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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Assignment

O'Brien: “Rom, I'm going to have to leave you in a tough spot.”
Rom: “Captain Sisko, Odo, they don't know about any of this, do they?”
O'Brien: “No. No, they don't. And I want you to help me keep it that way for a little while longer.”
Rom: “I have to stay here and play the idiot?”
O'Brien: “I'm afraid so. No matter what Odo asks you.”
Rom: “I'm Quark's brother. I know the role.”

In which Star Trek Deep Space Nine tortures Chief Miles O’Brien, but with a twist in that this torture connects to the long arcs of the seven years of series.

I love how this episode opens (after the bit between Rom and Quark). Miles is chewing out Julian for having killed some of Keiko’s plants (Idran hybrid bonsai trees), and he’s worried how his wife is going to take it when she returns from Bajor. When Miles meets her at the shuttle, he confesses immediately (well, he blames Dr. Bashir) but Keiko doesn’t care. Chief O’Brien is relieved until he learns that the reason Keiko doesn’t care is because she has been taken over by another creature. And that creature is threatening Keiko’s life, and has work for Miles to do.

The creature doesn’t explain what it is, but we get a clue at Chief O’Brien’s birthday party (the birthday party from hell for poor Miles, one of the many torturous moments for him) when Jake Sisko asks Keiko if, when she was on Bajor, she had the chance to visit the Fire Caves. That’s where the Pah-wraiths are supposed to be – Pah-wraiths being the enemy of the Bajoran prophets. That answers the question why the Pah-wraith has taken over Keiko and not the chief – it’s because Keiko went to the Fire Caves.

There were a couple of truly chilling moments. I wasn’t especially impressed when the Pah-wraith nearly killed Keiko (twice), mostly because the Pah-wraith wasn’t going to kill its vessel. However, the scene where the Chief wakes up with his wife, is feeling amorous, only to remember it’s not his wife, is especially creepy. And later, Keiko is with Molly; seeing the little girl in the Pah-wraith’s arms is terrifying.

Rom shines in this episode. Rom is now working for Star Fleet as an engineer – something that happened in “Bar Association”, which I also reviewed – and is so gung-ho about his new position, that he’s eating whatever the other personnel are eating, something that doesn’t always agree with his Ferengi digestive system. His colleagues aren’t especially friendly to Rom – after all, they don’t know him, he’s new, and Ferengi don’t have the best reputation in the Federation – but they’re tolerant and polite. After a lifetime of insults and abuse from Quark, treatment that’s both tolerant and polite has to make Rom feel as if he has landed in the Divine Treasury.

The fact that Rom isn’t goofing off with the other engineers and that he is also a really talented engineer makes Chief O’Brien turn to Rom for help. Rom, not being tortured by a Pah-wraith, is able to see things a little more clearly. Rom realizes that the Pah-wraith is planning to attack the Bajoran prophets. Rom senses, too, that O’Brien is desperate yet nevertheless trusts him.

In this episode, you can appreciate the bond between Miles and Keiko. At first, Miles thinks Keiko is kidding and they’re doing some sexy role-playing. Throughout the episode, the Pah-wraith’s knowledge of Miles makes it clear Keiko knows her husband very well. Finally, at the end, when Keiko thanks her husband for fighting for her – well, I think this marriage is going to last.

Title musings: “The Assignment” is the title of the episode, and although it doesn’t have multiple meanings, it applies to both the A story and the B story. Both Chief O’Brien and Rom have received uncomfortable assignments. It's simple, straightforward, and it works.

Bits and pieces

The reason they sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” instead of “Happy Birthday” at the chief’s birthday party is because when this episode was filmed, “Happy Birthday” still required royalty payment. From Wikipedia: “The music and lyrics are in public domain in the European Union and the United States. The copyright expired in the European Union on January 1, 2017. A U.S. federal court ruled in 2016 that Warner and Chappell's copyright claim was invalid and there was no other claim to copyright.”

One great thing about this episode was that O’Brien wasn’t able to manage everything without being detected. Jadzia noticed there was a saboteur, and Odo even figured out that O’Brien has been causing the problems. O’Brien even had to hit him (something that wouldn’t have worked if Odo were still a changeling).

Major Kira wasn’t in this episode. This probably suited Nana Visitor, who was pregnant at the time (pregnancy can be exhausting), and was needed for the story. Major Kira would certainly have known about Pah-wraiths, and her connection with the O’Briens – living with them – would have given her the opportunity to figure everything out. So, let her visit Shakaar, and the plot problem is solved! This may be somewhat at odds with how fierce Keiko was about not letting the son-carrying Kira out of her sight in previous episodes, but who cares?

The Pah-wraith is so cruel. There's no reason to make O'Brien suffer through his birthday party, and there's no reason to make him sleep with the Pah-wraith, but it makes him do both anyway.

I love how Odo rubs his jaw near the end, reminding us that O'Brien hit him.


Rom: “Is there something wrong, Chief? I can work slower if you want me to.”

Rom: “Culpable deniability. I understand. Don't worry about me, chief. My lips are sealed. Nobody will get anything out of me. Not even my name.”
Chief O’Brien: “Rom, everybody on the station knows your name.”
Rom: “Right.” (a pause) “But I won't confirm it.”

Dax: “I've always found anomalies to be very relaxing. It's a curse. I was using the wideband filter protocols and when I ran the primary calibrations check I found this.”
O'Brien: “Oh, they're slightly off spec.”
Dax: “Yes. I thought it might be a fused matrix inverter until I ran a level three diagnostic. Have a look. We'd better wake the Captain. We have a saboteur on the station.”

Rom: “Everyone has enemies. Even the Prophets.”
Chief O’Brien: “That's right. They're not just wormhole aliens; they're Prophets. Part of Bajoran mythology, just like the Pah-wraiths of the Fire Caves. So what have those wraiths have to do with the wormhole aliens?”
Rom: “Kosst Amojan.”
Chief O’Brien: “What?”
Rom: “It's a Bajoran legend. From the verb Kosst, meaning "to be", and Amojan, "banished". Leeta's been telling me all about Bajoran legends. She can go on for hours. She says I'm a good listener.”

Odo: “Enough, Chief. You didn't cover your tracks very well. Why?”
O'Brien: “I didn't have time. I still don't.” (punches Odo)

Captain Sisko: “Chief. You have some explaining to do.”

Overall Rating

Unlike many let’s-torture-O’Brien episodes, which are mostly irrelevant to the long arcs of Deep Space Nine, “The Assignment” introduces information that will play key roles in how the grand story plays out. Rom’s relationship with Star Fleet will matter, and the Pah-wraiths will matter too. The tension throughout the episode is great. Three and a half out of four Idran hybrid bonsai trees.

Victoria Grossack loves birds, math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

1 comment:

  1. Keiko gets a lot of hate from certain corners of the DS9 fandom, but I think she's pretty great. And Rosalind Chao is excellent, as this episode shows off.


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