Written by Jim Trombetta and James Crocker and Jeff King and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Directed by Corey Allen
Season 2, Episode 15
Production episode 40512-435
Original air date: February 13, 1994
Station log: Sisko and O’Brien are surveying systems near Bajor to investigate the possibilities of new colonies forming near the wormhole. O’Brien agrees to take on Jake as an apprentice—he scored very low on mechanical aptitude, and Sisko is concerned about it—and then finds a Class-M planet that’s perfect for colonizing. So perfect, in fact, that there are already humans on it, to their surprise, since there’s no colony listed on the books. They don’t respond to hails, but O’Brien detects a low-level duonetic field that interferes with communications. Upon arrival, their tricorders and combadges go dead, and O’Brien hypothesizes that there’s no EM activity whatsoever on the planet.
They meet two humans, Joseph and Vinod, who explain that they were en route to Gemulon V when their colony ship, the SS Santa Maria, suffered life-support failure and they had to land; the duonetic field nailed them. They’ve been trapped for a decade, but they’ve made this their home. The Santa Maria is now simply “the cabin,” and it’s the base of operations for the colony. They meet Alixus, the leader, who is proud of the work they’ve done. They’ve created an entire community without any technology.
The question now is whether or not the colonists will leave when Sisko and O’Brien are rescued. Alixus makes it clear that she herself won’t leave. Alixus also makes it clear that Sisko and O’Brien will have to work for their supper, and the two are more than happy to contribute. Alixus then, rather ominously, tells Vinod, who’s her son, that two strong men will be a boon to the community.
Back on the station, the Rio Grande isn’t responding to hails. A Starfleet search turns it up flying at warp two near Romulan space. Kira and Dax go after it in the Orinoco.
Alixus has left several books she’s written in both Sisko’s and O’Brien’s bunks (they are neither little nor red, proving she has some sense of subtlety). She’s written on pretty much everything—economics, literature, politics—and she seems to have concluded that humanity has become fat and complacent and dull. To that end, after the crash, she got rid of all traces of technology, since it didn’t work anymore and it was just a reminder of what they couldn’t have.
Of course, they can’t have modern medicine, either. A young woman named Meg is dying, and it encourages Sisko and O’Brien to find ways to make their combadges work, but Alixus discourages such talk in private with Sisko. She also wants no talk of rescue until and unless said rescue arrives. Indeed, she’s acting as if Sisko and O’Brien will never leave the planet.
However, the pair of them work as promised. Sisko fares better than O’Brien, who admits to Joseph that he has a black thumb and the only way he could get anything to grow was to marry a botanist. Vinod also mentions to Sisko that he’s never eaten replicated food, that his mother ate only natural food.
A young man named Stephen is released from a small box, where he’s been sitting out in the sun for a day for stealing a candle. Alixus believes that this is an effective way to maintain law and order; Sisko thinks it’s torture.
That night, a woman named Cassandra comes to Sisko’s cabin and offers to give him a soothing massage, and she admits that Alixus sent her there to seduce him. Sisko confronts Alixus, who insists that the choice was entirely Cassandra’s. Sisko also finds it curious that Alixus is the only one who was prepared to crash on a planet with no technology, as she has only codex books and only eats non-replicated food.
Alixus’s punishment for Sisko questioning her is to put him on watch all night, and he’s also willing to work in the fields the next day despite the lack of sleep.
Kira and Dax find the Rio Grande. Dax manages to nab it with a tractor beam and bring both it and the Orinoco to impulse. They beam over and retrace the Rio Grande’s course back directly to a star. Dax hypothesizes that someone sent it at warp toward that sun, but aimed poorly and it bounced off the sun’s gravitational field instead.
Alixus announces that Meg has died. While eulogizing her, Alixus announces that O’Brien has been arrested for the crime of wasting time trying to activate technology. But she’s not putting O’Brien in the box, she’s putting Sisko there, since O’Brien was acting under his orders. Joseph points out that he probably wanted to get his hands on medicine to save Meg’s life, but Alixus just uses that as an example of the type of attitude that would’ve gotten them all killed.
Sisko silently hands Vinod his rake and gets into the box.
After a day in the box, Alixus offers Sisko—who can barely walk and can’t talk—some water and the ability to lie down, if he’ll only remove his uniform and change into the clothes they’ve made in the colony. Sisko stares at the water and the clothes, and then gets up and stumbles out of the cabin and voluntarily climbs back into the box, refusing to let O’Brien help him, pulling the door shut behind him.
Joseph finds O’Brien putting together an improvised compass that he can use to track the duonetic field. Joseph can’t just look the other way, as Alixus would put him in the box. So Joseph lets O’Brien knock him out and then the chief follows the compass to a clearing, where the dirt is covering a device that emits the very duonetic field he detected. Before O’Brien can do anything about it, he’s almost killed by one of Vinod’s arrows. O’Brien subdues the young man, then turns the field off, returning to the community with a bound Vinod. He frees Sisko by the extreme but demonstrative measure of firing at it with his now-working phaser.
Alixus admits that she helped invent the duonetic field and that this planet was always the Santa Maria’s destination. She also says that she destroyed the Rio Grande, and she admits that she chose the planet months in advance, and that she always intended for them to stay there forever. She gives a very nice speech about how much better Stephen and Joseph and Cassandra’s lives are, leaving it to Sisko to remind everyone about the dead, that Meg and the others died to prove her theory, and they’re not living better lives now because they’re not living at all. Alixus is willing to answer for that, and she and Vinod are going with Sisko in custody. Everyone else, however, stays behind—this is still their home. They’ll have to decide for themselves whether or not to keep the duonetic field on or off and whether or not to contact the outside world. But whatever else Alixus did wrong, she did give them a community. So the only ones to accompany Sisko and O’Brien back to the runabout are Alixus and Vinod.
The last shot is of two of the children of the community staring at the box.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? A duonetic field can wipe out all electromagnetic activity in a particular range. Kind of like an EMP only without the destructive elements.
Also, navigating a vessel without being able to make course corrections in the vastness of space is a risky business. Alixus’s deliberate ignorance of technology probably worked in our heroes’ favor here, as the Rio Grande would only have to go a fraction of a degree off course to completely miss the sun, enabling Dax and Kira to find it. (Of course, DS9 still would’ve kept searching for Sisko and O’Brien, but Alixus didn’t know about the wormhole and how much more traffic the area would continue to get as time went on, so she probably deluded herself into thinking that their colleagues would have more trouble finding them.)
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko reveals that his father grew all the food for his restaurant in a garden, and he made his kids pick it all when they were growing up.
He also imagines that his son is on a track to join Starfleet. He will be disillusioned of this notion eventually.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira wants to beam over to the Rio Grande from the Orinoco while both ships are at warp, which is a very risky maneuver.
The slug in your belly: Dax’s alternative to the above is to catch the Rio Grande in a tractor beam and slow both ships, which is only slightly less risky. But she pulls it off. Because she’s just that awesome.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Cassandra offers herself to Sisko, complete with massage oil. Sisko is less than impressed, and immediately asks Alixus which book of hers talks about sexual procurement.
Keep your ears open: “You got a better idea?”
“I’m a science officer. It’s my job to have a better idea.”
Kira being reminded by Dax of her job description while channeling Dr. Peter Venkman.
Welcome aboard: The big guest is longtime character actor Gail Strickland, who puts in a charismatic performance as Alixus. We also get Julia Nickson, last seen as Ensign T’su in TNG’s “The Arsenal of Freedom,” as Cassandra; Steve Vinovich as Joseph; Erick Weiss, last seen as Ensign Kane in TNG’s “Conundrum” and “Relics,” as Stephen; and Michael B. Silver, best known for his recurring roles on NYPD Blue, CSI: Miami, and, currently, Royal Pains, as Vinod.
Trivial matters: We get some more revelations about Setlik III, first mentioned in “The Wounded.” It was there that O’Brien first learned how to mess with transporters, and O’Brien says that it was his performance there that earned him the promotion to tactical officer on the Rutledge under Captain Maxwell, as also established in that same episode.
The final draft of the script was provided by executive producer Ira Steven Behr’s former colleagues on TNG’s third season, Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. The writing team was offered a staff position on DS9 on the strength of this episode, but they turned him down. Beimler would eventually reverse his decision and join the staff in the fourth season. This is, however, Manning’s only DS9 credit.
Your humble rewatcher used duonetic fields in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Here There Be Monsters and the novel A Singular Destiny, and also had Sisko referencing the events of this episode to Picard in the Slings and Arrows eBook Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment. James Swallow also had a planet with a duonetic field in his story for the Voyager anthology Distant Shores entitled “Closure.”
Andre Bormanis included a science log from Dax about the duonetic field generator in his reference book Science Logs.
Walk with the Prophets: “I did it all for the community.” Until I read it on Memory Alpha (which is a great site, by the way, it’s been immensely useful to both this and the TNG Rewatch), I never realized that half the cast is missing from this episode, nor did I really realize that there’s almost no scenes on board Deep Space 9 itself. Such experimental episodes would become more commonplace as the series went on, but this was a bit of a departure.
On the one hand, one can easily accuse this is being yet another TNG script with the serial numbers changed so that it works as a DS9 episode. On the surface, there wouldn’t even appear to be anything particularly DS9 about it. Hell, the scriptwriters are (up to this point) far better known for their TNG scripts.
But to my mind, watching this episode two decades ago, this was the episode that cemented Benjamin Sisko as one of the great Star Trek leads. Avery Brooks’s performances to this point have ranged from brilliant to solid to only occasionally off-kilter, but to me, any doubts I had about the Sisko character were forevermore erased by the scene where he gets up, stares at the water he desperately wants, stumbles out into the square, and puts himself back in the box while still in his full uniform. It’s a stellar moment of civil disobedience, and gets the point across magnificently in a manner that would usually result in a speech from Kirk or Picard, instead speaks volume without a single word, only a few glances and a shake of the head when O’Brien moves to help him.
The other reason why the episode works is a great performance by Gail Strickland. She’s so damn earnest in her beliefs, so utterly convinced of the rightness of her own actions. Her charisma is just right for the role: not overbearing, but kind and smiling and reasonable. The only time it falters is when she talks about how much the sacrifices hurt, as only then does she become disingenuous—and indeed that’s when Sisko calls her out, both when he first learns of Meg and later when Alixus admits to setting up the colony on purpose. The only time Alixus isn’t genuine is when she tries to say that she’s suffered horribly from the deaths in the community, because dammit Meg suffered a crapton more, what with actually being diseased, the cure having been sent toward its doom by Alixus when she threw away the runabout.
The episode doesn’t shy away from the horror of what Alixus has done, seen most clearly in Meg’s fate, as well as the sense of betrayal evinced by Cassandra, but Joseph’s heartfelt words at the end ring true as well. Joseph in particular puts a human face on the whole thing—Alixus is too fantatical, Vinod’s too much his mother’s son, and Cassandra’s mostly there to fail to seduce Sisko and look all dewey-eyed and stuff, but Steve Vinovich gives such a delightful (one might say Colm Meaney-esque) every-person performance as Joseph that you believe him when he says he believes in the community. The paradise of the title isn’t entirely false—though Meg’s death is a reminder that it isn’t entirely true, either.
There are ways I wish the episode had a bit more bite to it—for example, have Meg die, not of some strange insect they can’t figure out a cure to, but something simple that we can fix now, like (to keep the “bite” metaphor going) an abscessed tooth that got infected—and the ending is way rushed (something that could’ve been avoided just with a cut to the next morning or something). But overall this is a strong episode that does a better job at looking at the issues of technology versus lack of same than some previous entrants on other Trek series (notably the original seriers’ laughable “The Way to Eden” or TNG’s good-but-flawed “The Ensigns of Command”), and also a very convincing cult.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido is at Dragon Con 2013 this weekend. He’ll be doing a Writer Q&A on the Star Trek Track on Saturday at 5.30pm, and a bunch of other things including a meetup for The Chronic Rift podcast Sunday night in the Hilton Bar. His full schedule is hereand you can search for his name on the DC app to find his schedule as well.