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[DS9] Jammer's Review: "The Emperor's New Cloak"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode The Emperor s New Cloak. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: Bleah. Plot
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 1999
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "The
      Emperor's New Cloak." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.


      Nutshell: Bleah.

      Plot description: The Grand Nagus goes missing in the mirror universe,
      leading Quark and Rom on a mission to track him down.

      -----
      Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- "The Emperor's New Cloak"

      Airdate: 2/1/1999 (USA)
      Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
      Directed by LeVar Burton

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: *1/2

      "I can't believe it ... Julian just shot Vic Fontaine!" -- Quark
      -----

      "Disappointing" only begins to describe "The Emperor's New Cloak." Words
      like "a waste," "meaningless," and "boring" also come to mind. I never
      would've thought DS9's final venture into the alternate universe (which has
      generally served the series well as good comic-book entertainment) would
      become the worst episode of the season. (And I hope it remains the worst of
      the season.) Maybe the title of the episode, a pretty bad pun, should've
      been a forewarning.

      DS9 this season has had a tendency to wander a bit, but at least the
      writing has been reasonably good in most episodes. "The Emperor's New
      Cloak," conversely, feels like an episode written by a computer program.
      The input query: How many mirror-universe characters can we randomly insert
      into a lame-brained plot, and in what ways can we make everyone less
      interesting than they ever have been?

      These days, a lot of people seem to be screaming "Why?" when we get an
      episode that doesn't advance us closer to series closure. While I've
      occasionally been a voice in that collective, I usually judge a show for
      its entertainment value, not simply its large-scale "relevance." But with
      "The Emperor's New Cloak," I have to ask: Why this? Why now? And why me?

      Far be it for me to dislike a Ferengi episode (naw, come on), but my
      objection to this show isn't that it's a Ferengi episode. My objection is
      that everything that happens in this episode was born out of an attitude
      that seems to say, "We have Ferengi and evil characters; who needs a story?"

      And yet it's *not* the Ferengi that ruined this episode (though Rom and Zek
      certainly didn't help the cause). What ruined this episode was a total
      disregard for motivation, continuity, and reasonable entertainment value.
      Why even use these alternate-universe characters--who have comprised a sort
      of mini-subplot throughout the series--if none of them are going to remain
      interesting?

      The episode begins with Blatant Contrivance of the Week. Zek has gone
      missing in the alternate universe and mirror-Ezri has come through to bring
      Quark a message: Give the Alliance--who holds Zek captive--a cloaking
      device, or Zek dies. Why does the Alliance need a cloaking device? Because
      it would give them an advantage to help crush the Rebellion (bwahaha), and
      there's no cloaking technology in the alternate universe, right?

      Wrong. Previous alternate universe episodes have used the cloaking device,
      but never mind; continuity isn't the name of the game here. I have a better
      question: Why did Zek even go to the mirror universe? To open new profit
      avenues, naturally. Yeah, right. And I'm thinking that tomorrow I'll stroll
      into Kosovo and set up a hot dog stand.

      Once mirror-Ezri brings Quark the news, Quark decides the only way to get a
      hold of a cloaking device is to steal the one from Martok's ship. Quark
      probably deserves jail time for this little maneuver (theft of military
      equipment *during a war*?) but the episode merely treats it as a joke, and
      not a very good one. One of the show's funnier not-so-funny scenes is a gag
      where Quark and Rom carry the cloaked cloaking device through the corridors
      of the station. The "picture this" in question is of Shimerman and
      Grodenchik carrying nothing, trying really hard to look like they're
      carrying something heavy. Har har. In these cases, less is more: It
      might've been funnier if the scene were shorter.

      Once we get into the alternate universe, I figured the story would get off
      the ground and we might be looking at some closure to the things we've seen
      happen in this crazy place over the past five years. Well, I figured wrong.

      Simply put, very little in this plot is worthy of attention. The
      characterizations are aimless and confused. Everybody's appearance comes
      off as gratuitous and no one gets any worthwhile dialog. To say everyone in
      the episode is poorly motivated would be an understatement. Character
      reactions border on random, thanks to the confines of a shoestring plot.
      (Just think of all the opportunities for scheming and payback, especially
      given the volatile nature of the Kira/Garak/Worf alliance. All are put
      aside for bad comedy.)

      I realize the mirror universe has been shallow ever since "Through the
      Looking Glass," but it always had a zany, madcap appeal. But this time
      there's no comic-book exhilaration like in "Shattered Mirror" or "Looking
      Glass," and it isn't remotely thoughtful about its characters' actions and
      feelings as was "Crossover." At the very least, you would think there'd be
      some entertaining attitude to find in the material or the performances,
      but, alas, that's also nowhere to be seen. The sense of omnipresent chaos
      that characterized previous alternate-universe shows is completely removed
      this time around. Now it's all routine.

      As for the humor, little of it worked for me. Too much of the episode is
      wasted on stupid jokes; this has to be the slowest venture into the mirror
      universe yet. First we have to put up with several lengthy scenes of Rom
      trying to comprehend the nature of the alternate universe (why Behr and
      Beimler think Rom-the-annoyingly-verbose-idiot is funny is beyond me). Then
      we get extremely dull use of Zek in what I hope is his final appearance
      (poor Wallace Shawn; he's been such a good sport)--here he gets to engage
      in another iteration of the oh-so-tired lobe-fondling gag.

      When the evil mirror characters are allowed to talk, their dialog is
      surprisingly trite, even for a comic book. Andrew Robinson, in only his
      second appearance of the season, is completely wasted. Once a fountain of
      charged dialog, mirror-Garak has become such a bumbling persona that I felt
      sorry for Robinson, who was apparently told to overplay his part so far as
      to make him simply look like a fool.

      Nana Visitor is not in much better a situation. I can see what they were
      going for with some of this; Intendent Kira's bipolar instability has her
      switching on a dime from sweetly condescending to violently angry. But like
      Garak, it's way overdone. It exists to feed itself and not any strong story
      direction. I'll freely admit that Nana Visitor in tight leather is always
      nice to look at, but that alone can't carry an hour. The reason she was so
      compelling in "Crossover" is because there was a tortured character
      underneath all the posturing. And in later episodes like "Looking Glass"
      and "Shattered Mirror," there was good chemistry with Sisko, Garak, and
      Jennifer Sisko.

      Of course, there's also Regent Worf, who yells a lot, which is not
      interesting in and by itself unless there's good dialog behind it, which
      there generally isn't. (Although, the show's biggest laugh has to be when
      he tries on a glove, then tells one of his crewmen: "You, come here. Your
      regent needs you!"--and then punches the guy in the face to test his new
      glove. That's the sort of clever goofiness we needed more of.)

      The real core of this episode, if there is one, centers on Ezri's unknown
      loyalties. She's in cahoots with the evil Alliance, but her business
      partner, Brunt, doesn't like the Alliance. There's a friendship between
      Brunt and Ezri that displays a promise of depth (as well as paralleling the
      unexplored feelings Quark has for the Ezri of his own universe). Brunt
      comes off as the story's most sympathetic character--which of course means
      he's Dead Meat. In keeping with the established tradition of Intendent Kira
      killing one mirror-Ferengi per mirror-universe episode, Kira stabs Brunt
      because she's convinced "he was going to betray me."

      What's disappointing is the amount of confused uncertainty in the Ezri/Kira
      relationship. Ezri and Kira have apparently been lovers, but the
      relationship is sketchy and undefined, and at the end when they part ways
      with some sort of understanding, it feels flat. Of course, the relationship
      probably wasn't meant to be taken seriously; it all but shouts, "Look how
      hip we are--we have LESBIANS! Lesbians are cool!" I have nothing at all
      against homosexual overtones. "Rejoined," if you choose to call it a
      homosexual episode per se, was one of fourth season's highlights. And the
      Intendent's narcissism and lesbian overtones were particularly interesting
      in their subtle ways in previous mirror-universe shows, particularly
      "Crossover." Here? It's half-baked and trivialized, taking back seat to the
      cloaking device plot, as if we actually cared. What's worse is the
      pointless walk-on of mirror-Leeta at the end, which is played for a cheap
      laugh that seems to buy into the "lesbians for the sake of looking hip"
      mindset. Thanks, but I'll pass.

      Another aspect of the story I found annoying was that all the villains are
      just so blatantly *stupid*. Once they get their hands on the cloaking
      device, what do they do? Prepare to execute the Ferengi! But, oops! They
      suddenly realize they can't install it without Rom's help, so the
      executions are delayed. Rom installs the cloaking device. What next?
      Prepare to execute the Ferengi! Do they suspect for a moment that Rom had
      the brains to sabotage the cloaking device? No, because that would require
      characters *smarter than Rom*. It's almost as if Behr and Beimler had an
      oversized, flashing red button on their word processor that randomly
      inserted [PREPARE TO EXECUTE FERENGI] into the script, and, dang it, the
      button was just so *inviting*, they couldn't help but push it a few times!
      Garak eventually goes to execute the Ferengi and ends up the victim of one
      of the most predictable and unsatisfying death scenes imaginable.

      About all I can think to do here is gripe about how hollow, forced, and
      lifeless the characterizations were. That's a shame, because this universe
      has never been lifeless. Given that this was the final alternate-universe
      show, you'd think they'd find room for closure. They don't. All the
      potential was doomed from the moment the decision was made to center the
      plot around the Ferengi. Sisko should've been the catalyst for this story,
      not silly Ferengi hijinks. It's a cheat, and, frankly, I hope such cheats
      don't indicate a pattern for what lies ahead.

      But even if I hadn't been expecting closure, this episode would still be a
      loser. There's not nearly enough thought invested in any aspect of the
      story for it to work on its own terms. Shallow is okay, but shallow still
      has to be done entertainingly, otherwise it's just a waste of time.

      --
      Next week: Homicide: Life on the Station.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.epsico.com/st-hypertext/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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