Sunday, 30 June 2013

Reports of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated

For the first time in a few months, I'm managing more than one-to-two posts a month. Admittedly I'm cutting things rather a teeny bit close given that we're right at the end of June here, but hey-ho. Today is going to be a little bit of a special one. For this post will be my forty-seventh. The number forty-seven is curious. It's cropped up in quite a few places. I first encountered it in the TV show Alias, then again in the Hitman videogame series...mostly on account of the main character being the assassin called 47. But one of the most notable places it appears (and what I wish to discuss today) is the Star Trek universe.

The references to the number forty-seven can be traced back, according this article on Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki) to Joe Menosky, writer on both The Next Generation and Voyager. He was part of a society at college that believes mathematical proof exists that all numbers are equal to forty-seven. Thus, Menosky found ways to sneak the number forty-seven into Star Trek episodes as a neat little in-joke.

Anyway, that's reason that I decided I would talk about Star Trek in post forty-seven. In the exceptionally unlikely event that any Star Trek writers read this, I accept your facepalm gestures, rolled eyes, etcetera 'cause after so many years, you're probably sick to the death of the number.

Now then. On with the relevant babbling.

You see, I hold what I believe to be a slightly controversial opinion in the world of Star Trek geekdom. There is an age-old question that reigns among any fandom - which of said fandom incarnations are the best? Which is your favourite? The latter can be quite a damning question in the wrong company. And of the choices presented, I regard Deep Space Nine as my favourite. For the simple reason that more things go boom and the characters...well, the characters are far, far more complex.

So let's pause and digress for a moment, clarify some things. Jean-Luc Picard is undeniably the superior Starfleet captain of all the captains encountered. Both ships commanded by Captain Picard somewhat out-do Benjamin Sisko's small but mighty USS Defiant. But when it comes to the longevity of things, the complexity of storyline and intrigue of characters, Deep Space Nine takes the prize by more than a few country miles.

To back up my argument, a case study - episode nineteen of season six: "In the Pale Moonlight".

First of all, awesome title. Anyone who's watched and enjoyed Tim Burton's Batman can hear Jack Nicholson uttering the line "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" A curious, almost delightfully threatening phrase I find. And exceptionally fitting for the episode at the heart of our case study. For those of you not wishing to know anything about this episode, I'd stop reading right about...

We're deep in the Dominion War at this point. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are fighting hard against the Dominion and their Cardassian allies, but in spite of their efforts, the war continues to go badly for them. Every week, a new casualty list is posted by Captain Sisko and every week more friends have died. All the while, thanks to their non-aggression treaty, Dominion forces are to take shortcuts through Romulan space and catch Federation forces unawares. An idle conversation between the officers leads Sisko to a startling realisation - he needs to bring the Romulan Star Empire into the war.

But this is no easy task. The Romulans don't have any reason to join the fighting. The Federation and Romulus have been playing deadly games with each other since the end of the Earth-Romulan War in the 22nd Century. They have been openly hostile towards the Klingon Empire on more than one occasion. If the Dominion were to win the war, two of Romulus' greatest threats would be removed in one fell swoop. So in order to convince them that the Dominion intends to bring Romulus into the fold once it's done with the Federation and the Klingons, Sisko turns to the shadiest dealer on Deep Space Nine - Cardassian tailor and former Obsidian Order operative, Elim Garak.

We digress from the story a moment to talk a little about Garak. He is by far one of the best characters in the series. His past is beyond merely chequered, it's riddled with intentional black holes of ambiguity and secrecy. His past actions with the Cardassian secret police has given him a jaded worldview that is a stark contrast to the bright optimism embodied by the officers of Starfleet and their glorious Federation. And above all, he seems to reward mistrust and paranoia. Earlier in season six, when stranded on a planet and out on patrol with Nog, he calls the young cadet on the fact that Nog will not allow Garak to stand behind him. When the Ferengi explains his reasoning, Garak remarks "Cadet, there may be hope for you yet".

Anyway, skipping ahead, Sisko conspires with Garak to at first discover evidence of Dominion plans to invade Romulus, then forge evidence of aforementioned Dominion plans. Various shady circumstances ensue, pushing Sisko's integrity closer and closer to the edge of the proverbial abyss. Eventually, with their forged evidence, they arrange a clandestine meeting with a prominent Romulan senator, who notably supports the treaty Romulus has with the Dominion. The senator comes aboard DS9, views the evidence, takes it away to examine it for himself and discovers it to be a fake. Outraged, he returns to Romulus, Sisko prepares for the consequences. Then...

...well, Garak outdoes himself. Just before the senator returns to Romulus, his shuttle explodes. Romulan authorities examine the wreckage, the imperfections in the forged evidence dismissed as damage from the explosion. The Romulan Star Empire enters the war.

As soon as he hears of the senator's demise, Sisko knows Garak is responsible. A confrontation ensues, but eventually...well, Sisko realises the most damning thing of all. He can live with it. The lies, the murder. For the sake of the Alpha Quadrant, he can live with it.

As I see it, this episode does something no other Star Trek incarnation ever did or would ever do. It epitomises Deep Space Nine's ability to shine a light on the darkest, most compelling storylines. And for this reason, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is my favourite.

And now for something completely different, I'm ending this blog entry here so I can watch Battlestar Galactica and eat Chinese food. Nom.

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