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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places (Review)

In some ways, the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine serves as an amalgation of the third and fourth seasons of the show, reconciling the bold new direction that began in The Search, Part I with the detour that commenced in The Way of the Warrior.

In some respects, the fifth season feels like an attempt to get the show back on a track that it largely abandoned in favour of the (studio suggested) Klingon focus of the fourth season, but incorporating the lessons learned during that fourth season. One of the more interesting aspects of the fifth season is how much time the show spends rolling back from the bigger decisions of the fourth season. The war with the Klingons (mostly) ends in Apocalypse Rising. Odo gets his groove back in The Begotten. Worf gets his honour back in Soldiers of the Empire.

Klingon Love Songs.

Klingon Love Songs.

The fifth season also very clearly and very closely adheres to the format of the third season rather than the fourth. The fifth year’s big mid-season two-parter, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, is very clearly intended to mirror the third season’s two-part adventure Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast more than the fourth season’s Homefront and Paradise Lost. That focus is also quite apparent in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, the third episode of the fifth season that is a direct sequel to the third episode of the third season.

It is also perhaps Deep Space Nine‘s best attempt at doing a sex farce.

A Quarky love story...

A Quarky love story…

The Star Trek franchise has an awkward relationship to sex. Then again, most mainstream non-literary science-fiction has an awkward relationship to concepts of sex and sexuality. As Robert Scholes and ‎Eric S. Rabkin reflect of the genre in History-Science-Vision:

Although the Oedipus myth permeates science fiction, and although that myth uses sexual symbols, graphic depiction of sex is rare in science fiction, though at one remove from the literal such items as ray guns and spaceships may well function as phallic symbols. Until recently, most science fiction was written for men; the women in the stories served only as prizes awarded off stage — so much so that one used to encounter the truism that “There is no sex in science fiction.” Like many widely believed truisms, however, this notion is not true. As we have seen in the work of Burroughs, sex frequently lurked in the background, half-clad. Since the real action of stories like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers concerned the ideals that the male protagonists fought for, the sexual object was frequently won, but never explicitly used. In continuously running stories, like Buck Rogers, the title hero could have an on-again-off-again-and-nevcr-touch romance with a heroine like Wilma that lasted for years; Superman and Lois Lane, after all, don’t make it.

Science-fiction is not alone in this, of course. Most mainstream popular culture also has an awkward relationship with sex; after all, the bias of ratings boards like the MPAA against sex (and in favour of violence) has been well-documented.

Bah. Bashir might as well be watching a sixties sit-com.

Bah. Bashir might as well be watching a sixties sit-com.

While sexuality was a controversial topic in literature and on film, it was particularly controversial on television. During the fifties and sixties, married couples were frequently portrayed as sleeping in separate beds so as to disabuse the audience of the notion that any hanky-panky was taking place. In I Love Lucy, even married performers Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were kept apart in single beds. To be fair, this has softened somewhat in the decades since, in large part due to shows like NYPD Blue pushing the boundaries.

Still, the taboo against nudity and sexuality remains in place. Representative Tom Coburn blasted NBC for screening “full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity” in February 1997, when the network decided to air Schindler’s List. CSI and E.R. would readily depict graphic trauma and horrific violence, but blushed at the idea of nudity. When sex does appear on television, it is stylised so as to avoid being candid. As Ronald D. Moore reflected while working on Outlander, “I don’t find TV sex particularly sexual, it’s just not the way human beings usually have sex.”

Slice of life.

Slice of life.

Recent years have seen some evidence of increased comfort with sex and sexuality in television, particularly off the broadcast networks. Jessica Jones was rightly praised for its handling of sex. However, the inclusion of sex on cable networks also draws criticism. It has been (reasonably) observed that the sex scenes of Game of Thrones perpetuate the male gaze. Nobody bats an eye at the potential violence of Westworld, but the sexually explicit clauses in the contracts signed by the extras were widely mocked for referencing “genital-on-genital contact.”

Studies suggest that the United States lags behind the rest of the western world on matters of sexual awareness and well-being. Americans are less accepting of homosexuality and Canadians or Western Europeans. Sexual education is less advanced in the United States than in Western Europe. There are any number of reasons why this might be the case. It could easily be a hang over from the United States’ Puritanical past. It might even be the influence of religion, given that religion is a much stronger social force in the United States than in Western Europe.

Take it sneezy.

Take it sneezy.

To be fair, one of the more charming aspects of the original Star Trek was how sexy it was. Both its male and female characters seemed much more sexually dynamic than any of the leads in the shows that followed. It was easier to imagine Kirk or Spock hooking up with an alien lead than Picard or Data, in spite (or perhaps because) of the cringy tone-deaf attempts to make Star Trek: The Next Generation sexy in episodes like Captain’s Holiday or The Naked Now. This is to say nothing of embarrassing later choices like Seven of Nine’s catsuit or the decon chamber.

Of course, it is important not to exaggerate the liberal sexual politics of the original Star Trek series. After all, many of its sexier images are remembered out of context; the kiss between Uhura and Kirk from Plato’s Stepchildren is remembered as an important interracial moment for the medium, rather than a creepy voyeuristic sexual assault. While the miniskirt work by characters like Yeoman Rand is iconic, the cultural memory brushes aside the truth of how the character was treated in The Enemy Within and how the actor was treated in real life.

Sexual trills.

Sexual trills.

Similarly, the idea of James T. Kirk as an intergalactic ladies’ man is something of a crass exaggeration of a character trait that only came into focus during the show’s final year. The bed-ridden knife-wrestling of Whom Gods Destroy or The Cloud Minders certainly sticks in the collective memory, but it is easy to forget that the closest the show comes to actually suggesting that Kirk had sex is in allowing him the opportunity to put his boots back on after taking Deela to his quarters in Wink of an Eye. Still, compared to the rest of the franchise, Star Trek was smooth and confident.

So it is something of a back-handed compliment to suggest that Deep Space Nine handles sex and sexuality better than any of the other spin-offs. It is perhaps more accurate to suggest that Deep Space Nine handles sex “less badly” than the various other spin-offs. There are still any number of embarrassing and ill-considered decisions across the show’s seven-season run, from the campy sexual deviance of the later mirror universe episodes culminating in The Emperor’s New Cloak through to the sheer unadulterated horror of Let He Who Is Without Sin…

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at Let He Who Is Without Sin..."

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at Let He Who Is Without Sin…

In particular, the Ferengi seem to be ground-zero for these sorts of errors in judgment. Captive Pursuit treats the suggestion that Quark trades sexual favours for employment as a joke. The “oo-mox-as-masturbation” jokes that run through the show feel awkward and ill-judged, particularly those made at Rom’s expense in Bar Association to Quark recommending copies of “Oo-Mox for Fun and Profit” for prospective female employees in Profit and Lace. In fact, the less said about Profit and Lace, the better.

The best sexy moments in Deep Space Nine are inevitably the smaller moments. When the (apparently male) waiter Pel confesses to being in love with Quark in Rules of Acquisition, Jadzia Dax doesn’t bat an eyelid; Jadzia is much more surprised to find out that Pel is a woman masquerading as a man. In the teaser at the start of Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places, Worf is immediately infatuated with Grilka. Jadzia casually eyes the Klingon woman up and inquires, “Her? She’s okay.”

"She's no B'Etor."

“She’s no B’Etor.”

Indeed, that may be why all the implied sex of Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places works so much better than the actual sex in Let He is Without Sin… While Let He is Without Sin… tries to be super candid about sex in the twenty-fourth century, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places skirts around the issue like a sixties or seventies sex farce. It is very clearly about sex, despite the fact that the word “sex” is only mentioned once casually. (When Dax asks if Quark is pursuing Grilka for sex, he responds, “No.” He pauses. “Well, that too.”)

Although everybody in the episode is very clearly looking to have sex, the episode skirts around the issue with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile. Jadzia pragmatically translates “par’mach” as “love”, even though neither couple seems particularly committed at the end of the hour. Grilka leaves the station and is never seen again, while Dax rejects Worf’s assertion that “there are questions that must be answered.” There is no judgment there, none of the hand-wringing that defined Worf’s weirdly asexual fling with K’Ehleyr in The Emissary.

I believe this is what Sir Mix-a-lot referred to as "Triple-X throwdown."

I believe this is what Sir Mix-a-lot referred to as “Triple-X throwdown.”

In fact then the two couples arrive in the Infirmary at the end of the episode, even Bashir plays it innocent. “What have you been doing?” Bashir demands of Quark and Grilka, before quickly realising. “Never mind. I don’t need that particular image running around in my head. I’ll just treat you.” When Dax and Worf arrive, he catches himself asking the same question. “I don’t need that image either. In fact, I’m going to stop asking that question altogether.” It is not prudish, in that it is clear what the two couples have been up to, but it also somewhat innocent as sex farces go.

Indeed, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is so classical a sex farce that it draws rather liberally from Edmond Rostand‘s classic 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. The play has been shamelessly ripped off so many times that many viewers will recognise the plot beats even if they do not know the source. In this particular reimagining, Quark finds himself seeking the advice of Worf in his attempts to woo the Lady Grilka. Although Worf is a dishonoured Klingon, he finds validation in guiding Quark through that particular social minefield.

Romancing the (Klingon with the Heart of) Stone...

Romancing the (Klingon with the Heart of) Stone…

In many ways, Cyrano de Bergerac is a great fit for Star Trek. As guest star Mary Kay Adams noted of the franchise in general, Star Trek has a very theatrical quality to it:

“Losing to a Ferengi was the cherry on top of it all!” laughed Adams. “They had said to us when we had gotten the script, play it very Cyrano de Bergerac.” So Worf wooed and won Grilka for Quark, then found Dax waiting for him to realize she was a much better match for him.

“Actors I am close to who have done these shows all agree that Star Trek is fabulous because it’s the closest thing to playing classical theater,” she noted. “It’s very archetypal, it’s very Shakespearean in its scope. All the aliens are of heroic proportions. Plus you’re given direction to be bigger, to be stronger, to fill the makeup. The makeup does a lot of the work for you, but you have to find the balance of matching it somehow.”

This is a common sentiment, both among members of the production team and among fans of the franchise. After all, the leads of the first three shows were all veterans of the stage. Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula were more conventional television performers, and felt more awkward headlining their own series.

Crossed purposes.

Crossed purposes.

More than that, this kind of storytelling is particularly suited to Deep Space Nine. More than any other production team in Star Trek history, the writing staff on Deep Space Nine are informed by their love for classic popular culture. This is part of the reason that Trials and Tribble-ations makes for a much more satisfying thirtieth anniversary tribute than Flashback, because the production team’s interests legitimately lie in that area. However, even beyond Star Trek, the staff have an obvious affection for old-school Hollywood.

Necessary Evil was a collection of hardboiled noir conventions distilled down into forty-five minutes of television. Profit and Loss was the production team riffing on CasablancaMeridian was basically Brigadoon in space. Fascination was a twist on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, most obviously inspired by the 1935 film version. With all of that in mind, it makes sense that Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places would riff on Cyrano de Bergerac, given that the play was such a huge influence on modern love stories.

"I've confirmed Cyrano de Bergerac is in the public domain. Let's do it."

“I’ve confirmed Cyrano de Bergerac is in the public domain. Let’s do it.”

Interestingly, the idea of basing an episode around Cyrano de Bergerac did not originate on staff. The idea came from actor Michael Dorn, who confessed in a contemporary interview with Ian Spelling that he was somewhat frustrated by the lack of attention that Deep Space Nine was paying to Worf:

Still, he’s not entirely satisfied with the way in which the Klingons, in general, and Worf, specifically, have been developed on the show thus far.

“We haven’t been able to explore a lot about Worf or learn very much more about the Klingons,” Dorn said matter-of-factly. “That’s something I talked about with the writers and producers when we first talked about my doing DS9 and again when I started thw job.

“They told me they’d open him up as a character. However, they just haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet because of the ongoing stories that had to be addressed first.

“What I’m hoping is that we’ll open Worf up more during this season and discover new things about him.”

To be entirely fair to Dorn, this is a legitimate observation. After all, he was being brought into the show as a ratings boost. He had committed to another four years playing a character he had already portrayed in over one-hundred-and-seventy episodes of television. It made sense he would want some new material.

"I know, Worf. I'd be disappointed too if there were as many Quark-centric episodes in the fourth season..."

“I know, Worf. I’d be disappointed too if there were as many Quark-centric episodes in the fourth season…”

To be fair, this is also to the credit of the writing staff working on Deep Space Nine. After all, it would have been very easy for a new arrival to come in and dominate the show. This was very much an issue with the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager, when Jeri Ryan was introduced as Seven of Nine. The character Seven of Nine became a de facto lead on the show, rather than a member of the ensemble. The first three seasons had not been kind to characters like Chakotay, Tuvok or Kim, but Seven pushed them all further out of the spotlight.

Given that The Way of the Warrior was reintroducing an established character with a preexisting fanbase, there was a credible risk that Worf might steal Deep Space Nine out from under the characters who been around since the beginning. The writers seemed cognisant of this fact, and took their time with Worf. Although Worf got subplots in early fourth season episodes like Hippocratic Oath or Starship Down, he did not get a true character showcase until The Sword of Kahless. The smooth introduction of Worf was one of the fourth season’s greatest accomplishments.

"I don't know why you were worried about Worf joining the show, Quark. The studio tried to kill me off."

“I don’t know why you were worried about Worf joining the show, Quark. The studio tried to kill me off.”

However, the production staff were also sensitive to Dorn’s concerns about the lack of attention paid to Worf. In fact, Dorn would cite the use of his Cyrano de Bergerac idea in Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places as a great example of how the production team working on Deep Space Nine paid attention to the cast’s input:

I was very fortunate with that and I got a lot of story lines that were great, ones I would have written myself for the character. I never had to push for more. What I would do is just add things to it it. Like on Deep Space when he was so uncomfortable and I said, “Why don’t we have him go an live in a little cubicle on this spartan ship? That’s what he would want to do.” I also had an idea about doing a Cyrano de Bergerac episode, and they did that. All the things that came my way, though, really came from the writers. They took it to so many places. I was tickled pink. It was a great ride. It  worked out beautifully. Even Worf would have been happy.

The cast and production teams on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine speak very highly of their time on those shows, and of the interactions between the ensemble and the writing staff. In contrast, later actors like Robert Beltran on Star Trek: Voyager and Jolene Blalock on Star Trek: Enterprise have been highly critical of the way the writing staff on those shows treated them. It speaks to the professionalism of the Deep Space Nine staff.

Worf speeds ahead.

Worf speeds ahead.

Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is a surprisingly good Worf show, for what is essentially a broadly-drawn sex farce. It is an absurd episode that hinges on a number of cheesy romantic comedy concessions, but it is very firmly grounded in the character dynamics of the show. Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is a fascinating exploration of the paradoxes that define Worf as a character. It is also a fantastic illustration of how Worf has evolved from a Next Generation character to a Deep Space Nine character.

On The Next Generation, Worf was frequently defined by his nature as an outsider. He was a Starfleet officer who was also a Klingon, and the best episodes explored that divide. Any number of examples come to mind; Picard’s disappointment at Worf’s refusal to donate blood to save a Romulan in The Enemy, Worf resigning his commission to serve in the Klingon military in Redemption, Part I, Worf refusing to compromise on Klingon tradition even to preserve an alliance between Klingons and Romulans in Birthright, Part II.

Of course Worf is the kind of douchebag who blares opera in his house at all hours of the morning.

Of course Worf is the kind of douchebag who blares opera in his house at all hours of the morning.

In contrast, Deep Space Nine is less interested in contrasting Worf’s Klingon identity against his Starfleet upbringing. Deep Space Nine is much more interested in the gulf that exists between Worf’s identification as a Klingon and the reality of the Klingon condition. Repeatedly over the course of the show, Worf is confronted by the suggestion that he has cultivated an idealised image of Klingon society that does not reflect the way that things truly are. Worf holds himself to the highest ideals of being a Klingon, which ironically means that he is a terrible Klingon.

In some ways, this serves to integrate Worf into the cast of Deep Space Nine. Repeatedly over the course of the show, characters are forced to confront that their cultures do not measure up to their idealised depictions of them. Sisko gradually loses his faith in Starfleet, through episodes like The Maquis, Part II and For the Cause. Garak and Damar confront the reality that their romantic Cardassia may never have existed in Tacking Into the Wind. Quark finds himself left behind as Ferengi culture becomes increasingly progressive in episodes like Ferengi Love Songs.

"We are nothing alike, Ferengi." "Yeah. I'd never mind-wipe my brother."

“We are nothing alike, Ferengi.”
“Yeah. I’d never mind-wipe my brother.”

Much like Quark’s adherence to Ferengi principles (and his refusal to compromise on those principles) serves to undermine his chances of happiness in episodes like Rules of Acquisition and Profit and Loss, Worf’s insistence on doing the honourable thing in The Way of the Warrior resulted in his excommunication from the Klingon Empire. Worf is perhaps the most honourable Klingon in the Alpha Quadrant. It is no small irony that his strident refusal to compromise in his efforts to be the perfect Klingon have served to isolate him.

There is something delightfully strange in the idea that Worf should be the most stereotypically Klingon character in the entire franchise, the character most firmly committed to the idea of honour above pragmatism and a very rare example of a Klingon who lives his life by reference to the principles of honour rather than to the demands of convenience. Worf was not raised in the Klingon Empire, after all. Worf grew up on Earth, with a human family. He did not even know that he had any living Klingon relatives until Sins of the Father.

It's a pretty (holo)suite deal...

It’s a pretty (holo)suite deal…

There is a sense that Worf is overcompensating for the fact that he was raised on Earth. Jadzia suggests as much when she wonders why Worf would go out of his way to help Quark woo Grilka. When Worf states that “there is no flattery in a great lady being courted by a traitor”, Dax responds, “Is that what’s really bothering you? Or is it that Tumek said that you didn’t know anything about Klingon women, and you’re afraid he’s right?” Wooing Grilka by proxy is a way for Worf to assert his Klingon identity, to demonstrate he is as much a Klingon as anybody.

One of the smaller pleasures of Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is the way that it presents Worf as an insecure love-struck teenager. Michael Dorn is one the franchise’s best comic performers, and he cleverly plays into this; most notably in the way that Worf gets stroppy and throws a small tantrum when Dax explains the history between Quark and Grilka. Worf might be one of the most physically imposing characters on the show, but emotionally he is just as immature as Odo.

Odo has "Miles" to go before he becomes a fully-grown adult.

Odo has “Miles” to go before he becomes a fully-grown adult.

Indeed, this sense of teenage posturing and sulking comes out in his conversation with Tumek, who is presented as much more grown up and mature in his handling of the situation. “Have you ever pursued a Klingon woman?” Tumek asks. When Worf responds in the negative, Tumek assures him, “There’s no shame in that. You were raised by Humans, you wear their uniform, you accept their values. How could you know anything about our women?” Worf refuses to accept the sympathy and understanding offered. He pouts, “You’d be surprised what I know.”

There is no small irony in the fact that Worf has chosen Grilka as the object of his affection. After all, Grilka is presented as something quite different than the typical Klingon woman. Certainly, very few “traditional” Klingon women would resort to the hijinks that Grilka pulled in House of Quark to keep her House afloat, and fewer still would even consider a dalliance with a Ferengi. If Worf wants a traditional Klingon woman, it seems strange that he would pursue Grilka. It seems more likely that Worf is pursuing the ideal of Klingon womanhood he projects on to Grilka.

Worf can really Klingon to an ideal.

Worf can really Klingon to an ideal.

The other characters in the narrative seem to realise as much. “Do not let it trouble you too much,” Tumek reassures Worf. “In truth, I doubt it would’ve been a good match.” When Worf waxes lyrical about Grilka to Dax, she wryly retorts, “It sounds like you’re describing a statue. What would you do with a woman like that? Put her up on a pedestal and clean her every week?” Indeed, the episode’s willingness to acknowledge that Worf is acting like a spoiled teenager with no self-awareness helps to undercut what would otherwise be a very creepy premise.

The truth is that Worf does not really want a Klingon woman, even though he believes that he does. Again, this is a theme that resonates across the run of Deep Space Nine. The climax of Bar Association suggested that Quark does not really want to be an ideal Ferengi, even though he believes that he does. The torture of Odo in The Die is Cast reveals that Garak simply does not have it in him to be the Cardassian that he used to be. The sooner these character accept that they are not (and do not want to be) idealised expressions of their species, the happier that they will be.

Getting to the heart of the matter.

Getting to the heart of the matter.

Worf wants a romantic partner who is more adventurous and open-minded than he is. This was suggested across the run of The Next Generation, with Worf’s attraction to K’Ehleyr and Troi. Neither K’Ehleyr nor Troi were even close to the Klingon ideal. It is impossible to imagine Troi putting herself through the Klingon Wedding in You Are Cordially Invited…, as much as Riker might relish the occasion. Although Jadzia Dax is much more comfortable with Klingon tradition than either K’Ehleyr or Troi, she is still very far from the Klingon ideal that Worf claims to chase.

Indeed, the climax of Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places confirms as much. While Worf casts himself as a traditional suitor for Grilka by using Quark as a proxy, Worf’s romantic arc in the episode flows in a much less conventional manner. Dax hints quite heavily that she is interested in Worf, although he is oblivious to her advances. Finally, it is Dax who makes the first move, in a reversal of the dynamics suggested by Klingon courtship rituals. However, Worf very clearly and keenly responds to those advances.

Back to this plot thread.

Back to this plot thread.

The other romantic plot in Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places focuses on “the other O’Briens”, as O’Brien and Kira find themselves becoming increasingly attracted to one another over the course of the episode. This is very much a sit-com plot, relying on a number of contrivances. Most obviously, it seems strange that Kira would give up her independence by moving in with Miles and Keiko O’Brien. There are no direct parallels with the relationship between Kira and O’Brien (it’s not quite surrogacy), but it still seems like a strange choice.

Similarly, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places comes dangerously close to suggesting that it is impossible for a man and a woman to spend an extended period of time together without developing romantic or sexual feelings for one another. This something that Deep Space Nine touches upon, repeatedly and awkwardly. While the inevitable romance between Odo and Kira is told from Odo’s perspective, it is never explained what Kira sees in Odo. It seems like her attraction is based on familiarity. This is to say nothing of Ezri Dax and Julian Bashir.

Worf keeps his courting skills sharp.

Worf keeps his courting skills sharp.

However, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places manages to stay just on the right side of this. The idea that O’Brien and Kira would be attracted to one another makes a certain amount of sense. After all, they are two of the three combat veterans in the regular cast, both having been involved in extended ground combat with the Cardassians. More to the point, O’Brien seems like the kind of man to whom Kira would be attracted. Like Bareil and Shakaar, O’Brien is sincere and reliable. He is not particularly exciting or dramatic, instead deadpan and understated.

Indeed, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places demonstrates one of the most endearing aspects of the pregnancy. The plot device of putting Keiko’s baby in Kira’s womb is quite evidently ridiculous. It is one of the most ridiculous plot developments in the history of the Star Trek franchise, which is saying something given that the franchise has suggested that traveling at warp ten would turn a person into a salamander. However, the actual mechanics of the plot are incidental. The important thing is that the writing staff work hard to keep Nana Visitor involved.

Bashful Bashir.

Bashful Bashir.

While there are obvious limitations in what Visitor can actually do during the early stretch of the fifth season, sitting out episodes like Apocalypse Rising and Trials and Tribble-ations, the production team still worked hard to ensure that the character (and the actor) were not solely defined by the pregnancy. The subplot involving the O’Briens’ baby was just an easy way to write around Nana Visitor’s pregnancy without having to constantly shoot Kira sitting behind desks or holding boxes. Kira would still get to headline her own action show in The Darkness and the Light.

Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places fits with that theme. The episode is built around the assumption that O’Brien and Kira could find themselves sexually tempted by one another while Kira was pregnant. Popular culture has a long history of presenting pregnant women as desexualised, perhaps tied to the obvious paradox that pregnant women pose in relation to the (unfortunately still widely accepted) “madonna” and “whore” dichotomy. This attitude is slowly changing, but it stills triking to see Deep Space Nine accept that Kira could still be sexual and pregnant.

The (breaking every bone in Quark's) body guard.

The (breaking every bone in Quark’s) body guard.

The extent to which the subplot works is largely down to the relatively lightness of the script and the charm of the actors. In particular, the sequence in the runabout in which Kira explains (at considerable length) that the cottage to which she is taking O’Brien is “one of the most romantic spots in all of Bajor” is a delight, playing on the easy charm of Nana Visitor and Colm Meaney there is something delightful in the way that the increasingly romantic details are laid out as a form of increasingly intricate torture, to the credit of the script and of the leads.

Indeed, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is a reminder that Ronald D. Moore can write very good character driven comedy. After working on Star Trek, Moore would become best known for his work on the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, which largely broke out of the science-fiction ghetto into the realm of prestige television by eschewing the goofier trappings of television science-fiction in favour of heavily grounded storytelling. Time named it the best show of 2005. The Guardian asked if it was better than The Wire.

"You have no idea how difficult it was to get a Klingon outfit in this size."

“You have no idea how difficult it was to get a Klingon outfit in this size.”

To be fair, the initial critical and cultural response to Battlestar Galactica seems to have cooled in the years since it came to a close. John Kenneth Muir described the show as “the most overrated cult-television series in history”, which is a pretty bold statement. Many would blame a disappointing series finale for tainting the show’s legacy, which Charlie Jane Anders cited as one of the biggest science-fiction disappointments of the decade. Still, even allowing for all that, Battlestar Galactica still has a pretty solid critical reputation.

It has become a critical cliché to compare Battlestar Galatica to Deep Space Nine, to suggest that the genesis of Ronald D. Moore’s bold science-fiction series can be found in his work on the Star Trek franchise. Of course, this comparison is as common as it is apt; as Deep Space Nine pushes into its final two seasons, Moore’s authorial voice comes closer and closer to the tone that he will employ on Battlestar Galactica. Of course, Moore is reigned in on Deep Space Nine by virtue of the Star Trek brand. His writing on Deep Space Nine is never quite as bleak.

The toast of the town...

The toast of the town…

It is tempting to treat this as a criticism of Deep Space Nine, to suggest that Moore’s writing was somehow diminished by the restrictions placed upon it. This argument is undoubtedly rooted in the fact that Battlestar Galactica accomplished a much greater level of critical credibility and popular success than Deep Space Nine. Indeed, Battlestar Galactica is a show that is frequently mentioned in conversation with shows like The Sopranos or Mad Men or Breaking Bad, as if it has transcended the conventions of television science-fiction like Star Trek.

However, this ignores the strengths of Deep Space Nine relative to Battlestar Galactica. In many ways, Deep Space Nine was a much less consistent show than Battlestar Galactica; which makes sense, given the higher volume of episodes and the larger season orders. It could reasonably be argued that Deep Space Nine was considerably less ambitious than Battlestar Galactica, never quite pushing its concepts as far as they could go. As a syndicated show for network television, Deep Space Nine was certainly more ready to compromise than Battlestar Galactica.

"So... no chance of making it a battle of wits, then?"

“So… no chance of making it a battle of wits, then?”

However, there is something of a modernity bias in television criticism, a tendency to assume that modern trends in television narratives are inherently superior to older models. This is most obvious in the tendency to treat serialised television as better than episodic television. One of the advantages of the episodic format is a flexibility that is harder to replicate in a longer-form narrative. Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is a great example of that, a lighter episode sandwich between two heavier stories.

Of course, it is a nice touch that Deep Space Nine refuses to lose sight of the long game even in a light and throwaway episode like this. Even in the background of the episode, there are lots of little references to the current status quo, fleshing out the world and giving this standalone comedy a sense of context. When Grilka arrives on the station, Jadzia remarks upon how good it is to see her given everything else happening. “That’s a welcome sight. The peace talks must be going well if the Klingons are back on the station.”

Ex appeal.

Ex appeal.

Similarly, Grilka’s trip to the station is justified by reference to the political fallout from The Way of the Warrior, making it clear that Apocalypse Rising was not a convenient reset. Grilka is seeking Quark’s advice to help rebuild her House. “The recent hostilities between the Federation and the Empire have been very costly to my family. We have suffered great losses in ships, lands, warriors.” Of course, this is simply a background detail to get the episode started, but it demonstrates how tangible the universe of Deep Space Nine has become.

Even as Deep Space Nine moves closer and closer to serialisation in its final seasons, there is still room for this sort of variety and flexibility. And this is a strength of the show, not a weakness. Of course, there are any number of lighter standalone episodes that fall flat on their face, like Profit and Lace or The Emperor’s New Cloak. Of course, there are also any number of arc-driven episodes that don’t quite work as well, from Sons and Daughters to Tears of the Prophets. There is a lot to enjoy in the variety of show on offer.

Either you get gone, or you Klingon.

Either you get gone, or you Klingon.

It is a shame that Ronald D. Moore no longer gets to write these sorts of comedy episodes, given the changes that have taken place in the medium. After all, Moore shares credits on some of the fifth season’s best lighter episodes, from Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places to Trials and Tribble-ations to In the Cards, demonstrating a side to his writing that is often overlooked. Although it could be argued that these episodes detract from the sombre tone of the fifth season, they provide a nice sense of contrast and enrich the show’s universe.

Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places might have a very different tone from The Ship or Nor the Battle to the Strong…, but that does no disservice to the episode. As Moore will explicitly suggest in In the Cards, the levity helps to prevent the bleakness from becoming overwhelming. More than that, it provides a sense of just why the stakes are so high in other episodes. Spending time with these characters engaged in more mundane and low key stories helps to give a sense that the war is not all-consuming. Life goes on. Even in the darkest moments, some Star Trek optimism.

"This looks much less silly when I use skeleton guy."

“This looks much less silly when I use skeleton guy.”

Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is notable as the first episode of Star Trek directed by frequent guest star Andrew Robinson. Robinson is also the first recurring (rather than regular) cast member to direct an episode of Star Trek. He acknowledged directing Star Trek as a challenge:

At first it was very difficult, because there is so much technical work that has to be done on these shows. Blue screen, green screen. At the beginning I was very intimidated by the technical requirements of directing. It’s not just directing actors; it’s a little more complicated than that. But then, in the end, it came down to it: it was directing actors. Sometimes, directing your friends is… maybe I’d rather direct people I don’t know, but they were great. But they were all very kind to me, especially when I first started, because that’s when I first started directing films, on Star Trek. It was a gift! I’m grateful to the producers allowing me to direct episodes.

Still, Robinson does great work with the actors here. In fact, Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places seems to suggest a niche for the director. When Voyager does its own “let’s get these two lead characters together” later that season with Blood Fever, Robinson will be chosen to direct that episode as well.

Live and bat'leth.

Live and bat’leth.

Looking for Par’Mach in all the Wrong Places is a charming little episode, and possibly the franchise’s most enjoyable sex farce. Of course, that’s not saying much given how Let He is Without Sin will turn out, but it is a fun character-driven comedy that nicely demonstrates some of the more underappreciated strengths of the show.

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6 Responses

  1. I’ve heard these episodes only exist out of pressure from the higher-ups to have some lighthearted episodes to balance out all the darkness and cynicism throughout the rest of the series? These comedic episodes were all cringey, outside Trials and Tribblations and perhaps Little Green Man (which began as a TNG episode anyway).

    • I hadn’t heard that.

      I recall that Behr was personally hugely invested in the Ferengi as a way to play with the expectations of “serious” world-building in Star Trek, to the extent that you could argue the DS9’s development of the Ferengi is itself a spoof on TNG’s development of the Klingons. (And Prophet Motive was based on a script Behr wrote for Taxi, I believe; so he definitely had a personal interest in comedy.)

      I wouldn’t be surprised if that “make it lighter” was an issue with season six comedy episodes like You Are Cordially Invited or One Little Ship, given the controversy and darkness of the surrounding episodes, but I’m not entirely sure it’s an issue at this point.

      I’d argue The Magnificent Ferengi, Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Badda-Bing Badda-Bang also work very well. And House of Quark is one of the franchise’s most legitimately underrated comedy episodes. And I like Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, issues with the Kira/O’Brien plot aside.

      • Well, IMO, outside “Little Green Men” (which again was originally supposed to be a TNG episode so it’s not really like the other Ferengi episodes) they are all really bad and cringey, I don’t think Star Trek does very good comedy, at least not Deep Space Nine. The Ferengi are not funny, even if I like Quark.

    • I always really liked Our Man Bashir, as I think it if the first truly great Bashir episode. I would argue the wire and Cardassians are more about Garak than Bashir. I will admit that if one does not like James Bond, then Our Man Bashir is harder to get into.

      • I’d argue Hippocratic Oath beats Our Man Bashir to the punch for “first truly great Bashir episode.” But I would also definitely count The Wire, because it’s a story as much about Bashir’s compassion for Garak as it is about Garak’s psychological breakdown. The fact that Bashir still cares for Garak after all of that is really quite touching.

  2. I’m glad you said “a Quarky love story” Darren, because I hate the word quirky, a word used far too often by critics to describe something off the beaten track.

    The worst example of an oo-mox joke must be from Little Green Men when Nurse Garland gives some to Nog without knowing what it is.

    I thought this was quite an ignominious departure for Grilka. Surely she would have played a part somewhere in the Dominion War.

    Looking For Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places is a more successful sex farce then Fascination or Profit and Lace, perhaps because it doesn’t turn the characters into walking punchlines waiting for a laugh-track.

    Quark would never mind-wipe his brother because there wouldn’t be much difference. I think you’re right Darren that Worf regards the Defiant as his house rather then a ship at his command; notice how irked he gets when Quark drops by unannounced. A battle of wits or a war of the (s)words?

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