Season Seven, Episode 17
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Steve Posey
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Lt Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
Penny Johnson as Kasidy Yates
Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun
Marc Alaimo as Dukat
Casey Biggs as Damar
Deborah Lacey as Sarah
Salome Jens as Female Changeling 


Having bought land on Bajor to build his house, Sisko proposes to Kasidy Yates and she accepts. Kira informs Ezri that Worf was out on a mission near the Badlands and his ship was attacked and destroyed. Several escape pods were retrieved, but Worf was not among the survivors. Ezri feels that she owes it to Worf to try and rescue him, and so steals a runabout and heads after him. She manages to locate him, but the runabout is attacked by the Jem'Hadar and they are forced to beam down to a deserted planet just before it is destroyed. Unfortunately, no one took the comm unit, so they are stranded. Meanwhile, on Cardassia, Weyoun continues to try to find a cure to the disease that is afflicting the Founders and Dukat pays a visit to a surprised Damar, requesting his help. Damar is startled when Dukat has himself surgically altered to look Bajoran. Ezri and Worf, having spent the night together, are captured by the Breen and taken aboard a Breen ship. Back on the station, as everyone prepares for Sisko's wedding (including half of Bajor!), Sisko has a vision from the Prophets. His "mother", Sarah, warns him that he must walk his path alone and that he cannot marry Kasidy. She tells him that his "greatest trial is about to begin"...


And so it begins. The end, that is.

As just about everyone and their dog will know, Penumbra is the first instalment of DS9's "Final Chapter", the ten-part arc that will conclude the series.

I'm not quite sure why, but my initial impression of Penumbra was one of mild disappointment. Perhaps I had anticipated the Final Chapter would begin with more of a bang -- a la Call to Arms, the explosive episode that kicked off the sixth season's Occupied Station arc. It would be unfair to label Penumbra a whimper, but it certainly wasn't a bang. When I talk about "a bang", I'm not referring to space battles or special effects per se, but rather that grab-you-by-the-throat "oh crikey!" effect that is often elicited when events start spiralling out of control, ominously building to an exhilarating climax. When it comes to cliff-hanging two-parters or season finales, Trek is invariably good at achieving this feeling of "all hell breaking loose", and DS9 is no exception.

But Penumbra takes an altogether different tack. Its primary focus is firmly on character relationships and it is the advancement of these relationships that in turn moves the plot. Whilst this is an altogether quieter approach, it is not without merit and in some respects quite befits DS9's passionate, focussed dedication to its characters. Indeed, there is some good stuff here and in retrospect I think the show holds up quite nicely as an extended prelude of what is to come. The phrase I think best suits the episode is "stage-setter". It picks up various threads and sets them into motion. There are admittedly a few bumps along the way, but we're off to a decent start.

It's actually been several months since I first saw this episode and I have since seen the remainder of the series, including the finale. For various reasons I fell somewhat behind with my DS9 reviews last year. But there is actually an advantage to reviewing the Final Chapter with hindsight. It's like trying to review chapters of a novel before you've read the whole book -- you can do it, but it's far easier when you know exactly where they are heading, so you can place them in context. So don't be surprised if I make frequent references to succeeding episodes. At the same time, I will try to judge each episode on its own merits, and not by what has come before or after it. Having got that straightened out, on with the review...

Let's start off with the Sisko/Kasidy side of things. Believe it or not, Ben and Kasidy have been together for upwards of four years now. In that time their relationship has tended to run hot and cold. It took Brooks and Johnson a little while to strike the right balance together and things weren't helped by the fact that Johnson took several long sabbaticals from the show, her appearances sometimes over a year apart! There were times when I'd nearly forgotten all about Kasidy and was surprised when she'd suddenly pop up out of the blue to remind us that she and Sisko were still an item. Their relationship has certainly been a bumpy, uncertain ride (and that's just for us viewers) but it's nice to see things settle down and much of the work in this episode is beautiful.

As a rule I dislike generalisations, but I do tend to agree that when it comes to depicting love and relationships, Star Trek is often cold and sterile. Love in the 23rd and 24th Centuries has invariably consisted of little more than the odd "fling" here and there, always bound by the certainty that it would inevitably end in tears by the end of the episode. God forbid a character should have a long-term, committed relationship, much less marriage and a family. DS9 has slowly, but surely, turned the tide on this. On DS9 characters are allowed to have meaningful relationships as opposed to just the occassional roll in the hay. The trend started with Dax and Worf, not only the first regular characters to become romantically involved on Trek (on screen, that is), but also to marry. This continued with Odo and Kira, whose relationship continues to bring the series new levels of emotional and spiritual depth.

Right from the start, Benjamin Sisko was instantly distinguishable from previous (and succeeding) Trek Captains by the fact he had a son. The warm, tender relationship between Jake and Ben has been one of the show's greatest triumphs. Indeed, even in the early days when the then-Commander had yet to come into his own as a character, his relationship with Jake lent him a warmth and tenderness that was rarely on display by Kirk or Picard. Not that I mean any disrespect to Kirk or Picard, but Sisko is perhaps the only Star Trek Captain who has a life beyond being...well, a Star Trek Captain. James Kirk once stated that there was no room for a proper relationship in his life, as he was "married" to his ship. Picard tended to perpetuate the notion that Starfleet Captains had to choose between career and love. As for Janeway, I personally think she has a chastity belt woven into her uniform. Sisko is the only Trek Captain to have the best of both worlds. Sisko is, in some ways, an acknowledgment that hey, you can juggle a career and a family (which is a very Ninties' sentiment).

While his relationship with Kasidy has seemed a little patchy, I appreciated the willingness on the part of the writers to keep it going; to keep it building. That old Trek fall-back, the "romance of the week", exploited inumerable times before is in many ways the cheap, easy option. I far prefer watching ongoing, meaningful relationships -- it's more realistic and infinitely more satisfying. So even if Ben and Kas haven't exactly set the screen alight thus far, I applaud the writers for trying to do something with this relationship. It helps immensly that Brooks and Johnson share a nice, easy chemistry and a wonderfully warm camraderie. All their scenes together managed to convey a warm, intimate, mature relationship that felt sincere and genuine. Hell, that's all I could ever ask for.

Just as the wedding preparations get underway the twist -- in the form of Sarah -- injects an element of drama to this situation, whilst bringing the Sisko/Prophets storyline back to the fore. Although I felt Deborah Lacey was a little wooden as Sarah, it's about time we had some follow-up to the profound revelation that Sisko, in essence, was created by Divine intervention. Ever since I saw Shadows and Symbols, I've wondered how Ben feels about this. Evidently he's come to terms with it, in quiet acceptance. There's a certain serenity to Brooks' performance that says a lot in itself. Sisko claims that when he looks in the mirror now, he sees not just a man, but something more. Throughout DS9's run, we've seen not just Sisko's faith in the Prophets grow but, alongside that, his connection to them. Although this is not something that is examined in any great detail before the finale, I find Ben's acknowledgment that there is a part of him that's different, untouched, unfathomable very interesting. His eventual fate, as occurs in What You Leave Behind, will surely enable him to explore this undiscovered country of his own soul.

Incidentally, Sarah's warning that should he marry Kasidy, Ben will know "only sorrow" seems quite misleading in retrospect. I realise that, at Brooks' request, the writers slightly revised Sisko's fate, but it still feels like a bit of a cheat. I guess you could argue that the Prophets are so vague and cryptic that you can't take them literally. Besides, despite my reservations about Lacey's performance, Sisko's vision was nicely executed. It's easy to relate to Sisko's frustrations -- it's his life and he has the right to live it his way. And yet he has a destiny -- he was created by the Prophets for a purpose. It just so happens that his destiny clashes with his desires. "You don't care about me," Sisko counters. "To you, I'm just the Sisko, an instrument to carry out your wishes." But he's wrong. There's a tenderness between he and Sarah, an almost maternal connection and he recognises this. There's a fair emotional punch to this, the consequences of which are dealt with more fully in the following instalment, Til Death Do Us Part. I'll leave it at that for now -- but this was definitely the most interesting part of the episode.

The other relationship that fell under the spotlight was that of Ezri and Worf and that, I feel, had substantially more mixed results.

It was probably inevitable. Despite their resolution at the begining of the season to give each other a wide berth, feelings can only be "put on hold" for so long. So it's no great surprise that sooner or later the pair would be forced to finally confront their complicated, confused relationship. I've always found the Trill concept of "changing hosts" quite fascinating and surely rife for drama. What happens when a bond of love survives the transition from host to host? Rejoined was a beautiful episode that did a marvellous job of exploring that theme. It's a pity they didn't do nearly as good a job here.

This isn't bad, but it could have been an awful lot more effective. I've actually read Echevarria's script and, on paper at least, most of it looks fine. But I don't feel the Worf/Ezri dynamic made a particularly convincing transition from page to stage. Echevarria does a reasonable job of describing the "sizzling sexual tension" between them, but in execution I think it fell quite flat. I can't help but feel the acting was at least partially responsible for this. For a start, Nicole deBoer was evidently sleep-walking this week. What was Ezri meant to be feeling? Did she feel she owed Worfa debt? Did she think she was still in love with him? Or were Jadzia's feelings overpowering her? I didn't have a clue what Ezri was feeling (other than space sick). There was no getting under her skin; no exploration of what drove her to disobey orders and risk her neck to rescue Worf. As a result, despite the engaging build-up and execution of her plan, emotionally this was flat.

And then there's Worf himself. What a complete and utter jerk. His behaviour was so infuriatingly pig-headed and childish that I was begining to wish he'd been aboard the runabout when it exploded. I can understand to a point how awkward it must be dealing with Ezri, but he was portrayed as totally unsympathetic and exceedingly pathetic. Need an example? How about this: "Jadzia would have understood." Aw, didums. Or, how about flying off the handle when he learned that Jadzia had once slept with Boday -- wait for it, before she even knew Worf! Like deBoer, this was not one of Michael Dorn's better weeks, either. In theory, there's a lot of meat to this relationship, but various factors conspired to leave me indifferent.

Aside from the bland performances and unimpressive directing, Echevarria has to shoulder some of the blame. Whilst most of the build-up is passable, I was not happy that he chose to skimp on the minefield of underlying emotion in favour of risible and childish bickering. Should I even start on their passionate kiss in the heat of argument? Didn't buy it for a second. In fact, I still get the urge to laugh in disbelief when it happens. Having them sleep together seems far too obvious and cheap in my book. Perhaps it would have been a damn sight more convincing if the actors had an ounce of chemistry between them or had actually been able to convincingly project the emotion the script called for. 

There's also the issue of Reassociation, the Trill taboo that caused Jadzia so much soul-searching in Rejoined. Ezri's casual dismissal of the consequences struck me as wrong. I don't just mean morally wrong, I mean characteristically wrong. I could believe Jadzia would be willing to go against the taboo, but it didn't strike me as true to character for Ezri. No way would she have been so blase about something as profoundly important. So no, I didn't much care for the development Worf and Ezri's relationship took here. It's a start at least, but it could have been handled a lot better. At least the introduction of the Breen prove that their storyline is moving somewhere and I must admit I do like the direction their relationship eventually takes in Strange Bedfellows. So it's not a total loss by any means.

On other fronts, one of the most interesting developments saw the return of Dukat who isn't feeling quite himself these days (or should that be looking himself?). Dukat's transformation from Cardie to Bajoran wasn't a surprise, as I'd already heard about it on the 'net as well as seeing pictures in magazines. At this point, there's not a lot else I can other than -- watch out, Bajor! Meanwhile, Weyoun continues to push Damar further and further over the edge and the Founder continues to suffer the disease that has infected the Great Link. There's no real stand-out material here, but things are definitely heating up on numerous fronts and my interest was definitely sparked.

Some other thoughts:

That's about all I can say, really. On some levels, Penumbra was a mixed bag. Most of it worked -- some of it worked very well and some of it left me a little cold. As a whole, it lacked cohesiveness; it was less an episode with a begining, a middle and an end than it was a collection of disparate moments strung together. When all is said and done, however, it does what it set out to do -- basically provide an extended prelude of what is to come. And fortunately, as Ben Sisko and Vic Fontaine promised us a couple of episodes back, "the best is yet to come"...

Rating: 7

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