Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Progress”

“Progress”
Written by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Les Landau
Season 1, Episode 14
Production episode 40511-415
Original air date: May 9, 1993
Stardate: 46844.3

Station log: Quark is annoyed that Broik forgot to cancel an order of yamok sauce, since only Cardassians can stand the stuff. Nog, who is playing cards with Jake, overhears Quark berating his employee and views it as an opportunity, to Jake’s confusion.

With Federation assistance, Bajor is tapping the molten core of Jeraddo, one of Bajor’s moons. Kira and Dax do a final pass over the moon to make sure that there’s no life—the moon was evacuated, as the core-tapping will make the place uninhabitable—but they detect some humanoid life in a sector that shouldn’t have anyone there. While Dax continues the search, Kira beams down to find herself at a house where two Bajorans are threatening her with pitchforks. Yes, really. They’re both mute thanks to torture by Cardassians (which means they can be played by extras who don’t get paid as much), but a third person makes up for it. His name is Mullibok, he thinks Kira is pretty, he’s a farmer who grows magnificent katterpod beans, and he’s not leaving the moon. Kira insists that he has to go; Mullibok says they can talk about it over supper. Kira tells Dax she’s staying for a farewell supper and that she’ll catch a lift back from one of the thermologists.

Nog and Jake talk to a Lissepian freighter captain about the yamok sauce. He won’t pay directly for the sauce, but will trade some self-sealing stembolts that a Bajoran ordered from him and then couldn’t pay for. They agree to terms with the captain—then Nog offers to “get rid” of the yamok sauce for Quark, who is more than happy never to have to see or deal with yamok sauce ever again. They make the trade, then get in touch with the Bajoran who was originally going to buy the stembolts. He couldn’t afford the Lissepian’s price, but Nog and Jake can afford to offer a discount, what with not having any overhead on this particular deal.

Mullibok puts Kira to work in preparing supper, having her peel vegetables and set the table. He also keeps trying to get her pissed off enough to leave, which she sees through in short order, to Mullibok’s mock-disappointment. Kira then tries to explain the facts of life, including the thousands on Bajor that this core-tapping will benefit. Mullibok said he stopped being concerned with Bajor’s welfare when he escaped from a labor camp forty years earlier. Jeraddo is his home now. “If I leave here, I’ll die. And I’d rather die here.”

Over dinner, Mullibok proceeds to tell a very, very tall tale about how he came to settle on Jeraddo, which includes his overpowering six Cardassians singlehandedly, plowing the field with his fingernails, and so on. Kira good-naturedly plays along, and falls right into his rhetorical trap: when he asks how the underground beat the Cardassians against all odds, Kira sighs and says they hung on like fanatics. Mullibok smiles and says he’ll have to remember that one.

Mullibok goes outside to work on a kiln he’s been meaning to finish. He will not leave the moon. He’s perfectly okay with them cracking the moon open, but he’s not going anywhere.

Kira reports back to Sisko and Minister Toran. Toran refuses to delay the project, and orders Kira to evacuate Mullibok and his companions by force if necessary. Kira is disgusted by the order, but Toran doesn’t have a choice; this project is too important and will benefit too many people.

She returns to Jeraddo with two security people, and things go to hell in a hurry. One security guard is wounded by a pitchfork, and Mullibok is shot by a phaser.

Nog and Jake communicate by audio only with the stembolt buyer, and pose as “the Noh-Jay Consortium” so the Bajoran doesn’t realize he’s dealing with two kids. He has no latinum with which to pay for the stembolts, but he does offer seven tessipates of land.

Bashir comes to Jeraddo and treats Mullibok, who refuses to return to DS9 for proper medical care. Kira orders Bashir not to remove him forcibly—and then starts working on Mullibok’s kiln, saying that she’ll stay behind and minister to him.

Returning to the station, Bashir reports to Sisko, who then tells Bashir to officially report that he asked Kira to stay on Jeraddo for humanitarian reasons for a day or so, in order to buy time with Minister Toran and not get Kira into trouble. Sisko heads to Jeraddo, where he finds Kira ministering to Mullibok. One minute with Mullibok, and Sisko immediately understands why Kira likes him.

Sisko gets what Kira is doing, and gets that she’s used to sympathizing with the underdog. But she’s on the other side now. It’s awful, and it stinks, but Mullibok’s fate is already decided. Kira’s isn’t. He beams back, saying he’ll leave a runabout standing by for her.

While playing cards, Nog and Jake overhear Odo asking Quark if he’s heard of the Noh-Jay Consortium. They own a piece of land the government wishes to buy, but nobody can find them, though they do know that they’re based on the station. Quark, pissed that there’s business happening on the station that he doesn’t know about, starts to look into it—then Nog says he and Jake have a business proposition for him that will only cost him five bars of latinum. Quark turns around, sees Nog and Jake, and puts it together, both annoyed and impressed.

The sun comes up on Jeraddo. Kira has been up half the night caring for Mullibok, but when she awakens, he’s out finishing up the kiln. Kira helps him put the last tile in place, and then gets out the bags she’s packed for him. Mullibok insists that as long as the cottage is standing, he’s staying here—which allows Kira to get him in a rhetorical trap just like he did to her earlier. She uses her phaser to blow up the kiln, then lights a torch and sets fire to his cottage.

Mullibok asks Kira to use the phaser on him as well, because, he insists again, he’ll die if he leaves Jeraddo. Kira insists even more forcefully that he won’t. She taps her combadge and says, “Two to beam up.”

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Self-sealing stembolts are, presumably, just like regular stembolts, only they seal themselves. O’Brien’s never heard of them and has no idea what they do, which does not fill Nog and Jake, having just acquired a hundred gross of them, with warm fuzzies.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko gives Kira every opportunity to not kill her career by aiding in Mullibok’s extended sit-in, but also delivers a blunt appraisal of the situation that she desperately needs.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is understandably charmed by Mullibok, and desperately wants to find a solution that allows Bajor to get the energy from Jeraddo without losing Mullibok. She’s almost successful.

Rules of Acquisition. Nog gets a tingling in his lobes when he hears about the yamok sauce, and Jake seems to get something similar (though he thankfully doesn’t call it that) when they’re offered the land.

Inexplicably, Nog dismisses the land they’re being offered as “dirt.” Land is, at its heart, the most valuable commodity in the universe. I find it impossible to credit that a Ferengi wouldn’t understand that.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Dax reveals to Kira that Morn asked her out. She said no, but she does admit, to Kira’s horror, that the four wiry hairs that jut out from his face make him kinda cute.

Keep your ears open: “You know you’re causing a lot of trouble.”

“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear that!”

Sisko describing Mullibok’s actions and Mullibok summing up his character in eleven words.

Welcome aboard: Michael Bofshever plays the bureaucrat decently as Minister Toran, Nicholas Worth knows an easy mark when he sees one as the Lissepian captain who cleverly unloads a crapton of stembolts on two dumb kids, Terrence Evans and Annie O’Donnell do a lovely job with facial expressions as the mute friends of Mullibok’s, and Daniel Riordan gets stabbed nicely as the Bajoran guard.

But this episode is owned by a stellar performance by Brian Keith as Mullibok.

Trivial matters: Quark claims that only Cardassians can stomach yamok sauce, yet Bashir will order some for him and O’Brien in “The Way of the Warrior.” Despite Quark’s urgings, the condiment will be seen on other occasions, though always consumed or requested by Cardassians.

Mullibok is referenced again in the novel Warchild by Esther M. Friesner, and his Mirror Universe counterpart is seen in the Dark Passions two-book series by Susan Wright. The moon of Jeraddo is seen in the Millennium trilogy by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, the videogame The Fallen, and your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 1.

Walk with the Prophets: “Nasty old tree.” When I first watched DS9 twenty years ago, this episode blew me away, and was when I realized that this show was going to be a force to be reckoned with. It also made it clear that Peter Allan Fields—who already had “The Inner Light” on his resumé—was a huge asset to modern Trek. (He’ll go on to write some of DS9’s best episodes, notably “Duet,” “Necessary Evil,” and “Blood Oath.”)

Although amusingly, Fields wasn’t entirely happy with the episode, because he wrote Mullibok as a manipulative bastard, a much less sympathetic character than Brian Keith actually played. But I think this was the right choice: making Mullibok a charmingly cantankerous old geezer makes it that much harder for Kira to make the decision that Sisko forces her to realize she has to make.

And holy crap does Brian Keith knock it out of the park, playing Mullibok’s charm and, yes, manipulation beautifully. True, he’s not at all subtle about it because he doesn’t have to be. He’s made his choice and he’s comfortable with it. He’s accepted that his time’s up, and he’s willing to let Jeraddo’s destruction take him away. Besides which, he escaped a Bajor run by Cardassians, so he’s used to thinking of a government as more than willing to kill anyone in the way. It doesn’t occur to him (or maybe it does) that the Bajoran government and the Federation wouldn’t want to just condemn three people to death. Ultimately, I don’t think he even cares: he’s made peace with himself.

He also enjoys Kira’s company, and she obviously enjoys his, too. (Later revelations about how Kira’s father died, notably in “Ties of Blood and Water,” will bring her imprinting on Mullibok into more focus.) Nana Visitor does a superb job of keeping up with Keith, from her holding the door open and throwing farming trivia at Mullibok to keep him talking, to the bantering over dinner, to her describing the gnarled old tree of her youth (she no more bothers to be subtle about how that’s an analogy to Mullibok than he did elsewhere), and especially to her banter with him in the doorway when Sisko arrives.

Speaking of Sisko, as good as basically every scene with Mullibok is, the heart and soul of this episode is the come-to-the-Prophets speech that Sisko gives her at the kiln. Avery Brooks keeps it quiet and subtle, but intense (one of the actor’s best modes), and Visitor’s anguish is etched on her face. Les Landau deserves credit for the blocking here, with Kira on a lower plane (kneeling down to work on the kiln) and Sisko standing over her, then coming down to her level by kneeling next to her when he speaks to her as a friend rather than a CO, then standing back up when he goes back to being her CO.

Sisko also cuts to the heart of Kira’s dilemma: she’s not a freedom fighter anymore, fighting against a government, she is the government. It’d be a difficult transition for anyone, and Kira in particular is struggling mightily with it.

Best of all, Sisko’s speech isn’t the end of it. This is too big a decision, too important a decision, to be solved by speechifying. She still needs a night to think on it (and, to be fair, to take care of the injured Mullibok) and come to a decision. She even lets Mullibok finish the kiln before destroying it and torching his house—more obvious but effective symbolism.

Until it was mentioned in the summary of this episode on Memory Alpha, I didn’t realize how similar this story is to TNG’s “The Ensigns of Command,” down to the destruction of a beloved monument to hard work to make a point at the climax. But this is a more effective story, in part because—while Data’s colonists were ignorant of the depth of the danger—Mullibok knows full well what’s going on, he just doesn’t give a good goddamn; and also because Kira’s destructive rampage at the end doesn’t convince Mullibok. He still doesn’t want to leave and asks Kira to kill him—and then we fade to black before we see the transporter kick in. Did Mullibok go with her? Did he run away from the transporter and leap into the burning cottage? Did he grab Kira’s phaser and turn it on himself?

And here’s the genius of the story: it doesn’t matter. As Sisko said, Mullibok’s fate was sealed the moment the government decided to use Jeraddo as a power source, and besides which, he made his decision forty years earlier. What matters here is Kira’s journey, as she must realize that this time, she’s not the underdog. And she needs to resign herself to this fact, or she can’t move forward. It’s a nice reversal of “Past Prologue,” where this time Kira has to take her own advice to Tahna Los in that episode.

 

Warp factor rating: 9


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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