#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 12, “Paradise Lost”

January 19, 2014 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

Twitter hastag: #DS91sttimeTalk about missed chances. If you hadn’t told me this episode concluded a midseason two-parter, I would have thought it was one of Trek’s many botched wrap-around season opener/cliffhanger duos. It left a taste in my mouth like that of “Time’s Arrow, Part II”, from The Next Generation. “Homefront” was intriguing, the sense of dread steadily escalated, but “Paradise Lost” just couldn’t stick the landing.

As might be suspected from “Homeworld”, “Paradise Lost” further explores Sisko’s hunch that something just isn’t right with the recent acts that have been perpetrated against Earth, in particular the sabotage of the entire planet’s power grid (which, kids, I’m still struggling to see as possible in the 21st century, to say nothing of DS9’s setting).

Sisko’s digging takes him through a host of suspicious fellows, including a cadet involved with Red Squad, which viewers will recall Nog wouldn’t shut up about in Part I. Red Squad’s involvement in something nefarious is good, because it means Nog’s harping about them in this plot arc wasn’t just setting up pieces for later episodes. Sisko forcing him to turn over more information was also a nice scene, because it–perhaps better than anything else–showed Nog coming to the realization that he’s definitely not operating under Ferengi rules anymore. He’s part of an organization, with its own standards and culture, and Sisko’s demanding his understanding of that. Welcome to the big leagues, Nog.

The investigation goes on, with Sisko gradually putting the pieces together and Odo serving as an erstwhile backup as he explores his theories. Those theories lead into very dark, yet predictable places, and before it’s over, we have two Federation ships firing on each other in a brief but violent skirmish, cut short only by someone’s well-founded misgivings. But not before there are losses, and not before Sisko risks everything to expose the main conspirator.

As a viewer, I really wanted to find this all gripping, but I just couldn’t. The episode notes over on Memory Alpha (as always, checked only after I watched the episode) indicated that a budget problem was seen as hobbling the episode, and the producers to this day regret that. Sure, that explains some of the episode’s problems–one finds Earth’s security stance not portrayed in a sufficiently-menacing light, and my goodness the planet seems empty, with interior scenes shot almost in the style of a soap opera–but I’d point to other problems as more telling.

First, Avery Brooks is inconsistent when he’s asked to be intense. Comparisons are inevitable with the other Captains in the franchise, and the actors behind them. Patrick Stewart as Picard was always patient, brooding, and authoritative, usually without having to raise his voice. If something got him agitated, then it was believable, because Picard seldom lost his cool, and only after gradually ramping up in a convincing fashion. Kirk (William Shatner, like you didn’t know) was a captain usually relaxed and bemused, but quick to act and passionate on the offense. Both men’s acting styles worked perfectly for their characters.

Here, Brooks’ worst tendency is on display. The man has no middle gear. When he’s in second– plodding his character along in an effective portrayal of calculation and misgiving–he does a good job. But episodes like this give him too many chances to leap straight into staring, jaw-shaking, muscle-pulsing indignity. I hope Brooks learned over the course of the rest of this series how to be mad without being FURIOUS, as this sort of overacting throws me right out of the episode. I mean, it’s painful to watch. And I know the man can act, and that makes it worse.

Then you have the other problems in this episode: the main antagonist, it must be said, isn’t sufficiently developed. It would have been better to at least build him over several episodes, in a background-activity fashion, as the show seems to do with various other characters. This is a downfall episode written for a Gul Dukat, but it instead asks that of a reasonably-competent actor playing a character we’re not really invested in or interested in. Between the actor and the script, this isn’t one of those fantastic one-off character appearances like we’ve had before in “Duet” or TNG’s “The Drumhead”.

So between these problems and other nagging issues, I’m forced to dig for the things I liked. Here’s what I came up with: I liked the fact that Starfleet officers actually fired on each other before having the sense to call off the fight. I like the fact that there was an accidental and incredibly ironic mention of an Officer Snowden. I like the fact that all this havoc is only due to four changelings.

And I like the fact that there was a Part I, and that it was so strong. Too bad it was so much stronger than its conclusion.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

See the rest of the review series here.

"Beacon" Part IA young couple’s miracle at the last star left in the Universe will lead to a specter from the past returning to confront mankind…and the end will become the beginning. Try Part I of the Beacon Saga Serial, for your choice of ebook platforms.