WARNING: This is my review of DS9's "The Ship", and I want it back.
In brief: An uncertain start, but fantastic execution and a killer ending. Very, very strong.
Brief summary: When Sisko finds a crashed Jem'Hadar warship, he considers it a great intelligence find -- but circumstances change when a Jem'Hadar expedition arrives to collect the ship.
"The Ship" was a truly unexpected pleasure. Based on the premise (more Jem'Hadar, a villain I tend not to find that interesting) and based on the preview, I didn't have many expectations for the episode -- but what I got was as solid a tale of stress under siege as you're likely to find in Trek, and without the many pitfalls which have sunk other, similar tales.
Early on in the show, I wasn't so sure -- as I said, it had an uncertain start. The idea of a Jem'Hadar crash was good enough, but the initial exploration of the ship had me a little worried about logic. After all, we (and Sisko et al.) know that the Jem'Hadar can do their little invisibility "phase" thing, so simply peeking around corners may not be the most efficient use of resources. There was also a little bit of engineering technobabble, which made me fear that I might be in for a lot of tech-induced problems and tech-induced solutions.
That opinion changed very, very quickly. For one thing, some of the tech that I heard actually made sense -- when O'Brien mentioned inertial dampers failing, the Jem'Hadar deaths made perfect sense. (It didn't hurt that I'd just started mentioning inertia in my classes this past week; I was primed for something like this. :-) ) However, the more important changes came along with the Jem'Hadar destruction of the runabout. Suddenly, it was no longer an intelligence mission -- it was a ship under siege and a fight for survival, with everything that
What precisely that entailed contains a lot of the real strength of the show, and "The Ship" succeeded precisely where Voyager's "The Chute" failed for me. (I no longer review the show, or even watch it -- but I did watch the first few episodes this season.) "The Chute" had to artificially create its conflict between characters with "the clamp"; whether it's because the writers honestly believed that Paris and Kim wouldn't get ticked off at each other no matter what or because they weren't allowed to do anything with lasting consequences is not something I can say, but the upshot of it was that the drama felt forced and false to me. "The Ship" did not fall victim to that; rather, it showed that the simple differing of philosophies over how to treat a wounded comrade combined with the stress of the situation can make almost any disagreement boil over. Does O'Brien really think Worf is "some bloodthirsty Klingon looking for an excuse to murder [a] friend?" Does Worf really think O'Brien is "just another weak human afraid to face death?" Probably not in their heart of hearts, no -- not about each other. But I'm sure both of them have their prejudices about the other's culture, and I'm equally sure that in a situation like theirs I'd behave no better. (If you think you would ...well, perhaps you're right. But I suspect that the vast majority of us would be fooling ourselves to think so.) This is the way to handle character conflict, and the way to handle differing cultures in the regular characters: if having shipmates actually get angry at each other is against the (alleged and oft-misquoted) spirit of Trek, then "the spirit of Trek" is as bound as Marley's ghost.
In case it wasn't glaringly obvious, I liked the O'Brien/Worf dynamic -- a lot. However, it was by no means the only solid characterization in the show. Virtually all of the characters worked, and worked quite well. O'Brien's friendship with Muniz shone through the banter -- I have an officemate whom I consider a friend, yet neither one of us would pass up the attempt to slip in a barb the way both of them did to each other. (For that matter, that would describe a lot of my friends. Hmm ... this probably means something, but I'm not sure I want to know what.) Dax, meanwhile, was stuck in a position I'm sure lots of people find themselves in: being the one whose comments are meant to be humorous, yet are decidedly unhelpful in getting the angry people to calm down or see things differently. Sisko's "in case you hadn't noticed, no one's laughing" is something I've heard variations of myself at times, and I suspect that most people have been in a situation where they either were the Dax of the group or one of the ones bristling. Again, just like the other character traits we saw this episode, it felt real and it felt strong.
As for Sisko, he was stuck with all the hard choices. The deaths of those under his command were on his head; he was the one who had to decide whether Kilana was trustworthy or not; he was the one who had to keep a cool enough head to retain command of the mission; and basically, he's the one who was stuck blaming himself at the end for all the problems. Dax was not only good as the person whose sarcasm gets him/her into trouble, but she really served properly as Sisko's confidant this time around -- a role she hasn't really played properly for quite a long time. Her quiet response of "maybe nothing should [make Sisko feel any better]" spoke volumes, and Sisko's musings over the crew he's gotten to know personally and lost made the nameless deaths seem a little less nameless.
Lest I leave out the plot, however, it improved by leaps and bounds once the Jem'Hadar showed up. The only real "issues" the plot had to resolve were whether Sisko et al. would get the ship or not (since their survival was necessary for the series), whether Muniz would survive, and what exactly Kilana and the Jem'Hadar wanted aboard the derelict. All three were kept in doubt as long as possible. Although I was fairly certain that the Jem'Hadar would not end up with the "item" they wanted, I was on the fence for a long time about whether they'd end up with the ship or not; enough of me really wanted Muniz to survive as a character that I wasn't sure whether the writers would feel the same way (though in the end, they made the better dramatic choice, which is why they're writing the show and I'm not :-) ); and I really had very little idea what it was Kilana was searching for so desperately until it was revealed.
As for what said item turned out to be, I was pleased. I can take or leave Changelings as a concept, but in this case the (presumably injured) Changeling gave us an interesting window into both the Federation/Dominion distrust and into Dominion society. Sisko is, for all intents and purposes, absolutely right when he says that all the death could have been avoided if they'd simply been able to trust each other -- technically the Jem'Hadar would have had to make the first move in that regard by not toasting the runabout, but that's partly the point. The fact that Kilana worried about the Changeling being killed or taken hostage said a lot more about how the Dominion would operate than it does about the Federation -- or, quite possibly, it says something about how the Founders educate those under their dominion (pun intended) about potential enemies. The Jem'Hadar suicide upon the death of the Changeling was also an excellent touch: for one thing, it implies that the Founders have no intention of ever letting the Jem'Hadar get totally out of control -- if the Romulan/Cardassian assault had succeeded, for example, it could well be that most of the Jem'Hadar would have died by their own hand that day as well. More importantly, though, it drives home just what a sense of loss the Jem'Hadar and Vorta felt upon the loss of "one of their gods", and gave Kilana an equally sorrowful pedestal to compete with Sisko's. I must say, I'm impressed.
There really isn't much to dislike in "The Ship" at all. There were a few minor loose ends and unanswered questions (what exactly the "sensor-like device" O'Brien found did, for instance, and why exactly the Changeling chose to stay in hiding rather than attacking), but nothing was left hanging that I would consider important. Similarly, while there was really one "fluff" scene back on the station, it was both brief and necessary to establish that the Defiant was en route. (I also appreciated that Kira was taking the Defiant out rather than someone else; pregnant or not, the character's still an instrumental part of the station.) All in all, "The Ship" is pretty potent stuff.
So, a few shorter spots:
-- I had a couple of "B5 echoes" this week. Dax's sarcasm causing people to bristle reminded me a bit of Garibaldi causing a stir during a tense moment in "Divided Loyalties", and Sisko's musing over his crew's "personal touches" called to mind a conversation early in "Severed Dreams" about how in this war, "we know everyone we kill." I don't consider either one remotely lifted, however; I just found them similarly powerful scenes with similar themes, so I was struck by it.
-- We saw a little more diversity on the show this week, which I liked. For one, we had Muniz actually speaking a fair bit of Spanish (gasp!); and for another, there seemed to be a few more "exotic" humanoids on Sisko's mission than usual. Granted, all of the latter were killed in the first one-quarter of the episode, but everyone has to start somewhere.
-- One unanswered question that I would very much like to have answered is exactly what happened to the Jem'Hadar ship in the first place. Why was it so far from Dominion space, and was the inertial damper failure anything but an accident?
-- Muniz lapsing into hallucination was probably the single saddest moment on the show for me: that's when I knew he wasn't going to make it. (I also thought for a moment, right before the O'Brien/Worf fight, that someone was going to slip Muniz a drug to kill him, both as a mercy and to keep everyone else from being distracted. Perhaps that's a little too brutal.)
-- "Commander Worf, see if you can get that turret to rotate." Was I the only one to hear an implicit "use your teeth if you have to" in that?
-- Kilana's question to Sisko about whether he had gods was also an interesting question, and I rather liked the fact that there was no specific answer given.
That about covers it. Just as last season had a reasonable to good opening followed by an absolutely stellar episode, this season's "The Ship" beats "Apocalypse Rising" by a comfortable margin. Let's hope it stays that way.
Writing: A couple of questions here and there, but good solid conflict and cultural clashes without anything forced.
Directing: Claustrophobic, to say the least. Marvelous.
Acting: Some of Dorn's best work in quite some time, along with Farrell's. Meaney and Brooks were as marvelous as always, and F.J. Rio was terrific as Muniz.
OVERALL: 10, I think -- it might slip back, but I don't think so. Tremendous work.
Quark gets into serious S&M games -- oh, no, wait, he's just training to be a Klingon.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Do you have any gods, Captain Sisko?"
"There are ... things ... I believe in."
"Duty? Starfleet, the Federation? You must be pleased with yourself; you have this ship to take back to them. I hope it was worth it."
"So do I."