Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Empok Nor”

“Empok Nor”
Written by Bryan Fuller and Hans Beimler
Directed by Mike Vejar
Season 5, Episode 24
Production episode 40510-522
Original air date: May 19, 1997
Stardate: 50901.7

Station log: O’Brien and Nog are working on repairing a conduit, using tools that are sufficiently loud that it’s driving business away from Quark’s. (Kira, Dax, and Worf take all of three seconds’ worth of noise to decide to go to the Klingon restaurant instead.) Unfortunately, the problem is worse than O’Brien thought. They need to replace the plasma manifolds, which can’t be replicated, and relations with Cardassia these days preclude the notion of acquiring spares from them.

O’Brien leads a salvage team to Empok Nor, a station of the same design as Deep Space 9 (formerly Terok Nor) in the Trivas system, a sector that the Cardassians abandoned a year ago and have shown no interest in reacquiring since they became part of the Dominion. Odo warns of booby traps geared toward non-Cardassians, so Sisko convinces Garak to go along. The rest of the team includes Nog, two engineers (Pechetti and Boq’ta) and two security guards (Stolzoff and Amaro).

Garak and Nog play a game of Kotra, a Cardassian strategy game. Nog is playing it like a Ferengi, hoarding assets rather than being aggressive, and as a result is getting his ass kicked. Garak tries to convince O’Brien to play the winner, especially given his military record against the Cardassians, but he isn’t interested.

The runabout approaches the station. Transporters are a bad idea, as there are probably pattern scramblers, and even the airlock’s risky. But Garak is able to disarm the traps and also turn the power on. However his doing so also wakes up two Cardassians in stasis in the infirmary…

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

O’Brien splits them into three teams to salvage what they need, which Pechetti sorted into must-have (which O’Brien, Nog, and Stolzoff go for), could-use (Pechetti and Amaro), and would-be-nice (Garak and Boq’ta).

While climbing a staircase, Garak gets some gunk on his hands, which Boq’ta identifies as a biogenic compound. They immediately go to the infirmary, where they see that the stasis tubes are open and empty. There’s a third tube that’s been damaged, and there’s a Cardassian body in there that’s been dead for a year.

Nog left a tool in the runabout, but when he gets back to the airlock, the runabout is tumbling through space and then explodes. Everyone gathers in the infirmary. The Cardassian corpse had the badge of the Third Batallion, which is a special forces-type regiment whose motto is “Death to all.” Stolzoff theorizes that they were left there to guard the place. They’ve activated a dampening field so their tricorders won’t work, and the subspace antenna was ripped out when the Cardassians abandoned it. O’Brien comes up with a way to get the deflector grid to send out a series of pulses toward DS9 to let them know they’re in trouble.

Garak is not sure that Stolzoff’s hypothesis is correct: even the Third Batallion isn’t so fanatical that they’d leave three people behind, possibly for years, to guard an abandoned station.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

Stolzoff guards Pechetti while he works, and they’re ambushed by the two Cardassians and killed. The surviving members of the team have to finish their work so they can alert DS9 to their predicament. O’Brien and Nog finish what Pechetti started, while Boq’ta and Amaro finish O’Brien’s task (Boq’ta got his previous job finished). Garak, meanwhile, has decided that he’s going to go after the Cardassians himself and neutralize them—and is being particularly nasty and mean to the Starfleet personnel while he does so. He’s also gotten itchy. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with the gunk he touched…

Garak lures one Cardassian into the infirmary, then hides in the broken stasis tube and ambushes him. After killing him, Garak is surprised to realize that the act of doing so felt really good. He takes a tissue sample from the corpse and learns that his body is filled with a psychotropic drug designed to increase a Cardassian’s xenophobia. When he reports this to O’Brien, the chief figures that the experiment to create a more loyal, motivated soldier failed, which is why the three were left behind in stasis.

Garak goes off to kill the other Cardassian. Meanwhile, Amaro hopes he fails, because he wants to kill the Cardassian himself. Stolzoff was his Academy-mate and sparring partner, and he very much wants to avenge her death. Boq’ta asks Amaro for a coil spanner, and while he’s digging through the toolbox, the other Cardassian ambushes them, killing Boq’ta. Garak shoots the soldier before he can kill Amaro—but then Garak stabs Amaro with the very tool he had been about to give Boq’ta. (Ironically, it wasn’t even a coil spanner, it was a flux coupler. Oops.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

O’Brien and Nog find Boq’ta’s body and a dying Amaro, who lives long enough to tell O’Brien that Garak stabbed him. O’Brien figures that Garak was exposed to the drug. They have to go after him, especially since he knows about the use-the-deflector-to-send-a-signal plan.

Garak, however, has been spending his time in the prefect’s office, where the station commander left a Kotra game, and he’s been assembling the pieces, which were scattered all over the floor. Garak contacts O’Brien and Nog to ramble on for a bit about Kotra, which gives them time to get to Ops. But when they arrive, there’s no sign of Garak—until O’Brien tries to leave the office, at which point the door closes, a force field goes up, and Garak takes Nog hostage, not shooting him because he’s a series regular and therefore can’t actually die.

Once Garak leaves Ops, the force field goes down and the doors open. Garak insists that O’Brien is as much a predator as he is, that he wants to kill Garak as much as Garak wants to kill him. O’Brien denies it, and talks Garak into meeting him on the Promenade.

O’Brien arrives to find the bodies of the four crewmembers who were killed strung up (which had to have been a lot of trouble), then finds Garak holding a phaser rifle on Nog. O’Brien drops his rifle, his hand-phaser, and his tricorder, and then Garak puts his own rifle down so he and O’Brien can fight it out hand-to-hand like real men!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

When Garak stands near where O’Brien put the weapons down, the chief activates his combadge, at which point the tricorder activates and the phaser explodes, badly injuring the erstwhile tailor.

Nog and O’Brien complete the modifications (and also salvage what they need from Empok Nor) and are rescued by DS9. Bashir is able to expunge the drug from Garak’s system (and fix his other wounds). Garak asks O’Brien to express his regret to Amaro’s wife, as he doesn’t think she’d appreciate it coming from him.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently things made with a beta matrix compositor can’t be replicated. Which kinda sucks.

Rules of Acquisition: Nog is apparently doing a rotation in engineering now, after his security rotation last time, though he’s still acting like he’s in security, boarding the runabout and wandering around Empok Nor with a BFG (which he never actually fires).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

Plain, simple: Garak is taken aback when O’Brien says he’s glad Garak is on the mission, as generally everyone on the station has been very trusting of him, and it’s freaking him the hell out. To help combat this, he spends the trip over making fun of Nog’s Kotra-playing skills and tries to get O’Brien’s goat regarding the Setlik III massacre.

For Cardassia! After abandoning Empok Nor, the Cardassians left behind a bunch of booby traps, as well as three psychotic Cardassian soldiers. The actual reason for leaving them there is left unclear, as both Stolzoff and Garak’s notions have merit, but also problems—if Garak is right, why were they cued to unfreeze the soldiers when the power went on, and if Stolzoff is right, why did the Cardassians leave them there for potentially years (as Garak pointed out)?

Keep your ears open: “What’s the matter?”

“It’s just that lately, I’ve noticed that everyone seems to—trust me. It’s quite unnerving. I’m still trying to get used to it. Next thing I know, people will be inviting me to their homes for dinner.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I promise I’ll never have you over.”

“I appreciate that, Chief.”

O’Brien and Garak discussing the latter’s assimilation into life on the station.

Welcome aboard: Aron Eisenberg is back as Nog for the second week in a row, and we get Andrew J. Robinson as Garak as well. Tom Hodges, Jeffrey King, Marjean Holden, and Andy Milder play the security team; Milder will return on Voyager’s“Renaissance Man” as Nar, and also provide voices for the videogames Bridge Commander (Brex) and Elite Force II (Chell). Tom Morga and Christopher Doyle, both regular stunt performers on the modern Trek series, played the two Cardassian soldiers.

Trivial matters: This is Mike Vejar’s second DS9 directorial endeavor, after “The Darkness and the Light,” which was also based on a story by Bryan Fuller. His next one will be “Rocks and Shoals,” which has no involvement from Fuller (though that episode will have a reference to this one, as Nog will mention it when explaining why he won’t ever turn his back on Garak).

Fuller’s original pitch was for a Worf-and-Garak storyline where they come across a derelict ship. Given how well Michael Dorn and Andrew J. Robinson have worked together, notably in “Shattered Mirror,” “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” and “By Inferno’s Light,” this feels like a missed opportunity.

Empok Nor will be seen again in “The Magnificent Ferengi” and “Covenant,” and the station will also be used in the post-finale DS9 fiction, as Nog leads a team of ships to tow Empok Nor to the Bajoran system to use as a spare-parts facility, as seen in the Section 31 novel Abyss by David Weddle & Jeffrey Lang. Empok Nor was also seen in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novellas Cold Fusion by your humble rewatcher and Lost Time by Ilsa J. Bick.

In the 25th-century future storyline for Star Trek Online, Empok Nor is used as the headquarters for the Cardassian True Way movement.

O’Brien’s involvement in the Setlik III massacre was first mentioned in “The Wounded” on TNG, and has come up numerous times since, most notably in “Tribunal” when it was evidence in his trial. This episode is the first time he’s been referred to as “the hero of Setlik III,” but given that Garak was the one using the phrase and he was trying to get O’Brien’s goat, it’s unlikely that anyone else has ever called him that.

Garak wears an environmental suit, the first time we’ve seen one on DS9, indeed the first time such suits have been seen on any TV episode of Trek since “The Tholian Web” on the original series (though they’ve been used in several of the Trek movies). The suits were made for the movie First Contact, and Nog, Stozloff, and Amaro are using the type-3 phaser rifles designed for the movie as well.

Walk with the Prophets: “That’s not the face of a tailor.” Back when I reviewed “The Ship” I discussed the redshirt phenomenon, and this episode is both a superior and inferior example of the breed. Its superiority comes from the fact that the four guest stars who die in order to make the plot work are actual people, not just faceless grunts. We actually get to know them a bit, from Pechetti’s collecting hobby to Boq’ta’s cowardice to the snarky banter of the two security guards.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Empok Nor

But its inferiority comes from how appallingly telegraphed their deaths are, and how equally telegraphed the survival of O’Brien, Nog, and Garak are. While the latter two don’t have the relative safety of being opening-credits regulars, they’re pretty well established recurring characters, going back to the first couple of episodes of the series.

As a result the suspense is completely drained from the episode. We don’t even have the minimal investment that we had in Muniz, who at least had appeared twice before, just four people we’ve never seen before and know that, even if they survive, we’ll never see again. The unfortunate flip side to DS9 developing such a strong ensemble cast is that whenever we see someone outside that ensemble show up as a person who’s supposed to have been there all along, there’s no reason to expect them to make it to the end of the hour.

This is made worse by the climax, in which we’re supposed to believe that Garak, who has been sufficiently taken over by this psychotropic drug that he enjoys killing the first Cardassian soldier, gleefully pursues the second, and has no trouble whatsoever killing Amaro, will suddenly decide not to kill Nog. We’ve seen this before, notably in “The Adversary” and “Shattered Mirror,” where regulars are put in danger and survive it for no other reason than the actor has a contract to continue appearing on the show. Sure, it’s ostensibly in order to manipulate O’Brien, but this version of Garak doesn’t do manipulation, he’s a psychopath who wants to kill people a whole lot.

So instead of giving us a compelling story, we get a series of writer tricks to create the illusion of suspense, but nobody we really care about gets hurt, so it’s hard to give a damn. I’m grateful for the attempt to at least turn Pechetti, Boq’ta, Stolzoff, and Amaro into actual people, but it just makes their inevitable deaths more frustrating. (I will say that the banter between the security guards and the engineers was a big inspiration for a lot of the crew banter in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series that I supervised…)

On top of that, the story doesn’t really make any sense. This very episode establishes that this particular station design is fairly common in the Cardassian Union. I find it impossible to credit that there isn’t someone out there who can provide them with a plasma manifold. Hell, what’s the good of having a Ferengi cadet if he can’t scrounge for useful spare parts? It just seems to me that going from “it’s broken and the Cardassians won’t give us a new one” straight to “let’s go to the scary abandoned space station” without taking a few intermediate steps is, at best, ill-advised. (More so given the result, of course…)

One thing the script does get right is how it shows us O’Brien’s character. While “Hard Time” isn’t mentioned, the lessons of that episode can be seen here. O’Brien isn’t the man he was at Setlik III. He’s the guy who fixes things, the tinkerer, and he refuses to revert to that type, resulting in one of the episode’s better moments, when he reminds Garak for something like the hundredth time that he’s an engineer, not a soldier, using a technical trick to stop Garak instead of fisticuffs. And bravo to him.

The final problem with “Empok Nor,” though, is what it does to Garak. We know from way back in Dirty Harry that Andrew J. Robinson can do a psychopath with chilling skill, but one of the reasons why Garak is so interesting is that Robinson imbues him with complexity and charm. This version of Garak has neither of these things, and that makes him spectacularly uninteresting as an adversary. It’s not so bad with the two Cardassian soldiers, who are stunt guys with no dialogue who are pretty much force-of-nature villains, but Garak insists on talking, and being a much more boring version of Garak than what we’re used to. It’s another thing that takes points away from what should be a suspense-filled horror story, but instead just comes across as a leaden action piece that is far less than it could have been.

 

Warp factor rating: 4

 

Author’s note: Your humble rewatcher has a Kickstarter for a new story in the Dragon Precinct universe: Danthres and Torin’s second case! (It’s the sequel to “When the Magick Goes Away,” which was their first case…) For just two bucks you get the story, plus other nifty rewards if you pledge more. Check it out!

 


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at the Highland Library Comic-Con tomorrow, the 26th of July, in Highland, New York, along with authors Linda Zimmerman and C.L. Schneider, comics writer Todd Dezago, cartoonist Roger L. Phillips, and makeup effects artist Danielle Masterson, as well as a dozen local cartoonists and various fan clubs. Information can be found here.

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