Retro Review: For the UniformPosted by Michelle - 08/11/13 at 06:11 pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season: 05 Episode: 13 (s05e13)
Original US airdate: 02/03/1997
Sisko pursues a vendetta against Eddington, who fancies himself Jean Valjean to Sisko’s Javert.
Plot Summary: Sisko travels to the Badlands to meet with an informer who claims to have information about the whereabouts of former security officer turned Maquis leader Michael Eddington. He is met by Eddington himself, shown the terrible conditions in which refugees from the Demilitarized Zone are now living, and warned not to come after the Maquis. When he tries to pursue Eddington on the Defiant, the ship suffers major system failures caused by a cascade virus planted by the former Starfleet officer. Sisko’s fury is compounded when he learns that Starfleet has sent Captain Sanders aboard the Malinche to capture Eddington since Sisko has failed to do so. Then Eddington attacks a Cardassian colony with a biogenic weapon and the Defiant is the only starship near enough to intercept the Maquis, though not all the ship’s systems have been repaired. Eddington sends projections of himself to warn Sisko off and suggests that Sisko reread Les Miserables since his behavior reminds Eddington of obsessive Inspector Javert. While Sisko contacts the disabled Malinche and rescues a transport ship carrying Cardassian civilians, Eddington uses his biogenic weapon on another planet. Realizing that Eddington believes himself to be the equivalent of the protagonist Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, Sisko realizes that he must give Eddington the opportunity to play the self-sacrificing hero and prepares missiles to poison the atmosphere of a Maquis colony, warning Eddington that he will make the planet uninhabitable just as Eddington has done to the Cardassian planets. Eddington assumes Sisko is bluffing and is horrified when Sisko deploys the weapons, forcing the planet’s evacuation. Sisko then threatens to do the same to every Maquis colony unless Eddington surrenders his biogenic weapons and himself as well. The Maquis and Cardassian settlers finally agree to honor the peace treaty and resettle on planets on their own sides of the Demilitarized Zone, and Eddington is sent to prison.
Analysis: “For the Uniform” is an episode that I thought had problems when it first aired but in retrospect has become one of my favorites, not in the least because it’s a When Fandoms Collide storyline for me and apparently for Peter Allan Fields, always one of my favorites on DS9, who here brings in interesting if inexact parallels with Les Mis (though I feel as if Fields must have seen one of the movies rather than read the Brick, because Victor Hugo’s Valjean would never have poisoned his adversary’s atmosphere…Enjolras, maybe). Here we see glimpses of the morally equivocating Sisko who will dominate In the Pale Moonlight and remain throughout the Dominion War. If it’s rather chilling to see this man, cloaked in power by Starfleet and chosen by the Bajoran Prophets to serve as their emissary, as he gives the order to destroy a planet’s atmosphere, it’s also unforgettable. It makes up for the the long, slow sequence getting the damaged Defiant into space in much the same manner that the Enterprise was slowly relaunched in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and for the heavy-handed literary references that don’t quite hold up to Khan spouting Moby Dick in The Wrath of Khan…at least not until Sisko, rather than the story’s ostensible villain, becomes the guy firing the deadly torpedo. I know many people consider this proof that Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek is well and truly over, a Starfleet captain making a choice that I can’t imagine Picard at his angriest or Kirk at his most egotistical (and could easily imagine both of them refusing to do if ordered by Starfleet). But Roddenberry’s Star Trek posited an idyllic Federation that dealt usually from a position of superiority and condescension with aliens; it had no visible groups like the Maquis, who were Federation citizens until they felt betrayed by a peace treaty that may have done the logical thing putting the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few, yet failed to take into account the human(oid) suffering that’s inevitably necessary for peace and compromise. Sisko feels very strongly that the Maquis leaders, not the Federation or Cardassians, are the villains, guilty of the crime of creating false hope.
Does that justify poisoning a planet without Starfleet’s permission and threatening to do the same to every other planet harboring illegal settlers? Sisko will later blame Eddington and the Maquis for the Cardassian alliance with the Dominion, a threat to hundreds of millions of lives; in retrospect, fighting terror with terror to put an end to the Maquis right here seems to make sense. But at the moment Sisko gives the order to fire, it really seems as though he may have lost his mind, though who would stop him? Not Kira, who grew up using violent tactics to fight the Cardassian Occupation; not Dax or Worf, who respect Sisko both as their superior officer and as a leader seemingly taking a lesson from the Klingons about how to defeat an entrenched enemy; not O’Brien, who sympathizes with the Maquis hatred of the Cardassians if not with their betrayal of Starfleet; not Bashir, who isn’t there to talk about the potential human suffering (and how differently would we all regard Sisko if something had gone wrong with the transports for humans and left many to die, as would have happened to the Cardassians attacked by Eddington had Sisko not intervened). The Maquis have always exemplified a kind of moral gray area rarely explored in depth on the previous Star Trek shows; there are violent actions that might be relatively easy to forgive when committed by Bajorans, for instance, who are not Federation members and who were left to suffer at the hands of the Cardassians, yet can’t be condoned when committed by former Starfleet officers. It’s particularly tough for Sisko because Eddington served and trained under him and now may be more clever than he is, always a step ahead of Sisko. I don’t know whether to be impressed or frustrated that the episode never allows him to spell out precisely why he takes Eddington’s betrayal so personally. Eddington says many of the same things that Sisko’s onetime good friend Cal Hudson once said to him about the unfair treatment of the refugees: is that it? Or is it because of someone who is strangely never mentioned in this episode, Kasidy Yates, who betrayed Sisko far more personally yet has been forgiven? How can he not ask her whether she knows anything about Eddington’s associates that might be helpful, or assume she might be the reason Starfleet wants another captain to lead the hunt for the traitor?
It’s inevitable for viewers to ask what would James T. Kirk do, particularly after the scene on the Defiant in which Sisko talks out things he should have done with Dax, who sounds a lot like McCoy giving advice. It’s wonderful to see her once more defined as Sisko’s closest adviser and confidant, talking about Curzon, figuring out the science behind Eddington’s weapons, literally holding Sisko’s punching bag (newfound strength being a positive aspect of her relationship with Worf), and of course I love her barb about how Victor Hugo’s heroines are two-dimensional. If there are plot problems with “For the Uniform” ranging from why Sisko doesn’t get reprimanded for taking such violent actions without permission to the too-neat resolution in which Maquis who have spent years fighting to remain in their homes abruptly agree to swap planets, the characterizations remain superb…even small moments like Nog’s communications contributions and Odo telling Sisko to remind Starfleet that Eddington got his job because Starfleet didn’t trust Odo. Considering how I found Eddington two-dimensional and untrustworthy back when he was a recurring character seeking promotion, I’m really impressed with how much depth Eddington has acquired – he’s Valjean, Robin Hood, even Walter Mitty all name-checked in this single episode – and how possible it has become to feel sorry for him while agreeing with Sisko that Eddington is in the wrong. I don’t remember precisely what was going on in the world when this episode was written and first aired, but watching it now – as civilian refugees flee a Syrian civil war in which no side represents their interests, as Israelis and Palestinians try to negotiate borders which inevitably will leave some of each unable to live on what they consider their own land – it remains relevant and moving. I don’t agree with Dax that sometimes I like it when the bad guy wins, but I think the so-called darkness of this series, the moral ambiguities and the hard questions, have kept it more timely and stopped it from aging better than the other Trek shows.
Tags: Retro Review