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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Bar Association (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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

The politics of Star Trek can occasionally be difficult to pin down.

There are obvious reasons for this, of course. Television is a collaborative medium, the result of lots of different creative voices. It is hard to argue that Star Trek has an consistent set of politics, because those creative voices have very different politics. Even on the original show, episodes like Errand of Mercy and The Omega Glory suggested that Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry had very different perspectives on the Vietnam War. Certainly, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have very different viewpoints.

Don't beat yourself up, Quark...

Don’t beat yourself up, Quark. We have some Nausicaans to do it for you.

However, it is also the case that the franchise has always been quite careful when engaging with political discourse, particularly in the context of its nineties incarnation. The myth of Star Trek paints the show as progressive and liberal, but the truth is that the series rarely broke new ground in the nineties and into the new millennium. Episodes like Rejoined and Judgment were very much the exception rather than the rule, engaging with big political and social issues in a very clear manner. A lot of the time, the franchise played it fairly safe.

That is part of what makes Bar Association such an interesting episode of television. As with Rejoined, there is a sense that the Star Trek franchise should take the liberal politics of Bar Association for granted. After all, while there is some ambiguity as to exactly what form of economic theory is employed by the Federation, it certainly isn’t capitalism. However, it is interesting to hear the franchise (perhaps literally in this case) put its money where its mouth is, allowing a major character to quote Marx and Engels.

Strike while the bar is hot...

Strike while the bar is hot…

Trying to work out the political framework of the Star Trek universe can be quite tough. The politics of various societies can be difficult to navigate. After all, the Klingon Empire somehow existed without an Emperor until the events of Rightful Heir. The home planets of the Romulan Star Empire were conveniently named as Romulus and Remus in Balance of Terror, a naming convention to which the Romulans apparently stick. There is a long-standing question as to whether anybody has ever seen a Breen without their mask.

While a lot of work has been put into developing and fleshing out these societies, there are all sorts of logical and logistical questions that arise when one takes the time to process through the internal logic. This applies as much to the Federation as it does to the other major Federation powers. Indeed, Homefront and Paradise Lost offer perhaps the most in-depth exploration of how Federation politics must work, while keeping the finer details suitably vague and ambiguous.

A holo greeting...

A holo greeting…

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, Star Trek is meant to be a television series, not a collection of exposition about a fictional future world. Telling stories will always take priority to spelling out the finer details of how exactly a culture is supposed to work. The rules and regulations (and cultural factors) that govern the political powers in Star Trek are governed as much by plot expedience as by internal consistency. The internal logic of this science-fiction world must give way to the needs of the story at hand.

There is nothing wrong with that; among the dullest aspects of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace were those preoccupied with trade guilds and government sanctions. While many fans might watch Star Trek in order to soak in the franchise’s optimistic vision of mankind’s future, very few likely watch it to explore the particulars of the separation of powers or the economic model underlying a fictional society that has invented technology that can literally manufacture gold from thin air.

"Now the FCA won't let me be..."

“Now the FCA won’t let me be…”

Nevertheless, it is fun to fixate upon the workings of the Federation; while acknowledging that details are bound to be internally contradictory and that focusing too hard may induce migraines or insanity. There has been a strong recurring suggestion that the Federation is largely a post-capitalist society. Kirk stated that the Federation does not use money in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Picard acknowledged that “the economics of the future” would be quite alien to a twenty-first century human in Star Trek: First Contact.

These references were made in two of the most popular Star Trek films, which perhaps explains why the idea has taken root in the popular consciousness. Nevertheless, there are quite a few episodes of the television franchise that paint the Federation as a society that has evolved beyond the use of money to procure (at least essential) goods and services. The franchise was most overtly socialist in the early days of The Next Generation, most notable in episodes like The Last Outpost and The Neutral Zone.

"If it turns out to be a threat, please; allow them to beat me up first. That is how it worked on the Enterprise."

“If it turns out to be a threat, please; allow them to beat me up first. That is how it worked on the Enterprise.”

(In fact, there are elements of that to be found in Bar Association. When trying to strong-arm Quark into dealing with the eponymous union, Sisko references the fact that the Federation holds “the lease” on Quark’s Bar. However, despite holding that lease, Sisko points out that the Federation doesn’t “ask [Quark] to pay [his] rent, or to reimburse [them] for your maintenance repairs, or the drain on the station’s power supply.” It suggests a very odd arrangement for a landlord and a bar owner operating on his property.)

It is entirely possible to paint Star Trek as something approaching a socialist utopia; it is a world in which (human) society is no longer governed by the demands of money. Picard and Sisko might have to worry about the fate of the Alpha Quadrant, but they never have to worry about their bank balances or their take-home pay. It is reasonable to suggest that most of the characters on most of the Star Trek shows ended up in that uniform because they chose to, rather than for any economic need.

Giving him an ear full...

Giving him an ear full…

While the economy of Star Trek is of particular interest to hardcore fans of the franchise and academics, it is worth noting that this aspect of the property has never really bled into the popular consciousness. As Todd McGowan argues in The End of Dissatisfaction?, specifically citing the documentary Trekkies, few Star Trek fans will credit its depiction of a future without money as part of what draws them to the franchise:

When pressed for details, they mention its fairness, its equality, its diversity, its tolerance, and its ethic of nonviolence. However, not a single fan depicted in the film, out of hundreds that are interviewed, mentions the fact that the Star Trek economy is a wholly socialist one, that this universe is so far from our prevailing capitalist one that its subjects don’t even have money. Trekkies find themselves drawn to Star Trek’s radicality – or so they claim – and yet, they completely miss the aspect of the show that most challenges our contemporary existence – its blatant rejection of capitalism as the sine qua non of modern life.

To be fair, there are a whole host of reasons why this might be the case. Most obviously, the franchise itself has rarely emphasised the socialist underpinnings of the Federation’s economy. Casual viewers who had devoured the entire franchise might be excused for never picking up on the fact that the Federation is essentially a society that lives by the mantra “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Business as unusual...

Business as unusual…

There are lots of reasons why Star Trek might not choose to champion its socialist credentials. Quite simply, the franchise was rarely as bold or provocative as it claimed to be. The franchise earned a reputation for being progressive, but the Berman era Star Trek productions very rarely backed that up. The franchise has an incredibly disappointing track record in LGBTQ representation for example, with Rejoined very much being the exception rather than the rule. It seems highly unlikely the franchise would trumpet its socialism from the rooftops.

After all, The Next Generation was very much a product of the late Reagan era. Although the Cold War was almost over by the point that Encounter at Farpoint aired, there was a sense that “socialism” was still something of a dirty word in American politics. The country had come a long way from the McCarthy witch hunts, but there was still a long-standing association between socialism and totalitarian communism. The first season of The Next Generation deserves some small credit for being as vocal as it was, but the show was far too polite to be so controversial.

Padding out his speech...

Padding out his speech…

There is also the simple fact that the socialism of Star Trek was very likely a logical conclusion of its internal logic, rather than a conscious creative decision in its own right. After all, the Federation is able to afford so much luxury to its citizens because of pseudo-magical technology like transporters and replicators. As Dale Franks reflects in Slackernomics:

What makes Star Trek’s economics fundamentally different, and, in many ways, fundamentally incomprehensible to us, is that scarcity is no longer a factor. In that universe, there is an invention called the “replicator” which can transform matter at the atomic level. Put in a rock, or, more likely, some cheap carbon slurry, and out pops bacon and eggs. Or a cup of Earl Gray, hot.

The invention of the replicator in the Star Trek universe means that essentially no good is scarce. Practically any physical good can be obtained at negligible cost, either through replicators, or through construction by artificially intelligent robots using replicator-produced prefabircated parts.

This is a very astute point that essentially cuts through any thought experiment about the economics of Star Trek. The fundamental logic underpinning the Star Trek universe is beyond what mankind considers to be possible. Only a jerk or a fascist would insist on restricting replicator or transporter access so as to preserve an economy that resembles that of the twentieth or twenty-first century.

A union of interests...

A union of interests…

After all, one of the more disappointing aspects of Star Trek: Enterprise was the way that the show began at a point where that technology had already taken hold. Part of the appeal of Enterprise was the promise of filling in the blanks; explaining how mankind got from where we are today to the optimistic universe of Star Trek. Beginning with the transporter and “protein resequencer”, the prequel series began at a point that was fundamentally unrecognisable to contemporary audiences.

Given that so much of the economy of Star Trek hinges on a fictional technology, it makes sense not to dwell too hard upon the logistics. Indeed, it could also be argued that there is amble evidence to suggest that the Federation is not, in fact, a socialist utopia. It is definitely not a capitalist state, but it has certain elements that seem inconsistent with the workings of a socialist society. It is entirely possible that the Federation operates according to an economic philosophy entirely alien to the audience. (It is also possible the writers don’t think about these things too hard.)

"Are you Nausicaans or Nausicaan'ts?"

“Are you Nausicaans or Nausicaan’ts?”

How do restaurants like Sisko’s or vineyards like Picard’s actually operate? Of course, there are plenty of fan theories and speculation about the way that such traditionally capitalist establishments might fit in a more socialist framework. As Matthew Yglesias wonders:

So what do the producers of scarce goods do? Well, presumably they’re giving a lot of stuff away. Friends and family get bottles of wine. Perhaps you send a case or two to some particularly admired athletes or scientists or other heroes. Maybe artisanal wine just isn’t that popular in general. And maybe you barter some bottles for other artisanal goods. Maybe you have a friend who hand-carves furniture. But at its most fundamental level, it’s a gift economy. The point of running your restaurant or your vineyard is essentially to show off your mastery, not accumulate wealth. There may be some more-or-less formal exchanges, but the key point is to get the output into people’s hands and not work so hard as to make yourself miserable.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that the writers likely wanted characters like Robert Picard and Joseph Sisko to seem familiar and recognisable to audience members without being members of Starfleet or living the lives of leisure that one might expect from a society that has the replicator and the holodeck.

Skirting the issue...

Skirting the issue…

Rick Webb speculates that the Federation could operate according to a bizarre and unpredictable model stitched together from countless internally inconsistent details over the run of the franchise, proposing an economy that works based upon:

A sort-of guessing game based on the various mentions of Federation Credits and trying to glean the system from every single mention of money or payments within the series. This is always a pain in the ass, especially given the original series sometimes did things that were pretty out there according to later firmly established canon, and later firmly rejected by Roddenberry himself before his death. Additionally, many of the assumptions about Federation Credits seem iffy: are they really currency? Do they have to be? Are they scrip? Rations? We simply don’t know. And in any case, trying to define the entire economy of the Federation — and perhaps even learning something from it — should be more than a matter of resolving obscure trivia references (though of course it’s fun).

This is an entirely reasonable observation, one quite akin to William Shatner’s iconic “get a life” sketch. When discussions dig into the finer workings of the economy of a fictional futuristic government, perhaps things have gone too far.

Showing faint interest...

Showing faint interest…

Still, while there is certainly enough evidence to make a reasonable counter-argument, it seems perfectly fair to suggest that Star Trek has long had a vaguely socialist outlook. The franchise was never actively revolutionary, desperately yearning for the collapse of American capitalism; instead, the economic philosophy of Star Trek basically amounts to “gee… wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t have to do jobs they hated in order to survive and maintain a reasonable standard of living?” It is certainly left-leaning and faintly socialist, but not in an aggressive manner.

In some ways, Star Trek would seem to be ahead of the curve. Removed from the ideological conflict of the Cold War, it seems that “socialism” is no longer such a dirty word to Americans; free of its associations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the concept would seem a lot less hostile. It took some time, of course. However, it should be noted that “socialism” was the most looked-up word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2015, the year that saw Bernie Sanders launching an unapologetically socialist presidential campaign.

Labouring the point...

Labouring the point…

As Kshama Sawant argues, the current generation of Americans is far removed from the context of the “red scare”, allowing them to form their own ideas about the state’s obligations towards its citizenry:

The American youth of today did not grow up in the shadow of the Cold War. The vilification of socialist ideas by Republicans anyway only serves, if anything, to pique their interest. Coupled with that is the future most young Americans face: a low-wage job market, proliferation of student debt and an escalating housing affordability crisis. Since the Occupy movement, the dirty word as far as many millennials are concerned is not socialism, but capitalism.

Of course, Bar Association aired pretty much two decades before this broader cultural shift. However, it did suggest that that attitudes towards social democratic values were thawing somewhat.

Brother from the same mother...

Brother from the same mother…

As such, it is nice to see the franchise embrace this idea somewhat with Bar Association. The early episodes of The Next Generation treated the Ferengi as a two-dimensional parody of capitalist excess. In contrast, Deep Space Nine has made an effort to flesh the characters out a bit and develop them into a more complicated and (arguably) grounded society. If the Ferengi are to serve as a metaphor for capitalist excess, it makes sense to use them to tell a story about organised labour.

Of course, Bar Association is hardly radical in its politics. Only the most staunch anti-communist would argue that workers do not have the right to form a union for the purpose of protection and negotiation. Certainly, Bar Association works very hard to make sure that even the most aggressively capitalist viewer would find Quark’s behaviour towards his employees to be ridiculous. At the same time, it is quite remarkable to hear the show explicitly and favourably quoting The Communist Manifesto, even years following the end of the Cold War.

He should have duct and covered...

He should have duct and covered…

As with Sons of Mogh, it feels like Bar Association is engaging with the more multicultural aspects of Deep Space Nine. More than any of the other Star Trek shows, Deep Space Nine was always willing to take an alien culture at face value and follow that idea through to its logical conclusion. Sons of Mogh touched on the limits of the show’s multiculturalism when Sisko decided (not unreasonably) that Worf and Kurn could not engage in a Klingon murder ritual together.

Bar Association looks at the multicultural aspects of Deep Space Nine from another angle. Deep Space Nine is very willing to allow its characters to retain their unique cultural identities. Even in Bar Association, Odo is as fascistic as any Founder in his disapproval of the strike while Worf makes a point to carve out his own space away from the rest of the ensemble. Quark is allowed to be as greedy as Ferengi traditional will allow, while Garak is allowed to wallow in his own ambiguity. More than any other Star Trek, Deep Space Nine is a celebration of unique perspectives.

Assembling a strike force...

Assembling a strike force…

The show is reluctant to have characters impose their morality upon others. Sisko usually avoids the moral absolutism that Picard and Janeway take for granted. It is telling that Sisko completely and utterly fails in his mission to induct Bajor into the Federation. As the series goes on, there are a number of nods to this mission in episodes like Crossfire and Rapture, but there is also a sense that Bajor might be best suited to find its own way in the wider universe.

However, Deep Space Nine suggests that there is some inherent worth in bringing these characters together and exposing them to one another. Characters like Odo and Garak are never going to conform to Federation ideals, but they are enriched by their experiences on the station interacting with other people. Odo becomes more open-minded and accepting of diversity than his fellow changelings, while Garak comes to recognise that perhaps there are some very fundamental flaws in Cardassian society.

Only his ego has been bruised...

Only his ego has been bruised…

Allowing these characters to encounter new ideas enriches their lives and broadens their horizons, even if the show stresses that characters like Worf and Kira have never been (and never will be) fully assimilated into the Starfleet worldview. For all that the show is accused of cynicism, Deep Space Nine seems fairly romantic. Simply going out and experiencing the wider world is an enriching experience of itself. (It is arguably worth contrasting this with Star Trek: Voyager, where the objective seems to be to get home as quickly as possible.)

In Bar Association, Rom is transformed through his contact with other people. He grows and develops from his exposure to alien ideas. This is implicit in some ways; Rom has come a long way from trying to murder Quark for the bar in The Nagus, with his final exchange implicitly referencing that early episode. “If I keep working for you, all I have to look forward to is waiting for you to die so I can inherit the bar,” Rom explains once he decides to move on from his job at the bar. “Well, I don’t want you to die.”

Mixing it up...

Mixing it up…

The idea that Rom has learned a lot from his time on Deep Space Nine is reinforced by the way the plot is structured. It is Bashir who first suggests the idea of a union to Rom. To Bashir, it is an off-hand recommendation. When Rom returns to boast about founding the union, Bashir remarks, “Rom, I was speaking theoretically.” In that same conversation, Chief O’Brien regales Rom with a story about his own ancestor who was a Pennsylvania labour hero. (Although it is weird that the writers don’t tie O’Briens family history to the 1913 Lockout.)

When Brunt comes to confront the striking workers, he makes a similar observation. Brunt suggests that these Ferengi have lived away from the Ferengi homeworld for too long, allowing themselves to be corrupted by exposure to alien values. “The FCA understands that living on this station has… corrupted you,” Brunt explains, allowing himself to be temporarily distracted by Leeta. “You’ve been tempted by unwholesome Bajoran ideals, exposed to the twisted values of the Federation.”

"Didn't you buy this back in Little Green Men?"

“Didn’t you buy this back in Little Green Men?”

However, the reality of the situation is that living on the station has afforded Rom the opportunity to explore new ideas and to look at new ways of living his life. In fact, at the end of the episode, Rom decides to strike out on his own. He discovers that more independence from Quark is a good thing, more freedom to find himself and define his own ideas. Deep Space Nine presents the station as something of a melting pot, a place where different ideas can mingle and overlap.

As with Return to Grace, there is a sense that the key to progress is in breaking the cycles of violence. When Rom outlines the abuse that he suffers to Bashir, the doctor is horrified. Bashirs asks why Ferengi employees do not band together to end the exploitation. “You don’t understand,” Rom advises Bashir. “Ferengi workers don’t want to stop the exploitation. We want to find a way to become the exploiters.” The wheel turns, just like Dukat aspires to find a way back to the power and authority he once wielded.

High (King) and mighty...

High (King) and mighty…

As ever, the fourth season is absolutely saturated with images that either recur from earlier episodes or will echo through later episodes. In Sons of Mogh, Kira and O’Brien stumble upon cloaked mines being employed in a cold war with an enemy preparing for war; the idea will recur in A Call to Arms. Even in the teaser to Bar Association, O’Brien and Bashir finds themselves preparing to enact another historic battle on the holosuite. This time, O’Brien is taking Bashir to the Battle of Clontarf. “It’s like the Battle of Britain, only with swords.”

It is interesting to note that Bar Association suggests that the O’Brien family has been up and down on this spinning wheel of history. In the teaser, O’Brien claims to be a descendent of the High King Brian Boru; later in the episode, he acknowledges another ancestor who worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. The O’Brien family has moved across the various social strata; they have been kings and miners, royalty and labourers. Even in fleshing out O’Brien’s family history, Deep Space Nine emphasises that people’s circumstances change.

Wages of sin...

Wages of sin…

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is very fond of changing characters’ circumstances. Worf is dishonoured as of The Way of the Warrior, and left without a family after Sons of Mogh. Dukat is disgraced in Return to Grace. Quark will be cut off from his people in Body Parts and Odo from his own in Broken Link. Most of these changes would be reversed during the fifth season, but they emphasise that the fortune (and status quo) of any given cast member is certain to change from episode to episode.

Interestingly, Bar Association marks the rare change that would remain in place for most of the series. When Rom retires from Quark’s bar at the end of the episode, he stays away. Barring a brief stint undercover from A Time to Stand through to The Sacrifice of Angels, Rom will remain a service technician from Bar Association through to The Dogs of War. It is a surprisingly serious change for a relatively small supporting character, but it works out very well in the longer term. It feels like earned growth.

Some neck...

Some neck…

Bar Association also marks the beginning of the relationship between Rom and Leeta. Leeta had been introduced in Explorers as a love interest for Bashir, but the two rarely seemed to spend any time together. Leeta was tied to Quark’s Bar, so there was relatively little overlap. Actress Chase Masterson has suggested that the decision to get Leeta and Rom together came from their chemistry in Bar Association:

Well, we are always encouraged as actors to bring our own sense of self, and anything and everything we wanted to do to inhabit the character. Our writing team was just so incredibly good, that they didn’t need to take suggestions. They was no kind of brainstorming element. But what they did do which is really lovely and instinctive, is they watched the interaction between the characters. So the Leeta and Rom relationship was really born in the third season when Leeta stood up for Rom and the Ferengi in Bar Association, which is an episode about unions and fair labour. When they saw us interacting on screen, they said, “We gotta get these two together.” So they had Leeta break up with Bashir and the rest is history.

Although Rom and Leeta would not properly end up together until Doctor Bashir, I Presume, the seeds are very clearly sewn here. It seems like the writers are toying with the idea in Bar Association, even if they have not entirely committed to it at this point in the run. It is arguably another example of the production team’s loose and improvisational approach to plotting arcs.

Have a look ear...

Have a look ear…

Bar Association works very well as a character study for its two central characters. The early seasons of the show often struggled with Quark as a character, but Armin Shimerman has always been fantastic in the role. One of the more engaging aspects of Deep Space Nine, compared to the other Star Trek shows, is a willingness to foster ambiguity around its central characters. Quark is very much the antagonist of Bar Association, but the episode leaves it to the audience to determine how much (or how little) Quark actually loves his brother.

The relationship between Quark and Rom is abusive; that is quite clear, and has been for quite some time. Quark exploits Rom, holding him back and using his brother to advance his own position. Quark cheats Rom regularly, and the innocence that Rom has displayed since The Nagus only serves to make Quark seem more predatory. There are times where it seems like Rom is utterly incapable of taking care of himself, which makes Quark seem very cynical for taking advantage of him.

Down to business...

Down to business…

At the same time, the show suggests that Quark might actually love Rom. Quark might be able to rationalise his conduct towards his brother to himself, explaining away his abuse as an expression of deep-seated affection. “I had to be tough on you,” Quark insists. “I was trying to make you a better Ferengi.” Maybe Quark even believes that. It doesn’t make his behaviour any less abusive, but it does add layers to the character. However, the beauty of a script like Bar Association is how it refuses to provide a clear-cut answer on the subject.

It is entirely possible that Quark was sincere in his attempts to convince Rom to abandon the union. Perhaps Quark really was worried about what Brunt and those two Nausicaans would do to the labour movement. At the same time, the subsequent scene suggests that Brunt knew all about Quark’s appeal to Rom; this would suggest that the entire conversation was staged. Even when Rom resigns at the end of the episode, Bar Association refuses an easy resolution. There is little to suggest that Quark is secretly happy or quietly proud; he seems honestly frustrated.

Worf has made his bed...

Worf has made his bed…

Bar Association benefits from the direction of LeVar Burton. Burton is one of the franchise’s most underrated directors, but one who works very well with character-driven stories. Perhaps rooted in his own experience as an actor, Burton tends to get the best from his performers; Cogenitor, Similitude and The Forgotten feature three of Connor Trineer’s best performances and stand out as three of the best character-driven episodes in the history of Enterprise. Here, Burton does great work with Shimerman and Grodénchik.

The actors who have worked with Burton tend to sing his praises as a director, talking about how he understands their performances and also how he is willing to take the time necessary to film a scene right. In fact, Burton even paused production on Bar Association when some Buddhist monks stopped by the set; Burton thought that it would be a good opportunity for the cast and crew to meet their visitors. It speaks to a consideration that is not always possible within the confines of a television production schedule.

"Your complaint is very important to us..."

“Your complaint is very important to us…”

Of course, Burton is more than just a great director of actors; he has a knack for shot composition as well. This was quite clear in his establishing Western shots in Indiscretion, but also plays out in Bar Association. Burton is very skilled at handling Jeffrey Combs as Brunt. Brunt is effectively comic relief; he is a joke character from a joke race. More than that, Brunt was already humiliated by Quark in Family Business. The prosthetics department play into this idea of Brunt as a joke among a society of jokes; his lobes are noticeably smaller than those of other Ferengi.

However, Burton manages to make Brunt seem intimidating and unsettling. Part of that is down to Jeffrey Combs’ performance; Combs is very good at walking the fine line between funny and creepy. However, a lot of that is down to how Burton chooses to frame the F.C.A. investigator. During the confrontation with the union, Burton shoots him from low angles, and keeps the camera tight. Brunt might not impose over the frame, but the two Nausicaans are positioned to have the same effect. (The Nausicaans playing darts counts among the franchise’s best gag shots.)

People watching...

People watching…

Perhaps the biggest issue with Bar Association comes from the difficulty overlapping the primary and secondary plot threads. The episode’s secondary plot continues Worf’s struggles to fit in on Deep Space Nine, a recurring preoccupation of the fourth season. Indeed, the production team very skilfully seeded Worf’s discomfort living on the station back in his conversation with Odo in Crossfire. This is just one example of the episode’s careful continuity; Worf and Dax are effectively continuing a conversation about hand-held weapons from the teaser to Sons of Mogh.

This is very skilful use of continuity across episodes. It does not exclude casual viewers; everything that the audience needs to know about Worf’s difficulties fitting in can be garnered from the episode itself. Nevertheless, it creates a sense that these are the same characters carried over from episode to episode. It is the kind of continuity that Voyager is struggling and straining to create with the episodes leading into Investigations; the type of organic “lived in” feel that cannot always be scheduled and apportioned.

"I didn't even get to the 'bodily possession' sublist."

“I didn’t even get to the ‘bodily possession’ sublist.”

The Worf subplot is quite fine, providing a nice excuse for Deep Space Nine to crack some affectionate jokes at the expense of The Next Generation. In particular, Odo gets a great of pleasure from reminding Worf about the events of A Matter of Time and Rascals. And O’Brien gets to point out that at least his work on the station is much more fulfilling. “Have you have any idea how bored I used to get sitting in the Transporter room waiting for something to break down?” he asks Worf. “Here, I’ve a half dozen new problems every day.”

It is not a bad plot, because it fleshes some of the show’s character dynamics; it explains how Worf relates to the station and how the station relates to him. At the same time, the attempt to tie it back to the union plot feels a little forced. In particular, it feels a little ridiculous that two old friends like Worf and O’Brien would come to blows over a strike at Quark’s Bar, even if Worf was feeling strained. It feels like an awkward way to dovetail the two plot threads, and to involve Sisko in the strike plot. It is not particularly graceful plotting.

At the same time, Bar Association works very well. It demonstrates just how smoothly the fourth season is running. A Rom-centric episode about labour politics is a very risky brief. The fact that it works so well is remarkable, and proof of how comfortable Deep Space Nine seems to be getting in its groove.

10 Responses

  1. I suppose the 1913 Lockout is fairly obscure in America. It isn’t entirely impossible O’Brien’s family moved back to Ireland at some point (after all look at Saoirse Ronan) but it did seem a strange choice for a character with no American connection otherwise.

    Seeing Bashir and O’Brien play the Battle of Clontarf was fun, and a neat counterpoint to the Battle of Britain. Off the top of my head seeing O’Brien play his ancestor the Imperator Scottorum may be the only time on American TV I’ve seen an Irish character outrank a British one in class terms, which is kind of sad to think about actually.

    (I admit that might be cultural oversensitivity on my part but I just discovered that Supergirl – a series I usually love – turned the screen version of Silver Banshee into an American…)

    • That’s a very good point about Bashir/O’Brien. I don’t think enough attention is paid to the class/national divisions that the pair overcome. In Explorers, I believe O’Brien sings Jersulem, for example, which is a remarkable example of just how utopian Deep Space Nine could be in its own esoteric way.

  2. “the current generation of Americans is far removed from the context of the “red scare”

    The viewpoint of the liberals (mostly minorities) usually stem from observed weak-points of the current system, so they’re on some level based on self-preservation. Those Americans are going to be left by the side of the road in the coming years. Without UBI or some form of free healthcare, they’re going to be up a creek. That’s light years away from real socialist parties, though. When conservatives criticize them for wanting “free stuff” and not having much of a policy behind that, hey are absolutely right.

    Everywhere else in the western world there are socialist parties in their politics. That’s because the US subsidizes their lavish ways of living with cheap drugs (financed by high medical costs in the US) and free military bases, with all the commerce that entails.

    More to the point, if a major economic events happens to strike the US, you will see those European social programs dry up very quickly. Already Canada, Australia, Britain, and the Nordic countries are dismantling their welfare states. We can demonize the USA for being behind the times, but we might actually be far ahead of the curve on this one.

    There is a basic belief underpinning socialist ideals that that is no one should suffer because they are poorer. That belief is eroding day by day globally.

    • That’s fair point about how European socialism is somewhat enabled by American spending.

      I’m not quite as cynical about the erosion of socialist principles entirely. Switzerland’s “living wage” experiment comes to mind. But I probably subscribe to Obama’s Star-Trek-meets-Hobbes-ian optimism that people generally suck but the arc of history bends towards a more liberal model over long (occasionally too long) stretches.

  3. When Nog told Rom “like father, like son” at the end of Heart of Stone, he was absolutely right. Nog was the first to come to the conclusion that if Rom didn’t get away from Quark, all he would have to live for is the death of his brother, paving the way for Rom to take over the bar. And in The Bar Association, Rom comes to that same conclusion without help from anyone. So he finally puts his engineering skills to good use by joining the station maintenance crew, albeit as a junior member on the night shift (in a nice touch, Rom is rather proud of that last part).

    We get another example of Rom’s development when in Family Business, Quark doesn’t mind bullying Rom because if Ishka hadn’t been so easy on him, Rom may have amounted to something. But in The Bar Association, Rom shoots that theory down and sees the truth for himself, that Quark only did that to make himself feel bigger, and to make Rom feel smaller. Rom’s development is one of my favourites among all of the character arcs on DS9.

    And I like the bit on the Defiant when Worf removes the mattress from the top bunk. Looks like Kurn’s displeasure with the comfortable aesthetics in Worf’s quarters finally got through to him.

    • Worf is INCREDIBLY susceptible to peer pressure. And that’s not even a joke at the expense of Let He Who Is Without Sin…

      Worf essentially behaves as people seem to expect Klingons to act, rather than how Klingons actually act. So it makes sense that Kurn’s little digs about the small comforts would gnaw at him.

  4. A lot of the reason the ‘economic utopia’ hasn’t really taken hold with fans is that most fans can sense, even if they can’t articulate it, that it’s a cheat: a fantasy created with a wave of the Magic Replicator Wand that feels rather flimsy because it IS flimsy: it doesn’t hold water if you begin to think about it for a moment. In fact, it breaks down the fastest, ironically enough, for Marxists who are disposed to associate value with labor rather than with goods.

    Just for one quick example: ask yourself how Joseph Sisko’s restaurant stays in business, with its non-replicated foodstuffs and unpleasant scut jobs like cleaning crayfish.

    • That’s definitely fair. There’s also a sense that Star Trek is afraid to actually explore the implications and mechanics of this society, just like the franchise is afraid to explore ideas like transhumanism beyond a “ugh… icky!” sort of way.

  5. One thing I appreciate in this episode is that it doesn’t shy away from implying that Rom is doing all of this at least in part because he’d prefer to be seen as a hero, in the way O’Brien sees his ancestors, rather than as a toady, which is how everyone sees Rom already—there’s an element of personal romance in his aspirations. He’s declaring his own self-worth with the choice he makes.

    I feel like a show less confident in its characters would fixate on Rom’s desire to be seen as a hero, giving him some sort of last-act comeuppance based on his supposed moral impurity or injecting some left-field event into the plot that shows him up as impossibly naive. Instead, “Bar Association” accepts that sort of self-spun romance as just part of what makes people brave enough to do something unexpected.

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