Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Prophecy & Change: Ha’Mara by Kevin G. Summers (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Comparing and contrasting the anniversary short story anthologies for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can be highly informative. The Sky’s the Limit, released to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of The Next Generation, features fourteen stories. Most of these stories serve as prologues or epilogues to existing Next Generation episodes. Suicide Note provides closure to The Defector; Turncoats follows a character from Face of the Enemy after the camera stops rolling; Four Lights is an epilogue to Chain of Command.

In contrast, Prophecy and Change, released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Deep Space Nine, tends to focus on short stories that fit gracefully between episodes – fleshing out connective tissue and explaining how one plot development or character decision led to another. That says quite a lot about the two shows and the way that their stories were told, with much of Prophecy and Change feeling ling deleted scenes or inserts loosely inserted between what was seen in television.

Ha’Mara is the first short story of the collection, following the introduction and the mysterious Revisited – a book-ending wrap-around written by an author who has yet to be publicly identified. Written by Kevin G. Summers, who provided Isolation Ward 4 to Strange New Worlds IV, the short story is set in the immediate aftermath of Emissary, attempting to smooth over the rough edges transitioning from the pilot to the rest of the show.

ds9-prophecyandchange

Emissary holds up rather well, as far as Star Trek pilots go. It’s not the strongest episode in the history of the franchise, nor the strongest in the season, but it does a good job at hinting in the general direction the show might be heading. It’s a show about politics and consequences, and about how some times you can’t run away from your problems at maximum warp. It’s the first real post-colonial Star Trek series, even if it doesn’t seem aware of the irony of Sisko’s mission yet.

At the same time, re-watching Emissary after all these years, there’s a sense that a lot changed in the wake of that episode. “How did it all happen so fast?” Kira wonders at one point in Ha’Mara, and she could easily be articulating the viewer’s reaction to how quickly things become functional between Emissary and Past Prologue, how quickly things gelled and how easily realities were accepted. There was still tension, but it feels like the events of Emissary never really generated the proper amount of fallout between Emissary and the show that followed.

For example, Sisko has just been identified as an messiah by the natives. Given the Federation’s Prime Directive, you would imagine that Starfleet would have something to say about it. Instead, the show (and Sisko) spend the first couple of years only passively acknowledging it. The show only really tackled it properly in third through fifth seasons, with episodes like Destiny, Accession and Rapture.

Indeed, Destiny had originally intended to focus on Starfleet’s reaction to Sisko’s role in Bajoran culture. In Screen Plays – How 25 Scripts Made it to a Theater Near You – For Better or Worse, writer David Cohen suggests the original idea for the episode was much more intriguing:

We had enjoyed Deep Space Nine’s pilot and the mythic overtones it suggested, as [Commander Sisko] was believed by an alien race to be the ‘Emissary’ from their gods, as prophesised in their scriptures. It occurred to us that Sisko’s bosses couldn’t be very comfortable with that. What if they pulled a Heart of Darkness on him and sent someone to extract him from this situation? The perfect chance to do so, we decided, was if there was some specific prophecy, that would, ipso facto, prove he’s not the Emissary. We’d raise the stakes by having a pencil-pushing staff officer threaten to transfer him to another command if he doesn’t end this ‘Emissary’ talk.” They decided the problem was that, “Sisko really was the Emissary, so every effort to extricate him from this situation only furthered the prophecy. By the end, even the pencil-pushing staff officer has played a role in the prophecy and is in it as deep as Sisko, so Starfleet Command decides to just live with the whole situation.

In the end, it’s something that Deep Space Nine never really deals with on-screen, and it seems like everybody goes from skepticism to passive acceptance in the space between Emissary and Past Prologue.

Kevin G. Summers doesn’t delve into it too heavily in Ha’Mara, but he does try to provide a sense of depth to the situation. He makes it clear that Sisko is not only uncomfortable with the title, but has explicitly voiced his discomfort. When Opaka insists on introducing him as the Emissary, he tries to clear the matter up, “But about this emissary business…” Opaka replies by stalling for time, “Time enough for that later.”

Of course, writing fiction to fit between the episodes – covering a topic that won’t really be explored until the middle of the show’s run – Summers is somewhat curtailed in what he can or can’t do. He can’t resolve the story thread, as Sisko has to remain uncomfortable with the title until at least Accession. At the same time, it’s nice that he tries to acknowledge it in the context of the show’s first season.

(Similarly, his justification for Starfleet’s passive condoning of Sisko’s title feels a little shallow – “given the circumstances, taking Sisko away from Bajor now would likely do more harm than good” – but it’s nice to see Summers addressing the problem head-on. I’ve always thought there might be a nice story to be told, during the first season, of Starfleet’s reaction to Sisko’s role on Bajor. A short story isn’t the place, but it might be nice to see Cohen’s original Destiny pitch developed at some point.)

That said, Ha’Mara works best as an exploration of some of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the show, the kind of things that Deep Space Nine takes for granted. I’m not talking about the foreshadowing of The Circle or anything like that, but more the philosophy and outlook of the show. In particular, I like that Summers acknowledges the fact that Bajoran religious philosophy seems quite similar to various terrestrial belief systems.

The Bajoran religion – as seen on the show – the sort of spiritual clichés that were fashionable in Hollywood in the nineties, a hazily-defined new age belief system drawing on a wealth of influences from across the spectrum. There are the obvious Judeo-Christian elements like the Prophets and Pah-Wraiths, but also a slight hint of Buddhism. The Gratitude Festival even has hints of religious celebrations like Mardi Gras.

Summers cleverly acknowledges the writers’ frame of reference head-on. When Sisko suggests that “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”, Kira suggests that it is “almost word for word in the text of Chinjen’s last prophecy.” At least the Bajorans know exactly where their version of that phrase came from – it is frequently attributed to Adlai Stevenson’s description of Eleanor Roosevelt, is the motto of The Chrisophers, but its origins seem to be Chinese, although there are similar sentiments to be found in the Bible.

Similarly, Kai Opaka quotes “every death diminishes me” from Bajoran scripture by way of philosopher poet John Donne. It’s a recurring theme in Star Trek and speculative fiction, the notion that alien ideas are inevitably reflections of our own. (After all, science-fiction writers tend to be human, so it’s impossible to offer a truly alien viewpoint. The best you can really do is offer a viewpoint that is never explained, as an explanation inevitably humanises by trying to define in terms we – and the author – can comprehend.)

Still, Summers rather cleverly acknowledges this production limitation head-on, having Sisko try to explain the similarities away. “There are many many people on many worlds who have said things like that, Major. Including my own.” It’s not really anything that required any more explanation than the fact that most aliens on Star Trek tend to look human-esque (due to the fact that most performers tend to resemble the basic human model), but Star Trek has always thrived on excess explanations and rationalisations – sometimes with considerable skill, it must be conceded.

There’s also something inherently optimistic in the idea that optimistic philosophies are almost universal, akin to the idea that truly advanced societies must be capable of peaceful coexistence with one another. It’s something that really comes to the fore in Deep Space Nine, the first truly multi-cultural and post-colonial Star Trek series.

Indeed, Summers zones in rather wonderfully in one of the strange story beats from Emissary that is left lingering, almost unspoken, over the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine: the notion that the Sisko’s mission is one of thinly-veiled imperialism. Granted, it’s far less aggressive or adversarial or antagonistic than the colonial policies of the Cardassians, but – in the wake of a devastating colonial occupation – there is something vaguely unsettling about Picard’s instruction to Sisko to do “everything short of violating the Prime Directive” to usher Bajor into the Federation.

The “Bajor joins the Federation” subplot was rather noticeably overlooked by Deep Space Nine as the series came to a close. It was pushed to the background towards the end of the second season, and – barring a brief reappearance in the fifth season – was never seriously considered as a goal after that point. There are probably lots of reasons for this – the priorities in the writers’ room shifted, or story beats got moved around, or things didn’t work out quite as well as had been planned. The writers would argue the studio did not care for Bajor due to lower ratings for episodes like The Collaborator.

Whatever the reason, Bajor itself would be somewhat marginalised after the second season, and became more of a recurring plot thread than the show’s raison d’être. Looking at it in the context of the entire show, one suspects that the writers might have begun to question the morality and connotations of having Sisko act as (even a benign) colonial force on Bajor, particularly in a society still recovering from the damage inflicted by the last imperialist visitors.

Given the show’s willingness to question Federation ideals and morality, particularly its expansionist philosophy and the suggestion the body doesn’t always have the best interests of its citizens at heart, maybe it’s a blessing that Bajor never joined. Of course, none of this was ever really discussed on the show, but Summers very cleverly works it into his short story, explicitly articulating a lot of the core premise of Deep Space Nine that was heavily implied, but never outright stated.

Summers has Kira ask some very important questions:

“Fifty years of fighting for the fight to be free,” Kira interrupted, shaking her head angrily, “and then you show up to make things better – after the fact. Where were you during the Occupation? Or when I was there and my mother was dying? Where the hell were you then?”

Kira’s attack on Sisko might seem have seemed harsh at the time that Emissary aired, and very much opposed to the ideals of The Next Generation. However, it fits with what would become the show’s outlook. (It also suggests that at least some of the Federation’s interest in Bajor is motivated by some unspoken collective guilt or the burden of their failure to prevent the mass slaughter conducted by the Cardassians.)

All of which sounds very cynical, which is the default criticism for anybody looking to attack Deep Space Nine‘s place in the Star Trek canon. However, such criticisms feel a little shallow. Deep Space Nine might be about pain and loss and suffering and hurt and tragedy, but these elements must exist to define their opposites. Sisko and his crew are put through a crucible, stressed out of their mind and feeling the weight of the universe on their shoulders. Picard’s Enterprise was great, but it often felt like an intergalactic cruise liner. It’s easy for people to get along on cruise liners.

The Next Generation is pretty much the story of nice people being nice to one another and occasionally dealing with a complication or two. Deep Space Nine is about pulling a society back from the brink of destruction, and helping Sisko find meaning in a life that had been painful since the loss of his wife. Summers expresses it beautifully as Sisko appeals to Kira to let go of her anger and her hurt. “It’s the debt that all survivors owe the dead,” he tells her. “You owe it your family, and to every Bajoran who died during the Occupation – to live. And to move forward boldly, to make the most out of life.”

That is a very Star Trek philosophy, the notion that people can be brilliant. It doesn’t take hope to assume that people can be nice to each other if you eliminate hunger and money and need and illness and class. It takes hope to believe that people can still be honest and decent and incredible and hopeful when confronted with the most dire of circumstances. That is true optimism, and I think that’s what Deep Space Nine contributed to the franchise.

(“Everything was fine at Utopia,” Jake explains at one point, in an absolutely beautiful line. He is – of course – referring to Utopia Planitia, the shipyards where – according to The Search – Sisko worked after the loss of his wife. However, it’s also a beautiful metaphorical statement. Leaving the Federation, Jake and Ben Sisko are venturing beyond “utopia.” They are – as Michael Eddington would later claim – “leaving paradise.” It’s beautifully evocative imagery that gains bonus

Ha’Mara is a lovely little short story that fills in a lot of the pot holes in Deep Space Nine‘s admittedly awkward first season, filling the gaps by adding shading and nuance by way of the philosophy the show would develop. It ties the past and the future together, making a lot of sense of a rocky period in the show’s production life, and doing so without missing a beat. It’s quite impressive.

You might be interested in our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: