How far would you go for your physical or mental freedom? And how will you go to define that freedom? When Sisko and O'Brien crash-land on a world run by the ultimate Luddite, they find the fine line between social reform and social tyranny and, cut off from the station and the rest of the crew, must formulate an escape on their own.
We confront here two twinned themes: the impact of technology on humanity, and the mask of benevolence which can turn social reform into social control. We know so much about the Star Trek Universe. We have these messages about its high ideals and how it uses technology benevolently throughout the original series and the next generation. But we also have a balance in characters like McCoy and Pulaski, ambivalent about technology, and antagonists like Q, who seem to have superseded technology itself. Every once in a while we see the Federation's benevolence isn't universally accepted or unquestioned, and maybe it shouldn't be. Have we seen a human colony that wishes to completely cut themselves off from the Federation and Starfleet? I don't think so - yet - but that's the situation in which the Orellian colonists find themselves: shipwrecked, lost, and trapped. Or so it seems.
I found Alixus annoying–and suspicious–from the first. She instantly opposes any efforts towards rescuing or escaping the world, while at the same time admitting their challenges and celebrating the colony's success. She's exactly the type of politician we see back on the station, personified by Vedek Winn: someone determined to turn every statement into a motivation for supporting her own dreams. She even manages to make a torture device palatable; her colonists thank her for correction and punishment. Despite her seeming care for the colonists, she refuses efforts to find them modern medicine and treatment–or escape into any sort of other life. Alixus knows better, and the damned thing is her colony, however artificial, is working. But Sisko and O'Brien are on to her: despite her lofty and stated ideals, Alixus is all about control. "Work! Take off your uniform! Have sex with local exotic beauties! Stop thinking for yourself! Stop trying to leave!" Benevolent tyranny is still tyranny–even if she has taken such a sincere approach to it that her friends are walking into the box themselves. Hypocrites always wanna play innocent.
|"You WANT to walk into my overheated S&M box. Yes, you do. You DO!"|
Which, thankfully, is waiting just above, in the form of Dax and Kira, who have been trying to locate the two. Alixus not only used technology to shield the colony, she also managed to use it in an attempt to destroy one of the Station's runabouts. Miles and Sisko arrest Alixus and her son for torture and murder, but the rest of the colonists decide to take the values she's shared with them and make them something better.
|"We ain't leaving. We like the heat."|
I have to admit I liked the ending a lot. I like the fact that despite hypocrisy people found value in what they were doing and decided to continue - just without the lies and misguided heavyhanded social tyranny. Joseph and the rest of the colony have a strength and connection to their planet now, and they can pursue the dream of community independently. But will the Federation and Starfleet leave them alone?
Bits and Pieces
Love Sisko seeking father support from Miles, who is also a family man and will apparently be mentoring or apprenticing Jake back on the station.
What the hell kind of medicine straps random leaves to peoples' arms? Do they not boil water in this colony? They're called tinctures, people, TINCTURES!!!!!
The novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler also centered around a society which rejected technology. In this episode, the colony is centered around a salvaged Erewhon-class starship.
Another literary reference? Sisko/Miles crash land on a planet in the Orellian system, and Alixus is definitely employing Orwellian techniques.
Alixus' son is named Vinod, a Sanskrit name meaning joy. Ironically, he becomes the enforcer for the colony.
The actress playing Alixus seemed familiar, and she turns out to have been Olive on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, one of my favorite shows from back in the day.
These duonetic fields seem mysteriously powerful. Why aren't they used as a weapon?
Alixus: You don't understand us yet. No one follows me. They follow their own hearts.
Sisko: My heart tells me to try to get back to my ship.
Alixus: I'm sure it does. But if we'd had that attitude for the last ten years, we wouldn't have been doing what was necessary to survive here. To find the plants, herbs, molds that cure disease. We've conquered seventeen illnesses with the most powerful resource man has. His ingenuity.
Sisko: An interesting philosophy. And while we're debating it, a woman is dying.
Alixus: We're doing everything we can for her.
Sisko: No, we're not.
Joseph: He stole a candle.
O'Brien: One candle?
Sisko: How long was he in there?
Joseph: Since yesterday.
O'Brien: In that hell box?
Sisko: Is this part of your philosophy of life too?
Alixus: You're a Starfleet Commander. I'm sure you've had to discipline members of your crew.
Sisko: Discipline is one thing. Torture is another.
Alixus: The first thing this community accepted was the need to establish rules of conduct. All of us, including Stephan, approved this form of punishment as necessary and fair. How are you, Stephan?
Stephan: I'll be all right. I'm sorry, Alixus, that I let down the community.
Alixus: The matter is closed. Go inside. Get some rest now.
Stephan: Thank you, Alixus.
A great episode can be built from a great antagonist. Even though this is probably a one-off, it was entertaining, showed a lot about Sisko's strength of character and Miles' genius, and gave us some great Dax and Kira scenes.
Three and a half out of five duonetic fields.