Odo and Quark are stranded on a cold, desolate planet and must work together to carry a transmitter to a mountain summit.
Plot Summary: While Quark and Rom are bringing gifts to the quarters that Jake and Nog will soon share, Odo interrupts to tell Quark that the Ferengi has been summoned to a Federation trial on a planet that’s more than a week’s travel away. Odo is gloating, believing that Quark has finally been caught committing a serious crime against the Federation, but Quark is strangely calm as he is escorted off the station, joking with Odo until he hears an odd high-pitched noise aboard their runabout. The noise turns out to be a bomb in the machinery; Odo tries to beam it away, but it explodes mid-transport and damages the runabout, which is forced down on a very cold, mountainous planet. Most of the rations and the replicator have been destroyed, as has the runabout’s main communications panel, though Quark believes they can use the ship’s subspace transmitter to send a message into space if they can broadcast where the atmosphere is thin. He and Odo are forced to take turns carrying the heavy equipment up a mountain while sharing the runabout’s only cold-weather suit between them. They spend more time bickering and jostling each other than supporting one another, and eventually Odo falls, breaking his leg. Meanwhile, back on the station, Jake and Nog find that their friendship may not survive Nog’s obsession with duty and discipline versus Jake’s more carefree artistic temperament. Realizing from Quark’s taunts that the bomb must have been planted by the Orion Syndicate and that the Ferengi was likely summoned as a witness, not a suspect, Odo insists that Quark continue to climb without him. Believing that they will not survive nightfall, he begins to log his last wishes, interrupted by a transporter beam that takes him to the Defiant. While Bashir treats Odo’s wounds, Dax informs him that Quark saved his life.
Analysis: I disliked “The Ascent” so much when it first aired that I didn’t even bother to write a full review of it, just a few snide comments about how out of character the dialogue seemed in a misguided attempt at comedy and how the drama-on-the-mountain storyline felt like a cheap version of K2, the excellent play about how a losing battle with nature can bring out the inner nobility of men who don’t believe they have any. I didn’t even mention the Jake-Nog storyline, though this episode now seems like a big milestone in their developments, the point at which it’s clear they’re ready to break away from parental supervision and expectations to forge their own paths…not to mention the difficulties Sisko and Rom find they have in letting their sons make their own choices and mistakes. While “The Ascent” indeed suffers from many of the problems that plague most of the Ferengi episodes, with too many repeated snide comments about alien values versus human values and too much conflict that feels contrived, it’s really not a bad episode, certainly not by the standards of this wildly uneven fifth season that contains some utterly brilliant, series-changing episodes and some complete drek. “The Ascent” isn’t the former, but it’s visually arresting, with its mountaintop scenes filmed at California’s Mt. Whitney (where Armin Shimerman’s prosthetics contracted and gave him a headache that nearly halted the shoot), and it has a few delightful moments between Shimerman and Auberjonois, whose offscreen regard is apparent even when Quark and Odo are screaming at each other. I also forgive a lot of the gratuitous Ferengi jokes because Quark reveals that he knows how to play Fizzbin.
In K2 (which should not be confused with the movie of the same name, though DS9’s ending is much closer to the film’s than the play’s), two men who are opposites in nearly every way get stranded on the Earth’s second-tallest mountain – one is a level-headed, conservative-living bore who hardly seems to enjoy life to the other, a self-serving, womanizing gambler, though when the strict man breaks his leg, the carefree man is willing to give up his own life in an effort to save him. Sound familiar? There’s a bit of added interest in “The Ascent” because neither Quark nor Odo knows the first thing about mountain climbing and there’s a bit of mystery about who planted the bomb that landed them there, though it’s predictable all along that that solution to that mystery will also reveal Quark not to be the villain that Odo gleefully expects. It is, in fact, rather odd how much Odo gloats when he comes to take Quark into custody at the beginning; for one thing, I’d expect Odo to be angry not to have full information from the Federation if not from Quark about the planned testimony so that he can prepare proper security that might avoid an incident like a bomb on a runabout, and for another thing, I’d think Odo would be disappointed, after years of trying to catch Quark running some criminal scheme, that someone not even on the station has done a better job of tracking Quark’s activities. We’ve definitely seen a kindler, gentler Quark since he was forced to cut ties to the Ferengi homeworld, but I’d have believed he was too much of a coward to testify against the major crime syndicate in the Federation except for money, given that an assassination attempt was predictable…and it’s a letdown that we don’t get a bad guy caught in the end for planting the bomb, since Odo already isn’t looking like the most competent chief of security.
The hostility instead seems juvenile – Frodo and Sam are more mature yelling at each other in The Lord of the Rings when they have the One Ring as well as the mountain to blame for their stress levels. Odo doesn’t cite specific instances of bad behavior on Quark’s part, not even things the audience has witnessed; he’s reduced to shouting “I hate you!”, which may be meant to show that he’s becoming more human now that he’s no longer a changeling, but after the complicated and powerful emotions he got to experience recently while reliving the events of “Things Past,” he merely sounds bratty and badly written. Truly, Nog and Jake behave more like adults, despite experiencing very typical young-adult growing pains; rather than screaming, shoving, and throwing things, they mostly use their long acquaintance to strike at one another’s insecurities, and it takes Papa Sisko to make them start cooperating. That’s believable even if it’s contrived, particularly for these two for whom parental meddling has been a hallmark of their relationship from the start. I love seeing Sisko and Rom now thinking that this friendship is extremely valuable rather than something to be discouraged, and I love seeing Nog as the nerdy Starfleet cadet while Jake is the misbehaving good-time kid. The boys should take Odo and Quark out to dinner and show them how reasonable people behave, because the events that affect the latter – Odo’s encouraging Quark’s last wishes to have his remains sold for profit, Quark’s finding the courage to continue on alone – really have to do with who they decide to be as individuals instead of with how their relationship evolves. In the end, they can’t even acknowledge aloud that “I hate you” doesn’t really mean “I hate you.”