“Jam, elephants, peanuts, elephants and dung…”: Move Along Home
|Allamaraine, if you can see/Then Allamaraine…Oh fuck me.|
“Move Along Home” is astoundingly terrible.
I’m tempted to just leave the essay there-The production woes of this story are all well documented and self-explanatory (the team could not budget, ran out of money, and were working with a questionable brief to begin with) and almost nobody is going to leap to defend it. Ranting about how dumb and silly everything is here feels like a waste of time and preaching to the choir. One thing I will go on a bit of a tirade about is how Terry Farrell’s obligation to have Jadzia Dax play alien hopscotch precluded her from guest starring in “Birthright, Part I” as both episodes were filmed the same week. Aside from the fact Dax is and always was obviously the correct character for that subplot, there’s also the tragic fact that Farrell was the biggest Star Trek fan of the entire cast, was yearning for a chance to walk the Enterprise sets and was currently rooming with Marina Sirtis at the time.
Farrell begged and pleaded and even broke into tears, but the creative team refused to budge. Apparently for whatever reason they couldn’t do a simple strikethrough script edit (even though that’s been common practice in Star Trek since time immemorial because this is Star Trek). I guess they were firmly set in their notion that playing alien hopscotch was really gripping abstract theatre and it was really important for Jadzia’s character to be the one doing the hopping. I appreciate the commitment to start giving Dax a more active role in the show than has been the case up to now, but I kind of wish this hadn’t been the episode where the team dug their heels in.
Apart from satisfying a personal vendetta, bringing this up also allows me to segue into a broader analysis of “Move Along Home”. Well, I say analysis. Part of the reason the team remained so steadfast and doggedly dedicated to an obvious tire fire is because they were dead set on doing an homage to “Checkmate”, episode four of The Prisoner. This means “Move Along Home” is the latest in a long line of Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tributes to Patrick McGoohan’s magnum opus, and it also means it’s the latest in a long line of utterly and ineptly *failed* Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tributes to Patrick McGoohan’s magnum opus. As far back as the second season, Maurice Hurley’s creative team tried to do two Prisoner riffs straight in a row with “The Schizoid Man” and “The Royale”, and it was even hoped McGoohan himself would be able to guest star in the former. But “The Schizoid Man” was aimless and kind of creepy and “The Royale” was a frustratingly tepid presentation of half-baked surrealism. And now we’ve come to “Move Along Home” which is…“Move Along Home”.
In that regard, it’s worth asking the question: Why? Along with Hurley and his team, both Michael Piller and Ronald D. Moore were admitted die-hard Prisoner fans. Piller would even frequently cite The Prisoner as his model example of how to make television as art. How can people who have that level of appreciation for the source material consistently screw up this regularly and be this spectacularly awful at adapting it? I don’t think it has to do with the level of talent of the writers involved: Apart from Moore (who’s irrelevant to this discussion anyway as he’s not even on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), every one of those people is a veteran television writer or producer with credits that aren’t to be taken lightly. And while yes, they may have tripped up on Star Trek here and there, by this point the argument for the influence of Piller at least on the history of the franchise is straightforwardly a non-issue.
I think the answer may lie somewhere in Star Trek’s strained relationship with abstraction and surrealism, especially in recent years. And that’s a consequence of changing attitudes about what Star Trek is, what it’s about and who it’s for. In the 60s and 70s, not coincidentally when its fandom was mostly female, Star Trek was seen as a kind of sci-fi “lite” for the primetime TV crowd, not befitting of attention from “serious” sci-fi fans (who were, not coincidentally, Hard SF fans and overwhelmingly male), in spite of the calibre of “serious” sci-fi writers and creative figures it attracted. This may be part of the reason, apart from just generally being part of that zeitgeist, that the Original Series was able to do so much trippy gonzo psychedelia-influenced stuff back in the day. But somewhere around the early 80s male SF Nerds started to speak up and loudly proclaim their affinity for Star Trek (they’ve been there pretty much as long as stuff like the tabletop wargaming scene has been around, but they only took control of the discourse in the early 80s), and it’s also not a coincidence that this is when the film series began, which laid the groundwork for the climate we’re at now. And Hard SF, as a general rule, doesn’t like anything that smacks of mysticism or baroque experimentation.
So as of Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we have an interesting dilemma. We have a Star Trek that’s more popular than the franchise has ever been before and will ever be again that’s popular entirely because it appeals to normal people, but it’s being made by people who came up through early 80s Star Trek fandom. Namely, male Hard SF Nerds who read Star Trek as an extension of the old Golden Age stuff and write with that conceit (we even saw a bit of that in “Dax” with the team’s respect for D.C. Fontana’s pedigree stemming largely from her perceived status as an old guard Hard SF writer. Whether she is or not is up for debate). And this is kind of strange to think about, considering the art department, namely Rick Sternbach and Mike Okuda, are so heavily indebted to animated Japanese science fiction, which is *incredibly* heady and stylized: It’s not, and never has been, what Westerners would think of as Hard SF. You’d think if anyone could translate that to a live-action production it’d be them, and perhaps they could under better circumstances.
The team will say the budgeting killed “Move Along Home”, but I honestly have a hard time believing that. You don’t need infinite money to do really excellent baroque theatre, as the other half of the team is going to start proving with aplomb and regularity very soon courtesy Brannon Braga. Hell, he already has: Again, look at “Birthright, Part I”. And it probably unfortunately says something that Braga is at once both the person who is most capable of penning proper, genuinely compelling abstract cinema and is also the one person on either team who came onto the series with zero prior knowledge of or experience with Star Trek (apart from Piller, though since he’s been around awhile he’s a special case). And that’s really sad, because Deep Space Nine should be every bit as capable of this as The Next Generation, if not more so, given where it started with “Emissary”.
November 25, 2015 @ 4:32 am
So, this is possibly the first episode of DS9 I ever saw (it's this or 'The Nagus') and I actually loved it at the time! Thought the 'Elamarein' (or whatever) scene was kind of creepy.
I guess I was 9, and also watched 'Knightmare' (UK readers will know what I'm talking about) which resembles this episode a bit. Haven't rewatched it since I was about 11, just in case it doesn't… you know… hold up.
November 25, 2015 @ 4:34 am
It's actually a bit like a less-violent version of the movie 'Cube', as well, which featured Nicole de Boer. Circle Complete 😀
November 25, 2015 @ 12:48 pm
(A good 2/3 of the reason Knightmare was hard is because british schoolboys are unable to issue an order without ending it with ", right?". Your typical Knightmare run ended with the order "Quick, go left, right? No, not right, left, right?")
November 26, 2015 @ 10:20 am
They tried a pilot for a reboot of that a while back with CGI. Awful.
November 26, 2015 @ 10:54 pm
I never ever thought to connect this to the Prisoner before; once you said that, I could see the connection and why they blew it. This is an almost perfect case of what goes wrong so often in such efforts: they understand the outside candy coating of the Prisoner but not the chewy center. The Prisoner was full of weirdness like chess games with human pieces, moving the show's setting to the Old West for a single episode,or the business in Fall out with ripping mask after mask off the same person. But all the weirdness was in pursuit of a set of ideas the show wanted viewers to take away from the episodes. All the gonzo weirdness of Star Trek Episodes like the OK Corral one or The Empath was to express moral ideas and reframe modern conflicts in a parable where we get to the heart of the matter by discarding the modern trappings which can distract us from the truth.
Checkmate is ultimately about trust, about how do you trust anyone in a prison where any apparent prisoner may be a warder in disguise? Answer: You can't, and so you can't escape because the prisoners won't cooperate with each other for fear of being betrayed by co-conspirators, so no one can break free.
Further, the conflict in Checkmate, or in surreal Star Treks typically had real stakes. The Prisoner wants to escape and maybe he could have if not betrayed. The Metrons tell Kirk that if he loses, they will destroy his ship.
Move Along Home isn't about anything. The only real moral is 'Quark, you shouldn't cheat your customers', but there's no actual consequences for Quark or the others; it's all just filler and messing with his head and then the aliens leave. There is no message and surrealism without a message is just visual masturbation.
The realest Prisoner tribute was Chain of Command, which actually deals with some of the kinds of issues that the Prisoner did, though in a realistic style.
December 8, 2015 @ 11:19 am
[Catching up – well, I would be if my comments weren't getting eaten!]
I enjoyed this one slightly more than Josh, though not nearly so much as young David. Mind you, being a Whovian, the nearest comparison would be The Celestial Toymaker, so on that front it didn't exactly have a high bar to clear! (And come to think of it, there are some comparisons to be made between the Toymaker and Q, so perhaps my least favourite DS9 episode thus far got bit by the same bug.)
Gutted for Farrell. As you say, there was no reason for it to be her here, and she would have worked so much better in Birthright.
December 21, 2015 @ 12:35 am
"And Hard SF, as a general rule, doesn't like anything that smacks of mysticism or baroque experimentation."
Big shame for Farrell. Myself, I have always been more interested in baroque mysticism rather than hard SF. Just a shame as one commenter said above, that so often when it's tried the deeper layers are missing – and yeah it really does not require much extra money to do it well, simplicity would often be best.
In a way this one makes me think of the UK kids show The Adventure Game, an 80's game show which had large elements of weird and genuinely unsettled and excited me as a kid: