Star Trek Deep Space Nine: By Inferno's Light

Garak: “I only wish I were still a member of the Obsidian Order. This would make a wonderful interrogation chamber. Tight quarters, no air, bad lighting, random electric shocks. It's perfect.”

The conclusion to a great two-parter, building magnificently on the previous episode.

Near the beginning of this episode, on the prison asteroid in the Gamma Quadrant, we learn that Cardassians (although not Garak) are being released, because Cardassia is joining the Dominion. This has enormous implications for the rest of the series. It also ties to a previous episode, “Rapture,” when Sisko has dreams about locusts (the Dominion Jem’Hadar ships are the locusts).

Anyway, our group of intrepid heroes on the prison asteroid makes the obvious decision that it’s time to escape. This is easier said than done, but it turns out the runabout in which Garak and Worf arrived is still parked outside the prison asteroid. If they can access the computer on the runabout, they might be able to beam out and then escape. This means going into the wall and repurposing some circuits that were already adjusted by Enabrian Tain in order to transmit a communication.

Garak, son of Tain, is the only one with any hope of accomplishing this task, but it is under conditions that are terrible for the sartorially-minded spy. Garak suffers from claustrophobia – an affliction that is used well here and in other episodes – and that makes his work in the confines of the wall especially difficult.

Worf gets involved in fighting matches with the Jem’Hadar. Usually “Worf does combat” scenes are not my favorite. I have never been into into on- or off-screen violence, and I usually have trouble comprehending why fighting is supposed to be considered honorable. I can understand why writers include fight scenes. Besides being an expression of conflict and tension, and admittedly some artistic physicality on the part of the actors and the stunt folk, these scenes are convenient for padding out the episode, as they can be expanded or shrunk to fit the time slot (less of an issue these days, when so many shows stream from their initial offering, instead of being constrained by the scheduling required for commercials and moving on to the next show).

However, in “By Inferno’s Light,” Worf’s combat feels different. The impulse to fight is natural for the Jem’Hadar, who have been genetically engineered to fight, but Worf’s continuing is questioned by the Vorta, who doesn’t understand where the Klingon’s dogged aggressiveness originates (I would argue it has the same source, genetic selection, as the tendency in the Jem’Hadar, albeit developed through natural selection and not through genetic modification in a laboratory). Nevertheless, for once I find Worf’s attitude truly honorable. In so many episodes his strength is superior to those he is fighting, but not in this case. Worf is in pain from his injuries, yet he persists. And by occupying the Jem’Hadar with combats, Worf is distracting them from doing other bad things, especially from executing himself and his friends. Finally, the conversation about Martok commissioning a song to celebrate Worf’s fights is just wonderful.

Garak and Worf both do exceptionally well in a horrible situation, and at the end they both acknowledge it – something that is satisfactory after their squabbling in the runabout during “Purgatory’s Shadow.”

In the meantime, back on the space station, the inhabitants on it are freaking out by the reveal that Cardassia has joined the Dominion, and Sisko et al are preparing to defend themselves. However, Changeling Bashir, who has replaced the real Bashir on the space station, is planning to explode the Bajoran sun. If that happens, it would destroy several fleets – Starfleet, Klingons, Romulans – the planet Bajor, and of course the station. What about the wormhole? The Dominion isn’t yet concerned with the Bajoran prophets (a.k.a. “wormhole aliens”) but they are interested in making sure the wormhole continues to function, as that is their access to the rest of the Dominion, with important components such as Ketracel White. Yet in the beginning, a sabotaged procedure reinforces rather than collapses the wormhole, and it seems that the wormhole might have survived the sun’s explosion.

The episode focuses less on those at the space station than on those on the prison asteroid, but what we see makes excellent viewing. Sisko and Dax are concerned about the sabotage, and Sisko renews the alliance with the Klingons (really, given the many achievements of Sisko over the years, Starfleet ought to make him more than just captain, but maybe “Emissary of the Prophets” is enough). Quark has a lovely exchange with Ziyal, and Ziyal, naturally enough, is extremely upset by the direction her father is taking and shares moving dialogue with Kira. O’Brien is worried about his family and a little puzzled by some of the actions of Changeling Bashir (but not puzzled enough). And Kira and Dax engage in an exciting chase scene as they prevent Changeling Bashir from exploding the Bajoran sun.

Title musings: This episode’s title, “By Inferno’s Light,” follows logically from the previous episode, “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” in this two-parter. In the previous episode, things were not always that clear, hence shadow. Now, with the Cardassian empire joining the Dominion, things are very clear (but very bad). There’s also the fact that Garak is having to work in a claustrophobic torture chamber in order to modify some electronics in the wall to free them. Also, in the last episode, conditions in the Alpha Quadrant were not great, but instead of improving in this episode, they have taken a distinct turn for the worse. At any rate, the title is fantastic, as is the title of the previous episode.

Bits and pieces

I have often watched this episode in German, and the dubbing is great. When Sisko says "Armageddon will have to wait for another day," this is translated as “ist vertagt.” "Ist vertagt" is better translated in the English as “postponed” – which I think would have been a better choice.

Dr. Julian Bashir seems to be a favorite for the changelings to replace, as they did that with him in “The Adversary.” Possibly they choose Bashir because he conducts the blood tests.

If Bashir has been a changeling for a few weeks, what else the changeling done? Did he, as is wondered about in other reviews, deliver the baby Kira was carrying? If the time between episodes corresponds to time on the space station, then yes.

In a future episode the improbability of the escape from the asteroid will be discussed, and at least one character will opine that the Dominion let them go. Certainly the escape does have elements that are highly unlikely. First, it seems odd that the runabout would still be at the prison asteroid, instead of being taken by the Vorta for analysis (on the other hand, changelings have already infiltrated Earth, even Starfleet, so maybe this equipment was not a priority for them). Second, the fact that Garak could make the adjustments to the transmitter to control the runabout’s computer. If that is possible, why haven’t more runabouts been hacked? Third, of course, is that our heroes managed to get back to DS9 without being blown to bits. Given how easily they were captured before, you’d think their recapture wouldn’t be so difficult now. On the other hand, “letting them escape” also seems unlikely. Changeling Bashir was in the process of executing a very significant blow against the Alpha Quadrant, and the Dominion would not want to jeopardize it. I prefer to interpret the escape as either a little weakness in the writing, which the writers acknowledge in a future episode, or a little weakness in the Dominion. Foes that seem formidable usually do have flaws, and the Dominion, which would be concentrating at that point at moving their forces into the Alpha Quadrant, might not be monitoring a prison asteroid.

Having Kira and Dax chase Changeling Bashir was good, but I didn’t appreciate the fear about going to warp speed within a solar system. That seemed like a gratuitous way to pile on tension, but I didn’t buy it.

Quotes

Dukat [on viewscreen]: I'm afraid I have a confession to make, Major. For the past few months, I've been conducting secret negotiations between the Dominion and Cardassia. And as of last week, Cardassia has agreed to become part of the Dominion.
Kira: You can't be serious.
Dukat [on viewscreen]: Goodbye, Major. You and I on the same side. It never seemed quite right, did it?

Ziyal: My father says Garak's dead.
Kira: Right now I wouldn't believe your father if he said rain was wet.

Ziyal: I used to think my father was a hero. That even when he did something bad, he had a good reason.
Kira: Everyone has their reasons. That's what's so frightening. People can find a way to justify any action, no matter how evil.
Ziyal: You think my father is evil?
Kira: I think you can't judge people by what they think or say, only by what they do.

Martok: Your Federation friends have taught you modesty, but this is no time for modesty. When we return to the Klingon Empire, I will seek out Keedera himself and tell him of your glorious tale. He will write a song worthy of you.
Bashir: Well, be sure to send me a copy.
Martok: I'll do better than that. I can make sure that he mentions you, the healer who bound the warrior's wounds so he could fight again.
Worf: Right now, the only part of the song that I wish to hear is the verse that tells of our escape. What good is defeating every Jem'Hadar soldier in this compound if it does not bring us closer to our freedom?
Bashir: We have to come up with a new escape plan.
Garak: That won't be necessary. The original one will work. I just have to finish what I started. After all, a verse about the Cardassian who panicked in the face of danger would ruin General Martok's song.

Sisko: Dukat.
Dukat [on monitor]: Please, Captain. Show a little respect. You are talking to the head of the Cardassian government.
Sisko: I don't recognize that government.
Dukat [on monitor]: Your recognition is irrelevant.
Sisko: Well, if that's what you think, why are we having this conversation?

Quark: Your asparagus with yamok sauce. The last of my fresh asparagus, I might add. Not that I'll need to stock it anymore. Somehow I get the feeling there won't be much of a demand for human food once the Jem'Hadar have finished with this place.
Ziyal: Aren't you being a little pessimistic?
Quark: Am I? The Jem'Hadar don't eat, don't drink, and they don't have sex. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Founders don't eat and don't drink, and they don't have sex either. Which, between you and me, makes my financial future less than promising.
Ziyal: It might not be so bad. For all we know the Vorta could be gluttonous, alcoholic sex maniacs.

Romulan: My people have a saying. Never turn your back on a Breen.

Gowron: Think of it. Five years ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine, and now all our hopes rest here. Where the tides of fortune take us, no man can know.
Sisko: They're tricky, those tides.

Overall Rating

This is one of those episodes that makes you grateful for the existence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and awed by its prescience. It is as gripping today as it was more than two decades ago, and it seems even more relevant. What do you do when an adversary teams up with a far more dangerous enemy and enables the invasion of your home? Four out of four random electric shocks in Garak’s private inferno.

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

2 comments:

Patrick said...

"Tell our friends out there to stand down. Armageddon will have to wait for another day." --one of my favorite lines of the whole series. Not far behind it is the one from Ikat'ika, "I cannot defeat this Klingon. All I can do is kill him." I always found the Jem'Hadar fascinating, they were engineered to be totally obedient to the Founders, yet they are instilled with a sense of honor.

Tim said...

Great review of a great episode (same goes for the previous one).

Enjoying all your reviews, Victoria.