WARNING: This article contains large amounts of spoilers for DS9's season premiere, "The Homecoming." If you don't want to see the spoilers, don't read the article. A short comment follows the first Control-L, and then
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In a word: Wow.
The sound you have just ... er ... read ... is the sound of my enthusiasm for Trek reigniting. After two rather unspectacular shows opening up the TNG season and getting me down, I watched "The Homecoming".
What a story. This makes me feel very good about the upcoming season.
One problem with episodic television (like Trek in all its forms) is that it's very difficult to do anything with much of an "epic" feel to it. TNG has tried a few times, but the most notable case has been the slow progression of events in the Klingon Empire. The collection of "Sins of the Father", "Reunion", both parts of "Redemption", and "Rightful Heir", all serve to make up part of a lengthy, broadly-themed story that isn't yet done. There are seams, of course, and weak spots, such as all of "Redemption, Part II". It is, however, still the closest thing I can think of to a Trek epic -- until now.
"The Homecoming" picks right up with ideas that have been bubbling beneath the surface in the best of DS9, and which came out in full force in the last two shows of last season, "Duet" and especially "In the Hands of the Prophets". We have not only hints of major changes, but requirements of major changes, because the status quo is going to lead Bajor to ruin. I very rarely get the feeling while watching Trek (or much of anything, really), that events are overtaking the "plan" for a story -- but here I surely did. Almost every single scene had me rooted to the screen, trying to figure out the motives of some character, or the consequences of some act. If "TheHomecoming" is in any way representative of what this season of DS9 will bring, I think we're in very good shape.
So much for the generalities. Let me get into a few specifics.
First of all, the basic premise introducing Li Nalas was smart and quite believable. It seems a little bit on the fortuitous side that Li's earring could be smuggled out of Cardassia Four so easily, but given that the
Cardassians are behaving in a very odd (noticeably so) fashion as regards Li anyway, my bet is that it was "allowed" to be smuggled out, so no problem there. Beyond that, it makes perfect sense for Kira to want to go get him -- and it makes a lot of sense for Sisko to eventually agree, too.
It also, by the way, fit beautifully to have Quark be the person ultimately getting the earring to Kira. The high-ranking officers usually aren't the ones to get information like this -- it comes in through some of the seedier pathways, and Quark's as seedy as they come on DS9.
The rest of the early parts of the episode were all fine, too. Some of them felt like prelude (like Dax's one scene, which was unfortunately the weakest of the show), but some were simply good character showcases. The Odo/Quark scene was hardly groundbreaking for them, but was worth it just for that final line: "Every once in a while, declare peace -- it confuses the hell out of your enemies." :-)
As for the Sisko/Jake scene early on, I loved it. I'll join those who've been saying for the past year that Sisko/Jake is one of the best defined and best played father/son relationships currently on television, and I think it's worth pointing out again. Besides, now that Cirroc Lofton has grown up a bit physically, I find it very easy to believe him when he acts the 15 Jake is supposed to be. :-)
The Sisko/Kira scene where she asks for permission was absolutely marvelous. They clearly have grown a lot more comfortable around each other as time's worn on, and the ease with which they discussed the matter demonstrated that. Sure, there were touchy spots, but little things like Sisko's whistle of surprise (instead of a sudden huff, for instance) really suggest to me that they're trusting each other. I like it.
Then, there's the marker of "The Circle". Brr. Most of this is clearly foreshadowing for the rest of the three-part arc, but I don't care -- it's still worrying. Ultra-rabid hate groups like the Circle is being made out to be are hardly stretching credibility, and are a very real worry these days. I'll be interested to see how this part progresses.
Continuing on, I rather liked assigning O'Brien on the mission as well (or rather, having Sisko let him go along, since he clearly wanted to). I was a bit surprised at just how willing he was to die if necessary, though --
Cardassians or not, he's got a wife and kid. Somehow, it wasn't a shock, though -- just a fairly hefty surprise. No problems.
I very much enjoyed the actual rescue mission, for several reasons. First, it was action for a very specific story point, not simply to showcase fight music or action effects. (Action for action's sake isn't something that Trek
does often these days, but it does happen, and I'm glad it didn't hit here.) The other reason, though, was just how well it was justified and thought out.
Nobody decided on a whim that they had to go down to the camp -- they thought of transporting first, and the complication of too many Bajorans ruled it out. They'd already thought of a possible cover story, both for their ship en route and for the actual camp. They acted and fought as well as they could once they had to, and once they had what they came for, they *got out*. Further, it was nice to see that there were some losses in this -- all too often, it's very easy to see rescue missions like this be absolutely perfect.
The only part of the rescue that had me slightly taken aback was the callousness in Kira's statement that there was no way to guarantee that Li would be in the first two beamed up. It suggests that had there been such a
way, she might have taken it and left the other ten Bajorans to be killed. In a practical sense, that probably would have been a good step -- but it's not the sort of thing that the Kira from a year ago would have done. I'm not sure whether it's a problem or merely a character development, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Once Li returns, then it primarily turns into his show. I thought Richard Beymer generally did good work from when he was on "Twin Peaks", and was looking forward to his performance here. He didn't disappoint me; although the reluctant hero is a fairly well-worn role, it's one he assumed quite well. Li, like many inadvertent heroes, showed no signs of reveling in his role -- rather, he despised it. One got the feeling that Li would almost have preferred staying in the camp -- almost, but not quite.
The other major guest star, Minister Jaro, was also good so far as we've seen so far. I expected a great deal from Frank Langella, and I got it. (The two places I've seen him before, in a film of "Dracula" from about fifteen years ago and much more recently in "Dave", have given me a great deal of respect for his talent.) Right now, Jaro really does seem to be just a politician who can't pass up an opportunity -- but I'm expecting more, based on events and on the preview, and I like what I've seen so far.
Plotwise, the story after Li arrives back on DS9 was more or less what I expected in many ways, with a few significant exceptions.
First, I actually didn't expect Li to survive the episode for some reason. I'm not sure why, aside from a vague gut feeling that Li will be playing the role of tragic hero to its fullest, and may end up being martyred for Bajor.
I'm glad to see I was wrong, at least for now.
Second, the ending caught me by surprise. I didn't expect Kira to be taken off the station, even though I recall hearing about it from news releases and the like. I'm very eager to find out what's going on.
Third, there was Quark's branding. This was one of the more brutal acts I've seen on Trek in any form, and really brought the point home that the Circle really means to back up everything it's said. As I said above, hate crimes are not exactly rare in this day and age, and we're seeing some prime examples here. If this arc can get into the issue a little more deeply, I'll be more than interested to see what they come up with.
Those were the surprises, but even the biggest non-surprise, that the "battle" between Li and Gul Zerail was no battle at all, was played very well. Li described it well, and I thought that the line in particular about how "he was so ... embarrassed" really worked beautifully, as did Sisko's final point about legends.
That's about it. There were really no sour notes for me in "The Homecoming" at all -- even the weaker scenes, such as the Sisko/Dax conversation, were more than adequate. I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest of this story, and to the stories to come.
Some shorter takes, then:
-- People have mentioned the instances where Trek has followed history, or vice versa. I see another one. Although the symbolism is far from the same, I found the handshake between Sisko and Li at the end very interesting in light of the recent handshake between Rabin and Arafat. Just a thought.
-- I liked the use of Jake's dating to catch him in the crossfire. More than that, though, I'm wondering if there's a clue hiding in that scene. After all, the Circle must have one if not several permanent contacts on the
station -- and Jake's date's father seems a very rigid person. Hmm...
-- Just what *are* the Cardassians up to? I'm with Sisko -- I'm surprised, and sure there are ulterior plans at work, but damned if I know what.
-- I liked the idea of checking the earring's validity by checking for "dermal residue" -- in other words, skin fragments matched against Li's. That's an example of a technical justification that works.
That's it. I can't wait. So, to sum up:
Plot: Marvelous. An epic in the making.
Plot Handling: Equally strong. I felt as though I was being caught up in the sweep of events, not merely watching a story.
Characterization: Spot-on for all concerned. Bravo.
OVERALL: A clear 10.
Things go from bad to worse -- and was that Jaro I saw with Vedek Winn? Uh-oh...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"But it's based on a lie!"
"No -- it's based on a *legend*, and legends are as powerful as any truth."
-- Li and Sisko