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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang (Review)

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is nonsense, but it is fun nonsense.

It goes without saying that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is ridiculous, even by the standards of the obligatory “holodeck goes crazy” episodes like The Big Goodbye or Our Man Bashir or Bride of Chaotica! The episode’s internal logic is strikingly weak, to the point that even the most sympathetic and understanding audience member has to acknowledge the sizable plot holes in the narrative. It is not that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is lazy or clumsy, it is that the plotting is almost non-existent.

Sisko’s seven.

More than that, the seventh season has already had a much stronger “the crew hang out together and have fun in the holosuite” episode in Take Me Out to the Holosuite. More than that, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is within a dozen episodes of the end of its seven-season run. There is a very valid argument to be made that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is a completely unnecessary indulgence at this late stage of the game and that the time invested in this episode could be more wisely invested in some other story thread or dangling plot.

But, yet. There is an incredible charm to Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang that comes from seeing this cast together and having fun for the last time.

“Well, I think we have a promo shot.”

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang was gently shuffled around in the broadcast order. The production team had originally envisaged Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang as the penultimate story of the final season, a deep breath before the final plunge, one last “hurrah” before the epic ten-episode closing arc. As Ronald D. Moore explained to Cinefantastique:

When we were looking over the season, we said Badda-Bing was going to be the last stand-alone episode. That shot of them coming down the Promenade is wonderful. Singing The Best is Yet to Come at the end, that was literally going to be the song before you begin the ten episode run. The studio wanted to do Badda-Bing before Inter Arma in the air date schedule because they spent so much money on Badda-Bing. It became just such a handsome show that they wanted it in the February sweeps.

This makes a great deal of sense. Things were coming to an end, for the characters and for the production team. Even allowing for the indulgence of Take Me Out to the Holosuite earlier in the season, it made sense to allow the cast and crew (and fans) one last chance to enjoy a (relatively) low stakes adventure as a bunch of friends.

Hat’s showbiz, folks!

Deep Space Nine was on the cusp of the so-called “Final Chapter”, a sprawling serialised story that would run from Penumbra to What You Leave Behind while rapping up various plot threads from the Dominion War to the role of the Emissary. While every character would get some exploration and focus during those ten episodes, the enormous ensemble was largely broken up and divided. This final stretch of the seventh season is not so much one story focusing on these characters as it is several intertwining and intersecting stories focusing on particular subsets.

This is true geographically, with the cast spread over a relatively large area during that final run of episodes; Ezri and Worf are isolated from the main cast from Penumbra to Strange Bedfellows, while Kira and Garak are on Cardassia from When It Rains… to What You Leave Behind. However, it is also true narratively; Worf gets to tidy up the Klingon Empire narrative in When It Rains… and Tacking into the Wind, Quark and Rom resolve the Ferengi thread in The Dogs of War, Bashir and O’Brien deal with Section 31 in Extreme Measures, Sisko goes to Bajor in What You Leave Behind.

Not Miles away from Take Me Out to the Holosuite.

The result is that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang feels like the last chance to just see these characters hanging out together in a casual and relaxed manner, doing the twenty-fourth century equivalent of an escape room or a tabletop gaming session. This is just a bunch of friends doing the kind of things that friends do together, co-workers who have been together for seven years enjoying some nice after-hours recreation with one another. It might be redundant following Take Me Out to the Holosuite, but Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang still strikes an endearing tone that is unique to Deep Space Nine.

This relaxed and playful tone is at once the best and worst thing about Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. In theory, the episode has engagingly low stakes. There is (technically) no holosuite malfunction here, no threat to the entire station, no risk to the lives of the crew. The plot of the episode is structured such that the primary cast are effectively having fun, being presented with a puzzle to solve that relies on team work and creativity. In many ways, the plot of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang feels roughly equivalent to how holographic technology should work.

Aw, that’s pretty holo-sweet.

The big problem with this is that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang insists on having some stakes. It cannot just be another random adventure, equivalent to Bashir and O’Brien reliving the Battle of Britain in Homefront or the Battle of Clontarf in Bar Association. The episode has to develop some pretty fuzzy plot logic to explain why all of these characters are so caught up in this particular holographic plot. So the script comes up with a rather clumsy conceit, deciding to place Vic Fontaine himself in danger.

Early in the episode, the holographic programme resets itself to randomly introduce a new status quo and to put Vic in mortal danger. It is effectively a holographic plot twist, although it feels like a strange choice in a holosuite programme that seems more about mood and ambiance than narrative. Indeed, this sudden change does not happen gradually or organically within the framework of the programme. Instead, the programme changes with a flicker; the set is re-dressed, the crowd is changed, the acts are altered.

“Yeah, Felix might not be the most natural writer.”

The episode attempts to handwave all of this away, in a manner that is unconvincing. “I just talked to Felix,” Bashir reports early in the episode. “I know what’s been affecting Vic’s programme. It’s a jack in the box.” He elaborates, “This surprise is buried deep in the holosuite programme.” O’Brien clarifies, “It’s meant to shake things up, you know? Make things interesting.” It is an interesting idea, even if there are any number of problems with the basic premise, both in the sense of internal logic and in terms of fundamental human behaviour.

Most obviously, it seems like a really frustrating design feature that runs the risk of horribly frustrating the users of the programme in question. It is not that it is a fundamentally bad plot twist. Rather, the problem is that it is a plot twist in a story that never really had a plot to begin with. Characters go to Las Vegas to relax and soak up the ambiance, not to get swept up in a daring adventure. “I wasn’t bored,” Nog complains. “Were you?” Kira agrees, “Not at all.” Felix has done the equivalent of erasing all the user’s saved games without introducing a convenient checkpoint.

Accomplishment Unlocked: Live and Let Diarrhetic.

More than that, the internal logic of this situation is frustrating. In order to prevent the users from just deleting the mobsters who have overrun the casino, Felix has effectively locked the controls. O’Brien cannot remove the gangsters through a few well-placed commands, but he also cannot stop the programme. The scenario keeps running, generating a ticking clock for the characters. In fact, Vic even gets roughed up while the crew are busy trying to formulate a solution outside the holosuite.

How does this work? Even on a practical level? Does Felix assume that the programme is running on a user’s private holosuite grid, that can just be left running around-the-clock. Sure, Nog explained at the end of It’s Only a Paper Moon that the programme would be running twenty-six-hours-a-day, but Felix had no way of knowing that when he designed the “jack in the box.” How would Quark react if he were told that he couldn’t turn off his holosuite? What happens if the person running the programme doesn’t have the capacity to complete the story without pausing?

“I don’t realise we were supposed to be save scrumming it.”

Of course, O’Brien speculates that they could force a reboot of the programme to factory settings by effectively doing a manual restart. “But that would wipe Vic’s memory. He’d forget everything that’s happened since we first activated him.” While Deep Space Nine has playfully skirted the question of Vic’s awareness and sentience, that still sounds horrific. The fact that Vic is at least self-aware enough to appreciate the horror of that solution makes it even more horrific. Felix seems like a vicious and trolling writer; one can almost imagine the twenty-fourth century backlash.

The logical problems with Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang extend beyond the plot contortions used to get the narrative started. There are inconsistencies in how exactly the heist is supposed to work. The implication is that the solution needs to be “period specific.” O’Brien explains, “If we shoot [Frankie Eyes], we have to use a forty five automatic and not a phaser.” However, the holosuite has no problem with characters using biologically-derived abilities that are not “period specific”; Odo ingratiates himself to the mob with shapeshifting, Nog cracks a safe using his ears.

A safe bet.

Similarly, the episode contorts and bends to justify its central character conflict, with Sisko initially cynical about Vic before coming around at the last minute to help. When the team find themselves stuck with six people pulling a seven-man job, it becomes increasingly clear that Sisko will have to step up. This makes sense from a narrative and thematic perspective; Avery Brooks is the head of the ensemble, and Sisko is commander of the station. Sisko has to play an important role in the episode, and reluctantly coming around is an important part of that.

At the same time, the episode strains to justify why it has to be Sisko in plot terms. Kira makes it clear that Worf would never agree to help out, a point reinforced earlier in the episode with Worf dismissively reminding his colleagues that Vic “is a hologram, and therefore he does not exist.” This glosses over Vic’s help getting Worf over Jadzia’s death in Image in the Sand. Odo explains that Quark would be reluctant to help out because he sees Vic “as his competition.” This glosses over the fact that Quark is running and profitting from the holosuite. This is in his interest.

Cool customers.

More than that, there are any number of other characters who would happily step into the breach; the inclusion of Kasidy and Nog in this ensemble makes it clear that the group is not limited to members of the primary cast. Rom and Leeta still owe Vic for his assistance rehabilitating Nog in It’s Only a Paper Moon. It seems highly unlikely that Garak would decline if Bashir asked for his help, even considering the events of Our Man Bashir. Jake has an enthusiasm and energy that would would work well on the team. Keiko might appreciate spending time with her husband.

Of course, as with all of the other plot contrivances in Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang, these problems result from trying to explain certain thematic and tonal choices within the narrative itself. A lot of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is effectively reverse-engineered, driven by a clear desire to bring most of the primary cast together for an extended homage to Ocean’s 11 as one last celebration before getting down to business. It is transparent and clumsy, but it serves a very specific purpose.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

The biggest issue with the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is that the hand of the author is clearly visible in everything that happens. Things do not happen because they make sense in the context of the characters or the narrative, they happen because they fit the needs of the writing staff. The episode needs something resembling stakes, so Vic is put on the chopping block. The episode needs a cool heist sequence, so Bashir and O’Brien can’t just beam the money out the vault using a transporter. The episode needs Sisko to join the team, so Morn can’t step into the breach.

Despite the threat to Vic, there is something refreshing in the relatively low stakes of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. In its own weird way, it feels like the one episode where the holosuite is mostly working like it is supposed to, give or take Felix’s trolling of his audience. While it feels a little broad, there’s something reassuring in Kira’s smile at leaving Odo investigating the front lounge with the dancers. “Enjoy yourself. Just remember, we have a job to do.” There is a sense that this is fun and enjoyable, that these characters are doing this because they enjoy spending time together.

A fun couple of evenings.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang could in some ways be seen as an example of what differentiates Deep Space Nine from the other Star Trek shows. Star Trek: The Next Generation had its poker game and Star Trek: Voyager had its communal holodeck programmes, but the characters only tended to spend short scenes at those engagements unless the plot extended the focus of such scenes; the poker game becomes a clever narrative tool in Cause and Effect, the crew are trapped on the holodeck in Twisted, the holodeck is invaded in Bride of Chaotica!

In contrast, Deep Space Nine seems happy to let its characters just “hang out” together. Sure, there are some plot contrivances to add stakes to the story, but there is nothing as clumsy as the high stakes pseudo-science-fiction nonsense that Voyager would use to pad out otherwise character-driven narratives like The Swarm or Real Life. One of Behr’s big objectives with Deep Space Nine was to create a show populated by characters that seemed like real people, with relationships that felt like real friendships.

Card-carrying fans.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is essentially about a bunch of people coming together to celebrate what they love. In this case, it is a bit of kitschy sixties pop culture. Discussing the episode in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Ira Steven Behr acknowledged that the parallels were intentional:

“It didn’t matter to us that the regular characters weren’t in jeopardy,” Behr states. “None of us wanted to do the old ‘the-holosuite-is-malfunctioning-and-we’re-all-gonna-die’ thing. We just wanted to do a show about helping this hologram.” It didn’t seem unrealistic to assume that people like Odo and Kira and Nog would want to help the “lightbulb” who’d helped them in the past, he explains. “So in the same way that viewers have invested in the artifice of Star Trek and care about characters who aren’t real, we decided to do a show about our characters caring about Vic.”

The characters on Deep Space Nine are fans of Vic Fontaine in the way that many people in the real world are fans of Star Trek. They feel an intense emotional connection to something that is quite pointedly artificial. Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is very much part of that.

Franky only has eyes for her.

To be fair, this is very much the culmination of a recurring approach to the character of Vic Fontaine. Often, Vic feels like both a literal and metaphorical projection. Vic is an imaginary construct, a fictional character. However, he has a very real impact on the people around him. Tellingly, several of the key episodes built around Vic Fontaine touch on this idea of the holographic character and his illusory world as a metaphor for the power of optimistic escapism.

The dynamic between Vic and Odo in His Way reads awkwardly in the era of “pick-up artists”, particularly given the repeated invasions of Kira’ privacy. Nevertheless, Vic allows Odo the opportunity to step outside himself and to learn important things about himself. Similarly, the relationship between Vic and Nog in It’s Only a Paper Moon plays very much like a character retreating into an idealised fantasy to escape trauma; the episode even repeatedly alludes to this, given Nog’s fondness for holographic television.

Wait for it.

This is how many Star Trek fans see the franchise; more than one fan has felt like “the crew of the original series were like my friends.” This is not a fringe phenomenon. Before he directed Star Trek: Beyond, Justin Lin acknowledged that the crew of the original Star Trek felt like an idealised and inclusive family:

You know, I remember thinking that when we first moved to the states, it felt very lonely. It was just the five of us. You know, I didn’t know how to speak English at the time. And I remember watching Star Trek – and it was very progressive. And at the same time, I think the notion of family, of this group of people with various backgrounds coming together and going on this shared journey, that sense of family was very new. And I kind of embraced that. That became part of me.

In Where No Fan Has Gone Before, Phillip J. Fry talks about the show in similar terms. Explaining his affection for the show, Fry argues, “Most importantly, when I had no friends, it made me feel like maybe I did.” It is a joke, but it comes from a place of affection. Writer David Goodman would even go on to work on Star Trek: Enterprise.

Just to be…
… Nerys to you…

Of course, Deep Space Nine inherently understands the concept of fandom. The concept comes up repeatedly within the framework of the show, from the way that Sisko talks about baseball to the way that Quark plays with his “Marauder Mo” action figures. As much as Deep Space Nine might be accused of deconstructing the Star Trek franchise, it is very clear that the writers are genuine fans of the source material. Most obviously, Trials and Tribble-ations plays as a gigantic ode to fan culture.

Vic is obviously an indulgence of Ira Steven Behr’s affection for the history of show business, as reflected through everything from the countless episodes built around reimagining classic films like Casablanca or A Midsummer Night’s Dream through to a marginal character’s fascination with Errol Flynn in Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II. However, Vic also works very well as a stand-in for the Star Trek franchise, another iconic sixties pop culture.

“Don’t worry, Nog. I won’t let my Ferengi associate get sentenced to death. This time.”

Indeed, the episode even invites the comparison. Vic likens the experience to the epic six-episode arc that opened the sixth season. When the crew suggest that he might take a break, Vic responds, “A vacation? Did you guys take a vacation when the Dominion took over DS9?” O’Brien counters, “It’s not the same thing.” Vic objects, “It is to me.” To the crew, this is comparable to watching the Dominion Occupation at the start of the sixth season; a dramatic upset to the status quo, in which the villains take over a previously familiar and safe establishment.

At the start of the episode, members of the senior staff gather around to talk about the big twist in the way that work colleagues might discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They are so invested that they attract Sisko’s attention. “We’re talking about a holosuite programme,” Kira explains. Bashir elaborates, “Vic Fontaine’s hotel’s just been bought by gangsters.” Sisko responds with all the enthusiasm of a boss who doesn’t have access to HBO. “I see,” he muses. “When do you plan on to going back to work?” Water cooler time is over.

“No spoilers, dammit!”

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang feels like a celebration of fandom, an acknowledgement of how deeply fictional characters can affect people and how strongly an audience can come to feel about those fictional worlds. Odo, Kira, Nog and Dax all come from cultures incredibly far removed from sixties Las Vegas. Even allowing for Odo and Nog’s trip to mid-twentieth-century Nevada in Little Green Men, these aliens are arguably as removed from the trappings of sixties Las Vegas as modern audiences are from the world of Star Trek. However, they still feel that connection.

This is not empty nostalgia. Deep Space Nine is coming to an end, and many of the seventh season episodes feel reflective and considerate. Deep Space Nine seems to be assessing its own place in the larger Star Trek canon, and contemplating the legacy of the Star Trek franchise as a whole. After all, Chimera plays as an extended piece of self-criticism, an episode that explores the limits of the franchise’s utopian tolerance for difference and divergence. While Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is an affectionate tribute to fandom, it also makes some very salient points about nostalgia.

A critical bruising.

Particularly notable is Sisko’s objection to the recreation of sixties Las Vegas. Sisko argues that the programme creates a sanitised representation of the era that glosses over the reality of the situation. “You want to know?” Sisko challenges Kasidy. “You really want to know what my problem is? I’ll tell you. Las Vegas 1962, that’s my problem. In 1962, black people weren’t very welcome there. Oh, sure they could be performers or janitors, but customers? Never.” It’s certainly a valid point.

Sisko’s argument is that it represents a conscious act of erasure. “Maybe that’s the way it was in the real Vegas, but that is not the way it is at Vic’s,” Kasidy tries to assure him. “I have never felt uncomfortable there and neither has Jake.” This does not calm Sisko. Instead, it only emphasises his point. “But don’t you see?” he responds. “That’s the lie. In nineteen sixty two, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. It wasn’t an easy time for our people and I’m not going to pretend that it was.”

Glory to you… and to the house that always wins.

All of this is very fair. In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Ira Steven Behr accepts the legitimacy of Sisko’s criticism:

“We didn’t want the audience, especially the younger audience, to think that 1962 Las Vegas was a place where you had a lot of black people sitting in the audience at nightclubs, or enjoying themselves at hotels and casinos,” he says. “That just didn’t happen. So by having someone of Sisko’s historical understanding questioning that fact, we could clarify before we got him to Vic’s that he’s well aware that Vegas was very, very, very white.”

It is a very valid observation, and one that Voyager would never think to make about Tom Paris’ Captain Photon! adventures.

Captain of the Enterprise.

Sisko’s objection to the programme has aged very well on a number of fronts. Most obviously, it works as a criticism of the culture of white-washed nostalgia that would take root in American culture in the early years of the twenty-first century. Donald Trump would win a presidential election on the promise to “make America great again”, with most of his supporters pointing to a romanticised version of the fifties as a platonic ideal. Of course, the fifties could only ever be an ideal to straight white men, but few of his supporters seemed to openly acknowledge that.

The United States in general struggles to grapple with the legacy and history of racism within its borders. Many school students are still taught that the American Civil War was about economics or states’ rights, rather than about slavery. A vocal majority of the population refuse to accept that the Confederate Flag is the emblem of a culture built upon the foundations of slavery, instead insisting that it represents a certain set of nostalgic values. One in five Trump voters thinks that freeing the slaves was a bad idea.

New and noteworthy.

The Federation and Starfleet have always represented an extrapolation of twentieth-century American ideals, the American Century stretched towards infinity and Kennedy’s “new frontier” taken to its logical extremes. The values of the Federation and Starfleet have always represented an idealised reflection of contemporary American identity. In that context, race is frequently removed from the conversation, because it is a topic that makes some people uncomfortable.

As such, it is worthwhile to hear Sisko actually acknowledge the existence of race in that particular context. The conversation rattled certain sections of the Star Trek fanbase, with some insisting that the character had gone into “militant black man mode” and was playing “the race card.” The implication seemed to be that Sisko’s very acknowledgement of race (in the context of a historical programme) had challenged these viewers’ preconceptions of the Star Trek universe, and they were not happy about it.

Shouldering responsibility.

The fact that Sisko’s perfectly reasonable observations upset so many people speaks to the desire to imagine the United States as a “post-racial” society, where nobody has to even talk about race any more because it is such a non-issue. This is pointedly not the reality, as the recent election demonstrated, but many (mostly white) Americans want to believe that it is. As Anna Holmes argues:

When people talked about being ‘‘post­racial,’’ they were often really talking about being ‘‘postblack’’ — or, more charitably, ‘‘post-­racist-­against-­blacks.’’ After all, blackness is seen as an opposite to the default — the ideal — of whiteness, and chattel slavery and the legacies it left behind continue to shape American society. Sometimes it seems as if the desire for a ‘‘postracial’’ America is an attempt by white people to liberate themselves from the burden of having to deal with that legacy.

As such, Sisko’s conversation with Kasidy about race in sixties Las Vegas is a very effective rebuke to the idea that the future could ever be “postracial.” Sisko is an African American, and will always be an African American. He is just as distinct an individual as Bashir or O’Brien, with his own tastes and his own views and his own attitudes, but it would be impossible (and immoral) to try to erase his distinct cultural background.

Smile time.

In some ways, this is the ultimately extension of Deep Space Nine‘s exploration of a truly multicultural future, in which characters are given the freedom to balance their cultures and their traditions. Worf is both a Klingon and a Starfleet officer, capable of serving on both the Defiant and the Rotarran. Nog is both a Ferengi and a Starfleet officer. It is surreal, if depressingly predictable, that certain sections of the Star Trek fanbase readily accept Worf exploring his Klingon heritage but balk at Sisko exploring his African American roots.

In a very clever piece of writing, Sisko’s objections to the whitewashed representation of sixties Las Vegas boomerang back around to expose the hypocrisy of certain sections of Star Trek fandom, the kind of fans who object to concepts as self-evident as Trek Against Trump or the idea of an African American female lead. These are fans who like the idea of a utopian future, but insist that the franchise completely ignore political statements that make them uncomfortable, who would rather live in a romantic fantasy without actually engaging with what that would mean.

Food for thought.

With that in mind, Sisko’s complaints about a whitewashed and romanticised version of Las Vegas are certainly justified. There is a very clear danger in reconstructing the past in such broad and idealised terms, glossing over the realities of the past in favour of escapism and fantasy. It allows people to feel complacent about history, reducing the past to nothing more than a broadly-drawn theme park version of itself. It acknowledges the privilege inherent in pretending that the sixties was a time of enlightenment and wonder. After all, it was only so for some people.

Sisko’s observations might be read as something resembling self-criticism on the part of Deep Space Nine, a tacit acknowledgement of some of the limitations within the Star Trek franchise. After all, Chimera seemed to chide the franchise for having a very narrow view of what “diversity” and “tolerance” actually meant, featuring a relationship coded as same-sex in the context of a story about fear of the unknown. Even as Deep Space Nine comes to an end, it seems willing to engage with some of the blind spots in the larger Star Trek franchise.

Vic is collared.

These blind spots are particularly noticeable, given the pride that the Star Trek franchise has shown in its diversity and its progressivism. Star Trek has built a global brand around its fantasy of an inclusive and open-minded future. However, this makes it even more important to point out when the franchise has fallen short of its own ideals, to avoid turning the franchise into a themepark version of history. It is important to acknowledge that Star Trek was not perfect in its progressivism, that the show could have done more in the context of the time.

Sure, Star Trek was diverse, but that was driven by the network rather than Gene Roddenberry. Sure, Star Trek put Sulu and Uhura on the bridge, but it didn’t give them much to do; consider the casualness with which The Changeling infantalises Uhura. Plato’s Stepchildren did not feature the first interracial kiss on American television; even if it had, it would still have been presented as a humiliating sexual assault. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield engaged with racial tension, but also insisted the minorities not object too strenuously.

On watch for this.

This is to say nothing of the racism of The Omega Glory or the sexism of The Turnabout Intruder. There was a lot of idealism in the original Star Trek, but there were also a lot of flaws that reflected the decade around it. Star Trek fans are justifiably proud of the franchise, and the franchise is understandably proud of itself, but this eagerness to present the world of Star Trek as a utopian fantasy glosses over the fact that there were any number of very real problems with it. Sisko’s criticisms of sixties Las Vegas might in some ways mirror that school of criticism.

At the same time, Sisko’s objections in Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang might also be read as a cautionary criticism of the franchise as it stood at the turn of the millennium. Chimera felt like a very pointed criticism of the Berman era’s refusal to acknowledge homosexuality or transgenderism in any meaningful way, reflecting the boundaries that cowardice imposed upon the franchise’s utopian future. With Deep Space Nine coming to a close, perhaps Sisko’s objections reflect a fear of the franchise becoming a whitewashed theme park version of itself.

A dicey plan.

After all, Deep Space Nine was (by some distance) the most multicultural and diverse Star Trek series. There is not one white American character in the primary cast; the audience would have to dig as deep as Eddington to find a recurring player matching that criteria. More than that, these characters are themselves steeped into their own cultures and identities. Whereas the most French thing about Jean-Luc Picard was his name, characters like Sisko and O’Brien have very distinct backgrounds.

Perhaps Sisko’s fear about a whitewashed sixties Las Vegas reflects some anxiety about the future direction of the Star Trek franchise, fear that another sixties institution might be whitewashed. In theory, the cast of Voyager is almost as diverse as that of Deep Space Nine, but many of the more diverse members of that ensemble are under-developed and under-explored. Tellingly, Enterprise would represent a major step backwards, featuring a predominantly white cast where the two minority crewmembers were also the least developed of the leads.

Big deal.

In its own weird way, Sisko’s objection to the programme is as much an engagement with fan culture as anything else in Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang, and has arguably aged particularly well. As Jaime Weinman explains, contemporary criticism tends to be more engaged with issues like social context:

Creators have discovered, sometimes painfully, that what critics might have overlooked not that long ago can be central issues today. That’s what happened in 2016 to the film Passengers, in which Chris Pratt’s hero more or less tricks Jennifer Lawrence’s character into falling in love with him. It was written in 2007, when critics might not have made much of that plot point; back then, a movie like Wedding Crashers was generally accepted as the charming comedy it intended to be, even though it’s about two men who lie and deceive to pick up women, and one of them in turn falls in love with his own rapist. But when Passengers finally came out, nearly all critics — including Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson, who called it “a fantasy of Stockholm syndrome” — saw these ethical questions as one of the most important things about the movie.

The reaction to Passengers was a sign that critics were fed up with what the Guardian’s Andrew Pulver described as a long history of “stalking tactics bolstering romantic comedies.” It used to be that most critics wouldn’t note that kind of behavior in movie heroes, or wouldn’t care; it was just a convention of Hollywood storytelling that they accepted, almost unconsciously. But in 2016, it drove the majority of the conversation around Passengers.

Sisko’s engagement with this aspect of the programme in many ways prefigures this trend of socially conscious criticism of popular culture. Sisko’s objections probably make more sense now than they did on original broadcast.

“So, anyway, I think it has to be Dany… But that Doran Martell has a certain charm to him…”

Of course, it should be noted that Sisko’s observations are very much in character. Most obviously, Sisko has actually experienced the prejudice that African Americans faced in the middle of the twentieth century, flashing back into the life of Benny Russell in episodes like Far Beyond the Stars and Shadows and Symbols. However, it is reductive to believe that this is the only reason that Sisko is concerned about representation in media. Sisko has long been proud of his heritage, demonstrated in little touches like his decorating choices in The Search, Part I.

(It is interesting that Sisko’s objections to sixties Las Vegas do not extend to his love of mid-twentieth century baseball. Of course, there are any number of reasonable explanations for this. African Americans have a long history in baseball, even outside of the major league. The integration of baseball in 1942 did not change everything overnight, but it did represent a huge social and cultural step forward for African Americans. More than that, it is entirely possible for characters to have blind spots, and Sisko is complex enough that this feels like nuance rather than clumsiness.)

This isn’t what Frankie Eyes meant when he said Vic would be “Toast.”

That said, there is a lot of nuance in how Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang approaches Sisko’s objections to the programme. The episode accepts these complaints as valid, particularly given Sisko’s own lived-in experiences of twentieth-century racism. However, the script never fashions this into a broad condemnation of the programme in question. Sisko is quite right to point out this inconsistency and the problematic subtext, but this does not mean that Bashir is wrong to enjoy it in the first place.

There is something very idealistic in the way that Kasidy responds to Sisko’s criticisms. “Baby, I know that Vic’s isn’t a totally accurate representation of the way things were, but it isn’t meant to be,” she tells him. “It shows us the way things could have been. The way they should’ve been.” Sisko responds, “We cannot ignore the truth about the past.” Kasidy counters, “Going to Vic’s isn’t going to make us forget who we are or where we came from. What it does is it reminds us that we’re no longer bound by any limitations, except the ones we impose on ourselves.”

Empty promises.

This is a very important thing to note about this socially conscious school of criticism, one that is frequently missed in debates about how the political critics are essentially “censoring” art by bringing up issues of representation and diversity. The important thing is not necessarily the condemnation of the object itself, but the value of having the conversation about its more problematic elements. Art is representative in ways that are not are simply literal, it says a lot about how contemporary culture sees the world. It is valid to debate that, even while appreciating the aesthetics.

It is possible to acknowledge that Gone with the Wind is a horrifically racist piece of work, while also accepting that it is a superb piece of studio era film-making. It is possible to be completely horrified by the racial politics of Birth of a Nation, while still seeing it as a masterclass of form. It is possible to appreciate The Dukes of Hazard as a fun run-around, but it is also necessary to understand the weight of the flag on the hood of the General Lee. Nobody is smashing DVDs or banning films. Instead, there is a desire to talk about what these trappings actually mean.

Mobbed.

Art (and the appreciation of art) is not some binary state. It is quite difficult to argue that a piece of art is objectively right or objectively wrong. Few pieces of art are completely awful, just as few pieces of art can reasonably be described as perfect; and those categorisations vary from person-to-person. Even allowing for these, it is still possible to have a “guilty pleasure” or “problematic fave”, just as it is possible to disagree and debate whether a particular work of art is problematic in the first place.

Indeed, there is a debate be had about whether this an idealised and integrated version of the past has an inherent value, even if it is inaccurate. When he was producing Doctor Who, writer Russell T. Davies made a conscious effort to make his historical settings diverse because he thought that it was more important for young audience members to learn to accept people who look different than it was to be accurate to the cultural memory of the era in question. There are debates to be had about the merits of any given approach. The important thing is the conversation.

Chewing Sisko out.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang seems to suggest that there is value in having this conversation at all. As De Witt Douglas Kilgore argues in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Reform Astrofuturism, it is a scene that simply would not exist on any other Star Trek series:

The situation is remarkable not only as a scene in Star Trek but also in the world of commercial television. Sisko is not explaining himself to a white outsider, human or alien, but to a woman from his own background. He includes her in his historical concerns through his use of the possessive pronoun our. And Yates responds in kind, putting forth a different perspective from within their shared community of concern. Rank and gender introduce complicating dynamics, but the communal rhetoric renders the debate as internal, indicative of how black people position themselves both in the productive reality of the show and in the fictive future of its narrative. Crucially, these black characters are allowed to remember and to speak in a way that was unavailable to Uhura and Sulu two decades earlier. The production environment for racial representation has changed that much at least.

Having given voice to his concerns, Sisko is able to enjoy the programme. Indeed, he even gets into the spirit of the heist, throwing bank notes over his shoulder. It is worth noting that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang closes on a duet between Vic and Sisko. Sisko’s voice is heard, quite literally.

The economics of the future are somewhat different.

This is an important point. It is possible to love something while still acknowledging its faults and limitations. These reviews, for example, have been quite critical of various shortcomings and oversights at various points in the history of the Star Trek franchise, particularly with regards to the franchise’s cultivation of its progressive reputation or the veneration of Gene Roddenberry. (Even Deep Space Nine came in for such criticism, on occasion.) However, these reviews also come from a place of abiding affection for the franchise, that love in no way diminished by acknowledging the flaws and blindspots.

In a way, that carries over to Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. The episode makes no sense at a plot level, but it is populated with so many little moments that it is impossible to resist: Vic and Sisko quibbling over how much money is needed to make Sisko look like a big spender; Ezri struggling to balance the tray in real life after seeming more deft in the runthrough; Nog rehearsing on a life-size safe in the wardroom; Sisko rehearsing with the dice in his quarters; O’Brien pausing to politely ask a goon’s name before trying to delete him; that wonderful closing song-and-dance number.

Music to our ears.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is a remarkably light episode of Deep Space Nine, but this feels entirely appropriate given what is coming. It is ridiculous and illogical, contrived and absurd, but also endearing and enjoyable. There are so few hours left to spend with these characters, so it is nice to spend at least one of those having fun.

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2 Responses

  1. 1) Ezra and Nana are some hot tamales. Reminds me of how gorgeous Gates looked in period dress. No wonder the makers of Trek loved time travel episodes, they were probably sick of pajamas and typing “int: spaceship” over and over again.

    2) Sisko was bad ass, too. I love his chacoal blazer. He owns the non-embarrassing “Earth outfit” out of the regulars. (Come to think of it, that goes for TNG and Voy, too.)

    3) This episode is flawless, but I wish Avery had sung his natural baritone. He seems to be trying to match Darren’s voice, and it sounds off. But they were probably in a hurry to shoot it, so oh well.

    • I’m actually quite fond of Bashir’s “extra in a James Bond movie” look, with hat and the non-distinct suit. But, yeah, Sisko rocks. And the entire episode is just joy wrapped up in fun wrapped up in a tiny bit of sorrow because the end is near.

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