Monday, February 27, 2012

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Does The Most Violent X-File In “Empok Nor!”

The Good: Suspense, Character work, Acting, Plot
The Bad: Strange continuity problem of location
The Basics: When O'Brien, Nog and Garak attempt to salvage an abandoned Cardassian station, they find themselves hunted by others and each other.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, less than any of the other Star Trek series' tried to experiment and reinvent itself. Why? I feel it was because it got it right so much of the time that it didn't need to do experiments with narration, plot or do cheap adventures like the Star Trek: The Next Generation holodeck misadventure standard. Still, some episodes, such as "Rules Of Engagement" and "Whispers" attempted to push the envelope of what the show was. "Empok Nor" was another episode that experimented with how far Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could go in one direction. In this case, the show emulated an episode of Millennium or the most intense, violent episodes of The X-Files, like "Eve" (reviewed here!).

In "Empok Nor," Chief O'Brien finds the station slowly falling apart and in desperate need of repairs that cannot be made by the replicators. It is quickly revealed that Deep Space Nine has a sister station, the abandoned Empok Nor station. Sisko sends O'Brien, Nog and a team to Empok Nor to retrieve the parts needed to fix Deep Space Nine. Sisko sends Garak as well as a resident expert on Cardassians. At Empok Nor, Garak's abilities come quickly into play at removing the booby traps around the station. In the process, two Cardassian commandos are awakened and begin hunting the team. The mission is further complicated and compromised by Garak becoming infected by a Cardassian biological agent that is around the station. As Garak hunts the commandos, he becomes paranoid and hunts for the Federation personnel, leading to a match to the death between him and O'Brien.

"Empok Nor" reminds the viewers that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is not a kid's show and it is not even terribly appropriate for young adults. Instead, this is the adult incarnation of Star Trek. Near the end of the episode, following several grizzly deaths - on screen - the climactic battle happens after O'Brien walks along a Promenade where his comrades are strung up dead, hanged by Garak. It is this type of gruesome image that characterizes "Empok Nor."

The reason the tension in the episode still works - and well - is that Garak is such a shifty character normally that there is real jeopardy to the characters. And when we see him kill various supporting characters in "Empok Nor," it's easy to believe that O'Brien or - especially - Nog could bite the big one here. Nog seems like a reasonable candidate for becoming a casualty and one of the real disappointments of seeing the episode outside the original airing was that when "Empok Nor" first aired, there were popular - and true - rumors that Colm Meany was looking to move on from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the possibility that O'Brien could be killed in "Empok Nor" seemed very real.

Even now, though, "Empok Nor" has a great deal of tension and a real sense of menace to it. Garak's uncertain allegiances and chaotic personality make him a natural character to experience the negative effects of a biological agent like the one in "Empok Nor." Playing off O'Brien, Garak's antagonism for O'Brien's anti-Cardassian past works wonderfully. This is a great use of the characters with an emphasis on the essential character strengths - Garak's mysterious past and views - and strengths (O'Brien's humanism and realism of character flaws).

The only real problem with "Empok Nor" is that all of a sudden there is a sister station to Deep Space Nine. That's awfully convenient. It seems strange, given how difficult the establishing of Deep Space Nine as a Federation station was that this did not come up earlier. Moreover, why wouldn't the Federation negotiate to get both Deep Space Nine and its sister station from the outset? Moreover, why would the Cardassians, beleaguered by the Maquis, threatened by the Klingons and now allied to the Dominion allow such an important military resource to go unused? It doesn't make much sense.

Once we suspend our disbelief on that point, there is little to dislike about this episode, save for those who are really against television violence. The violence is not gratuitous here. Instead, "Empok Nor" graphically creates a horrific circumstance and explores the consequences of such things as one's violent past and the problems of using biological weapons.

"Empok Nor" is enjoyable to anyone who has a taste for science fiction horror. Moreover, it is enjoyable for anyone who likes a good chase or hostage situation show. This episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is part of the essential Deep Space Nine for the introduction of Empok Nor. And because this is an adult show, the consequences of this piece will resonate into the future of the show. That is certainly refreshing, violence or no.

[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 Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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