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January 11, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 17 - Dramatis Personae

Star Trek episodes which involve characters being possessed by aliens that change their personality are almost a dime-a-dozen, and the only way they are entertaining at all is how the actors play those characters. At times, the situation leads to some nice set pieces (like O'Brien threatening Keiko in TNG's "Power Play"), but often it just gives the actors a chance to act "evil." "Dramatis Personae" is yet another in the pantheon of "let's let the actors run wild and see what happens to them" episodes, but the acting, for the most part, makes the episode a lot more interesting then it should be. It's too bad that the plot itself isn't stronger.

Major Kira (Nana Visitor) is trying to convince Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) to investigate a Valerian freighter that is coming to Deep Space Nine. The Valerians used to run weapons to the Cardassians when they were occupying Bajor, and Kira thinks they still are. Sisko agrees that something is kind of fishy, but refuses to treat them any differently until something can be proven. Kira, frustrated, agrees to do all she can to prove it without inconveniencing the Valerians. Suddenly, a Klingon ship comes through the wormhole and explodes before any communication can be established, though a Klingon manages to beam aboard. He quickly dies, however, muttering the word "victory" before passing on.

Soon, crewmembers start to act strangely, all except Odo (Rene Auberjonois), though something weird does happen to him. He appears to lose shape temporarily, but quickly recovers. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) can't find anything wrong with him, and releases him, but not before he makes some cryptic statements about choosing sides in the coming conflict. Odo's suspicions are aroused, especially when the conflict between Kira and Sisko starts to verge on mutiny, pitting the Bajorans on the station against the Federation. Will Odo be able to figure out what's going on before the station explodes into conflict?

One strong point of the episode is that it uses the existing tension between Kira and Sisko to great effect, though I think it would have been more effective earlier in the season when that conflict actually existed. By this point in the season, they've settled into an understanding of each other that robs the episode of some of its tension. It doesn't help that the first sign of something wrong is Dax (Terry Farrell) acting all giddy. If the first indication had been a confrontation between Kira and Sisko (which, admittedly, does come soon after), it would have extended the "is something weird going on or is this going to be a political episode?" question for just that much longer.

The force that's causing all of the trouble doesn't follow the usual Trek formula, because while it is, in effect, re-enacting a conflict from a distant planet, it adapts itself to the current situation. Sisko doesn't start spouting some gibberish from something that we have no frame of reference for. Instead, it takes the existing tension with the Valerians and transforms that into the catalyst for the civil war. That was a nice touch.

I also liked how each character took on a slightly different personality that had some basis in the "real" personality of the character, no matter how distorted. O'Brien (Colm Meaney) is fiercely loyal to Sisko, to the point where he's almost willing to commit violence to defend him. Kira is adamantly nationalistic, being even more stridently for Bajor and against the Federation then she already is. Dax becomes a nostalgic storyteller, and it's funny how she keeps getting interrupted by the other who don't have time for her trips into the past. Bashir is almost a neutral party, reveling more in the cloak and dagger aspect then actually choosing a side.

The only one that's unrecognizable is Sisko, and I don't know if that was intentional or if the producers are saying something about him that I don't really care for. Sisko becomes a "hands-off" commander, not really caring what's going on. He lets O'Brien handle everything until the mutiny actually happens. Some have said that maybe it represents his earlier attempts to distance himself from Starfleet and his responsibilities after Jennifer died. Maybe, but that doesn't quite ring true.

The acting in the episode is very good, with only the occasional over-acting on Brooks' part. He actually nails a few of the scenes, especially when he's building the clock and telling Odo to let O'Brien handle everything. Auberjonois does another stand-out job, especially after the last two sub-par episodes. It's nice to see him in fine form again. He shows Odo's intelligence beautifully as he slowly figures everything out, and his using Bashir's arrogance against him to force him to find a cure, tempting him with the power that controlling the force would entail. He also has a wonderful scene with Quark (Armin Shimmerman), which is also nice to see after so long.

Ultimately, while the episode is enjoyable, a couple of things bring it down. First, Odo mentions that the force has only affected the crew members in Ops. While this explains why only three other Bajorans are with Kira, it doesn't explain why nobody else appears to notice anything wrong. Sure, there's a throwaway line in there about Keiko and Jake being off the station on some kind of field trip (how convenient).

What about the other Bajoran security forces? Hell, what about the rest of the Starfleet officers? The climax of the episode just doesn't fit when all these questions are asked. O'Brien's talking about leaving the station with Sisko and bringing a Federation task force back. What, he's just going to leave the rest of the Starfleet folk there?

The coda is also especially weak, with an unnecessary apology from Kira and nothing really profound or funny being said. It just kind of sits there, and the episode could have ended a lot better with a few final lines after the force is finally driven out. One final problem, as well. After all this build-up, the Valerian situation is never even dealt with! Kira seems to prove that they were running weapons, but not a word of this is mentioned at the end of the episode. Huh?

Still, after the horror of the last two episodes, "Dramatis Personae" marks a step up for the series, ramping up to the conclusion of the first season. It's entertaining, which is pretty much all we ask for. A little tighter, and this would have been an even better episode. Still worth checking out, though.

Memorable Quote:

"Anyone who's against Sisko is against me." O'Brien

4 Stars


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