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Retro Review: Accession

Posted by Michelle - 24/05/13 at 05:05 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 04 Episode: 17 (s04e17)

Original US airdate: 02/24/1996

A Bajoran poet who disappeared 200 years previously comes out of the wormhole claiming to be the Emissary.

Plot Summary: An ancient Bajoran lightship emerges from the wormhole carrying a single passenger, a legendary Bajoran poet named Akorem Laan who disappeared two centuries earlier. Akorem tells Sisko, who has been having misgivings about his role as Emissary, that he nearly died during a spacefaring accident and was saved when he discovered the Celestial Temple, where the Prophets healed him. He believes he has been sent back to become the Emissary. Believing that this makes more sense than that the Prophets would have chosen an outsider, Sisko relinquishes the title, something most Bajorans including the Kai and Kira accept. Then Akorem announces that Bajorans must return to the caste system, known as D’jarras, which assign each person a specific status and profession. All at once, Bajorans start changing jobs and giving up seats to higher-caste individuals, while Akorem expects Shakaar to be voted out of office and go back to farming. Because the Federation forbids caste-based discrimination, Sisko realizes that Bajor will likely be denied membership and is deeply troubled. He has a delayed orb vision in which a Prophet in the form of Kai Opaka warns him that he does not know his role. When he tells Kira that he feels he has failed Bajor, she tells him that it isn’t his responsibility and adds that she plans to resign to become an artist as her D’jarra dictates. Then Odo summons Sisko, who learns that a monk has been murdered by a Vedek because he refused to resign despite being from an “unclean” caste. Sisko decides that he was wrong to give up the position of Emissary and asks Akorem to travel into the wormhole with him so that the Prophets can explain their will. The two learn that Akorem was rescued and sent into the future to inspire Sisko, the Emissary, to understand his role. They return Akorem to his own era, where he finishes his famous incomplete poem. Sisko returns to the station with a renewed sense that his destiny and that of Bajor are linked.

Analysis: Watching “Accession” reminded me in a visceral way of how very angry I was with the Star Trek franchise in 1996, during DS9′s fourth season and Voyager‘s second. Both shows were undergoing changes to make them more marketable to a wider audience, one consequence of which, I felt, was that the female characters were written much more stereotypically and passively. “Accession” is a perfect example: although in many ways it’s a terrific episode, struggling with the questions of faith and culture that both the original series and Next Gen often treated dismissively if not with contempt, it focuses on two big patriarchal figures, while one major female character is reduced to asking timid questions and the other – the one arguably most directly affected by the events – allows enormous changes to occur in her culture while passively accepting potentially disastrous consequences. To be fair, all of Bajor and not just Kira ends up looking somewhat pathetic, easily pushed around and not yet ready for Federation membership – in retrospect, it would not have been a surprise to learn that the return of Akorem Laan was a plot engineered by the Cardassians or the Dominion to neutralize Bajor as a potential threat – but because Kira is the one we see as an example of how the new Emissary is affecting all Bajorans, she’s the one who seems most weakened by the unfolding of events. Though I didn’t always like it when she leaned on Bareil for spiritual advice, I so wished he’d been alive to talk about Bajoran faith as a growing, evolving institution. I could ask many practical questions, like why didn’t Sisko consult with an orb before doing anything as drastic as stepping down as Emissary, or pragmatic questions, like do you really mean to tell me there wasn’t a single Bajoran who, demoted suddenly to a low caste, didn’t try to lead an uprising, but my issues really come down to how the story affects characters I care about more than potential flaws in the plot.

There are a couple of things we learn in “Accession” that I really do love. One is our growing understanding that Bajoran faith and science are entirely compatible – not just the distortion of time in the wormhole that has caused it to be called the Celestial Temple and the powerful aliens worshiped as Prophets, but the fact that orb visions are regulated by neuropeptides which Bashir can control. The other is Sisko’s growing understanding of what it means to be the Emissary, though I don’t think the writers had thought it out much beyond its practical uses, keeping Sisko on the station for such a long Starfleet posting and and making him a trusted figure by a critical ally for the Federation. It’s wonderful watching him interact with the wormhole aliens in episodes from “Emissary” to “Accession” to “Tears of the Prophets” knowing that he is, as they keep telling him, of Bajor – that his mother was under the control of a Prophet when he was conceived, that he is in essence the Bajoran messiah, born to save them all. I get chills from that storyline, which is more central to this series even than the Cardassian conflict and the Dominion War. It’s the story of an ordinary man – all right, an exceptionally intelligent and hard-working man, but with the same sorts of family problems and romantic foibles and job stress as anyone – who slowly discovers that beings so powerful that in a different time and place he might have worshiped them as gods have a plan for his life and everyone in his sphere of influence. I love watching him try to balance the Prime Directive, which essentially serves to prevent powerful space-going races from playing god among less developed ones, with the role these aliens who have been involved with Bajor since its prehistory have given him. I love what a fundamentally selfless, broad-minded, compassionate person he is without being too saintly for people to recognize themselves in him. My favorite line of his all episode is, “All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis…I feel like I’m on vacation!”

But as for Kira…sigh. I want to make it clear that I have no issue with her devotion to her religion, making what she considers to be personal sacrifices in the name of the Prophets and what’s best for the Bajoran people. She isn’t preaching that her entire world must follow a specific, conservative set of values; she’s simply saying that, for herself, she believes she needs to follow them, though for a change I wish she’d talk it over with Shakaar – or Lupaza, or even Winn, since listening to Winn’s self-serving nonsense usually sharpens Kira’s belief that there isn’t one absolute path dictated from on high to the Kai. Since she knows Winn, she knows that even someone the Prophets have chosen (or allowed to be chosen) can pervert a spiritual role for selfish purposes. She may be a fan of Akorem’s poetry, but I don’t understand why she’s so quick to accept him as Emissary, refusing to try to talk things out with Odo who doesn’t understand this sort of faith and is also struggling with the kind of self-abnegation demanded by his own people. In “The Circle,” Bareil suggested that Kira try surrendering to her artistic side not because it was her caste but because he thought it might give her perspective on her real sense of purpose, yet she seems to have forgotten how important that advice proved to be, personally and professionally. She and Bareil used to argue about his radical interpretations of Bajoran scripture. Even if she was raised traditionally, thinking Winn had a point that the Bajoran students in the station’s school had a right to be taught about the Prophets as well as the wormhole, when did she stop being someone who asks questions?

The rest of Bajor suffers even more, I think, from having an ancient caste system dumped upon it and accepted so blindly. Not even Winn ever suggested anything as reactionary as sending politicians home to be farmers and elevating singers to government posts. If this caste system lasted up until the Cardassians invaded, I understand how they conquered an advanced people so easily, since there must have been many Bajorans who resented being treated as unclean and people who felt that they were in the wrong jobs for their talents. Are we to believe that Bajor’s centuries of achievement emerged from a repressive caste system, that the writers are telling us how well such a system worked? They should take a peek into Bashir and O’Brien’s historic holosuite programs to see how that’s worked out throughout human history. The B-plot of this episode involves a pregnant Keiko returning with Molly from her botanical work on Bajor, sending Worf into a panic at the thought that he might be expected to be involved in another birthing and Bashir into a sulk that his best friend will no longer be around for nightly male bonding. After a few days of attempting to play with Molly and romance Keiko, neither of whom is interested, Miles is in such a sulk that Keiko sets him up with Bashir. This storyline provides much-needed humor, particularly when Bashir tells Quark that Miles is expecting another baby and Quark retorts that he thought females bore human young, yet it is mind-boggling that while such enormous changes are rocking Bajor, the human characters – including one just returning from living on Bajor – seem so completely disengaged from the problems. From the highest levels of Starfleet, whose message to Sisko seems to be “well, you are a failure where Bajor is concerned,” to the fact that neither Dax nor Bashir nor Sisko has a heart-to-heart with Kira about her choices and options, I’m finding non-interference to be kind of hypocritical. As for the Bajorans, I’m not sure which seems stranger, how easily they accept a new Emissary’s rules or how quickly they welcome Sisko back when that new Emissary mysteriously disappears on a trip with him.

I’m not bummed because this isn’t a good episode. I’m bummed because this is so close to being a great episode.

Tags:

  • thatguy

    Oh no, once again your only real interest is the portrayal of the women in this episode. And once again they writers did horrible, horrible things to them. Well, this is the last time that I ever will read one of your reviews. Get a grip on yourself and don’t turn everything into suppression of females and stuff like that! It’s b-o-r-i-n-g!!!

  • Flash

    Agreed, although Michele’s bigotry is a bit less front and center here than usual. Her perspective is always through a very narrow and biased prism that is insanely non-objective and offensive to anyone who values rationality and a truthful view.

  • Enterprise1981

    On the one hand, I don’t see how the women are depicted is apropos to this episode.

    On the other hand, it hardly constitutes bigotry against the male gender. And if I had a dime for every time someone complained about lack of objectivity in a BLOG POSTING, this site wouldn’t need ad money. Not worth going to Def-con Five over.

    It must really suck to be forced at gun point to read these postings on a weekly basis.

    Wait a minute…

  • thatguy

    I wouldn’t consider this a blog posting, but a review. And if I concentrate on just one single factor then this should really belong in a blog about feminism (or the lack of it) in Star Trek, but not here. I’m not criticizing a lack of objectiviity, but there is more to Star Trek than just complaining about how women are portrayed over and over again.

  • Guest

    DEFCON 5 is the LOWEST possible state of readiness—in other words, one can’t get more relaxed than that.

    May I ask what you think the comments section is for if not for people to react to the posting? Is it somewhere required that they only post positive comments?

  • Enterprise1981

    I’m not disputing that the last two reviews had commentaries on feminism that didn’t belong, this one certainly (I explained why Leeta didn’t have more of a leadership role in the last review). I was responding to The Flash’s complaint about a lack of objectivity. I would certainly not be okay with one of the TrekToday contributors consistently making statements that flagrantly contradict established Trek canon, but all Michelle is doing reading between the lines whether everyone agrees with that or not.

  • Enterprise1981

    Great, the anonymous guest shows up again. How can 5 not be worse than 1? Like Star Trek 5, worse than 1.

    I didn’t mean to suggest the comments are not for offering constructive criticism (I’ve offered some myself recently). One still can’t help but be baffled that some commenters just post to complain.

  • Mike

    I hope you see the irony of that last sentence in light of your contributions to this article’s comments, right?

    But, how is it not bigotry toward the male gender to find the plight of women in every single thing, even when it isn’t germane to the episode, and to the exclusion of actually talking about the episode? She only wants to really discuss women, the plight of women, the writer’s handling of women, the actor’s perspectives toward the female characters, oh, and of course, Garak buggering Bashir in her fantasies which she foists on us as reality… Are reviews inherently from the perspective of the reviewer? Certainly. But isn’t a reviewer also, you know, supposed to actually review the material that’s presented? As you’ve said yourself, the last two reviews have been detached from reality with regard to being reviews of these episodes… and that detachment is based in a clear and obviously fundamental bigotry she has toward men.

    Saying that her fixation with women isn’t a slight against men is like saying all white country clubs are about those white guys celebrating the joys of being white guys and that it has nothing to do with not wanting other people there… it’s bigotry, there, it’s bigotry here.

    Most of all, however, I think it’s counter-productive. If her goal is to lament the shabby portrayal of women, she should keep her powder dry until it’s actually time to fire. There are some horrendous displays of sexism in Star Trek, and I wouldn’t begrudge her one iota in disagreement and condemnation of the actual offenses… Manufacturing outrage? Not so much…

    How many times have these comment sections been derailed? You’d like to say it’s because of the commenters… Well, I hate to break it to you, this site exists for the readers, not the writers, right? They aren’t doing this so they can go home at night and read their own articles and whatnot… the site is for us… and so, when the review discussions are constantly derailed because the audience is massively turned off by the content, you’re going to blame us?

    If you’re reading this, please answer if any apply:
    Is there anyone here that thinks Star Trek hasn’t been sexist ever?
    Is there anyone that doesn’t think TOS had plenty of sexist moments?
    Anyone that thinks TNG didn’t have its fair share of sexism?
    Anyone think DS9 didn’t follow suit in places and use sex to sell the program?
    And how about saintly Voyager?
    Enterprise?
    JJAbrams?

    I can’t imagine a single response where that isn’t obvious… but it’s also obvious that Star Trek is a place that supports women and showcases them in very strong positions, from the start. That Gene Roddenberry was fine with women walking around in $.79 outfits doesn’t change the fact that the first ever first officer he designed was a woman! That that same woman portrayed a sex hungry older lady didn’t detract one moment from the fact that she was a powerful and respected woman in Star Trek.

    The point is, Star Trek does a lot of good for girls, and the continual and consistent bashing of it, even when it doesn’t exist, not only gets old, but it does get offensive at a certain point… just look at last week… she intentionally (I presume) tried to suggest it was a sexist episode, even though the entire point was to illustrate the silliness of the sexism shown.

    You get the feeling that Michelle walked out of TOS thinking that the real message was that the guys with white on their right side were definitely better than the ones with white on the left, because that was said by a character in the episode…. negating the fact that the entire point is that that character is stupidly wrong!!!

    Unless Michelle and Trek Today are writing these reviews entirely for their own use and enjoyment and have opened these comments up to not receive comments, then my bad.

  • Enterprise1981

    First of all, I’m not saying for one minute that the commenters shouldn’t say anything negative or critical. I merely express curiosity as to why some internet forum users (in general) choose to continue to read certain postings on the internet if it will only draw their ire. Is it for personal entertainment? Sure, I’ll grant that since I do often find people who are consistently biased or dishonest entertaining in small doses. I often prefer, though, to just step back and enjoy the show, but to each his own.

    As for the question of whether or not anything Michelle has said in these reviews is blatantly bigoted, I submit that not all bigots are created equally. It is not an all or nothing monicker. To my knowledge, she has not implied that the ideal Trek universe should be one where the men are subservient to the women or has said that all men are chauvinists who believe in male superiority. By your logic, Mike, bigoted is certainly an accurate term for some of Michelle’s postings, but not at the level of women who think all men are chauvinists or blacks who think all white people are racists. It’s more consistent with looking at the Star Trek franchise as a whole and saying, “That’s not good enough.” James Spader’s Allen Shor (the political opposite of William Shatner’s Denny Crain) expressed the same sentiment on an episode of Boston Legal in his rant about the number of black U.S. Senators would be reduced to zero once Obama became president.

  • Mike

    Basically, I agree… But would Alan’s point have been made if he harped on it week after week? And that’s where these guys coming in and getting pissed enters the story… I’m not saying Michelle doesn’t have a point. In fact, I just made it up there^^… But she gets into issues with the people that read these reviews because she pounds away at it ad nauseum… with a heavy emphasis on the nauseum… I don’t think she’s a bigot, in truth, I just think she’s a shrill harpy… probably the exact reaction she wants. A lot of militant feminists want to shove their “empowerment” in guys’ faces and basically dare them to react badly to it so they can call them out on it. That’s definitely the feeling I get with Michelle… not that she’s a total wackjob who hates all men, just that she has a clear agenda and knows exactly what buttons she’s pushing… So, nobody can really be shocked when she gets the response she’s going for… and as soon as she gets it, she knows how right she is and how much more work toward female empowerment she has…

  • James

    Good review, thanks. I may disagree with your stance regarding the portrayal of women, but you articulate your opinion well and I am surprised about how harsh some of the comments are here. Equally, I have been surprised regarding the media bashing Star Trek Into Darkness over it’s portrayal of women – none of these criticisms are laid against the lamentable Fast and Furious franchise where a woman is treated as a sex object in every. single. scene. I think that in Star Trek, women are portrayed as equal members of the crew.

  • OneraceHuman

    I don’t post here often, and I am not going to be sticking around to have an argument, but I do have to say that contrary to your assertion Bigotry is Bigotry period, it is in fact an all or nothing monicker, and absolutely all bigots are equally reprehensible, and they always will be. There is nothing acceptable or forgivable about being a bigot and there never will be, any attempt to claim that “not all bigots are equally bad” as you have is not only stupid, but a denial of reality.

  • Flash

    I think you hit the nail on the head, here, Mike, in terms of Michelle’s attitude and intentions, and if Enterprise1981 would go back and read Michelle’s earlier reviews, rather than just the last few, it would become much more obvious how blatant it all is. In far and away most of her reviews, her own personal political agenda is front-and-center, rather than the actual review of the actual episode in question.
    And not that it’s anyone’s business but my own, but I DON’T come to read the reviews just because I want something to set me off, that’s a fairly ridiculous speculation I see several people making. I am, in fact, quite relieved when that does not happen. I read the reviews as a short-hand way of reliving the stories because I don’t really have time to go re-watch the episodes. I enjoy the reminder of what happened in the stories. Michelle is a capable enough writer that her politicizing and crazily biased irrelevancies are all the more maddening to behold in what should, after all, be a Star Trek review, not a political diatribe that isn’t even a part of the actual plot or theme of the episode in question.
    And just for the record, most people who know me would consider me very fair-minded and rational on women’s issues. I thoroughly believe in equality and decry anything that denies that to women (or any other minority-status group, for that matter). But with some people, the pendulum swings back too far the other way, and so it is with Michelle. She’s clearly not aspiring to, or advocating for, equality, but is instead pushing an agenda of female superiority and/or hegemony, and that’s objectionable to anyone who is fair-minded or rational.

  • Flash

    The idea that one should just let something go, rather than express a desire to improve it, is NOT how progress is made (in general), so the snarky ‘gun point’ [sic] comment is uncalled for and counterproductive.

  • Flash

    Go read a few more of her reviews – this has been an ad nauseum thing for a long, long time, and on a disappointingly consistent basis. Believe me, it’s NOT just the last two reviews by ANY stretch of the imagination (and, in fact, the last two have been FAR less blatant than most of her earlier reviews). Don’t take my word for it, go back and read some of the older ones.