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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Homefront (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Homefront and Paradise Lost are a fascinating example of what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does best, both in terms of theme and storytelling.

In many ways, Homefront and Paradise Lost are among the most culturally relevant episodes produced during the series’ seven-season run. The two-parter speaks to a lot of concerns and anxieties that were part of the public consciousness during the nineties, but exploded in the early years of the twenty-first century. Homefront and Paradise Lost feel more powerful in the era of airport security screenings and extraordinary powers than they did on their original broadcast. These are among the most important episodes the franchise ever produced.

Broken link...

Broken link…

However, the two-parter is also a great example of how the production team on Deep Space Nine approach storytelling. Not just in terms of arc-building and serialisation, but also in terms of structure and pacing. Unlike The Way of the Warrior, which was very clearly a single ninety-minute episode of television, Homefront and Paradise Lost are very clearly structured as two separate episodes of television. It is a subtle distinction, but one which has a significant impact in how the creative team tell their story.

More than that, Homefront and Paradise Lost represent a great example of the strengths of the production team’s improvisational approach to long-form plotting.

More like Starfleet INsecurity, amirite?

More like Starfleet INsecurity, amirite?

The story that would become Homefront and Paradise Lost had been on the cards since the end of the third season. The original plan had been to end the third season on a cliffhanger that would have seen the Founders infiltrating Earth and pushing the Federation to the brink of civil war. Capitalising on their newfound freedom to shake up the status quo of the larger Star Trek universe, the writers would have used the opportunity to have Vulcan officially secede from the Federation.

However, this was not to be. Towards the end of the third season, the studio decided to actively involve themselves in the production of the show, one of the rare occasions of executive meddling forcing substantial alterations to the writing staff’s plans. The network decided that the third season would not end on a cliffhanger. As a result, The Adversary was rather hastily re-written as a more low-key thriller, with a changeling infiltrating the Defiant and attempting to spark a war between the Federation and the Tzenkethi.

Injecting some drama...

Injecting some drama…

At the start of the fourth season, the production team received some more input from the studio. It was suggested that Worf might join the show’s cast and that the Klingons might find themselves involved in the series going forward. However, as René Echevarria concedes, making these small concessions allowed the production team greater freedom:

Ira was not excited about [Worf’s arrival] at first. He felt it was kind of craven, abandoning what the show wanted to be. I think there was a tension about “What did we do wrong? Maybe we shouldn’t be doing these three-part episodes about Bajoran politics.” [Laughs] But as the reins were handed to Ira and I, at some point, Paramount and Rick just kind of gave up. They threw their hands up and said, “We tried to make it more like Next Generation and it hasn’t become more popular.” So they kind of let us do what we wanted, and [part of that] was continuing storylines.

As such, it seems like the plot developments of The Way of the Warrior simply delayed the story that the production team wanted to tell, allowing them to position the story about half-way through the fourth season rather than as a bridge between the fourth and fifth seasons as they had originally hoped. Of course, Homefront and Paradise Lost also happens in the midst of a surrounding arc involving the Klingons that began with The Way of the Warrior.

Like father, like grandson...

Like father, like grandson…

One of the defining features of Deep Space Nine was that the production team were reasonably flexible when it came to plotting their long-term arcs. Deep Space Nine is very frequently compared to Babylon 5, the other nineties cult television show set on a space station. Indeed, there were frequent accusations that the two shows had ripped one another off; J. Michael Straczynski has implied that Paramount effectively stole an idea that he pitched to them and stuck a Star Trek brand on it.

(As a side note, this disagreement marks one of the most stereotypical rivalries in fandom. Every once in a while, the subject will come again, with vocal fans on both side accusing the other of some sinister agenda. Both are massively influential science-fiction shows that had a massive impact on genre television despite never quite breaking the mainstream. They happen to have similar subject matter, but that is true of a lot of media. Quentin Tarantino was seldom accused of ripping of 12 Years a Slave with Django Unchained.)

Lighten up...

Lighten up…

Whatever similarities might exist between Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, both were plotted very differently. J. Michael Straczynski famously had a five-year plan for Babylon 5, pitching it as “a novel for television.” While Straczynski “made sure to compensate for any possible changes” to his plan, there were points at which his sprawling epic creaked under the strain of circumstances beyond his control. (For example, the hijinks involving the characters of Carolyn Sykes and Catherine Sakai, and the substitution of John Sheridan for Jeffrey Sinclair.)

In contrast, the looser structure of Deep Space Nine allowed the production team a great deal more flexibility when it came to adjustments to their long-term plans. To be fair, this approach came with its own potential issues; these issues that became quite evident in the final years of the show. However, it also allowed a great deal of flexibility in the plotting of the fourth and fifth seasons, with the production team able to fulfill both the studio’s expectations and their own ambitions.

A deep cut...

A deep cut…

In fact, it should be noted that by the time that Homefront and Paradise Lost made it into production, the writing staff had already moved quite a bit away from the ideas that would have closed out the third season. As The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion notes:

Although the paranoia theme was inherent to all versions of the plot, one of the earliest versions discussed during third season had an even more complex political plot, according to Ron Moore, who wrote the story for Part II. “The changelings come to Earth, infiltrate the populace, and cause near civil war within the Federation,” he relates. “We were going to have Vulcan start to break away from the Federation as a result of what was going on on Earth, and a confrontation in Earth’s orbit where a Federation starship is about to fire on a Vulcan transport.”

This is a prime example of the production team’s adaptability. The essence of the story remains the same; the threat to Earth pushes the Federation to the brink of civil war. However, the details are fluid and adjustable.

Power play...

Power play…

This approach towards plotting is evident in other ways. Homefront and Paradise Lost would introduce the character of Joseph Sisko, who would become a recurring fixture in the final seasons of the show. Brock Peters does great work as the elder Sisko, and is another fine example of the show’s uncanny knack for casting. However, the involvement of Joseph Sisko in the plot to Homefront and Paradise Lost is itself another example of the show’s willingness to adjust and tweak its plotting to suit its needs.

It is something of a surprise that Joseph Sisko appears in this two-parter. The early seasons of the show had repeatedly suggested that Benjamin Sisko’s father was dead. Emissary had Sisko talking about his father in the past tense. The Alternate had Sisko talking about his father’s illness. Although the show never explicitly stated that Joseph Sisko was dead, it was heavily implied. (“In the end, I realised that there was nothing that he could do, and nothing I could do to help him.”)

Home cooking...

Home cooking…

It is not quite a continuity goof, but it comes quite close. However, it is also a prime example of the show’s willingness to adjust its own assumptions and premises in pursuit of stronger stronger stories. The presence of Joseph Sisko in Homefront might make the episode harder to reconcile with Emissary and The Alternate, but it does make for a much stronger story of itself. Homefront would be a much weaker story were Joseph Sisko’s death set in stone, and several later episodes would be much poorer for it as well.

Indeed, Homefront even hints at revisions yet to come. A very minor detail in Homefront sets up a major character beat in the fifth season, when Odo asks O’Brien and Bashir whether he can check in on anybody for them. “Anyone I can look up for you, Doctor?” Odo asks Bashir. “No, no, that’s perfectly fine,” Bashir responds, which seems odd for such an outgoing and friendly character. However, that single exchange – an aside in a small scene that seems to exist largely to give O’Brien and Bashir something to do – inspired Doctor Bashir, I Presume.

All President and accountable...

All President and accountable…

In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Ronald D. Moore acknowledges that this small dialogue in Homefront would eventually snowball into a much larger reconceptualisation of Bashir as a character:

When Odo was going to Earth, he asked Bashir ‘Is there anybody you want me to look up?’ and Bashir says ‘I have nobody there I want to talk to.’ There was something in this guy’s back-story that was interesting.

Of course, these revisions to Bashir’s character would also tweak some of the show’s established continuity; Doctor Bashir, I Presume sits rather awkwardly was his back story in Melora and his nightmare in Distant Voices. Nevertheless, it makes a great deal of sense for the character himself.

Shaping up...

Shaping up…

It is interesting to contrast Homefront and Paradise Lost with the episode that replaced them. The episodes were placed approximately half-way through the season to make room for The Way of the Warrior, which was another example of the production team making their mark on the larger Star Trek franchise. The Way of the Warrior brought the Klingon Empire and the Federation to the brink of war. Homefront and Paradise Lost threatens the Federation with civil war.

These are both “epic” stories that could not have happened while Star Trek: The Next Generation were on the air, requiring the production team to effectively “steer” the shared universe. In many ways, they are quintessential Deep Space Nine stories, setting the stage for what would happen over the next three seasons. There is an emphasis on the inevitability of conflict, even in utopia. In many respects, The Way of the Warrior and Homefront are the “middle stage” of an evolution that began with The Maquis, Part I and ends with A Call to Arms.

Glass act...

Glass act…

There are other similarities as well. Most notably, the two fourth-season two-parters emphasise just how well the Deep Space Nine production staff use the space afforded by ninety minutes of storytelling real estate. Star Trek: Voyager would grow increasingly fond of two-parters from its third season onward, often using the double episodes as an excuse to increase the budget, double-down on action and to add more plotting. The Deep Space Nine two-parters always increase their scale and scope, but they supplement that with nice character beats.

While The Way of the Warrior features some of the franchise’s best battle sequences, it is also packed with wonderful character beats and little moments. The Way of the Warrior might be quintessential Deep Space Nine in its emphasis on realpolitik and conflict, but it is also quintessential Deep Space Nine in its character moments; Garak and Quark discussing root beer, Dax and Kira discussing Lancelot, even Odo and Bashir on Klingon opera. These are the moments that mark out a Deep Space Nine two-parter, using the extra space to serve character.

Fair shake...

Fair shake…

Homefront and Paradise Lost do something similar. This is most notable in Homefront, which front loads a lot of the regular cast, given that most of the episode will feature Sisko and Odo visiting Earth. There is space allocated to O’Brien and Bashir replaying the Battle of Britain and to Dax pranking Odo, for example. Even these seemingly minor details play into the broader themes of the episode; O’Brien and Bashir discussing the desire “to do something” about the crisis that finds expression in a military fantasy, Dax teasing Odo’s more ordered tendencies.

Even seemingly innocuous conversations hint at the themes of the two-parter. When Kira and Worf discuss the merit of faith after Sisko departs, it hints at the crisis of faith that Sisko will endure upon his trip to Earth; it is a crisis not rooted in belief in gods, but in his faith in the uniform that he wears. There is a sense that Deep Space Nine is teasing the franchise’s tendency towards staunch atheism, hinting that faith in an institution like Starfleet is surprisingly comparable to Kira’s faith in her gods.

A new phase...

A new phase…

These parallels are most obvious in the focus that the episode puts on the relationship between Joseph and Benjamin Sisko.  Most obviously, taking the opportunity to visit Joseph Sisko allows Sisko and Odo to get away from the politics and the bureaucracy of Starfleet and Federation politics. Given how skeptical Homefront and Paradise Lost are about those politics, the relief is always welcome. Focusing on a guest star who is a civilian affords a more ground perspective of what could easily be an abstract philosophical argument.

More than that, the emphasis on the relationship between Joseph and Ben also roots the central conflict of the episode into something much more relatable than an attempted coup d’etat in a futuristic utopia. Ben’s best efforts to protect and look after his father offer a reflection of Leyton’s attempts to safe-guard the future of Earth. “Damn it, Dad,” Ben reflects at one point. “Can’t you cooperate just one time? You don’t take your medication, you don’t go to the doctor, you won’t let Judith help you in the restaurant. Just one time, please do what you’re asked.”

Battlin' on...

Battlin’ on…

Ben might be right that he knows what is best for his father. Ben might be right that Joseph is making choices that put him at risk and may even shorten his life. However, Joseph is free to make those choices; that freedom is an essential part of living in a futuristic utopia. That conflict suggests that Ben’s perspective is not too far removed from that of Leyton, even if he does oppose the attempted coup. (The show occasionally suggests that Sisko’s has invested in Starfleet just a little bit too heavily; For the Uniform is perhaps the strongest example.)

As if to reinforce this connection, Odo attempts to comfort Sisko about the situation with his father. “I’ve found that when it comes to doing what’s best for you, you humanoids have the distressing habit of doing the exact opposite,” Odo observes as Ben reflects on his father’s poor health. It is a telling statement in a number of ways. Most obviously, it is a commentary on Leyton’s reaction to the Dominion threat, but it also speaks to the appeal of imposing a fascist order upon a chaotic universe. If people can’t take care of themselves, somebody has to.

Souped up security...

Souped up security…

At the same time, there are some very clear differences between The Way of the Warrior and the mid-season two-parter. Most obviously, The Way of the Warrior was written and produced as a single ninety-minute episode. In contrast, Homefront and Paradise Lost were written as two separate forty-five minute episodes that link together to form a single story. This is most notable in the way that Ronald D. Moore is credited with the story on Paradise Lost but not Homefront.

One of the beautiful things about Homefront is how cleverly it exploits this format in an attempt to wrong-foot the audience. Although Homefront and Paradise Lost are pointed critiques of militarism and surveillance culture, that does not become entirely obvious until Paradise Lost. There are certainly strong hints that something is wrong in San Francisco, but Homefront plays its card reasonably close to its chest. The first episode very consciously and very cleverly plays up the idea of the Dominion threat to Earth.

Admira(b)l(e) goals...

Admira(b)l(e) goals…

There is a sense that Homefront might easily have been retooled to lead into a story resembling By Inferno’s Light. The first part of the story takes the Dominion threat at face value. The mysterious behaviour of the wormhole suggests an unknown threat that ties back into the plot, corresponding with a terrorist attack upon Earth. A Founder is able to infiltrate Starfleet headquarters while posing as Admiral Leyton, only to get away “scot-free.” At the end of the hour, when the lights go out, it seems like a prelude to invasion.

The penultimate act break of Homefront would make a very effective cliffhanger for a two-parter about the (at this point inevitable) Dominion incursion into the Alpha Quadrant. As the power grid falters around the planet, Sisko and Leyton react with horror. Odo reflects that the sabotage has taken down “sensors, transporters, surface-based defense installations.” Sisko realises what this means. “In other words, Earth is defenseless.” Leyton adds, “If the Dominion attacks now, we don’t stand a chance.”

Inching along...

Inching along…

Sisko spends most of Homefront supporting Leyton’s position. He helps to stage a frightening demonstration to scare Jaresh Inyo into line. He consults upon increasing security measures around Starfleet headquarters. During one of the two-parter’s standout scenes, he even compellingly argues that Joseph Sisko should willingly submit to intrusive blood screenings. By allowing Sisko to side with Leyton, Homefront invites the audience to get on board; the audience can follow the show’s lead and assume that Sisko and Leyton are in the right.

More than that, it serves to make the thematic twist in Paradise Lost all the more effective. It brings the audience along with Sisko and Leyton, inviting them to feel the paranoia and to invest in the threat. Homefront never plays down the threat posed by the Dominion, acknowledging that the external danger to Earth is real. (Indeed, the Dominion goes on to cause quite a bit of suffering as the series goes on.) It is easy to understand why Leyton (and Sisko) would feel that more proactive measures need to be taken to protect the planet.

The (worm)hole in things...

The (worm)hole in things…

This was entirely the point of the exercise, as the production team reflected in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

“We were always trying to make the two-parters as rich as possible, in terms of characters and storylines,” says Behr.

And the storyline was rich, nothing less than “an attempt to make the audience complicit in believing that a threat is imminent, and that by any means necessary, it must be dealt with,” says Rene Echevarria. “We go out of Part I saying, ‘There’s going to be a big battle, and we’re going to stop them. Martial law – yes! Clamp down on rights – yes! Blood tests – yes! No civil rights – yes!’ And then in Part II we find out that the real point of the story is how dangerous this feeling is.”

It is a clever way of wrong-footing the audience, and one that plays to the structure of a two-parter in particular, as opposed to a single ninety-minute story.

Wake up, sheep(skin wearing peop)le!

Wake up, sheep(skin wearing peop)le!

Of course, some of this impact is dulled on re-watch, knowing exactly where Homefront is going. The little indications that something is not right – like Sisko’s confession to Odo after his father has a stroke – become a lot more apparent. It is an interesting shift, and one that speaks to Homefront and Paradise Lost as two episodes of television that were originally broadcast a week apart. On initial airing, the audience had a whole week to soak in the cliffhanger ending to Homefront, to process and digest its themes before Paradise Lost aired.

Then again, this speaks to broader changes in media consumption in the past couple of decades. Homefront and Paradise Lost were structured as a two-parter long before DVDs and streaming changed the way that people watched television shows. During the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, the show was still being released on VHS, with releases of two episodes per tape spaced across a year. Two-parters were often split. Ironically enough, Homefront and Paradise Lost were actually released on the same video cassette.

All the best captains have daddy issues...

All the best captains have daddy issues…

This aspect of Homefront – the way that it skilfully wrong-foots the audience to take a sharp left swerve in the next episode – is something that never works as well as it does on that initial broadcast. Binge-watching the episodes back-to-back undercuts the impact of the genre twist, and knowing where Paradise Lost is going means that it is impossible to recreate that initial experience of watching Homefront and supporting Leyton. (Of course, the current political realities arguably also make it harder to sympathise with Leyton even before his coup in Paradise Lost.)

Homefront and Paradise Lost are stunning examples of what this production team can do, demonstrating that Deep Space Nine has hit its stride at this point in the run. There is a confidence and a self-awareness to Homefront and Paradise Lost that plays to the strengths of the show around it, both in terms of structure and theme. This is peak Deep Space Nine.

13 Responses

  1. Easily one of the best ds9 episodes in its entire run. I do find it disappointing that after this episode, however, changeling paranoia is never explored more. Yes, Bashir is replaced by a changling, but this does not seem to lead to increased paranoia.

    • I think you’re right. And that is perhaps a great example of the show resonating with the climate to come without quite seizing upon it. One of the great things about DS9 is watching Ronald D. Moore map out a rough draft of BSG so that he would be more than ready when the War on Terror arrived. I love DS9 in its own right, but it was also handy as something of an accidental first draft.

  2. I part ways with my esteemed Mr. Wehrs, here. (No offense.)

    I really disliked this two-parter. Not much about it worth salvaging. Brock Peters is unconvincing in his role. Avery overacts, as he often does when presented with a really juicy script. The coup is particularly lame in its execution (clever use of Red Squad, though), and the President contributes nothing to the plot. He’s supposed to be a stand-in for Carter. But none of that comes through, and frankly the parallel is insultingly vague to begin with! Carter was not an unambitious man, for instance. (I guess Layton is supposed to symbolize stagflation….?)

    Behr, like a lot of producers, frets over casting. He did not like the actor who played the President. For once I agree with Ira. This guy’s terrible.

    Limp script, bad acting, a lack of suspense. And I hate to punch below the belt here…but if you want this story arc done better, with actors who can really cook, watch Babylon Five.

    T’is crap.

    • Well, to be fair when has Federation president ever been useful in any Star Trek incarnation? He seemed just as passive in Star Trek VI what with letting a Romulan adviser into his office. As a result, I always thought of the Federation president as a figure head, so Jaresh Inyo’s uselessness did not really bother me.
      I think what I really like about this episode is the scene between the false O’Brien and Sisko where the false O’Brien reveals that just four changelings on earth.The idea that something so small can create so many duplicitous paranoid actions is a good one. Furthermore, of course it is always nice when Colm Meaney does something apart from spewing technobabble.

      • “Well, to be fair when has Federation president ever been useful in any Star Trek incarnation?”

        Fair point!

        Mind you, I’m only being harsh on “Homefront” because I think DS9’s batting average is much higher than that.

        To paraphrase Darren, this is a “perfectly serviceable/adequate/workmanlike/decent/agile/all right/pleasant/up to snuff/unobjectionable hour of television!

      • I like scenery-chewing Colm Meaney when he pops up. It’s a reminder of how versatile Colm Meaney is, and how naturalistic he is in his approach to O’Brien.

        (I think that Meaney doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for his work as O’Brien. O’Brien really is an oddity in terms of Star Trek cast members. Behr point to O’Brien as the franchise’s first working class protagonist, and he’s right. However, Meaney is also one of the most naturalistic regular cast members to work on the franchise, juxtaposed against the more arch and theatrical approaches of his co-stars. Oddly enough, I thought that Enterprise kinda nodded towards that – Bakula is a very loose and naturalistic performer – but the production team often seemed to play against (rather than into) that idea.)

    • I fear I’m more with Mister Wehrs on this point.

      I like Brooks’ style, but will concede that it’s an acquired taste. If Shatner and Stewart are stage actors on television, Brooks hybridises their approaches and pitches it at “opera.” I really liked Brock Peters. I though the coup was quite reasonable given the budget constraints upon which the show was working, and led to some nice dialogue/debate scenes.

  3. This could have been so much better . . . more interesting. The producers could have built a really interesting story arc from these two episodes. Instead, it was resolved with a few plot holes in the writing. Pity.

  4. I actually like that this was wrapped up so quickly, these days, the military coup of Earth would be stretched over a season with every facet explored, but currently we have a few series that do these topics at length. Being made when it was, you have 2 episodes, so instead of all the big moments happening once every few episodes, everything has an impact right away, the point is made and they move on to another topic.

    • Yep. I’m generally quite happy with the balance that DS9 strikes between episodic and serialised in its fourth and fifth seasons. I think the sixth and seventh seasons struggle a little bit at cultivating a sense of constant total war, but the fourth and fifth are really the perfect balance for me.

  5. “All President and accountable”; isn’t that picture from Paradise Lost? It’s when Leyton and Benteen frame Sisko as a Changeling.

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