2.26: “The Jem’Hadar”

This episode is interesting for me, because while it does its job — having Our Heroes encounter the Dominion directly for the first time, and making it clear that the Dominion will be a direct threat in the future — those parts aren’t actually what I enjoy most about it.

For me, perhaps the number one highlight of this episode is how much time it spends playing Quark and Sisko off each other — as noted before, I’ve gained a new appreciation on this rewatch for Shimerman’s strength as an actor, to the point where I’d argue for his being one of the strongest members of a very strong cast. And while I’ve always considered Avery Brooks fantastic, with every rewatch, I still catch tons of subtle little pieces of his performance that I’ve never noticed before. While the “let’s move the plot forward” parts of this episode are solid enough, Brooks and Shimerman’s interactions really elevate it.

(Also, when Odo says Sisko doesn’t like him, and Quark, without missing a beat, says, “no, Major Kira’s the one who doesn’t like me”? Good lord, the delivery of that line is just PERFECTION.)

Speaking of the Dominion…

SHIT’S GETTING REAL, Y’ALL.

As I’ve said before, I always kind of forget that the Dominion is introduced so early, all the way back in the first third of this season. I love the relatively gradual build, with each subsequent mention of the Dominion revealing them more and more as something to be taken seriously, even considered a potential threat to the Federation. I also really like that, having introduced the Dominion in an episode focused on Ferengi Shenanigans, Quark plays a major role in the episode where we finally meet them for the first time.

The Jem’Hadar guard here makes clear that, at least to the Dominion’s eye, the Federation has been somewhat presumptuous: “The Dominion will no longer stand by and allow ships from your side to violate our territory.” And when it’s put like that…you can kinda see their point.

I mentioned in “Rules of Acquisition” that the Dominion strikes me as something of a reply, perhaps even a rebuke, to Starfleet’s entire — pun not intended but also not regretted — enterprise. That Deep Space Nine might not have quite the same approach to exploration was hinted at all the way back in “Emissary”:

Bashir: I didn’t want some cushy job or a research grant. I wanted this — the farthest reaches of the galaxy. One of the most remote outposts available. This is where the adventure is! This is where heroes are made! Right here in the wilderness!
Kira: This “wilderness” is my home.

With the Dominion, the point is made even more forcefully: just because a place is one where Starfleet hasn’t gone before doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one where no one has gone before.

Let’s talk Ferengi

This episode contains what I honestly consider one of the show’s most interesting scenes:

Quark: You know, Commander, I think I’ve figured out why humans don’t like Ferengis.
Sisko: Not now, Quark.
Quark: The way I see it, humans used to be a lot like Ferengi. Greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit — we’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget.
Sisko: Quark, we don’t have time for this.
Quark: But you’re overlooking something. Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery. Concentration camps. Interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism.
[Sisko is silent.]
Quark: You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lock to pick.

Like. HE’S NOT WRONG! It’s kinda hard to argue that you have the moral high ground when you’re dealing with someone whose people have never committed genocide. And of course, it’s complicated further, in really interesting ways, by the fact that Quark is kiiiiiinda overlooking the way women are treated in Ferengi society; the blind spot there, in my opinion, just makes his speech to Sisko all the more realistic.

What’s particularly interesting is that, in the six episodes prior to this one, we’ve gotten similar lines from other non-Starfleet characters on multiple occasions. When Bashir, horrified at the origin of Garak’s condition in “The Wire”, says that no one could possibly deserve the pain he’s in, Garak tells him to save his “smug Federation sympathy”; in “The Maquis, Part 1”, Kira, appalled that they appear to be siding with the Cardassians over the Maquis, suggests that “the Federation is even more naive than I already think it is”; “The Maquis, Part 2” Cal Hudson, in explaining to Sisko why he’s joined the Maquis, says that “the Federation believes it can solve every problem with a treaty”.

Certainly, TOS and TNG contained lots of encounters with people neutral or even hostile toward the Federation, but it seems remarkable to me that here, in a relatively short span of episodes, we have a major recurring character (Garak) and a main character (Kira) expressing what could, diplomatically, be termed skepticism about Federation ideology. Hell, it seems significant that the one minor character among those examples is a former Starfleet officer who’s become disillusioned. Quark, in this episode, goes even further — taking issue less with Federation ideology than with Federation, and especially human, hypocrisy: “You Federation types are all alike. You talk about tolerance and understanding, but you only practice it toward people who remind you of yourselves.”

(Interestingly, this, too, happened a few episodes back: when Sisko pointedly remarks, in “The Maquis, Part 1”, that all the Cardassians seem to care about is gaining an advantage, Dukat scoffs at his “holier-than-thou Federation fair-play dogma” and suggests that, in the face of what appears to be an unprovoked attack on a Cardassian vessel by Federation citizens, Sisko is grasping for evidence of Cardassian wrongdoing “to ease your Federation conscience”. Of course — another blind spot — it turns out that there was Cardassian wrongdoing going on and that he simply wasn’t important enough to have been told about it, a revelation at which he’s more than a little taken aback.)

I also love that, after all of that, not only is it Quark who discovers the truth about Eris, but that it’s his “greedy, acquisitive” nature that brings the discovery about — he pocketed the locking device in hopes of starting a sideline selling them later, and was studying it closely to figure out how to reproduce it. It’s a lovely touch, the more so because it relies, too, upon Sisko having gained a bit more respect for Quark, so that when Quark asks to speak to him privately, he immediately obliges — and takes Quark’s word as enough to promptly confront Eris with his weapon drawn, rather than asking her for a more innocent explanation first.

They grow up so fast!

JAKE AND NOG ARE SUCH GOOD BOYS, I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!!!!! I find it delightful that Nog has started trying human food, as well — that he’s open to experiencing Federation culture feels like a subtle hint of his eventual choice to join Starfleet.

I also really appreciate that, while Jake’s time studying with O’Brien does pay off, he also has a fairly appropriate level of expertise, rather than now being a complete expert. It takes some trial and error for him to figure out what to do to get control of the runabout, and once he does, flying it is challenging for him. In general, Jake feels like a real teenager in a way that Wesley Crusher typically didn’t — and I say this as someone who doesn’t usually mind Wesley the way a lot of the fandom does.

(Also, I feel like I say this every time we go a few episodes without seeing Jake, but HE’S GETTING SO BIG, AHHHHH!!!)

Horniness rankings

There’s actually little to no horniness in this episode? I don’t quite know how to deal with that, honestly. I feel like Sisko definitely thinks Dax and Keogh have some sexual tension, though, and frankly, I feel like I think the same thing.

3 thoughts on “2.26: “The Jem’Hadar”

  1. I liked this episode a lot. I think it ages well. The dialogue throughout the script is really on-point, with maybe the exception of the overly expository Jem’Hadar Third lecturing Sisko (then again, I really enjoyed the line “I really wanted to meet a Klingon”. Horny!). Quark in particular is hilarious and Armin Shimerman is at his height playing off Avery Brooks as the straight man.

    Most of the themes the episode lays down about the Jem’Hadar track really well with how they’re portrayed later in the show, which Trek is not always great about. Not so much with the Vorta, though. In retrospect, it seems like the writers changed around some ideas about the Vorta later in the series; Eris doesn’t recognize Odo as a founder (or maybe she’s the only Vorta atheist in the Dominion) and no other Vorta ever had (or used) telekinetic balls of energy as a weapon, and that would probably have been useful to Weyoun at least once or twice. (Perhaps the Founders build that capability into some but not all Vorta depending on their anticipated role/mission; or maybe it’s something that you can get as an optional extra when cloning up a new model.)

    My enduring memory of the episode as a kid was the destruction of the Odyssey (and by the way, although generally I side-eye the large number of American, European, or “Western” names for Federation starships in Star Trek, I have to confess that ‘Odyssey’ is one of my favorite starship names ever). For an audience just coming off seven years of TNG in which the Galaxy-class starship was repeatedly held up as the most sophisticated and invulnerable example of Federation technology, there is something really jarring and shocking about watching such a ship get its ass kicked in almost no time. Sadly, it’s written off a bit too fast after this episode. I get that in later seasons when Starfleet is losing hundreds of ships to the Dominion in a huge war, you wouldn’t care as much, but at this point in the timeline the loss of a Galaxy-class ship should be a huge, shocking event, meriting a follow-on inquiry and references to a memorial service and all. (I guess theoretically this would be what happens during the 2 months between the end of this episode and the beginning of “The Search, Part I,” and Sisko probably spent plenty of time during his visit to Earth debriefing Starfleet about it.)

    I wish the episode had done a bit more to punch up the drama of the Jem’Hadar having conquered the New Bajor colony. We never even saw the colony in the show, just got a few glancing references to it; it would have been a much bigger moment if we’d traded off one of the season’s more lackluster episodes or B-plots to see the colony itself. It also has to be a major blow (I think unexplored by the series) for Bajor to lose its first colony in the Gamma Quadrant in the opening salvo of the Dominion conflict. I mean, less than 2 years after coming out from under Cardassian occupation, they’ve sent Bajorans through the Celestial Temple to the other side of the galaxy – that had to be both hugely symbolic and probably very controversial, considering they also can’t afford to feed all the Bajorans on the planet and are unwilling to take on refugees from the Gamma Quadrant. (Kind of like, oh IDK, a country spending billions of dollars on military equipment while hundreds of thousands of people living in it go without adequate housing or medical care or education but I fucking digress.)

    Was the implication supposed to have been that Captain Keogh had a history with Curzon Dax, or Jadzia? It’s difficult to imagine that he would have had much crossover with such a junior officer, so I always assumed it was a hangover from a fractious relationship with Curzon, who certainly palled around with a lot of Starfleet officers.

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  2. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Eris not “recognizing” Odo as a Founder makes sense if her job was infiltration and espionage – it would kind of blow her cover if she had acknowledged Odo that way in their one scene together (although since Quark had blown her cover anyway, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered).

    There are a good number of plausible explanations for this. She could be a really good intelligence operative who doesn’t break cover. She even drops a line contemptously dismissing the Founders as a myth earlier in the episode. Or, the Founders have edited her memories so she can’t remember who the Founders are, or have given her special genetic tailoring that prevents her from remembering or recognizing shapeshifters as Founders and doing the usual reflexive genuflection. It’s possible there’s a whole class of Vorta (that we don’t meet again in the series; all the ones we meet after this are administrators or diplomats) outfitted with both telekinetic abilities and a less deferential attitude toward shapeshifters specifically because they’re intended to be field operatives. Although presumably Vorta would only be effective as field operatives outside the Dominion where they won’t be recognized as Vorta.

    It’s also possible I’m working a little too hard to find an explanation for what was probably a writing gap.

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