Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Homefront”

“Homefront”
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by David Livingston
Season 4, Episode 10
Production episode 40514-483
Original air date: January 1, 1996
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Dax and Sisko observe the wormhole opening and closing at random. No one has any idea why, though many Bajorans think it a message from the Prophets. (Sisko dryly notes that the Prophets didn’t tell him, and Dax jokes that maybe they don’t recognize him with the beard.)

Worf summons Sisko to Ops, who then summons Odo. Starfleet Security forwarded footage from a secret conference at Antwerp on Earth between the Federation and the Romulans (there was also a Tholian observer), which was destroyed by a bomb, killing 27 people. The footage they sent DS9 includes indications of a changeling disguised as a piece of pottery in the conference room—but the examination of the debris indicated no trace of changeling biological matter, so it likely escaped.

Sisko and Odo are going to Earth on the Lakota to consult with Starfleet Command about this new changeling threat. Jake is going with them so he can visit Sisko’s father, Joseph, at his restaurant in New Orleans, and also visit the Pennington School in New Zealand. Joseph insists that, even though it’s a business trip and Sisko will be spending most of his time in San Francsico, he’d better be in New Orleans at the restaurant for dinner.

Jake enters right after Joseph signs off, and the boy is devastated to learn that Sisko didn’t say they’d be staying in San Francisco, because Jake knows he’ll be put to work peeling potatoes if they stay in New Orleans. Sisko’s insistence that Jake’s too old for that sort of thing is less than reassuring when he adds that Joseph will instead make Jake wait tables.

The Lakota departs with the Siskos and Odo, the latter being asked by O’Brien to check in on his folks in Dublin when he’s on Earth. They arrive to be greeted by Admiral Leyton and his adjutant, Commander Benteen. The former was Sisko’s CO on the Okinawa, and he’s the one who recommended Sisko for the post on DS9. Leyton brought them there not just for a debrief but to make Sisko the acting head of Starfleet Security on Earth, as he knows more about the Dominion than anyone in Starfleet.

That night, Sisko and Jake go to Sisko’s Creole Kitchen in New Orleans. After a happy reunion among grandfather, father, and son, the three of them sit down to dinner. Joseph gets cranky when Sisko and Jake fuss over his health. They’re then joined by Cadet Nog, who regularly eats dinner at Sisko’s because it’s the only place he can get live tube grubs.

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

The next day, Leyton and Sisko meet with President Jaresh-Inyo in Paris. The president thinks blood screenings and phaser sweeps are excessive and that Starfleet is being paranoid. To prove they’re not, Sisko’s briefcase changes shape into Odo, scaring the crap out of Jaresh-Inyo. If Odo was a Founder, he could have assassinated and/or replaced the president. Sisko is only proposing that these measures be taken in official installations connected to the Federation government and Starfleet. The average citizen won’t even notice the difference. The president reluctantly agrees. Sisko and Odo supervise the installation of phaser emplacements in every room under Federation and Starfleet control, and then test the settings on Odo to see how high to set them so that a changeling would be forced back into a gelantinous state.

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

Nog goes to Sisko and asks for his recommendation to join Red Squad, an elite class of cadets—which Sisko is reluctantly willing to do, though he’s never heard of Red Squad before.

Sisko visits his father for the first time in many days, which Joseph rebukes him for, especially since Jake is off checking out Pennington. Sisko again harps on Joseph’s health, as he hasn’t visited his doctor in eight months, and he needs therapy on his cardiovascular system. Despite the argument, they agree to go for a walk.

Back in San Francisco, Odo changes from a seagull back into his usual humanoid form, which impresses Benteen, who is walking the grounds with Leyton. Except it isn’t Leyton, it’s a changeling, who is very hostile to Odo—that hostility is what allows Odo to recognize a fellow changeling. The Founder turns into a bird and flies off. The real Leyton is devastated at the security breach and Benteen realizes that the security measures they’re taking are insufficient.

Joseph is put under arrest at the restaurant for refusing to undergo a blood screening. He points out that any smart changeling would be able to get past the blood screening with little difficulty. Joseph also tells Sisko that the two security officers need to either grab a menu and sit down or leave his restaurant. So Sisko tells Jake to get them menus and recommends the shrimp creole while he and his father continue the argument. But Joseph won’t allow his rights to be violated.

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

While they argue, Joseph cuts himself while slicing shrimp, and Sisko can’t help but check the knife to make sure the blood stays blood. Joseph is outraged that his son wasn’t even sure if his own father was a shapechanger—and then he has a mild stroke.

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

Once Joseph is safely in the hospital recovering, Sisko returns to San Francisco, and tells Odo what happened, expressing annoyance at his own lack of faith in his own father. Odo points out that that’s exactly the kind of chaos the Founders are trying to foment.

After he’s released, Joseph goes right back to work, refusing to rest, as he says you should only be in bed when you’re sleeping, when you’re dying, or when you’re making love, and he’s neither tired nor dying, and he’s too old for sex at this point.

And then the power goes out—all over the planet. Someone knocked out Earth’s entire power grid. Leyton, Sisko, Odo, Benteen, and a couple of security guards use the Lakota to beam into the president’s office. (Everyone behaves as if the Lakota is the only Starfleet facility or ship in the area, which strains credulity well past the breaking point.) Sisko recommends that Jaresh-Inyo declare a state of emergency, mentioning that the wormhole’s been opening and closing, which may have been due to cloaked Jem’Hadar ships coming through—the hypothesis being that the Dominion got cloaking technology from the joint Cardassian-Romulan fleet they trashed in “The Die is Cast.” Jaresh-Inyo calls this what it is truly: martial law. But they convince the president that it’s necessary, especially since it will take days to re-set the power grid, and they’re vulnerable to Dominion attack until then.

Back in Sisko’s Creole Kitchen, lit by candles, Jake wakes up Joseph (who insists he wasn’t asleep, he was checking his eyelids for holes) so he can see the rather unpleasant sight of armed Starfleet security personnel beaming onto the streets of New Orleans.

To be continued…

The Sisko is of Bajor: We finally get to meet Sisko’s father and see the famous restaurant that Sisko grew up in. It looks, I gotta say, like a great place to eat.

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

The slug in your belly: Dax has been pranking Odo, moving his furniture just slightly while he’s regenerating, which throws his whole shapeshifting routine off. Odo makes her put everything back exactly where it was.

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

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf informs Kira and O’Brien that the Klingons killed their gods a thousand years ago because they were more trouble than they were worth.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo gets to be Starfleet’s guinea pig, demonstrating shapeshifter capabilities by being Sisko’s briefcase in Jaresh-Inyo’s office, allowing himself to be the test subject for the phaser sweeps, and urging the president to take harsher security measures.

Rules of Acquisition: Quark expresses sympathy for what O’Brien and Bashir are suffering regarding being so far from Earth when it was attacked by telling them about how he was stuck in his post as a cook on a freighter during the Great Monetary Collapse on Ferenginar. This inexplicably does not make O’Brien or Bashir feel better.

Victory is life: There’s a Founder on Earth, who sets off an explosive at the Antwerp conference and poses as Leyton long enough to have the run of Starfleet Headquarters.

What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Bashir and O’Brien are now playing at being World War II Royal Air Force fighter pilots. Quark even plays along as their barkeep commiserating about fighting the “jerrys,” but he draws the line at letting them throw their glasses after they drink. O’Brien also puts on a Cockney accent for no compellingly good reason.

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

Keep your ears open: “This business has got you so twisted around, you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you want to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood, and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created that a smart man can’t find his way around. You’re not going to catch shapeshifters using some gadget!”

Joseph pointing out the logical fallacy of the blood screenings.

Welcome aboard: We get a new recurring character in Brock Peters (last seen as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) as Joseph Sisko, as well as an old one in Aron Eisenberg as Cadet Nog. Susan Gibney, last seen as Dr. Leah Brahms in both holographic and real form on TNG, plays Benteen, while Robert Foxworth plays Leyton and Herschel Sparber plays President Jaresh-Inyo. All five will return for Part 2, “Paradise Lost.”

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

Trivial matters: This episode’s storyline was originally intended to be a season-spanning two-parter, but Paramount did not wish DS9 to follow TNG’s lead in doing cliffhanger season finales. (This, by the way, is proof that not all studio notes are stupid, as this was a wise decision that DS9 was better for.)

Both Joseph and Jaresh-Inyo make reference to the Borg attack on Earth in TNG’s “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.” The latter’s comment said it was the only time in a century that Earth declared a state of emergency—presumably the last one was when the probe attacked in Star Trek IV.

Sparber is the third (and last) person to play a Federation president on screen, and the only one to be named. The other two, ironically, appeared in the two movies in which Brock Peters played Admrial Cartwright, Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI. (In an amusing bit of trivia, in addition to Peters, Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn appeared in both the latter film and this episode.)

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

Sisko’s sister Judith, who was mentioned in “Past Tense, Part I,” is mentioned, but not seen.

This episode establishes that the Federation president’s office is still in Paris, as was established in Star Trek VI. The novel A Time to Kill by David Mack established the building that houses the president’s office as being named the Palais de la Concorde. Your humble rewatcher’s Articles of the Federation established why the office seen in Star Trek VI differs from the one seen here (Jaresh-Inyo’s predecessor moved the office to a smaller space during her term).

The changeling impersonating Leyton is livid at Odo, which enables the latter to see through his disguise, because Odo killed a changeling in “The Adversary,” the first time a changeling has deliberately harmed another.

Joseph’s point about the changeling’s ability to fake blood screenings will be proven in “Apocalypse Rising” and “In Purgatory’s Shadow.” The former will establish that Martok was replaced by a changeling, and the latter will confirm that the swap happened prior to “The Way of the Warrior”—in which “Martok” insisted on a blood screening, which he “passed,” no doubt via a method similar to that postulated by Joseph here.

Walk with the Prophets: “The man knows his bread pudding.” Watching this episode when it aired at the top of 1996 it was more of an intellectual exercise. Commentary, yes, but mostly regarding fictional stuff.

Watching this episode in 2004, when I was writing Articles of the Federation, it was a punch to the gut. The closing scenes of this episode resonated with sitting on my couch on a Tuesday afternoon in the fall of 2001 after some crazy people flew planes into buildings in my city. But even more so, the calls for blood screenings and security sweeps and of troops beaming down into the streets were reminders of what was still going on three years later—just substitute the PATRIOT Act for declaring a state of emergency, and airport security for blood screenings, and this episode is eerily familiar.

Even today, we’re still forced to go through ridiculous “security” procedures that do absolutely nothing to make ourselves safer during an airline flight. (The only security measure taken in the past dozen years that actually made us safer was a cockpit door that bolts shut.) Just like the phaser sweeps and blood screenings weren’t even slowing the changeling on Earth down.

There’s a lot that makes “Homefront” a strong episode, besides its rather devastating prescience for what would happen in the United States less than ten years after it aired. There are tons of nice little character bits, from Nog being a regular at Sisko’s Creole Kitchen to O’Brien and Bashir as RAF pilots from World War II (tellingly, a war that is considered to be a lot more black and white) to Joseph’s story of the stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling (it’s allegedly in stasis, and he takes it out of stasis to guard the restaurant when it’s closed; he had to stop because he’s getting too old to wrestle it back up to the harness).

It just seems like another little character bit to enhance the episode, but Dax’s little practical joke of moving Odo’s furniture around is actually a nice prelude to what happens later. Odo rants about how important order is, but too much order can be constricting. Odo’s right at the forefront of proposing these special security measures—but he’s also the one who has more than once in the past wished for the more orderly strictures of the Cardassians. He’s the one who argues most extensively for the tighter security and who best lays out the consequences of changeling infiltration.

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

The tricky part—and this will get more play in “Paradise Lost”—is where the line is. Perhaps Federation freedom is inviting too much chaos, but when the alternative is Cardassian or Dominion fascism, how is that a bad thing? The trick, of course, is balance between, say, Odo’s order and Dax’s desire for chaos (which is why she messes with his stuff). But the bomb at the Antwerp conference warps everything, too much chaos and it results in an overinfusion of order.

But in truth, what makes this episode work, and what makes it a great episode instead of a good one, is Joseph Sisko. For one thing, he’s a magnificent character. Free-wheeling, fun-loving, cantankerous, charming, delightful, passionate, ornery—he’s superb, ebulliently played by the late Brock Peters with manic energy. He just lights up the screen. His rapport with Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton (and Aron Eisenberg, for that matter) is letter-perfect, and you can see the lineage there. This is a powerful family, and you can see why Sisko’s such a good father with this role model.

However, much more importantly, Joseph is the heart of the episode. We get so many hints that Joseph might be a changeling: he won’t see his doctor, he won’t take his meds, he doesn’t actually eat with his son and grandson when they arrive, and then, the final nail in the coffin, he refuses to subject himself to a blood screening.

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

We’re set up for the reveal, but it’s not the reveal we’re expecting, and that’s the genius of the episode. All too often, DS9 has been accused of not being true to Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future, but those accusations have always missed the point. DS9 didn’t reject the Roddenberry utopia, but it did challenge it, more than once. This was its biggest challenge to date, as Sisko and Leyton and Odo and even Jaresh-Inyo are so caught up in paranoia that they can’t see that they’re doing the Founders’ work for them. Sisko lectured Gowron in “The Way of the Warrior” on the subject of how the Founders wanted the Klingons and Federation at each others’ throats, but he can’t take his own advice here. One of the most chilling moments in Star Trek history is when Sisko tells Jaresh-Inyo, “Just give us the authority we need, Mr. President—we’ll take care of the rest.” That right there is a fascist talking and to hear it come from our hero is mind-blowing. But it’s what paranoia leads to, goosed on by a bomb at a conference and a downed power grid.

It’s left to Joseph to remind everyone that this is Star Trek’s future. He’s not a changeling, and everything that seemed suspicious was actually perfectly in character, but Sisko is so keyed up by what’s happening that he has to look at the knife to see if the blood will go all amber and shimmery.

But when the power grid goes down, Sisko forgets everything Joseph said, because the threat is ramped up. Martial law is declared, troops are beaming onto the streets of Earth, and it’s very likely that a cloaked Jem’Hadar fleet is on its way. The paranoia would seem to be quite justified.

Or is it?

 

Warp factor rating: 9


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be co-running a writers workshop sponsored by the I-Con convention next Saturday, the 8th of March, in downtown Manhattan, alongside fellow author Laura Anne Gilman and writing professor Joan Digby. Click here for more info.

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