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Retro Review: Armageddon Game

Posted by Michelle - 25/05/12 at 07:05 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 02 Episode: 13 (s02e13)

Original US airdate: 01/30/1994

O’Brien and Bashir help two warring races dismantle deadly weapons, only to be targeted for death because of their expertise.

Plot Summary: Bashir and O’Brien take the runabout Ganges to an orbiting laboratory to help the T’Lani and Kellerun races disarm biological weapons from a protracted war. Now that peace has been achieved, Kellerun Ambassador Sharat orders all the weapons destroyed, but just as this task is finished, Kellerun assassins enter the lab, killing all the scientists and sending Bashir and O’Brien fleeing. Since the Starfleet officers can’t beam to their runabout, they beam down to the devastated surface of T’Lani III, where O’Brien quickly grows ill from contact with the material in the bio-weapons. Sharat and T’Lani Ambassador E’Tyshra visit Deep Space Nine to tell Sisko that Bashir and O’Brien were killed accidentally by a security device, but when Keiko O’Brien views manufactured footage of the supposed accident, she says that it must have been faked because her husband would never have been drinking coffee at the hour indicated on the recording’s chronometer. Sisko agrees to go with Dax to investigate, while on T’Lani III, Bashir tries to repair damaged communication equipment before O’Brien becomes too ill to explain how. While retrieving the Ganges, Dax finds that several minutes have been wiped from the ship’s computer after the fatal accident supposedly occurred and tells Sisko that the officers may have been trying to escape. E’Tyshra reads the weak signal Bashir is able to send and finds Bashir and O’Brien, who expect her to rescue them until she reveals that she has been working with Sharat to kill everyone who knows how to recreate the lethal bio-weapons. But Sisko has read the signal as well and beams his officers aboard the Ganges. The T’Lani pursue the runabout with Sisko’s ship in tow, threatening to kill all four Starfleet officers unless Bashir and O’Brien are turned over to them. Sisko sends the Ganges on a collision course with the T’Lani, then beams himself and his crew to the other runabout so that they can flee the system while the T’Lani are busy blowing up the abandoned Ganges. Back at DS9, Bashir cures O’Brien of the bio-weapon’s effects.

Analysis: “Armageddon Game” couldn’t have been an inexpensive episode to film, given the number of costumes and sets that had to be created, so it’s a shame so much budget was wasted on such a forgettable story. I made a list of previous Star Trek episodes it reminds me of – “A Taste of Armageddon” through “Samaritan Snare” with just about every other planetary-civil-war and character-accused-of-wrongdoing episodes thrown in – but the problem isn’t just that it feels derivative and therefore predictable, it’s that we don’t have any fun or learn anything surprising about the regulars in the process, unless it can be counted as surprising that, when threatened with having his ship blown up by a species determined to keep its secrets, Sisko neither bluffs that he’s already had Bashir transmit a secret report to Starfleet nor warns that if the T’Lani and Kellerun kill a single Starfleet officer, they’re going to have problems from more weapons than they ever created to turn on each other. But the unsatisfying ending is just the last of a bunch of silly decisions made by the writers, from the fact that two warring species apparently have identical top-secret bio-weapons, constructed and destroyed in precisely the same top-secret manner, to the means by which Starfleet discovers their plan, which comes not from a scientific analysis of the faked recording (I keep flashing forward to the very complex fake Garak had to make to draw the Romulans into the Dominion War) but from Keiko repeating a line from Airplane: “Miles never has a second cup of coffee at home!” (I kept waiting for the movie follow-up, “Miles never vomits at home!”) As much as I appreciate Keiko’s calm, righteous fury – often she’s scripted as a whiner – it’s hard for me to take her seriously with that parallel in mind. The fact that everyone immediately decides this is not a desperate ploy by a grieving widow but a legitimate cause for investigation, when they weren’t suspicious enough to rush over immediately to inspect the lab, seems even sillier.

In general, I can’t swallow the idea that the Kelleruns and T’Lani, who are so paranoid that they’d rather murder their own scientists than let them live with knowledge about bio-weapons, would call in Federation help. Given that the Federation is clearly more technologically advanced, what makes these aliens believe the Federation isn’t secretly stealing their secrets and broadcasting them home? How do they know Starfleet won’t turn up to attack them with replicas of their own dreaded weapons – especially after they’ve tried to kill Starfkeet officers? The ploy to switch runabouts is, I suppose, meant to strike us as clever, perhaps even impressed with the fact that the enlightened Commander Sisko never threatens to use force. But it seems very wasteful to blow up a warp-capable Starfleet vessel without making any attempt to negotiate (or to threaten) in order to keep it. If the Kellerun and T’Lani are so desperate to keep their new, fragile peace, what precisely do they believe will happen when Sisko and Dax fail to return to Deep Space Nine? If it took Dax all of five minutes to uncover their lies, how long do they think it will take Starfleet to figure out that four of its officers have been killed, leading to who knows what sort of retaliation? I also must note that the T’Lani agree to let Sisko inspect their lab, but there still may be bio-weapon material from the canister that leaked on and infected O’Brien. And although the Kellerun and T’Lani are so determined to wipe out their bio-weapons that they’ll kill every loyal citizen who’s worked to disarm the things, they aren’t concerned about the fact that they have spaceships which can easily blow a runabout out of the skies…and presumably could do a heck of a lot of damage to orbiting stations or planetary cities. Sisko is smart enough to point out that this is contradictory as well as naive.

The plot holes might be forgivable if we got some meaty character development for O’Brien, for Bashir, for Keiko, for anybody. Considering how little we know about the doctor and the Chief at this point, even if they haven’t yet realized they have fantasies of fighting at the Alamo in common, there must be more the two could find to talk about than the attitudes about women we’ve already witnessed repeatedly from them. The first time I saw the episode, when Bashir was going on about how he didn’t think he should marry because his career was dangerous and how he was once in love with a ballerina, it all sounded so contrived that I expected a big shocking revelation at any moment (that the ballerina turned out to be an assassin, that he was really a spy as well as a doctor, anything to explain why this should matter). But we never get any sort of payoff to the boring stuff he’s telling O’Brien, supposedly to keep O’Brien awake and focused. This is really all there is to Julian? I can’t help giggling about the fact that he gave Dax his diaries to read and she hadn’t bothered to do so. Maybe she could have been the first person on the station to learn that he was genetically enhanced, if the writers had thought of it. Instead it’s clear that she has no feelings for him beyond a sort of bored affection, and really Bashir seems far less devoted to Dax than to the bond forged by facing death together that he’s developing with O’Brien, though without the fun of holosuite battles and athletic competition.

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  • AirElephant

    I agree with the assessment, in that it was a fairly weak episode, but you have to also give the writers a bit of wiggle-room. This was still early in the series’ run (Season Two) and I think they were still figuring out what to do with the Bashir character. I think many would agree that Bashir was a pretty unpleasant fellow in the first season, where his arrogance and amorous pursuit of Dax were somewhat off-putting.

    I think this was the point at which they started experimenting with the Bashir/O’Brien relationship in an attempt to soften Bashir’s image and humanize him more. (It took a long time for me to really ‘like’ the Bashir character.) Having O’Brien, who really disliked Bashir, gradually warm to him after some of these personal revelations was a fairly subtle way to help the audience accept Bashir better than they had up to this point. To be fair, it’d still be awhile before Bashir was warm and likable, but I think they eventually got there.

    The one character that you mention, though, that I always felt was thinly written was Keiko. This is a rare episode that allowed the actress to show that she really cared for, and understood, her husband. The recognition of her husband’s habit of drinking Raktajino (or was it coffee?) at a specific time of day struck me as something that only a woman who truly cared for her husband would remember. I found that in most episodes, Keiko was more of a harridan who focused too often on O’Brien’s negative traits, so this was a welcome opportunity to see their affection for one another. (I really did dislike the Keiko character, though. O’Brien may have been a man-child at times, but he was an incredibly loyal, devoted, and hard-working husband and too often Keiko would just shred him with biting comments. Ugh.)

  • ASM

    I get the feeling you don’t really like DS9 at all

  • hostile_17

    She probably doesn’t like the episodes that aren’t very good.

    A strange concept of course.

  • Groov99

    I liked the Airplane reference. But you forgot that at the end of the episode O”Brien drinks coffee at the exact time that he would have been in the recording. So the whole reason for the trip back was worthless.

  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    The problem is: DS9 becomes the series hardcore Niners love in season 3, though there are certainly fore-shadowings (Duet, Necessary Evil, etc). From other comments, i suspect that Michelle is as much a Niner as i am; but that she’s struggling with these early, TNG-style episodes. They can be frustrating if you’ve fallen in love with DS9 eventually became

    (Of course for non-Niners, these more traditional episodes are the good stuff)

    For the record, i have more time for Armageddon Game than Michelle does. It’s an obvious narrative with obvious holes but the writers found a way to force O’Brien & Bashir together here. It works ok without being earth-shattering & sets up better stories in the future