Star Trek Deep Space Nine: For the Uniform

"He played me, alright! And what is my excuse? Is he a changeling? No. Is he a being with seven lifetimes of experience? No. Is he a wormhole alien? No. He's just a man, like me... and he beat me!"

By nature I love brevity: This is an excellent episode, if a little undercut by its closing moments. Strong performances from Avery Brooks and Kenneth Marshall carry the show.

Have you ever wondered what Les Miserables would have been like from Inspector Javert's point of view? That's exactly what this episode portrays, and it puts the role of Javert in unlikely hands. Our obsessed lawman for the hour is Captain Sisko, and his escaped convict is Michael Eddington. For those who don't recall, Eddington was the Starfleet Security Chief assigned to DS9 as the Dominion threat was just beginning to grow. He betrayed Starfleet and joined the Maquis, costing the Federation valuable medical supplies and a lot of classified information.

When last they met, Eddington denounced Starfleet in no uncertain terms, and Sisko accused him of betraying everything he stood for. But now that principled opposition has eroded, and Sisko is left only with his personal feelings of betrayal, and the pressure from Starfleet to bring in a notorious and dangerous traitor. Eddington knows Sisko too well. While the Captain may not be the most open person in the fleet, he lets down his guard to the people he chooses to trust. We've seen him cook meals for his senior staff, drop rank to have real conversations with his people, and bare his inner soul to the men and women he most needs to rely on. Eddington took that and used it to humiliate Sisko and degrade the ideals he holds dear.

This episode continues the trend of 'Rapture' earlier this season, of breaking Sisko down to his most vulnerable point. In one powerful scene, he reveals to Dax that what really bothers him isn't that Eddington betrayed Starfleet. It isn't that he abandoned his principles. And in the end, it isn't even that he betrayed Sisko. What bothers him most is that it worked. Eddington got into Sisko's inner circle, and he didn't even see it coming. This is deeply human, and Brooks sells frustration like few other actors can.

But of course, that's not how Eddington sees it. This episode also gives us a glimpse of Eddington's point of view. He cares deeply about the plight of the colonists in the Demilitarized Zone, and it is this cause that drives him above all others. Eddington sees himself as Jean Valjean, going so far as to spell it out to Sisko by calling him Javert. In his own eyes, he is a heroic figure, dashing from place to place pursued by the morally repugnant establishment. It's interesting and very real that Eddington's hero complex requires him to be a victim of injustice. This is a phenomenon that we very clearly see everywhere we look. Most ideologies require or are eventually corrupted to require that the person that claims the ideology be a victim of those who disagree. You'll see each side of a given argument claiming that they are being oppressed or attacked by the other side's established control. 'They're coming for us' is the rallying cry across the world.

And in the end, it may well be that Eddington's actions are heroic. You may agree that the colonists were oppressed and that the Maquis' actions are justified. But in the end, it is Sisko that breaks the cycle of victimhood and allows himself to be the villain of his own story on some level. Both men have wronged one another (and put innocent lives in danger for the sake of their game of cat and mouse), but it is Sisko who admits it to himself. This is why he wins, because he is humble enough to acknowledge that he isn't always heroically standing up for what's right against insurmountable odds.

Where the episode stumbles is by making the logical leap that this makes his actions acceptable. It lets Sisko accept that he is wrong, lets him make a moral compromise for what he believes is the greater good, and then fails to let him suffer the consequences. A throwaway line tells us that the colonists that were displaced by the Maquis' weapon and the colonists that were displaced by Sisko's weapon will swap places, since they can each still live in the other's environment. It's cheap and lazy, and it robs Sisko of the power of his choice. He gets to accept that he's the villain and still be the hero. Simply recognizing one's imperfection does not make one perfect, and it is here that 'For the Uniform' fails to recognize the implications of its own argument.

Still, it is a powerful and real episode, with excellent performances. It represents a formula for Sisko-centered character episodes, which will later be perfected in my favorite episode of television of all time. I'll let you know when we get around to it.

Strange New Worlds:

Sisko visited a Maquis colony on Marva IV at the beginning of the episode. According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, Marva IV was a Class-M planet located in the Badlands. The other colonies mentioned were Quatal and Panora.

New Life and New Civilizations:

We learned that the compound cobalt diselenide is harmful to Cardassians, but not humans. Conversely, trilithium resin is harmful to humans, but not Cardassians.

Pensees:

-Sisko doesn't wear a Starfleet uniform until about ten minutes into the episode, symbolizing his willingness to go outside of normal Starfleet codes and standards to get Eddington.

-This was a smart use of Nog, and I loved the sequence where the crew launched the limping Defiant. It harkened back to the Wrath of Khan days of treating Trek like a submarine movie.

-The new holocommunicator, seen in this episode, is never used again. It is seen in the background of one more episode later on.

-Incidentally, the holocommunicator technology is treated as super new and has a very limited capacity, but in Star Trek: Discovery, set over 100 years prior to this episode, much more complex and capable holographic communicators are used widely.

Quotes:

Eddington: "Unlike you, Captain, I know when to walk away."

Odo: "Sir, have you ever reminded Starfleet Command that they stationed here because they didn't trust me?"
Sisko: "No."
Odo: "Please do."

Dax: "You're becoming more like Curzon all the time."
Sisko: "I don't know how to take that."
Dax: "Consider it a compliment. And the next time I go off half-cocked on some wild-eyed adventure, think back to this moment, and be a little more understanding."

Dax: "I can't stand Victor Hugo. I tried reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I couldn't get through it. It was so melodramatic, and his heroines are so two-dimensional."

Sisko: "But in the best melodramas, the villain creates a situation where the hero is forced to sacrifice himself for the people, for the cause - one final, grand gesture."
Dax: "What are you getting at, Benjamin?"
Sisko: "I think it's time for me to become the villain."

Dax: "You know, sometimes I like it when the bad guy wins."
You're often wise, Dax, but you just don't get it here.

5 out of 6 19th-Century French melodramas.

--
CoramDeo will be taking these Huggies and whatever cash you've got.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a really good episode of DS9, but it does unfortunately fall into the semi-disturbing pattern the show sometimes engaged in of having Sisko do something morally questionable or even disturbing and then fail to interrogate it beyond the "Wasn't that awesome?!" factor. Call it an overreaction on the show's part against the Picard model of how a Starfleet captain should conduct themselves, but that doesn't make the failure to take Sisko to task any more acceptable.

DS9 often felt reactionary against TNG in a few odd ways (blowing up an Enterprise look-alike in 2x26 just a week after the TNG series finale aired stands out), like the writers were really intent on letting us know this wasn't your typical squeaky clean Trek show. A lot of the time this made for really really good TV, taking the Trek franchise to mature new places TNG wouldn't have dared touch ("The Wire", "Paradise Lost", "Inquisition", all stone cold classics), but it could be a touch overdone at times like in this episode.