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Retro Review: Starship Down

Posted by Michelle - 22/03/13 at 06:03 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 04 Episode: 07 (s04e07)

Original US airdate: 11/13/1995

A battle with the Jem’Hadar strands the Defiant in the atmosphere of a planet, leaving several crewmembers near death.

Plot Summary: While en route to a Gamma Quadrant system to discuss trade with the Karemma, whose representative Hanok is already skeptical because Quark tried to rip him off, the crew of the Defiant is attacked by Jem’Hadar warships. The Karemma ship hides in the atmosphere of a volatile gas giant, and when the Defiant tries to follow, the ship is damaged both by atmospheric turbulence and a second Jem’Hadar attack. Dax goes to engineering to work on repairs, but a force field protecting the deck collapses, leaving Sisko no choice but to seal it off before the deadly atmosphere floods the ship. Bashir manages to evacuate sickbay before the lockdown but remains behind to pull the wounded Dax into a turbolift. Though the ship has limited mobility, it is attacked once more, leaving Sisko nearly comatose and cutting off the bridge from the rest of the ship. Worf manages to crawl through tubes to the engine room, where he attempts to help O’Brien restore power while Kira tries to keep Sisko conscious and Bashir tries to keep Dax warm. Meanwhile, Quark and Hanok discover an undetonated torpedo embedded in the mess hall bulkhead and realize they must defuse it themselves. Unable to contact sickbay, Kira decides to risk giving Sisko a stimulant, while Hanok admits that his people may have sold the Dominion a faulty torpedo and helps Quark disarm it. O’Brien and the engineers rig the deflector array so that they can use it to fire phasers, which Worf uses to destroy the the Jem’Hadar ship after luring it in with a reprogrammed missile. The Defiant crew rescues the Karemma from their ship, frees Dax and Bashir, and takes the ship back to Deep Space Nine, where Sisko makes a full recovery.

Analysis: If you’ve ever seen Gray Lady Down, Das Boot, or any of a half-dozen other submarine disaster movies, you already know what to expect from “Starship Down” the moment it enters the gas giant’s atmosphere. That, in and of itself, does not make it a bad episode – the previous week’s installment, “Little Green Men,” takes a similar approach to borrowing from old-fashioned spy thrillers and succeeds very well. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the two episodes that makes me find “Starship Down” so annoying, like the show’s writers couldn’t come up with any original ways to tell stories or were afraid that the audience was getting bored with good old Trek and decided to toss a bunch of other genres at us instead. It’s not a bad idea to tell a Dominion action story within the context of a claustrophobic drama, and there are lots of great visuals – atmospheric effects, explosions, a torpedo being disarmed by two capitalists debating the relative virtues of greed and the free market. There also isn’t anything I can point to and say, “Now THAT was outrageously out of character and in violation of continuity!” — at least not precisely. Still, I keep feeling like everything in the episode from the Jem’Hadar to the characters to Karemma have been constructed not to further the development of Deep Space Nine, but to make viewers nod at the cleverness of mapping the show onto a submarine crisis tale, and by the end it feels extremely forced and irritating to me, considering how many gimmick episodes we’ve already had.

Having the crew split into four distinct storylines aboard the downed ship should have provided an opportunity for little character gems, yet except for Quark’s comic bit saving the day while yet again describing the excesses of Ferengi finance law, they all end up feeling artificial. Sure, Kira’s been having some disconnect about the fact that the commanding officer she used to quarrel with quite regularly (not as much any more, though whether that’s because of a change in Starfleet and Bajoran interests or a change in how these two people relate to one another since Worf arrived and got to jump ahead of a Bajoran in the Defiant chain of command, it’s hard to say). But the Kira who sighs worshipfully over the Emissary and sobbing that he can’t die is not any Kira I know…and the Ben who invites her to baseball games in the absence of his usual squeeze Kasidy just seems odd, since I’d expect him either to have a serious conversation with her about the weirdness of trying to be her captain, her friend, and her religious icon all at once or to want a little distance after all the hand-holding and use of first names. I love Sisko and Kira together – apart from knowing Odo loved her, I’d have had no complaints if Sisko and Kira had become a couple – but this tentative, groveling Kira isn’t anything like the woman he usually looks at with such admiration, the one who made sparks fly with him in “The Circle.” This obsessed fangirl Kira would make any superior uncomfortable, and I am really resenting the implication that Kira must have some strong male figure around to adore, a father figure if not a lover – Tahna Los, Li Nalas, Mullibok, Bareil, Shakaar, now Sisko. It’s only knowing that this phase doesn’t last that is keeping me from a full-fledged rant on the subject.

I never wanted Dax and Bashir to be a couple, so I suppose I should be happy that the bulk of their storyline is about how they are never, ever, ever getting back together. But the trapped-in-a-turbolift setup that looks like a hundred pieces of hurt/comfort fan fiction ends up being neither convincing nor engaging. Even though I don’t like them as a couple, having them snuggle like old friends and discuss the fact that there’s no spark between them is extremely boring to watch. Bashir’s fantasy of getting trapped somewhere with Jadzia and needing body contact with her for warmth is far more interesting. Then there’s Dax’s future husband Worf, who apparently learned nothing about command after seven years on Picard’s bridge. I have trouble buying that Worf would scoff at the engineering nerds in the first place, but I have just as much trouble believing that during a ship-wide disaster, Starfleet engineers would have to be coddled and defended by O’Brien (who like them didn’t go to the Academy). This condescension probably has more to do with how the writers feel about techie nerds than how Worf and O’Brien do, but it feels like a manufactured problem to give the Klingon and the human something to spar about, not a problem with them or their staff. It’s not like it comes up regularly. Maybe the problem is with compartmentalizing the crew, giving everyone something to do that’s not their usual thing: Worf in command, Kira trying to be a medic, Quark using his technical skills (apparently Dax and Sisko have to be injured because that’s the only way to keep them from being their usual competent selves). Anyone can have an off day in a crisis, but when everyone has an off day at once, it feels more like a lesson about it, not an entertaining shakeup of the status quo.

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  • Guest

    “I never wanted Dax and Bashir to be a couple, so I suppose I should be happy that the bulk of their storyline is about how they are never, ever, ever getting back together. ”

    Back together? When were they ever together?

  • SJStar

    It’s only knowing that this phase doesn’t last that is keeping me from a full-fledged rant on the subject.

    I appreciate you saying that – even more than for your usual entertaining review.

  • Bobby

    I’ve always loved this episode. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the starship-combat-as-submarine-combat episodes, going back to “Balance of Terror” which was always one of my favorites as a kid. (It also has a bit of the flavor of TNG’s Disaster, another episode I really enjoyed.)

    I also really liked the Worf vs the Nerds stuff- but what can I say, I’m a nerd. :)

    Its also notable for being written by Ordover and Mack – Ordover was the editor of the pocket line at the time, and David Mack is one of the best writers in the Pocket line these days. I’ve always been a big fan of the books, which (at their best) are sometimes even better than the shows, so I always get a thrill when the writers cross over.

    (I also really enjoyed the Reeves-Stephens’ contributions to Enterprise. Its a shame they only came on board after the horrid writing of earlier seasons had driven most of the audience away.)

    Anyhow, I guess its too much to expect to agree with Michelle’s reviews 2 episodes in a row.

  • The_Comic

    Its a reference to a current pop song, the reviewer isnt an idiot.

  • Guest

    I’m familiar with the song, but how is the reference to it appropriate if the characters were never “together” in that way?

  • The_Comic

    Well without playing devil’s advocate, So for example I just watched Jack the Giant Slayer, its not very good, I might in my review say “Its time Ewan Mcgregor called it a Jedi night on roles where he is required to use an English accent. its just a playful complexity to keep the review interesting. I suppose you could also argue that in Bashir’s head they were ‘together’… it just hadnt happened yet (if wishes were horses). You dont have to like or enjoy the style, or agree with the conclusion, but the sentence is not a mistake its a choice. .