|Quark and Odo must rely on each other to survive.|
For Jake, the day has finally arrived, a day he has doubtless dreamt of: He is moving out. Nog's return to the station as a cadet means Jake can move in with his best friend, sharing quarters with the young Ferengi while enjoying space away from his father. However, time at the Academy has changed Nog, who has responded all too eagerly to Starfleet discipline. Nog essentially treats Jake like a junior cadet, insisting on a regular exercise schedule and a strict curfew for "lights out." The biggest sticking point, however, is cleanliness: Jake has lapsed into some very slovenly habits, while Nog has become a stickler for perfect order.
Meanwhile, for Odo the day has definitely arrived, a day he has spent ten years waiting for: He has been ordered to place Quark in custody! Odo bundles the Ferengi into a runabout to take him before a Federation grand jury on Inferna Prime, a flight of about eight days. They are about halfway there when Quark notices a buzzing sound inside a maintenance hatch. He opens up the hatch and discovers a bomb - planted by the Orion Syndicate to kill Quark before he can testify!
Odo beams the explosive into space, but not fast enough to avoid triggering the device and crippling the runabout. Odo is able to get it to a nearby planet, but hopes of rescue are dimmed when they discover their communications equipment was damaged in the crash. Then Quark has an idea: Take the undamaged tranceiver array up a mountain on foot. If they get it high enough, atmospheric interference will be diminished to allow them to send a distress signal. But with Odo a mere man without his shapeshifting abilities, and with Quark being... well, Quark, the climb itself may prove too much for either man to endure!
Capt. Sisko: He recalls that when they first came to the station, he didn't want Jake having anything to do with Nog, and now he's actually happy at the thought of Nog being his son's roommate. When Jake and Nog argue and Nog moves out, Sisko could be the protective parent and use the opportunity to make his son move back home - Which is probably tempting, as he visibly struggles with the idea of Jake leaving in the opening scene. Instead, he agrees with Rom that the two young men could learn a lot from each other and orders them back together. "I'm your captain, and I'm your father. And what I say goes!"
Odo: Quark observes that the Founders gave Odo exactly what he wanted when they made him a solid. "I used to see you coming into the bar, watching Morn eat, eyeing my customers as they gambled and flirted with the dabo girls, wishing you were one of them." Odo protests, but not very convincingly. Odo's unspoken concern for Quark remains consistent. When Quark falls during the climb, Odo calls out in worry. It's only when he sees that Quark is uninjured that he shifts tone to snap about avoiding damage to the tranceiver.
Quark: Just as Quark sizes up Odo, so does Odo with Quark. Odo observes that Quark isn't a member of the Orion Syndicate only because he couldn't afford the entry fee after the Ferengi Commerce Authority stripped him of all possessions. Then he recognizes the full extent of the truth: That even before that, Quark couldn't afford it. "All those years of scheming and lying and cheating and you're still too small-time for the Orions." It hits home, but Quark is phased for only a second before getting his own back: "Which means you've spent the last ten years of your life trying to catch a nobody. With little success." Any doubts as to the strength of Quark's will should be put to rest by the ending, in which he pushes all the way to the top of the mountain alone, unwilling to die and leave his bar to his guileless brother and his nephew to full "corruption" by Starfleet.
Jake/Nog: These two dominate the episode's "B" plot. While the Odd Couple of Odo and Quark must work together to survive, Jake and Nog move in together and discover that their time apart has made them very different people. Jake has become slovenly, refusing to tear himself away from his writing (or his time waiting for the muse to strike) to so much as put a dirty plate back in the replicator. Nog has become a martinet, so attached to the military discipline of Starfleet Academy that he applies that to every facet of his existence. Unfortunately, though attempts are made to thematically link Jake and Nog learning to live together with Quark and Odo having to work together, this entire strand mostly comes across to me like a distraction, and I think the episode as a whole would be stronger without it.
The rivalry and unstated friendship between Quark and Odo has been a highlight of the series from the beginning. In The Ascent, writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe shove them together in a survival situation, allowing opportunities to mine that rich vein of character ore. The trading of insults and cutting observations is wonderfully scripted, and Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman are terrific throughout.
What keeps this episode from being the outright success it should be is the Jake/Nog subplot. There's nothing terribly original about it, and there's little sense of organic development of the two characters. Jake has never previously been portrayed as a slob. It might have been worthwhile to have indicated that this is a recent change following the traumatic events of Nor the Battle to the Strong, but that isn't what the script tells us. Instead, we're meant to believe this is simply who Jake is, despite never having seen this before.
Nog's drill sergeant routine seems even less in-character. We have seen Cadet Nog before, in last season's Homefront/Paradise Lost two-parter - and though he seemed significantly more confident in himself, there was no indication of him becoming the character we see here.
In short, the two characters are forced into a comedy situation that does not arise naturally from who they have previously been shown to be. Jake's a slob and Nog's a militaristic neat freak because the writers hope that will "be funny." If I thought it was funny, I'd let it pass - but I'm afraid I didn't laugh once during these scenes, and simply suffered through them waiting to get back to the good stuff with Quark and Odo.
The success of the "A" plot easily overshadows the failure of the "B" plot, leaving this still a pretty solid episode. But there's no question in my mind that this would be a stronger piece had the strained comedy antics of Jake and Nog been jettisoned.
Overall Rating: 6/10.
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