at a time a mere episode earlier. (A mild glitch, but one worth spotting.) Second, I don't really understand what the need was for Bashir to even be there. I realize that he wants to be the dashing hero a lot of the time, but there's no reason to expect that he's going to do much good down there, because no one would expect him to have any time to be medical. It was good, but considerably more contrived than the rescue of Li.
-- The Odo/Quark scene where Quark is deputized was an absolute scream. These two still tend to be at their best when they play off each other, and this was no exception. Good job to both. (It was also nice to see some of Quark's self-preservation resurface. Getting out probably is a very good idea for him at this point...)
-- The direction throughout was extremely interesting. In particular, there were a lot of strange camera angles whenever someone used the lift from Ops to anywhere else. It was striking, and pleasantly so. Good job.
-- The scenes where Odo plays spy on the Kressari ship were good for Odo's detective work, but a little on the slow side for me.
-- Since I forgot to mention it last week: Congratulations to Dennis McCarthy for his Emmy for the DS9 theme. While I didn't take to the theme immediately back in January, I think it's a theme that creeps up on you and
grows on you very subtly, and I think the award is well deserved. That's about it. "The Circle" suffered slightly, I think, from being the second act in a three-act show (a difficult position to be in), but it was still very impressive. If "The Siege" manages to give us as satisfying a resolution as we've had buildup, then I'll be overjoyed. I think that these two parts alone demonstrate pretty well that story arcs can work very well on Trek, provided that the effort goes into them. I can't wait for next week.
So, to sum up:
Plot: One or two small contrivances on the rescue, but basically top-notch. Lots of intertwining stories, all leading to one massive ending.
Plot Handling: Some great directing moments (particularly the vision and Kira's "farewell" to her friends), that more than make up for the occasional slow bit.
Characterization: Marvelous. Everyone shines.
OVERALL: Another 10. If "The Siege" matches it ... wow.
The situation gets worse.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Will someone please explain this conversation to me?"