Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “The Storyteller”

“The Storyteller”
Written by Kurt Michael Bensmiller and Ira Steven Behr
Directed by David Livingston
Season 1, Episode 13
Production episode 40511-414
Original air date: May 2, 1993
Stardate: 46729.1

Station log: Sisko has been asked to mediate a land dispute between the Paqu and the Navot. The provisional government fears that a civil war will erupt between the two factions. Complicating matters a bit is that the tetrarch of the Paqu is a fifteen-year-old girl named Varis Sul.

A village on Bajor has a medical emergency, and so Bashir goes down on a runabout, accompanied by a very reluctant O’Brien, who has no desire to be stuck on a runabout with the effusive doctor. In fact, they spend two hours in silence before Bashir breaks it by trying to find out if O’Brien finds him annoying. It’s blindingly obvious that O’Brien does find him annoying, but the chief is far too professional to say so out loud. Bashir also tries to convince O’Brien to call him “Julian,” which O’Brien struggles with to say the least.

They beam down to the village, and Bashir is surprised to find that the medical emergency that is endangering the village is simply one sick old man, who is the Sirah, or Storyteller, for the village. However the magistrate, Faren Kag, insists that if the Sirah dies, they all die. Bashir’s examination reveals that he’s basically dying of old age. The Sirah talks about the Dal’rok and claims that O’Brien is the person he’s been waiting for, none of which makes any sense to either Bashir or O’Brien. Faren explains that the Dal’rok is a creature that comes every night for five nights at this time of year and the Sirah is the only person strong enough to keep it from destroying the village. It’s come for three of the nights, and will be back this evening. Bashir points out that right now the Sirah isn’t strong enough to get out of bed, much less repel a Dal’rok.

Sisko meets informally with Varis and the leader of the Navot, the very pompous Woban, who talks down to Varis while insisting her father would never do what she is doing. The dispute is over the common border of their territory: a river that the Cardassians diverted during the occupation. Varis insists that the land on the Paqu side of the river is all hers now, while Woban insists on the river’s old position being the border. The last straw for Varis is when Quark brings her a “bubble juice” and calls her “little lady,” at which point she throws the drink in the Ferengi’s face and walks out.

Jake and Nog are sitting on the railing over the Promenade. Jake’s attempts to get Nog to join him on the holosuite for some baseball fall on deaf ears (Nog insists the game is stupid, Jake insists that Nog just won’t admit that he can’t hit Jake’s curve ball), especially once Nog catches sight of Varis, with whom he’s immediately taken. They track down her quarters and pose as the “unofficial welcoming committee.” They offer to show her a ship going through the wormhole—which she’s never seen, so she takes them up on it.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

The Sirah insists on coming out into the town square that night, against Bashir’s advice. He tells the story of the Dal’rok as a giant creature that looks like a glob of shaving cream appears in the sky. O’Brien can’t detect anything on his tricorder. The Sirah insists that the village is strong and he rallies the villagers against the Dal’rok—until he collapses, at which point the Dal’rok starts to destroy the village. The Sirah insists that O’Brien is his successor, and makes him say the words he would say. This inexplicably works and the villagers rally against the Dal’rok again. It disappears and the Sirah then dies. Faren declares a very nonplussed O’Brien to be the new Sirah. O’Brien is very not happy about his new role, especially when Faren talks about sending for Keiko and Molly so they can live here with him. Bashir is enjoying O’Brien’s discomfort, but they both agree that they need to find out what the Dal’rok actually is and destroy it.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

The Paqu-Navot negotiations are going poorly. After five hours of fruitless talking, Kira goes to Quark’s for a very large drink, while Sisko asks to speak to Varis in private. But she’s insisting on holding a hardline position. She goes to sit on the railing, where Jake and Nog find her. Nog suggests she view this not as a problem but an opportunity—find out what her opposite number wants that she has. Nog then convinces Varis and Jake to help him break into Odo’s office and steal the bucket he regenerates in. Nog finds it, and then pretends to trip, spilling its contents all over Jake. Jake thinks it’s Odo and panics, until Nog reveals that it’s oatmeal. All three collapse into a fit of giggles—at least until Odo and Sisko walk in on them.

Varis goes to Sisko and takes responsibility for what happened. She also says that she spent time with Jake in part for the insight it gave her into Sisko. But she also takes Nog’s advice, and comes up with an opportunity to allow both sides to win.

O’Brien tries to figure out what’s going on, but he’s hindered by villagers all clamoring for his blessing and by the Sirah’s apprentice, Horvath, trying to kill him. Horvath should be the Sirah, and he’s a little pissed that the title was granted to someone who didn’t even want it. Horvath reveals that the Dal’rok is a manifestation of the villagers’ fears that was created by a bracelet that contains an orb fragment. The first Sirah used the orb fragment to create the Dal’rok, giving the villagers a chance to defeat their fears. The storytelling focuses the villagers’ thoughts and allows them to drive the Dal’rok back. But the first night when the Dal’rok appeared this year, Horvath failed in his attempt to tell the story, and several people were injured. While O’Brien is more than happy to let Horvath take the mantle he trained for, the villagers will only accept O’Brien in the role of Sirah.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

That night, O’Brien very reluctantly goes to the square and then makes an absolute pig’s ear of telling the story. (One hopes that Keiko is the one who reads Molly her bedtime stories, ’cause damn…) Seeing the Dal’rok attacking the village, Horvath steps in and takes over once Bashir convinces him that the Sirah chose O’Brien because he knew he’d mess it up, thus giving Horvath a chance to redeem himself by rescuing O’Brien and the village. The villagers embrace Horvath as the new Sirah, and O’Brien and Bashir beat feet as fast as they can before they change their minds.

In the end, Varis makes her proposal, Jake and Nog are forced to clean the security office of all traces of oatmeal, and Bashir tells O’Brien that he doesn’t have to call him Julian if he doesn’t want to.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko is charged with negotiating between two squabbling Bajoran factions.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira tells Sisko that there’s an old Bajoran saying: “The people and the land are one,” adding that the land over which the Paqu and Novat are fighting is harsh.

Rules of Acquisition: Nog quotes the Ninth Rule: “Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.” Varis actually takes that to heart.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Nog falls hard for Varis, made all the more frustrating that she seems to find more in common with Jake. Having said that, it’s Nog’s advice that proves most useful, and she rewards him with a kiss on the cheek at the end of the episode, which sends the young man over the proverbial moon.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: It’s already been established that Odo has to regenerate every sixteen hours. This episode establishes that he does so in a bucket (since he reverts to a liquid state, this makes sense), which we see for the first time.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

Keep your ears open: “Do I—annoy you?”

“Annoy me? What sort of a question is that?”

“Well, the thing is, we’ve just spent two hours alone together in this runabout, and you’ve hardly said a word to me the whole time.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

Bashir asking an honest question and O’Brien avoiding answering it, followed by Bashir making an observation and O’Brien lying through his teeth.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

Welcome aboard: The late Kay E. Kuter, having appeared as the big giant head at the end of TNG’s “The Nth Degree,” gets to have his entire body appear as the Sirah. Jim Jansen plays Faren Kag; he’ll return in “Trials and Tribble-ations” as one of the Temporal Investigations agents. Jordan Lund, having previously appeared as a Klingon in “Redemption II” on TNG, plays Woban; he’ll be back on Enterprise’s “Bounty” as a Tellarite. Lawrence Monson plays Horvath; he’ll also return on Enterprise as Matthew Ryan in the episode “Fortunate Son.” Gina Phillips plays Varis Sul, while Aron Eisenberg is back as Nog.

Trivial matters: While the events of this episode are never referenced again onscreen, they are followed up on in the post-finale DS9 fiction, particularly the Bajor segment of Worlds of DS9 Volume 2 by J. Noah Kym (in which the village is destroyed), Warpath by David Mack, and Fearful Symmetry and The Soul Key by Olivia Woods. The village and the Sirah’s orb fragment bracelet from this episode are also identified as, respectively, Sidau and the paghvaram (or soul key).

The Paqu-Navot conflict is mentioned in the short story “Ha’mara” by Kevin G. Summers in the Prophecy and Change anthology, and it’s also referenced in the novel Wrath of the Prophets by Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, & Robert Greenberger.

Kurt Michael Bensmiller, who also wrote the story for TNG’s “Time Squared,” pitched this episode back in TNG’s first season. It never went anywhere then, but Michael Piller saw it when he joined the staff in the third season and liked it, eventually having him repurpose it for DS9.

Jake refers to a great-hitting baseball player named Buck Bokai, who will be seen (kind of) in “If Wishes Were Horses.”

Walk with the Prophets: “Once upon a time, there was a Dal’rok.” Yet another reworked TNG script, and even more so than “Babel” and “The Passenger,” this time the seams are definitely showing. We haven’t seen much of Bajor so far, but what we know of the world is that it’s an ancient planet with a great history of art and civilization that was crushed by the Cardassians.

The Paqu-Navot conflict actually makes sense. Any conflict between the two would have been subsumed by the Cardassians, but now that the conquerors are gone, they’re free to squabble. And a teenager thrust into a leadership role also is plausible. Still, there’s nothing really all that exciting going on here. Varis’s attempts to be a normal teenager with Jake and Nog are kinda cute-ish, and the subplot is one of the better vehicles for Cirroc Lofton and Aron Eisenberg, whose friendship continues to be convincing, and gives the episode what little heart it has. (I shudder to think about what the TNG version might’ve been like with Wes in the Jake/Nog role—probably as dire as “The Dauphin” was.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: The Storyteller

Still, you can see the paint dripping off the numbers of this half of the story, and it goes nowhere unexpected or particularly interesting.

Which puts it one up on the A plot, which is just embarrassingly stupid. Sledgehammering this into Bajor makes absolutely no sense, as I can’t imagine the Cardassians just let these guys fight off a fear monster that looks like shaving cream in the sky five nights a year ever year. Plus the whole rally-the-villagers-round trick is utterly unconvincing, the people’s rapid-fire changes of heart absurd. Also, did I mention that the Dal’rok looks like a giant shaving cream monster and is therefore impossible to take seriously?

It’s entertaining looking back on this episode, knowing where the O’Brien-Bashir friendship is headed, to see them still in the phase where O’Brien wants nothing to do with the babbling ponce of a doctor. And I love how O’Brien basically sneers the word “Julian” every time he uses it, to the point where Bashir rescinds the request to call him that, to O’Brien’s obvious relief.

But two good pairings do not a watchable story make, and the episode is ultimately completely forgettable.

 

Warp factor rating: 3


Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his newest book, the short story collection Tales from Dragon Precinct, is now on sale.

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