Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Rivals”

“Rivals”
Written by Jim Trombetta and Michael Piller and Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Season 2, Episode 11
Production episode 40512-431
Original air date: January 2, 1994
Stardate: unknown

Station log: An El-Aurian man named Martus Mazur is having a drink with an elderly widow named Alsia, who has had quite a bit to drink and who is telling him about her retirement plan, which involves putting her savings into a mining operation that her father did a spectral analysis of years ago, but couldn’t afford to make use of. Mazur cautions her that mining operations are risky, while Alsia expresses amazement that she’s confiding so much in a stranger—she never even told her late husband about this plan.

Their conversation is interrupted by Odo, who arrests him. Mazur, it turns out, is a con man who bilked an elderly couple out of their savings in order to invest in a business opportunity that subsequently failed.

O’Brien has built a racquetball court on the station, and is looking forward to trying it out—only to discover Bashir already there. Turns out he was captain of the team at Starfleet Medical, and they took the sector championships; Bashir won playing a Vulcan. Not really seeing that he has much choice, O’Brien challenges him to a game, and Bashir gets an ace on the first serve.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Mazur’s snoring cellmate has a tiny gambling device that he blames for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. He plays it a couple of times and loses—but then he wins, and proceeds to die. Mazur takes the gambling device.

An exhausted O’Brien stumbles home, frustrated with how badly Bashir kicked his ass. He’s determined to get his own back, he just needs a second wind. We then get Bashir’s side of it: the doctor kept trying to quit, as O’Brien was a cardiac infarction waiting to happen, but O’Brien wouldn’t let him, not even after his racquet broke. While the chief went to replicate a new one, Bashir had his assistant call with a fake emergency just so he wouldn’t have to keep playing. Bashir also feels awful about it because he respects O’Brien. (He also has no luck finding a salt shaker that works in the replimat.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Odo is forced to release Mazur, as the couple isn’t pressing charges. Armed with his new toy, Mazur wins a wager with Quark to get a drink (he doesn’t have any money). Mazur touches the key on the device and wins—Quark does likewise and loses. Quark offers to buy it from him, but Mazur decides to hold onto it. He goes across the Promenade (after almost being run over by O’Brien jogging to get in shape for his rematch) to where a Bajoran woman named Roana is shutting down her shop. She ran it with her husband for decades, but she lost her enthusiasm for it after he died.

Bashir and O’Brien have their rematch, which Bashir throws to make O’Brien feel better—but O’Brien totally sees through it and snippily says that he should either play his best or don’t play at all.

Mazur has convinced Roana to go into business with him, and her shop reopens as a gambling establishment called Club Martus. Quark is livid, as he has an exclusive contract for all gambling rights on the station. Sisko, however, doesn’t feel any great urge to abide by an exclusivity deal acquired by bribing the Cardassians years ago. To add insult to injury, Mazur hires Rom away from Quark.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Club Martus is doing booming business, as people are playing larger versions of the gambling device. One of their customers is Alsia, who needs 10,000 isiks to run a survey or her mining bid won’t be accepted. After Mazur offers to find an investor for her, he flirts with one of the waitresses before Roana walks in, at which point he casts the waitress aside and goes into full-on flirt mode with her.

After a game in which O’Brien actually stepped on the ball and slipped—a phenomenal piece of bad luck—he goes to a virtually empty Quark’s, where O’Brien’s tale of woe regarding his racquetball rivalry with Bashir prompts thoughts in the Ferengi’s greedy little head.

In Ops, luck seems to be going strong in two directions: Dax finds a file she’s been searching for for months, while Kira loses an evaluation report she’s been working on for weeks, including all the backups. Bashir has also been treating a lot of people with scrapes, trip-and-falls, and collisions with turbolift doors and bulkheads.

Quark sets up a charity racquetball tournament between Bashir and O’Brien, with half the proceeds going to Bajoran orphans (that last bit being necessary to talk the two of them into it, since they’d never do it otherwise). This has the desired effect of getting people into Quark’s—and it happens right after Mazur was forced to pay off a ton of jackpots that all hit at once. To make matters worse, Roana catches Mazur sticking his face in the waitress’s cleavage. As a last-ditch effort to salvage the mess, Mazur gives Alsia all of Club Martus’s profits—including Rom’s 25% share, which leads to Rom quitting and going back to Quark (and taking the waitress with him).

Keiko helps O’Brien prep for the match. She gives him a silk handkerchief of medieval Japanese design to wrap around his forehead, scented with her perfume, and sends him off with the benediction: “Kick his butt.” For his part, Bashir is doing pushups and preventing Quark from feeding him a mickey to make him lose (everybody’s betting on Bashir, so Quark needs to salvage his profit margin by making Bashir lose, but Bashir’s not having any of it).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

To everyone’s surprise, O’Brien is handily winning the match, and Bashir is making a total ass of himself. He’s not throwing the game, either, he’s just playing awfully. Eventually, O’Brien stops the feed to Quark’s and talks to Bashir. Something’s way off. O’Brien’s playing better than he’s ever played, even when he was playing every day and in the best shape of his life, while Bashir is playing worse than he’s truly even capable of playing. They try an experiment: every time O’Brien throws the ball anywhere, it comes back to his hand. He doesn’t even have to look. They call Ops, and Dax theorizes that someone or something is mucking about with the laws of probability.

They track the problem to Club Martus, where they figure out what happened: the smaller version of the gambling device that Mazur took affects only the user’s luck, but the many larger versions he replicated have a much more wide-ranging effect on the entire station. He doesn’t know how to turn them off, so Sisko and Dax phaser them.

Odo arrests Mazur again, as the elderly couple has had another change of heart and are pressing charges for realsies this time. In the cell next to him: Alsia, whom Quark reported for trying to take him in an asteroid mining scam. Quark is amused that Mazur would fall for so obvious a scheme.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? When investigating the weird luck, Dax discovers something odd: usually 50% of all neutrinos in any given location spin clockwise and the other half counterclockwise, but 80% are spinning clockwise. That’s the first indication that this is more than just ordinary bad luck. She later tracks concentration of clockwise-spinning neutrinos to locate the source of the probability altering: it’s at 100% around the gambling machines in Club Martus.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira plays the role of skeptic in the episode, insisting that people make their own luck—right before she trips and twists her ankle.

Rules of Acquisition: We get two Rules this time: #47 (“Never trust a man wearing a better suit than your own”) and #109 (“Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack”—one of my favorites, and Armin Shimerman delivers it beautifully).

The slug in your belly: Not really relevant to much of anything, but I adore the shot of Dax sitting with her feet up on the console drinking a mug of something. And of course, she gets to save the day with the neutrino trick.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Keiko is delightfully supportive of her husband in this episode. The bit where she sends him off to the match is epic (“Kick his butt” indeed), as is her assurance that win or lose, they will celebrate that night. (Wah-HEY!) But I really love the bit earlier when O’Brien takes his shirt off and she’s so totally checking him out. Too often the O’Briens were fodder for bad writing about bickering, with Keiko reduced to the whiny wife. I much prefer this version.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Keep your ears open: “Where are you going?”

“Back to Quark! At least then I’ll be cheated by family!”

Rom, quitting his job at Club Martus.

Welcome aboard: This is an episode full of guests famous for roles they’ve had in the past: Chris Sarandon, best known among geeks everywhere as Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride, plays Mazur; K Callan, who was in the midst of her excellent turn as Martha Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, plays Alsia; and Barbara Bosson, so delightfully shrill and insane as Fay Furillo on Hill Street Blues, plays Roana. Plus we have recurring regulars Rosalind Chao as Keiko and Max Grodénchik as Rom.

Trivial matters: The original intent was to make Mazur one of Guinan’s sons and have Guinan show up, but Whoopi Goldberg was unavailable, so all references to Guinan were removed. Mazur is established as an El-Aurian, and Star Trek Generations will establish Guinan as being of that same species. Certainly the hints are there that Mazur and Guinan are of the same species, with all the references to listening.

It was intended for O’Brien and Bashir’s racquetball playing to be a recurring thing, but the set proved too complicated to construct on a regular basis, so they would switch to darts, which just involved hanging a board in Quark’s.

Quark tries to get Sisko on his side by reminding him of the events of “Emissary,” specifically how Sisko got Quark to stay on the station, which Quark remembers somewhat differently than Sisko does.

The gambling device and the technology behind it is seen again in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Sargasso Sector by Paul Kupperberg.

Walk with the Prophets: “House always takes blue.” Episodes like this, where everything that happens revolves around a guest star, are dependent primarily on the quality of that particular guest actor. Sadly, and with all due respect to Prince Humperdinck, Chris Sarandon utterly fails in the role of Mazur. He’s flat, dull, uninteresting, has none of the needed spark with Armin Shimerman that the role calls for, nor do we see any evidence of the charm he’s supposed to be using on both Alsia and Roana (tellingly, his seduction of Roana happens off-camera). It’s all surface with no depth. You can’t help but wish for someone like Robert Vaughn (see his role as Albert Stroller on the British series Hustle) or Adrian Lester (also from Hustle) or Gina Bellman (from the American series Leverage) or, hell, K Callan right here in this episode, who does a better job as a con artist than the guy sitting across the table from her.

It doesn’t help that, twenty years ago, I’m watching the episode teaser thinking that Alsia is the con artist, and was surprised when Odo took Mazur away rather than her. That kind of soured the rest of the episode, as Mazur failed as a worthy antagonist before the credits even rolled.

Having said that, the episode is still fun to watch primarily for the latest wrinkle in the O’Brien-Bashir relationship. The racquetball rivalry is hilarious and charming, and it’s kind of too bad that it was short-circuited by the technobabble plot, as I wanted to see how the showdown would really turn out. Still, the whole thing is wonderfully played by Colm Meaney, Siddig el-Fadil, and Rosalind Chao, and if you must watch the episode, just watch those bits. Indeed, this is a much better use of Chao than usual—ditto for Max Grodénchik, whose outpouring of childhood indignities suffered at Quark’s hands to a completely uninterested Mazur is also one of the episode’s high points. (Though even here, Sarandon blows it, as his frustration is never really palpable.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Rivals

Pure. Miles.

 

Warp factor rating: 4


Keith R.A. DeCandido’s latest book is Ragnarok and Roll: Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet, a collection of urban fantasy short stories taking place in Key West, Florida. One of the stories is the three-part “Cayo Hueso,” all three parts of which will be available for 99 cents each. Part 1 is live now for Nook and Kindle, with Parts 2 and 3 to come over the course of the next two weeks. Folks in the New York area are invited to either or both of the launch parties next week: at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art on Tuesday the 20th and/or at Singularity & Co. on Friday the 23rd. Look for more on the collection on Tor.com in the coming days.

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