WARNING: If you are allergic to spoilers for "The Forsaken", the latest show from DS9, you are advised to forsake your perusal of this article. Now.
Not one, not two, but _three_ plots -- and the biggest one is the one that bombed completely.
That one, not too surprisingly, was the Odo/Lwaxana Troi plot. In fact, the episode turned out somewhat better than I anticipated, primarily because this plot didn't get as much air time as I was expecting.
The air time it did get, alas, was pretty much true to form for Lwaxana-centered stories in my book. In other words, it was dreadful. While watching this, a phrase came to mind which I think might help matters:
There is a difference between doing a good job *playing* someone annoying and *becoming* annoying to watch while you're doing it. Rene Auberjonois certainly can do the latter -- he did it for a while on "Benson". "MASH" had several cast members who played annoying beautifully without ever becoming such. John de Lancie, nine times out of ten, does a wonderfully annoying job of playing Q without annoying those of us watching him in the process.
Majel Barrett, from what I can tell, hasn't figured out the difference yet as an actress. Almost to a minute, scenes featuring Lwaxana are simply agonizing for this particular viewer to sit through; agonizing to the extent that I can't imagine why anyone would think someone would *want* to watch it. Now, I'll readily concede that this particular reaction is no doubt very subjective, and that others could think Lwaxana is wonderful to watch. In that case, they'll probably love "The Forsaken" -- I certainly didn't.
As an example, let's take her initial appearance on the station, with her attempts to recover her broach. Her behavior towards Quark was, quite simply, somewhat tasteless. Given what we know of Ferengi, it's the
equivalent of grabbing a human by the crotch to get and hold their attention. Sure, it's effective, but it's not the sort of behavior I particularly want to see on screen. What was the point? To show she's determined? Faugh.
(As a slight corollary, I detested "Menage a Troi" when it first aired three years ago. I feel no urge whatsoever to have myself reminded of it, particularly when it's filtered through Lwaxana's self-centered perception of events. Please, not again.)
Rene Auberjonois did what he could to make the scenes more palatable, but Lwaxana Troi is the sort of character who seems to sap talent from actors surrounding her as well. Some of Patrick Stewart's weaker TNG performances have been in Lwaxana shows, and here Auberjonois was surprisingly lackluster as well. Some of it was the dialogue he was stuck with, of course, but the only time in Odo/Lwaxana scenes that Odo felt remotely *real* to me was when he talked about being "the life of the party". "I ... hate parties." was a tremendous line -- but one line doesn't even save a scene, let alone a plotline.
On the other hand, Auberjonois got to have a bit more fun in his scene with Avery Brooks. In fact, Brooks helped bring everyone to life this show, and showed a bit more energy than he has in quite a while. Sisko didn't look like he was taking much of any of this seriously -- and in my opinion, nor should he have.
In fact, that leads nicely to my next point. The other two plots (Bashir with the ambassadors and the "stray pup") were extremely silly and somewhat dumb stories. However, that fact was obviously not lost on anyone -- not the writers, not the director, and not the actors involved. Everyone seemed to play most of the show as silly and somewhat dumb -- and as a result, we got a nicely entertaining piece of work in that regard.
Take the ambassador bits, for instance. Having to deal with unhappy ambassadors is, well, not exactly a new or particularly exciting idea. But everybody knew that, so blissfully we didn't see much of the ambassadors
themselves, all of whom were decidedly one-dimensional. What we got to see instead was Bashir railing against the suffering they were putting him through, and a bit of Sisko's "friendly but vicious" streak shine through. Sisko's little story about how he eventually "graduated" from having to ferry VIP's had us remarking "uh-oh; bad bit of unconscious advice you're giving there, Sisko..." -- at least, until he made sure Bashir didn't try it as well. All in all, that scene was great fun.
We're also seeing something that's been suggested in earlier shows. Trek's two previous commanders, Kirk and Picard, had a high regard for diplomacy, Picard in particular. Sisko, it's becoming clear, doesn't -- at least, not the day-to-day workings of it. Unless Picard had been doing nothing but mediation from dawn to dusk for weeks on end, I can't picture him *ever* telling someone "just keep them happy, and keep them away from me". Far more than Sisko's poor "I'm not Picard!" bit back in "Q-Less", this makes concrete a very big philosophical difference between the two. Interesting.
I'm ever so slightly annoyed that we didn't find out exactly what it is Bashir *did* when the fire broke out, particularly given how bleak things looked the last time we'd previously seen him. It's not exactly a big deal,
but it feels like a slight editing glitch.
That leaves us with O'Brien's computer antics. This is another plot that's silly and on the verge of being a no-brainer, but that's the way they played it, and I liked it, with a few reservations. O'Brien's little vendetta against the computer probably seems exceptionally silly to some, but I've had experiences like that, where even though you know it's an inanimate object, you get the definite sense that it's smirking at you when you're not watching it. In the TNG/DS9 era, with the computers damn near sentient, it's even more easy to fall into that trap.
When the show's this silly, the enjoyment level lives or dies on the strength of the performances and the dialogue -- and for the most part, I was kept amused throughout all but the Lwaxana plots. Bashir's whole speech about how the ambassadors are "the ambassadors of UNHAPPY!" had me rolling, as did O'Brien's latest creative insight: "I've got to build a doghouse." [With all the metaphors and analogies O'Brien uses to think up his various solutions to problems, I'm starting to think he's half Tamarian. :-) ] And, of course, Sisko got in the last word: "Keep it off the furniture." Grin.
There's not much more to say -- "The Forsaken" was fluff. If I blot the Lwaxana side of it out of my mind, it was pretty good fluff. If I remember the Odo/Lwaxana stuff, it was rotten. Some of each, then. Anyway, some short takes:
-- "I don't wanna read your tech manual!" Question: did Meaney ever say those words to Okuda and Sternbach when he was still on TNG? :-)
-- I do have to wonder what was up with that whole "disconnecting the computer" scene a la "2001". When the last command it got was a musical one, I most definitely expected to hear "Daisy, Daisy..."
-- It's a good thing that the fire plotline was underplayed, because with everything else being so silly, it would have unbalanced the show.
-- The one very small part of the Lwaxana story I enjoyed was her remark about not wanting to be ordinary. For just a moment, the character became tolerable. Unfortunately, that's as close as the character ever gets -- and
it never lasts.
-- I absolutely adored Sisko's little "mirror-practice" before greeting the ambassadors. Now I want to see Bashir do it. :-)
-- "I can swim." As I remember, various convention reports had that particular Odo/Lwaxana exchange mentioned before DS9 even premiered. Unfortunately, it was probably one of the least amusing jokes in Trek
history, including "Star Trek V: The Nonexistent Picture".
And, on that happy note, I'm off. Maestro, the numbers...
Plot: 5. The entertainment was in how it was played, not in the plot -- in and of itself, not worth much.
Plot Handling: 7. This would be a lot higher if Lwaxana were absent.
Characterization: 6. Since the character bits focused a lot on Odo and Lwaxana, neither of whom were particularly good, the rest of the crew can only go so far.
OVERALL: 6. Surprisingly high, actually -- I'd have expected lower based on my anticipation of the show. Even so, it'll be nice to forget.
Nothing like a quick station "civil war" to get the juices flowing.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Procreation does not require changing how you smell, or writing bad poetry,
or sacrificing various plants to serve as tokens of affection."
-- Odo, on romance