Saturday, September 17, 2011

3-09. Defiant.

Commander William Riker (Jonathan
Frakes) - or so it appears...


The station gets an unexpected visitor: Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Forced by Dr. Crusher to take some long-overdue vacation time, Riker has stopped by Deep Space 9 on his way to Risa. He quickly bonds with Kira, who responds well to his warmth and confidence. Kira gives him a tour of the station and of its new starship, the Defiant.

...Which is when everything suddenly turns upside-down. Riker turns his phaser on Kira, stunning her. He creates a fake warp core breach so that Sisko will let him get clear of the station, then takes the ship into warp. It isn't long before Sisko discovers that his visitor wasn't Will Riker at all. It was Thomas Riker, Will's clone from a transporter accident. Now a member of the Maquis, Tom is taking the cloaked and heavily-armed Defiant direct into Cardassian space - leaving Sisko no choice but to partner with Starfleet's one-time enemies to stop him!


Commander Sisko: The relationship between Sisko and Dukat is an increasingly fascinating one. They are not friends, and with the backstory of this series they never could be. But in many ways, they are reflections of each other. Both fathers, who share a moment in this episode discussing the challenges of balancing military careers with raising young children. Both frequently at odds with their own governments, Sisko frustrated at Starfleet's inaction regarding Cardassia's treaty breaches, Dukat frustrated at the secretiveness of the Obsidian Order. Sisko has a moral center that Dukat lacks... but I think it's a very small and thin shade of gray that separates them. As in The Maquis, you can see Sisko recognizing a lot of himself in his Cardassian counterpart, and not necessarily finding comfort in that.

Major Kira: Draws a distinction between her own background fighting the Cardassians and what Thomas is doing now. She fought the Cardassians because they invaded her home, while she sees no similar justification for Tom. "You don't live in the demilitarized zone," she spits at him, adding that his actions will lead to more deaths than if he had simply done nothing. She criticizes his tactics, recognizing them not as those of a terrorist but rather those of a Starfleet officer. For all of that, she sympathizes with his intentions, closing the episode with a promise to get him out of the Cardassian labor camp... though as I don't believe that Frakes guest starred again, I'm guessing that promise goes unrealized.

Thomas Riker: Seems driven by a couple of forces. As Kira recognizes, he is determined to distinguish himself from Will Riker. At one point, he dismisses a prudent course of action, stating that while it may be "what Will Riker would do," it's not what he's going to do. There is genuine moral outrage also at work, however. He is clearly appalled that Federation citizens are dying and that Starfleet is doing nothing to stop it. His theft of the Defiant has a clear goal, and the ending seems to prove him right. Jonathan Frakes is very good playing the angry, slightly embittered Thomas - quite a contrast with the off-putting stiffness of his early scenes in this episode (probably intentional, to show Thomas' discomfort passing himself off as Will).

Gul Dukat: This episode sees him once again put at odds with forces within his own government. We've already had indications that he isn't fully trusted by Cardassia. Now we see him making enemies out of the Obsidian Order as a whole. At the same time, Dukat has to be building up some resentment from the repeated shows of disrespect. Here, we see the Obsidian Order representative praising Sisko's strategic sense - in such a way as to make it clear that her real goal is to put Dukat in his place. I have the feeling that all these insults are things a man like Dukat will not forget, and certainly will not forgive.


It's been a fair while since The Maquis introduced the guerrilla conflict against the Cardassians. That strand was quickly sidelined with the introduction of the Dominion, and it is only now that it finally gets followed up (probably at least in part to refresh that strand for the debut of Voyager). As with The Maquis, the script prominently pairs Sisko and Gul Dukat. Add in that it's a script by Ronald D. Moore, and it's little surprise that the resulting episode is a good one.

It's a tight, fast-paced piece. Moore reveals Tom Riker and has him steal the Defiant by the end of the first Act, leaving the bulk of the show for the chase. Of course, there's no budget for a true action piece. Instead, we get a strong character piece that doubles as an effective strategic thriller. The structure of the episode cuts between two pairs of characters: Sisko and Dukat, Tom Riker and Kira. We see them reasoning against each other, and it's made clear that both character sets are formidable. Nobody among our four leads does anything glaringly stupid. Tom loses because the odds against him are such that he can't possibly win - and even there, Sisko's compromise with Dukat means that his act probably wasn't in vain.

It's a well-directed episode, with plenty of atmosphere gained from tight compositions and smart lighting choices. Deep Space 9 is the darkest Star Trek show, in lighting terms as well as tone. Floodlit sets are a rarity. Instead, this series plays with shadows and tinted lights. Characters converse in tight frames, usually with one character in the background of the other so that you see both faces during urgent conversations. Even in a large set, there is claustrophobia in those tight frames, and with reason - Sisko and Dukat are effectively conspiring out of earshot of Obsidian Order forces in the same room as them, while Kira is pushing Tom to look at his own demons and motives. The production choices and script feed each other, making for a polished and effective end product.

Overall Rating: 8/10

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