'Homefront' & 'Paradise Lost': DS9 In The Post-9/11 WorldBy Robert Burke Richardson
Posted at March 8, 2003 - 2:26 AM GMT
This is the first in a series of articles written by Robert Burke Richardson to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with each article examining a theme or issue explored during the show's seven-year run.
"You can't go around making people prove they are who they say they are."
"Paradise has never seemed so well armed."
"Fear is a dangerous and powerful tool."
Any of the above observations would not sound out of place coming from a grim-faced TV news correspondent or bandied about in a discussion of current events but, as any nonlinear, root beer-swilling Niner will happily tell you, they all come from "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost", a prophetic two-part episode from Deep Space Nine's fourth season. Star Trek in general has no shortage of episodes readily applicable to events that happen years later TNG's "The High Ground" and the Original Series's "A Private Little War" come to mind and many contemporary television shows offer comments on the world's changing political climate, but "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" stand out among all of these as the only story that offers a personal strategy for dealing with the anxieties of the post-9/11 world.
2003 marks Deep Space Nine's tenth anniversary and, with the first season now available on DVD, I thought I'd take the opportunity to examine a few of the series's most interesting arcs and episodes. "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" aren't on every Niner's top-ten list but I feel they deserves a close examination both because they are generally underrated and because of their relevance to today's world. "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" also introduced several important elements to the DS9 universe such as Captain Sisko's father, Joseph Sisko (superbly well-acted by Brock Peters), who would reappear in "A Time to Stand", "Far Beyond the Stars", "Image in the Sand", and "Shadows and Symbols"; Red Squad, a group of elite Starfleet Academy cadets central to season six's "Valiant"; as well as the first mention of Ben's never-seen sister Judith, who will be familiar to readers of Pocket Books' Deep Space Nine relaunch series of novels. Other firsts include Bashir and O'Brien in costume in Quark's bar as they take a break from their outrageous and never seen holodeck adventures as well as a look at Admiral Leyton, the man who switched a young Benjamin Sisko from engineering to the command track.
In "Homefront", we learn that the Founders the shape-shifting leaders of the Dominion and the same race as Security Chief Odo are behind the bombing of a Federation/Romulan diplomatic conference on Earth. Worse still, we learn that the changelings themselves are on Earth. Because of their ability to mimic both organic and inorganic forms, the changelings are able to insinuate themselves seamlessly into Earth's population. Leyton reassigns Sisko temporarily, making him the acting head of Starfleet Security on Earth in order to combat the changeling threat. Sisko brings Odo with him, though the constable expresses reservations about the reception he a changeling is likely to receive. Chief O'Brien tells him that no one can blame him for the actions of his people but Odo, ever taciturn, responds with a question: "Oh really?" The parallels to today's problems in identifying terrorists and to cases of race-related violence are self-evident and much more powerful than mere allegory could be: these events were not conceived to comment on the post-9/11 world, but they illuminate it very nicely.
The presence of the changelings divides Earth along several fault lines. The Federation itself, represented by cautious President Jaresh-Inyo, finds itself in conflict with Starfleet, lead by the more alarmist Admiral Leyton. The situation comes to a head in space when the Lakota, an Excelsior class starship, is ordered to fire on the USS Defiant. Sisko finds himself at odds with both Leyton, his former mentor, and his own father. Blood screenings are instituted to guard against changeling infiltrators, but Joseph won't go along with it. "I don't care if it's reasonable or not," he tells Ben. "When a son can't trust his own father..."
Rene Echevarria, via the Deep Space Nine Companion, describes the episode as "an attempt to make the audience complicit in believing that a threat is imminent, and that by any means necessary it must be dealt with... Martial law yes! Clamp down on rights yes! Blood tests yes! No civil rights yes! And then in Part II we find out that the real point of the story is how dangerous this feeling is".
Robert Hewitt Wolfe echoes these feelings, noting, "Whatever they're doing, we're doing more damage to ourselves than they are". Whatever the shapeshifter agenda, the fear and paranoia their mere presence induces could cause Starfleet to destroy paradise all by themselves. The most poignant moment comes after Joseph refuses to have his blood tested and goes into his kitchen to chop vegetables. He is agitated and cuts his finger and a long, tense moment ensues while Benjamin waits to see if the blood will change and reveal his father as a Founder. "You're seeing shapeshifters everywhere," Joseph warns. The incident leads to Joseph's collapse, a result of both extreme stress and his general neglect of his own failing health.
One of the key strengths of Deep Space Nine was its ability to marry sweeping plots to intimate character interaction and Joseph's collapse accomplishes this nicely. As with many elements of the series, the full consequences of the changeling infiltration are not immediately resolved, but Joseph goes back to work at his restaurant despite his personal setbacks and the fact that he truly fears the Founders, and here we get the best advice there is. At the end of "Paradise Lost", when Odo asks if he's the only one who is worried that there are still changelings on Earth, Joseph replies, "Worried? I'm scared to death. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let them change the way I live my life".
There are some things in life we can control, and some things we can't. Joseph seems to suggest tending to the things we can control, such as the way we conduct ourselves. And his son concurs, saying, "If the changelings want to destroy what we've built here they're going to have to do it themselves, we will not do it for them". At the heart of any conflict between cultures fictional or real is the basic fact of the difference in way of life. If you destroy an enemy's way of life, or coerce the enemy to alter it himself, you've won.
Deep Space Nine was strange for a television series, producing classic episodes at odd times in the broadcast season and telling bold, unusual stories that could not be told on any other show. Rewatching the episodes often illuminates current situations and lends new significance to past events when seen through their filter. But then, Deep Space Nine isn't linear; it's everywhere.
Robert Burke Richardson is a freelance writer. He owns no cats.