|Sisko refuses to conform in "Paradise."|
Sisko and O'Brien take a shuttlecraft on an expedition to explore M-class planets on the other side of the wormhole, with an eye toward establishing colonies. When they detect an M-class planet with an unrecorded human colony, they beam down - only to discover that their communicators and tricorders will not function on this planet, which is surrounded by a field that suppresses all technology.
They find a colony ruled over by Alixus (Gail Strickland), who greets them happily as new members of her community. She does not respond so well to Sisko's insistence that Starfleet will be coming to rescue O'Brien, himself, and any of the colonists who wish to leave, though. She almost immediately begins pressuring them to conform to the community, and does everything she can to increase the pressure on them - right up to the point of putting Sisko into a "hot box" as torture!
Commander Sisko: This episode is a showcase for Sisko's strength of will. "You won't give a millimeter," Alixus observes, and she's right. Sisko can see very clearly what the colonists cannot: Alixus is a tyrant, controlling the community with an iron fist. The more Alixus pushes Sisko, the more he resists, refusing to bend - which only increases her determination to break him.
O'Brien: Admits to Sisko that he tested as having low mechanical aptitude, and that he didn't know much of anything about the workings of machinery until he was at the front lines of the Cardassian War. That's when he discovered an ability to make things work under pressure. That ability is severely tested here, as he tries to improvise a solution to their predicament. O'Brien ultimately tracks down the source of the interference, and gets to show some guerrilla combat skills as well. Colm Meaney is terrific, as ever, but after three O'Brien-heavy episodes in a row, I kind of hope it's somebody else's turn next week.
Hot Colony Babe of the Week: Cassandra (Julia Nickson) is immediately interested in leaving when Sisko talks of a Starfleet rescue. She is clearly drawn to Sisko, and does anything but protest when Alixus advises her to try to ease Sisko into conforming by offering herself to him. After this scene, she disappears into the background, though she does quite nicely fulfill the episode's "eye candy" requirements.
Villain of the Week: Alixus (Gail Strickland) was already technophobic to the point of religious fervor, even before the crash. To her, this planet represents a personal paradise, an opportunity to establish a cult-like community with herself as absolute ruler. Alixus' characterization is fairly close to that of Vedek Winn. She's all smiles, pretending to be fair and reasonable, even as she meticulously crushes any hint of dissent. Strickland gives a very good performance, and Alixus and Sisko are effective foils for each other, with their personal conflict carrying the episode.
Alixus is very much a Poor Woman's Winn, however. Her pleasant tyranny never quite chills the blood the way Winn's machinations do, despite Strickland's very good acting. It's also a logic gaffe, for me, that she effectively tricks a ship of unwilling victims into becoming her subjects. Given her words at the end about the number of people who share her views, and given other technophobic cults we've seen in Trek, I'd have thought she could have just as easily simply landed a colony of willing followers on her carefully-selected planet. Of course, then there wouldn't be nearly as much conflict for the episode.
The ending demolishes credibility. While I certainly would believe that some members of the community would choose to stay, even once Alixus' deception was uncovered, I don't for one instant believe that every member would. The scene also runs through this so quickly that most of the community members aren't even given a chance to choose - even though I'm fairly certain it was not the intention to turn Joseph (Steve Vinovich) into a second tyrant, but it comes across as if he decides to speak for everybody without actually asking for their consent.
Lest I come across too negatively, I should say that Paradise is a very watchable episode. For well over 30 of its 45 minutes, I was quite gripped by the conflict of wills between Sisko and Alixus. The scenes featuring Dax and Kira tracking the runaway runabout and then using it to locate Sisko and O'Brien are also extremely well-done.
It's just a shame it falls so badly apart at the end.
Overall Rating: 5/10.
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