Aug 16 2013 4:00pm

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Rivals”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on 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 Rivals

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 Rivals


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 in the coming days.

1. tortillarat
A 4 is far too generous for this stinker.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
Man, I have absolutely zero memory of this episode. I must have seen it, maybe even twice, but nothing has stuck. The one thing that jumps out at me here is: why build a racquet ball court when you could just use a holosuite? The only reason I can think of is that using the holosuites would prevent O'Brien and Bashir from meeting cute. And that's really the only truly positive thing about this episode, it's another step in the Bashir-O'Brien friendship.
William Frank
3. scifantasy
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.

Amusingly, as was pointed out in Lawrence Krauss's great book, The Physics of Star Trek, neutrinos only have one spin state. Dax would have been more confused to see half-and-half, and all left-handed (clockwise) would have been perfectly normal.
Rob Rater
4. Quasarmodo
I don't get why if all these people were playing these luck games, winning and losing, causing waves of good and bad luck around the station, why people on the station would have continual streaks of good and bad luck. Why was O'Brien on a solid streak of good luck and Bashir having a solid streak of bad luck? Shouldn't both of them have been having completely random strokes of good and bad luck? In fact, I would think instead of one have good luck and the other bad luck, both would have either good luck or bad luck at the same time. But definitely neither should have a solid streak of consistent good/bad luck.
Matt Hamilton
5. MattHamilton
Is this another episode with possible Galactic shaking technology that is utterly ignored later in the series? This is perhaps not as universe shattering as immortality but I thought we left this sort of thing in the first season. Oh well. I like Chris Sarandon, especially in the original Fright Night. But overall, this is a pretty darn silly episode.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
Agreed -- Sarandon was awful. His performance ruined the episode, though I'm not sure how much better it would've been with a more adept actor in the role. There are probably (heh) more interesting ways to tell a story about a probability-altering device.

@3: And yeah, not only do all neutrinos have the same spin, but scientists don't refer to particle spins as "clockwise" or "counterclockwise" in the first place. That always sounded silly to me.

Also, it's hard for me to believe that you could take a device you don't understand and build larger, more powerful versions just by sticking it in the replicator and doing "a little tinkering" and "expansion" of the design.

Am I the only one who thinks that the hairpin Dax is wearing in the above photo (in the Replimat scene) resembles the saucer of a Galaxy-class starship?
Matt Hamilton
7. MattHamilton
And really, as bad as Sarandon was in this episode, I do find the El-Aurian's interesting and want to know much more about them. Perhaps because we really know next to nothing about them other than they apparently live a really, really, really long time and are good listeners and look entirely human on the outside (or we look like them, one way or the other). I hope a book I haven't read yet shines some light on this interesting species.
Keith DeCandido
8. krad
"Kick his butt" elevated the episode to a 4 all by itself.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
9. Mac McEntire
This episode always came across like a missed opportunity. The basic conceit here is that a guy opens a rival establishment to Quark’s, right? Hence the title? Seems to me, then, that the plot should be all about Quark using his business savvy, and his sneakiness, to outsmart his rival and win the day. They almost go in that direction with him using the racquetball game to draw back customers, but this is lost among all the other silliness going on.

Agreed, I think tech that alters the laws of probability should have a lot more drastic consequences than a few skinned knees or missed files. Bashir’s shtick with the salt shaker is supposed to be caused by the device already running amok, correct?

Why no mention of actor Albert Henderson as Mazur’s alien cellmate? Dude has the coolest voice.
10. Zabeus
This episode has examples of DS9's bad world building in two areas: aliens and science fiction.
First, the woman that Martus is tries to con is another random, bumpy forehead humanoid alien. Her species is unidentified and unimportant. Why make her an alien at all? Never-before-seen races walking the promenade as extras is a good thing. It made DS9 into an exotic, frontier outpost like the Tatooine cantina. But having a new bumpy headed rubber masked alien sounding just like a human, not even representing the planet of the week, only breaks my suspension of disbelief. It reminds me that these are merely bumpy headed rubber masked humans, being used to fill the episode's "alien quota" so that we know we're watching Trek. They should either 1) use an established race, with their own contextual behavior, 2) if relevant, introduce a new species to be explored further, or 3) just make it a human role. Aliens acting exactly like humans gets worse as the series progresses, when we discover that many species often find Human/Bajoran women to be beautiful. I bet Dabo girls are even effective against Tholians.
Second, I don't have to explain what's wrong with the sci-fi in this episode.

Now since I'm in love with Keiko I did like the scene with her but it reminds me of how little we will ever see her.
Christopher Bennett
11. ChristopherLBennett
@10: In the context of DS9, which is set on a remote frontier outpost beyond Federation space, it makes more sense to default to nonhuman, since humans would be comparatively scarce.

Although I agree they should've reused/fleshed out established alien species more, rather than constantly coming up with new ones.
12. Edgar Governo
I think this episode gets a bad rap.

I've always enjoyed watching it, I think Chris Sarandon does fine for a one-off guest star, and I really like the occasional episode about life on the station where no one's life is at risk. (As such, I appreciate your pointing out little moments in this episode, like Miles and Keiko's relationship.)
13. Zabeus
@11, That's a good point! I hadn't considered the human/alien ratio on the station before. I'd have defaulted her to a Bajoran then since they're the most common humanoid we see. Also didn't intend to sound so negative with the "bumpy headed rubber masked humans" comment. I know they didn't use simple masks, and the production team deserved every award they got for costume, hairstyling, and makeup design.

I didn't think the guest star was that bad here but the episode would have been much better by focusing on the A or B stories seperately giving them each better resolutions without tying them together, which caused them both to suffer.
14. Crusader75
The ta'veren, er, gambling device seems about as interesting as such as the video game is as a game in TNS "The Game". No idea how such a thing becomes wildly popular outside of altering probability in favor of itself. Mazur not only seems flat, but also quite dim, not really capable of the mastermind of any plot. Him going up against Quark seems as bad a matchup as O'Brien vs Bashir in raquetball unaided. Bashir being unable to fool O'Brien that he was losing on purpose is amusing given the later developmets in the series.
Mike Kelmachter
15. MikeKelm
I think this episode has two issues... first is Chris Sarandon and Armin Shimmerman didn't quite click. I almost wonder if this is an instance where a one-off character could have benefitted from showing up a few times. The outwit each other idea makes me think of the M*A*S*H episode "The Joker is Wild" where BJ and Hawkeye bet that they can out practical joke each other. The difference is in that instance it was two main characters- in this case it was a supporting cast member and a guest star. Had Mazur had some sort of shown track record of being a scoundrel (it really could have just been some throw away lines in previous episdes) then we could imagine he is a worthy rival to Quark. But since he shows up, gets caught immediately, finds a lucky device... he's not a rival- he's not a rival to Quark- he's just a wannabe. But since Chris Sarandon and Shimmerman don't gel, and there's no backstory, the rivalry just falls flat.

The other issue is that the conman rivalry and the racquetball game, while dovetailing better t han many other plotlines, are both really B-Stories. There is no real meat, no A-Story, and a result everything wears thin after a while (especially because Chris Sarandon falls flat). While I am a big supporter of the Bashir-O'Brien friendship and always enjoyed when the writers gave it time and developed it, the two guys have a racquetball game can't save the rest of the episode.

One other random comment... Colm Meaney looks more like he should be playing Rugby rather than Racquetball. But apparently the "average guy" is quite the sportsman when you think about it. He plays darts, racquetball, kayaks... and drinks beer. This guy is just screaming for a rec league softball game...
16. LeftoverBeefcake
Is it bad that I wanted Roddy McDowall to pop out somewhere and stake Chris Sarandon through the heart? I did love Quark's scheming throughout the episode, though.
Christopher Bennett
17. ChristopherLBennett
@16: Roddy McDowall makes everything better. It's a shame he never did Star Trek. Heck, he would've been a thousand times better as Martus than Sarandon was. He would've made a nifty Ferengi too, come to think of it. He was certainly no stranger to prosthetic makeup.
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
McDowall was apparently considered for the role of Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos" on the original series, and was also considered for the voice of Armus in TNG's "Skin of Evil" (and holy crap, he would've made that episode, like, a billion times better.....).

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Thomas Thatcher
19. StrongDreams
I quite like the concept of having a new con man come aboard, who seems to outclasse and defeat Quark handily, but in the end it is revealed that it was all dumb luck, he had no idea what he was doing, and in the end he is revealed to be so incompetent that he falls for one of the oldest cons in the book. And Chris Sarandon should be the perfect mark. I don't recall this episode, so I guess it fails in the execution.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
20. Lisamarie
Thanks so much for indicating who Martus was, because that was bugging me the entire time.

@14 - I also couldn't stop thinking about ta'veren. Maybe the devices are some kind of ter'angreal ;)
Joseph Newton
21. crzydroid
I actually remember this episode from trying to catch up with the series on Spike years ago. The only parts I remembered were Dax figuring it out because of the neutrino spin and them phasering the devices. But I always think about this episode when I seem to notice certain people continually winning games where chance plays as much or more of a part than skill, and I continually lose at any game. I like to dissuade myself of everything I actually know of probability to entertain the notion that maybe there really is such a thing as luck.
22. Data Logan
There's some interesting scenes in "Rivals" if you know Bashir's actual racketball skills are much higher than he normally let's on. First, Bashir has to pretend to be "normal" fit young guy, who can easily beat the older O'Brien, and then naturally gloat about it. Then, later in the episode, as the "luck game" starts acting on him, he finds himself loosing the game, even when he tries. How can this be? he may be asking himself; I'm much better than O'Brien, heck, I'm even much better than O'Brien thinks I am. Because I normally have to bring down my game so that no one recognizes my enhanced abilities.

But the scene I find the most interesting and revealing about genetically-enhanced Bashir in "Rivals" is not the beginning, when Bashir is winning, nor the end, when he's loosing because of the "luck game", it's in the middle, when Bashir "throws" the match to O'Brien because he feels bad for him. Remember, genetically enhanced Bashir is always "taking it easy" on those people he plays games with. He has to in order to not let on to people the fact that he has exceptional genetically engineered abilities. And he has also gotten very good at doing so in such a way that it appears natural, not like he's trying to loose. It has to appear as if he's trying to win, even though he's not really doing his genetically-engineered best. In fact, he often chooses to throw in some gloating and pride, maybe because he's just young and feels like gloating, but maybe because he's trying to throw others off the scent of thinking he's actually capable of doing even more than he's showing (and gloating about). But in the match he's trying to "throw" to O'Brien there is another interesting dynamic. He now has to pretend to have even less skill than he normally shows, which is already less than his real skill level. And you know that Bashir could have done so in a convincing way. He's had a lot of practice at throwing games in a convincing way. (Unless he has gotten SO use to his new "normal" level that this further-reduced level feels weird to him.) Yet in the episode, Bashir acts so obvious when he "throws" the game with O'Brien. When he's throwing a game, which he's probably done many times, he does so in a very obvious way. Was this just because he really didn't want to bring his game down so far? Or was he acting so poorly so that others couldn't possibly question that his normal level of play wasn't also faked? I'm not arguing one way or the other. I just think it's an interesting question to think about.

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