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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Whispers (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 could make a credible argument that each of the first three Star Trek shows beautifully encapsulated their time and place. The original show was the very embodiment of the sixties zeitgeist, providing a channel for commentary and insight into counter-culture and the Vietnam War, and an outlet for various fixations and phobias. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a show that spoke to a version of America which was emerging from the Cold War, a clean and sterile morning for a new America.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was positioned somewhat strangely, as the idealism and enthusiasm of the early nineties gave way to paranoia and insecurity. If the hyperreal technicolour production values of the original Star Trek spoke to the energy and enthusiasm sixties, then the drab grey Orwellian design of Deep Space Nine was a reflection of the late nineties.

Whispers is really the first time that the show has pushed its sense of paranoia to the fore, and it confirms that Deep Space Nine will be a show of its time, anchored in the nineties.

It's all a bit askew...

It’s all a bit askew…

To be fair, Deep Space Nine is positioned quite crucially in the history or television science-fiction. Running parallel to The X-Files, the show aired when the model and mood of television drama was beginning to shift. Prime-time dramas were almost ready to move away from the classic episodic model and towards more serialised storytelling. The X-Files embraced serialised storytelling more rapidly than Deep Space Nine.

The X-Files set a precedent that other television shows sought to emulate. Everybody is familiar with the long-running “conspiracy” arc on The X-Files, a bold attempt to tell a single story across almost a decade of television. It became a pop culture touchstone, with the Cigarette Smoking Man becoming almost as iconic as Mulder and Scully. (He’s the only other character to appeal in the duo’s cross-over appearance on The Simpsons, for example, and the role developed from a silent appearance in The Pilot to the impossible-to-kill big bad.)

(Air)locked out...

(Air)locked out…

That said, the long-form storytelling didn’t quite work out. It became quite clear after the third or fourth year that these sorts of stories only work if the author has a vague idea of where they are going, and that serialised storytelling plotted from week-to-week often feels a little haphazard. However, the influence of The X-Files can be keenly felt on network television even today. It’s a natural progenitor of Lost, for better or worse.

Deep Space Nine starting airing in the same year as The X-Files, and also experimented with balancing episodic television with larger arcs. Deep Space Nine was far less bold when it came to telling larger stories. The show would hint at developments that were months away (name dropping the Dominion in Rules of Acquisition and Sanctuary before they finally appeared in The Jem’Hadar), and it was more interested in character arcs, but there was a very clear unease with the idea of completely embracing serialisation.

A man alone...

A man alone…

The experimented with for more than the first half of its seven-year run, trying various levels of long-form plotting. It only really and completely embraced that sort of arc-based storytelling in its sixth season. However, you can see the roots for a lot of modern science-fiction television traced back to Deep Space NineBattlestar Galactica attracted a huge amount of praise for its storytelling and structure (at least in its first three-and-a-half years), it’s very clearly a direct descendent of Deep Space Nine.

Battlestar Galactica was even developed by Ronald D. Moore, a Deep Space Nine writer, and recruited a couple of Deep Space Nine writers to staff. However, you can see other common roots of modern television science-fiction in both The X-Files and Deep Space Nine. In particular, both seem to speak to a climate of fear and unease. The X-Files tackles these ideas more directly, postulating an alien conspiracy against mankind, as those in power sought to exploit and control those beneath them.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

There was a palpable fear of government control and interference, where it seemed like our two lead characters – two FBI agents! – were up against a corrupt and sinister version of the American government. “Trust no one,” the show assured us, a mantra entering pop culture. The show suggested that anybody could be an agent of this evil cabal, and that the best thing to do was to openly challenge and question those in authority.

It was the restless face of nineties paranoia. To be fair, this sort of paranoia is not unique to nineties America. Creator Chris Carter claims to have been heavily influenced by the Watergate scandal. Perhaps the splurge in pop culture paranoia is a result of that time delay. All the children who grew up in the shadow of Nixon’s America, their nightmares set to a continuous loop of “if the President does it, that means it’s not illegal”, were now writing and producing television. Their fears were pushed to the fore.

Something to think about over your cup of coffee...

Something to think about over your cup of coffee…

After all, the late nineties seemed a strange time for paranoia. America had emerged from the Cold War as a monolithic global power. The ideological threat of Communism had been vanquished. Bill Clinton had charmed his way to the White House and would manage two reasonably stable terms. The highest-profile scandal involving Clinton did not concern abuse of executive authority or political corruption, but simply that he had engaged in extra-marital sex with an intern.

America was involved in foreign wars, but there was no real suggestion that the violence could ever come to its home shores. With the exception of an attempt to destroy the World Trade Centre in 1993, a grim taste of things to come, Islamic extremism had yet to attract major media attention. However, there were things for ordinary people to be afraid of, cracks appearing in the surface of American life.

Something doesn't taste right here...

Something doesn’t taste right here…

Although Ted Kaczynski had been sending bombs in the post since 1978, the intensity of his campaign dramatically increased during the nineties. He sent two letter bombs only two days apart in June 1993. Although he had killed one person in 1985, he would kill two more within six months of each other in late 1994 and early 1995, before being arrested a year later. The FBI was involved in a number of high-profile stand-offs with  fundamentalists in Ruby Ridge and Waco in the early part of the decade.

While America’s standing in international affairs was stronger than it had ever been, it’s easy to recognise a tide of internal unease and discomfort, which played into the feelings of paranoia that found expression in The X-Files. There was no external aggressor, no political adversary against whom these charges might be made. This existential crisis was more introverted and introspective than any ideological conflict. It’s an irony that this paranoia would often seem understated when compared to the post-9/11 reality. In particular, the NSA electronic surveillance net sounds like the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s wet dream.

O'Brien: Action hero!

O’Brien: Action hero!

Still, this fear seemed mostly theoretical or abstract during the nineties. Indeed, in American Standards of Living: 1918-1988, author Clair Brown argued that while America was doing better than ever before when compared to other nations, the nineties presented their own challenges:

Evaluation of American standards of living the 1990s depends on whether one has a worldwide perspective or a national perspective. From a global perspective, the United States enjoys the highest private standard of living in terms of housing, automobile use, recreational activities, food, clothing, and energy use. Americans continue to use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources. Private medical care if excellent, but costly for employers and a large drain on the economy. Social Security provides an unparalleled system of income and medical care for seniors, but it relies on a transfer of income from employed people to retired people that will be difficult to sustain when the baby boomers retire. The higher education system is world class, but the K-12 system lags behind those of other developed countries in terms of graduation rates and test scores. Social services for the poor also lag behind those in many western European countries. …

From a national perspective, we Americans seem unaware of our disproportionate use of the world’s resources. Instead, we are more concerned about our ability to maintain a high and growing standard of living. We are especially troubled by the slow economic growth of the 1980s and the debt we have amassed at the Federal level and in world trade. Although concerned about public education, Americans are uncertain how to improve it. Although troubled by the dissolution of the family, we are uncertain how to halt it.

Although to a much lesser degree than The X-Files, Deep Space Nine also dabbled in nineties paranoia. The Changeling threat played on the idea of society exploding and collapsing from within. The build-up to the Dominion War demonstrated that a society that is official at peace can also exist under a great deal of pressure.

It just doesn't scan...

It just doesn’t scan…

Whispers is mired in that sort of nineties paranoia, with O’Brien’s opening monologue sounding like it might have been stolen from The X-Files writing room. “I’ve got to try to set the record straight about the last fifty two hours,” he tells the audience. “I don’t know who’s going to hear this. I don’t even know if I’ll be alive by the time this log is recovered. I figure they’ll be coming after me. If I’m right about this whole thing, they won’t want me to warn the Paradas.” He adds, “I wish I could tell you who they are.”

Director Les Landau does a phenomenal job with the direction here. In order for the story to work, it has to remain anchored on O’Brien. There can be no quick cuts to Ops and no subplots. (After all, the other regulars would just be spoiling the plot by talking about what’s up with O’Brien.) That’s a lot of weight to put on one actor, but Meaney’s up to it. As director, Landau does a wonderful job keeping O’Brien in tight focus, creating the impression that the whole station is watching him.

Is somebody engineering an assassination plot?

Is somebody engineering an assassination plot?

Whispers is a strong piece of thematic foreshadowing. It’s not directly connected to the Changeling threat, but it features a main character who is not who he claims to be. Much like Nana Visitor’s sexualised portrayal of Kira in Dramatis Personae seems to set up Crossover, or like Odo’s borderline fascist tendencies seem to point towards the nature of his own people, Whispers seems to offer a glimpse of the shape of things to come, an expression of the fear that we are not who we claim to be. Trust no one, to borrow a phrase.

It’s a conspiracy episode, as Chief O’Brien begins to fear that the crew of Deep Space Nine have been replaced by doppelgänger in his absence. To be fair, The Next Generation had half-heartedly attempted paranoia storylines. In the first season, Too Short a Season featured a none-too-subtle (but quite clumsy) metaphor for the arms-for-hostages scandal, with a Starfleet admiral offering weapons to a less advanced world. Coming of Age and Conspiracy hinted at a plot to undermine the Federation. The initial plan was for something akin to a Starfleet coup, but it was brushed aside for mind-controlling alien parasites.

Piece of the puzzle...

Piece of the puzzle…

None of these portrayals really made that much of an impression. Although The Next Generation featured any number of obstructive senior officers and admirals, they were more likely to be stupid or blinded than cynical and manipulative. Only in its seventh season, airing concurrently with the second year of Deep Space Nine, did The Next Generation hint at a somewhat more sceptical Starfleet and Federation government. Journey’s End saw the Federation willing to sell out its own citizens for peace, abandoning them to the Cardassians. Pegasus suggested that a more militarised cadre of Starfleet officers existed within the organisation.

Still, it was Deep Space Nine that really hit home on these themes and ideas. The Changeling threat was never really as big a focus as it might have been, although the show was rather pointedly more interested in the fear they created than the aliens themselves. Betrayal and uncertainty were a massive part of Deep Space Nine, with a sense that individuals couldn’t necessarily trust the organs of authority. For the Cause revealed that even the most by-the-book officer could go rogue. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges explored how quickly those we trust could break their oaths. In the Pale Moonlight even damns an authority we’re meant to trust.

It's out of this world...

It’s out of this world…

Paranoia and conspiracy theories aren’t anything new. Historian Richard J. Hofstadter offered one of the most fascinating treatises on American paranoia in The Paranoid Style of American Politics in November 1964, offering a comprehensive view of the history of conspiracy theories. As Jesse Walker has argued, it’s just the focus that changes:

VICE: You take a long historical view of conspiracy theories in America. Do you think we’re more paranoid than we used to be?

Jesse Walker: I don’t think so. I’m not quite sure how I would even measure that, given what the baseline of paranoia is. What I do think happens is that the direction of the paranoia shifts. One thing I mentioned in the book was how a lot of people started saying after Obama got elected, “Ooh, the right wing has suddenly gotten very paranoid.” In fact, in the Bush era, there were tons of right-wing conspiracy theories, it’s just that they weren’t about the government. They were aimed mostly at people outside America’s borders. With another party in power, [the right] has rediscovered some of its libertarian impulses. A lot of discussions about the United States becoming more paranoid or less paranoid just has to do with what kind of paranoia people are paying attention to.

The paranoia of Whispers, and the paranoia of The X-Files, is rooted in a very particular fear. Appropriately enough, it’s a fear which has dominated conspiracy theories since the Kennedy assassination, the notion that the conspiracy isn’t being master minded by a sinister foreign cabal – but by people we trust. (Or, at least, people who look like people we can trust.)

Death of a chief petty officer...

Death of a chief petty officer…

As Christopher Lasch argued in The Life of Kennedy’s Death, the assassination of John F. Kennedy galvanised the counter-culture notion of a conspiracy against the common man by those trusted to protect them:

A steady flow of novels and movies based loosely on the assassination, not to mention the endless preoccupation with the Kennedys in publications like the National Enquirer, has helped to maintain popular interest in this event and to reinforce conspiracy theories. Books like Richard Condon’s Winter Kills and films like Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View have not so much created a belief in conspiracies as fed on beliefs already held. Such works presuppose the plausibility of a conspiratorial explanation of public events. Indeed a conspiratorial view of the world emerges not merely from fictions based directly on the Kennedy assassination but from recent fiction in general, including, notably, the works of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, and Kurt Vonnegut. Side by side with the official mythology of a beleaguered government threatened by riots, demonstrations, and unmotivated, irrational assassinations of public figures, a popular mythology has taken shape in the last thirty years that sees government as a conspiracy against the people themselves.

The fact that Kennedy’s assassination served as a focal point is particularly telling for Deep Space Nine.

Oh boy, O'Brien!

Oh boy, O’Brien!

Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was an incredibly optimistic and enthusiastic vision of the future, broadcast in the late sixties. It went off the air only shortly before the moon landing, and embodied an American fascination with the potential of outer space. It was, in many respects, the last gasp of the idealism of the Kennedy era, with Kennedy’s Camelot extrapolated into the distant future. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” became Roddenberry’s “Final Frontier.”

The last of that enthusiasm slipped away while the show was off the air, caught up in scandals like Watergate – creating a fear and darkness at the heart of American culture. In fact, the final big screen adventure featuring the cast of the original Star Trek featured the crew thwarting a conspiracy by high-ranking officials (and some foreign agents) to assassinate the President. (Of the Federation, to be fair.)

He's certainly not sleeping soundly...

He’s certainly not sleeping soundly…

I’d argue that Deep Space Nine is a conscious attempt to update and modernise the classic Star Trek archetypes. It’s more in the style of a “space western” than any of the other spin-offs. (Michael Piller would describe it as The Rifleman in contrast to Star Trek‘s Wagon Train.) Deep Space Nine comes under fire for being the “subversive” and “wry” Star Trek spin-off, but certainly no more so than Gene L. Coon’s scripts for episodes like Arena or Errand of Mercy.

So it feels appropriate, then, that Deep Space Nine would deal with this aspect of the legacy of John F. Kennedy. Star Trek had explored the idealised fantasy of a futuristic Camelot, but Deep Space Nine was consciously rooted in the nineties. The optimism of the Kennedy era had been eroded, with Ted Goertzel arguing in Belief in Conspiracy Theories that the world had been growing increasingly paranoid since the assassination:

Belief in the Kennedy conspiracy has always been strong but seems to have increased as the event became more distant.  In 1966, 36% of the respondents in a Gallup poll believed that Oswald acted alone.  The percent was 11% in both the 1976 and 1983 Gallup polls and 13% in a 1988 CBS poll (Times, 1992).  This increase in belief in the conspiracy has taken place despite the fact that the accumulation of evidence has increasingly supported the lone assassin theory (Moore, 1991).

Deep Space Nine exists in that more sceptical world. The Orwellian design of Terok Nor, the introduction of Section 31, the idea that the people we trust are not who claim to be, all play on fears and insecurities at the heart of American consciousness in the 1990s. And that’s why Whispers is a genuine classic, and a vitally important part of Deep Space Nine‘s evolution.

Basically, run!

Basically, run!

It also has another similarity with the classic Star Trek. The original show featured a wealth of classic science-fiction authors. Richard Matheson, Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad and even Harlon Ellison all contributed to the original Star Trek. (Well, Niven contributed to The Animated Series and the newspaper comics, but we won’t get too anal retentive about it.) However, when The Next Generation came back, the model of American television had changed dramatically. For better or worse, the spin-offs made no conscious efforts to recruit literary science-fiction writers.

To be fair, there were literary writers contributing to television science-fiction in the nineties. William Gibson and Stephen King both wrote scripts for The X-Files. Neil Gaiman wrote for Babylon 5. However, although Star Trek had an open script submission policy, it seemed like the shows made no real attempt to recruit guest scripts from high-profile writers who traditionally worked outside of science-fiction. While I can understand why that might be – Michael Piller was more interested in character than high-concepts – it’s still something I regret. (That said, certain Cardassian episodes – Chain of Command and Tribunal – would borrow heavily from Orwell’s 1984.)

All the old familiar faces...

All the old familiar faces…

As such, part of the fun of Whispers is the way that it feels like a conscious homage to the work of a particular science-fiction author. The script owes a debt to Philip K. Dick’s short story The Imposter, the term “replicant” was popularised by Blade Runner, and authors Mark Jones and Lance Parkin argued in Beyond the Final Frontier that the ending was “a twist that owes a great deal to the works of Philip K. Dick, but is nevertheless a surprise.”

Dick has become something of a familiar name to cinema-goers in recent years. If you treated the movies based on his works as a science-fiction franchise, they have earned almost half a billion at the United States box office. (More, accounted for inflation.) Although the most respected adaptation of his work probably remains the 1982 film Blade Runner, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the bulk of films based on his literary works date from the nineties. Perhaps it simply took that long for the mainstream to discover him, but perhaps something about Dick’s themes resonated with popular culture of the nineties.

Miles to go before he sleeps...

Miles to go before he sleeps…

Dick was not a fan of Star Trek, describing it as “space opera and tedious sermonettes masquerading as literature.” Indeed, it’s quite clear that his central philosophical ideas were often opposed to Roddenberry’s science-fiction preferences. Dianoia/Paranoia by Neil Easterbrook rather bluntly contrasts how Dick deals with “otherness” and humanity as compared to Star Trek:

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, only Deckard acts on the ontological threat contained in problematizing perceptual or textual authority. Only Deckard experiences the acute anxiety Merleau-Ponty called the “perpetual uneasiness in the state of being unconscious” because he realises the disconcerting truth that “the experience of the other is always that of a replica of myself.” This serves to underscore the novel’s central thematic: Do humans authentically possess the empathy their manufactured doubles are said to lack? In popular SF, such questions receive formulaic, comforting treatment; any resultant anxiety serves only as dramatic tension to be released or resolved in the dénouement between final commercial break and production credits. For instance, whenever we ask if Data, the Star Trek: The Next Generation android is really human, we are reassured to find our hopes confirmed. Do Androids Dream aggressively reverse the convention: Is Deckard really human? Dick’s disconcertingly catholic answer curiously recalls Sartre’s existential ethics – we are defined not by species or by chemical constitution but by actions, and the act in question is our ability to empathise with the Other by recognising the originality of the replicas of myself.

As a rule, Star Trek and The Next Generation unquestioningly accept the idea that humans are special because they are human. “Human rights,” the Klingon Chancellor snorts in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “the very name is racist.” We are special because we are human, and our basic decency stems from that. Episodes like The Last Outpost and Lonely Among Us suggest the universe might be a better place if all those pesky aliens could learn to be more humans.

Reality caves in...

Reality caves in…

Dick’s position is the opposite. It’s possible for an artificial life form to be more “human” than we are, in philosophical terms. Dicks heroes aren’t the pioneers or the high-ranking officials. They are the ordinary people capable of small acts of heroism. Writing How to Build a Universe, Dick recognised “what is the authentic human?” as one of the guiding themes of his work, and offered a suggested answer:

The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Funnily enough, that sounds like the perfect description of Chief O’Brien. He’s the guy who just shows up to do his job. He fixes stuff when it breaks. He doesn’t have any lofty philosophical goals beyond looking out for his family and surviving in a universe that (at times) seems designed solely to torture him. It’s O’Brien’s stubborn refusal to break after stories like Hard Time which mark O’Brien as a hero.

These conspiracy theories are flying out of control...

These conspiracy theories are flying out of control…

In a broader sense, most of the cast of Deep Space Nine feel like Dick-ian heroes. Sisko’s role as Emissary seems to require very little proactive action on his part, save for the exceptional case like Rapture. Kira is defined by her resistance. She might try to build Bajor back up, but the series ends by sending her back into the role of the freedom fighter resisting tyranny.

As a rule, the cast of Deep Space Nine aren’t too “important.” They aren’t staffing Federation flagship or charting the Delta Quadrant. They’re simply surviving on multi-cultural space station at an uncertain time. By the nature of television, they wind up influencing events and getting involved in major conflicts, but they’re never too much to the fore. Sisko discovers the Wormhole and the Jem’Hadar, but he doesn’t govern the Federation war effort.

Fine work...

Fine work…

However, Whispers is an O’Brien episode. There’s something particularly tragic about the episode’s revelation that this isn’t the real O’Brien – although the show adopts another of Dick’s themes when it asks us to decide whether or not this version of O’Brien could be considered “not real.” After all, he did do the right things. He responded emotionally to the situation. He tried to help by refusing to give in to the conspiracy that had taken hold of the station.

The episode might end suddenly, but it remains poignant. The runabout survives, with O’Brien’s log on it, so it seems like the ending might not be entirely tragic. However, there’s a sense that his motivations and his humanity aren’t completely understood by the rebels and his Starfleet colleagues. “I wonder why he was coming back,” the rebel wonders. Sisko observes, “Maybe in a strange sort of way, he was just trying to be a hero.”

Two Miles...

Two Miles…

not!O’Brien didn’t accomplish anything in the end. He didn’t even point Sisko in the right direction. He just got himself killed doing the right thing. That’s probably not the most romantic form of heroism in the world, but it fits with Dick’s idea of the “authentic human.” That final scene, as he asks real!O’Brien to tell Keiko that he loves her, is heartbreaking – despite the fact that we’ve been told that this is fake O’Brien. Whispers is a very clever concept, very well written.

There are lots of lovely nice touches here which complement a pretty compelling hook. In particular, Whispers gets away with a lot because it actually suggests its resolution remarkably early on. “That’s it, is it?” O’Brien asks in the infirmary. “I mean, there is something wrong with me. That’s why everyone seems so strange.” It turns out to be the case, and the episode disarms our suspicions by suggesting it so early in the hour – we immediately dismiss it as a red herring and latch on to the idea that O’Brien must be the only one who isn’t affected.

The series' themes are taking shape(shifter)...

The series’ themes are taking shape(shifter)…

I also love that Odo is initially quite open-minded about the whole conspiracy-theory thing. It actually seems like the kind of thing that Odo could buy into, and it’s great to see that Odo-who-just-got-back-from-Bajor is even more paranoid than O’Brien-who-has-been-marginalised.

I’d call Starfleet but what could I tell them? My wife doesn’t seem like my wife? Sisko’s been making security arrangements without consulting me?

They might even call Commander Sisko and start asking questions about you.

That’s what I was afraid of.

When are the Paradas due?

Thirty eight hours.

I don’t want them coming anywhere near this place until we get this cleared up.

Based on quick he gets to grips with this whole conspiracy millarky (and how in-character it is), it’s a shame we never got Odo investigating 24th century X-Files.

"I keep telling you, Rivals never happened!"

“I keep telling you, Rivals never happened!”

There’s also a nice little reference to one of the many problems with Rivals, as Quark points out that O’Brien should be preparing for “the rematch with Bashir next week. We never finished the first one, remember?” Well, it’s nice to see the characters might get some measure of closure, even if the audience don’t. I’m not often very fond of shows calling attention to their own failings, but Rivals was bad enough that I’ll take that as some measure of apology.

In a way, though, Whispers is perhaps a distant relative of Rivals. This second season of Deep Space Nine has – for the most part – been massively experimental. It opened with an epic three-parter and then has been shifting through genres. There’s a sense that the writers and producers are still trying to figure what kind of show this is. Necessary Evil allowed them to work the characters through a noir murder mystery. Rivals was a misguided attempt at what might be “Star Trek as a sit-com.” Whispers is really “Star Trek does The X-Files.”

It's a lot to digest...

It’s a lot to digest…

There’s a sense that the creators are playing with concepts and genres in a way that suggests they are more comfortable than they were with the show’s first year. The second half of the second season settles down and becomes a whole lot more conventional, but these early episodes are precisely what a show like this should be doing at this point in the run – trying to figure out what it can and what it can’t do.

I wouldn’t be surprised to discover if the successful feeling of paranoia here inspired the creators to experiment with other skeptical Deep Space Nine storylines. Even this early in the show, you can trace pretty clear through-lines between early experiments and later concepts. (Again, it’s hard to believe that Nana Visitor’s performance in Dramatis Personae wasn’t an audition for the Intendant, or that revelations about Odo’s people weren’t bubbling away in the heads of Michael Piller and Ira Steven Behr this early in the season.)

Keiko got into this with her eyes wide open...

Keiko got into this with her eyes wide open…

Whispers is a masterpiece, a piece of classic Star Trek, a contender with Necessary Evil as one of the best episodes of the season.

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

12 Responses

  1. However, you can see the roots for a lot of modern science-fiction television traced back to Deep Space Nine. Battlestar Galactica attracted a huge amount of praise for its storytelling and structure (at least in its first three-and-a-half years), it’s very clearly a direct descendent of Deep Space Nine.

    I think Babylon 5 influenced long-form storytelling in sci-fi television, too. Babylon 5 would be Battlestar Galactica‘s other parent, I’m guessing.

    • Yep, that’s a good point. DS9 is a bit stronger, though, given the shared writers between BSG and DS9.

      But you raise a very valid point. I am probably going to have to talk about B5/DS9 at one point, which is a bit of problem since I have only a casual flirtation with B5.

  2. Lol. BSG advertised in their own intro that the Cylons “have a plan”. We eventually learn the Cylons have no idea what their doing and are just kinda winging it. I think most shows now only try to “appear” to use long-form storytelling, but clearly the writers have no idea where their going and end up pulling something out of their ass at the last moment. Like Lost, they tease nearly every episode that that’s something going on, then they end the show with an ending so full of inanity. you could end practically any tv show “Oh, we’re in a time displace afterlife all along”. Abrams would try to do the same thing with Alcatraz with the continual teasing of information that we all knew would lead no where cause the writer hasn’t got a clue. Kinda glad the show got canned in the first season before it got the change to frustrate anyone.

    That said, Breaking Bad actually manged to pull off the illusion. Every season was more of less compatible with each other, only the last season seemed a little off with Heisenberg becoming Heisenberg with a machine gun all of a sudden. Probably the result of establishing a giant machine gun with no idea how they were going to resolve the situation.

    I wonder why shows don’t plan these mysteries out ahead of time? When they have to pull it out of their ass after years of build it, it always disappointing. Game of Thrones is succeeding because it at least have the literature written ahead of time to draw on, but for pure tv, the writers never seem to think beyond their own season.

    • I mean to say, “Heisenburg becoming Macgyver with a machine gun”.

      • Ha! “Heisenberg becoming Heisenberg with a machine gun” does also capture the moment quite well, I think. Although I do have some issues with that final season.

    • I wonder if the structure of television is to blame. You can’t be sure you’ll get [x] seasons, you can’t be sure you’ll have access to [given] actors outside your primary cast on contract, you don’t know that the studio is going to give you [enough] money. On some level, you probably have to be ready to wrap up your story quickly and cleanly, which means you don’t expend a lot of energy planning for stuff that is two or three years down the road. I think it is probably a bit easier now with short season orders, but – if you’re doing twenty-odd episodes a year – television production can often seem like navigating from one set of crises to the next.

  3. You’re right about Philip K. Dick, and I think calling O’Brien a “replicant”, which is so specific to Blade Runner, is an obvious nod. It’s also a really good subversion (or twist) of the more standard plot.

    Regarding JFK, I think Oliver Stone’s movie (’91) is more to blame for bringing the controversy back into the public consciousness. The conspiracy theory’s heyday was in the 70s due to the Zapruder film (1st shown on TV in ’75) and the US House Select Committee on Assassinations (report issued in ’79). But a decade after the report (’88), the Justice Dept. concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy. It might have died there, who knows.

    As for Watergate, let’s not forget that this is shorthand for a confluence of revelations: the Pentagon Papers (’71) & other Vietnam-related scandals; COINTELPRO (’71); and the Church Commission (’75), among others. While Watergate itself may have disillusioned the public, I think the paranoia came more from the other scandals of the time. In any case, you’re right when you say that Chris Carter & co. were inspired by a 70s mentality.

    That being said, I think “Whispers” is really just channeling what was by that point a well-worn cinematic cliché. With the narration, it almost reminds me more of a noir/thriller, where the P.I./lawman uncovers a big conspiracy/corruption that’s bigger than (s)he is: Chinatown (’74), The Pelican Brief/The Firm (both ’93), L.A. Confidential (’97), and even the 2nd season of True Detective (’16). Or maybe it’s more like John Carpenter’s The Thing (’82) and They Live (’88).

    • That’s all very valid and fair. The dates are helpful. Cheers!

      The review is five years old. I’d probably be a bit more thorough/studious if I wrote the review today.

      • The funny thing is, this review that you’re implying is not thorough/studious enough is more thorough/studious than 99% of reviews on the internet.

      • Thank you.

      • I wholeheartedly agree with Joe Y. The only reason I left a comment in the 1st place was because the reviews are so damn thought-provoking. Don’t change your ways on my account. Cheers.

      • Not at all! There’s just always room for improvement!

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