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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Maquis, Part II (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.

Oddly enough, for an episode designed to serve as a launching pad for Star Trek: Voyager, The Maquis, Part II really feels like the point where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine becomes Ira Steven Behr’s show. Deep Space Nine had been created by Michael Piller and Rick Berman. While Berman oversaw the franchise as a whole, Piller had been a guiding influence during the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine. However, his attention would wander to both Voyager and the pending films based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation film franchise.

As a result, producer Ira Steven Behr would be left in the driving seat of Deep Space Nine. Behr had some experience with the franchise. he was part of the wonderful writers’ room responsible for the massive upswing in the quality of The Next Generation, but left after a year on that show – describing it as “the Connecticut of Star Trek.” Years later, he was aggressively pursued by Piller to work on Deep Space Nine, where Piller felt his philosophy might be more at home.

The Maquis, Part II is far from Behr’s first writing credit on the show, and it’s certainly not the first time his influence has been felt. It is, however, the point at which it feels like Behr’s creative vision is firmly cemented the show’s outlook. Piller would move further away over the course of the next year, and Behr’s influence would grow even stronger, but this is the point where Behr’s vision of Deep Space Nine really takes hold.

Burning bridges...

Burning bridges…

Indeed, Behr himself points to The Maquis, Part II as a vitally important episode in the show’s development:

What is DS9’s greatest contribution to the STAR TREK franchise?

Ira Behr: I think the series as a whole was the greatest contribution. Getting back to telling character-oriented stories, getting back to having conflict between human beings; plot at the service of character. We did our share of space anomalies, usually to screw up O’Brien, [but] I think we created a much more complete universe in which you can have all these characters with all these backstories, all these races, all these supporting characters. You knew more about ‘Garak’ or ‘Gul Dukat’, ultimately, than you knew about ‘Riker’. So that to me is the contribution.

Plus we brought back money, greed, racial bigotry, war, all the stuff that disappeared that I just could not wrap my head around in terms of the reality. We obviously did the thing we made a big deal about in season two, which was for me when I began to see opportunities that I hadn’t seen before. It was then [that] we decided that Earth is paradise–we’ll buy into that (I don’t quite understand it, but we’ll buy it. It’s unique and “it’s easy to be a saint in paradise” is one of the things Sisko said in Maquis, Part II. And to have a Federation person say that as opposed to a Cardassian or Ferengi or Bajoran was telling because Sisko was learning things. That opened the door in my mind for the rest of the series. We certainly took the series where [co-creator] Michael Piller would freely admit he hadn’t thought of [taking it at the outset].

Even after everything else the show did, Behr still points to this episode as a turning point – a moment where the show really committed to a particular view of the Star Trek universe.

Hostage of fortune...

Hostage of fortune…

Writing in Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Derek Johnson suggests that this sort of questioning and deconstruction was a vital part of Deep Space Nine affirming its own identity, as distinct from the other spin-offs:

Another means of differentiating production identity relied on critical deconstruction of the chared world. Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Stephen Behr constructed a meaningfully distinct production identity for the series (and himself) by emphasising in his public disclosures an aim to problematise the utopian design of the existing Trek world. “We need to dig deeper and find out what, indeed, life is like in the twenty-fourth century,” he argued. “Is this paradise, or are there, as Harold Pinter supposedly said, ‘Weasels under the coffee table’?”

The Maquis, Part II seems to genuinely question the notion that peaceful coexistence is entirely possible in any political system with finite resources, and inhabited by people with their own wants and desires.

A heated discussion...

A heated discussion…

As part of the show’s arc, The Maquis, Part II seems like the first time that Sisko seems disillusioned with the Federation. Up until this point, Sisko has had his issues with his assignment, and has been shown to be frustrated by problems working with other governments, but his fate in the Federation is absolute. In Paradise, for example, he refuses to take off his uniform. In Shadowplay, he takes it for granted that Jake wants to join Starfleet, bestowing a comm badge like an inheritance. In The Nagus, he let his Starfleet prejudice inform his views of the Ferengi. In Blood Oath, he tried to convince Dax to abandon a promise to the Klingons by appealing to Federation values.

In short, up until this point, it seemed like Benjamin Lafayette Sisko believed in the Federation. In a show that is often about religion and belief, Sisko had a strange faith in the institution. It makes sense. After all, even the loss of his wife could not convince him to resign his commission, even as it seemed to eat away at him otherwise. The opening sequence of The Maquis, Part II makes Sisko’s devotion to Starfleet apparent. “I hardly recognised you without your uniform,” he remarks to Hudson. His friend replies, “It’s just a uniform, Ben.”

For the uniform...

For the uniform…

Not to Sisko, it isn’t. The uniform is of obvious symbolic importance to Sisko in his attempt to convince Hudson to return to Starfleet following his defection to the Maquis. (To… er… re-fect?) When Cal burns the back containing the outfit, the symbolism is obvious. However, it’s telling that the uniform also represents the friendship between Cal and Sisko. It’s something in which Sisko is incredibly emotionally invested.

In the brief exchange at the start of the episode, their friendship is forged by their loyalty to the uniform. “I remember when you first put it on,” Sisko begins. Hudson finishes the thought, “Yes, graduation day at the Academy. We both swore we’d be starship captains by the time we were thirty.” Sisko reflects on the childish fantasy, “And admirals by forty!” Cal laughs it off. “I think we’ve both done pretty well for ourselves,” Sisko concedes.

Mind over manners...

Mind over manners…

Given that both are widowers, and seem to be best friends who don’t even make time for another, it’s clear the only measure Sisko is using is the uniform. Indeed, Sisko couldn’t even be there for his friend following the death of his wife, due to the obligations that come with wearing the uniform. So Sisko is immediately and effectively established as a true believer in the philosophy of Starfleet, and the ideals of the Federation.

And yet, you can see the scepticism creeping in at the edges. Following his conversation with Cal Hudson, he meets with Admiral Nechayev, one of the few recurring members of Starfleet admiralty. (Probably because she seems relatively competent and sane, even if her manners seem to leave a lot to be desired.) Sisko’s conversation with Nechayev gets quite heated, with her pointedly ignoring his input to offer Starfleet’s version of events. When Sisko points out that the treaty may already be worthless, she demands, “Are you questioning Federation policy, Commander?”

Station-keeping...

Station-keeping…

It seems to be a watershed moment for Sisko. The moment that Nechayev leaves, Sisko explodes into a rant where he pretty much articulates Behr’s opinion of the Star Trek universe:

‘Establish a dialogue’? What the hell does she think I’ve been trying to do?

Commander?

Just because a group of people belongs to the Federation it does not mean that they are saints.

Excuse me?

Do you know what the trouble is?

No.

The trouble is Earth.

Really?

On Earth there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarised zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints, just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive whether it meets with Federation approval or not.

Makes sense to me.

I’m glad someone understands.

I love how Kira seems to humour Sisko during his rant, as if surprised that it has taken Sisko this long to figure all this out. It’s easy for people to get along in an economy where magic computers can produce anything that anybody might ever need, but there are limits on how far that can stretch.

Sisko to the rescue...

Sisko to the rescue…

The conversation reads as Behr’s attempt to stretch out of the infamous “Roddenberry Box”, the rules that Gene Roddenberry imposed on Star Trek: The Next Generation, insisting that characters must always get along and there must be no conflict. The version of Earth that Sisko refers to is very clearly Roddenberry’s version of twenty-fourth century Earth, a world where – as Roddenberry once assured Jonathan Frakes – “there will be no hunger and there will be no greed; and every child will know how to read.”

That’s a lovely fantasy, but there’s no real challenge left. If those ideals are never subject to threat, or put under any sort of scrutiny, then what are they worth? More than that, Roddenberry’s idealised twenty-fourth century seems quite at odds with the twenty-third century he created in the original Star Trek. Pitched as a space western, that show features lots of inter-personal conflict, along with a variety of ideological challenges for our heroes to overcome.

Sisko keeps his uniform, just in Casey...

Sisko keeps his uniform, just in Casey…

The Maquis, Part II repeatedly emphasises how far out on the fringe Deep Space Nine is, and that there’s a point where those comforts are strained. Cal Hudson talks about the colonists forging homes “out of the wilderness” and about life “on the frontier.” There’s a very clear attempt to hark back to the frontier values of the classic Star Trek, somewhat distinct from the sterility of The Next Generation. It’s hard to define character if everybody always agrees and nobody ever faces an ideological challenge.

Rather pointedly, two of the most vitally important characters in resolving the whole situation are two non-Federation characters. Behr has already done a lot to rehabilitate the Ferengi, but he casts Quark as an unlikely peace-maker here. The Ferengi – a member of a race characterised under Roddenberry as nothing more than greedy capitalists – makes a logical argument for peace. And he makes it in economic terms. “Right now peace could be bought at a bargain price and you don’t even realise it,” he offers, building off his role in the first part where he affirmed the Rules of Acquisition as a credible value system.

A captive audience...

A captive audience…

The other important character is Gul Dukat, who has found himself cast in the unlikely role of Sisko’s ally here. It’s Dukat who figures out the target of the Maquis raid. It’s Dukat who foils the arm shipments. It is Dukat who really drew Sisko’s attention to the situation in the Demilitarised Zone in the first place. The show stops well short of casting him as a hero – each part features a somewhat gratuitous shot of Dukat punching an unarmed Vulcan female – it does allow him some measure of sympathy and sophistication.

In a way, The Maquis two-parter really begins a process of developing Dukat as a character, presenting him as more than a mere antagonist. Marc Alaimo’s performance helps a great deal, as it seems like that actor has cast Dukat as the hero in his own narrative. It’s telling that the episode designed to firmly and eventually cement Dukat as a villain – the sixth season’s superb Waltz – makes reference to some dialogue from this episode. In The Maquis, Part II, Dukat implies that his policies towards the Bajorans were too moderate.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

“There are those who believe I should have killed every last Bajoran while I had the chance,” he tells Sisko here, implying that Dukat does not count himself amongst them. It’s a line that really presents Dukat as somewhat more sympathetic than the Central Command. When Behr and the other writers eventually felt that Dukat had become too sympathetic and too humane, the show very clearly reversed this position – casting Dukat as a would-be genocidal maniac rather than a relative moderate.

Still, that’s a long way away from here. To be fair, The Maquis, Part II allows Dukat to keep his teeth. When Sisko shows up rescue him, Dukat quickly grows impatient. “Will you stop talking and shoot them?” he demands. At the end of the episode, he seems quite eager to gun do a fleeing Maquis ship. (According to The Deep Space Log Book: A Second Season Companion, Behr wanted to kill Cal Hudson off at the end of the episode, which would probably have worked better.)

Good cop, psychotic cop...

Good cop, psychotic cop…

Dukat is driven by his own agenda. Much like Garak in Profit and Loss, it seems like his own ego is a considerable part of that. He’s truly driven into action by Sisko’s admission that the Central Command has framed him for the supply of weapons. Although he does seem to genuinely want peace with the Federation, he is also motivated by pride. “Then you really didn’t know, did you?” Sisko asks about the weapons shipments. “No,” Dukat replies, sounding almost hurt. “They never bothered to tell me.”

At the same time, there are quite a few suggestions that Behr isn’t quite as cynical as his reputation might lead viewers to believe. For one thing, there’s the very clear suggestion that the Maquis are romantics at heart. The first part opened with the destruction of a freighter, but here the group refuses to engage in the torture of Dukat. “You people really do not do this very well, do you? Now, on Cardassia we know how to extract information, though it can get a bit unpleasant, and we all know how the Federation dislikes unpleasantness.”

Hudson always did make friends easily...

Hudson always did make friends easily…

Amaros – the ring-leader who has the name originally intended for Bashir – responds quickly. “I share very few sentiments with the Federation,” he assures Dukat, trying to sound menacing. Dukat doesn’t seem scared. “Oh, that’s right,” he replies. “You’re renegades, aren’t you? Or so you’d like to think. Unfortunately, the Federation has taught you your lessons all too well. You simply lack the commitment it takes to do what is necessary.”

This could be seen as a fairly cynical criticism. The Maquis lack even the skill to be efficient terrorists. They are unwilling to compromise to the extent necessary to accomplish their goals. There’s a sense that these are simply people who have lived privileged lives playing at being revolutionaries. When Cal confronts Sisko, he greets his old friend as if he just played an elaborate practical joke. “You should have seen the look on your face when you saw me standing there, Ben,” he boasts.

Working out a peace deal...

Working out a peace deal…

Cal seems to be a little out of touch with reality. At one point, he suggests using Deep Space Nine as a Maquis stop-over, ignoring the fact that it’s a station run by the Federation and the Bajoran government, and that – even if he wanted to – Sisko could hardly unilaterally make that sort of decision. He responds to Sisko’s refusal to join him as little more than turning down a job application. “I’m sorry we won’t be working together, Benjamin. It would’ve been nice. Like old times.”

There’s the suggestion that the Maquis are naive in all this, somewhat oblivious to the implications of their attempts to play heroes on the frontier. “Now maybe the Federation can turn their back on them, but I can’t,” Hudson argues at one point. “I’m not asking you to, but your joining the Maquis isn’t helping anyone,” Sisko replies. “Your actions have only endangered the treaty and put millions of lives at risk.” The Maquis are small players in a much larger game with higher stakes than they seem to realise. They are focused on their homes and their families, oblivious to the larger problems.

Mission Accomplished...

Mission Accomplished…

On the other hand, there’s also something almost idealistic about the relative innocence of the Maquis. Even in the most dire of circumstances, under the greatest amount of pressure, there is only so far that these Federation citizens will go. There is a basic threshold of decency that they will not cross. “We do not possess the Cardassian gift for inflicting pain,” Sakonna confesses after enduring Dukat’s scorn. “Nor would we want such a gift.”

The Federation itself is hardly presented as an unambiguous good. I’m quite fond of Admiral Nechayev as a character, if only because she seems to represent an altogether more cynical side of Federation policy, one different from the day-to-day mission statements of Picard and Sisko. She’s very much a character preoccupied with what might be termed “the defense of the realm”, but without being portrayed as unstable or malicious. She’s just doing her job, and acting in what she sees as the Federation’s best interests, even if that means she has to be unpleasant for the leading actors of our shows.

A prefect partnership...

A prefect partnership…

There’s something quite creepy in Nechayez’s advice to Sisko. “Commander,” she instructs Sisko, “I want you to find the Maquis. Talk to them. Remind them that they’re citizens of the Federation.” She makes it sound like the citizens exist to serve the Federation, rather than the other way around. There’s also a sense that – to borrow from a later Maquis-related criticism of the Federation – “nobody leaves paradise.” There’s no opt-out clause to this gigantic sprawling Federation, even when it has arguably lost sight of your best interests.

When Sisko tries to explain the situation to Nechayev, she responds with a bit of Orwellian double-speak that would make the Cardassian Union proud. “Personally, I think you’re overstating the problem,” she states. “Establish a dialogue with the Maquis. They’re still Federation citizens. I’m sure they’ll listen to reason.” The Federation isn’t used to dealing with internal problems like this. It’s predicated on the notion that everything will work out if people have the situation explained to them. Any disagreement stems from the fact that people involved don’t understand the bigger issues.

Meld-mirized...

Meld-mirized…

In a way, Dukat might be right when he suggests that Sisko has a lot in common with the station’s former prefect. Despite the brutality of their methods, and their direct involvement in arming the militants, the Cardassian response to the situation seems quite similar to that of the Federation. In The Maquis, Part I, Sisko and Dukat walked in on Gul Evek explaining that they had a taped confession from the terrorist who blew up the freighter.

Evek seemed to expect that providing that confession to the colonists would sort everything out and make everything better. There was an inability to comprehend the larger issues at play here, and an assumption that the violence and unrest was based on a simple misunderstanding of the situation. Once everybody sees the facts laid out, everybody can agree. There’s a similar undercurrent to Nechayev’s conversation with Sisko.

Holding back...

Holding back…

It’s worth noting that the crew of Deep Space Nine function a lot better this time around. The only big ensemble scene of the first part saw the crew trying to shift blame and make uncomfortable assertions and insinuations. Here, however, the crew act a lot more efficiently and lot more proactively. That said, there’s still some lingering hints of discord. Kira is true to character in the way she reacts to Dukat’s abduction. She’s opposed to the mission to rescue him.

“Why risk our lives over someone who’s caused so many deaths?” she demands of Sisko. “The way I see it, he’s getting exactly what he deserves.” Kira’s relationship with Dukat would develop and deepen over the show, but the series never forgot who Kira was and her personal history. Her edges were never completely smoothed, and it’s nice to see her attitudes reaffirmed here. Kira comes from a different background than the rest of the cast, formed by different experiences. Those understandably colour her world view.

Price is right...

Price is right…

The Maquis is something of a milestone for Deep Space Nine. It’s hardly a sharp swerve in a different direction or something that comes out of left-field. It’s the logical culmination of story threads and themes that have been building since Emissary, a large number of which have been driven by Ira Steven Behr. Behr wouldn’t completely take over the running of the show until the third season, but The Maquis confirms that this will be his Star Trek show – a feeling that has been building for some time now.

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

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent reviews, though these go far beyond simple reviews. I’m reading them while watching each episode. Can’t wait for you to finish the last season.

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