[DS9] Jammer's Review: "Penumbra"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode
"Penumbra." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.
Nutshell: It's chapter one of what's essentially a 10-chapter arc. Can we
really even judge yet? This chapter works well on many levels, but is held
back by its unevenness.
Plot description: While Ezri goes searching for Worf, who has been missing
since a Dominion attack on his ship, Sisko proposes marriage to Kasidy and
begins plans to build a house on Bajor.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- "Penumbra"
Airdate: 4/5/1999 (USA)
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Steve Posey
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"Best man, huh? That means I get to plan the bachelor party. Heh heh heh."
-- Jake, with apparently devious plans for his father
As we head into the final stretch of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," the
commonly adopted name for this major story arc, "Deep Space Nine: The Final
Chapter," looks to be an appropriate one. With "Penumbra," we can see the
latest of the groundwork being paved.
And if "Penumbra" is any indication, it's going to be tough to judge these
early episodes as individuals until we know more--maybe a lot more.
I liked "Penumbra." I wasn't riveted by a lot of it, but I'm more than
intrigued about where these elements will take us.
Going in favor of "Penumbra" is the fact that it revisits so many of the
plot lines we need to see over the next eight weeks: Sisko's destiny,
Dukat's devious planning, Worf and Dax's relationship, the disease in the
Great Link, the Cardassians' role in this mess, and the inevitable
connections of all said elements and more. Working against "Penumbra" is
the fact these given plot elements are manipulated simultaneously and
unevenly in a single episode that feels at times a little too much like a
writing staff's calculated strategy. Sure, each plot piece on its own is
interesting and plausible given what came before, but there are so many
isolated little pieces in "Penumbra." The story's thought processes are
disparate; the episode throws a little of everything together into a single
stew. As of now, I don't know what that stew is all about.
But, of course, we will find out.
Hence my problem: How do we judge chapter one?
Well, for now, I'm opting to look at the hour's two most prominent
storylines: (A) The relationship between Sisko and Kasidy, and (B) the
relationship between Worf and Ezri.
The A-story is clearly the strongest aspect of "Penumbra," mostly because
it brings with it some emotional resolution. Sisko and Kasidy's
relationship is one that's been quietly developed over the span of four
years of television production (it first began in season three's
"Explorers"), and it's nice to see the makings of a payoff here. My biggest
complaint with Trek romances has almost always been that the tired formula
brings in some guest character, who then falls in love with a regular
character, and then the relationship is terminated before the end of the
episode. Sisko/Kasidy has been given time to develop and grow on a more
realistic timetable. So now, by this point, we care a lot about the
characters and the relationship; it actually *means* something. And when
the time comes that Sisko proposes marriage, it's a truly satisfying moment.
Of course, it also helps to have performances that work. Avery Brooks'
performance in his scenes here create a captivating sense of serenity. In
the midst of this war and his own difficult journey of self, Sisko seems at
peace. Brooks' understated performance brings an internalized understanding
of Sisko that's quite spellbinding. It heightens the mood of the scenes in
a truly interesting way. And it's not just his love for Kasidy that's
apparent, but also his love for the world of Bajor. Sisko's announcement
that he has purchased land on Bajor and his intent to build a house on this
land are filled with moments of poignancy. Although this will prove most
rewarding to the faithful DS9 viewer, it's ultimately Brooks that has to
sell the sentiment, which he does extremely well.
Also, I like the implications that "the Emissary's wedding" could have on
Bajor. As much as Sisko and Kasidy might want to make it a small event,
there's Sisko's "icon status" there to render that all the more difficult.
Of course, the other problem (and what's certain to be a main focus of
upcoming episodes), is the fact revealed to Sisko by the Sarah-prophet
(Deborah Lacey) that his role as the Emissary conflicts with his intention
to get married.
The final Sarah-prophet scene has quite an emotional punch (although
Lacey's performance seemed a little too off-kilter in its attempt to be
eerie), as we again look into the difficult path of "the Sisko." The
Sarah-prophet's assertion that if Sisko marries Kasidy he "will know
nothing but sorrow" is probably not at all what Ben wanted to hear, and, as
he has in the past--most notably "Tears of the Prophets"--it looks as if
he's going to have to make some tough choices between being the Emissary
and being a human being.
This of course has me pondering possible tragedy scenarios for Sisko, who
was the tragic hero of season six. And I've still not forgotten the
statement from the Prophets from back in "Sacrifice of Angels" that "The
Sisko is of Bajor but he will find no rest there"--especially considering
his current house-building plans. (I could probably go on for hours about
Sisko the Emissary, but we must move on.)
Less effective, but still okay, is the B-story involving Worf having gone
missing after a Jem'Hadar attack that destroyed a Klingon ship he was
aboard. The Defiant is forced to abandon the search, but Ezri decides to
steal a runabout to go after him--simply because she can't stand the
alternative of just waiting and doing nothing. ("She's a Dax. Sometimes
they don't think; they just do," Sisko notes, sympathetically.)
There are strong feelings buried here that obviously are vying to come to
some sort of resolution (preferably before the series ends). For Ezri,
those memories are all still there. In a scene that might seem to utilize a
soapish tactic but comes off as surprisingly effective nonetheless, Ezri
walks through Worf's quarters as the voices from her previous life come
back to her--driving home the realization that she has to help him. Her
subsequent trip into the Badlands to track Worf down is nicely executed.
But the important part is what this all means once she finds him.
Jadzia's death last season wasn't easy for Worf, but probably just as
difficult was Ezri's appearance in "Afterimage." Worf and Ezri have done a
good job of staying out of each other's way as much as possible since then,
but they've long been headed for a collision. That collision comes here.
Worf has never been one to easily let go of his feelings, and that's still
the case here; he finds it easier to ignore Ezri than to face her.
Unfortunately, I think the writers feel it's easier to use a forced
situation than to wrestle with the characters inside this confined
runabout. Which is why, of course, the cliches come crawling out of the
woodwork, as a Jem'Hadar attack leads to the abandonment of the runabout,
leaving Worf and Ezri stranded on a planet with nothing to do but talk.
Well, okay, but I was hoping for some really interesting and heartfelt
dialog--a breakdown of the friction in the interests of understanding--but
what we get here is disappointingly trite: a big, cliche-ridden argument
that ends with Worf and Ezri clinched in each other's arms in standard
romantic comedy fashion. (Sigh.)
I don't object to the Worf/Dax relationship being rekindled--not at
all--but I hoped it would be more gradual and not so sudden and
"spontaneous." Given Worf's attitude through every moment leading up to
this one, the spontaneity comes off as way too forced. I also think the
whole issue of the Trill "reassociation" taboo is just a little too easily
brushed aside on Ezri's part. I'm look forward to seeing this all dealt
with in the upcoming episodes, but here it proves widely variable, ranging
everywhere from "the ring of truth" to "downright false."
Almost immediately following the big clinching moment, Worf and Ezri are
taken prisoner by the Breen, which caught me so off guard that I'm not sure
what to even make of it. How in the world do the *Breen* figure into all
this? We've never even seen a Breen ship until now. (In fact, the only time
we've ever seen a Breen was in the Dominion prison facility two years ago
in the "Purgatory"/"Inferno" two-parter.) Just what are the Breen doing out
here, and who are they? Are they going to be part of the bigger plot? Hmmm...
Other tidbits of the Big Plot Game are here, but I don't know what I can
say about them yet beyond merely mentioning their presence. The disease
infecting the Great Link (established in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great
River") is still a problem that Weyoun and the Vorta are researching, but
so far with no success. The Female Shapeshifter makes her appearance,
asking for secure communication equipment for her quarters (the long-term
plot patrol awakens), and then ordering Weyoun to terminate all the Vorta
currently working on the vaccine and to activate their clones as a way of
instituting "a fresh perspective." (Pretty cold, lady.)
Damar is hopelessly useless these days, stuck under Weyoun's thumb,
although little of this conflict is new. He's still drinking in nearly
every scene, and he's still "entertaining female guests" in his quarters.
The war doesn't often seem to be much on his mind, but he does take
exception to the fact the Cardassians are absorbing huge losses for the
Dominion. Is this a preliminary hint of possible internal conflict?
(Long-term plot patrol goes on full alert.)
Then, of course, there's Dukat. He's still espousing the Paghwraiths, and
now he comes to Damar so that he may be surgically altered to look like a
Bajoran. What's he up to? Where is this going? Who knows?
"Penumbra" is a solid start to various elements of "The Final Chapter." I
most certainly was not bored. The Sisko stuff is top-drawer. Unfortunately,
the Worf/Ezri material suffers from one (or eight) too many cliches. And
the rest of the plot snippets comprise little more than an interesting
extended teaser. Probably every scene here is ultimately necessary. But not
all of it is effective--at least, not yet. Fortunately with DS9, we can be
fairly confident the payoffs are somewhere down the road. The anticipation
is probably a good percentage of the fun.
Next week: Chapter two.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...