When the Defiant is boarded by Jem’Hadar, a group of crewmembers miniaturized by an anomaly must rescue the crew.
Plot Summary: The Defiant takes a break from the Dominion conflict to investigate a compression phenomenon that shrinks the runabout Rubicon and its crew, but while Dax, O’Brien, and Bashir are studying the anomaly, a Jem’Hadar warship attacks and the Defiant is captured. When ordered to repair the warp drive or watch his crew die, Sisko takes advantage of a brewing conflict between the First – who was bred in the Alpha Quadrant – and the Second – an older Gamma Quadrant-bred Jem’Hadar who finds the newcomers arrogant – persuading the First that repairs require the assistance of Kira, Worf, and Nog. While Kira stalls the repairs, Sisko and Nog attempt to take control of the ship from engineering and Worf sabotages the warp core so that if they fail, they can destroy the ship. Seeing the effects of the Jem’Hadar attack, Dax flies the shrunken runabout aboard the Defiant through a plasma vent and realizes that Sisko is trying to retake control by bypassing the bridge. O’Brien and Bashir beam into a computer junction to reroute the commands, which they must do by manually lifting miniature components now larger than they are. They are able to transfer control to engineering, but the First blames the Second for not realizing that the crew has been stalling, though the Second has warned the First all along about potential sabotage. As the Jem’Hadar prepare to go to warp, which will trigger the self-destruct, Dax takes the Rubicon to engineering and fires its weapons at the Jem’Hadar. Sisko and his crew use this diversion to regain control of the ship, then returns the Rubicon to the anomaly so that the runabout and its crew can be restored to their regular sizes. Back on the station, Odo warns O’Brien and Bashir that they still seem shorter to him.
Analysis: The “Honey, I Shrunk the Crew” episode of Deep Space Nine starts out with Kira snickering at the ridiculousness of compressing a runabout to the size of a coffee cup, and it’s a wise diversion because on paper the plot of “One Little Ship” sounds completely ridiculous. And I have to admit that, after having watched the end of the Dominion War, going back to yet another story which turns the Jem’Hadar into stupid comic relief, elbowing one another for position and ignoring their own rituals in precisely the way we’ve seen Klingons do in the past, I feel like such a storyline comes dangerously close to trivializing the show’s main adversary – of course I’m all for well-rounded characters who aren’t merely villains, but turning them into stereotypical buffoons doesn’t count. That said, “One Little Ship” ends up being great fun, resembling some of the crazy original series episodes where the science is preposterous yet the stories work on the strength of the cast interaction (“The Alternative Factor,” “Wink of an Eye,” similarly plotted animated episode “The Terratin Incident,” even the very popular “Trouble With Tribbles” which makes a mockery of the Klingons much like this one does with the Dominion). The entire cast not only seems to be having fun but for the most part everyone gets something interesting to do; it’s too bad Odo and Quark are sidelined, but it’s nice to see how smart Nog is, and who knew that Kira was such an expert on the Defiant’s engineering specs? Even though Starfleet gave command of the ship to Worf, it’s apparent that she has the training to take it into battle whenever necessary. Plus Dax does a terrific job commanding the runabout under circumstances that would make most captains sweat; we see her at her best both as a scientist and as a strategist.
Since we live in an age of scientific denial and revisionism, I feel compelled to reiterate that the science upon which the story is founded is nonsensical. The compression phenomenon seems to work by reducing both subatomic particles and the space between those particles, so that, unlike in a collapsing neutron star where the protons and electrons start colliding, the elements keep their structure as they shrink. But the laws of physics state that this isn’t really possible, since the energy needed to counter the force of repulsion that keeps electrons in orbit around an atom’s nucleus would simply crush the runabout and its crew…okay, I’m sure I’m explaining this all wrong, but I learned in tenth grade that we’d never really be able to miniaturize people or buildings in this way, and if O’Brien and Bashir can’t breathe “normal” air because the molecules would be too big, they should have been killed by the stray dust particles in the Defiant machinery that Bashir identified while flying through the ship’s conduits, which should also have affected the mini-Rubicon’s systems. It’s not that the bad science ruins the episode, since the warp drive itself – not to mention the transporters and replicators – requires a suspension of scientific disbelief. But the fantastic element means that the comic potential has to be emphasized, hence the necessity of pushing a dramatic conflict between the Jem’Hadar First and Second beyond believability and into farce. If Sisko can work around the First sufficiently to have his crew sabotage the ship, surely the Second could work around the First sufficiently to see what Sisko is really up to.
We’re distracted from such concerns, though, by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle’s clever script and Allan Kroeker’s terrific directing, which, if not directly inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, The Incredibly Shrinking Man and Fantastic Voyage, manage some of the same sorts of graphic humor. The scenes of the miniaturized runabout flying within the ship may strain credulity as none of the Jem’Hadar with their better-than-human vision notice it, but they’re beautifully executed, and the scene in which O’Brien and Bashir crawl around amidst the bridge’s computer components larger than they are to reroute the command codes is hilarious – though in a sadistic moment I found myself hoping for an old-fashioned bug of the sort that used to fry the circuits of older computers. An ongoing concern by O’Brien about shrinkage pays off when Bashir, who has insisted all along that size doesn’t matter, is very unhappy when Odo and Quark agree that he’s smaller than he used to be and goes off with O’Brien to measure. It’s nice to see Worf trying to write poetry for Dax instead of rough sex, though Bashir has to get in a joke about Dax not having such a light touch according to Worf when she claims she does while she uses the runabout to press a control panel, and it’s nice to see Nog explaining why Worf’s failure to spot the Jem’Hadar isn’t a security lapse but a scientific conundrum. It’s too bad that in all the comedy, what could have been a major dramatic storyline sort of gets lost, since we don’t see the same level of conflict between Alpha and Gamma Jem’Hadar continue. That’s all right, though: as comic episodes go, this one has wit, strong characterization, and a bit of suspense, making it much more fun for me to watch than the ongoing Ferengi silliness.