Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Muse

Onaya: "I can spot a creative soul a galaxy away."

By nature I love brevity: An episode constructed of many elements, most of which are elements I like. The execution (and one of those elements), however, kind of messes it all up. The result is an underwhelming, pointless, and forgettable hour.

So let's go over the different parts of this episode to analyze where it went wrong. The two central figures, from the main cast, are obviously Odo and Jake. Clearly, this is not the problem. Odo is my favorite character in pretty much all of Star Trek, and stories revolving around him have a pretty good track record. Jake, on the other hand, is perhaps less beloved by fans. But I do still think he's one of the most realistic, best-portrayed, teenagers on television. Certainly, he's miles ahead of Wesley Crusher. So this isn't a problem either. Now, Jake carries the A-story of the episode, and Odo carries the B-story – although I have some other thoughts on that point. The concept of Jake's story, too, is quite good. As a writer, I'm a sucker for stories about writers and how they write, and the sci-fi twist is an interesting one. This brings us to Odo's story, which to someone who's not seen a lot of Trek before, might seem to be fine. That is to say, someone who has not been previously subjected to Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett Roddenberry).

Lwaxana Troi is the single element in this episode that brings the entire concept down. The literal point of the character is that she's a burden on everyone she interacts with, inflicting needless pain on them every time. But instead of being a burden on the characters that's fun to watch, she's also a burden on the audience. Every moment the character is on screen grates on my nerves. Her little personal tics that annoy everyone around her are well-designed; I believe wholly that they would annoy the crap out of the characters because they also annoy the crap out of me. Now, that being said, episodes have been known to have horrible elements and yet still salvage the rest substantially enough to be good. Let's look at why this is not the case in 'The Muse.'

The blame here lies mostly on the execution of the elements which seemed so promising in concept. First, let's look at Jake's story. It's always interesting when writers write stories about writers. The creative tendencies that fuel writers, and more generally artists, are somewhat unique among human impulses, so they are worth exploring in stories. The interpretive and inspirational nature of art, too, is up for grabs in a story about an artist. Clearly, there is a lot of material to mine. The only problem with this particular story is that it completely fails to even attempt to mine any of it. Scene after scene of Jake and Onaya (Meg Foster) consists merely of Onaya massaging the energy or whatever out of Jake's brain, Jake writing on the page, and a few lines about Jake being inspired and wanting to continue. That's it. Even the climax of the plot is utterly devoid of suspense, as Sisko fires a phaser blast at Onaya, and then she just leaves. The composer seems to recognize the complete lack of compelling material in this moment, yet feels absolutely no responsibility to help, as the score here barely even escalates at all.

This brings us to what is allegedly the B-story. But right off the bat, there's a problem here. You see, the concept of another Odo/Lwaxana episode was always the central idea behind this episode. The only reason the Jake/Onaya part was even introduced was because the other B-story they had didn't work. And then, as they wrote the episode, they felt the Jake/Onaya story was overtaking the episode, so they made that the A-story and shunted Odo and Lwaxana down to the B-story. Unfortunately, the result of this is that the bits with Jake and Onaya feel horribly underdeveloped, and the Odo and Lwaxana portions feel like a ton of material crammed into too little time. Not only are they actively irritating, these scenes take up much more of the episode than a B-story has any right to do. It doesn't help, either, that it's all plot and no story. There's no journey for the characters, no arc, even though the scenario should be bringing about all the raw emotion in the world. Instead, the elements simply move from beat to beat soullessly. This goes both for Lwaxana's over-the-top histrionics, which aren't real emotion, and Odo's detached deflections, which definitely aren't emotional. Even the wedding fails to do anything to help this issue.

Many of the people involved with this episode's production were very disappointed with the final result, and you can see why. The writers have talked about how much they disliked both stories, saying that they just never figured out quite where to go. The normally brilliant director David Livingston, too, said he had no idea what to do with the material. This episode took a longer writer's room meeting (six days) than any other episode of DS9 (average was two days). It shows.

Strange New Worlds:

We spent the whole episode aboard DS9.

New Life and New Civilizations:

Onaya, though none of the information about her is confirmed by anyone other than herself, seems to be a non-corporeal being that feeds off of the creative inspiration of other people. Apparently, she inspired many great artists of Earth and many other cultures.

Lwaxana's husband Jeyal (Michael Ansara) is Tavnian. In Tavnian culture, male children are raised by the husband, and female children are raised by the mother; a phenomenally stupid tradition that is pretty much guaranteed to be harmful to the children in their society. *sigh*

Pensees:

-This is Majel Barrett Roddenberry's final onscreen appearance in Star Trek. She will likely play the computer for a very long time to come, however, as she had her voice recorded making every sound in the English language so that the computer's lines could be composited for Star Trek after her death.

-The writers wanted Onaya to refer to two alien artists and one human artist at one point in the episode. One writer picked Keats and the alien Tarbolde, but then another wanted to include Catullus, because they felt it fit the theme. However, in the actual episode, Meg Foster mispronounces 'Catullus,' making it sound like an alien anyway.

-The title of Jake's novel is Anslem, a callback to a much better episode of the series, 'The Visitor.'

-The stuff Jake is writing on the paper actually appears to be consistent and part of a novel, not some random stuff taken from the newspaper or whatever. I'm impressed.

Quotes:

Onaya: "Isn't that what an artist wants? To be remembered? Isn't that why you write?"
Jake: "I don't know. I think it's mostly because I like to tell stories."

Lwaxana: "Odo, would you like to join the party?"
Odo: "Actually, I have some free time, and I was wondering if you'd like to take a walk."
Worf: "I would."
Thank you, Michael Dorn. Thank you.

Sisko: "The dialogue is sharp, the story's involving, the characters are real. The spelling is terrible. I especially like the father."

Sisko: "You wrote these words, not her."
Jake: "But she got them out of me."
Sisko: "Which means they were somewhere inside of you. And all you have to do is to learn to find them for yourself."

1.5 out of 6 spelling mitsakes.

--
Is this the last hurrah?

2 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

I appreciate your reviewing this, so I didn't have to.

CoramDeo said...

Victoria, likewise, with 'Bar Association.'