“The Changing Face Of Evil”/”When It Rains…” (season 7, episodes 20-21; originally aired 4/28/1999, 5/5/1999)
After a banner double feature last week, this week’s two episodes find Deep Space Nine sinking into something like stall mode. Or not a “stall,” exactly, but the rising action moves through “The Change Face Of Evil” and “When It Rains…” in fits and starts. There are moments of revelation and action, but they sit cheek by jowl with character bits that serve mostly to hold the space before the next big calamity. Some of this works, and yet nearly all of it feels like set-up, as so much of these episodes do. Serialization is great for world-building and establishing relationships, but the drawback is the constant push to move forward. Everything that happens just turns into something that happened on the way to something else.
Basically, too much serialization and episodes start to lose cohesion as individual units; they instead become collections of scenes which only have value when put together with a bunch of other scenes we won’t see until next week, and the week after that. If you’re telling stories on television, you need to use the episodic structure to your benefit. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. Some of it might be more interesting than other stuff, but a show can’t really survive on a few good scenes. There needs to be cohesion—and ironically, that push for cohesion, for a sense of a greater overarching narrative, is what drives writers to serialization in the first place.
But enough empty theory talk, let’s break this down.
This Is How You Lose Me: Winn and Dukat
Oh hey, here’s another subplot I was happy to watch develop which ultimately turned around and bit me in the face. I need to stop doing that.
Look, there are elements to like about Winn and Dukat’s slow, painful falling out. Viewed in broad terms, there’s a certain poetry to Dukat finally being punished for trying to rise above his station; and Winn’s descent into evil is convincing, in that she’s unhappy and frustrated, and then horrified when she learns Dukat’s true identity—but that horror doesn’t stop her from murdering her subordinate and pushing forward with her research into freeing the Pah-Wraiths. All of this seems pretty necessary to happen, in terms of wherever the hell this is going. By which I mean, there aren’t any major character missteps, and I’m guessing the Pah-Wraiths are going to factor into the show’s end game.
But as it plays out, all of this takes much too long, with too many scenes of Solbor fretting over Winn’s infatuation with “Anjohl,” and too many scenes of Dukat trying to soothe Winn with promises that everything will work out fine in the end. A certain monotony sets in, and while Sobor’s death certainly adds a jump, it still doesn’t transform what’s basically just two people sitting in a room squabbling about abstract philosophical concerns. Oh no, the book of evil! Oh no, Winn is turning her back on the Prophets! And so on and so forth. No matter how worked up Louise Fletcher gets (and she does a very good job of showing Winn’s mind shattering and then reforging itself), these are still ideas without, as of yet, practical or immediate value.
The reason that Dukat’s seduction of Winn worked so well was that there was an actual, clear conflict: the struggle for Winn’s soul. You could argue that’s still abstract (I mean what the hell is a soul, anyway), but there was suspense and fascination in watching Dukat strip her of her principles without her knowledge. The tension came from wondering if Winn would realize what was happening before she went too far, and then, if maybe this was secretly what Winn had wanted all along—the chance to forge her own path, her own religion, with presumably herself as a centerpiece.
Technically speaking, “The Changing Face Of Evil” has some of this tension, as Winn doesn’t realize what Dukat is doing until Solbor breaks the news about his Cardassian DNA, and even then, still has the chance to turn things around for herself right up until the moment where she stabs Solbor in the back. (This is one of those semi-forced big turning points where you know what’s coming, and you can see it coming for a long time, and it’s really by the grace of Fletcher, who does this half-stunned, half-terrified thing, that it works as well as it does.) But her decision was essentially already made, and even learning the truth doesn’t alter Winn’s course very much.
It should be freeing, at least initially, to see the Kai embrace her inner villain. And there is some satisfaction to see her turn the tables on Dukat, albeit in a way which is less cleverness on her part than it is taking advantage of a magical mishap. Maybe that’s the real problem here: the “magic.” Once Winn has made her choice, the focus of the story shifts from character to mythology, and that’s rarely an upgrade. Winn spends most of her time in these episodes, when she isn’t murdering people or kicking former lovers who are now blind out into the street, doing research. Research in a “forbidden book,” no less. Forbidden books are always a warning sign, culturally speaking, and this subplot leans far too much on taking what should be a metaphor and making it literal fact.
This might’ve played better if stripped down to a single episode; as is, stretched to two, there’s too little urgency, and we’re allowed to much time to contemplate everything, and wonder if it’s possible for the show to put too much emphasis on mysticism over science. In the past, Sisko’s dealings with the Prophets have straddled the line between the two ideas well enough, but an evil book which zaps someone in the eyes and makes them blind even though there’s nothing medically wrong with them—that’s something else entirely. As great as Fletcher is, Winn just isn’t that compelling enough to justify this much screentime, and regardless of how important all of this will be to the finale, too much of this feels unnecessary and prolonged.
Do you hear the Cardassians sing?
Well, Damar is on one heck of a winning streak. Deciding to take a stand against Weyoun and the predatory grip of the Dominion, the daughter-killing former drunk manages to mount an impressive, if somewhat limited, rebellion. And for one episode, it’s badass. First Damar finds himself a second in command—Damar’s Damar, so to speak—then, with impressive speed and resources, he launches an attack on a cloning facility in Cardassian territory, before announcing to the empire his intentions to beat back the Dominion forces. Whereas so much of these final episodes has been marked by steady, patient plotting, Damar’s actions in “The Changing Face Of Evil” come in a rush, and serve partially to balance the crushing defeat the Federation receives at the hands of the Breen three-quarters of the way through the episode. Everything may be turning to shit, Damar’s speech seems to say, but if the Cardassians can become allies, who knows what might happen?
As with Winn, once Damar makes his choice, the character dynamic shifts from the tension to decision, to all forward momentum. But where Winn’s decision to go full Pah-Wraith was hindered by her doubts, Damar has no such compunctions; there’s a thrilling straightforwardness to him, a clarity that makes him exciting to watch. After a season or two of watching him drink himself into a stupor while Weyoun quips from the sidelines, Damar has finally grown himself a spine, and it’s a development as unexpected as it is exciting.
The excitement pales a bit in “When It Rains…” as the focus shifts from Damar to Kira. Cardassians may be great fighters (at least, I’ve always assumed they were), but they aren’t very good at guerilla warfare, especially not with old bull-in-a-china-shop Damar leading things. Once the Federation makes contact with the Cardassian resistance, Sisko decides they need to send someone into Dominion territory to make contact with Damar and the others and give them a schooling in how to be sneaky terrorists. He decides Kira is the only choice, and orders her off, accompanied by Garak (naturally) and Odo (again, naturally).
Conceptually, this has potential. There’s something almost narratively sadistic about putting Kira in a position where she has to teach her former oppressors how to free themselves from oppression, especially given Damar’s involvement. As Kira reminds Sisko, she considered Ziyal a part of the family, and her death at Damar’s hands is a crime that remains unpunished. Tensions pop up in various places once Kira and the others arrive at the camp, with various Cardassians chafing under Bajoran counsel, especially when Kira explains to them that they’re need to be willing to attack their own people if they want to have any hope of success.
The problem is again one of serialization; all we get in “When It Rains…” is set-up, scenes which establish why both sides would be reluctant to work together, but without any of the necessary pay-off to that reluctance. Either the Cardassian resistance will win a victory thanks to Kira’s advice, or they’ll turn on her. Neither of these have happened yet, so instead of a story with a beginning, middle, and end, we get something that starts and builds but doesn’t really end up anywhere.
Compare that to, say, Damar’s decision to turn on the Dominion. First, we get the great scene of him helping Worf and Ezri to escape; and while that scene sets up what’s to come, it also serves as a conclusion to Damar’s arc with Weyoun. The next episode tells the story of Damar building his rebel army and their first big assault. While that’s a piece of a larger tale, it functions on its own as a coherent narrative. Damar’s speech to Cardassia serves to drive the larger story forward, but it also serves just fine as a conclusion; the break which began in the previous episode is now complete.
Kira’s struggles in the Cardassian camp didn’t need to be as dramatic or as impactful, but there should be at least some sense that things have reached a temporary conclusion, however unstable. Which is something that comes up often in these two episodes, especially the second. It must be challenging to plot out events over so much time, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating to watch decent but middling plots drain away the urgency. Maybe a refusal to provide even an illusion of closure is an attempt to keep building the tension until it peaks in the finale, but right now, that’s not what’s happening.
The Defiant done got blowed up. That was sad.
…okay, I probably say more than that, but really, as much as I liked the stories that ship made possible, I wasn’t particularly attached to it. I liked what it represented, I guess—the show striking outward from its home base, and the greater narrative investment in the Dominion War. But as an actual vehicle, it never really inspired much affection in me. Maybe I’m just not as impressed by the trappings of sci-fi shows as I should be. Kira getting a Starfleet commision mostly just made me realize that she didn’t already have one. Then I promptly forgot about it, until just now.
But hey, the space battle in which the Defiant goes down was great, and it was good to finally get some hard evidence on the prowess of the Breen. This is totally the kind of ending I was talking about above, and it will be interesting to see how the loss will affect Sisko’s place in the final days of the war. Hard to be a captain when you don’t have a ship.
Ezri and Bashir and—oh, I’m sorry, I was going to say more but just happened to be cut off by a painfully contrived convenience.
Seriously, either have them hook up or don’t. This “Bashir thinks Ezri is in love with Worf, and before Ezri can explain otherwise, something something” crap is the worst.
Section 31, Section 31, What Have You Done
They created the virus which is killing the Changelings, for one. And worse (at least from our perspective), they used Odo to do it, infecting him during his last check-up at Starfleet medical, which in turn allowed him to pass on the illness when he linked with the Female Changeling. I’m not sure how the timing of this works out, but if I had to guess, I’d say it seems like Section 31 didn’t have any concrete reason to believe that Odo would be linking with the Founders any time soon. They just made him sick on the chance that they might be able to use him to murder his entire race. Which is cool.
Bashir discovers all this when he finds that Odo actually has the sickness after all; in the good doctor’s efforts to get ahold of Odo’s medical records, he uncovers conspiracy which leads him to deduce a Section 31-orchestrated cover-up. (He works most of this out while talking with Miles in Sick Bay, and since we’re talking spin-offs, I really want a show about Bashir solving medical mysteries, and O’Brien hanging out with him. Like House, only the lead isn’t an ass.) There’s no definitive proof of any of this, but it sounds too plausible not to be true, and we’re getting awfully close to the wire to start introducing fake conspiracies.
This is one of those revelations which I suspect will work better for me in retrospect. There’s plenty to like about it. For one, it has Bashir finally figure something out ahead of the bad guys (at least, I’m assuming that him discovering the source of the Changeling sickness isn’t some epic mind fuck), and it’s nice to see the character get a chance to learn from the past, and not always be the idealist who only realizes the universe is rotten too late to change anything. And this makes sense, in a way a more outlandish or unexpected resolution arguably wouldn’t have. The last we saw Sloan, he was already looking forward to where the Federation would stand after the Dominion War, and while part of that isvjust the character’s inherent arrogance, knowing that he had every reason to believe that the Founders wouldn’t be around much longer helps justify his attitude.
Yet as it stands right now, I feel a little disappointed. There’s something so inevitable about the reveal that it loses a lot of the surprise, and the discovery doesn’t actually tell us anything we didn’t already know. Section 31 is a bunch of murdering creeps who’ll commit any atrocity if it will help them achieved their perceived goals. Gasp. I’m not even sure Bashir’s discovery is supposed to be surprise; it’s presented straightforwardly enough, albeit with some Kafkaesque dark comedy as Bashir tries to track down Odo’s medical records. Regardless, it’s a perfectly fine twist, and one which it will be interesting to watch play out over the final weeks. Unless Odo dies. I will be very sad if Odo dies.
Sisko and Kasidy squabble a bit because, uh, stuff—hey look, it’s Martok!
No one cares about the Sisko and Kasidy scenes, which are falling into pretty predictable married couple stuff, albeit with the added bonus of Sisko using his power as an officer to try and “protect” his wife in ways she doesn’t want protecting.
Really, though, I can’t finish this review without mentioning Martok, who gets inducted into the Order of Kahless, only to find that Gowron is using the occasion as an excuse to take command of the Klingon fleet. Which is a dick move on his part, motivated by jealousy over Martok’s status in the Empire as the best damn Klingon there is. Like so much else this week, this is set-up without pay-off, which makes it intriguing, but frustratingly unfinished. But at least the fact that Gowron is leading everyone into disaster at a time when the Klingon forces are even more critical than usual makes for a good cliffhanger. That’s probably the best and worst that can be said for this week: lots of plot shifting, some revelations, some fine moments, and a good cliffhanger. Fingers crossed all these dominos start tumbling soon.
- Oh, Ezri and Worf made it back to the station just fine, thanks. Also, the Breen attacked Earth, which is both devastating and kind of embarrassed for Federation forces.
- Winn’s research into how to release the Pah-Wraiths from the fire caves is not really information we need. It’s the sort plotting that gets caught up in the how when all that matters is the why.
- O’Brien and Bashir are really delightful this week, what with their Hardy Boys routine and O’Brien’s ultra-detailed model of the Alamo. (That said, Worf’s obvious disdain for the model was also really funny. Not that all that tiresome “one last shag” is behind them, Ezri and Worf make good friends.)
- Weyoun’s realization that Damara specifically targeted the cloning facility to punish him is a fine bit of acting from Combs.
- Quark hasn’t had much to do lately, for understandable reasons, but the scene with him bringing coffee to Bashir and O’Brien because they were trying to help Odo was nice.
Next week: I’m on vacation next week, so we’ll have to pause our rush to the finish line for just a little bit longer. But we’ll be back April 24th with “Tacking Into The Wind” and “Extreme Measures.”