“But do I have the right?”: Captive Pursuit


One of the common criticisms leveled against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in its early years is that its episodes had a tendency to be “too much like The Next Generation”, with the typical argument generally going that these episodes either had technobabble or plots that weren't uniquely Deep Space Nine centric. I personally don't think this is the case at all; in fact, of the episodes we've looked at so far, by my estimation that only one that could conceivably have also been done on Star Trek: The Next Generation was “Babel”-the one that was actually originally written for Star Trek: The Next Generation. And even “Babel” was worked over really well to fit the setting and character dynamics of the new show.

This makes it terribly interesting for me to see “Captive Pursuit” held up by pretty much the entire creative team as a great early example of a show that could never have been done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, because as far as I can tell the big problem with “Captive Pursuit” is that it's a story that doesn't belong to either Star Trek: The Next Generation *or* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The first obvious issue is that it's a Prime Directive story, and Prime Directive stories are without exception always terrible all of the time. For my arguments as to why, go re-read literally anything I've ever written about the Prime Directive spread across four books. The Deep Space Nine creative team's reasoning as to why it's only here that we could get to see Starfleet officers breaking regulations to go up against an obvious moral travesty is very revealing, and actually pretty offensively disingenuous in my opinion: They claim that it's because the Enterprise crew are “squeaky clean” and would never dream of going against their superiors, citing the scene in this episode where Chief O'Brien only gets the idea to go against the Federation after listening to Quark. But that's provably untrue, and it's not just my wish fulfillment projecting onto Star Trek: The Next Generation, that's an actively ahistorical reading of the series easily refuted by citing concrete textual evidence.

No matter whether you think they're actively renegade scientists and explorers as I do or think they're bureaucratic officers trying to do the best they can within the constrains of the system they're working in (which to me is actually a better reading of this show, actually) the fact of the matter is the Enterprise crew go against Starfleet regulations *all the time*. We had them taking down the admiralty as early as “Too Short a Season” way back in *1987* and as recently as “Chain of Command”. The Enterprise even has a pretty notorious history of violating the Prime Directive itself: In “The Drumhead”, Admiral Satie accuses Captain Picard of violating it *nine times* (which he had, and rightfully so) prior to the the events of that episode, which was way back in the fourth season. And that was *before* “Redemption” and the whole meddling in the Klingon Civil War business. Hell even in “Justice”. which was an otherwise godawful episode, Captain Picard said this:
“There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”
William Shatner himself even said on Twitter recently as of this writing that in spite of Captain Kirk's reputation for being a maverick, Captain Picard broke more rules than he ever did!

So the attitude that the Enterprise crew could not have handled this plot is, academically speaking, complete horseshit. If anything, it would have been a *better* fit for a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode...albeit a very bored, boring and stock Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. This is our first “let's see what's come through the wormhole!” story in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it's already become a bullshit contrivance. The wormhole can't act like an inverse TARDIS from Doctor Who and just throw up any old shit at the crew to deal with because the writing staff couldn't come up with anything better and they needed to print an episode that week. It has to be used with a specific set of themes and symbolic narrative devices and is going to function best when portrayed as a new and alien, though recognisably lived-in space.

The only thing I can think of being on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine adds to this *very* tired old plot structure is that everyone's a tiny bit more overt about how awesome breaking the Federation's rules are because the Federation is clearly bullshit. Commander Sisko basically congratulates Chief O'Brien on a job well done at the end, even though he has to “officially” reprimand him. But it's not like “the Prime Directive is ridiculous nonsense law that has no bearing in reality” or “blindly following orders without question is a stupid idea” is some brand new and revelatory concept: Anyone who's been watching Star Trek for the past six years in a manner other than “passively sitting in front of the TV set slack-jawed not processing anything” is going to have come to the same conclusion.

This isn't a consequence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being blatantly better than Star Trek: The Next Generation, it's a consequence of Gene Roddenberry no longer being around to be a crazy despotic micromanager with a back-asswards conception of how utopianism works. Star Trek: The Next Generation can and does say the same thing too: Refresh my memory-What was it that Captain Picard told Data in “Redemption II”? And as much as I dislike it, “Suspicions” is coming up later in the season to give Beverly Crusher a similar story, at which point the Deep Space Nine team should *really* be looking foolish. Earlier on in the season over at Star Trek: The Next Generation Brannon Braga said the Prime Directive was a “Star Trek cliché” and shouldn't be invoked anymore, and he was absolutely right.

Frankly, I think what's most revealing about all these smug “You couldn't do this on TNG!” protestations is that you actually shouldn't do this on TNG. Or DS9, for that matter: This plot doesn't belong to either show because it's an Original Series story, and a very poor one at that. “Captive Pursuit” is the kind of high-handed military maverick fantasy that characterizes every Original Series fan's memory of that that show was like, and even now the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine team is staffed by rabid Original Series fans. The real reason they don't like Star Trek: The Next Generation is because Star Trek: The Next Generation isn't Star Trek. That what's it all comes back to. Always.

Now, can this *finally* be the last of these kinds of episodes I have to do?


Froborr 5 years, 2 months ago

Now, can this *finally* be the last of these kinds of episodes I have to do?
I'm guessing no.

And it could be worse, they could have taken a really cool concept for a series that had all kinds of potential for interesting stories and utterly ruined it by taking the same kind of fetishistic approach to TNG as these episodes keep doing to TOS.

But I'm not bitter over Voyager or anything.

I continue to maintain that, without changing a single thing about "Who Watches the Watchers," it could have been a very good Prime Directive story if the next episode to mention the Prime Directive had been about how the spectacular success of the more honest approach on Mintaka led Starfleet to finally abandon the Prime Directive in favor of something that isn't, you know, evil.

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Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

This plot doesn't belong to either show because it's an Original Series story, and a very poor one at that.

In fact, it's kinda shockingly close to the second episode of Star Trek Continues. I mean, aside from the fact that stuff actually happens in the middle rather than 30 minutes of Kirk and Spock debating Mary Sue about why it's unfortunate but absolutely imperative for the Enterprise crew to make themselves accessories to trafficking.

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K. Jones 5 years, 2 months ago

I have a redemptive reading here, but nothing to criticize about any of the criticisms here, so it'll be redeemingly short.

The reading is thus; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is still very new. The first episode established everything. The second and third episodes very much cast a glance at the local characters native to the new environment and show what that environment is like and how it is different from TNG-era Starfleet, and the fourth gave a pretty rote epidemic to show these disparate organizations getting good at working together to solve a problem.

I'll get pretty tired of defending episodes by calling them "inevitable", but this episode was inevitable. Because this early in the show, there had to be the "we've shown what the Bajorans and locals are like here ... now let's show you what the Starfleeters are like when a typical Starfleet scenario happens."

And since Chief O'Brien is the resident Enterpriser, he is elected to be representative of TNG as a whole. And through the Chief finally getting his chance to have the big stock tropish prime directive story, we get to also see just how much he's learned from being an Enterprise guy, and that flows into how Sisko handles it as well. Dax and Bashir will assuredly get their turns at these sorts of scenarios as well - but they're not right off the Enterprise, right off the other show and stand to differ a lot more because of their awfully unique pros, cons, vast experiences, lacks of experience, and what-not.

So now it's out of the way, it didn't hurt too much, and somebody decided to never name the Drai the Drai nor to ever mention them again even though sometime later it was posited that whoever engineered the Tosk for the Drai was also the cloner responsible for engineering the Jem'Hadar. But that's okay. It's not entirely necessary for "this" episode to be notable for being first contact with the Dominion. (The same way we never hear Odo referred to as "first contact with the Gamma Quadrant").

Anyway, redemptive bits over. Meaney is reliably good as O'Brien and surprisingly good at feeling like he's still an "Enterprise guy", that line about glass jaws and helmets was comedy gold, and the Drai hunters uniforms were just plain fucking silly to look at. Like, something we'd have seen on "Ferengi-level threats" in season 1 of TNG. Oh, and Tosk's face make-up is really some of the best we've seen in the 24th century.

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elvwood 5 years, 2 months ago

The sad thing about this is that, just by changing a few lines, it needn't be about the Prime Directive at all, just the trickiness of first contact. (And how is the PD even relevant when the other civilisation is the one doing the contacting, and it has the superior technology? Do the Federation worry about interfering in Borg culture, or giving the Q Continuum an inferiority complex?) In any case, O'Brien was just putting right the interference in the hunt that had happened because Tosk had been arrested, so if anyone's actively supporting the PD it's him!

Putting that particular shibboleth to one side, and ignoring a bit of eyerolling when it came up in dialogue, I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. Colm Meaney and whoever played Tosk were great, and the latter's makeup was noticeably effective. It went downhill a bit once it became obvious that O'Brien was going to have to break rank to support his friend, but that wasn't enough to ruin the whole for me.

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Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I thought the prime directive was specifically for pre-warp cultures (Even that Star Trek Continues episode didn't claim it was about the Prime Directive but about interstellar commerce treaties or something equally contrived), but it seems like they just force-evolve it to be "Arbitrary contrivance to force the heroes to let atrocities happen".

Maybe it's because they're pre-first-contact? (I think they make an explicit point in the episode that they've foregone formal first contact protocol for some reason)

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Froborr 5 years, 2 months ago

No, the Prime Directive does apply to cultures that have warp drive, at least by the TNG era. Among other places, it comes up in "Redemption." IIRC, the Prime Directive is mentioned as a reason the Federation cannot involve itself in the Klingon Civil War.

The way I've always understood it is that the Prime Directive forbids getting involved in the internal affairs of another culture. For a pre-warp civilization, everything is regarded as inherently internal because they have no contact with anyone else, so any involvement at all is forbidden. For someone that has warp, the Prime Directive forbids getting involved in matters that only concern members of that civilization, like the Tosk hunt, but the Federation is allowed to get involved in matters between civilizations (like brokering a peace treaty).

That's why, in "Redemption," they couldn't provide military support to either side in the civil war (an internal Klingon matter), but they could set up a blockade to prevent the Romulans from providing support to the Duras (since that involves both Klingons and Romulans).

It's still a terrible fucking idea, but it's not being depicted inconsistently. (At least, no more than the usual amount of inconsistency inevitable in a series written by dozens of people over decades.)

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John Biles 5 years, 2 months ago

Full TOS fetishism would have required the complete destruction of the culture in question by the end of the episode. That's how Kirk rolled; if the prime directive should stop him affecting a culture, he'd trash it by the end.

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Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

That's especially weird because I'm pretty sure that the canonical TOS example has them actually quote the directive, and it's all stuff like "Don't mention 'space' or suggest the possibility of there being people on other planets"

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Daru 5 years, 1 month ago

"“Captive Pursuit” is the kind of high-handed military maverick fantasy that characterizes every Original Series fan's memory of that that show was like"

Aye. that's my least favourite and least interesting kind of Trek - the military maverick fantasy. They were only ever fun for a short while when I was kid. Dull now.

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