Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Complicated Character Study Rapidly Turns Into Sisko Being An Ass In “Waltz.”

The Good: Moments of character, Most of the performance
The Bad: Terrible use of characters/continuity, Sisko’s character.
The Basics: When Captain Sisko and Gul Dukat square off for an emotional battle, Federation science and compassion take a serious hit.

I remember when the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Waltz” was originally teased. As a fan of the character Gul Dukat, I was absolutely thrilled. Following the events of “Sacrifice Of Angels” (reviewed here!), the direction for Dukat was wide open and how the writers and producers would deal with arguably the most intriguing villain in the Star Trek pantheon was a source of great excitement. “Waltz” was announced, with few details revealed, though the name and the one-line plot summary heavily insinuated that it would be like “Duet” (reviewed here!). I allowed myself to get my hopes up. “Duet” is, in my pantheon, rating system and emotional belief, the very best hour of television made (to date). When “Waltz” was announced, I was prepared to adjust that belief to accommodate the newer episode. After all, Kira and a strange Cardassian duking out (intellectually) over identity issues is one thing, but Sisko and Dukat duking it out over their entire philosophical bases, it promised to be a powerhouse of an episode. And when it was announced that Rene Auberjonois was directing the episode, I even postulated that "Waltz" could be the tour d’force that got Star Trek: Deep Space Nine some serious award nominations.



What a letdown.

To be clear, I don’t prepare to clear that space at the top of my All Time Best Television Show list on any old occasion. I get that my expectations were high, but still, Ronald Moore (who usually has such amazing episodes) delivers a script that no one could save. “Waltz” is not bad, but it is not all that it should have been. In fact, it is only the passage of years and knowing that the episode isn’t a masterwork that allows me to re-evaluate it without the preconceptions I once had and write about the episode as it is.

The reason Moore takes the brunt of my reviewing wrath is this: Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo performed what was given to them, Rene Auberjonois made a stark episode look good and he was not responsible for the writing. Moore was. Given that the fundamental problems with “Waltz” all come back to the script, the rest of the people involved simply worked with what they had. And it is not all bad. While “Waltz” is a deeply flawed episode, most fundamentally on the character front, the episode has some real highs and some instants when the character elements are spot on and the acting is superb and dramatic, treading right on the correct side of melodrama.

“Waltz” finds Sisko being transported on another starship to speak at the war crimes trial for Gul Dukat. He is actually meeting with Dukat for the first time since the Cardassian left Deep Space Nine after the Occupation when the ship is attacked. Sisko awakens with Dukat on a dismal planet. Sisko’s arm is broken and he is badly bruised, but he is alive, with Dukat playing nursemaid to him. When Sisko helps Dukat get the emergency transmitter running, the pair begins a dangerous wait. Not knowing who will rescue them, Dukat prepares for his freedom (if it is a Cardassian or Dominion ship that picks up the signal) and Sisko steels himself for being a prisoner of war. While the Defiant searches for Captain Sisko, despite being needed for an important military operation, Sisko and Dukat discuss Dukat’s role in history and Dukat and Sisko judge one another.

Flat out, the problem with “Waltz” is that it does not take long before Sisko starts to look like a major jackass and Dukat becomes a pitiable character. This is hinged on a fundamental problem with the way Ronald Moore sets up the episode. Moore declares that Gul Dukat has been healed from his nervous breakdown. That’s great and considering that in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!) the Federation could cure traumatic brain injuries, it seemed like curing a little emotional instability like Dukat had when he had a reasonable emotional response to losing everything that was important to him would be a snap. Add to that that Cardassians are defined as having some of the strongest mental abilities in the Quadrant – which was revealed in “The Maquis” when Dukat and Sisko share a Runabout and talk about Dukat’s photographic memory – and the opening lines of “Waltz” set up the episode for something very different.

So, attentive fans who stuck with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who knew the backstory of Gul Dukat and knew his abilities and inherent inner strength were fully prepared for the idea that Dukat could have a breakdown in one episode and return strong and restored the next. It was scientifically feasible and made sense for the character. But that is not the case in “Waltz.” Instead, “Waltz” finds Gul Dukat suffering from a mental illness. Not only is he deluded, which makes for an interesting character on its own, he is delusional. Hallucinating Kira, Weyoun and Damar as various facets of his personality, Gul Dukat is, unfortunately, quite mad in “Waltz.” So, knowing that Dukat is mentally ill and the Star Trek franchise deals with a more evolved version of humanity, we look to Sisko. Certainly, Sisko, recognizing that Dukat is emotionally fragile and possibly batshit crazy will illustrate compassion.


That is not the case. Instead, Sisko goads Dukat and gets into fights with him. Sisko works Dukat up into a lather that is just heartwrenching to watch. And at its climax? Sisko attacks him! Hooray for the rights of the mentally ill!

That said, despite the fundamental problem with the plot and characters, the acting is phenomenal. While Avery Brooks gives a good performance as Sisko pushed and battered just a little too far, it is Mark Alaimo who steals the show. Making Dukat pitiable, revolting, scary and strong, Alaimo goes through the entire emotional range as Dukat and the viewer never feels like he is out of character. “Waltz” allows Alaimo to be expressive and interesting, all the while making Dukat face his demons.

Ultimately, “Waltz” is not bad, but it is not a good representation of the characters or ideals it ought to embody. That makes it a far cry from “Duet” and robs it of anything around the potential of being a perfect episode.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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