Retro Review: Dramatis PersonaePosted by Michelle - 10/02/12 at 06:02 pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season: 01 Episode: 17 (s01e17)
Original US airdate: 05/30/1993
A telepathic energy field delivered by a dying Klingon pits the crew against one another as Kira leads a revolt to remove Sisko.
Plot Summary: A Klingon vessel comes through the wormhole and explodes just as one of its officers beams himself to Deep Space Nine, proclaims victory, and dies of his injuries. Sisko, who is already perturbed because of Kira’s protests that Valerian ships should not be allowed to dock at the station until Bajor can investigate whether the Valerians are providing weapons material to the Cardassians, orders Dax and O’Brien to find out what happened to the Klingons. Quark tells Odo he heard that the Klingon scientists had discovered something to make enemies of the Empire tremble, but before Odo can report on this, his head appears to split in two and he screams in pain. Bashir is able to revive him but Odo finds that the doctor has suddenly become obsessed with tensions between Starfleet officers and Bajorans, particularly between Sisko and Kira. Meanwhile, O’Brien tells a distracted, nostalgic Dax that she had better remember her loyalties to Starfleet. They find the Klingon log recordings, which suggest that there was a mutiny aboard the ship. Meanwhile Kira approaches first Odo, then Dax, behaving in an unusually seductive manner, telling them she expects their support when she displaces Sisko over the Valerian situation. Quark overhears and, despite Kira’s threats, goes to warn Odo, who in turn seeks out Sisko. But the commander is hiding in his quarters, building a clock. Kira prevents the Valerian ship from leaving the station and cuts off all contact with Starfleet; O’Brien in turn cuts off contact with Bajor and sets out to sabotage Kira’s plans. In the Klingon logs, Odo learns that an ancient telepathic race left energy spheres discovered by the now-destroyed ship. He asks Bashir for help controlling the energy from the spheres brought to the station by the dead Klingon, convincing Bashir that this is the key to dominating whoever wins the station’s power struggle. Kira launches her plan against Sisko but Odo helps him and O’Brien to escape, convincing Kira all the while that they are heading into a trap. When he has the entire command crew in a cargo bay, Odo activates Bashir’s field to drive out the telepathic energy, restoring the crew to normal. Sisko agrees to overlook Kira’s attempted mutiny.
Analysis: I’ve never been much of a fan of “aliens alter the crew’s brains” episodes unless they’re played for humor – you know, the sort like “The Naked Now” where everyone wants to have sex with everybody else, which every sci-fi series does at least once, a cliche so memorable that it gets parodied in Galaxy Quest. Sadly, “Dramatis Personae” is not only deadly earnest, it’s also painfully reminiscent of The Next Generation‘s “Power Play.” (Is O’Brien always such a crankypants when he gets possessed? Couldn’t he be more like flirty Kira or dreamy Dax?) Yet again we see a story that could have happened on any Star Trek series – indeed, that has happened on other Star Trek series – and since it’s so early in the show’s run, it looks like the writers have so little confidence in the personalities they’ve created for the main cast that they’re already looking for excuses to warp them. We’ve already suffered through the aphasia virus with the crew, another instance in which Odo had to save the station. Admittedly “Dramatis Personae” is more fun than “Babel” because personality upheavals are more entertaining to watch than communication failures, but it feels like cheap, unoriginal gimmickry in place of storytelling and parodies of characters instead of characterization. Flaky Sisko, angry O’Brien, ditzy Dax, and let-me-try-your-drink-lieutenant Kira might be a refreshing break two seasons in, not when we’re getting to know the real things.
What’s fun about watching “Dramatis Personae” after the series’ run is the realization that the writers became so infatuated with some of these characters, they created an entire alternate universe for them. The ambitious Bashir and emotional Dax who will turn up over there make appearances here, and we see shades of the Intendant – a woman not afraid to use her charm and sexuality to get what she wants – in mutineer Kira. I love how she tests her charm on Odo, whom she already considers an ally, before prancing into the Promenade and hitting on Dax. There’s really no other word for it: she swipes a sip of Dax’s drink, finds excuses to touch Dax, gives Dax personal reasons for supporting her rebellion even as Dax is saying she thinks of Sisko as a son or a nephew or some other close relative, and only then does Kira get around to making threats. (Apparently it works, since Dax calls to warn Kira from Ops when Sisko is attacked and plans to kill Kira in retaliation.) It’s curious that Dax indeed is so easily swayed by Kira given that long history with Sisko, much less surprising that O’Brien becomes a jingoistic Starfleet defender through and through, and Bashir’s calculated refusal to commit until he can see which side will win makes me think he’s been studying Garak quite closely already.
It’s no surprise whatsoever that Odo can convince Kira she’s won him over even as he’s manipulating her and Sisko so he can remove the alien influence. When I first saw this episode, I was writing occasional reviews for Nana Visitor’s fan club newsletter, and I noted that I thought Odo had a bit of a crush on Kira. That turned out to be the understatement of the decade, but at the time I had little hope that the DS9 writers would do any better with potential series relationships than had TNG’s writers. Who knew that by the finale there would be four committed couples among the major crewmembers? It’s a pity we’re led to believe that the personality changes are random, rather than emphasizing either polar opposites in everyone or consistently bringing out traits that people have tried to suppress. I have no trouble believing that Dax could spend hours wallowing in nostalgia for her past lives and that Sisko wishes he could chuck all his responsibility and go build a clock while someone else runs the station (he keeps the clock, it appears throughout the rest of the series). But we’re not supposed to believe that Kira really wants violent insurrection, even though the source of her anger at Sisko exists before the Klingon arrives and apparently other Bajorans on the station are affected by the same concerns.
Kira’s personality changes the most dramatically, apparently to clue us in to the fact that while the source of the conflict may be the same, this is not the Kira we know. But how much more interesting if it were the Kira we know, just without filters! What if the writers had had the courage not to split her into Good Kira and Bad Kira the Intendant, but to let her embody all those elements as a single person. And what a cop-out that the Klingons are absolved of all responsibility since they supposedly found the telepathic energy spheres by accident, even though Quark has heard rumors that they tracked down and intend to use a powerful weapon. If this had been a test of the Klingon discovery – or better yet, if the Cardassians had found the spheres – it would add a far more interesting layer of conflict to what ends up being a meaningless crisis from a Gamma Quadrant species we will never get to know. On a first viewing I thought they’d be connected somehow to the Valerians and the weapons trade with the Cardassians, a situation that it never resolved, which I suppose means Sisko gets his way and Kira does not get to bring up the Bajoran concerns even though we get evidence that the aliens truly are providing materials for Cardassian weapons. The fun of watching Sisko call for Kira’s head and Kira hit on Dax can’t make up for the weaknesses in the story.
Tags: Retro Review