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November 5, 2012

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 2 - Past Prologue

"Past Prologue" is the second Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode aired (third produced, which is why it's listed as "episode 4" in the database), right after "The Emissary". Thus, its purpose is to grab those people who were fascinated by the premiere and keep them coming back week after week. Sometimes, the first "regular" show after a premiere is even more important, because it has to demonstrate that the producers of the show are going to be able to consistently bring the same quality to the show as the premiere had, despite not having quite the same lead time (some premieres are in development for years).

"Past Prologue" does a wonderful job of that, showcasing one of the new alien characters, Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) and giving us even more of her background. We already know that Kira spent some time in the Bajoran Resistance fighting the Cardassians, but not a lot of detail was given in "The Emissary." This episode goes into great detail, however, also giving us an even stronger sense of her personality. The writing is sharp and the acting is generally top notch. It also introduces the wonderful Garak ("plain, simple Garak"), a Cardassian tailor who stayed on the station, and one who would quickly become a favourite recurring character on the series.

The episode opens with Dr. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) having a pleasant lunch in the Replimat (basically, the food court of the station) when Garak (Andrew Robinson) approaches him and strikes up a conversation. It seems that Garak is the only Cardassian left on the station, and some people believe that he's the eyes and ears of the Cardassian government. Bashir quickly reports the conversation to Sisko (Avery Brooks) and the rest of the command crew, excited but also apprehensive about being approached by a potential spy. Sisko tries to assuage his fears, but is interrupted by a Bajoran ship appearing in the system, being hounded by a Cardassian ship. The Bajoran in question, Tahna Los (Jeffrey Nordling), requests asylum on the station. Gul Danar (Vaughn Armstrong) demands that he be turned over immediately, for crimes against the Cardassian Empire. Sisko has to consider the request, but ultimately decides against turning him over because it would harm relations with the Bajoran Provisional Government.

Tahna is a member of the Kon Ma, a fanatical Bajoran resistance movement that some say hasn't stopped fighting despite the fact that Cardassia has withdrawn from Bajor. Has he given up his ties to the organization? Or has the organization given up the fight and agreed to live in peace with the rest of the Bajorans? And what are Lursa (Barbara March) and B'Etor (Gwynyth Walsh), two Klingon renegades from Star Trek: The Next Generation, doing lurking around the station? The answer to all these questions will force Kira to make a decision and to face her past.

There was a lot in this episode that worked, and just a couple of logic problems that didn't. I'll get the bad stuff out of the way first, because it's a lot more minor. First, Tahna is Bajoran. In "The Emissary," it was spelled out quite clearly that the station is a Bajoran station, and Starfleet is only administering it. It's also spelled out this way in subsequent episodes. If that's the case, why does Tahna need to request asylum? It would be like an American running from the Soviet Union back in the 60s, arriving in Washington DC, and requesting asylum. Huh?

Secondly, Tahna is being chased for stealing a warp converter from the Cardassians. It's strongly implied that he was jumped by them almost immediately after stealing it. Something in this explanation stinks, because if this is true, one of two things would have happened: 1) it would have been destroyed when his ship was destroyed (and thus we have no episode), or 2) he would have had it with him when he beamed aboard (and again, we would have no episode). Yet again, a major logic hole defeats a television episode.

Despite all that, this episode wonderfully gets past its fairly pedestrian plot. It does this by emphasizing Deep Space Nine's best aspect: characterization. There are so many gems in this episode, that I can't really mention them all. The first is obviously Garak and Bashir. Bashir further demonstrates that he's quite naïve, and that brilliance doesn't necessarily mean that you are the best at every situation. Garak leads him around by the nose as he exposes the plot and hints at Cardassia's interest in the whole thing. The dialogue between these two is wonderful and there is great chemistry between the two actors. (As an aside, when I first saw most of this series, I had not seen the first Dirty Harry movie yet, where Andrew Robinson plays a psycho. After seeing the movie, I think I'm going to be looking at his portrayal of Garak in a whole new way)

Even better, though, is Kira. Nana Visitor does a wonderful job showing every aspect of her personality. She's a fierce nationalist who doesn't want the Federation hovering over Bajor. Unlike Tahna, though, she realizes that the Federation is a necessary evil at the moment, for protection if nothing else. Especially with the wormhole bringing new opportunities to Bajor, or whomever controls it. She's done many things in her past that she's not proud of in the name of fighting the Cardassians. She's slowly coming to terms with her new role as liaison with the Federation despite her misgivings. Tahna forces her to re-examine her role and decide whether this really is the best thing for Bajor. While I don't think Nordling did the best job as Tahna (he was a bit shrill at times), the interplay between the two is breath-taking. Especially good is Tahna's final line as he's led away: "Traitor." It's not the delivery that's so good, but Kira's reaction to it.

Another thing "Past Prologue" does is expand Kira's relationship with Odo (Rene Auberjonois). The conversation they have in the security office as she decides what she should do is great, and Auberjonois plays it wonderfully, letting Kira talk out everything she needs to and then pointing her in the right direction: following her heart. His sedate "There's somebody down here in Security who wants to talk to you, Commander" at the end is beautifully done.

The rest of the episode is fairly run of the mill. It's the second episode of a Trek series, so something to do with past series has to be done (Next Generation had a direct sequel to a TOS episode), so Lursa and B'Etor show up. There was no reason it couldn't be anybody else, so maybe they just wanted to show some Klingon breasts or something. I don't know, but I've never really cared for them and they don't bring anything to this episode either. The theme of the episode ("renegade forces a crew member to rethink his/her priorities") has been done many times before, but the quality always hinges on how it's performed. In this case, it was great, so I'll forgive the cliché.

"Past Prologue" showed that the producers could keep going at the same level (if not better) as the premiere. It was a welcome boost to an already strong franchise. The ideas weren't as grand, but the execution was wonderful.

Memorable Quotes:

“Cardassian rule may have been oppressive, but at least it was… simple.” Odo

“Go over my head again, I’ll have yours on a platter.” Sisko to Kira after she talked to an admiral about Sisko's handling of the situation.

4 Stars


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