Myriad Universes: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation Part 4: The Enemy Unseen

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The Othersiders are gloating at having captured Data, Odo and Deanna. They order them to drop their weapons, which they do, but not before Data sets them to overload, causing yet another terrific explosion. The scattered away team uses the opportunity to kick massive amounts of ass, with Data punching people square in the gut with the full brunt of his android strength, Deanna unleashing sick karate moves and Odo turning into an awesome sludge monster to dispatch the rest. In sludge monster form, Odo praises Deanna's fighting skills in a tone that, if I didn't read him as asexual and aromantic, could almost be construed as a come-on. Deanna brushes it off by saying Worf trained her.

On Deep Space 9, Miles and Geordi have figured out what's causing the Wormhole to throw a fit. It turns out it's being assaulted by a certain kind of waveform, being broadcast simultaneously from two different stations: One in the Alpha Quadrant and one in the Gamma Quadrant. Miles figures that if they could knock at least one of those out, the Wormhole would go back to normal. Captain Picard doesn't want to send another away team, and Commander Sisko immediately finishes his thought by setting the target on the station on this side. On the other side, Odo, Deanna and Data have unfortunately become outnumbered, but then, just in the nick of time, they're beamed out by the remaining away team members, who have commandeered an Othersider ship in their absence. Commander Riker is quick to give praise where praise is always due by making it known that it was Jadzia Dax who hacked into the transporter network, allowing her to find them and pull them out.

Things are, unfortunately, decidedly less rosy on Bajor. Out of sandbags, the locals abandon the waterfront and make for higher ground as the inescapably rising tide of the ocean makes its way ever higher. Some disgruntled Bajorans curse the Wormhole, wishing it had never been discovered. The leader of the Provisional Government contacts Commander Sisko, confessing his feelings of hopelessness. He's finding it hard to refute the claims of his people that the Womhole closing is the will of the Prophets, and that all outsiders should leave. Sisko begs him to stay strong, declaring that his people will provide the proof he needs, but even his excellency begins to doubt the Commander: After all, he's not Bajoran. Commander Sisko stresses to Captain Picard that this is a desperate man, and furthermore a man who does not despair easily.

Soon though they're interrupted by a communique from Major Kira sent via a relay buoy: She calls Commander Sisko to let him know that the away team has rescued the admirals and are on their way back, but they're being chased by the Othersiders. On the ship, we see they're taking heavy fire, but a quick evasive maneouvre from Kira that she picked up during the resistance gets her out of a jam, and some praise from Commander Riker. We then cut to the Othersiders' command ship, where their leader is Villain Gloating about how the “Federation Fools” have “only accomplished half of their mission” because they don't know who's really been pulling the strings of this whole operation. Shockingly (nor not, depending on how well you know your Star Trek tropes by this point), the answer to that question turns out to be none other than the Cardassians, an operative of which soon politely emerges from the shadows to make the dramatic reveal.

Back on Deep Space 9, an Othersider ship comes through the Wormhole, which Miles points out is of the same configuration as the one that had shuttled the Cardassian saboteurs to safety in the second issue. Sisko has Miles hail it and lock on phasers, but it turns out it's just Kira and the away team making their way back, and Miles beams everyone safely back aboard. Captain Picard asks Data if he has a clue to who's responsible for all of this, but before he can explain about the Othersiders he's swiftly cut off by Odo, who declares the Othersiders may not be the only party involved. And here's where things take a slight turn for the silly: It turns out Odo knew it was the Cardassians all along (or he at least strongly suspected them) because he noticed that the jailer he confronted last time had been eating Tuspah egg, which is a Cardassian delicacy. Jadzia Dax figures that the Cardassians are trying to get the Federation to leave so they can reassert control of Bajoran space, and wheeled in the Othersiders as a diversionary tactic to keep Starfleet from learning what was really behind the collapse of the Wormhole.

Sensibly, Major Kira points out that they're going to need a lot more then Odo's suspicions to catch the Cardassians, to which Captain Picard agrees. Geordi posits that since the Wormhole is being affected by two wave generators, one of which is in the Alpha Quadrant, the one on our side is probably in or near Cardassian space. Commander Riker thinks the best place to check is an old abandoned outpost just on the other side of the border, as no-one would think to look for something like a wave generator there. Dax nonchalantly fires up the long-range scanners at DS9's science station and just so happens to find a wave broadcasting from that location. Commander Sisko is stunned at the surprising sensitivity of the station's sensors, but Miles sheepishly admits he's been playing with them on his off-time, earning him a round of applause from Geordi and Deanna.

Everyone soon piles onto the Enterprise to go check out the Cardassian outpost for themselves (even Ro Laren, who gets her one other scene in this series at the helm of the Galaxy-class starship). Returning to his favourite transporter room, Miles beams an away team comprised of Commander Riker, Major Kira, Worf, Odo and Data over to the station. No sooner do they get there though then the station powers its weapons on and attacks the Enterprise, while the away team comes under attack by Cardassian guards. Odo and Worf dispatch a few of their attackers, while Riker and Kira take care of the rest. Odo and Worf then locate the wave machine and set a time bomb to destroy it, while Miles pulls the away team out just in time. The Enterprise then knocks out the station's defenses in a gorgeous action panel reminiscent of the opening credits sequence of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In the Gamma Quadrant, the Othersiders notice the Bajoran Wormhole has become unblocked and, figuring something happened to the Cardassian wave projector, they panic, turn tail and run as fast as they can, as Starfleet would annihilate them utterly should the conflict escalate to open war. Some time later, both Captain Picard and Commander Sisko conference with their respective Cardassian equivalents in their respective ready rooms, both expressing polite diplomatic relief that this whole spiel wasn't an officially sanctioned project by the Cardassain government, as Guls Dukat and Adar assure them it wasn't. For if it were, they “would certainly have been held accountable”. On the Promenade, Odo and Deanna bid their farewells to each other, he expressing his thanks to her for not divulging his relationship with her mother (Deanna gets a line I just love: “Constable, I do not even like discussing my relationship with her.”). Kira and Riker make up, but not before they're interrupted by Dax, who swiftly takes the young and hunky commander by the arm and spirits him away, knowingly asking him how much he knows about Trills.

In the end, Jake bids goodbye to Captain Picard, before his father does the same, and they both shake on their amicable working relationship together. All seems back to normal...But Geordi isn't leaving until he reminds Quark to fix that rigged Dabo table, lest Odo find out about it. We close on a shot of the starship Enterprise and starbase Deep Space 9 side by side.

Like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Hearts and Minds, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation is an unequivocally formative and definitive story in my personal interpretation of Star Trek. Given their respective Summer 1994 and Fall 1994/Winter 1995 releases, I naturally read both of these in very close succession and they both contributed to my understanding of what this new shared universe would surely look like. Also like Hearts and Minds, however, it is a story that historically I knew only through fragments. And indeed, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation suffered even worse from this fate than even Hearts and Minds: With the latter I at least had half the story. With the former, I only had a quarter-This one.

So let me dispense with the quality assessment upfront. Spoiler Alert, I really liked this issue and I always have. Yes, this is a flawed series. And yes, it falls exactly along the lines you'd expect it to fall along if you've become familiar with my perspective on Star Trek. I hate to be blunt, but Michael Jan Friedman's half is a delight and Mike Barr's half is a slog. The impact of this historic team-up is muted somewhat by one half of the partnership very obviously letting the endeavour down. But that, ultimately, is kind of unimportant to the overall legacy of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation. In every respect, for me, this miniseries begins and ends on a high note and the implications of this demand to be taken seriously.

I will say one more thing about Friedman's talent in the context of this particular issue, however. I've talked a lot about his innate skill for understanding the classical sequential art medium, and this is a prime example of that. There are some truly inspired panel transitions here, such as the denouement between Commader Sisko and Gul Dukat and Captain Picard and Gul Adar, respectively. The whole scene is one continuous two-way dialog, with Picard and Sisko finishing each other's sentences, and Dukat and Adar doing the same. The final panel of the exchange is even mirrored across the page, with the Cardassian commander's faces being split down the middle, and Picard and Sisko seeming to stare straight into each other's eyes. Since the art team is more or less the same between the Malibu and DC halves, I have to give this to Friedman, as there's nothing remotely like that in any of Barr's issues.

The writing, predictably, hits the same high standards (Tuspah egg aside, perhaps). Honestly, I think this issue contains what may be some of Friedman's best Star Trek work ever: Particular praise has to go to the scene where the head of the Bajoran provisional government is at his wit's end talking to Commander Sisko and the aforementioned concluding ready room exchange. The character interactions really sparkle here too, with the various pairings feeling comfortable, lively and spirited in away they haven't always in this series. Riker and Kira are far more amicable and respectful to each other, for one. Odo and Deanna is a particular favourite of mine, as well as Riker and Dax. There's also nice little touches like Miles O'Brien getting to man the Enterprise transporter again, the return of the Dabo table brick joke and Ro Laren's general existence (no, I am not over her, thank you very much). And of course, the Big Bad Evil Empire of the Othersiders, who, in a beautifully anticlimactic subversion, turn out to be a bunch of aspiring posers duped and dumped by the Cardassians who freely admit the Federation could mop the floor with them if it ever came to that.

There's yer Big Damn War Arc for ya.

To return to the character pairings, I'd like to draw attention to how Friedman's approach helps make lateral parallels we might not otherwise think of. Granted, I'll freely admit they are, at base, a bit more rote and predictable then we might have liked: Picard/Sisko, Riker/Kira, Julian/Beverly, etc...at first. But, as the series goes on, and especially in this issue, the story really does attempt to subvert and play with this to some degree. It looks like Riker and Kira are going to have a “Conundrum” moment until Dax effortlessly seduces the XO while the hapless Major looks on stunned. Because, of course, Dax has been around so much she's older than dirt and is already a player to boot, and Will, as he says, has some experience with Trills. Odo and Worf are set up to have contrasting approaches to security, but this is dropped soon afterwards to focus on the far more interesting Odo/Deanna dynamic. And of course, it looks like Julian is trying to pick up his colleague Beverly, except he only wants to ask her what to say to Jadzia (who, let's be honest, he's not getting either).

If there's any criticism I could raise against this approach it's that it would have been nice had the story explored these dynamics a bit further than it does. I would say not having half the story be boring plot advancement and pointlessly offensive captures and escapes might have helped a bit in this regard, but I'm going to stay positive (though it must be said a good deal of this issue is action too, it's just really good and entertaining action). Ro/Kira is really, really sorely missed here for one. I would have loved to see them air their contrasting views on Bajoran spiritual faith and loyalty with each other, especially as one was on the front lines in the resistance and the other is part of a diaspora. I also would have really liked seeing Dax/Picard: Dax is so old, she might have been a mentor to Captain Picard too in another life (Curzon was even an ambassador), and there was the possibility for a curious reflection of the Dax/Sisko relationship. Sisko/Riker could also have been fun, as they were both first officers at one point. Part of it might just be there's just so much potential to mix and match these characters, four issues simply isn't enough time or space to fully explore the options, especially with a big Crisis Crossover plot to deal with on top of everything.

And also, it must be said not all of the characters are handled equally well: Commander Sisko is a frustratingly passive and low-key presence even in Friedman's issues (though it's worse in Barr's) and he comes across as way more submissive to Captain Picard then he really ought. But we should remember that if every single angle wasn't explored to the fullest here, this wasn't ever intended to be the final word on either of these casts. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation was meant to be a beginning, not an ending. A pilot, not a finale. Surely there would be many more crossovers and team-ups in the years to come that fleshed out this shared universe even further. That's the obvious conclusion to draw from the direction both the TV and spin-off departments had been going for almost three years now. Even Quark's final line “These meddling Enterprise people are gone, and with any luck, we'll never see them again” set against a shot of the Enterprise and Deep Space 9 effectively back-to-back, seems to imply that we haven't seen the last of this approach, far from it.

That's how I read it in 1994 or 1995 or whenever I first got this issue. If it was Hearts and Minds that won me over to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine side of the lot, it was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation that definitively reassured me that there was to be no conflict or competition between these two worlds, and that they instead were meant to coexist as one. These were friends, colleagues and counterparts who were stronger together than apart. And furthermore, you have to understand, that even if the characterization is a bit rocky at times I didn't really care about (or even notice) that back then, partly because I didn't know any better. My only real exposure to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was issues 2 and 4 of Hearts and Minds, a few half-memories of images from the first season and my second season issues of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Magazine. If Commander Sisko didn't quite sound like Avery Brooks, how was I to know any better since I'd never even seen Avery Brooks performing by that point?

What was, and is, important about this series is that it has these two crews and these two sets of ideals living and working together in the first and last moment in history when that was possible. There are no two other Star Trek series that had or can have the relationship Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation have with one another, except maybe The Next Generation and the Original Series, though even that's more a case of torch-passing than the famed Star Trek “peaceful coexistence”. Future crossovers will be tempted to throw in Every Star Trek Thing Ever (and indeed will), but this dilutes, cheapens and obfuscates the very special and intimate relationship these two specific iterations have with one another. This moment, more than perhaps any other, is where My Star Trek begins.

And, as it so happened, ended. While the comic book line opens up endless possibilities here, the Hollywood team is about to destroy all of them, and indeed perhaps already has by the time this issue was released. Never again will a story like this ever be possible, thanks in no small part to Star Trek's crippling insularity and self-consciousness. No sooner does the true scope of the Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine world come into view then we are forced to say goodbye to it. An unfinished, slightly unsatisfying miniseries grimly seems like the most fitting conclusion after all.

Which is maybe why this is a good place to bid farewell to Michael Jan Friedman. This will probably be the last story of his we look at, barring one non-canonical curiosity we'll read in the next book. But this is likely the last time we'll see him in charge of the shared Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine universe. While the DC line continues into 1996 (and we'll return to it at the very end of this book), this is the last time we'll see Friedman at the helm, as not long after it wears itself down with justifiable fanwank before fizzling out.

Honestly, what more do you want me to say about the man? He's been an absolute pillar for seven years now. This whole book is basically about him. This is the person who, more than any other writer, shaped my view of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is the jobbing comic book and young adult tie-in fiction writer who knew these characters better than the people who created them. This is the person who understands Star Trek and its commitment to utopianism better than the people in charge of the TV show, and possibly better than anyone else. It's Michael Jan Friedman you have to thank for my continued loyalty to Star Trek over the years and my admittedly warped conception of what it is and what it should be. Or perhaps blame. It's all up to you.

But regardless, the fact remains. Whenever I've been in need of a Star Trek: The Next Generation fix over my life, I don't watch the TV show. I read one of Michael Jan Friedman's stories. Perhaps some of this is due to my ever-growing distance from (and increasing lack of patience for) television, books and movies as forms of narrative storytelling, and indeed fiction in general. But I do happen to think at least a part of this is because Friedman really did accomplish something truly magical here. After all, ideas and gods are at their strongest when we believe in them the most. And nobody believed in Star Trek: The Next Generation more than Michael Jan Friedman.

Comments

John G. Wood 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Ha! Appropriately enough, Josh, this is the first entry where I detect you "writing for the trade"... ;-)

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