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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Simple Investigation (Review)

A Simple Investigation is a quiet little episode.

This is particularly true in the context of the crowded second half to the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light radically upended the status quo and set the fifth season on a march towards A Call to Arms. The threat of war looms large over the second half of the season, following the admission of Cardassia into the Dominion. There is a creeping sense of inevitability to episodes like Blaze of Glory and Soldiers of the Empire.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

At the same time, Deep Space Nine takes a little while to adjust to that dramatic shift. The Dominion and Cardassia only come back into focus with Ties of Blood and Water, the episode that reintroduces Weyoun to the series. Still, episodes like Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Business as Usual have a sense of weight to them as they offer up high-stakes family drama and arms-dealing morality plays. In contrast, A Simple Investigation feels relatively low key. It is not an episode with profound consequences or shocking revelations.

Instead, A Simple Investigation plays as a small-scale cyberpunk noir romance in which Odo falls head-over-heels in love with a guest star whom he will never see again. With all the chaos unfolding across the length and breadth of the fifth season, A Simple Investigation feels surprisingly… simple. The problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but A Simple Investigation still takes the time to fixate upon them.

Star struck.

Star struck.

In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light set a dark and ominous tone for the remainder of the show’s fifth year. The second half of the season includes nominally “lighter” episodes like Ferengi Love Songs or In the Cards, but there is a much a greater sense of stakes and drama involved. The wheeler-dealing of In the Cards is set against dangerous negotiations between the Dominion and Bajor as a prelude to war. Even the domestic strife of Ferengi Love Songs threatens the stability of an entire political power structure.

In some respects, A Simple Investigation would work have worked better had it been positioned earlier in the fifth season. After all, the first half of the season found room for nominally lighter and lower-stakes episodes like Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, Trials and Tribble-ations, Let He Who Is Without Sin…, The Ascent and The Begotten. Not all of those episodes were comedy episodes, but they tended to have a more intimate focus than the political machinations that dominate the second half of the year.

A shining beacon of justice.

A shining beacon of justice.

In theory, A Simple Investigation has stakes. Early in the episode, Odo crosses paths with Arissa. Arissa is a woman with a shady past who is seeking to escape from the clutches of the Orion Syndicate. Naturally, the criminal organisation is not thrilled with her decision. “You don’t quit the Orion Syndicate unless they say you can,” Arissa observes. She spends the bulk of the episode trying to recover a data crystal, while two assassins stalk the station in search of her.

Given everything else happening in the second half of the fifth season, this a relatively small story. Arissa is a character who has never appeared before and who will never appear again. Given everything that has happened in recent episodes, and Deep Space Nine‘s slow creep towards serialisation and long-form plotting, the threat to Arissa’s life feels like a return to the narrative conventions of episodic television. The lead characters are insulated in a safe little bubble and the guest cast are disposable.

The Dey is Young.

The Dey is Young.

There is something very relaxed and self-contained about A Simple Investigation, something that feels almost inessential. It does not necessarily further any long-term character or plot arcs. It is an episode that leans heavily on a one-shot guest star and which has no long-lasting repercussions. Were Deep Space Nine a modern highly-serialised thirteen-episode-season television series, A Simple Investigation would likely be one of the first episodes trimmed from the season order. For modern viewers binge-watching, it is easy to skip.

A Simple Investigation introduces a guest star to provide a romance for a lead character that lasts all of forty-five minutes and is never mentioned again. These have long been a staple of episodic television shows, an easy way to fill one of twenty-odd slots in a season; as far as one-shot characters go, “new love interest” ranks up there with “old war buddy.” In fact, Deep Space Nine has already done a few of these; Melora for Bashir, Second Sight for Sisko, Meridian for Dax.

Arresting chemistry.

Arresting chemistry.

To be fair, A Simple Investigation has one advantage over . Odo is an unconventional choice as a romantic leading man, and so there is something much more interesting in watching Odo fall in love with a random guest star than there is with Sisko or Bashir or Dax. Odo is a character still navigating a world that is alien to him, still trying to understand the interpersonal relationships of “solids.” As such, there is something intriguing about watching Odo’s first proper love affair.

Indeed, this would even allow A Simple Investigation to tie into Odo’s larger character development. As time has gone by, Deep Space Nine gets better at structuring character arcs across extended periods of time. The show has a knack for building upon earlier stories to layer the characters.  Even those episodes with no direct consequences tend to cast some light on how the characters work or how they see the world. It is entirely feasible for Odo’s affair with Arissa to do something similar, to inform his character going forward.

Romancing the (lead character from Heart of) Stone.

Romancing the (lead character from Heart of) Stone.

There is one very obvious way that this love affair could enhance Odo’s character arc from this point forward. Since Necessary Evil, and through episodes like Heart of Stone or Crossfire, Odo has been largely defined by his silent attraction to Kira. Given Kira is in a committed relationship, allowing Odo to fall in love might signal that he could move on. As The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion notes:

Ironically, Auberjonois thought that the romance with Arissa was meant to lead his character away from the ever-looming relationship with Kira. “We knew that it hadn’t originally been the writers’ intentions to put Odo and Kira together, and yet it sort of kept happening,” he says. “I think both Nana [Visitor] and I felt this episode was a way to gracefully move away from that idea.”

This would certainly be an interesting avenue for the show to explore, and a clever way of subverting television’s fondness for unrequited affection that morphs into “happily ever after.” Odo’s fixation upon Kira feels just a little bit awkward, particularly in the way that the show renders Kira largely oblivious to his attraction. There would be something quite refreshing if Odo’s attraction to Kira did not “pay off” with a relationship.

"Do I have bedroom eyes?"

“Do I have bedroom eyes?”

Unfortunately, the writing staff do not agree with Auberjonois’ interpretation of the episode. Deep Space Nine will commit to the prospect of a relationship between Kira and Odo with Children of Time, an episode in which Kira breaks up with Shakaar and in which Odo’s future self confesses his love for her before wiping an entire colony out of existence for her. Eventually, the pair will hook up at the climax of His Way, a deeply problematic story in which Odo essentially consults with the twenty-fourth century equivalent of a pick-up artist.

To be clear, Deep Space Nine was quite good at depicting loving relationships. Once Odo and Kira became a couple, their relationship was endearing and heartwarming. However, the series was not very good at establishing those relationships. Deep Space Nine was not particularly adept at developing and nurturing romantic relationships between its leads, as the pairing of Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax would demonstrate in The Dogs of War towards the end of the run.

"Okay, Quark. You already had three romance episodes."

“Relax, Quark. You already had three romance episodes.”

There is also a sense that A Simple Investigation arrives at the wrong point in Odo’s larger character arc. A Simple Investigation is very much the character’s first love story, and certainly his first sexual experience. This is a big deal, one that should mean quite a lot in terms of determining Odo’s identity and sense of self. After all, making love is something that humanoids do. It is not something that shape-shifters do. “Once, on my homeworld, I had an experience that you might consider sexual,” he explains. But it is quite different from sex.

“You’re the first woman I’ve ever been close with,” Odo reflects. “I’ve never been able to let down my guard.” It is a classic Star Trek trope, the story of the outsider who comes to embrace certain facets of the human experience; Spock fell in love in This Side of Paradise, Data mimicked love in In Theory, the EMH courted in Lifesigns, Seven of Nine flirts with romance in Someone to Watch Over Me. It is a stock story that serves to move the character in question a little closer to humanity, to suggest that they are not as alien as they might have originally appeared.

So excited about the romance that they're practically beaming.

So excited about the romance that they’re practically beaming.

However, Odo has never been a conventional “outsider” character in the same way as Data or Seven of Nine. His journey is ultimately a subversion of their trip towards a more human perspective. This is another reason that the story might have worked earlier in the year, as The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion suggests:

The writers had envisioned the event when they had turned him into a human at the send of Season 4, but the right opportunity didn’t come along until after Odo regained his shape-shifter status in The Begotten. “

“I wish we’d done the show while Odo was still human,” admits Ron Moore. “If he had been human, the relationship with this woman would have carried a little more weight.”

Odo’s time as a humanoid was treated as a punishment inflicted by the Founders in Broken Link, one reversed in The Begotten. In fact, Odo’s arc over the rest of the show’s run pushes him further and further away from the human experience. It seems strange that Odo should be interested in sexual intercourse at this point in his arc.

Waltz with Bashir.

Waltz with Bashir.

As a result, A Simple Investigation feels like a narrative cul-de-sac in terms of Odo’s character development. It plays almost as a holdover from the first half of the season, tucked away at a point where the new status quo has not had a chance to cement itself. In some ways, A Simple Investigation is a very jarring episode that seems to slow the momentum of the fifth season at a point where Deep Space Nine is just beginning to build momentum. There are certainly aspects of A Simple Investigation that are distracting.

At the same time, there are also elements of A Simple Investigation that work rather well. The most obvious is the chemistry that exists between Dey Young and Rene Auberjonois. One of the big problems with Star Trek romances can be getting the chemistry right. The demands of producing a weekly television show mean that there isn’t always time to find a guest star who will “click” with the regular performer. However, Young and Auberjonois work very well together, both projecting strength and suggesting vulnerability.

"Sorry, I was just lost in my eyes."

“Sorry, I was just lost in my eyes.”

It is no surprise that Auberjonois has acknowledged a fondness for the episode and for working with Young. Asked to pick his “best scene” towards the end of the fifth season, the actor confessed:

The best scene is the last great scene I did. You know, this last show, with… where I fall in love…fabulous actress, Dey Young, and we had great scenes together, I just loved working with her, and so I would say that. But, you know, couple of weeks from now, ask me again, and I may have a different answer.

Young and Auberjonois bounce well off one another. It helps that Young was a little older than female television love interests tend to be, lending a worldly air to Arissa.

A chip off the old block.

A chip off the old block.

Auberjonois has always portrayed Odo as something akin to a teenager in an adult’s body. Odo projects a gruff exterior, with his crossed arms and his practiced scoff, but there is always a sense of childish vulnerability beneath the surface. Odo does not necessarily understand the world around him, despite his pride. For a character who can so easily change his shape, Odo cares a great deal about what others think about him. He stands apart from his colleagues, but he also yearns to belong. It is a fascinating paradox that makes Odo such a compelling character.

Young does something similar with Arissa. Like Odo, Arissa projects an image of herself. She takes pride in appearing confident and assertive. Like Odo, her pride and her independence matter a great deal. However, like Odo, there is also a vulnerability there beneath a cynical exterior. As played by Young and Auberjonois, Arissa and Odo seem to respond to one another’s weaknesses. After all, Arissa is in many ways a mirror to Odo. The character moves along a parallel arc.

Staring into space.

Staring into space.

A Simple Investigation alludes to this in their conversation in his quarters, when Odo explains why he is trying to help her. “I’ve done things in my life I’m not proud of, too,” he states. “You worked for Draim, I worked for the Cardassians. I never had the courage to walk away. You did. I admire that.” This makes a great deal of sense, particularly given what Odo has confronted in Things Past. It is a small but effective piece of character continuity, an example of the small-scale character work that Deep Space Nine has done so efficiently.

Indeed, Arissa can appreciate the difficulties that Odo faced while working under the Cardassians, the lies that he had to tell himself to make it through the day. “I was a net girl,” she acknowledges of her own history. “I told myself I wasn’t selling my body since there was no actual contact. But I was. I let men into my mind for money.” Arissa’s distinction was academic in nature, much like Odo’s rigid insistence that he represented “justice” during the Cardassian Occupation, as if that word had any weight in that context.

"Why do I always have to play the bad guy?" Colm Meaney is even typecast within Star Trek. He wishes he were Colm Nicey.

“Why do I always have to play the bad guy?”
Colm Meaney is even typecast within Star Trek.
He wishes he were Colm Nicey.

There are other parallels between Arissa and Odo that resonate. Towards the end of the episode, it is revealed that Arissa was going through a crisis of identity, following a deep-seated impulse that she could not possibly understand. Arissa was not who she thought herself to be. She was an undercover police officer, driven by subconscious commands implanted before she infiltrated the Orion Syndicate. “When we were ready to recall her, we had Tauvid make contact,” an official explains. “We’d imprinted a trace memory designed to make her feel she could trust him.”

Odo can certainly empathise with that. Odo was sent out into the galaxy by the Founders to gather intelligence on other species. He was implanted with a biological urge to return home, even though he did not consciously realise it. In The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II, Odo was forced to confront the reality of what he was and what his people had become. He had no more control over his own impulses than Arissa. Both Odo and Arissa are caught up in forces and identities more powerful than themselves.

Bashir certainly has drive.

Bashir certainly has drive.

A Simple Investigation is not a particularly showy episode of television, but it does understand that Odo and Arissa are the figurative heart of the story. The most impressive sequence in the episode is a single long take of Odo and Arissa in bed together. As Dey Young explains, that was the big challenge while shooting the episode:

“Rene is a dear man and a wonderful actor,” says the actress.  “One of my favorite moments in the episode is the bedroom scene between Odo and Arissa.  I thought that the director John Kretchmer really went out on a limb and took a risk in doing the whole thing in one go.  The shot starts down on one side of the bed, arcs up and around and down on the other side and finally comes back up.  Not only was it beautifully filmed but I also felt the chemistry between Rene and I really played out nicely on the screen.

“It was a risky scene because, as I said, there was no way of being able to cut back and forth between the actors.  I remember John told us, ‘Look, I don’t care if you know your lines perfectly for the other scenes.  It’s no problem to stop and do it over, but for this scene you need to know your lines perfectly because I want to do it all in one continuous shot.’  I was talking to the cinematographer, Jonathan West, one day and I asked him, ‘Do you guys do this often?’  He said, ‘No, we really don’t do these types of shots at all because there’s nothing to fall back on if something doesn’t work.’  We were lucky.  I’m sure John was sweating bullets until he saw the dailies the next day,” she laughs, “but thank God everything turned out OK.”

The fact that director John Kretchmer  recognised the importance of that (mostly quiet) sequence is a testament to his understanding of the script. A Simple Investigation is not the most compelling episode, essentially boiling down to Odo punching two guys who’d been hiding in a cargo bay for forty-five minutes. But it has a lot of heart to it.

Nobody nose.

Nobody nose.

Of course, it should be noted that the bedroom sequence is the second distinctive long take to be employed by Deep Space Nine in so many episodes, following on from Kira’s speech in The Darkness and the Light. As a rule, the Rick Berman Star Trek shows never really had a distinctive visual style; Berman was notoriously hostile to heavily stylised elements. Like a lot of contemporary television, function tended to override form; the key was to get the episodes out on time and on budget.

However, there is something very telling in these impressively staged long takes and extended dialogue sequences. Deep Space Nine feels decidedly old fashioned in terms of influence and aesthetic. Ira Steven Behr had a fondness for slipping in plot references to classic films; Profit and Loss was Casablanca, Fascination was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Star Trek had always had a stagey quality to it, but Deep Space Nine tended to revel in monologue- and dialogue-driven episodes and scenes; Duet, Waltz, In the Pale Moonlight, The Sound of Her Voice.

The darkness and the lighter touch.

The darkness and the lighter touch.

At a time when film and television seemed to be speeding up, with quicker cuts and shorter takes, Deep Space Nine would often slow things down and rely upon conversations and actors to hold attention. As a point of contrast, Star Trek: Voyager tended to overload its scripts with exposition and techno-babble feeding into impressive special effects. The use of long dialogue takes in episodes like The Darkness and the Light and A Simple Investigation, suggests that Deep Space Nine has a more patient and old-fashioned attitude towards drama and character.

While the chemistry between Young and Auberjonois is one of the strongest parts of the episode, it does jar a little bit with the tone that René Echevarria is trying to set with the script. A Simple Investigation is very clearly pitching itself as a pulpy noir story, with Arissa as a sort of femme fatale figure and Odo wandering into a more complicated situation than he had originally imagined. After teasing the reintroduction of the Orion Syndicate with their assassination attempt on Quark in The Ascent, Echevarria brings them to the fore with A Simple Investigation.

Killing time together.

Killing time together.

The episodes opens with the introduction of Traidy and Sorm, a pair of assassins who do not seem particularly good at (or excited about) their line of work. The two feel very much like they’ve wandered out of a trashy thriller, with the “pair of bantering assassins” trope something of a pop culture staple; from Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction to Eli and Charlie Sisters in The Sisters Brothers to Mister Wint and Mister Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever to Hardy and Bredow in The Testament of Doctor Mabuse to the Wet Bandits from Home Alone.

Traidy and Sorm set the tone for the episode, which is packed full of hard-boiled lines that might have been lifted from some of those detective novels that Odo holds so dear. “I didn’t realise I tripped an alarm,” Arissa complains when Odo catches her in the act of breaking and entering. “You didn’t,” Odo replies. “You’re good.” Arissa shrugs off the compliment. “I still got caught.” Odo explains, “I’ve been following you.” Arissa responds, “I didn’t know.” Odo doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m good, too.”

Syndicate rules.

Syndicate rules.

There is a certain charm to all this, with A Simple Investigation indulging in various stylistic affectations. There are points at which it seems like Odo stops just short of calling Arissa a “dame” or a “broad.” At one point, he asks, “Tell me, Arissa, what’s a nice woman like you doing with a dataport?” Later on, Arissa is narrative her life story while staring out a window into oblivion. “I wanted out. I guess I’m finally going to get my wish. Only problem is, I’ll be dead.” One gets the sense that the writers almost put a cigarette in her hand.

The problem is that A Simple Investigation never commits to this aesthetic. The noir elements are not developed enough to properly take root. Repeatedly over the course of the episode, Arissa is reveal to be a liar; she lies to Odo about her reasons for seeking out Tauvid, and she lies to herself about her identity. However, none of these lies are particularly dangerous and the episode frames them in a manner that makes them entirely understandable. Arissa is not lying to conceal the truth, but simply because she does not know the truth.

Things are looking up.

Things are looking up.

Neither Odo nor Arissa seem hard-edged or cynical enough to be plausible noir protagonists. A Simple Investigation is much more convincing as the tale of two vulnerable and lost individuals finding one another than it as the tale of two cynical minds flirting (and clashing) over a criminal investigation. A Simple Investigation is nowhere near as cynical as Necessary Evil, and so its stylistic touches can feel awkward and out of place. A Simple Investigation is too romantic for these hard-boiled affectations.

Still, there is something interesting about the noir elements of A Simple Investigation. The episode ties these aspects into a broader cyberpunk aesthetic, an aspect of science-fiction largely avoided by the Star Trek franchise with the obvious exception of the Borg Collective. Arissa has a “dataport” that allows her to hack directly into any computer using just the power of her mind. Arissa also claims to have been a “net girl”, implied to be a cyberpunk form of prostitution with minds meeting through technological means.

It's her neck on the line.

It’s her neck on the line.

Cyberpunk is in many ways a logical extension of the noir aesthetic, building upon much of the imagery and iconography associated with that classic genre and incorporating it into a science-fiction milieu. As Danny Bowes argues:

In the end, what noir and cyberpunk share is a simultaneous, paradoxical status as distinctly past-tense forms that nonetheless keep popping up everywhere in subsequent art. Cyberpunk is certainly one of noir’s most prominent descendants, and cyberpunk itself still has influence of its own. Fittingly, as each was widely criticized—and exalted—as valuing style over substance, the lasting impact of noir and cyberpunk (connecting the two as one entity, since there is no cyberpunk without noir) is greatest in the visual arts and cinema. For in the shadows lies danger and mystery. Sex and power. The simultaneous thrill and fear of confronting death. Noir, and all its descendants, including cyberpunk, is the shadow.

To be clear, the Star Trek has never been particularly interested in cyberpunk. Star Trek belongs to a much older (and more conventional) school of science-fiction. After all, the show launched before “cyberpunk” was a recognised subgenre.

First port of call.

First port of call.

Star Trek and cyberpunk are an odd fit on many levels. The franchise’s sterile design and utopian outlook both contrast with the aesthetic of cyberpunk. Even beyond that, Star Trek has long been anxious about the transhumanism associated with cyberpunk, as demonstrated by Doctor Bashir, I Presume. The franchise’s knee-jerk horror at concepts like genetic engineering or cybernetic enhancements would put it very much at odds with cyberpunk as a movement.

However, given Deep Space Nine‘s science-fiction setting and recurring fascination with noir storytelling, it makes sense that there would be some small overlap. If any Star Trek series were going to experiment with the trappings of cyberpunk, it would be Deep Space Nine. The series never explicitly or heavily embraced those elements, but they do recur across the seven-season run. Deep Space Nine is still too much of a Star Trek show to fully embrace the aesthetic of William Gibson, but there are countless little nods across the run.

Does not compute.

Does not compute.

Deep Space Nine might not embrace the cynicism that permeates cyberpunk, too deeply integrated into a long-standing science-fiction establishment to ever be truly “punk”, despite its flirtations with leather in the mirror universe episodes. However, there are aspects of Deep Space Nine that fit with the vision of cyberpunk as outlined by Bruce Sterling in his introduction to Burnt Chrome, making reference to:

… Gibson’s classic one-two combination of lowlife and high tech.

In Gibson we hear the sound of a decade that has finally found its own voice. He is not a table-pounding revolutionary, but a practical, hands-on retrofitter. He is opening the stale corridors of the genre to the fresh air of new data: Eighties culture, with its strange, growing integration of technology and fashion. He has a fondness for the odder and more inventive byways of mainstream lit: Le Carre, Robert Stone, Pynchon, William Burroughs, Jayne Anne Phillips. And he is a devotee of what J. G. Ballard has perceptively called “invisible literature”: that permeating flow of scientific reports, government documents, and specialized advertising that shapes our culture below the level of recognition.

In many ways, cyberpunk is very much about imagining mundane life in a high-tech future. It is not about epic adventures or space opera, but about the day-to-day realities of living in a world where artificial realities and networks are a reality of day-to-day existence. This is perhaps the strongest thematic connection between Deep Space Nine and cyberpunk, this fascination with the mundane amid the wondrous.

Chipping away at transhumanism.

Chipping away at transhumanism.

More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine is fascinated by the prospect of day-to-day life on the final frontier. The eponymous space station is not a top-of-line starship charting new frontiers, but a way station. The basic premise of the show suggests that Deep Space Nine is something of a galactic hub, a stop-over point for people traveling through the cosmos. In theory, Deep Space Nine is a point of intersection akin to Rick’s Bar from Casablanca.

Of course, Deep Space Nine is also more than that. One of the big overarching themes of the show is the way that the station transforms itself from a fringe outpost to a galactic linchpin, as Gowran acknowledges in By Inferno’s Light. Over the course of its seven-season run, Deep Space Nine becomes a place where the great and the good cross paths, where the fate of the Alpha Quadrant is decided. Still, the show never quite abandons the idea of Deep Space Nine as a nexus point.

Arissa is not herself lately.

Arissa is not herself lately.

Deep Space Nine is very invested in the lives of its characters. More than any other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine seems curious about what “normal” life would be like in the future imagined by Star Trek. This is reflected in the attention that the show pays to long-term romances like those between Benjamin Sisko and Kasidy Yates or Worf and Jadzia Dax. It is also borne out in the series’ fascination with life outside Starfleet or the Federation, without the military command structure or rigid hierarchy.

Deep Space Nine is noticeably less excited by technology than its sibling shows. It is the Star Trek series that leans least heavily upon the crutch of techno-babble, more interested in how a hypothetical technology affects people than in stringing together complicated words to offer a pseudo-explanation. There is something mundane about how Deep Space Nine treats the more uncanny elements of its settings, less likely to react in wonder or outrage than its sibling shows.

"Um... I could use a lift. Of my spirits."

“Um… I could use a lift. Of my spirits.”

When the modern iteration of the holodeck was introduced in The Big Goodbye, it was presented as a game-changer and a source of wonder. On Deep Space Nine, the holosuites are presented as something much more mundane; as a brothel in Meridian and as a showroom in Business as Usual. When implanted memories are employed by an alien probe in The Inner Light, they are seen as something far outside the crew’s frame of reference. When implanted memories are used to punish O’Brien in Hard Time, they are just a fact of life.

Of all the Star Trek shows, it is Deep Space Nine that comes closest to engaging with the works of Philip K. Dick. Dick tended to eschew the conventional heroes and epic narratives of science-fiction, preferring characters who just happened to exist within a science-fiction framework. Deep Space Nine does something similar, more interested in the visceral experience of living in the Star Trek universe than its siblings. Deep Space Nine is genuinely curious about what it must be like to inhabit a world where these things just happen.

To be fair, sometimes O'Brien inflicts the suffering.

To be fair, sometimes O’Brien inflicts the suffering.

This is most obvious in the “O’Brien must suffer” episodes, that use science-fiction devices and technology as a means of inflicting torture upon the Star Trek universe’s every man character. Sometimes those science-fiction devices are technological, as with the false memories in Hard Time or the android replacement in Whispers. Sometimes those science-fiction devices are narrative, as with possession in The Assignment or time travel in Time’s Orphan. However, these episodes all hinge on the idea that these experiences are par for the course.

To be fair, this slight flirtation with cyberpunk is in many ways a marker of the times. Deep Space Nine often felt quite removed from the decade around it, which might explain why the show has aged so well. However, these faint nods towards cyberpunk are very much in line with the way that mainstream nineties science-fiction had begun to acknowledge and even embrace the trappings of the subgenre. The term cyberpunk dates back to 1980, although its origins date back beyond that. However, it broke into the mainstream in the nineties.

Although, apparently "O'Brien must suffer" is a universal constant.

Although, apparently “O’Brien must suffer” is a universal constant.

Of course, certain aspects of the nineties lend themselves to cyberpunk. The genre’s concerns and preoccupations resonated with the decade at large. Cyberpunk was often rooted in an extrapolation of contemporary capitalism into a dystopian future, an idea that carried a lot more weight after America emerged victorious at the end of the Cold War. The anti-authoritarian and paranoid strands of the subgenre resonated with nineties audience, as writers like Oliver Stone and Chris Carter brought those ideas to the mainstream.

Although Deep Space Nine seldom fixated upon nineties popular culture, it did occasionally engage with those anxieties. The fear of changeling infiltrators in The Adversary reflected the broader sense of nineties uncertainty about what the “enemy” looked like in a post Cold War era, while the show’s skepticism of authority in Homefront and Paradise Lost fit quite nicely with the increasing mistrust of the government. Nineties insecurities about identity were reflected in the challenges to various characters’ self-image and perception.

We'll cross those ridges when we come to it.

We’ll cross those ridges when we come to it.

This is all very cyberpunk. To be fair, the mainstream somewhat bungled its handling of the subgenre in the middle of the decade, as the mainstream tends to do when it appropriates any “punk” culture. It has been argued that 1995 was “the year that killed cyberpunk.” That is perhaps an exaggeration. As Brian McHale argues in The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism, the genre arguably went from strength to strength:

Just as nineties meganovelists write in the shadow of Pynchon and other peak-period postmodernists, and nineties magical realists write in the shadow of Rushdie, so nineties science fiction struggles in various way with the legacy of cyberpunk. As in the case of mainstream postmodern fiction, here too the key figures of the peak period, far from slacking off, continued to produce prolifically: William Gibson himself, for instance, published his second trilogy between 1993 and 1999, and jointly with Bruce Sterling helped spin off the new subgenre of steampunk. A second generation of cyberpunk writers emerged, beginning with Neal Stephenson, and by the end of the decade, after a false start, the cyberpunk genre finally crossed over to mass-market popularity with the success of the Wachowski siblings’ film The Matrix.

Although movies like Johnny Mnemonic and Virtuosity were an embarrassment, it is hard to deny the influence of the cyberpunk movement on better-regarded late nineties films like The Matrix or Dark City or The Thirteenth Floor or eXistenz. William Gibson arguably came to be embraced by the mainstream, writing Kill Switch and First Person Shooter for The X-Files, while also influencing the creation of Harsh Realm.

Food for thought.

Food for thought.

Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the biggest challenge facing cyberpunk as a genre at the turn of the millennium was the threat of irrelevance. Real life seemed to be moving faster than the genre could keep pace. Tellingly, William Gibson began to move away from speculative dystopias and started to set his novels in the real world. More than that, the twenty-first century found Gibson writing novels that were actually set in the recent past. It was as though time had moved on.

Cyberpunk has grown old. Most punks eventually integrate into the establishment; even Johnny Rotten eventually ends up advertising Utterly Butterly. In some ways, the Star Trek franchise’s brief flirtations with cyberpunk underscore this idea. Star Trek is one of the most mainstream and ubiquitous science-fiction franchises out there, one rooted in an idealistic vision of the future that stands quite apart from the dystopia suggested by writers like Gibson. If Star Trek was appropriating the imagery so casually, perhaps cyberpunk had lost its edge.

"So, Vegas next year?"

“So, Vegas next year?”

A Simple Investigation is not really a cyberpunk story, either in terms of tone or in terms of philosophy. Nevertheless, it casually incorporates a few trappings in a way that suggests these elements might exist in the background of the larger Star Trek universe. The franchise as a tendency to treat cybernetic implants and networking as exceptional and grotesque, so there is something to be said for the way that A Simple Investigation layers these elements into its own story.

Deep Space Nine is in the process of testing the limitations of the Star Trek franchise by playing with toys that had previously been considered off-limits. Doctor Bashir, I Presume did something similar in suggesting that genetic engineering might be more common than the earlier series had suggested. The fifth season of Deep Space Nine as a whole is very much about pushing against the boundaries that have been imposed on the larger Star Trek universe, even in a relatively small episode like A Simple Investigation.

Stunning incompetence.

Stunning incompetence.

Naturally, these pushes against the assumptions and expectations  of the franchise are all leading towards A Call to Arms, the episode that break perhaps the biggest taboo in the Star Trek playbook by daring to ask what the twenty-fourth century might look like at war. The production team have been conspicuously testing the water with episodes like The Ship and … Nor the Battle to the Strong testing how the franchise might adapt to telling war stories.

A Simple Investigation might be a relatively small episode, but it still demonstrates how eagerly the writing staff were to explore and expand their vision of Star Trek. In fact, several elements originally planned for the episode were later incorporated into other Odo-centric episodes; René Echevarria originally proposed a sex scene similar to one in Chimera, while Ira Steven Behr was already formulating plans for a new holodeck setting based on sixties Las Vegas. Even in this small episode, the writing staff are trying new things.

James Bonding.

James Bonding.

A Simple Investigation is a small episode, but a endearing one. It is an episode that is notable primarily for the charm of its two leads and for its noir and cyberpunk aesthetic. It stands out in contrast to the episodes around it by virtue of its intimate scale and lower stakes, but feeling almost like a “breather” episode in midst of the chaos unfolding around it. There is nothing wrong with that.

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6 Responses

  1. I think the major problem with this episode is that it is a Star Trek love story, and as such is very predictable. The viewer knows that Odo and this woman are not going to stay together past the closing credits, so the episode can feel like a slog at times. I think this episode is one of the better ones of its ilk, certainly better than similar episodes like “Second Sight” or “The Price,” but it still feels slightly stale. I don’t think I would mind it so much if it were on TNG or Voyager, but on a show like DS9 that focuses heavily on the development of relationships over time, whether it be Dax and Worf, Kassidy and Sisko, Odo and Kira, or even O’Brien and Bashir, this episode just sticks out like a sore thumb.

    • That’s a fair point.

      But I think the idea of doing a love story with Odo that is half cyberpunk noir is just weird enough that I can go with it, even if it doesn’t quite work. I’d also argue it’s also better than Profit and Loss and Fascination and Meridian, as Star Trek love stories go. Although, as you said, not high bars to pass.

  2. “Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the biggest challenge facing cyberpunk as a genre at the turn of the millennium was the threat of irrelevance. Real life seemed to be moving faster than the genre could keep pace.”

    Steve Jobs killed cyberpunk and was never convicted for his crimes! 😉

    Seriously I do think social media and the profileration of smartphones did much to kill off cyberpunk. Cyberpunk has a very ambiguous relationship with technology and we are living in an incredibly techonophile era were the likes of Jobs, Musk, etc are essentially secular oracles. That with the sheer ubiquity of social media killing off any notion that being tech literate makes one a cool rebel or individualist did the rest.

    • Ha! That’s not a bad point. Cyberpunk doesn’t seem so scary anymore. After all, we’re wired up 24/7. Maybe cyberpunk has just been replaced by Black Mirror.

  3. As you like to delve into over arching concepts with your reviews and being a more logical man about interpersonal relationship things scattered in the show –
    — the key thing with ASI episode is ODO BEING SHOWN TO ACT UPON HIS ATTRACTION INTEREST LOVE FOR A SOLID vs Kira, that he is capable. Why not do it using NOIR LIKE Nec.Evil his 1st attraction to Kira as a parallel. It hints at KIRA FINALLY NOTICING ODO AS A POSSIBLE LOVE Partner TO HAVE MORE THAN JUST A FRIEND(Bedroom Eyes is perceptive Kira AGREES – telling Odo to see the woman) & JUST AFTER in CoT epi, Kira DROPS THE BOMB – LOOKING EXPECTANTLY FOR RESPONSE INTEREST FROM ODO- SHE AND SHAKAAR HAVE BROKEN UP.

    During OPs scene Dax goes on & on about Odo having Arissa in his quarters staying and Odo being late as proof of sex, KIRA is played by Nana as nervous unbelieving but subtly Curious Jealous BECAUSE SHE’S BEEN THERE Devoted Friend for ODO FOR YEARS WHY is Odo NOT Into HER?!? SHE’D BEEN TOLD as a CHANGLING HE NEVER CARED ABOUT SUCH Romantic sexual THINGS. Kira HAS NEVER BEEN GIVEN ANY Encouragement from Odo & yet has tried to drop hints of high loyalty affection and love at his feet(fans take as they do as JUST A FRIEND) but Odo brushes her off and KIRA RESPECTS HIS CHOICE. so I am tired of Kira being painted in Fandom as clueless, as she has an Emotional WALL as high as Odo and as MUCH SELF DOUBT and derision as for why someone as amazing and alien as Odo could or would EVER be in love with her. The writer’s were at fault with the actors, for making Kira so ambiguous and shifting in her interactions with Odo so people could deny her shown acted and directed reciprocal interest in Odo.

    PLEASE do a RETROSPECT FROM ALL EPISODES in your “HIS WAY REVIEW” as ODO and KIRA were CLEARLY SHOWN AS YIN/YANG partners from the beginning of the show, regardless writers made them more separated during ‘Odo is humanoid’ period. Even while Kira was with Shakaar they had close intimate BFF sharing moments, Ties of Blood & Water. I’m from the 90’s Odo/Kira fan meeting Rene & Nana, and their fandom have parsed the show tracking how it was ORGANIC AND LOGIC KIRA and ODO find LOVE in EACH OTHER, if only to last Kira’s lifetime like Laas and his past mates or Odo returned to the Link if needed as KIRA ACCEPTED AS ODO’s FUTURE SINCE The Search 1&2.

    • Many posted excerpts in fansite – http://www.freewebs.com/laurelgirl120/keyodokiramoments.htm – show from the whole series how longing & devoted Kira & Odo have been to each other and the idea they shouldn’t or couldn’t become love romantic is denying existing real life relationships borne out from true friendships and lifelong devotion.

      DS9 may have not been perfect smooth about depicting Odo/Kira coming together but you cannot denying it when Rene Echeverra responsible for Odo character was behind it & the producers &writers could see it forming in S1-2 after Nec.Evil from the way the actors themselves expressed it. I feel Rene & Nana early on voicing their disinterest in it back then, were just embarrassed at how they had put themselves so well into it that it was fictionally obvious the characters were ‘in love’ when they were just acting doing their jobs. Ever since, Rene & Nana have made it their bread & butter for conventions and appreciate the narrative for their characters.

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