1.14: “The Storyteller”

This is another one where the central plot — Weird Space Thing of the Week — is something I can take or leave, but as a vehicle for some great character moments, it’s a delight.

I do have some questions about this particular Weird Space Thing. Primarily: no one ever noticed this before? The Cardassians came down so hard on Bajoran religion and culture in their efforts to “civilize” them, no one ever noticed that this idyllic little village had this weird superstition completely unlike anyplace else on Bajor? No one else on Bajor knows about this or has ever tried to help/investigate? (Come on, you can’t tell me ghost/cryptid hunters wouldn’t know about this and be investigating. Also, good lord where is my spinoff about ghost/cryptid hunters in the Star Trek universe?)

It also seems a bit odd that the chief medical officer on the station is being called for a two-hour trip to Bajor for a medical emergency — I get that Bajor’s still recovering and the infrastructure is shaky, but the Sirah’s condition doesn’t really seem to be anything particularly unusual; there must be someone closer than two hours away who can take care of him. For that matter, aren’t there other medical staff on the station? What if someone has a heart attack back on DS9 in the few days Bashir’s gone? Hell, what if someone just falls and breaks an arm while he’s asleep? This is a recipe for burnout, Starfleet! Teach your officers how to delegate!!!

(I know the village’s magistrate was pretty vague and just told them that they were in danger of extinction, so Bashir assumes it’s some kind of disease, but also…no one asked more follow-up questions? Or, like, thinks to alert the Bajoran government, who are dealing with trying to rebuild their society, that they have what sounds initially like a potential outbreak of some devastating disease on their hands? MY QUESTIONS STAND.)

But back to the topic of character development

Like “Battle Lines”, this feels like another good use of Bashir. Which is to say: they’re embracing the fact that he can be annoying as hell. I’ve mentioned before that it can feel, early on, like we’re meant to find Bashir’s inability to take a hint sort of cute and charming, which just tends to make it all the more irritating (and, when it involves his crush on Jadzia, flat-out gross and creepy). They lean into it here, however, with him being at least as annoying as he is helpful (the way they call attention to the rank difference feels like a very deliberate acknowledgement of the way Bashir’s coming on so strongly makes things really uncomfortable and awkward, for instance). Somewhat paradoxically, the fact that the text is admitting that yes, he’s being moderately obnoxious makes Bashir a lot more tolerable.

Bashir and O’Brien’s relationship will evolve a lot over the course of the series, and it’s a lot of fun, knowing that they end up as BFFs, seeing O’Brien struggling valiantly to hide his low-key hostility. WHOMST AMONG US HAS NEVER BEEN THERE, O’BRIEN? I believe that is what the kids today call a “big mood”.

(It’s also kind of fun, knowing that the primary reason their friendship was pushed heavily later was because the showrunners found out about Garak/Bashir shippers, panicked, and started avoiding putting them in scenes together, given that a large part of the fandom then proceeded to start shipping Bashir/O’Brien. I was never really into that pairing myself, but I *am* into doing things out of spite, so I wholeheartedly support the effort.)

The B plot

JAKE AND NOG ARE SUCH KIDS, BLESS THEM BOTH!!!! That’s most of what I’ve got. I was, however, weirdly delighted by Odo’s little smirk after he chases the kids from their hangout spot above the Promenade. You like the kids, Odo, don’t deny it.

Just. In a world where a twelve-year-old Black child with a toy was gunned down, and the shooting was ruled justified, with many, many voices rising up to defend his murderer because hey, he looked much older and was clearly a scary thug — in a world where the President of the United fucking States stands by his call for the state to murder a group of Black teenagers for a crime they did not commit — it feels really, really important to have this portrayal of a fourteen-year-old Black boy who’s treated by the narrative as just that: a fourteen-year-old boy. Jake Sisko is an awkward teenager who wants to play games, look at cute girls, and hang out with his best friend. He occasionally grieves for his dead mother, fights with said best friend, and needs advice from his father. He’s a kid. And it’s incredibly depressing and infuriating that, nearly twenty-five years after this episode aired, it’s still unusual for a Black teenager to be allowed to act his age.

I also appreciate how, for all that the plot with Varis isn’t treated as anything particularly out of the ordinary, it’s also, when I spend more than a few seconds thinking about it, completely brutal: Varis doesn’t have parents to turn to for help, like Nog and Jake do, because her parents were murdered. She’s a child, and she’s negotiating land rights on behalf of her people because anyone else who could do so was murdered. It’s a really lovely example of what makes Deep Space Nine so memorable: it would be so, so easy to let Varis’s storyline just be straight melodrama, but it’s not. She’s a sympathetic figure, but she’s also flawed; she makes missteps and struggles and, like many other Bajorans, she’s learning how to live in this new world they’re trying to build.

I have one more question

Why does Odo need a bucket, anyway? Can’t he just…be goo on the floor? Maybe he gets crud in him, like when you have to pick lint and cat hair off your clothes. Or…does he not have quarters? I guess if he’s living in the office, it’s pretty rude to other people working there to just be sleeping on the floor.

Horniness rankings

  1. Nog’s entirely age-appropriate crush on Varis is pretty friggin’ adorable.
  2. Bashir is channeling his horniness into enjoying the drama that plays out before him, and it’s also pretty hilarious.

2 thoughts on “1.14: “The Storyteller”

  1. I found this episode pretty uninspiring TBH. I think there’s a fine line when it comes to Bajoran-religious-themed episodes. You want (presuming good faith on the part of the writers) to portray the Bajorans as spiritual and willing to accept and connect with things in a way that non-faithful characters would not. You do not want (again, presuming good faith) to portray them as gullible idiots willing to abandon common sense in the name of their religious or folk ideals/traditions. This episode strays perilously close to the latter, I think. The villagers are way too willing to accept O’Brien as the new sirah, despite it making little or no sense; there’s an implication that they’re willing to provide him with female companionship despite the fact that he literally just showed up yesterday; the whole thing rings false to me and left a bad taste. The apprentice sirah who tries to kill O’Brien is the only person in the village who I think reacts in a sensible or appropriate way to the situation. Everyone else seems to have been directed to play “brainwashed fool”.

    The series almost never makes this mistake. About the closest I think it comes is “Accession” in season 4, when the Bajorans are ready to hit the rewind button and restart their pre-Occupation caste system when a new alleged emissary shows up – you have a very badly-played murder scene in that episode in which a Bajoran vedek kills someone because they don’t get out of his way for caste reasons, and I always hated that because it requires the vedek to become a total idiot for plot reasons. Even that episode though features Bajorans (personified in Kira) struggling with the new edict and making rational choices about how to try to take the Prophets’ guidance on board. This episode doesn’t really do any of that.

    One thing it did make me wonder was whether the fact that a human was now the emissary of the Prophets made it easier for the villagers to accept O’Brien as the new sirah. I mean, he’s a human. It seems pretty unlikely that the sirah would anoint him. Yet they accept it. There could have been an interesting moment here where the villagers discussed the fact that yes, this is weird, but hey, a human is the emissary, so… why not? (I may be conflating the Prophet religion with this village’s folk history – the dal-rok ritual seems to be more about a shared folk tradition and local mythology, although an orb fragment does play a role in banishing the dal-rok.)

    Anyway – the B plot was fun. I guess the whole episode is fun to an extent, if kind of forgettable.

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