In which the best best-friendship ever begins – and O’Brien lets down the entire Irish folk narrative tradition.
Memory Alpha says: Chief O’Brien is appointed spiritual leader of a Bajoran village. Meanwhile, Nog and Jake try to help their new friend settle a struggle between two Bajoran villages. (Please click the Memory Alpha link for detailed information.)
It’s a funny thing about the depiction of Bajorans. They have a high level of technology, zap guns, spaceships, jaunty uniforms, and yet in this episode we see a village of them who are essentially living in the Middle Ages, in a world where, more or less, magic works. The thing is, this story wasn’t even written for DS9 – it was pitched during the first season of TNG, when the show was still using mostly TOS-style plots, and ran with shit like ‘Code of Honor‘ and ‘Angel One.’ And it still wasn’t accepted. Apparently the story just hung around not getting used until now, when it was hastily rewritten in some dude’s Christmas break to incorporate the DS9 characters and setting.
As such, it’s not exactly character-driven, but it’s hard to do character-driven stories when your characters are not yet well established. Instead, it has some pleasing character interaction and development. It was, apparently, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘The Man Who Would Be King,’ which I think I’ve read was also part of the inspiration for one of my favourite animated movies, The Road to El Dorado. An important difference is that, while Kipling’s characters (played by Michael Caine and Sean Connery in a movie version that I now realise I urgently want to see) and Tulio and Miguel deliberately or opportunistically take advantage of being seen as divine or magic by the less sophisticated people they encounter, O’Brien is just stuck with it and would dearly like not to be.
I find myself wondering who this story was intended for in TNG. Riker would probably enjoy the whole thing entirely too much for it to feel like a challenge, so he’s out. Deanna would take it in her stride, understand what was going on psychically and story-tell like a champ, so again, no real struggle. Data would undertake a detailed analysis of folklore and fairytale traditions and try to devise a composite story to fit the circumstances. It would not be very good. Tasha would just be bad at it like she’s bad at everything I’ve ever seen her do. Worf would tell a Klingon legend and nobody would get what he was talking about, but he’d be so into it, they’d get kind of pumped up anyway. Geordi would probably try to make the story funny and fail. Picard would agonise and be very uncomfortable about the whole thing but with Beverly’s support and encouragement, eventually adapt the St Crispian’s Day speech from Henry V and it would go off like a rocket. Let’s not even consider Wesley.
Because the denouement depends on the chosen storyteller not being very good at it, and because I want it to be fun to watch, I therefore appoint Data protagonist of the never-made TNG version of this story.
But now! Let’s look at the actual, DS9 version of the story. Bullet points for now.
- So Sisko has to mediate in a land dispute between two Bajoran factions, which is a pretty TNG sort of thing to have to do.
- Poor O’Brien has no excuse to avoid the irritatingly perky Bashir. Aw, it’s nice watching this and knowing how much they’re eventually going to love each other. Man, Sisko is an unsympathetic boss. Why would he send his chief of operations on a chauffeur run, anyway?
- Now that I know it’s a DS9 mod of a TNG episode I keep trying to work out in every scene who would have been playing the parts. Oh God! The Jake part would have been played by Wesley, wouldn’t it! Amusingly, I think Kira’s lines here would actually belong to Deanna. I like her confusion at Sisko’s use of a baseball metaphor.
- But – but you’re a girl!
- This is a lovely, lovely scene. It’s just a delight to watch their expressions in the simple, static two-shot with Julian’s little face lighting up and dimming down and O’Brien’s dogged stolidity and the invisible wall of Class between them. Too right the British still have a class system, even when all the old religious, national and political divisions of Earth have fallen away.
- JEOPARDY! When I was little and tended to read books that were a bit too advanced for me, and was too keen to get the story to pause and look things up in a dictionary, I had to try and work out what unfamiliar words meant from context and which known words they resembled, and I reasoned that there was a very dangerous animal somewhere called a jeopard. Jeopardy is like when there’s a jeopard after you. Right?
- If he dies, we all die! Dun dun DUN.
- Mmm, Larish Pie!
- Oh, those pesky river-diverting Cardassians.
- Why does Quark handle the catering for these events? Although I have to say, Trixian Bubble Juice sounds delicious. And it was pink! Did Varis order it, or did Quark just bring something he thought a young girl would enjoy?
- One thing I dig about DS9 is the show’s commitment to weird, cool-looking background aliens. Like these two wormheads establishing the shot that pans up to Jake and Nog in their Danglin’ Spot. I see Nog is wearing my favourite little green boots.
- How much does a holosuite session cost? Is it something Jake and Nog can afford on their pocket money? Do they have pocket money? Does Jake get freebies because he’s the commander’s son? I refuse to believe that the Ferengi have the concept of ‘family discount.’
- Odo is such an anti-dangling fascist. I love him.
- Buck Bokai, greatest hitter of all time? The guy Data was talking about in ‘The Big Goodbye.’ I love these linkages. Not, of course, that I find the idea of a major baseball team based in London, or the name of the team being the Kings, terribly plausible. (Although the lèse majesté of the name might imply foreign ownership – perhaps they were an American billionaire’s pet project.) I choose to believe that, while baseball is obscure and archaic, cricket is still a living sport. The Indians and Pakistanis would keep it going if no-one else did. Permission to imagine Dr Bashir in cricket whites and sigh moonily granted.
- Nog seems to be that awkward guy who always goes for girls far out of his league.
- How does the old fart know Bashir has a companion, given that he just woke up and O’Brien is sitting behind and across the room from him? And why does he choose O’Brien? Is it actually because he thinks O’Brien is the worse choice?
- I wonder why the Cardies didn’t do something about the Dalrok? It seems like the sort of thing they’d want to stamp out. Or the Bajoran religious authorities? Here, of course, we’re up against the fact that the Dalrok really belongs on a random TNG planet, not Bajor.
- Oh Nog, you little stalker. It’s interesting from the way he wants Jake to ring the bell, and confusedly introduces himself by his name – I think he wishes to be Jake in this situation, given that Jake is taller and more likely to be considered good-looking by a Bajoran girl.
- How rude is Jake, just walking in past Varis without waiting for an invitation? And then he puts his feet on the coffee table. I suppose the point is that Varis initially likes Jake better because he seems more relaxed, while Nog is too eager to please, but MANNERS! The ghost of Jennifer Sisko snaps ‘I did not teach you to behave like that when you visit people!’
- I’m feeling all uncomfortable about the Sirrah because I got a call today that my grandmother is in the hospital with abdominal trouble and suspected gallbladder problems. She’s my last remaining grandparent and I don’t want anything to happen to her, but I know she’s super old and you never know what will finish someone off at this age. At least I got to talk to her on the phone and say I love her, and maybe she’ll be fine because she’s a tough old bird. Anyway. Depiction of a frail elderly person – sore spot.
- ‘Strange,’ O’Brien says as his hair blows around, ‘I’m not registering any atmospheric disturbance.’
- Is the Dalrok in any way related to the Pah Wraiths, or is it a phenomenon unique to this village?
- It seems like the Sirrah is getting the Dalrok pumped up. Is he making it worse?
- Apparently the Dalrok visual effects were a bitch and a half. It does look pretty cool, if not very evil.
- ‘Bloody hell!’ cries O’Brien. I always like how American TV shows don’t really realise ‘bloody’ is a swear-word – not a very profane one, but it’s proper swearing. When I was little I would get into trouble if I said bloody, and I always took a certain glee in having an injury that bled because I could say, with impunity, ‘My bloody knee hurts!’
- Hurrah, the village is safe. But the Sirrah is dead. And O’Brien has a new job.
- Morn sighted – and heard chuckling!
- Apparently a ‘Stardrifter’ is whatever’s in the unmarked bottle Quark has in his hand when Kira orders. It’s green. If she were Deanna she’d be hitting the chocolate ice-cream pretty hard right now.
- Today Nog is wearing his much less attractive orange boots. Jake is wearing his awful purple onesie. My gosh, look at these three kids sitting together, Nog in his ochre colours, Varis in teal and Jake in PURPLE. The wardrobe people on DS9 really loved vivid, deep jewel colours, and while I’m generally down with that, you can have a touch too many in one shot.
- And here comes Nog with the sound advice! Aw, boo, Jake gets to bond with her over having parents killed by space invaders. All Nog has is that his mom ditched his dad after the initial term of their marriage contract was over. Here, I suppose, Wesley would mention his father dying in… whatever happened to Crusher. Isn’t it always left kind of obscure?
- Odo the mall cop watches them go with a little smile. Aww.
- Julian enjoys fruit! Note that after asking him to call him Julian, he’s still calling O’Brien ‘Chief.’ Of course, ‘Chief’ sounds rather friendly and nicknamey. To be fair, O’Brien preferring to call him sir is not just because he doesn’t like Julian; in ‘Data’s Day’ he calls Data sir even when they’re having a fairly personal conversation alone in Data’s quarters, and they are good enough friends that Data’s a member of O’Brien’s wedding party.
- Sent by the prophets, sent by Sisko – he’s the emissary of the prophets, after all!
- Julian has no problem with accepting the gifts. Local feelings should not be rebuffed! (Never rebuff a local feeling.) It’s actually kind of sad how the villagers offer them girls. Not too long ago the same girls might have had to serve as comfort women for the Cardies.
- On a makeuppy note, some of the villagers have the extra V above their nose ridges seen on Bajorans in TNG, suggesting that this is a natural variation in facial features rather than just the makeup department changing their minds. We’ll just leave it enigmatic how the Trills changed from having bulbous foreheads to having rather attractive little leopard spots. Or are they JEOPARD spots?
- Aw, you two just look so right sitting on a couch together. Let’s get you a few cans and see if Top Gear‘s on Bajoran TV. (Of course, I’m currently feeling a bit cross with Top Gear for taking cheap shots at Mexicans and refusing to see that they actually weren’t funny or clever, but we can find you a repeat of something really great like the Botswana Adventure. If I could draw quite a lot better, I’d draw Top Gear/Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency crossover fanart of Oliver being repaired at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.)
- Varis has changed back into her Serious Grey Dress, Nog is back in my favourite leprechaun boots and Jake has apparently picked up on the leprechaun theme because he’s wearing three different shades of green. I’d call them leaf, kelly and teal. I’m not asking for Jake to go for the full-on frumpy baggy Wesley sweater style, but is every outfit he owns this tight?
- YAY FOR NOG’S ADVICE HELPING! But boo for Nog thinking swiping Odo’s bucket is an awesome way to party.
- And there is absolutely no-one in the police station. Not even an old semi-retired deputy who does filing, like Dixon of Dock Green in his later years.
- And Jake has to scrape what he think is Odo off his crotch.
- I like how, because Odo’s bucket is a space bucket, it’s wider at the bottom than at the top, the opposite of our terrestrial buckets.
- STERN MALL COP. And Nog gets nabbed by Sisko, the person on the station with the lowest opinion of him. Mmmmm, oatmeal.
- Aw, go on O’Brien, kiss the baby.
- I suppose he thinks he might find some magic object in the Sirrah’s house. Look, do you think the Sirrah’s plan actually involved his apprentice trying to kill O’Brien? Is this young man a good defender of the village, if that’s how his mind works? Don’t try to negotiate, just stab? O’Brien has a surprising amount of difficulty subduing one dork with a knife for a man who served in the infantry, worked security on the Enterprise, and at other times does stuff like this:
- OBVIOUS MAGIC OBJECT IN FRAME. I like the detail that the bracelet’s jewel is supposed to be part of a prophetic orb. This whole Dalrok scam is pretty lame, tbqh. The Sirrahs are essentially just manipulating the ordinary people of the village, not trusting them to solve their problems themselves.
- I just want to say that Varis has lovely hair. There’s no way hair can stay that smooth and shiny hanging down someone’s back and shoulders – it’s like Sarah’s hair in Labyrinth, which must have been brushed between every take.
- This conversation would make more sense if it were about Wesley’s admiration of Picard – and would be more interesting with Patrick Stewart’s more expressive manner, or even with the later, more expressive Sisko.
- I wonder whose suggestion the ‘opportunity’ would have been in TNG? It doesn’t feel like a Wesley idea.
- Poor O’Brien, dressed in borrowed robes! Once… upon a time… there was a Dalrok! This is a really unflattering angle they’re shooting Colm Meaney from, emphasising his paunch.
- If the Sirrah set this up to give his apprentice an opportunity to prove himself and win back the villagers’ confidence… didn’t the apprentice actually show himself unworthy of the Sirrah’s trust when he tried to murder O’Brien (how would that have looked to the villagers if he’d succeeded?), and since he now has to have the whole thing explained to him by Julian, instead of catching on for himself?
- I suppose this episode is a testament to the power of a really good motivational speaker.
- Awwww, Nog gets a cheek-kiss. He is enchanted.
- They’re not best friends yet – but the ice is broken and they’re much more comfortable together. YAAAAAAY.
- This is a decent episode purely because of the performances and relationships being built up. The actual plots are as dull as you’d expect for a rejected TNG script. It just goes to show how much charm and charisma Colm Meaney, Siddig El Fadil and Aron Eisenberg have – and Eisenberg is managing to do it while making his character not charming. In this rewatch, I’m really struck by how much I like Nog and tend to root for him.
- Now I am going to watch The Man Who Would Be King until it’s time to go and see my grandmother.
Next time, ‘Progress,’ which pits Kira against this irritatingly folksy old farmer dude and features a lot of bricklaying. Plus, self-sealing stem-bolts.