Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – For the Uniform (Review)

For the Uniform forms the second entry in a loose trilogy of Michael Eddington stories, sitting between For the Cause and Blaze of Glory.

Much like The Begotten before it, For the Uniform feels like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is tidying up a bunch of loose ends before it barrels into the second half of the season with In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. It is offering one last story built on the status quo established by The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II before things change dramatically. It is also quite heavy on the kind of impressive space battles that will become a major part of the final two seasons.

Terrorise this!

Terrorise this!

The episode even puts an increased emphasis upon the series’ military themes, with much made of the crippling blow dealt to the Defiant by Eddington’s virus and the operational protocols that this attack necessitates. With Nog standing on the edge of the bridge echoing Sisko’s orders to Engineering, For the Uniform occasionally feels more like like a submarine movie than an episode of Star Trek. This is to say nothing of the attention paid to the Defiant’s departure from Deep Space Nine itself, which plays up the military protocol of such a launch.

However, there is more to For the Uniform than all of that. It is an episode that touches upon a number of key themes for Deep Space Nine. It is a story about moral compromise and ambiguity, about narrative and mythmaking. It is a tale about obsession and vindictiveness, rooted in the flaws of its central character. For the Uniform struggles a little bit in how it approaches Sisko’s monomaniacal pursuit of Eddington, wrapping up so fast that the closing lines offer a sense of tonal whiplash. Nevertheless, it is a bold and breathtaking piece of television.

Shadow boxing...

Shadow boxing…

In some ways, For the Uniform feels like an exploration of what Deep Space Nine has chosen to inherit from Star Trek: First Contact. In that respect, For the Uniform almost seems like an ironic title. The placement of the episode seems optimal. Star Trek: Voyager is about to touch upon its own inheritance from that particular feature film with the closing moments of Blood Fever, as the crew stumble upon a Borg corpse tucked away in the undergrowth on a long-abandoned world.

Voyager inherited the Borg from First Contact, taking the impressive new costumes and the concept of the Borg Queen. Deep Space Nine does not take anything quite as obvious or literal from the show’s thirtieth anniversary feature film. The cast and crew have been wearing the distinctive black-and-grey uniforms since Rapture, but Ira Steven Behr has been quite insistent that Deep Space Nine will remain quite separate from the concurrent feature film franchise in terms of plot and continuity.

Gun to his head, this is the most obsessive that he has ever been.

Gun to his head, this is the most obsessive that he has ever been.

Nevertheless, For the Uniform offers Captain Benjamin Sisko his own chance to go “full Ahab” upon an adversary who once humiliated and outwitted him. It is hard not see shades of Picard’s rage towards the Borg in the way that Sisko talks about Eddington, with Avery Brooks offering just as much conviction and contempt in his angry rant about how Eddington manipulated and humiliated him. “I never saw it,” Sisko confesses to Dax. “It’s my job to be a good judge of character and what did I do? Not only did I not see it, I put him up for a promotion.”

That last line is a very clever sting, building as it does off that wonderful (and foreshadowing) conversation between Sisko and Eddington about the latter’s long-term career prospects in The Adversary. Indeed, For the Uniform is populated with all the clever little continuity hints that make Deep Space Nine seem so textured. Eddington’s hijacking of the Defiant recalls the sabotage that he pulled in The Die is Cast, although that sabotage was at the behest of Starfleet Command.

Eddington, disruptive influence.

Eddington, disruptive influence.

Even Odo gets to make some pointed little jabs at Eddington’s original assignment to the station in The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II. After remarking upon Eddington’s skilful use of computer viruses, Odo inquires, “Sir, have you ever reminded Starfleet command that they stationed Eddington here because they didn’t trust me?” When Sisko confesses that he has not, Odo makes a request. “Please do.” It is a delightfully petty little jab from Odo, but one that feels remarkably in-character and in keeping with his initial resentment of Eddington as a professional rival.

Sisko treats Eddington’s betrayal as a personal violation. “He worked under me for a year and a half,” Sisko explains. “I saw him almost every day, read his reports, had him for dinner. I even took him to a baseball game in the holosuite once.” In much the same way that Picard is humiliated by the way that Borg took his control and autonomy away from him, Sisko is embarrassed by how thoroughly Eddington weasled his way into Sisko’s confidence and then exploited that trust for his own end.

"... whereas I have been ENTIRELY trustworthy as a security officer."

“… whereas I have been ENTIRELY trustworthy as a security officer.”

There is a layer of dramatic irony to all of this. This is not the first time that Sisko has been betrayed by somebody loyal to the Maquis. Cal Hudson betrayed his uniform and his trust in The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II. Kasidy Yates revealed herself as a Maquis smuggled in For the Cause. Both characters were much closer to Sisko than Eddington ever was. Sisko likely had Cal and Kasidy to dinner, or took them to baseball games. He also considered Cal to be a close friend and Kasidy to be a lover; they were more than mere professional relationships.

It is interesting to unpack and play with this idea. Sisko’s willingness to forgive Kasidy makes an interesting contrast with his obsession over Eddington. While there is something inconsistent in how Sisko treats these two traitors, it does not feel like lazy writing or awkward contrivance. This does not feel like the sort of disjointed characterisation that affected Janeway on Voyager. Instead, this detail adds a level of complexity and humanity to Sisko as a character. After all, human beings are not always rational actors and are not always aware of their irrationality.

Making a Maquis-ery of him.

Making a Maquis-ery of him.

Indeed, it is fun to speculate why Sisko fixates upon Eddington when he can forgive Kasidy and can forget Cal. Part of that is undoubtedly down to production logistics, with Bernie Casey unlikely to return to Deep Space Nine and the production team loving Penny Johnson. However, it also seems plausible that Sisko has sublimated all of his anger at their betrayals into his pursuit of Eddington. After all, Kasidy surrendered herself and Cal has disappeared. Eddington makes himself a convenient target for Sisko’s wraith. He is a loose end, his high profile antics are a taunt.

Eddington’s behaviour makes Sisko seem impotent and ineffective. “He played me all right, and what is my excuse?” he challenges Dax. “Is he a changeling? No. Is he a being with seven lifetimes of experience? No. Is he a wormhole alien? No. He’s just a man, like me. And he beat me!” It is a speech that recalls and echoes Picard’s confessions to his brother in Family, the sense that his anger over what the Borg did is rooted in their exposure of his inadequacies and their shattering of his self-image.

Sisko won't be boxed in.

Sisko won’t be boxed in.

In particular, Eddington chips away at Sisko’s perception of himself as the ideal Starfleet officer. Deep Space Nine is in many ways the story of a model officer who gradually falls out of love with the service. This story has many facets, from his embrace of his role as Emissary in episodes like Accession through to his disillusionment with the institution in Homefront and Paradise Lost through to his own shame over the actions that he is forced to commit in service of the organisation in In the Pale Moonlight.

Eddington was an officer under Sisko’s command, and he just walked away from the oath that took and the obligations that he held. Eddington suggests that this contributed to the latter’s anger. “What is it that bothers you more?” he taunts. “The fact that I left Starfleet to fight for a higher cause, or the fact that it happened on your watch?” Sisko’s anger seems to be compounded when Starfleet opts to take him off the assignment. “What can I say, old man? In twenty five years of duty, I have never been taken off an assignment until now.”

He gets bye.

He gets bye.

There is a sense that everybody knows about Sisko’s humiliation. As in First Contact, Starfleet pulls the lead off the case because it is becoming too personal. Earlier in the episode, Sisko asks Sanders for help intercepting a Maquis raider. “It’s not what they did, it’s who’s in command,” Sisko states. “Michael Eddington.” Sanders recognises the name. “Everyone’s favourite traitor.” Sisko continues, “Captain, if you don’t mind…” Sanders understands how it is personal. “You want him in your brig.” It must be embarrassing to have so public a failure.

It is interesting to wonder whether there is some deeper resentment at work there, whether Sisko hates Eddington more for having the strength to turn his back on Starfleet. By this point in the series, Sisko is very clearly beginning to question his role within that organisation. Even if the uniform once meant everything to him, Sisko seems to be doubting his own allegiance to Starfleet in a similar (albeit more subtle) manner than Worf and Quark are questioning their own places within their own cultures.

"No Khan do, old man."

“No Khan do, old man.”

Does Sisko hate Eddington so much because Eddington found the strength to walk away from Starfleet? After all, Sisko’s character arc finds him moving away from Starfleet. He abandons his post at the end of Tears of the Prophets. He makes plans to retire and build a little house on Bajor in Penumbra. He moves beyond the uniform and the station in What You Leave Behind… However, at this point in the run, Sisko cannot seem to imagine life beyond Starfleet. He still promises to complete the induction of Bajor into the Federation at the end of Rapture.

Whatever the particulars, For the Uniform is a tale of obsession and revenge. In that way, it parallels First Contact. Much like Picard is blinded by has desire to revenge himself upon the Borg, Sisko fixates upon his pursuit of Michael Eddington. To be fair, this is hardly new ground for a Star Trek story. The franchise has explored themes of obsession dating back to… well, Obsession. Not only that, but The Doomsday Machine or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Silicon Avatar. This is well-trodden ground, thematically speaking.

"I'll chase you round the moons of Nivia, and 'round Perdition's flame..."

“Dax, set a course ’round the moons of Nivia, and ’round Perdition’s flame…”

In fact, one of the smarter aspects of For the Uniform is the script’s decision not to reference Moby Dick. After all, Moby Dick was a touchstone for both Wrath of Khan and First Contact. Shoehorning such a reference into For the Uniform would feel heavyhanded, particularly so close to the release of First Contact. So For the Uniform suggests a slightly different literary parallel, with Michael Eddington recommending that Sisko take the time to re-read Les Misérables. (Exactly how long Eddington thinks Sisko will have on the trip back to the station is left ambiguous.)

Of course, it helps that obsession is one of the great literary themes, one of the grand notions that elevates even the pulpiest of works. Obsession is a compelling facet of the human experience, one instantly recognisable to just everybody on the planet. Every human being has felt the grip of obsession, in one form or another. It is that clawing sense of irrationality, that primal instinct that overrides the logical centres of the brain in favour of something more base. It is something with which every audience member might empathise, even as it lurks beyond understanding.

Suited to the task.

Suited to the task.

There are any number of classic texts exploring the theme. These stories tend to elevate and escalate something deeply personal epic melodrama. In some ways, the Star Trek franchise’s fixation upon monomaniacal obsession could be seen as a conscious aspirational nod towards great literature. This theme of obsession allows the franchise to embrace its more operatic tendencies, something that bleeds through in the heightened theatrical performance styles of William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks when dealing with this that subject matter.

Eddington likens Sisko to the character of Inspector Javert, who famously chased Jean Valjean for the twenty years over a stolen loaf of bread. It is a clever in-joke, given that Chakotay’s Maquis raider from Caretaker was known as the Valjean. However, the literary reference in For the Uniform is more than just an affectation. It also hits upon a big recurring theme that resonates across the run of Deep Space Nine as a whole. Eddington’s reference to Les Misérables says as much about him as it does about Sisko. It is a conscious piece of mythmaking. It is a narrative.

It's like he was never there.

It’s like he was never there.

If Sisko is Javert, then it stands to reason that Eddington is Valjean. “Let’s think about it,” Sisko states. “A Starfleet security officer is fascinated by a nineteenth century French melodrama, and now he’s a leader of the Maquis, a resistance group fighting the noble battle against the evil Cardassians.” Dax wryly observes, “It sounds like he’s living out his own fantasy.” That is certainly accurate. It is a description of Eddington’s character that fits rather comfortably with his characterisation in The Adversary and For the Cause.

“Les Misérables isn’t about the policeman,” Sisko extrapolates. “It’s about Valjean, the victim of a monstrous injustice who spends his entire life helping people, making noble sacrifices for others. That’s how Eddington sees himself. He’s Valjean, he’s Robin Hood, he’s a romantic, dashing figure, fighting the good fight against insurmountable odds.” In other words, Eddington is the hero of his own narrative. However, he is not content to judge himself by reference to his own morality. Eddington frames himself by reference to melodrama.

Obsession is the captain's prerogative...

Obsession is the captain’s prerogative…

This is very much in keeping with how Deep Space Nine approaches the Maquis. In Deep Space Nine, there is a recurring sense that the Maquis are a bunch of middle-aged men acting out their mid-life crisis by forming a (largely ineffective) rebel band. Unlike its sibling series, Deep Space Nine never seems particularly sympathetic to the Maquis. In fact, the Maquis seem to exist as a pale reflection of the Bajoran Resistance. Whereas the Bajorans fought out of necessity, the Maquis instead construct an elaborate mythology.

In The Maquis, Part II, both Quark and Dukat argue that the Maquis are really quite terrible at being terrorists while Cal Hudson’s defection is treated as something akin to a twenty-fourth century mid-life crisis. In Defiant, Kira argues that Thomas Riker would never make a convincing terrorist because he is far too invested in painting himself as a hero. Whereas Voyager affords characters like Chakotay and Torres a sense of integrity, Deep Space Nine repeatedly punctures the romantic mythology that the Maquis build up around themselves.

Fortune smiles upon Sisko, and Sisko smiles back.

Fortune smiles upon Sisko, and Sisko smiles back.

In many ways, this parallels terrorism in the real world. Terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and ISIS recruit members from western countries by cultivating a sense of meaning and romance about what they do, as Ann Erelle argues:

Two years ago, she carried out a series of interviews with teenagers in the banlieues, the poverty-stricken suburbs of Paris which have become a breeding ground for extremism, and was intrigued by how many young Muslims had been radicalized.

“They knew very little about religion. They had hardly read a book and they learnt jihad before religion,” she said. “They’d tell me, ‘You think with your head, we think with our hearts.’ They had a romantic view of radicalism. I wondered how that happened.”

These organisations provide a sense of meaning in a meaningless world, cultivating their own narratives that allow disenfranchised individuals to cast themselves as heroes in an epic sweeping melodrama. ISIS builds its case around the strongest narrative of all, that of apocalypse. In some cases, extremism is likened to role-playing.

"So... maybe I underestimated Eddington."

“So… maybe I underestimated Eddington.”

This certainly fits with the portrayal of the Maquis on Deep Space Nine. Most of the defectors are portrayed as middle-aged men looking to find purpose in their lives. Cal Hudson is reeling from the loss of his wife, seeking a new direction. Thomas Riker wants to find a way to set himself apart from his more successful and more recognisable transporter duplicate. Michael Eddington has accepted that his Starfleet career is not going anywhere, and so joins the Maquis so that he can play at being a rebel.

In many cases, it seems like the Maquis recruit through boredom rather than anything more profound or meaningful. After all, none of these characters have any emotional stake in the conflict unfolding in the De-Militarised Zone. Instead, their motivations are explicitly framed in personal terms. To these characters, terrorism is not a deep-seated response to personal tragedy or brutal injustice, but instead a form of self-actualisation.

Sisko is all-go.

Sisko is all-go.

While this is an indication of how well Deep Space Nine has aged, the idea of terrorism as a haven for those disconnected from modern society is not especially novel. In Terrorism and the Politics of Social Change, James Dingley traces the idea back to the anarchists of the nineteenth century:

Here we have the elements off an explanation for late 19th century terrorism and nationalist insurgencies, the Romantic reaction and the rise of fascism in the early 20th century. Most of the violence was ill-conceived and misdirected in any rational sense and we may now interpret it as a response to the anomic conditions of those uprooted from their enclosed, mechanical peasant societies – a lack of rooted-ness in the new industrial cities, which, for Durkheim, was only because the new social order and cohesion had yet to fully establish itself. Thus the most excluded reacted in a traditional and symbolic manner, venting their frustrations and loss against those who seemed to symbolically represent the cause of their anomic distress.

It seems fair to suggest that Hudson, Riker and Eddington were all working through their anomie. Once again, it seems like Deep Space Nine is more timeless than timely. The show is rooted in a sense of cyclic history, touching on historical ideas that have perhaps come back into relevance in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Point and shoot...

Point and shoot…

However, there is a conscious shift in the portrayal of the Maquis in For the Uniform. Earlier episodes suggested that the Maquis were terrible terrorists because they clung to romantic narratives of dashing rogues. Those earlier stories suggested that people like Cal Hudson and Thomas Riker genuinely believed that they were decent people and that was why they were terrible terrorists. In contrast, For the Uniform suggests that the Maquis have become a more credible terrorist force. However, the episode also implies that they are a bunch of hypocrites.

In the teaser, Sisko seeks a source. However, he finds Eddington. “Mister Cing’ta won’t be joining us,” the terrorist states. “His shuttle had an accident on the way to this rendezvous.” Naturally, Sisko asks, “Is he dead?” Eddington seems offended. “You just don’t understand the Maquis, do you, Captain?” he asks. “We’re not killers. Mister Cing’ta’s accident has marooned him on a particularly nasty planet in the Badlands, but I assure you he’s very much alive.” It is a noble sentiment. Sisko sees through it. “How merciful. You condemned him to a slow death.”

Star(fleet) traitor.

Star(fleet) traitor.

There is a strange dissonance there, as Eddington insists that the Maquis are not killers while sentencing an informant to a prolonged execution. Similarly, Eddington claims the moral high ground and insists that the Maquis are not killers while deploying deadly biological weapons against Cardassian colonies. It should also be noted that Eddington is responsible for a number of freighter disappearances in the area. While it is possible that the crews of those freighters are still alive, it seems strange that Starfleet still considers them missing.

Once again, the Bajoran Resistance provides an interesting parallel. Eddington’s self-righteousness in For the Uniform contrasts with Kira’s brutal honest in The Darkness and the Light. Kira never denies what she did, never tries to hide the more horrific actions taken in pursuit of her objective. Kira is honest about what she did and why she did it. She does not dress it up in literary parallels or hide behind semantics. In contrast, Eddington seems far more interested in justifying what he has done than he is in advancing his own cause.

Getting worked up.

Getting worked up.

In some ways, Eddington has a lot in common with Dukat. Both Eddington and Dukat lack any sense of self-awareness, positioning themselves as the heroes at the centres of their own narratives who made tough decisions for the greater good. Both Eddington and Dukat downplay the suffering that they have inflicted, insisting that their hands were forced or that they were not technically responsible for what happened. In fact, both Eddington and Dukat seem to seek vindication of their narratives, both characters using Sisko as a tool.

Dukat seeks validation through Sisko and Kira, trying to convince them that he is a decent man. In Waltz, Dukat monologues to a captive Sisko about how he has been misunderstood and misrepresented. In Covenant, Dukat kidnaps Kira as if trying to convince her that he has turned over a new leaf. Eddington wants a different sort of validation, trying to cast Sisko as the villain so that he might be the hero. Nevertheless, both Eddington and Dukat play into Deep Space Nine‘s fascination with these cultivated mythic narratives that run counter to reality.

"Turns out Eddington has a Hugo ego."

“Turns out Eddington has a Hugo ego.”

At the same time, For the Uniform runs into a little trouble when it comes to dealing with Sisko’s obsession. Repeatedly over the course of the episode, characters point out that Sisko is not necessarily objective when it comes to Eddington. “We’re out of the game,” he complains to Dax. “But what the hell, right? You win some, you lose some.” Dax observes, “You always had problems with the lose some part of that.” Eddington repeatedly points out that Sisko’s fixation upon him borders on the monomaniacal.

Indeed, the episode repeatedly hints at the irony of Sisko breaking Starfleet rules and regulations in his pursuit of Eddington. Sisko spends quite a significant amount of time in For the Uniform not wearing his Starfleet uniform, taking command of the Defiant in civilian clothes after his failed meeting with Cing’ta and ordering the crew to violate orders while still dress in sports attire once the scale of Eddington’s plan becomes clear. More than that, Sisko repeatedly violates Starfleet orders, acting unilaterally in pursuit of Eddington. There is no small irony in this.

Fields of fire.

Fields of fire.

However, things get quite muddled in the final act. Sisko ultimately decides that his best hope of capturing Eddington is to play the role in which Eddington has cast him. Sisko argues that Eddington wants the heroic self-sacrifice that only becomes possible with a truly villainous adversary, so Sisko forces the issue. Sisko embraces the role of Javert, and poisons the atmosphere of a Maquis colony using a biological weapon. He announces his plan to do the same thing to every Maquis colony in the De-Militarised Zone.

It is a very harrowing and effective climax, hinging as it does upon the lead character in a Star Trek show deploying a biological weapon against non-combatants. In some ways, it is more extreme than the terrorism that Kira boasted about in The Darkness and the Light. Kira accepted the possibility of collateral damage in targeted attacks, while Sisko is specifically targeting collateral damage to force Eddington’s hand. The crew hesitate to execute Sisko’s orders, with Sisko repeating himself before Worf will deploy the weapon.

Holo victories.

Holo victories.

It is a very uncomfortable and ambiguous climax. It is something that should be a big deal, representing a line that Sisko has crossed. In an interview with Cinefantastique, Ronald D. Moore argued that Sisko was really just embracing his inner Kirk when he took that last minute gamble:

Now we’ve stirred it up and let people really argue about this. Sisko took an action, and took a step that probably Picard wouldn’t have. That’s what made it an interesting episode. I could see Kirk taking this action. It seemed to me like what Sisko did was basically level the playing field again. Eddington goes and poisons some worlds, puts some stuff in the atmosphere that makes the Cardassians have to leave. He didn’t destroy the ecosystem or the biosphere, because he wanted the worlds for the Maquis. Sisko just did the same thing, but did it to the Maquis, rendered some worlds uninhabitable to Human life. It was pretty drastic action. He’s out on the frontier, he has some difficult decisions to make, and it solved the problem. He pulled Eddington in off his ship and he got results. I respected him for doing it. It was a bold decision and it worked. I think sometimes the characters have to do the right thing, even if its difficult, and make a tough decision and not worry so much about keeping their hands clean, and not be so obsessed about what the rules are sometimes. I think that Kirk was more than willing to bend a rule every once in a while to serve the greater good. I think that’s what Sisko did.

To be fair, there are any number of precedents. Kirk bluffed with a fictional superweapon in The Corbomite Manoeuvre, he threatened to torch an entire planet in A Taste of Armageddon, he debated using ship’s phasers as a tool of assassination and annexation in Requiem for Methuselah.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

There is an important difference. Kirk never followed through on those threats, even if he could. The fact that Kirk was willing to make those threats added an element of danger to the character, but the show’s refusal to force Kirk to act upon them spared the character any long-term damage. In a way, there is something to be said for the way in which For the Uniform has the courage of its convictions. Having Sisko make the threat without having to follow through would have felt like a lame contrivance.

At the same time, the episode never really explores the consequences of the decision that Sisko made. The Maquis had not begun to evacuate when Sisko deployed the weapon, so were there casualties? What did Starfleet make of Sisko’s willingness to use biological weapons upon what was (technically at least) a civilian population? Does Sisko’s decision run the risk of escalating the conflict within the De-Militarised Zone? These are all big questions that underscore the enormity of what Sisko has done, but the show never touches upon them.

Navigating an ethical minefield.

Navigating an ethical minefield.

There is never any mention of what Starfleet thinks about Sisko’s decision, but the fact that Eddington’s lawyer cannot use it to keep him out of prison in Blaze of Glory suggests that it wasn’t a major concern. The Maquis and the Cardassian settlers are conveniently able to swap planets after the use of biological weapons, which suggests that balance has been restored in a manner that feels decidedly contrived; given that the conflict in the De-Militarised Zone is about land ownership, surely forcing a relocation is only going to escalate tensions?

Then again, any potential long-term consequences of Sisko’s actions on the volatile political environment of the De-Militarised Zone are conveniently wiped out by the alliance of the Cardassian Union with the Dominion in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. The next time that the show encounters the Maquis, in Blaze of Glory, the Jem’Hadar have effectively wiped out the terrorist organisation. So there is no chance for the show to build off the consequences of Sisko’s actions.

Get that into your Nog-in.

Get that into your Nog-in.

More than that, the episode seems to offer Sisko a get-out-of-jail-free card, by insisting that Sisko is “playing” the role of the villain to Eddington’s hero. As such, the biological weapon attack is framed as a piece of extreme method acting. “You betrayed your uniform!” Sisko accuses Eddington. Eddington responds, “And you’re betraying yours right now! The sad part is, you don’t even realise it. I feel sorry for you, Captain. This obsession with me, look what it’s cost you.”

This should be a fair point from Eddington, akin to his comparison between the Federation and the Borg at the end of For the Cause. It would certainly be in keeping with everything that the audience saw in the first three-quarters of the episode. However, Sisko having the self-awareness to manipulate Eddington by “playing” the role of a monomaniacal obsessive undercuts any of the sting that those words might otherwise have. Having Sisko consciously embrace the role of villain insulates the character from a lot of the ambiguity earlier in the episode.

"So... do you know any good war crimes lawyers."

“So… do you know any good war crimes lawyers?”

This seems to be something of a space issue. For the Uniform moves incredibly quickly, from one idea to the next. It is very well structured, and manages a nice sense of mounting tension as the episode builds to the climax. However, the final act feels somewhat rushed, to the point that there is no time to properly unpack everything that is happening from a character perspective. The episode doesn’t even show Eddington surrendering himself, and the two characters only fleetingly interact at either end of the episode, spending most of the episode on different ships. (Although that may be a nod to The Wrath of Khan.)

The result is a final act that feels somewhat tonally jarring. For all the horror that Sisko have unleashed, the consequences are dismissed with exposition and jokes. The peaceful resolution to this latest crisis is relegated to a log entry as Sisko returns to the station, while the episode closes with some ill-judged light-hearted banter between Sisko and Dax. “You didn’t clear it with Starfleet first, did you?” Dax asks. Sisko feigns absent mindedness. “I knew I’d forgotten to do something.” Dax quips, “You know, sometimes I like it when the bad guy wins.”

Badass in the Badlands.

Badass in the Badlands.

In keeping with Moore’s comments about the “Kirkian” nature of Sisko’s plot, that closing beat feels very much like a nod towards those famous closing stings on the original Star Trek show, when the crew would sit on the bridge and reflect upon the lessons that they had learned from the episode in question. This inevitably led to some casual racism between Spock and McCoy, with one of the three landing a zesty zinger before the Enterprise left orbit. For the Uniform aspires to that sort of ending, but it feels out of place given that Sisko just deployed biological weapons.

Still, the themes of consuming obsession and moral ambiguity is not the only thing that For the Uniform inherits from First Contact. This episode introduces the concept of a holographic communications interface, allowing characters to interact with one another while on different ships. Eddington is effectively able to transmit a copy of himself on to the bridge of the Defiant in order to verbally spar with Sisko. While this is rather different than the holographic viewscreen utilised in First Contact, it does signal a desire to move beyond the traditional Star Trek viewscreen.

"Now, let's never speak of this again."

“Now, let’s never speak of this again.”

In some respects, this is an example of Deep Space Nine‘s iconoclastic tendencies, its refusal to accept that things should be done a particular way because they have always been done a particular way. As Ronald D. Moore outlined in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the holo-transmitter arouse from his longstanding frustration with the traditional viewer:

“That’s something I had been pushing for,” says Ron Moore, “because I just think it’s so absurd that in the twenty-fourth century they have holodeck technology that allows them to recreate the Roman Empire, but everybody talks to each other on television monitors. It’s just so lame. The viewscreens have been around for over thirty years. Can’t we move to something a little more interesting? But it’s like pulling teeth.”

Indeed, For the Uniform goes even further when it comes to undercutting the franchise’s portrayal of communications technology. When Eddington sabotages the computer banks on the Defiant, the crew resort to using Nog to relay orders. It is a touch from an old submarine movie. When Ronald D. Moore relaunched Battlestar Galactica, he completely abandoned the idea of visual ship-to-ship communication for audio-only communication.

Hope is fading.

Hope is fading.

The holographic emitter works reasonably well in the context of For the Uniform. It is positioned at the back of the bridge, where the table has been cleared away to make lots of room. The layout of the Defiant bridge is relatively flat, so Sisko can interact with the device easily enough. From a purely practical standpoint, it also saves on the production budget by allowing the guest star to appear on the standing set rather than building a façade for face-to-face communication over the viewscreen.

The device allows Kenneth Marshall and Avery Brooks to share the screen with one another, despite the fact that their characters are on different ships. The dialogue between the two might have worked reasonably well over the viewscreen, but it works much better when the actors are standing within ten feet of one another on the same set. unsurprisingly, the franchise would return to the concept for scenes between Kurros and Janeway in Think Tank or Picard and Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis. It is more visceral than a viewscreen conversation.

And now, the turn.

And now, the turn.

However, the concept never quite caught on. In fact, the holographic communications technology featured in For the Uniform only made one subsequent appearance, in a small scene towards the end of Doctor Bashir, I Presume. During the sixth season, Ronald D. Moore conceded:

We’re still playing around with how and when to use the Holo-Communicator.  For quick conversations like the one between Dax & Sisko in Call to Arms it seemed unnecessary and intrusive.  We’ve moved it off the Defiant bridge for now and put it in the Defiant Ready Room (which we may or may not see this season).  I’m sure it’ll pop up again this year.

It never appeared again. In a later conversation, Moore acknowledged, “We haven’t had a viewscreen-type scene that would be more effective if we used the holo-communicator recently, and that’s the criteria for using the device in the show.” As such, the emitter joined the list of abandoned Deep Space Nine concepts, with Primmin and T’Rul.

Shaking things up.

Shaking things up.

Of course, there is a reason that the viewscreen has remained a Star Trek fixture in one form or another over fifty years. It might have originally been designed as a dramatic device, a more effective method of communication than radio signals, but it has become a rich part of the franchise’s history and iconography. Like pointy ears and bumpy foreheads, the viewscreen is unlikely to actually go away at any point in the future of the franchise. Of course, that concept seems antiquated in the era of face time and video calls, but it is a recognisable franchise staple.

The holographic emitter is not the concept introduced by For the Uniform to be subsequently abandoned by Deep Space Nine. The episode marks the first appearance of veteran Star Trek guest star Eric Pierpoint as Captain Sanders of the Malinche. Pierpoint is notable as one of the few actors to have appeared in all four of the Berman era spin-offs, perhaps most notable for his recurring role as the Section 31 operative Harris during the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Keeping an ear out.

Keeping an ear out.

Pierpoint had auditioned repeatedly for Star Trek. Like Jeffrey Combs, Pierpoint had auditioned for the role of Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He had also auditioned for the leads on both Deep Space Nine and Voyager, before the decision was made to cast a black actor and a female actor. Pierpoint saw the role of Saunders as compensation for his failed auditions:

I think that was a gift that they gave me for not being the captain. I think they just threw me that one. It was cool to play the captain of a starship. Then it was interesting to think that if your ship wasn’t the one that was shot down you might still be circling in space somewhere, right? So you could have the demeanor, but the authority and the sense of humor are essential, I think. That’s a la James Kirk. Those are the best because then you’ve got a guy who’s always trying to figure something out, who’s really, really smart, but has a side to him that’s also really human. So I would have liked to have explored that had I not had my ship shot out from under me.

For a Star Trek show set within the Alpha Quadrant, Deep Space Nine was quite relaxed about introducing fellows Starfleet Captains. Sisko would rub shoulders with admirals in stories like Rapture and Doctor Bashir, I Presume, but there was never a sense that he had many peers at the same rank. As such, Sanders feels like a notable character to introduce at this point in the series, when the area around Deep Space Nine is about to get more volatile.

Out of orbit.

Out of orbit.

Sanders is also notable because he is a minor character played by a recognisable performer, at least in terms of eighties and nineties television. Pierpoint was a television veteran who would have been recognisable to many audience members watching For the Uniform, having been a regular on both Fame and Alien Nation. It seems strange to cast such a notable genre actor in such a minor role. It seems more like the production team are establishing a background player to whom they might wish to return.

Captain Sanders is introduced early in For the Uniform, while Sisko is chasing Eddington from the meeting in the teaser. Sanders then replaces Sisko in the manhunt for the traitor, once Starfleet suspects that Sisko has let himself become too close to the pursuit. However, he is promptly outwitted by Eddington. When Sisko defies order to go hunting for Eddington, he finds the Malinche has been disabled and left adrift. Sanders is completely absent from the rest of the episode.

"I tried to get them to promote me to Colonel, but they were having none of it."

“I tried to get them to promote me to Colonel, but they were having none of it.”

Pierpoint has acknowledged a sense of disappointment with how the role turned out. Asked which of his memorable roles he would like to reprise, Pierpoint did not hesitate to choose Sanders as the character with untapped potential:

I feel like a lot of the characters had a full arc, even if it was just one episode. The one that didn’t, or that had the least was Captain Sanders. So I would say Captain Sanders, because it was abbreviated. He didn’t get to fully form because he was only in it for a couple of scenes. I’d like to have seen how I’d have played this leading man captain and where they might have taken that.

Indeed, it is fun to imagine an alternate fifth and sixth season of the show that would have featured Pierpoint as a recurring character brushing shoulders with General Martok and Admiral Ross.

In the (plasma) field.

In the (plasma) field.

In fact, according to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the production team had considered making Captain Sanders a recurring character on the show, albeit for a rather cynical purpose:

The casting of Eric Pierpoint as Sanders was Behr’s idea. Audiences may best know Pierpoint as George, the amiable Newcomer from the television series Alien Nation. Behr knew him as a regular on the television series Fame, on which Behr served as a producer. “I thought he did a great job [in For the Uniform], and we always talked about bringing him back, but we never did,” Behr laments. “He would have been a perfect person to kill off.”

It should be noted that the Deep Space Nine production tended to be quite reluctant to kill off recurring characters in a permanent manner. It is interesting to wonder if they would have followed through on that cheeky threat.

Flight of fancy.

Flight of fancy.

As such, For the Uniform very much feels like a reminder that the writing staff were still experimenting with new concepts and that not all of those concepts were certain to stick around. For the Uniform introduces a new technology and a new supporting character that are both quickly dropped, demonstrating that the production team were taking an ad hoc trial-and-error approach to the plotting of the series. Had either concept managed to stick around, the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine may have been very different.

There is something exciting about that, about the fact that the writing staff are still open to new ideas and new concepts even as they move towards the big game-changing reveals in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. More than that, there is something to be said for the production team’s willingness to back away from concepts that simply are not working. Deep Space Nine is not afraid to introduce new elements, knowing that they may not work. Those few failures do not undermine the show’s ambition.

Sisko's pay will be docked.

Sisko’s pay will be docked.

For the Uniform is not the strongest episode of the fifth season, suffering from a somewhat rushed resolution that glosses over the impact and consequences of its boldest decision. In some ways, it recalls the approach that Voyager would take towards characterising Janeway in later episodes like Equinox, Part II and The Omega Directive. However, Deep Space Nine has earned enough good faith that this lack of follow-through feels more like a single misstep than an example of a harmful pattern of behaviour.

Even if the ending falters, For the Uniform is an interesting and ambitious piece of television. The episode’s biggest problem is that it is the weakest part of an otherwise strong triptych of Eddington Maquis stories.

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

Advertisements

9 Responses

  1. “Both Eddington and Dukat lack any sense of self-awareness, positioning themselves as the heroes at the centres of their own narratives who made tough decisions for the greater good. Both Eddington and Dukat downplay the suffering that they have inflicted, insisting that their hands were forced or that they were not technically responsible for what happened. In fact, both Eddington and Dukat seem to seek vindication of their narratives.” What is interesting, if that in this episode a lot of what you just said could apply to Sisko. He considers himself the hero with Eddington being the villain, he tries to downplay his bombing the planet with his belief that Eddington forced him to, and thus he is vindicated. I think that is part of the reason the villains worked so well in DS9. So many of them, though especially Dukat, served as dark mirrors for the heroes and show how thin the line between good and evil is. Yes, you could argue this is lessened when Dukat becomes a Pah-Wraith cultist, but even then he is serving as an emissary as well, and seems to generally believe in what he is doing. I think the only time the writers seriously messed up when it came to this theme was the end of “Waltz” when Sisko gives a speech about how Dukat is truly evil, which seems more like a Sam Loomis quote from the Halloween movies than something from Deep Space Nine.
    Also, wow, just replace the names in your quote above with Donald Trump, and you have a pretty good profile of him.

    • That’s a great observation about Eddington and Dukat. The Deep Space Nine writers like their male characters to be obsessed with heroic narratives.

      I like Waltz a lot, but it’s really the end point of Dukat as a character. That final monologue feels very much like the writers unwilling to trust their audience to reach what should be a straightforward reading of Dukat, and sets up a simplifying of the character to remove a lot of what made him so interesting the first place.

      I like his role in Covenant, particularly his wonderful “anything Sisko can do, I can do better” approach to religion, and Marc Aliamo is always fun to watch. Still, it feels like the show should have killed Dukat either at the end of (or immediately following) Waltz.

  2. You know, I had always just assumed that the holographic communications interface was just something that they did because they were trying to save a bit on production costs. It’s always interesting to hear the actual story behind that sort of thing.

    • Thanks! I do try to come up with something interesting to say about each episode, digging into the background and details of it. Why the production team made such decisions, and what they mean in the context of what came before and what follows.

  3. “This episode introduces the concept of a holographic communications interface, allowing characters to interact with one another while on different ships. Eddington is effectively able to transmit a copy of himself on to the bridge of the Defiant in order to verbally spar with Sisko. While this is rather different than the holographic viewscreen utilised in First Contact, it does signal a desire to move beyond the traditional Star Trek viewscreen.”

    I have to say, I HATED the holographic communications interface device, it made the show look SO cheap! It’s clearly the actor just standing there, his shadow somehow extending beyond the emitter while everyone just makes pretend that it’s a hologram. It made the effects from the original Star Wars look so much better, since the hologram had an actual effect that help immerse the audience into thinking it was a transmission/recording. All it took was making the hologram transparent and adding imperfections, and I was not taken out of the movie at all.

    The holographic communications interface would have been a lazy cost saving measure, even by Enterprise standards. At least the viewscreens gave the impression that the ship had a widescreen plasma TV. Plus, it just looked awkward to see the enemy of the ship taunting the captain in the middle of the bridge, standing perfectly ridge. It also awkward for the other Federation captain to just stand there in a dirty uniform on Sisko’s bridge and talk about how his ship was trashed. They certainly violated the “show don’t tell” rule right there. It would have been more impressive if Captain Sanders was giving his grim report from a Year-Of-Hell trashed Excelsior bridge.

    • Well, it is a very effective cost-cutting measure.

      But I think it also plays to the sensibilities on Deep Space Nine. In the fifth season, DS9 seems particularly invested in the franchise’s more theatrical stylings; long monologues and extended takes, an emphasis on interpersonal conversations. So the holoprojector seemed a logical way to get the actors together on the same set to play off one another.

  4. I love how the Maquis is just a bunch of bourgeois bores playing at revolution like a 24th century Baader-Meinhoff. Very nice touch.

  5. Yeah, Star Trek does like to turn its captains into someone hellbent on revenge. Kirk in Obsession; Picard in First Contact; Janeway in Equinox, etc. With For the Uniform, Avery Brooks seems to be back in Dr Noah mode, and while it’s always fun to watch Brooks barnstorm, it doesn’t quite connect with the episode the way Picard’s vendetta with the Borg did in the recent First Contact. Even though we have the great Peter Allan Fields writing the script (his first in three years) he doesn’t quite explore Sisko’s disenchantment with Starfleet values the way he would with the subsequent In the Pale Moonlight, which must stand as Trek’s most damning indictment of Federation values the franchise has ever seen.

    The holocommunicator was another shortlived idea like Neelix’s Good Morning Voyager program but it was something that just proved unpopular with the fans (maybe they didn’t like the fact the crew couldn’t see what was going on along with the Captain?).

    When Odo says “please do” to Sisko when he reminds him that Eddington was stationed to DS9 as security chief because Starfleet didn’t trust a Changeling, I think what he really means is “why not?” And he’s right. That is a petard that Sisko should raise Starfleet on.

    For the Uniform is not Star Trek’s first submarine story. DS9 did its own with Starship Down. What holographic viewscreen was there in First Contact? Sisko and Eddington do share one scene together in the flesh before the finale Darren, it’s the one in the teaser before Eddington beams away. Does the Defiant have a Ready Room, and if not, why not?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: