Thursday, January 26, 2012

Enter The Enemies For The Gods - "The Assignment" Slumps

The Good: Interesting moments, Acting
The Bad: Low on character development, Plot-heavy
The Basics: When Keiko O'Brien is possessed by a pah'wraith, the viewer knows how the story will end in the annual torment O'Brien episode.

Keiko O'Brien is one of the characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who is largely neglected in the overall story of the series. She came with Chief O'Brien from her position on the U.S.S. Enterprise and joined him on Deep Space Nine. Figuring out what to do with Keiko always seemed to confound the writers and producers and as a result, Rosalind Chao, who played Keiko had rather limited engagements on the show. For Chief O'Brien's annual torment episode for the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Keiko manipulates him and the viewer is left stuck between being pleased with one of the new villains and dismayed with the rather standard plot that fans have already seen before.

That episode is called "The Assignment" and it is not one of the strongest episodes of the series, but it does have a vital quality to it in that it is the first mention of the pah'wraiths.

Keiko O'Brien returns to Deep Space Nine from her work on Bajor, having just explored the firecaves, to a reunion with her husband that is anything but pleasant. After a pleasant enough meeting, Keiko reveals that she is not Keiko, but rather a being who has possessed her. She begins to make demands of O'Brien that seem to relate to destroying the wormhole and in order to get O'Brien to comply, she periodically knocks Keiko's body around, nearly giving her a stroke and throwing her off a balcony. As O'Brien works to finish her plans on time, Rom catches on to what he is doing and O'Brien is forced to enlist his aid.

Keiko is possessed by a pah'wraith, the mythical enemies of the Prophets, Bajor's ethereal gods. This introduces the ancient conflict between the Prophets and the pah'wraiths and sets up the last arc of the series. Moreover, this became the essential conflict of the novel series Millennium, which was interesting enough.

Unfortunately, despite this vital information being presented that makes the end of the series make some sense, "The Assignment" is much more likely to bore fans of the Star Trek franchise. The reason for that is simple enough; fans have seen the possession story before. Many times, in fact. Indeed, on Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of the most powerful possession stories was presented which included Chief O'Brien being possessed and tormenting Keiko! That episode was "Power Play" (reviewed here!) and there are many elements from that episode that are simply reversing the position O'Brien and Keiko had for "The Assignment."

As a result, it is hard to argue "The Assignment" does much in the way of character development. O'Brien is tormented to service the plot and Keiko is possessed, so all she does is in defiance of her character, as opposed to serving it. The only character that has any real growth here is Rom, whose unwitting aiding of O'Brien finally gets him the respect he deserves. Having proven himself a mechanical genius and joined the Bajoran engineering teams, "The Assignment" finally allows him to illustrate character growth and integrity and that works well for him.

What is lacking in the episode in character development is more or less made up for in the acting. Colm Meany gives his usual sterling performance as Chief O'Brien while being tortured. This sort of thing happens at least once per season and the twist that someone or something uses O'Brien's wife to get to him gives Meany a chance to focus his tortured expressions and give the clear appearance of a man who is more desperate than in his own pain. Meany pulls this off with wonderful facial expressions and his physical mannerisms.

Rosalind Chao is given the lion's share of the work to do on the acting front and she easily rises to the challenge. Chao has the ability to be serene and creepy by using her sweet smile and making her voice utterly menacing. She looks perfectly comfortable shaking up her usually demure performance with one that is more physical and expressive. Chao makes the episode work, as much as it does.

The problem, though, is that much of the episode feels campy and like the science fiction standard that it is. Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine deserve more; they deserve an episode that does not insult their intelligence. The direction of this one follows exactly where the viewer suspects it will go. Were it not for the acting, it would be a complete dud.

Anyone who has seen virtually any "alien invades the body" science fiction movie or possession horror story will likely be able to call the end of this one. That it is so predictable is disappointing for any fan of the series.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the perfect season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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