Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DS9 Rewind Review – “Babel”

Review by Paul Steven Brown

‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’
Season 1 – Episode 4

“Babel” initially feels like a standard ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’ plot dressed up in ‘DS9’ clothes. So far, ‘Deep Space Nine’ has been more character driven rather than plot when compared to ‘TNG’. Not that plot doesn’t come into play on this show, but so far this is the real defining difference between the two shows.

This is also the first truly ensemble episode on ‘DS9’. While everyone has received lines and had things to do over the first four hours of the program, particularly in ‘Emissary’, ‘Babel’ is the first episode on the series where everyone is caught up inside the machine of a singular plot thread. Even Quark is not only connected by accidentally accelerating the spread of the aphasia virus, but in helping Odo out at the end.

The interaction between Odo and Quark continues to be the most enjoyable part of ‘DS9’. Again Auberjonois and Shimerman play off each other like a well oiled comedy duo. In fact, the whole show almost feels like it is dressed around their five scenes together. You could almost write the entire show from their perspective. I’m also glad to see some subtle improvements in the pair’s makeup.

When the aphasia virus hits the various members of the cast, it produces some striking differences in their acting. When O’Brien and Kira start spouting gibberish, Colm Meaney and Nana Visitor continue talking as if nothing has changed. There’s a bit of understandable frustration that the others can’t understand them, but for the most part these two handle the transition well. Bashir is alone when it happens, so all we get is a bit of resignation on Siddig el Fadil’s part. Dax, Sisko, and Jake are a whole different story. Terry Farrell makes it appear as if Dax is surprisingly aware as it happens in front of the rest of the crew. Avery Brooks really oversells it. Cirroc Lofton makes seem like the words are hurting Jake and looks just pitiful.

Visitor and Farrell do share a good moment of physical acting as they walk through the Promenade. Dax coolly strolls across the floor with her hands behind her back. She has a relaxed smile on her face as she is greeted by some of the men that pass her by. Kira is a bit more rigid and square-shouldered. She responds to the smiles and waves with a bit of an awkward nod and no smile. You really get a sense of the differences between these two women. Dax is enjoying the attention she’s receiving as a woman for the first time in eighty years. Kira, who grew up fighting a war with little time for flirting or romance, isn’t really comfortable with this kind of attention.

Once again, I have to point out the superb production of this show. The costuming and special effects continue to be top notch. One thing that I really liked in “Babel” was the use of practical, moving sets. When Odo has to pull levers that activate pistons in front of his face so he can eject Captain Jaheel’s ship, it gives the station a real physical presence. It feels like Odo is actually effecting change on a giant machine in a way that pushing a bunch of buttons would not.

“Babel” is hit and miss, but I’m going to chalk up most of the faults up to growing pains. ‘DS9’ and its writers and actors are still finding their legs. While this is a brand new show, it is also a franchise in transition. Star Trek at this point in time is just learning to tell different kinds of stories.

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