January 25, 2013
Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 20 - The Homecoming
The first season's finale (In the Hands of the Prophets) showed us a Bajor that was slowly coming to terms with the Federation presence on Deep Space Nine. However, Bajor is a planet in transition, in need of leadership as the Provisional Government consists of a bunch of back-biting factions that can't get along. What began in the last episode continues here, as we see a Bajor in crisis.
Now this is what I watch Deep Space Nine for. It's episodes like "The Homecoming" that could not be done on any other Trek show (at least not without feeling extremely forced). The fact that it's written with great power and just the right dash of humour makes it even more of a standout. Add wonderful acting by everybody involved, and you have three 5-star episodes in a row.
Quark (Armin Shimmerman) is given a Bajoran earring by a freighter captain (Leslie Bevis), who says that it was smuggled off of Cardassia IV. Quark gives it to Kira (Nana Visitor), who realizes that it belongs to the great Bajoran Resistance leader, Li Nalas (Richard Beymer). She wants to borrow a runabout to go on a rescue mission. Sisko (Avery Brooks) has his own problems, with a radical Bajoran group calling itself "The Circle," who wants all non-Bajorans off of Bajor, making an ugly appearance on the station. The Provisional Government is proving powerless to stop the factional fighting, and he realizes that he needs a strong Bajoran leader's help as much as Kira thinks the planet needs one.
He authorizes the mission and sends O'Brien (Colm Meaney) along for the ride. After an action-filled rescue, Li is brought back to the station, where his problems are only beginning. All Bajorans look up to him, but everything is based on a lie. He feels overwhelmed by the fact that Bajor needs him so much. Will he crack under the pressure? Or will he be everything that both Sisko and Kira need? Since this is the first part of a 3-part episode, you can probably guess.
The producers went all out on this story arc, bringing in some great guest stars. Frank Langella plays the uncredited role of Minister Jaro, a member of the Provisional Government who just oozes slime. He doesn't really do much in this first episode, but he is instrumental in the "kick in the gut" ending that leads into the fabled "to be continued" fade to black. You just know that something's not quite right, you just don't know what. He's very understated, almost to the point of mumbling (the only fault, as I found him increasingly difficult to hear), but he carries himself with such power that you can't help but come to attention when he comes onto the screen.
Richard Beymer (from Twin Peaks, among other things) plays Li Nalas beautifully. He's spent ten years in a Cardassian labour camp and he looks quite confused in his first scene. As he gets cleaned up and starts to realize just what freedom is, and how he may be shackled in a more figurative manner by the needs of his people, he becomes a very conflicted man. Every emotion appears on his face as it washes over him. He ultimately decides that he can't bear it, and the confrontation with Sisko which finally convinces him is stellar (the quote below, followed by "But it's all based on a lie." "No, it's based on a legend. And legends are as powerful as any truth.").
It's a wonderful performance, brought out by a great script that allows Beymer to stretch his acting muscles. The direction of that scene should take some kudos, as all of Sisko's lines are said while he's blurred in the background. Li Nalas is front and center, and as Sisko's words start to affect him, we can see it on his face. He's still not comfortable with his role, but he has finally accepted it.
The regulars seem inspired by a new season and a meaty story. Visitor is wonderful as Kira, playing a lot of different parts. She has to come on to a Cardassian guard and is quite effective in doing so. She's passionate in her attempts to convince Sisko of the need to rescue Li and the look on her face when she has to leave some of the prisoners behind is almost tragic (too bad that part was undercut by Dukat saying later that all of the other prisoners have been released). Brooks is also great, especially in his scenes with Li (not just the one mentioned above, but all of them).
There were only a couple of minor quibbles with the episode, and neither one brings it down in my eyes at all. The first is that O'Brien seems awfully blasé about going off on what might be a suicide mission, considering he's such a family man. I don't think Sisko ordered him on it, but I could be wrong there. Secondly, the open secret of Kira's trying to get a runabout from Sisko seemed very misguided. I know it was an attempt at humour that everybody seemed to know about it, but keep in mind that when she was trying to convince Sisko, she was also trying to keep the Federation out of it so they would have deniability if the mission failed. Having it be common knowledge that she was going to Cardassia IV seems a bit dangerous.
"The Homecoming" fulfills a lot of different roles, and it does them all very well. First, it examines the role legends play in inspiring people, and makes us think about the legends we believe in. Not only "are they true?" But also "what does the legend think about all of this?" Secondly, it's a powerful tale of a culture in transition. Will Bajor survive all this? Finally, it's an intriguing opening to what promises to be an interesting 3-part story arc to start the second season.
More of this, please. Deep Space Nine is on a roll.
"I am not the man they think I am." Li Nalas
"Perhaps not. But Bajor doesn't need a man. It needs a symbol." Sisko