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August 30, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 34 - Paradise

Technology can be a double-edged sword, and from the beginning of time, there have been those who see the rise of technology as work of the devil (or whatever evil being who happens to be around at the time). I'm sure Oog the Caveman thought that civilization had gone to hell when Katu made this new-fangled "club" thing. What's wrong with good old fashioned hands to wrestle down your supper with?

"Going back to nature" is a common plot in any SF series, and sometimes even straight dramas. Would life be better without all of its contraptions? And how would people in the modern age deal with life if it suddenly became completely technology-free? Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) stumble upon this dilemma in "Paradise," a decent episode that's let down by numerous issues.

Charting some star systems around the wormhole for potential colonies, Sisko and O'Brien stumble across a world that appears to have a human settlement already on it, despite no colony being on the charts. They decide to beam down to investigate, only to discover that once they do so, none of their gear works. They are found by residents of the village, who tell them of their crash landing ten years ago. Alixus (Gail Strickland), the leader of the group, has forged them into a community that embraces nature, working the fields, making their own clothing, using herbs to heal the sick, etc.

They tell Sisko that he might as well get used to being on this planet because they will never be able to leave. While willing to contribute to the community while they stay there, Sisko and O'Brien are unwilling to stop trying to leave. They discover that Alixus rules the colony with an iron fist, even going so far as to put people who do as little as stealing a candle into a metal box out in the harsh sun. But the colony has a darker side as well. Will O'Brien be able to get them off of the planet before Alixus breaks Sisko's will?

The concept of this episode is actually a good, though clich├ęd, one. Unfortunately, it's very hard to show a community like this without it getting inherently silly. "Paradise" takes these usual silly things and adds a couple more (which I will talk about in the spoiler section below). For some reason, rather than having a rational debate about technology, these stories always turn the "luddite" side into a bunch of zealots. In this case, there's only one, but the point still stands.

As for the cast, I'll speak to the regulars first. Surprisingly, only four of them are included: Sisko and O'Brien on the planet and Kira (Nana Visitor) and Dax (Terry Farrell) on the runabout looking for them. It was nice that they didn't try to shoehorn anybody else in, especially for those who have to sit in the makeup chair for hours. Brooks does a remarkably understated job (probably because he doesn't have to really do "intense" this time around) as he resists Alixus at every turn. His stoic walk back to the punishment box is extremely well done, the slight shake of the head to O'Brien when he wants to go to help being especially good. Visitor slightly overacts when she's talking to Dax about snagging the runaway runabout, but overall she's not bad either. Meaney is his usual stellar self, making it look easy.

Unfortunately, this brings us to the guest acting, which ranges from "eh" to "ugh." It actually turns out that all of the male guest actors fall into the "eh" category, with nobody every really excelling or even managing to make their characters interesting. The scene between O'Brien and Joseph (Steve Vinovich) just lies there as Meaney tries his best.

The female guest stars, however, really drag this episode down. Strickland is the main force in the episode, and I just found her actively annoying almost every time she talked. It was especially bad when she tried to put intensity into the role, as when she's trying to convince Sisko to give in to her views after the first time he's in the box. I just didn't buy the force of her personality forging this community.

Even worse is Julia Nickson as Cassandra, however. She's extremely wooden, massacring the tense moments and making me laugh during the attempted seduction of Sisko. Alixus tries to tell Sisko "Cassandra really likes you," when they've been there all of one day. She must have got a peek of Sisko's bulging muscles as he worked the fields. Nobody ever goes after O'Brien, though, poor guy.

Then, we get to the twist and the ending:

BIG HONKING SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING AND WHAT HAPPENS

YOU'VE BEEN WARNED

So it turns out that Alixus planned the crash from the very start, having designed the technology dampening field and intentionally brought the ship to this planet. "Many scientists share my philosophy." I guess she's never heard of trying to convert people to her cause, trapping people instead. If so many scientists already agree with her, surely it would be fairly easy to convince others? The amazing thing, however, is that *none* of the colonists volunteer to go back with Sisko and O'Brien when the secret is out. I can see people forming a community and not wanting to leave the life they're now used to, but surely *somebody* must feel differently? Joseph doesn't even offer the choice to anybody, instead making it for everybody.

Secondly, Alixus somehow managed to not only keep the dampening field working for ten years with very little maintenance (she and her son being the only ones who even know of its existence, and her son doesn't strike me as the sharpest tack in the drawer), *and* she can somehow get onto a Starfleet runabout, wipe its logs, set it for a course into a star, and beam off again? How, exactly? I find it hard to believe that she'd be able to hide that kind of technology from her followers for the last ten years without somebody stumbling on it. "Gee, I notice Alixus goes out into the woods every month by herself and is gone all day. I wonder what she's up to?" I just don't buy it.

This really brought the story down for me. Not to mention the fact that, as I said above, I hate the fact that she becomes even more of a zealot than she already was at the beginning of the episode. There's no second side to this debate because of that. Sure, the colonists staying there when she's taken away sort of makes a point that people might legitimately feel this way, but I don't see that colony surviving without the one person who truly feels like she does.

END OF SPOILER SECTION

Thus, "Paradise" has a nugget of good stuff surrounded by a lot of annoyances. It's not a horrible episode, and it certainly won't feel like a waste of your time. But it could have been so much better. Even a stronger cast may have brought this up to a four-star episode.

Ok, maybe not.

Memorable Quote:

"I'm the science officer. It's my job to have a better idea." Dax (interesting line, given the plot of this episode)

3 Stars

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