Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “The Assignment”

“The Assignment”
Written by Robert Lederman & David R. Long and Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 5, Episode 5
Production episode 40510-504
Original air date: October 28, 1996
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Rom goes for breakfast at his brother’s bar, but instead of his usual puree of beetle, he orders bacon, eggs, and corned-beef hash, as that’s O’Brien’s favorite breakfast. Quark doesn’t get why Rom is emulating the chief, considering that O’Brien has Rom on the night shift handling waste extraction. But Rom is sure that some day the chief will recognize his importance and promote him to more important work. Quark is, to say the least, skeptical.

Speaking of O’Brien, he’s angry with himself for accidentally killing Keiko’s bonsai trees while she’s been away on Bajor, exploring the fire caves. He tries to get Molly to go with him, but she absolutely refuses, and Bashir—who was caring for them along with O’Brien—weasels out of it as well. So O’Brien, conciliatory chocolates in hand, meets Keiko and throws Bashir under the bus.

However, Keiko isn’t really all that put out—because O’Brien isn’t talking to Keiko, he’s talking to a pah-wraith who possessed Keiko in the fire caves, and wants O’Brien to do exactly as she says, or she’ll kill his wife.

Of course, O’Brien thinks it’s all a joke until the pah-wraith gives Keiko a seizure and stops her heart for a few moments, but wakes up before he can call for help. All she wants is for him to reconfigure the communications and sensor arrays. She predicts pretty much everything O’Brien will attempt to do—stall for time, try to warn the crew, create a stasis field to hold her, pretty much all the story beats of the average Star Trek episode—but she promises that any attempt to deviate from her plan will result in a brain hemhorrage and instant death for Keiko.

Bashir drops by their quarters, and the pah-wraith plays perfect host, and also letting slip that Keiko was planning a surprise birthday party for O’Brien. The chief tries to get her to cancel it, but she says that will cause suspicion.

Rom has been sent to sub for a sick engineer on the swing shift, which thrills the crap out of him. O’Brien assigns them to busy work while he does the reconfigurations the pah-wraith wants. While he works, O’Brien queries the computer about the various methods of stunning Keiko, but all of them would take too long for cognitive functions to cease—even the fastest method would give the pah-wraith time to burst a blood vessel.

O’Brien goes home to find a whole buncha people there for his party. Everyone’s having a good time except O’Brien. Odo and Jake talk to Keiko about whether or not she saw any pah-wraiths in the fire caves, but Keiko says all she saw were fungi.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on The Assignment

It turns out that the recalibrations O’Brien did were just a test. The real work begins the next day. After an awkward night in bed with his possessed wife, he goes, not to work, but to Sisko and Odo. Before he can reach the security office, Keiko falls off a Promenade catwalk by way of demonstrating how serious the situation is. Keiko’s all right, but badly injured, and O’Brien promises no more tricks. He insists he can’t do the work in less than 36 hours, but Keiko makes it clear that he has to do it in thirteen.

Rom startles him by saying he’s done with his work, very far ahead of schedule. It helps that he could focus on the work because nobody was particularly interested in talking to him. (He doesn’t mind, he’s used to being ignored.) Realizing he’s falling behind Keiko’s schedule, O’Brien enlists Rom to assist him, telling him it’s a classified mission that he can’t speak to anyone about.

They make several adjustments to the station’s systems. While in the middle of their work—at three in the morning—Dax interrupts to point out that they have a saboteur on the station. O’Brien looks vaguely nauseated, but he plays along with a meeting with Sisko, Dax, and Odo, trying to insist that it’s not much by way of sabotage, as it’s just a whole lot of fluctuations. But Sisko, Odo, and Dax are concerned that it’s the tip of a very big iceberg. In the middle of the meeting, Keiko calls O’Brien while menacingly brushing Molly’s hair to remind him of his deadline.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on The Assignment

O’Brien then throws Rom under the bus, counting on the Ferengi’s ability to stay quiet. Sure enough, he denies everything to Odo, who takes him into custody, leaving O’Brien to keep working under the pretense of checking Rom’s damage.

Rom refuses to speak to anyone but O’Brien, and only alone. O’Brien took the precaution of disabling the security feeds, so they can talk in total privacy. The only reason Rom called him down is because he wants to know why they’re turning the station into a chroniton beam emitter, which will kill the wormhole aliens if activated. O’Brien had no idea that was what they were doing, and he didn’t realize that the wormhole aliens are vulnerable to chronitons.

According to Bajoran legend, which Rom learned from Leeta, the pah-wraiths were cast out of the Celestial Temple (the wormhole) and trapped in the fire caves. They would not be welcome in the wormhole again, but if the Prophets are killed, they would be. Rom figures out that this isn’t a classified mission, but he is willing to continue to play the idiot to give O’Brien more time. (“I’m Quark’s brother, I know the role.”)

However, Odo has figured it out as well, and confronts O’Brien. Luckily, Odo’s not a shapeshifter anymore, so he succumbs quickly to a punch to the head. O’Brien tells Keiko that he’s done and to meet her at a runabout—he knows that she needs him to pilot her to the wormhole. On the pretense of testing the runabout’s thrusters, he takes one out, and heads to the wormhole, then activating the chroniton generator that he and Rom created.

Keiko orders him to activate the chronitons, which he does—and fires them, not at the wormhole, but at the runabout. The pah-wraith is killed, and Keiko collapses to the deck. She was aware of everything that happened, but couldn’t do anything.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on The Assignment

O’Brien and Keiko explain what happened to Sisko and a very sore Odo. Keiko is especially impressed with how hard O’Brien fought for her. As for Rom, he’s been promoted to the day shift.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently the wormhole aliens are vulnerable to chronitons. Since chronitons were established as being related to temporal disturbances, it sorta kinda makes something like sense that the wormhole aliens, whose relationship to time is strange, could be vulnerable to them. I guess.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is visiting Shakaar, a trip written into the script because Nana Visitor went into labor sooner than expected.

The slug in your belly: Dax loves birthdays because of course she does. She brings O’Brien a bottle of booze as a present, and also doesn’t give O’Brien clearance to take off in the runabout until he confirms that he had a good birthday. O’Brien can only say, with a glance at his possessed wife, that it was full of surprises.

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf’s only scene (he isn’t at O’Brien’s party, which is a surprise) is to ask O’Brien how Keiko is doing. His concern feels genuine, and is a nice, subtle callback to Worf’s rather traumatic experience delivering Molly in TNG’s “Disaster.”

Rules of Acquisition: Quark is disgusted by Rom’s eating human breakfasts in order to fit in better with the engineering staff. (It’s particularly absurd because he’s part of the Bajoran Militia. Shouldn’t he be eating hasperat rather than pancakes and bacon?)

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo discovers the hard way that he has a glass jaw.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: The pah-wraith insists that O’Brien sleep with his wife like normal, even though she’s possessed. Just to remind us that the thing possessing Keiko is evil.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on The Assignment

Also Rom and Leeta have been talking a lot. This will become important later…

Keep your ears open: “Culpable deniability. I understand. Don’t worry about me, Chief. My lips are sealed. Nobody will get anything out of me. Not even my name.”

“Rom, everybody on the station knows your name.”

“Right. But I won’t confirm it.”

Rom showing O’Brien that he can keep it under his hat.

Welcome aboard: It’s a showcase for recurring regulars Rosalind Chao as Keiko (and the pah-wraith possessing her) and Max Grodénchik as Rom, as well as Hana Hatae as Molly.

Trivial matters: The notion of the pah-wraiths goes back to the original screenplay for “The Nagus,” when reference is made to visiting the fire caverns, and a line about “watching out for pagh-wraiths” was cut. When Rene Echevarria was developing this pitch, which eventually got assigned to David Weddle & Bradley Thompson, Robert Hewitt Wolfe mentioned the “pagh-wraith” notion, which he had come up with and suggested to Ira Steven Behr for the first-season episode. Echevarria decided to use them here, since Keiko was visiting the fire caves in any case. The pah-wraiths and the fire caves will continue to recur for the rest of the show’s run.

The Koss’moran that Rom describes to O’Brien will henceforth be referred to as the Kosst Amojan, with the former consigned to the same seemed-cool-written-down-but-sounded-silly-spoken-aloud scrapheap as Vulcanian, Bajora, and Kling.

This was the first Trek teleplay for Weddle & Thompson, who will go on to become regular writers on the show. It’s also the first Trek directorial endeavor by Allan Kroeker, who will go onto become a prolific director for DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise.

This episode was produced after “Trials and Tribble-ations,” but aired first because the other episode had considerably more post-production work.

Just as the Enterprise crew sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (in Klingon) for Worf’s birthday in “Parallels,” Keiko and the gang sing the same song (in English) for O’Brien, as that song is in the public domain, unlike “Happy Birthday,” which would require a licensing fee to use on TV.

Walk with the Prophets: “I can work slower if you want me to.” This episode will never be a favorite because it introduces the pah-wraiths, one of the most wrongheaded plot devices in DS9’s history. If it had been forgotten after this episode, it could be forgiven, but the pah-wraiths are used again and again to no good effect, all the way to the concluding arc of the series, where it drags down the storyline with a tiresome subplot that serves mostly to be awful and annoying.

The pah-wraiths are just so—so lazy. The wormhole aliens we were introduced to in “Emissary” were fascinating and complex and different, worthy of a good science fiction show. To give them evil counterparts is something out of a bad 70s adventure show. ”They’re just like the Prophets—but they’re evil!“ Yawn yawn yawn.

Having said that, the episode has some things going for it. For starters, it’s a fine vehicle for the character of Rom, who is still the goofball he always was, but also again proves his mettle. He’s the perfect aid to O’Brien in his quest to fulfill the pah-wraith request, as he’s brilliant, competent, and is used to following orders unquestioningly thanks to years of working for Quark. I especially love that he’s the one who figures out what it is O’Brien is doing, since the chief himself is so turned around by his wife being possessed.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on The Assignment

In addition, this episode is one of the few opportunities Rosalind Chao has to really stretch. Keiko Isihikawa O’Brien is rarely allowed to actually be a character, because she’s mostly too busy being O’Brien’s wife. It’s telling that Chao’s most compelling performance to date was on TNG’s “Violations,” the only episode in which she doesn’t appear alongside Colm Meaney.

But here, Chao gets a chance to flex her acting muscles some, effortlessly moving back and forth between the Keiko we know to the pah-wraith. It’s some superb work.

Only a pity that it’s wasted on this paint-by-numbers script and on a dumb concept. No matter how much lipstick you put on this particular pig (and the performances of Grodénchik and Chao make for some damn fine lipstick, ’tis true), it’s still the stupid episode where Keiko gets possessed by the eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil Prophets. Bleah.

Warp factor rating: 3

Rewatcher’s note: Next week, in honor of reaching “Trials and Tribble-ations,” the celebration of Star Trek‘s 30th anniversary in 1996, and in tribute to “Tribbles Week” during the original Star Trek Rewatch, we’ll be doing “Tribbles Week Redux,” starting Monday with a rewatch of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” followed by “Trials” in its usual Tuesday spot, and then Voyager‘s 30th-anniversary special, “Flashback,” on Wednesday. The DS9 Rewatch will resume normal operations on Friday with “Let He Who is Without Sin…”


Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his latest Star Trek book The Klingon Art of War is now on sale. 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, SciFi Diner, and The Chronic Rift. He’ll be doing a signing for the book at the Enigma Bookstore (alongside fellow tie-in writers David Mack and Aaron Rosenberg) in Queens, New York this Saturday the 17th of May at 7pm.


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