[DS9] Jammer's Review: "The Emperor's New Cloak"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "The
Emperor's New Cloak." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.
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
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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...