Having made it through all seven or whatever seasons of TNG, we are now watching DS9. Ývan, for the umpteenth time, but me, I am seeing all of these characters and learning their stories for the first time. Except for Cabbage Patch doll-faced Chief O’Brien, with whom I was already familiar from his time on the Enterprise under Picard’s command. He was never really a favorite of mine. Sorry, Chief!
I didn’t think I was going to like Deep Space Nine, because I loved Next Generation so much, but…I do like it. Quite a bit. It’s just a very different sort of story. The Enterprise was exploring the galaxy, always on the move and going where no one’s gone before. They stopped somewhere, learned something, saw something, did something, sometimes even really screwed things up, and then, whoosh–they zoomed off. Next adventure! Deep Space Nine, being a Federation space station, is more or less in a fixed spot–relatively speaking– orbiting the planet of Bajor and guarding the wormhole. If things go wrong and they fuck things up…well…they can’t just write it off in a ship’s log as a bungled situation, set in a course for somewhere else, and then take off on a new mission. These guys are stuck on DS9, or if not stuck there, I mean, I guess it’s their job to be there. They can’t just up and leave. They have to deal with the consequences of their actions. And I think that sets up a show with more interesting dynamics and which leads to more complex storylines and long-form story arcs. I think I will always love TNG, but I am finding myself really emotionally and intellectually engaging with DS9, which I didn’t expect! I actually didn’t expect any of this, if I am being honest. For the longest time, I thought I hated all things Star Trek and I was never going to watch any of it. Of course. Never say never.
I just watched the season 2 episode, “Whispers” which was pretty intense, and fairly dark and freaky for Star Trek. At least in my experience. I am obviously no expert here. In this story, Chief O’Brien returns from a mission to find everyone, including his wife and daughter, acting strangely around him. Over the increasingly paranoid, noir-ish episode he encounters his crew carrying out orders that he didn’t give them, he’s locked out of access to the ship’s logs, he gets called in for complicated, unscheduled physicals, and his own wife doesn’t even want to be in the same room with him. After a twisty chase, an escape, and the discovery of a secret lair (or something? I don’t quite remember this part) O’Brien is fatally shot, as the real O’Brien steps out from a concealed doorway, where he had been being held captive. The episode concludes with the revelation that the O’Brien story we had been following was a “replicant” of the real O’Brien, created by an alien race to sabotage peace talks. The replicant O’Brien never knew he wasn’t the real Chief and never understood that he was the cause of the strange actions and behaviors of the crew. He dies, pleading to the real O’Brien to give his love to his wife, Keiko.
THAT. FUCKED. ME. UP.
I always get a little freaked out by imposter episodes. Like the ones in TNG where Lore shows up and pretends to be Data and then someone has to suss out which is the real Data so that they can incapacitate Lore? How do you know? How are you certain? Are you absolutely sure that the face you’re shooting is the real friend and crew member, and not the malicious shapeshifter or the evil android twin, or the villain with the freakily realistic mask? Those situations are bad enough, but what if the imposter truly believes that they ARE the individual they are pretending to be? This opens up all sorts of tricky philosophical questions about identity and personhood and uncanny musings on self and otherness and when the person in question is the show’s steady, reliable Chief…and the character that I’ve known the longest…that makes the reveal that he isn’t even the real Chief that much more of a gut-punch. Oooof! Well played, DS9.
I will admit that I did not at all see that coming. The story was so marvelously compelling and so engrossing and I really had no idea where they were taking it, BUT, I will say this. The whole time I was following along, I was also distracted by the memory of a book I read a few years ago. FOE by Iain Reid. Similarly suspenseful and atmospheric, it was also a story I was intensely engrossed in, and in the case of that book, I actually did figure out the ending…which, I think, is why my mind kept flickering back to it while watching “Whispers.” At the time I didn’t think I knew what was unfolding with Chief’s situation, but somehow on some level, maybe I did know. I will say no more about the book. If you want to read it (and I highly suggest it!) you should probably go into the story with as little knowledge as possible, and I won’t spoil it any more than I already have.
P.S. Also please read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by the same author. It’s a short book that came out a year or so before FOE, and I believe they also made a Netflix adaptation, though I can’t speak to that, because I’ve never seen it. The book, though? Hoo boy. I have NEVER been so mad about a book, or furious with an author, and I think you should read it too, so we can rant and rail about it together.