Myriad Universes: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation Part 2: The Wormhole Trap!

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A fearsome storm rages on Bajor. Vedek Bareil surveys the fury from a balcony outside his temple. An attendant acolyte (who looks a hell of a lot like Vedek Winn but isn't cited as being her) fears for his health, but Bareil only asks if everyone who has lost their homes due to the storm has been given sanctuary within, stressing that no-one must be turned away. The acolyte hopes the Prophets stop the storm, but Bareil hopes they grant them their wisdom on how to act.

On Deep Space 9, Kira, Worf and Odo confront the Cardassian saboteurs. One of the assailants tries to gas the security team, but Worf is a quicker shot, and Odo turns into a praying mantis tentacle monster to subdue them. Not to be outdone, Kira swings from the rafters and kicks some dudes in the fucking face. But before they can arrest them, the intruders activate an emergency transport. Jadzia Dax couldn't catch them in time, but Data has found some technobabble that allows him to nullify the cloaking device used on their ship. Unfirtunately, neither Dax nor Data is able to snare the ship in a tractor beam before it escapes into the Wormhole, and they decide to meet face-to-face to figure things out. In sickbay, Captain Picard asks for a diagnosis of the security team involved in the brawl, but Beverly turns things over to Doctor Bashir instead. Julian says there were no casualties, but Captain Picard is concerned about blood on Major Kira's arm. Kira reassures Jean-Luc that it's Cardassian blood, not hers, though Beverly is unsure because of an unusual variation in the blood's genomic structure. They decide to run some further tests, and Julian jokes that their dinner plans will have to be rescheduled.

Meanwhile, Geordi and Miles are having a look at the console the Cardassians were trying to access, and Commander Sisko goes to check on them. Geordi has a hard time making it through the uniquely stringy wiring in Cardassian circuitry, but Miles figures they might have been trying to access a backdoor into the station's computer banks. Ben has them seal off all possible external uplinks. The two engineers talk about how rough working the operational systems on Deep Space 9 is, but Miles happily admits hew views it as a challenge that keeps him going. In Ops, Captain Picard and Commander Sisko ask Data and Dax to work together to find out how the ship went through the supposedly impassable Wormhole (which is kinda weird as they already suggested doing that to each other on their own, but whatever). Jean-Luc comments on the intimacy Ben and Jadzia seem to share, namely, how they're on a first-name basis with each other despite the difference in rank.

This is, unfortunately, the first sign this series might be in a bit of trouble because this scene can be a bit of a sour note depending on how you read it. See, in explaining Dax's status as a Trill to Captain Picard, Commander Sisko mixes up pronouns, saying “I've known him...her for years now”. If you read Trills as a sci-fi metaphor for transgenderism, as some people do, this is kind of painful. Misgendering aside, you'd think after two years Ben would be used to Dax being Jadzia by now. But what's also bad is how awkwardly this exchange is set up: It feels more than a little stilted to have Captain Picard set up the line this way-After all, even though he doesn't have the exact same type of relationship with any of his crewmembers that Sisko and Dax have with each other, he's still on a first-name basis with a lot of the Enterprise crew himself (Will, Data and Geordi come to mind). So for him to be surprised at this feels a little out of character on top of everything.

Anyway, after we get through that, Major Kira comes in and tells Commander Sisko Gul Dukat has a message for him. Ben takes it in the office, and Captain Picard wants to be there as well, along with Commander Troi. As it happens, Deanna is at that moment engaged in a lunch date with Odo at the bar. Deanna breaks the news that her mother is Lwaxana Troi though, to Odo's relief, she says she did not divulge “the precise circumstances” of their meeting. As Deanna leaves, Quark says empaths “make [him] nervous”, to which Odo reponds “honesty makes you nervous”, also reminding him to fix that Dabo table (and not in that way).

In the Prefect's Office, Gul Dukat is giving his usual bluster to Commander Sisko about how the Cardassians are unjustly blamed for everything that goes wrong in the sector. Captain Picard interjects, pointing out that Cardassian blood was found at the scene. Dukat is obviously taken aback, saying he'll consult his security contacts to find out if a “fringe element” was involved. After the Gul signs off, Deanna tells the two COs that Dukat is hard for her to read because (and this is a pretty fun line) he's a diplomat trained in the art of information manipulation, though she did sense “some genuine conflict of emotion”. As they try to figure that out, Data hails the station, saying he and Dax have found out how to get passed all the distortion in the wormhole.

As Sisko and Picard prepare to head over to the Enterprise to see what the science officers have come up with, the Captain is suddenly slammed into by Jake, Nog and Alexander, all of whom are running down the corridor. Ben and Keiko are extremely embarrassed, but Jean-Luc tells them to think nothing of it: After all, he “was young once” too, and understands. Some time later on the Enterprise, Dax and Data tell Picard, Sisko and Commander Riker that the wormhole is having a temper tantrum because of “verteron particle chaos”, but they haven't figured out the precise cause of the technobabble yet. On the other hand, they have found a way to potentially modify a Runabout to make the trip-The saboteurs' ship is built around similar tech, and they figure reverse engineering it will do the job. Commander Riker thinks this is a trap, but Commander Sisko and Captain Picard think it's the best shot they have at rescuing the admirals' party, and they both ask Riker to lead an away team to check it out.

Why they didn't just use the Enterprise itself isn't ever really explained.

Will's team is initially comprised of Deanna, Data, Dax and Odo. Major Kira requests permission to join the team because of her strong desire to help her people. Commander Riker doesn't really want her aboard, however, and chews the Major out for insubordination, though he eventually lets her come along. And here's the next big problem with this issue: The story is writing Kira as interchangeable with Ro Laren, in particular Ro Laren from the fifth season. In fact, Kira's relationship with Riker in this series, which is first established here, is note-for-note the same as Will's infamous relationship with Laren in those episodes. One would perhaps be forgiven for assuming this is Michael Jan Friedman's fault, given he's the Star Trek: The Next Generation guy and is intimately familiar with Ro Laren, who is one of his favourite characters. But no, issue 2 is the first Malibu issue, penned by their scribe, Mike W. Barr. Indeed, Ro doesn't even appear in this issue, and it's worth remembering Friedman has never even once written her that way to begin with.

This is probably my single biggest complaint with this miniseries, and it mars for me what is in other respects a perfectly fun, enjoyable and inevitable team-up because it displays a distinct lack of comfort with the cast. What's really surprising is that this is happening on the Malibu end with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine characters, who were primed for conflict by design and who you'd think they'dve had two full years of experience with by now, and not the Next Generation ones, who are supposedly infamously hard to write for on account of their explicit utopianism. And sadly, things do not improve in the next scene, where a nervous and insecure Commander Sisko, in the manner of a child entering the adult world for the first time, asks Captain Picard if sending your friends off on away team missions to potentially die ever gets any easier. The same man who, five years earlier, led the doomed USS Saratoga on a last-ditch charge against the Borg at Wolf 359 and who has saved the galaxy on any number of occasions besides already.

Anyway, before we get too far down that path, let's finish up the summary. Doctor Crusher and Doctor Bashir have an emergency message for the away team: It turns out that Caraddisan blood wasn't Cardassian after all, but something else genetically engineered to appear Cardassian. But there's little time to worry about that as the Runabout is under heavy stress in the affected Wormhole (leading to a genuinely well-done and touching line from Jadzia “...What have they done?” Of course, she would be particularly sensitive to changes in the Wormhole, now wouldn't she?). Eventually though, they make it to the other side...Where a gigantic alien armada is waiting for them.

There's certainly enough to enjoy in this issue, but there's simply too many characterization problems (not to mention plot holes) to fully give it a pass. As mentioned above, this is the the first of Malibu's two contributions to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation, helmed by Mike W. Barr. Barr probably seemed like an obvious choice to collaborate with Friedman, as he'd been in charge of the monthly Malibu DS9 series for the lion's share of 1993. And there were certainly highlights of Barr's run on the book: Jadzia Dax, for one. It was Barr's tenure that started giving the Trill science officer actual agency for the first time, during a period where the TV show was growing increasingly less comfortable with her. Likewise, Odo and Chief O'Brien had some decent, if not signature, scenes under him. And all three characters do noticeably glimmer here to one extent or another. But Barr's grasp of his cast wasn't completely perfect: Commander Sisko came across as a bit flat and ill-defined, and Major Kira was a bit programmatically rebellious.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that Barr is a hit-or-miss writer for this line, and, sadly, his first Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation effort lands firmly in the “miss” category. In fact, when I think of everything this series did well and everything it messes up on, issue 2 is pretty much my go-to example of where it falters. The cringe-inducing scenes with Riker and Kira and the weird, clunky scenes with Sisko and Picard in from this issue stick out for me every bit as much as the memorable highlights to be found elsewhere. You all probably know where I'm going with this, but it's really, really hard for me not to wish Malibu hadn't tapped Mark A. Altman for this collaboration instead of Barr. I don't know how feasible that would have been given how closely this follows on from Altman's last series...But since Altman's last series makes a convincing case for being the single greatest Star Trek story ever told I can't help but dream about what could have come out of a partnership between the two best Star Trek writers of the modern era.

Comments

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Daibhid C 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Sorry to hear this didn't live up to the promise. Also, kind of disappointed the Malibu issues don't have "STAR TREK" in the DS9 font.

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Allyn 4 months, 1 week ago

This article prompted me to dig out the DVD-ROM that was released almost ten years ago of all of the pre-IDW Star Trek comics. (Well, all but the two X-Men crossovers.) Saturday morning, I reread the entire
TNG/DS9 crossover, even a free preview issue of the mini-series that Malibu issued that had an interview with Barr and Friedman about the series. (Until I looked on the DVD-ROM, I had no idea such a thing even existed, but it's there on the DVD-ROM.)

Read in toto, in a single sitting, there's an odd texture to the series as the writers shift from Friedman to Barr and back to Friedman. The overall story holds together (which I would characterize as a "DS9 story guest-starring the TNG characters"), though the characterizations don't quite line up across the four parts, let alone with the television characterizations. (Sisko, in particular, never feels like Avery Brooks, no matter who's writing him). Heck, even some story arcs don't line up (I'm thinking particularly of the O'Brien arc, which has a certain direction in part 1, then veers off entirely in parts 2 and 3). On the other hand, Riker's characterization (he's at his most charmingly a-hole-ish) is consistent across the two parts. His polite conversation with O'Brien, which ends with completely blowing him off, in the first part is followed up with the unnecessary dressing down of Kira in the second; he decides to be a dick to Kira, even though it's clear from the start that he'll let her join his Away Team mission.

One other reason for the odd texture is that, despite the consistent Purcell/Pallot art team across the series, the DC and Malibu chapters look different due to coloring and page layout. Malibu's coloring style is different than DC's (notice that Troi's uniform green isn't the same in the Malibu issues as the DC issues), and Malibu doesn't full-bleed the pages to the edges in the same way that DC does.

One line of dialogue could have covered why they took a runabout into the wormhole instead of taking the Enterprise herself. Maybe it would take too much power for a veteron field (or similar technobabble) for a ship of the Enterprise's mass. Or, better, they could have had a three page sequence where they try to take the Enterprise, only to discover that the the distortion field that's harming the wormhole is too powerful for a ship of the Enterprise's size, which leads to the wormhole. A sequence like that would have been more interesting than 1) Bashir's attempts to entice Crusher to join him for dinner or 2) Riker's dickishness to Kira.

The Bashir-Crusher scenes in the series I found cringeworthy because they were badly written. I couldn't hear Alexander Siddig or Gates McFadden behind any of the dialogue. And even though there's an innocent explanation for their conversations given in part 3, that didn't make them any less painful.

As an aside, I noticed that the character arcs are generally wrapped up by Barr in part 3 (O'Brien, Bashir-Crusher), leaving Friedman part 4 to wrap up the plot. But that's for future installments.

Ro's absence here didn't bother me. First, as I mentioned in a comment on the first part of this storyline, I remembered that Ro only appeared in the DC issues by Friedman, not the Malibu issues by Barr. Second, unless Riker had chosen to take Ro with him on the away team mission, there wasn't anything for Ro Laren, Enterprise-D bridge officer to do here. And there was little to no likelihood of Riker taking Ro, even though it would have made in-universe sense (in other words, Riker was used to working with her), because it didn't make story sense with how Barr and Friedman set up their tale — they paired off the characters and had each crew interact as much as possible with their direct counterparts, either in terms of what they do in their world or what their narrative function is. (Some characters, like Odo and Data, have both.) On an away mission in that kind of story, Riker has to pair off with Kira.

That is, in some ways, the story's biggest flaw, forcing the characters into rigid pairings and making them work together rather than using the right characters organically to the situation. There are more interesting character pairings than the commanders always together, the tech guys always together, the doctors always together, the security chiefs always together, the "mirrors on humanity" always together, etc.

This comment, by the way, was written on Saturday. After twenty minutes of frustration with the reCAPTCHA — every time I thought I had it beaten, my browser would pop up a window and tell me that it had lost its connection with Google and I needed to start over — I all but gave up. No website is worth that effort to post a comment. I even tried disabling JS in the browser and reloading the page, on the assumption that there must be a fallback for non-JS browsers (either a different CAPTCHA system or the comment goes into the WordPress approval queue), but all I got was a blocked attempt to render the reCAPTCHA box and an error message when I attempted to post. So I saved this to post later, and maybe someone is reading this because an overkill attempt to block spam (honestly, WordPress' Akismet is more than sufficient for all but edge cases in dealing with spam) prevented it from being posted at the time.

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