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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Prophecy & Change: The Orb of Opportunity by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels (Review/Retrospective)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is fun to imagine the negative space that exists between various episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In its third season, the show was making nods towards serialisation, but there was never really a point where the series could not be broken down into reasonably well-defined episodic units. Even during the ten-hour series finalé, each of the constituent elements had its own narrative thrust and its own clear purpose. So it is fun sometimes to try to connect these threads together.

The ordering of episodes in a season of television is very interesting. It creates a fascinating connective tissue in the minds of fans. Although each episode is its own story, they come together to form something larger and more intriguing. On The X-Files, for example, placing Never Again directly after Leonard Betts changed the whole context of the episode. There are threads that do not necessarily exist within the individual episodes, but can be implied by the sequencing of the shows.

Placing Heart of Stone directly after Life Support is an interesting choice in several respects. It creates all sorts of interesting implications and developments, contradictions and possibilities. It is weird to have an episode about Odo’s attraction to Kira air directly after an episode focusing on the death of Kira’s long-term love interest; give her a week or two of space, guys. Similarly, it is strange to go from Nog’s characterisation in Life Support to his development in Heart of Stone.

The Orb of Opportunity is very clearly intended to bridge the gap between those two episodes, explaining how and why Nog developed in the way that he did.

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To be fair, there is a sense that this not a problem that needs to be fixed. The Nog and Jake subplot in Life Support did nobody any favours. It may just be best to continue on and pretend that it never happened. As with Fascination‘s implication that Jadzia Dax is incredibly attracted to Benjamin Sisko, or the potential difficulties reconciling Distant Voices and Melora with Doctor Bashir, I Presume, it is probably best to just carry on and pretend that nothing irreconcilable occurred.

However, it is in the nature of Star Trek tie-in fiction to fill perceived gaps in the canon. Novels and comic books are frequently drawn from straw lines of dialogue or perceived continuity errors. This is not a good or a bad thing of itself. It is possible to produce a truly fantastic piece of Star Trek writing that exists to fill in the gaps in the canon; look at most of the books in The Lost Era collection. In particular, Serpents Among the Ruins is drawn from a throwaway piece of exposition in The Neutral Zone.

This is especially the case with Deep Space Nine, a show that tended to wander off on tangents, leaving a lot unsaid or unarticulated. After all, Thomas Riker’s fate was never resolved after Defiant. Despite the fact that Sisko was given a very clear mission in Emissary, the show ends without Bajor being brought into the Federation. The show re-conceptualised itself at several points in the run, pushing what had seemed like important threads into the background as it went.

The Orb of Opportunity touches on this. Set in the aftermath of Life Support, it builds a lot around the Bajoran-Cardassian peace agreement negotiated by Vedek Bareil. In particular, it ties that back to the missing orbs, a dangling piece of continuity that was broached by Kai Opaka in Emissary. Given how important the Orbs were to the Bajorans, and the fact that Emissary very clearly and carefully put a number on them, it seemed like the Orbs would be a recurring element of Deep Space Nine.

Instead, the Orbs always felt incidental. The show would bring them in as needed, but never with a clear purpose outside the plot of the episode in question. The recovery of an Orb was featured in episodes like Prophet Motive and Trials and Tribble-ations, but it was seldom a plot point itself. The first episode about Sisko explicitly recovering an Orb of the Prophets was Shadows and Symbols in the show’s final season. Even then, the Orb was very much secondary to Sisko’s personal journey and the plan to reopen the wormhole.

The Orb of Opportunity makes sure to draw the Orbs into the show’s mythology. Winn makes it clear that the Orbs were a major point of contention in debates between Cardassia and Bajor, even if it was never explored on the show:

“However, Legate Turrel has just made me aware that the Cardassian Central Command has lost track of nearly all eight of the Orbs they took from Bajor during the Occupation. Which may explain why he wasn’t eager to set a timetable for the Orbs’ return during the last negotiations.”

It is a very clever piece of continuity, one that manages to underscore how important the Orbs are, while also explaining why they might have been neglected during the television episode.

It’s not a bad example of the way that Star Trek tie-in fiction tends to deal with these perceived plot holes and narrative lacunas. However, there is a tendency to be a bit over-zealous in this desire to fill in the gaps; a sense that sometimes writers can fill in gaps that do not need to be filled in. As a rule, it is more interesting to explore character growth and development than it is to worry about perceived plotting problems. (This is why Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Broken Oaths stands out in the collection.)

The Orb of Opportunity is a story that seems more preoccupied with story or plotting problems that with character development. It treats the difference in Nog’s character between Life Support and Heart of Stone as something that needs a plot justification. It is change that has to come from some external source, motivated by some part of the Deep Space Nine mythos, instead of coming from Nog as a character.

As such, The Orb of Opportunity takes the path of least resistance in explaining why Nog would suddenly want to join Starfleet after being a sexist jerk in the previous episode. It turns out that Nog had a magical epiphany from looking at the Orb, with a vision that gave him “the notion that there might be something out there even more precious than latinum.” It is a very strange way to justify a radical shift in the character between episodes. “The Prophets did it” is only marginally more satisfying than “a wizard did it.”

This is very disconcerting for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that re-writing a person’s mind is an absolutely horrifying concept. If Nog only joined Starfleet because the Prophets wanted him to, than his whole arm becomes grotesque and horrific, rather than inspiring and innovative. Prophet Motive doesn’t do the best job of holding the Prophets accountable for what they did to Zek, but it does underscore how terrible imposing your will on somebody like that would be.

There’s also a worryingly essentialist undertone to this. Suggesting that the only reason that Nog might join Starfleet is because of an experience with the Orb suggests that Ferengi are simply incapable of reaching these sorts of conclusions on their own; it is impossible for a Ferengi to deviate from the template established in The Last Outpost. This is a horrifying concept, and very much at odds with the spirit of Deep Space Nine.

The Orb of Opportunity is worryingly essentialist in other respects as well. Life Support did little to develop Legate Turrel as a character, but there was a sense that Bareil trusted him. Turrel may not have Bajor’s best interests at heart, but he seemed to be a decent person who might legitimately want peace. The Orb of Opportunity reduces him to a two-dimensional bad guy, which is unfortunate for the story’s most prominent Cardassian.

It seems O’Brien was right in Tribunal when he declared “the bloody Cardies can’t be trusted.” It is a somewhat disappointing resolution to the story, one that seems to imply that Turrel is not trustworthy, and the we should have suspected as much because he was Cardassian. According to The Orb of Opportunity, Ferengi cannot think about anything other than latinum without some outside influence and Cardassians cannot be trusted.

However, the biggest problem with the portrayal of Nog in The Orb of Opportunity is that it is very out of touch with Deep Space Nine as a whole. It fails to recognise that Heart of Stone is not the aberration in Nog’s characterisation which requires an accounting; Life Support is the oddity. After all, Jake and Nog really should have confronted the issues in Life Support at some point before the episode. Nog had been exposed to Ferengi values over the course of the show, developing and growing as he went.

Nog had been exposed to other cultures since Rom forced him to go to Keiko’s school in A Man Alone. Jake Sisko has been a heavy influence on him over the show’s three year run. When Grand Nagus Zek insisted Rom remove Nog from the school in The Nagus, Jake helped to teach Nog to read. In The Storyteller, Nog and Jake discovered how blending various approaches and philosophies could help to solve serious problems.

Nog’s decision to join Starfleet feels like a logical development from these early stories, even before we get into the story he tells Sisko in Heart of Stone. Just as Rom’s decision to become an engineer at the end of The Bar Association feels like a logical character development, there is no necessity for an explanation here beyond what has been provided. The Orb of Opportunity doesn’t just ignore years of solid character work, it actively contradicts it.

It is prime example of trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist; or, at the very least, trying to fix the wrong problem.

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

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