Written by Pam Wigginton & Rick Cason and Hans Beimler
Directed by Kim Friedman
Season 5, Episode 2
Production episode 40510-500
Original air date: October 7, 1996
Station log: The crew is performing a survey of Torga IV, a planet in the Gamma Quadrant that may be a viable spot for a mining operation. (It’s also a good three weeks from the Dominion border.) The team includes Sisko, Worf, Dax, O’Brien, Muniz, and T’Lor. The runabout they came in is in orbit, and Ensign Hoya reports a ship coming out of warp and crash-landing on the planet. The team is beamed directly there—it’s a Jem’Hadar warship, which has landed upside down, but with no hull breaches. They go in through a hatch that’s normally used to land troops. Worf takes point while T’Lor stays behind to guard the hatch.
A tense, slow search through the darkened ship eventually leads to the bridge and several Jem’Hadar corpses dangling from the floor (now the ceiling). Dax’s scan reveals that they’ve been dead for hours and that every bone in their body was shattered. O’Brien guesses inertial dampener failure: as soon as they accelerated, their bodies were smashed against the bulkheads.
Muniz finds twenty-nine more bodies—no survivors. This is their first look inside a Jem’Hadar ship, and Sisko feels it’s urgent to bring it home. (He also wonders what it was doing so far from Dominion space.) The runabout won’t be able to tractor the ship back to the Alpha Quadrant, so Sisko has Hoya call for the Defiant. Kira heads out immediately.
Worf, Dax, and T’Lor bury the bodies—altogether 42 Jem’Hadar and one Vorta—while O’Brien and Muniz work to get the thrusters working so they can get the ship out of the ninety meters of rock it’s submerged in.
A Jem’Hadar ship enters orbit and destroys the runabout and all three crew members on board. Seconds later, a platoon of Jem’Hadar unshroud and fire on the away team. T’Lor is killed and Muniz is wounded before they are able to get inside the ship, as that’s an easier location to defend. To everyone’s surprise, the Jem’Hadar don’t follow them into the ship.
O’Brien treats Muniz’s wound as best he can, but T’Lor had the medkit, and his body is still on the surface. They do have one portable generator, and O’Brien and Dax use it to get power running on the bridge. They also find a virtual-reality-style sensor device with two headsets. Dax and Sisko hypothesize that this is the equivalent of a viewscreen—the two headsets are for the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar First.
Sisko is contacted by Kilana, the Vorta in charge of the Jem’Hadar platoon outside. She wants to meet face to face to discuss the situation. They meet outside. Kilana wants the ship back, as it’s theirs. She finds Sisko’s claim of salvage rights to be quaint and pointless, as she also has them surrounded, though she does offer him food and drink. She also offers to bring them back to DS9 unharmed if they let her have the ship, and generally tries to play helpless, saying it’s her first mission outside the Dominion.
While they talk, a single Jem’Hadar boards the ship in secret. He ambushes Dax and O’Brien, but the wounded Muniz manages to shoot the Jem’Hadar. As soon as Worf hears the shots being fired, he alerts Sisko. Kilana and her Jem’Hadar escort beam away, and they go back in.
The Jem’Hadar was armed only with a blade, and brought in a sensor device that did something and then shut down. The away team is confused, as the Jem’Hadar should be able to storm the ship easily—there must be something on board so valuable they can’t risk even bringing a rifle on board.
Dax does a full structural scan, so they have a proper blueprint of the ship. Meanwhile, Muniz’s wound isn’t getting any better. O’Brien wants to take care of his man, but Sisko orders him to get the ship up and running, otherwise they’re all screwed. Later, Worf and O’Brien get into an argument over Muniz—the former thinks he should prepare for death, but the latter refuses to give up.
Kilana offers another parley, and she even says she’ll come alone and unarmed, but not insist on the same for him. With a phaser rifle in hand and Worf as backup, Sisko goes out again to meet. She apologizes for sending the Jem’Hadar in, but she needs to protect their property. She offers to let them keep the ship as long as they can go on board and retrieve the item of value they have on board. Sisko counters that he’ll bring the object to her, but she refuses to allow that. They’re at an impasse, and Kilana beams away.
The Jem’Hadar start bombarding the area around the ship with concussion shells to rattle them. O’Brien works to get the ship’s weapon up and running while Dax, Sisko, and Worf search for whatever it is Kilana wants.
The good news is O’Brien gets the weapon working. The bad news is the turret is stuck, so they can only fire in one direction. The worse news is that Muniz is deteriorating and delirious (he thinks the concussion charges are fireworks at carnivale).
Tensions mount as the bombardment continues, to the point where O’Brien and Worf almost come to blows and Dax gets even snarkier than normal. However Sisko yells at everyone and they get back to work. O’Brien manages to get the power working, and they figure out how to operate the bridge. Unfortunately, the engines can’t shake the ship loose, and they damage the engines in their attempt. The Defiant won’t arrive for another 36 hours, so they have that long to effect repairs.
O’Brien checks on Muniz, but he’s dead, the fifth person on this mission to die. A hatch starts to drip and melt and turns out to be a Founder—one that can’t hold its shape. It’s dying, right in front of Sisko and Dax. That’s what Kilana wanted, and why they won’t board the ship: they can’t risk killing one of their gods.
After the Founder turns to ash, Kilana beams onto the ship alone. Her Jem’Hadar have all committed suicide because they allowed a Founder to die. Kilana says Sisko should have trusted her, but he couldn’t, and besides she lied to him and withheld information. Kilana was concerned that Sisko would take the changeling as a hostage, but Sisko says he never would have done that. He just wanted the ship.
Sisko, both angry and sad at the same time, says that Muniz, Hoya, T’Lor, the other two on the runabout, and all the Jem’Hadar would still be alive if they’d just trusted each other.
The Defiant arrives and tows the Jem’Hadar ship back. Dax sits with Sisko in the mess hall. Starfleet Command is very pleased, and is awarding them all medals. Sisko is having trouble writing his report to Starfleet because he can’t stop looking at the casualty list. Muniz and Jake share a birthday; Sisko performed Hoya’s wedding ceremony; Rooney, one of the runabout crew, was a fantastic trumpet player. Dax points out that they died fighting for something they believed in. Sisko says that doesn’t make it any easier, and Dax says nothing should make it easier.
O’Brien sits in the cargo bay with Muniz’s body. Worf enters, saying that O’Brien’s performing ak’voh, an old Klingon tradition where you guard the body of a fallen warrior to keep predators away until the spirit is released to Sto-Vo-Kor. By way of apologizing for his earlier arguments with O’Brien about Muniz, Worf sits with him and says that they will both keep the predators away. O’Brien says that Muniz would have liked that.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? It takes two days for O’Brien to figure out how to get the ship up and running. But he does it. Because he’s just that awesome.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko doesn’t fall for any of Kilana’s rhetorical tricks to try to get on his good side. He doesn’t even flinch or react when she brings up Jake—an obvious ploy to get an emotional response. It’s especially refreshing because most TV characters would overreact emotionally to the mere mention of their child by an enemy, but Sisko is smarter and more grounded than that.
The slug in your belly: Tellingly, when people start to lose their tempers and Sisko yells at everyone, O’Brien and Worf are somewhat chagrined. Dax, though, is completely unrepentant for her snark and remains snotty to Sisko even as she goes off to carry out his orders.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf’s story of the Klingon tradition of ak’voh has the ring of bullshit. Way back in “Heart of Glory,” it was established that the body is just an empty shell, and the passage of the soul of a warrior to Sto-Vo-Kor is pretty much instantaneous so there’s no need for anyone to stand over a body to guard against predators because that tradition implies that the predators could have the body once the soul was done with it. Having said that, it could be a very old tradition that changed with time—and it’s also possible that Worf made it up so he could sit with O’Brien and help him mourn his friend while still maintaining his innate Klingon-ness.
Rules of Acquisition: Bashir asks Quark to get him some Regalian fleaspiders, the venom from which can be used to create a drug that will help with Kira’s circulation during her pregnancy. He didn’t know he’d need an import permit until Quark and Bashir are both arrested by Odo. Complicating matters is that Quark also brought in with the fleaspiders a Regalian aphrodisiac, also without a permit.
Victory is life: The only thing that saves the away team’s ass is that there’s a changeling on board the ship, and neither the Vorta nor the Jem’Hadar will risk doing anything that could harm one of their gods.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Unlike the last female Vorta we saw, Kilana has the sex appeal turned up to 11: she’s wearing jewelry and makeup and her outfit emphasizes her cleavage. Her entire affect is obviously intended to play on stereotypes of male humans responding to weak and helpless females.
Keep your ears open: “How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me ‘sir’? I’m not an officer.”
“No, you know more than they do.”
O’Brien acting like true enlisted personnel, and Muniz sucking up.
Welcome aboard: F.J. Rio is back for his third and final appearance as Muniz, following “Starship Down” and “Hard Time.” Kaitlin Hopkins plays Kilana; she’ll return on Voyager’s “Live Fast and Prosper” as Dala. Hilary Shepard plays Hoya; she’ll be back in “Statistical Probabilities” and “Chrysalis” as Lauren.
The Jem’Hadar ship will be used again by our heroes in “A Time to Stand” and “Rocks and Shoals.”
Muniz teasing O’Brien about Ireland having hills but no mountains is a cute callback to one of Colm Meaney’s then-recent movie roles, as Morgan the Goat in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain.
Kilana mentions reading Weyoun’s report on Sisko, which must have been made during the events of “To the Death.”
Hoya is the first female Benzite we’ve seen, and the first Benzite not to be played by John Putch (as two different Benzites in TNG’s “Coming of Age” and “A Matter of Honor”). She’s given a backstory in the Starship Creator videogame and the second edition of the Star Trek Customizable Card Game.
This episode is DS9’s third of four trips to Soledad Canyon for location shooting, following the prison camp in “The Homecoming” and the Breen mine in “Indiscretion.” They’ll return (along with the Jem’Hadar ship) to the canyon in “Rocks and Shoals.”
Walk with the Prophets: “We will both keep the predators away.” Let us speak of the phenomenon of the “redshirt.” The term actually comes from Star Trek, as the original series was well-populated by security guards (who wore red) who would wind up being killed.
But the phenomenon—having expendable characters whose purpose is to be less characters than people whose death moves the plot along without anyone actually caring who they are—is far older than that. Arguably the most famous classic redshirts are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakepseare’s Hamlet, who have very little personality of their own (at least until Tom Stoppard came along to fix that), but are there to show how nasty Claudius is and how clever Hamlet is.
Television exacerbates the redshirt phenomenon because, of course, you have your regular characters, and they can’t die, so if you need someone to get killed, you drag in a guest star.
The original series actually wasn’t as bad with the redshirts at first. Kirk actually took the time out to mourn the security guards who died in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and the one in “Friday’s Child,” not to mention the character of Tomlinson in “Balance of Terror,” whose wedding was interrupted by the space battle that would get him killed.
But mostly it was just a cheap way of establishing danger that got worse as the series went on, to the point where the two guards who were beamed into space in “And the Children Shall Lead” were barely acknowledged by Kirk except as an inconvenience. Even “Friday’s Child” was problematic in that Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Random Redshirt Dude all beam down—guess which one gets killed when he whips a phaser out? Hint: it’s not the three guys who are listed in the opening credits.
It hasn’t gotten any better with the shift to the 24th century, as we see in episodes like “The High Ground” and “Descent” and “Civil Defense” and “The Adversary,” where we see people get killed but have no idea who they are, nor given any reason to give a good goddamn.
And it’s something that I’ve always found offensive and despicable and awful. There’s no such thing as a faceless soldier, no such thing as an innocent bystander. The people on the bus that Obadiah Stane picked up and threw at Iron Man, the people in those buildings that Superman and Zod crashed through, the eighteen people in the saucer section of “Q Who,” they were all people, with loved ones and families and friends and jobs that would miss them.
Yet the characters act as if they know who has billing. Tasha Yar dies, and there’s a funeral service. Several characters die when the Defiant is rescuing Dukat and the Detapa Council, but they’re forgotten by the time the ship gets back to the station.
Perhaps the worst offender is “Caretaker,” the pilot episode of Voyager. When the ship falls down the rabbit hole into the Delta Quadrant, the first officer, the chief medical officer, the conn officer, the chief engineer, and the head nurse are all killed. Yet by the end of the two-hour episode, nobody seems to even give a damn about any of them. The characters of Cavit, Stadi, and the other three who weren’t even given names, are never even mentioned after the pilot episode. In the finale, when Harry Kim talked about how wonderful the journey is that they’ve been on, I was disgusted, since that journey was commenced with an event that murdered five people.
Imagine a TNG episode in which Riker, Crusher, La Forge, Ro, and Ogawa were all killed. It might, y’know, get mentioned a few times.
As a writer and editor, it’s something I’ve tried to combat as often as possible. You will rarely find faceless victims in my fiction, and in my Trek fiction I’ve tried to address the redshirt phenomenon head-on. (Notably, I endeavored in two pieces of Voyager fiction, “Letting Go” in Distant Shores, and the Voyager portion of The Brave and the Bold Book 2, to expand on some of the characters who were killed in “Caretaker,” make them into people someone might actually give a damn about.)
All this is by way of saying that, when Trek does address the redshirt problem head-on instead of just using the trope in the most standard way possible, it can be really excellent. While “The Ship” isn’t on the same level as TNG’s “The Bonding”—which remains the best screw-you to the redshirt phenomenon Trek has done—it does a fine job of making us give a damn about at least some of the people who die.
Five people are killed in this tense episode, one in which the characters spend a very long time sweating, both metaphorically and literally. The Jem’Hadar constantly bombard the area, filling the place with noise that makes everyone nuts, the Vorta is practically wearing a neon sign that says, “I’m manipulating you, and I think so little of you that I don’t care that you know it” (which matches how Weyoun acted in “To the Death,” the only other Vorta we’ve met in the course of their daily existence as opposed to a covert mission), and they have to stand around and watch Muniz die.
Muniz is, of course, the most effective redshirt death because we’ve seen him twice before, and he’s been charming as all heck both in his banter with Stevens in “Starship Down” and with O’Brien in “Hard Time” and at the top of this episode. It’s a good camaraderie that makes the guy incredibly likeable, so when he dies, it’s a lot easier to give a damn.
At first, he seems to be the only one of the five deaths we do give a damn about. Part of that is an artifact of the situation. Sisko and the others don’t have time to mourn T’Lor, Hoya, and the others because they’re too busy trying to keep themselves from joining them in deadness, but Muniz is dying right there in front of them, so they can’t help but be aware of it. Indeed, Sisko’s the one who has to keep reminding everyone that they need to go off and do their jobs and stuff and not just change Muniz’s bandages and stand over him looking concerned.
But then we have the penultimate scene, where Sisko can’t write his report because he can’t get past the casualty list. An effort is made here to make Hoya and one of the other runabout crew—who didn’t even get dialogue—someone who matters. It’s not a hundred percent successful, but even the effort is appreciated. These are supposed to be people, after all, and they should have someone mourn them when they’re dead.
The plot itself is fine. I like how religion basically warps everything, as Kilana’s actions are twisted and limited and screwed by the fact that the Founder on board the crashed ship is a deity to her and her soldiers. While Sisko’s statement that everyone would’ve survived if they trusted each other is nonsense—T’Lor and the runabout crew were dead before anybody knew what was happening—Kilana actually saying there was a Founder on board might have at least saved Muniz and the Jem’Hadar, and possibly also the Founder. (I also like the fact that the notion of salvage rights was completely foreign to Kilana.)
But what makes the episode work are the stakes. People are dying, and the people who aren’t dying are seriously losing it. A particularly nice touch is that we have the two friendships that are of the longest vintage here: O’Brien and Worf, dating back to TNG, and Sisko and Dax, dating back to the latter’s prior host. Yet O’Brien and Worf come to blows, and it’s convincing—both are acting in character, but more so, and it grates—and Sisko and Dax snipe at each other, too.
And it ends magnificently, with Worf sitting by O’Brien. For the second episode in a row, he apologizes, not by providing an unconvincing “I’m sorry,” but by acting in a manner that shows his contrition far more convincingly. O’Brien appreciates it as much as Kira did.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his latest Star Trek book The Klingon Art of War officially goes on sale today. You can get the book at your local bookstore or order it online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, or directly from the publisher. He’s talked about the book on the podcasts Trek Radio, the G & T Show, and SciFi Diner. He’ll be doing three signings for the book in May: at Singularity & Co. in Brooklyn, New York on this coming Friday, the 9th; at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Thursday the 15th; and at the Enigma Bookstore in Queens, New York on Saturday the 17th.