O’Brien visits a Bajoran village where he is mistaken for a raconteur who can keep a monster from attacking the population.
Plot Summary: While Sisko and Kira prepare to host the leaders of two warring Bajoran factions, O’Brien ferries Bashir to Bajor to assist a village with a medical emergency. Sisko is shocked to find that the Tetrarch of the Paqu is a girl not much older than Jake, and Bashir is equally surprised to find that although he had been told the entire village was in danger of extinction, only one old man is seriously ill. The aged Sirah, who is dying, is tended by his assistant Hovath and a frightened leader who says that if the Sirah dies, so will everyone in the village – a creature called the Dal’Rok appears every year for five nights, and without the Sirah, no one can fight it off. The Sirah announces that the Prophets have sent O’Brien to be his successor, so O’Brien is treated like a holy man, but when night falls and he tries to take over the Sirah’s role as poet-priest, he is unable to drive the creature off. The Sirah saves the village but dies, and O’Brien is attacked by a jealous Hovath, who was training to be the next Sirah before the engineer arrived. Meanwhile, the young Tetrarch is holding up negotiations because she does not trust that Sisko will represent her people’s best interests, but when Jake and Nog flirt with her, she learns from the Ferengi how to make demands and from the human that his father is a fair leader. O’Brien discovers from Hovath that the Sirah controlled the Dal’Rok by using a fragment of an Orb of the Prophets, channeling the emotions of the villagers first to create the monster, then to drive it away with thoughts of unity and peace. He agrees to try to tell the story, but when he fails to control the Dal’Rok, Hovath saves the village, taking over O’Brien’s unwanted burden of being the Sirah. Things work out for the Paqu and Navot as well when the Tetrarch agrees to let Sisko propose concessions on her part in exchange for peace.
Analysis: The only part of “The Storyteller” that I really appreciate is the development of the relationship between Bashir and O’Brien, which is so strained at this point that O’Brien can’t even make himself call Bashir by his first name without cringing. The rest of the episode makes ME cringe. It’s understandable that after decades of brutal occupation by the Cardassians, Bajor and its people would have reverted to beliefs and behaviors that seem backward for a people who have achieved spaceflight and to a large extent global unity, but this glimpse at the most primitive cultures on the planet seems primarily condescending and embarrassing. I love the idea of a culture whose leader is a teenage girl, but the Tetrarch is no Queen Amidala; she’s an unmoored orphan with no adult advisers she can trust, who’d rather giggle about Nog throwing oatmeal all over Jake than consider the ramifications of the war she’s willing to start. And I love the idea of Bajoran spirituality as a force for physical change in Bajor’s people, since we know that their gods are real beings who have intervened at several points in their history, but an unchanging society based on a fake menace that can cause real death and destruction is just silly. Picard (or Troi or whoever was on an Enterprise away team) would have gently suggested to Hovath that perhaps it’s time the people learned the truth and came together with a mature understanding of how the Prophets want them to live, while Kirk would simply have violated the Prime Directive – which may or may not apply, since Bajorans as a whole are a sophisticated race and this village merely seems to be under the spell of a tyrannical patriarch – and shown the Dal’Rok for what it is.
In a lot of ways, “The Storyteller” feels like a generic bad Star Trek story. Bajor could be any planet and probably should be one that’s less distrustful of Starfleet meddling particularly in its more isolated regions. The provisional government couldn’t come up with a neutral negotiator who knows the terrain and has some sense of Paqu traditions? And no one thought to warn Starfleet about what it might find in the remote village that has no fears about summoning medical assistance from strangers in space, yet doesn’t have a single citizen who thinks to ask about a more permanent solution to the deadly monster menace? Bashir and O’Brien could be any two characters, too – anyone with a medical background and anyone who dislikes being the center of attention and just wants to go home. Except that in this backward village, apparently the Sirah is expected to be a man, since all the women seem devoted either to asking for blessings for their babies or offering themselves to their savior – the latter situation so repugnant that I’d have broken the Prime Directive just to tell those women that they don’t have to have sex with the man who is responsible for the arrival of the Dal’Rok as well as for its banishment – no wonder Hovath wants the job so badly. We learn nothing about why this corner of Bajor has been left untouched, not only by the Cardassians who apparently found nothing they wanted to take from it, not even slaves for the mines, but by Bajorans from other regions. Similarly, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the rest of the planet feels so remote from the brewing civil war between the Paqu and Navot. From this glimpse, Bajor seems to be decades if not centuries away from being ready for Federation membership.
The saving moments are all small, and they’re all about regular characters and their relationships, though it seems absurd to me that Kira is so uninvolved in two crises involving people from her own planet – she was once a confused Bajoran girl like the Tetrarch and she believes in the power of the Orbs, surely someone in the negotiating party or the village could have asked her for advice? It’s nice to see Jake discover that Nog isn’t always a troublemaker; not only does he treat the Tetrarch with respect, failing to make a single negative comment about women in charge, but he offers some Ferengi advice that’s entirely practical in her situation, a rare instance of Ferengi values being shown to have useful applications outside of Quark’s corner of the universe. We also get the humor of seeing Odo coping with teenagers on the loose on his station. What’s most enjoyable looking back, at least for me, are these early moments of Bashir trying to befriend a reluctant O’Brien, who will in later years confess that he wishes Keiko could be more like Julian and that although he loves his wife, he likes Julian a bit better. Much of their closeness will be based on storytelling, reliving historic scenarios in the holosuites from the Alamo to the Battle of Britain, so it’s a pity that Bashir can’t persuade O’Brien to appreciate his role as Sirah a bit more. Then again, at this stage he can’t even persuade the Chief to call him Julian, though O’Brien is polite enough not to reply in the affirmative when Bashir asks whether he annoys him.