Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Paradise Lost

Sisko: "With a Starfleet officer on every corner, paradise has never seemed so well armed."

By nature I love brevity: Top-notch storytelling. A really hard-hitting story about paranoia and its effects on otherwise rational people. 'Paradise Lost' goes very well with its first part, 'Homefront,' although you can definitely see why some were disappointed that the story didn't go the way they were expecting.

'Paradise Lost' and its predecessor 'Homefront' are a study of human fear, and what it can drive people to do. It's an exploration of what happens to people when their safety is threatened and they need something to hang on to. It's fascinating, made even more so by the fact that the threat in this case is very real. Or at least the concept behind it is.

Because the truth is that the people of Earth have a really good reason to be scared. The Changelings can be anything and anyone, they can do unspeakable damage without anyone ever knowing it was them, and most importantly, they will. A changeling infiltrated the crew of the Defiant and tried to blow it up. A changeling infiltrated the Tal Shiar/Obsidian Order fleet and brought it to its complete destruction. And now a changeling has been spotted in the presence of a horrific tragedy at the heart of the Federation. The threat is absolutely real, and it's terrifying.

This is the setup that 'Homefront' has left this episode with, and it's a lot to live up to. Many reviewers who watched and wrote about the episode when it aired were disappointed that the changelings were not actually causing these things, in what they felt was something of a cop out. I disagree. When watching the two episodes together with the knowledge of what is going to happen already in your head, it's clear they work as a cohesive whole, and that the setup of the first part segues beautifully into the second. The opening of 'Paradise Lost' immediately sets you up to disbelieve the narrative we've been given, which feels like more than enough to me to make the unraveling of the conspiracy believable. You can see countless hints in 'Homefront' of what's really going on, and the plot threads of that episode reach a natural conclusion here.

The main point this episode is trying to make, though, as I've said, is about fear. It's this I want to focus on and unpack. The first and most obvious manifestation of fear in this episode is in the citizens of Earth as they tremble with anticipation of what may be lurking in the shadows. The decision to ground the episode with the on-the-street everyday citizen perspectives of Jake and Joseph Sisko is brilliant, and it helps to illustrate what it would be like to watch this all unfold without being a part of it and knowing what's going on. The general public is understandably afraid of the changelings, and it makes them willing to go along with whatever promises to keep them safe. The interesting thing, though, is that Joseph Sisko's character represents a man who isn't afraid. He's wrong not to be afraid. But because he isn't afraid, he's the first one who sees when Starfleet has gone too far.

The second manifestation of fear is in the people in charge, who have no idea how to keep their people safe. This, of course, is President Jaresh-Inyo. Jayesh-Inyo, as Admiral Leyton astutely observes, was never supposed to be a President for wartime. He feels unequipped, and in fact he is. Jaresh-Inyo is a peacetime sort of man, and his only concern is keeping people safe and at peace. But he's over his head, and that makes him afraid.

The most important exploration of fear in this episode is that of Admiral Leyton. At first glance, Leyton is a man who is using people's fear to further his own goals. But I actually believe that Leyton's desire to take over stems from a legitimate desire to keep people safe. Because Leyton, too, is afraid. He's afraid of the changelings. He's afraid of what they might do, and he's afraid that the people in charge will be unable to handle it. But the thing that scares Leyton the most is that other people are not afraid the way he is. When he tried to tell President Jaresh-Inyo about the security measures they needed to take, he was shut down. So Leyton, still believing that he is justified, devised a plan to show everyone why they should be just as afraid as he is. And the truth is that he was right. They should all have been as afraid of the changeling threat as he was. But the measures he was proposing to deal with it were not lines that the enlightened Federation was willing to cross. And his methods of showing everyone how scared they should be were way off-base. That's because of the last important aspect of Leyton's character - his pride. This is a subtler thing, but it's there. Because Leyton could see what everyone else couldn't about the threat the changelings posed, his pride was inflamed and he began to believe that he was the only one who could deal with that threat. No one else would have been competent in his eyes. It gave him the well-intentioned conviction that he needed to keep the Federation safe, but because its foundation was one of fear and pride, it ultimately was corrupted.

But his conviction rubbed off on Benjamin Sisko, and I'll consider this before I close. One thing that can always be said of Sisko is that he is a man of conviction. Once he gets to believe something, nothing can shake that belief, and nothing can stop him from doing everything that conviction would lead him to do. This is a great thing in situations where his conviction is well-founded, as we'll begin to see more of as the series continues. But in 'Paradise Lost' we see a Sisko who has caught on to a conviction that isn't right or well-founded. Here he has been led astray by his convictions, and it takes a lot to show him that he's been wrong. But once he does realize it, he becomes convicted to stop what he's wrongfully helped set in motion, and this drives him to ultimately set things right. It's an interesting and very human trait that Sisko has, and it makes him a fascinating character to watch.

Strange New Worlds:

This week the strange new world is Earth, but not an Earth like Star Trek has always had. This Earth, gripped with fear and paranoia, is to some the greatest departure from Gene Roddenberry's 'perfect' future that Star Trek has made.

New Life and New Civilizations:

No new species this week, though Jaresh-Inyo talked about his people the Grazerites.

Pensees:

-This episode and its predecessor 'Homefront' were initially intended to be the Season Four opener and the Season Three finale, respectively. The studio didn't want a cliffhanger finale for the third season, and then they told the showrunners to 'shake things up' in the fourth. This led to these two episodes being pushed back to the middle of the fourth season.

-Odo uses a Vulcan nerve pinch when he rescues Sisko. It's cool, but the reason it happened was because they didn't have the money to show him shapeshifting again.

-Sisko wears a TNG-style uniform for the entire episode. It's the only episode in which he does.

-The title, of course, is taken from the famous poem of the same name, about the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden.

-The opening quote is Ira Steven Behr's favorite line.

Quotes:

Nog: "Red Squad? Did you get me in?"
Sisko: "Not just yet."
Nog: "Too bad. They're the only people I know who aren't afraid of the Dominion."

Sisko (enjoying himself way too much): "Now son, if you think by lying to me, you/re going to save your own hide, you'd better forget it. Mistakes were made, and I will find out who's responsible."

Sisko: "So you're willing to destroy paradise in order to save it?"

O'Brien Changeling: "We're smarter than solids, we're better than you, and most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it's your fear that will destroy you."

6 out of 6 very rational fears.

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By this time, CoramDeo is probably running, doing push-ups, writing an essay, or being yelled at.