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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Second Sight (Review)

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

You know, this the first real Sisko-heavy episode we’ve had since Emissary. He’s the lead, so he’s never too far from the heart of the story, and episodes like Dramatis Personae and Invasive Procedures gave Avery Brooks an opportunity to demonstrate his acting chops (and ability to be just as bad-ass, albeit in a different way, as Kirk and Picard). However, Sisko never really dominates or towers over Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the same way that Kirk and Picard seemed to anchor their shows. Deep Space Nine is closer to an ensemble show than any other Star Trek series, and characters like Odo and Kira (and even Quark) have received as much (if not more) definition than Sisko, despite the fact he is the lead.

That’s not a bad thing. Over the run of the series, Deep Space Nine would produce a number of classic hours of television centred around Sisko as a character. The Visitor, Far Beyond the Stars, and In the Pale Moonlight are all hours that lean heavily on Brooks and can all be counted among the very best episodes of Star Trek ever produced.

Second Sight, on the other hand, is not.

Burning passion...

Burning passion…

Part of the problem is that Second Sight is not “really” a Sisko episode, in the same way that The Passenger is not “really” a Bashir episode. His character is heavily featured and the actor is given something to do, but we don’t walk away from the episode with a deeper understanding of how Sisko works. Second Sight could really be about any member of the cast. In fact, writer Mark Gehred-O’Connell’s original pitch for Second Sight centred around Bashir falling in love with a mysterious woman.

Given the way that Bashir’s last two character-centric episodes turned out, we should probably be glad that the writers reworked Second Sight to focus on Sisko rather than the over-eager young doctor. However, the problem remains. Second Sight is a story driven by two guest stars centring around a contrived science-fiction mystery. The character used to enter that story could be any member of the main cast, with only the slightest of differences.

Yep, it's one of those...

Yep, it’s one of those…

To be fair, Second Sight does open with the suggestion that this might peel back some of the layers around Sisko as a character. It opens on the anniversary of the Battle of Wolf 359, during The Best of Both Worlds. We caught a glimpse of the conflict in Emissary, where Benjamin Sisko lost his wife and Jake Sisko lost his mother. In a way, Deep Space Nine is the story of both coming to terms with that loss and trying to put their lives back together.

So there’s something quite nice in the idea that Sisko might be moving past the loss of Jennifer. We don’t know Jennifer. She appeared in a flashback in Emissary, played by a rather wooden Felecia M. Bell. However, we don’t need to. Jennifer is stronger as an idea, as a ghost in the room, than as a character. She hasn’t been too readily discussed on the show, but that’s fine. Her absence is keenly felt, and Deep Space Nine is really the story about Sisko being handed what appears to be a fairly mid-level assignment and trying to get back on with his life.

Absent friends...

Absent friends…

So when Second Sight opens with a confession from Sisko that he had almost forgotten the anniversary of her death, it’s a nice character hook. This is his second year on the station. Perhaps his attempts to help Bajor rebuild have allowed him to focus his thoughts elsewhere, and that’s not a bad thing. The best scene of the episode comes early on, as Jake sits up talking to his father. Cirroc Lofton is a regular on the show, but he doesn’t appear in every episode. It’s a smart creative decision, to only use him where he fits.

It helps that Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton do share a solid chemistry. They feel like a father and son. Lofton is a remarkably solid teenage actor, and Brooks seems to relish the opportunity to develop Sisko as a father figure. It helps that Second Sight doesn’t overplay the scene. Jake’s nightmares are obviously related to the loss of a parent (and the fears of losing another), but the scene doesn’t emphasise the overlap. The closest we get is a sweet admission from Jake, “I miss her.”

Lighten up there, Sisko...

Lighten up there, Sisko…

However, once we get past that point, things go downhill rather quickly. There are still occasional highlights. I like, for example, the way that Second Sight gives us a genuinely happy Sisko. So far, the show seems to have defined Sisko as “intense.” It’s not a bad character description, and Brooks nails it. (Repeat after me, “Don’t call me Benjamin.” Phaser blast optional.) It’s an approach to the character which plays to some of Brooks’ strengths and which pays off dividends down the line. (Sisko is, for better or worse, the only captain with enough “grit” to pull of In the Pale Moonlight.)

That said, it’s nice to believe that Sisko isn’t always steeling himself for whatever fresh hell the universe has waiting for him. From the third season on, the show does a decent job balancing Sisko’s intensity with passion and warmth. (The introduction of Kassidy Yates helps.) So Second Sight is nice because it offers us proof that Sisko can be happy. I also like the show kinda concedes how damn strange this is, given what we know of the character so far.

Even when he's happy, he's still kinda intense...

Even when he’s happy, he’s still kinda intense…

Everyone put off by the fact that he’s happy. It’s a little more than the goofy “Picard is smiling so Riker smirks” dynamic on Star Trek: The Next Generation. O’Brien and Kira seem positively suspicious, to the point where Sisko even has to ask his first officer, “Something wrong?” It’s charming and silly and cute. It’s not enough to justify the episode’s existence, but let’s concentrate on the good stuff while we can.

Because that’s really the end of the good stuff. It’s not nearly enough to balance out the rake of problems with Second Sight. In a way, you can tell that Second Sight was originally pitched as a Bashir episode. It has the same hazy lack of character focus and development as The Passenger, and the same lack of focus beyond a rather generic premise as Melora. Sisko’s side of the romantic relationship in Second Sight isn’t nearly as creepy as Bashir’s “build your own girlfriend” in Melora, but there’s a definite sense that romances may not play to the strengths of the writers.

Talk about being emotionally unavailable...

Talk about being emotionally unavailable…

To be fair, science-fiction romance can be very hard to do right. It’s hard to balance a science-fiction high concept with a tangible human connection. Too often, the romance feels shallow or gimmicky, a convenient attempt to get the audience to invest in the science-fiction mystery of the week. This is particularly obvious in Star Trek, where it seems like the show insists on putting the most ridiculous twists on romantic plotlines.

“Beverly falls in love with an erotic parasitic candle ghost” is probably the most obvious example, but the franchise has often had a bit of difficulty telling romantic plot lines that flow from (and centre on) character. Instead, it seems like the romance and chemistry are taken for granted, so crazy stuff can start happening. In this case, it’s the mysterious disappearances and reappearances of Fenna, and her relationship to Nidell. It’s such a wacky concept that it’s hard to care too much about anybody involved.

Obligatory Quark cameo!

Obligatory Quark cameo!

We only find out what’s happening in the final ten minutes of the episode. Here, it turns out that Nidell happens to be a member of a species we never met before who can create a psychic projection of herself. There’s no way the audience could really “solve” this mystery before that information is revealed, so it’s hardly a “fair play” mystery. This isn’t really a major narrative problem – after all Star Trek has a history of offering technobabble solutions to mysteries that can’t be foreshadowed or hinted at.

After all, Duet hinges on “he had really good plastic surgery” as the missing piece of the puzzle to figure out what’s really going on and to help fit it all together. The problem is that the twists and turns in Duet were primarily character-based. It was possible to figure out the who and even the why before the final reveal, if you were paying attention – even if the how was a leap of faith. The difference with Second Sight is that none of this is on the table.

The concept is somewhat Nebulous...

The concept is somewhat Nebulous…

It’s a mystery that can’t really be engaged with, where the audience can’t make any progress until the point where the script spells everything out. While “disappearing girlfriend” is a solid enough hook, it turns out that the Second Sight has got nothing to hang on it. The resolution is trite, despite the set-up and the attention given to Fenna’s ominous situation.

However, treating this as a mystery means that Sisko and Fenna get the short straw. So much effort goes into making her enigmatic and mysterious that there’s no time to explain what Sisko sees in her. It’s great to see him happy, but Fenna seems pretty transparent and shallow as a character. She’s a plot device rather than a love interest. Which is fine, except this is treated as an episode that is important for Sisko as a character.

(Seye)tikin' me off..

(Seye)tikin’ me off..

Which brings us, conveniently, to Gideon Seyetik. This is supposed to be a Sisko episode. In fact, as quoted in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Behr argues that the episode stresses the differences between Sisko and Picard:

During the second season, Michael kept saying ‘Let’s define Sisko.’ That’s when he and I had conversations about making Sisko the builder, on establishing the difference between him and Picard, the explorer. Sisko is a builder, he stays with a project until the finish. That helped us to see Sisko in a whole lot of different ways. He’s a guy who’s solid and real and human.

The problem is that Second Sight doesn’t really do anything for “Sisko the builder.” The only character who seems like a builder here is Seyetik. If Fenna and Nidell are shallow and underdeveloped, the same is not true of Gideon Seyetik. Seyetik is very well developed. He’s just completely unlikeable.

Doesn't scan...

Doesn’t scan…

Seyetik is an egomaniac blowhard. He’s a terraformer, which – as Dax informs us – means he has a bit of a god complex. “It’s an amazing talent bringing dead worlds to life, but humility and common sense aren’t part of the job description.” To be fair, we haven’t really met too many terraformers. It seems like a logical characterisation, and it might make a nice bit of world-building to get a bit of inside into how a man who literally builds worlds might operate.

Unfortunately, it’s much more irritating in theory than in practice. Seyetik is the very opposite of Verad as introduced in Invasive Procedures. His sense of mediocrity made Verad so fascinating and compelling. In contrast, Seyetik’s ego and pride and sense of over-accomplishment make him frustrating. “Commander,” he tells Sisko, “my entire life has been a series of escalating triumphs. It’s what I live for, knowing that no matter what I achieve, there’s always another triumph waiting for me.”

Burn with me...

Burn with me…

It’s hard to get too invested in a character like that. He’s like an even more insufferable version of the characters glimpsed in the early episodes of The Next Generation. Gideon Seyetik would have fit in well with Picard and Riker, with his talent for everything he sets his mind to and his sense of innate superiority. There’s a reason that Bashir is the Deep Space Nine character who seems to respond most favourably to Gideon.

“I, for one, find him remarkable entertaining,” Bashir remarks. of course he does. It’s like looking into the future of the Bashir seen in the early days of Deep Space Nine. However, Bashir works much better because he’s constantly brought down to size by the rest of the cast, and there’s a sense that his over-eagerness might be as much of a disadvantage as a virtue. In contrast, Gideon is apparently just wonderful at whatever it is that he does.

A crying shame?

A crying shame?

To be fair, the script acknowledges that he is meant to seem arrogant and condescending. “A great terraformer needs the green thumb of a gardener, the eye of a painter and the soul of a poet,” he boasts to the crew. “And of course it doesn’t hurt to be a raging egomaniac.” Kira deadpans, “Which makes you eminently qualified.” The laughter at his jokes is very clearly forced. “Commander, you think he’d notice if we weren’t here when he got back?” Kira wonders, and I empathise.

However, that concession doesn’t make it any easier to spend forty minutes with him. This might work better if Fenna and Nidell were pushed to the foreground and Gideon placed in the background. If that were the case, the episode’s climax would play better, suggesting that he had hidden depths we’d never fully glimpsed – buried beneath the surface. The problem with the finished episode is that we spend so much time with Seyetik that it’s hard to believe he has any layers whatsoever.

Piecing it all together...

Piecing it all together…

His behaviour at the climax of the episode doesn’t help. His ego and arrogance were annoying, but they don’t make him a bad character. There are plenty of functional Star Trek characters who are annoying on the surface level. (I remain one of the few people who really likes this early version of Bashir, for example.) He’s just a bit of a jerk, but he is also among the very best at what he does. He might be especially interesting, and we don’t care too much about what happens to him, but he’s not fundamentally broken.

The problem comes at the climax, when he reveals that he knows that Fenna is a psychic projection of his wife. It’s revealed that their marriage isn’t working and she’s not happy. While it’s tragic, it’s hard to blame him for that. He hadn’t seem too mean to her in the earlier scenes, he’d never been sexist or dismissive and there were no indications of mental or physical abuse. Two people got married and it didn’t work out. It happens. It’s sad, but there’s nobody to blame.

Looking at the stars...

Looking at the stars…

However, then Seyetik starts getting aggressive and possessive. Confronting Fenna, he insists, “But you can’t be here. Nidell promised me you’d never come back.” It seems a strangely strong reaction, as if his wife betrayed him, for something he later describes as an involuntary process. “Nidell doesn’t even know this is happening. In times of deep emotional distress Halanans sometimes lose control of these abilities.” There’s an undercurrent of blame in his reaction which doesn’t feel warranted. Even if it were, it seems unfair to direct it at the unconscious mind of his dying wife.

His anger towards Fenna feels a little unfair – particularly since she is some part of his wife, and she is not to blame for any of this. Some anger or resentment would make sense, but Seyetik’s response is incredibly egocentric and aggressive. He might offer a sacrifice to help save his wife’s life, and he might sound reasonable in talking to Sisko, but it seems as if he blames Nidell for this. The fact he seems so repeatedly upset that she broke her promise that “it’d never happen again” suggests that he resents her inability to love him.

A small window of opportunity...

A small window of opportunity…

This makes him a far more unappealing character than mere ego or posturing. What’s weird is that he remains thoroughly unlikeable, even when he eventually commits suicide to help his wife recover. It’s a very weird situation. You’d imagine that a willingness to sacrifice himself to let his wife be happy would redeem a lot of his faults, and make him a little easier to stand as a character. However, there’s just something very strange about how the script deals with his suicide.

For one thing, everybody else seems surprisingly okay with it. Once it’s clear the tractor beam isn’t working, nobody tries to negotiate with him, there’s no sense that the crew of the Prometheus are still trying to save him while he converses with Sisko. Sisko even seems to be smiling as he watches Seyetik kill himself, and everybody seems far too quick to eulogise him as some sort of hero. Sisko even describes the burning sun as “a fitting memorial to a brilliant man.”

A giddy Gideon...

A giddy Gideon…

It seems too easy, too trite. There’s no real emotional resonance to his decision, none of the expected grief or anger or any other indication of mourning. He decides to kill himself, and everybody just lets him because he disabled the tractor beam. It really doesn’t paint a particularly flattering image of Sisko or the Prometheus crew, and there’s never a sense that this is really how Starfleet would train command personnel to deal with a suicide attempt. It’s a lazy end to a lazy episode.

That said, there are some interesting bits and pieces here. There’s something to be said for the way that Second Sight seems to portray a day-in-the-life of Deep Space Nine, the station that serves as a stop-over for all kinds of people. The Prometheus is just going about its business, Gideon isn’t even hanging around the station because he has business there. Sisko interrupts Odo while he’s briefing his security staff on the possible passers-through this week.

Sisko doesn't see all the angles...

Sisko doesn’t see all the angles…

There’s a nice sense of Deep Space Nine as more than just a location with its own merits, or a facility to be used for whatever diplomatic function Starfleet has planned this week. It’s a stop-over point for all walks of life to and from their own stories. That said, this does make Odo’s observation that Gideon Seyetik is the only person on-board the Prometheus to visit Deep Space Nine seem a bit weird, another plot contrivance in an episode full of them. You’d assume the staff would take advantage of the facilities or mingle. (I also like the fact we get a nice view from one of the docking pylons. It helps create a sense of Deep Space Nine’s “space”, so to speak.)

Second Sight is also interesting because it ties in quite heavily to a whole bunch of other Star Trek-y stuff. It’s notable, because the first season of Deep Space Nine suffered from an in-flux of guest stars from its elder sibling in episodes like Past Prologue, Q-Less and The Forsaken. The connections here are a bit more subtle and nuanced, and suggest a nice way of tying in while keeping the show accessible.

In fine (terra)form...

In fine (terra)form…

Gideon makes casual reference to the Klingon poem “The Fall of Kang”, which is nice foreshadowing for Blood Oath later in the season. “So honour the valiant who die ‘neath your sword, but pity the warrior who slays all his foes.” It’s quite an astute little insight into Klingon culture, suggesting that the real tragedy in a warrior culture like that is to survive and endure. Kang’s “fall” is not a literal defeat at the hands of an adversary, but surviving long past any of his rivals.

It’s been suggested the poem actually hints that Kang is dead, suggesting a bit of a continuity error between this and Blood Oath. It’s certainly a possible reading – and one that makes sense with the title “The Fall of Kang” – but it doesn’t seem too hard to reconcile with the idea that it’s a tragedy about a warrior who lived past his prime. “Remember ‘The Fall of Kang’?” Gideon asks Sisko at the climax. “Well, this is one warrior who refuses to be pitied.” That said, publishing it while he’s still alive would seem just mean.

It looks like she's already Ben and gone...

It looks like she’s already Ben and gone…

There’s also the pretty subtle implication that Seyetik’s technology here is a shout-out to the Genesis Device in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There’s not too much to go on, save the fact that Seyetik has managed to stabilise “proto-matter” in a way that David Marcus couldn’t. Still, writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe confirmed the intent in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

It was established Federation terraforming technology. Of course, the Genesis device didn’t work, but obviously Seyetik’s work is built upon the research of previous scientists. And it was a nice way to reference the movie.

It is nice. It’s not too obtrusive, it doesn’t call attention to itself, and it works well in the context of the episode. If Deep Space Nine wants to tie-in to the older Star Trek shows, this is the way to do it – rather than dragging in familiar guest stars to lend the series some credibility.

"... and let us never speak of this again..."

“… and let us never speak of this again…”

Still, if this is all the praise I have to offer Second Sight, it’s probably an indication of just how much of a misfire the whole episode is. Deep Space Nine was really coming into its own this year, but there were some very serious missteps along the way. This isn’t the last of them, sadly. But at least we can put this one behind us.

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

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4 Responses

  1. It always bugs me how they always made Sisko’s love interests black. It’s one of the few ways DS9 feels dated – that there was absolutely no interracial relationships – interspecies yes, but it feels like they weren’t pushing boundaries enough on race, even for the 90s.

    • I don’t know. There were a number of major interracial relationships.

      Any relationship featuring Julian Bashir was interracial, as was the marriage between Dax and Worf. (Both might have been alien, but she was definitely coded as white and he was definitely coded as black.) Jake dated Mardah for a while in season three.

      It is odd that Sisko only dated black women, but I can only think of two love interests for Sisko across the seven seasons of the show. (Barring Jennifer and mirror!Jennifer, of course.)

  2. The one thing that most sticks to my mind here is how the guest star annoyed me (even though he was supposed to) which is more a problem of the script, I guess. It just seems a bit too brilliant that you can be arrogant AND aware of this in such a self-conscious manner at the same time. Funny sidenote: When I heard that the guest star is Richard Kiley which I had never actively seen, but heard before in my great childhood love “Jurassic Park” where he was the voice of the jeep-audiobooks. His performance (and role) was much better there ironically…

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