Friday, February 22, 2013

Essay 2: The Baseball Episode

At the end of the 2-part season premier, there is a camera angle of the principals—minus Sisko and Dax—as they look on from the middle of the Promenade at the returned, restored Sisko and the returned, new Dax. It struck me as I re-watched the scene—for the first time since it premiered over a decade ago—that it was a kind of family portrait. The director was showing us that this group of people was back together, their bonds strengthened by the strife and trauma of the previous year of war. And that the station was the home where this family belonged.

The first regular episode of the season dealt with the new Dax host, but also served to showcase how the principals were like a family—supporting one another, and sometimes fighting with one another, over the new addition. The next one—the baseball episode—was one of the most effective depictions of camaraderie, loyalty and love ever seen on Star Trek. Killing yourself by dipping your hand into a warp core to save your ship and crew from destruction—that’s your duty. You swore an oath to do that. But playing a game you don’t know or care about with a bunch of Vulcans who will surely win and rub your nose in your defeat—that’s what family is for.

I wasn’t an Internet-based Star Trek fan at the time, but I recall people commenting that “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” was a colossal waste of time. It’s the final season. We only get 20-some episodes. There is a war going on. There are so many other stories to tell. I admit, at the time I didn’t love it. But now, it is clear that this is an indispensible episode.
First, it is a war story. The subtext of the initial conversation between Sisko and Solok is dark—wonderfully written and acted as menacing, a great trick before we learn it is the set-up to a whimsical plot. The subtext is that these two captains, despite their personal animosity, know that their crews need a diversion from the stresses of the war.

Sports are ritualized human combat. So the baseball game allows everybody to vent physical and emotional energy in a highly competitive, but low-stakes way. This brief pause from battles—like the Christmas Eve football matches on the Western Front—make the war just as real as will the Siege of AR-558 later in the season.

Second, we see the DS9 family in full bloom in a way that makes the space battles to come more important. None of the characters—except Sisko’s actually family, including Casidy—know anything about baseball. But they all hit the books, studying the byzantine rules, and then practicing together on and off the field. Even Quark practices with his Ferengi servers. They do this because Sisko is their leader, the head of the family. He motivates them with a great speech from the pitchers mound. Like him, they are motivated to beat the Vulcans, but also to play together and have fun. When Sisko kicks Rom off the team (for sucking) all the others threaten to quit. They are willing to abandon Sisko for Rom. Think about that. They would not do that in the trenches of the war, just the opposite. But because they are willing to abandon their captain over a meaningless game, only proves the strength of the bonds that have developed between this family. That Odo even ejected Sisko from the game is a sign of that bond because it shows Odo followed Sisko’s directive to learn and follow the rules of umpire with Odo-esque impartiality.

Furthermore, this is a diverse, modern (Trek) family. There are eight aliens to five humans on this baseball team, between all the Fenrengi (3), Bajorans (2), Shapeshifters (1), Klingons (1) and Trills (1). This is a subtle continuation of DS9’s major strength, which is to give voice to non-Federation perspectives, even though they all end up chewing gum with the best of the Hew-mons. The family bond transcends not just species, which is typical for Trek, but uniforms, which is not what we are used to seeing on Trek. By the end of the game, the Star Fleet Captain cedes the field to the barkeep, the Dabo girl and the former waiter. (Speaking of diversity, it has to also be said that it is touching even today to see a black family—Sisko, Jake and Casidy—portrayed so plainly.)

This is not the first time Sisko has invited his friends into a Holosuit baseball game. He says as much in this episode. It took seven years for Picard to sit down at the poker table with his crew—and what a moment it was. But on DS9, this personalization was done way back in Season three, when it was revealed that Sisko had “niners” over to his quarters and cooked for them regularly. Sisko is a different man than Picard, and this is a different crew.

“Take Me Out to the Holosuit” is one of the few episodes in all of modern Star Trek that has no B-plot. The writer—Ronald D. Moore—wanted to be very clear. This episode was just about a baseball game, but that fact allows it to be about so much more. This was no light-hearted romp. This was about family, making it one of DS9’s most important episodes.

No comments:

Post a Comment