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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Business as Usual (Review)

Business as Usual is, appropriately enough, a very typical Star Trek morality play.

It is a relatively rare example of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine engaging in the sort of pointed social commentary that many fans expect of the genre, the rather straightforward moral lesson couched in science-fiction trappings; The Devil in the Dark as a commentary on “the other”, A Taste of Armageddon as a condemnation of the Vietnam War, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield as a critique of racism in general. There are all but expected in a Star Trek show, but Deep Space Nine rarely plays them particularly straight.

Disarming conversationalists...

Disarming conversationalists…

Deep Space Nine has told issue-driven stories before, with In the Hands of the Prophets serving to explore the gap between creationists and those who believe in evolution or Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II constructed as a direct commentary on Los Angeles’ plans to lock up their homeless population. However, the series tend to favour broader commentaries about grander themes. The show arguably as a timeless quality because it tends not to dwell too heavily upon specific ideas, instead meditating on particular themes like authority and conflict.

Indeed, Star Trek: Voyager is a lot more traditional in this respect. That writing staff has a clear fondness for the archetypal Star Trek morality play, constructing episodes as metaphors for contemporary issues; Remember explores Holocaust denial, Distant Origin deals with creationism, Displaced offers a reactionary take on immigration. Even non-issue-driven episodes like Darkling and Fair Trade make a point to stress the franchise’s utopian values in a manner much more overt than Deep Space Nine.

The hard sell.

The hard sell.

With that in mind, Business as Usual feels strangely old-fashioned. It is very much an episode of Deep Space Nine in terms of setting and character, in that no other Star Trek show would have a lead character knowingly and willingly become an arms dealer. However, it feels very much like an archetypal Star Trek show in that it is an episode about how the arms trade is implicitly immoral and horrific. It is a very worthwhile message, and in no way diminished by its obviousness, but it does feel surprisingly clear cut when compared to episodes like The Ship or Rapture.

Business as Usual is essentially a very conventional Star Trek story that is elevated by one of the best guest casts in the history of the franchise.

"No, Mister Quark, I expect you to buy!"

“No, Mister Quark, I expect you to buy!”

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