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Retro Review: Defiant

Posted by Michelle - 12/10/12 at 07:10 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 09 (s03e09)

Original US airdate: 11/21/1994

The crew is shocked when Commander Riker disappears into Cardassian territory, taking the Defiant and Major Kira with him.

Plot Summary: An overworked Kira is delighted to meet the charming Commander William Riker, giving him a tour of the station and showing off the Defiant when he asks. But as soon as she activates the weapons systems, Riker fires a phaser at her, beams two non-Starfleet crew aboard, and alerts Sisko that a warp core overload has made it necessary for him to move the ship safely away from Deep Space Nine. Once the docking clamps are released, Riker takes the Defiant to warp and disappears with it – and with Kira. Sisko is astonished to learn from Starfleet that this Riker is not the Enterprise’s first officer but his clone, Thomas, created in a transporter accident and now a member of the Maquis. Forced to ask Gul Dukat for help tracking the vessel, Sisko travels to Cardassia Prime and is told that Dukat and Korinas, an Obsidian Order observer, will help Sisko find and capture the Defiant before the Maquis start a war. Sisko suggests that they begin searching for the cloaked ship with an anti-proton beam, a task made easier by Kira, who sabotages the cloak, nearly killing herself in the process. Riker tells Kira that he believes the Cardassians have a secret base in the Orias system where they are building a fleet to invade the Demilitarized Zone, but Kira refuses to assist Riker’s search as he skillfully uses a decoy to divert Dukat’s ships. Dukat wants to pursue the Defiant, but Korinas stops him, insisting that the Orias sector is under the direct control of the Obsidian Order. When Dukat sends a fleet of ships after the Defiant, he is as surprised as Sisko when three more Cardassian warships arrive from Orias, thus proving Riker’s point that there is a hidden Cardassian fleet. Sisko makes a deal with Dukat, promising to give him the Defiant’s sensor logs on Orias in exchange for the Defiant and its passengers; at Dukat’s insistence, Sisko also agrees to turn Riker over to the Cardassians as long as he won’t be executed. To save the others, Riker agrees to this plan and surrenders the Defiant to Dukat’s fleet, which then protects it from the Obsidian Order’s ships. Now knowing that Riker was right to suspect Cardassian duplicity, Kira promises to rescue him from their prison camp.

Analysis: “Defiant” is a guilty pleasure for me because it has plot holes – some minor, some gaping – and a few scenes that seem very out of character for the regulars. But it also has Jonathan Frakes. I doubt it will surprise anyone here if I admit that if I were Kira – and I’d been suffering through a long-distance relationship with an egotistical Bareil, and had a confusing friendship with a defensive Odo as my major emotional outlet – I’d jump at the chance to *cough* talk all night with Riker too. I have to assume that Kira’s hostility toward Tom and his mission later in the story comes from the fact that he played her and used her; otherwise it makes little sense to me that Kira wouldn’t be right there with him in wanting to know whether the Cardassians were building a hidden fleet. This is, after all, the same Kira Nerys who threatened to blow up the station a few short weeks ago rather than let the Cardassians reestablish any sort of presence there, even a token one. She has probably figured out that Riker’s ego is nearly as big as James T. Kirk’s, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about the Cardassians and I’d expect her of all people to believe in their duplicity above all else. In fact, it wouldn’t have been completely shocking if Sisko or Odo had wondered whether she’d planned to help Riker steal the Defiant all along, given that her sympathy with the Maquis hasn’t exactly been a secret. Kira’s second-in-command style reminds me of all the best aspects of Will Riker’s without what sometimes comes across as his condescension toward junior officers and a confidence that occasionally borders on arrogance, so it’s a shame that she doesn’t get to meet the real Commander Riker, but it’s still very entertaining to watch her first flirting, then sparring with his evil twin. How differently might things have turned out if Tom had approached her directly instead of manipulating her? We will never know, but that story would make one super-hot piece of alternate reality fan fiction.

The plot setup isn’t as interesting to think about, mostly because it makes a lot of people look stupid. Starfleet suspects that Tom Riker may be a member of the Maquis, yet doesn’t keep track of his movements on leave and warn Starfleet installations near the DMZ of their suspicions? No steps have ever been taken to be sure that it’s actually Will Riker accessing top-level command systems rather than his double? I’ll let Dax off the hook for not noticing Riker’s blank expression when she reminds him of their last conversation because he pretends that he was drunk, and let’s face it, the man is very charming and uses that to his advantage with Sisko as well as the women. Plus I’ll forgive O’Brien for not asking what the hell is up when Tom – knowing he can’t pass as Will to someone who knew the latter for years – acts as if he and O’Brien parted on bad terms, because I assume O’Brien doesn’t want to confront a supposedly superior officer in front of Kira. A pity with O’Brien as well as Kira that Riker uses stealth instead of playing for sympathy, because O’Brien, too, has had terrible experiences with the Cardassians, recently as well as historically. But why isn’t Sisko aware that enough people have overheard Tom Riker’s political discussions to make them a matter of concern? Now we know that any DS9 senior officer can unlock the cloaking device, which one formerly had to use under Romulan supervision, and that a command crew of three can successfully take the Defiant into battle. Now Dukat knows it as well. This sloppiness is pretty unforgivable, even if Dukat is off his game, willing to release the Defiant without even giving the cloak a once-over because he’s so concerned with Cardassian internal matters, having his authority usurped by the Obsidian Order.

It’s a shame that O’Brien is largely kept out of the storyline because he could play a much more significant role, not only because he’s familiar with Tom Riker’s story and personality if not his particulars, nor because he’s also had the experience of learning that there’s a duplicate version of himself, but because the events of “Defiant” have a lot in common with those of “The Wounded” – the Next Generation episode about O’Brien’s former commander who became convinced that the Cardassians were buying arms and shipping weapons, forcing Picard to work with a Cardassian Gul to prevent a war despite the fact that Picard, like Sisko, knew full well that the Cardassians were not dealing truthfully with the Federation. I expected Sisko to state the obvious to Dukat – that the Obsidian Order was building a fleet in the Orias sector – but the episode’s ending is rushed to leave time for Kira to perform some pop psychoanalysis on Tom Riker that rings hollow (where IS Deanna Troi when you need her?) and for Tom to kiss Kira goodbye, a pretty gratuitous moment even by Riker standards. In all likelihood the conclusion would annoy me less if we’d ever gotten the sequel that it seems to be set up to launch, in which Kira rescues Tom from the Cardassian prison camp while Sisko and Dukat jointly put the smackdown on the Obsidian Order. But the matter gets dropped when the Dominion War heats up, and we never hear a word about Tom Riker in canon again, though he gets several alternate futures in the Pocket Books novels. It’s unlike Kira to make a promise she doesn’t mean to keep, so even a single sentence near the end of the series in which she asked Damar to do something about freeing Tom Riker would have been appreciated.

I’ll accept Kira’s momentary swooning over Tom because she never lets up on him beforehand. We haven’t seen a woman verbally put a Riker in his place so well since Commander Shelby in “The Best of Both Worlds.” Kira sounds so much like a Starfleet officer – if not like Picard in “The Wounded,” then like Sisko in “The Maquis” – that I’m a bit sorry it isn’t her with Dukat on Cardassia Prime and Sisko as Riker’s prisoner on the Defiant, which would bring up all sorts of different arguments than the ones we get. But if the script had gone that way, we would not get the near-throwaway moment of Dukat telling Sisko how sorry he is that because of Riker’s theft of the Defiant, Dukat will have to miss his own son’s birthday celebration. The discussion seems like filler when it’s happening, a predictable ploy on Dukat’s part to get under Sisko’s skin. Yet looking back after all we later learn about Dukat’s family and Ziyal and his exile, it’s suddenly very sad to hear him talk about a son whose birthdays, we now know, will always be missed by a father with ambitions that will eventually take both these men from their families. Funny how a scene I once considered gratuitous can now pack such a punch.

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  • Geiger

    Nit: O’brien probably doesn’t know anything about Thomas Riker since the entire incident occurred near the end of season six of TNG, well after he left the Enterprise.

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

    The story has more holes than a fishing net but Defiant passes the time very pleasantly. I love the opening sequence, where the shop-worn Kira is driven to distraction by Starfleet’s demands; & Siddig plays his mood-shift perfectly. The whole sequence rings true in ways most shows never achieve – these are friends caring for a friend in trouble, from Dax & O’Brien via Bashir & then (wonder of wonders) Quark….

    … & this lovely set of scenes simply exists as the perfect lead-in for Jon Frakes to poke his head in. Wonderful

  • Patrick

    Thomas Riker describes the Defiant as a “tough, little ship” in this episode. William Riker, as we know, uses the same description in Star Trek: First Contact–to Worf’s annoyance.

  • TB2

    I originally thought that (Tom) Riker was peeved at O’Brien as I had assumed that O’Brien had been the transporter officer on the Potempkin that accidentally created the two seperate Rikers, hence Tom’s hostile reaction here. Sadly there is no evidence to support this theory.

    Other notes: Tom was not on leave – he went AWOL from the USS Gandhi. That would explain why Starfleet would have a hard time finding him, as he was hiding with the Maquis. The writers at this time were not accepting spec scripts that featured the Tom Riker character, which implies the writers were intending to do a follow up themselves. Sadly like a lot of things – most notably Bajor Entering the UFOP, it did get lost in the bigger picture of the Dominion storyline.

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

    I think the writers wanted the viewers to think that O’Brien trapped him on the planet, too. Its a clue to put a bit of tension in the story; & while the mechanics of it don’t bear much thinking through, it works as entertainment. A bit like Worf saying “It’s a long story” in Trials & Tribble-ations

  • Man of the West

    I’ve always felt that it’s just as the article describes… the first time viewer is left as confused as O’Brien by Riker’s attitude, but in retrospect we can piece together that Tom deliberately throws him for a loop because he does not want to be pulled in a discussion of the good old days that he can’t possibly pull of plausibly. It’s a clever writing touch no matter how you take it.

  • Bobby

    You beat me to it, I was going to post about this too. :)

    Yeah, I’ve always thought it was an intentional nod to DS9 – I immediately caught the reference when I saw First Contact for the first time (and got a kick out of it).

  • Zeo Ranger IX

    “For my son… for ALL our sons!”

  • Enterprise1981

    “Defiant” was one of those good action-oriented episodes that obscures all the various plot holes. Most of all, we never Tom Riker again and that nobody picks up on clues that “William” is really Thomas. I also can’t help wondering what Dukat was doing on the station. Perhaps “Defiant” chronologically takes place immediately after “Civil Defense”. But he came in his own ship, so he could have left any time he wanted. Looking back, there’s as much foreshadowing in this episode as in “Civil Defense”–and not just the Obsidian Order’s plans in the Orias system–from a reference to one of Dukat’s son’s birthdays to a reference to Lakarian City, not mentioned again the finale.

  • siskokid888

    I love when the Defiant opens up on the Galor class ship and knocks it for a loop. Eat hot pulse phaser ya bloody Cardies!