Monday, March 5, 2012

The Unlikely Perfection Of "Rocks And Shoals"

The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Effects, Concepts
The Bad: None; this is a perfect episode!
The Basics: One of the neglected great episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Rocks And Shoals” finds Sisko and his crew stranded on a planet with murderous Jem’Hadar soldiers!

When compiling lists of the best, perfect, episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there are several episodes one expects to see. When comparing lists, though, I have found that I am the only person I know who thinks “Rocks And Shoals” is Top 10 material. I’m fine with that; I am also the only person I know who puts “Requiem For Methuselah” (reviewed here!) in the Top Ten Best Star Trek episodes! “Rocks And Shoals” may well get neglected by viewers because it is the second part of a six-part story arc. It has the feel of being a bottle episode in a serialized show, but I think its intensity, character and – especially – performances warrant it for consideration as one of the best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine of all time.

“Rocks And Shoals” follows on the heels of “A Time To Stand” (Reviewed Here!!) and finds the Federation and Klingons embroiled in a war against the Dominion, which now includes the Cardassians. “Rocks And Shoals” explores the difficulties Kira has with acclimating to Dominion control over Deep Space Nine against the backdrop of a pretty brutal struggle against the Jem’Hadar for Sisko and his crew. Like “To The Death” (reviewed here!), “Rocks And Shoals” goes a long way toward fleshing out the racial character of the Jem’Hadar and the sometimes awkward hierarchy of the Dominion is revealed as well. “Rocks And Shoals” stands apart as a violent, intense and well-assembled Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode.

Limping through space in their heavily-damaged, stolen Jem’Hadar attack ship, Captain Sisko and his crew are in dire straits. The situation goes from bad to worse when Jem’Hadar ships arrive to attack the fighter and the ship escapes into a nebula and the gravity well of a planet. Unable to escape, the ship crashlands in a lake and the crew abandons the ship, with Dax heavily wounded as a result. Garak and Nog are promptly captured by Jem’Hadar soldiers while Sisko, Bashir, O’Brien, Dax and the other survivors regroup in caves. Unfortunately, the crew is stranded without the ability to contact the Federation, lacking the tools needed to keep Dax alive for much longer.

Aboard Terok Nor, Kira is numb. When Vedek Yassim comes to the station, Kira actually tries to talk her fellow Bajoran out of staging a protest against the Dominion. As Kira’s numbness wears off, she makes an important choice. And on the barren rock, Sisko and his crew discover they are not alone. There is a squadron of Jem’Hadar soldiers, led by a duplicitous, wounded Vorta. When Sisko agrees to trade himself and Dr. Bashir for Nog and Garak, Sisko encounters the leader of the stranded Jem’Hadar and comes to be sympathetic to their plight.

With all my viewings of “Rocks And Shoals” (Id estimate at least twenty so far!), I have only found a single flaw in the episode. The Jem’Hadar ship that the Federation personnel crashed is stocked with Ketracel White. Sure, it has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. However, the ship has Ketracel White (from “A Time To Stand”). At no point in “Rocks And Shoals” is this referenced, though. Sisko has a huge humanitarian debate over the idea that Keevan (the Vorta) will send the Jem’Hadar into a trap whereby Sisko and his people will kill them, but he won’t give the Jem’Hadar the chance to dive down into the wreckage to try to get the Ketracel White they need to live themselves? It’s win-win for Sisko. If they succeed, they helped the Jem’Hadar and they have an olive branch for peace. If they fail, the Jem’Hadar drown to death and die. Sisko and his people have the moral high ground either way!

C’est la vie. It is not enough of a niggling problem to rob the episode of perfection in my book.

Everything else about “Rocks And Shoals” is absolutely perfect. First, on the character front, “Rocks And Shoals” is a knockout. Kira’s story is an obvious arc whereby the somewhat complacent Kira is given the wake-up call she needs in order to stop working alongside the Dominion without rebelling. The arc is a welcome one and it gives Nana Visitor a chance to truly act, showing off a strong physical sensibility for her performance as well as making her character vital and interesting once more.

On the character front, Sisko also has an exceptionally good episode. Robbed of the benefit of Dax’s presence in a fight, he is somewhat diminished and his tactics are forced to run toward compromise instead of conflict. Sisko illustrates a pragmatic balance between humanism and survival and that works well. That he uses his past experiences to guide him is very cool and the references to “To The Death” are welcome ones.

Also on the character front, the relationship between Garak and Nog is wonderful. That Nog simply has not forgotten about the events of “Empok Nor” (reviewed here!) is brilliant and when Garak gives him his highest compliment (“There is hope for you”) it is hard not to smile. Even the guest characters of Keevan and Remata’Klan are memorable and memorably performed (by Christopher Shea and Phil Morris, respectively).

The acting is homogenously brilliant. In fact, the way Sarah MacDonnell delivered her final line of the episode made me absolutely certain that Lt. Neeley would be a breakout character. She put so much substance and subtext into the line it was unfathomable that her character never appeared again!

Far more than a simple “moral dilemma” episode, “Rocks And Shoals” superlatively illustrates the realities of war and does so in a way that is surprisingly entertaining. It is well worth the time and attention of anyone who loves great television.

For other works with Phil Morris, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
“Looking For Par’Mach In All The Wrong Places”

[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 be sure to 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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