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Retro Review: Battle Lines

Posted by Michelle - 06/01/12 at 05:01 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 12 (s01e12)

Original US airdate: 04/25/1993

A shuttle carrying Kai Opaka on a brief tour of the Gamma Quadrant encounters trouble and crashes on a planet where she dies, leaving Sisko to deal with the residents.

Plot Summary: Bajoran religious leader Kai Opaka visits the station and asks whether she might see the Celestial Temple up close. Sisko agrees to take her, along with Kira and Bashir, through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, where Kira picks up a subspace signal that the Kai urges her to follow. The shuttle is damaged by an artificial satellite and crashes on a small moon, killing Opaka. Soon afterward the crew is captured by a group of armed people calling themselves the Ennis, led by a man named Shel-la who tells them that the Ennis are at war with the Nol-Ennis and need a doctor’s help. While Bashir tends the wounded, the Nol-Ennis attack, killing Shel-la before Kira can protect him. Then to their shock Kai Opaka appears, having been regenerated by what the Ennis describe as the curse of their world, which also revives Shel-la. Bashir discovers that Opaka and the other corpses have been biologically altered so that they cannot die; after a generations-long war on their home planet, the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis were banished to the moon, where they are condemned to fight for eternity. Sisko suggests rescuing both sides, but Bashir discovers that no one who has died on the moon can ever leave due to the artificial microbes that keep the bodies functioning. Meanwhile, O’Brien and Dax are able to trace the runabout to the moon. When Opaka is told that she cannot leave with the others, she says that she knows. The prophecies that led her to the station also revealed that she would be brought to a new world to teach its people how to live instead of how to die.

Analysis: An episode that could easily have been written for any of the other Star Trek series, “Battle Lines” offers a familiar take on the war-is-hell theme that recurs in this militaristic franchise. It bears some superficial similarities to the original series tale “A Taste of Armageddon,” in which a society has allowed a war to go on endlessly because they’ve found a way to keep their culture intact despite the deaths, but whereas those people kept fighting because they had sanitized the process, these people live in a filthy, agonizing pit from which they can never escape as individuals and thus they cannot conceive of a group exodus. The Ennis and Nol-Ennis might as well be Lokai and Bele from “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” so locked in their cycle of hatred that any alternative to fighting remains beyond their imaginations. It’s a compelling idea, though I wish we were given the backstory to appreciate the details of this conflict. Shel-la explains only that their peoples fought on their homeworld and were banished, not what percentage of the population they represented nor whether the original cause of their conflict was regional, ideological, practical; maybe the point is supposed to be that ongoing war is evil no matter the cause, but unless we believe that humanoids are inherently violent (something Star Trek has always rejected), there must be specific reasons this struggle broke out, and specific reasons that fellow residents of an apparently well-developed spacefaring planet chose eternal exile as punishment for its perpetrators.

My other complaint with “Battle Lines” is that it takes Kai Opaka away from viewers before we really understand her or her role in Bajoran spiritual life. Obviously she has been of enormous importance during both the Cardassian occupation and the tumultuous transition to independence, but we’re told this rather than shown it by a grieving Kira. Nana Visitor gives a moving performance to demonstrate Kira’s pain, yet the sobbing seems excessive, especially after the matter-of-fact conversations between herself and Opaka when the two are in the runabout. What does the Kai mean to her? I prefer Kira’s sad yet straightforward discussion with Sisko about what Opaka meant to Bajor to the Kira who clings to Opaka’s body as if she’s lost her spiritual guide and mother-figure all at once. Kira may feel that way, but it’s a lot to toss at viewers who’ve barely seen them interact and still don’t know the details of how Kira lost her own mother, let alone how she joined the resistance or precisely what role she played (we learn at the start of this episode that she resents being dismissed as a minor operative; we won’t hear a discussion until “Duet” about how many Cardassians she may have killed). In general we’ve been told very little about how Bajorans view their religious leaders, who seem to have lived in isolation during the brutal period of the Occupation. We will learn later in “The Collaborator” that Opaka was neither an expert politician nor a saint, which perhaps puts a different spin after the fact on her willingness to remain among strangers as a peacemaker. But here she remains too much of an enigma.

I wonder whether getting rid of Opaka stemmed from practical considerations, like not being able to lock Camille Saviola into a recurring role, or whether there were already ideas brewing for what became the extraordinary Bareil-Winn storyline and Kira’s growth as a character interacting with those two very different candidates to be the next Kai. I remember that when I first saw “Battle Lines” I wondered whether she had had so many people taken away from her – family, Occupation friends, Opaka – so that she would begin to feel that her Starfleet colleages were her family, since unlike on the Enterprise where home is far away for everyone, Kira has strong ties to the nearest planet and could choose to emphasize her loyalties there over her loyalties on DS9. Bajorans in general and Kira in particular are constantly warned of the dangers of repeating the same mistakes, particularly those born of anger and hatred, which is precisely what creates hell for the people on this forsaken moon – all brought to life in compelling fashion by actors who seem too young to be so scarred. I wish the show had returned to give us a glimpse of what had become of these immortal people in need of souls. I understand from a practical standpoint why Starfleet wouldn’t risk another runabout near the satellites, but somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant live those who exiled the rival factions, and it would be fascinating to hear their side of the story.

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  • Anonymous

    I never really liked this one much. Opaka was good, but then she was gone.

    The productiion values… well… episodes like this really age the show.

    Uninteresting aliens… I really don’t care what happened to them to be honest.

  • Paul

    I always hoped they’d be a conclusion — did Opaka ever sort things out? Did Bashier, who created a vaccine for the quickening, who created a cure for the Section 31 founder-plague, ever work on the problem again? While a runabout, taken by surprised, might have problems with the satellite grid, but the Defiant? The ability to bring people back from the dead might have realistic practical uses too.

    I think the continuation books brought back Opaka?

  • someguy

    There sort of was a conclusion in the book series, but the writing from the last several books has felt a bit trite.

  • fainodraino

    Haven’t seen this episode in a while, but I remember enjoying it and thought it was certainly one of the better first season episodes.