Feb 21, 2020
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “The Assignment”
Hello DSNiners, and welcome to another spot of…
In a previous installment of the Trials of Miles, the Star Trek franchise engaged in an all-too-brief bit of self-reflection in the form of a stray line of dialogue from Dr. Bashir, in which he mused that you don’t see too many Starfleet officers married or in long-term partnerships. It is, of course, understandable that people in high-responsibility careers involving extensive travel and more than the usual amount of mortal danger would shrink from commitment. From a television writer’s perspective, celibacy has several other advantages: to free the characters up for sexual liaisons, to maintain the possibility of two existing characters getting together, and to keep plotlines tidy. But it’s also that Star Trek just plain doesn’t seem to write spouses very well.
Just take Keiko O’Brien as an example. In most of her episodes, she could be replaced by a talking doll with a switch on her back letting you toggle between “Nag” and “Dote”. But Bashir’s aforementioned remark hints at an understudied aspect of her and Miles’ character dynamic: namely, that she’s really not a fan of being a Starfleet wife. She’s not satisfied with where her life is going. She feels hemmed in on Deep Space Nine. We see her bear the stresses of raising a family on a remote space station, fret herself silly during Miles’ frequent brushes with death, and struggle with maintaining an identity separate from simply being married to Miles.
The exigencies of Star Trek’s sunny utopianism prevent Keiko from fully articulating these emotional strains, but when an evil alien possesses her in “The Assignment”, all bets are off. Demonic possession in fiction is often a device for otherwise orderly and repressed characters to blamelessly let their ids loose, and that’s how I understood it here. When Keiko speaks in the hostile voice of the alien being inside her, the viewer sees all her domestic resentments that have been cooking and curdling inside her for years finally bubble to the surface. Miles’ long-suffering wife now is a powerful mastermind, cunning and ruthless enough to make the entire station her bitch. Rosalind Chao is pushed so far out of her usual acting range with such impressive results that one almost wishes the alien could stay.
It’s morning at Quark’s, and it’s about as cheerful as a weekday morning in a bar ever is. Quark’s gormless but good-hearted brother Rom, newly employed with the DS9 maintenance crew, comes in after his night shift and finds a bowl of beetle puree, his usual breakfast. He tells Quark that he’d instead like an artery-clogging meal of bacon, eggs, and corned beef hash—recommended by Chief O’Brien. Quark grumbles racistly and drops derogatory comments about human food and anybody degenerate enough to eat it. He tries to cajole Rom back to working for him at the bar, where he can wade through moral waste instead of the literal kind.
In Chief O’Brien’s quarters, O’Brien is about to meet his wife coming home from a trip to Bajor, and fretting over some plants he killed by delegating their care to Dr. Bashir.
Bashir assures him Keiko will forgive him, as it’s his birthday. Then Bashir has to duck out because he’s operating on somebody. “Who?” asks O’Brien. “I’ll find somebody,” says Bashir.
On the shuttle back to the station, O’Brien has explained everything and begs Keiko’s forgiveness. “Forget it, Miles, they’re just plants,” she quite uncharacteristically says. She then gets right to the point: she’s not Keiko. Instead, she’s one of the hundred different types of
ghost “non-corporeal being” inhabiting the Star Trek universe, and she’s taken control of Keiko’s body, and she’s going to kill Keiko unless O’Brien does exactly as she says. O’Brien’s first amused, then worried that Keiko may have found some more-interesting-than-usual plants on Bajor; he’s very incredulous for someone who’s already had this exact thing happen to him. Finally, to prove herself, the entity seizes up her heart and renders her unconscious.
Miles goes for his comm badge, but Not-Keiko stops him. “You’re not telling anybody; if you do I’ll stop her heart forever.”
“Let me speak to her,” O’Brien says. No need: Keiko can hear everything you tell Not-Keiko. “I want to talk to her,” Miles insists, but Not-Keiko tells him he’s in no position to bargain. O’Brien sadly acquiesces, vowing he’ll do what Not-Keiko says but won’t endanger the station. That won’t be necessary, though, because Not-Keiko merely wants to reconfigure some communication and sensor relays for reasons she won’t reveal. O’Brien looks at what she wants and agrees to it because he hasn’t seen a TV show before.
O’Brien says that those relays are scattered throughout the station and it’ll take a while. “You know your wife well, but she knows you better,” says Not-Keiko. She correctly guesses that O’Brien is stalling, “at least until someone figures out a way to catch me in some stasis field or some other clever device you‘re already dreaming up.” She says she only needs a split-second to cause a fatal brain hemorrhage and that O’Brien should keep that in mind.
Later, in their quarters, O’Brien is filling in Not-Keiko on the nuts and bolts of the adjustments and how he plans to keep them secret. The door chimes and it’s Bashir. He’s given Keiko a plant to make up for killing all of hers, and confirms plans to make it to O’Brien’s birthday party. O’Brien drags her aside and proposes canceling the party, but Not-Keiko insists that doing so would arouse suspicion. The writers resist the temptation to have Not-Keiko fuck with him by revealing a bunch of their private secrets.
Later in a conference room, Rom joins a bunch of engineers on the swing shift, replacing a sick engineer. He annoys everyone else in the room by doing Rom things. O’Brien Skypes in to give the crew their assignments. He’s working alone, he says significantly, and he doesn’t want to be disturbed by anything unimportant. He’s inflecting everything so heavily that you’d think he was trying to give coded hints out to his employees. But nope, O’Brien’s just terminally un-chill.
Up in a Jeffries tube, O’Brien pushes his accumulated empties out of the way and asks the Friendly Plot Streamliner to locate his “wife”. He asks the computer to perform a scan and compare it to Keiko’s medical records. Everything checks out. He asks the computer about the efficacy of various methods of making his wife unconscious, a challenge that has occupied Irishmen for centuries. He finally settles on a stun bolt from a phaser, adding “God help me.” Melodramatic music plays awkwardly over a shot of O’Brien tinkering with a machine leading into the act break.
When we return, O’Brien’s back at his quarters and his birthday party’s in full swing. Bashir’s on server duty, carrying a tray laden with gigantic servings of neat whiskey.
Not-Keiko and Molly bring out O’Brien’s birthday cake, with only one candle so his age will remain a tantalizing mystery. He sips one of the huge whiskeys and stares hauntedly at Not-Keiko.
Jake asks Not-Keiko if she saw any “Pah-wraiths” in the caves on her trip to Bajor. Odo elaborates, saying that the Pah-wraiths were demon-like figures in the Bajoran religion. Not-Keiko says, “Now don’t tell me you believe in wraiths!”, which is a very weird thing to say on a ship that’s come in contact numerous times with the actual Bajor gods. The sight of Not-Keiko talking lovingly to Molly is so upsetting to O’Brien that he squeezes his whiskey tumbler to bits.
Later, while closing O’Brien’s cut with tricorder magic, Not-Keiko chides him for acting suspicious. O’Brien says he’s done what she asked to the “optonic integrator”, and she says that was only a test to see if she could trust him, and the real work begins tomorrow. Dejected, O’Brien says he’s going to sleep on the couch, but Not-Keiko and says he’s going to sleep in bed with her. “Sleep well,” she says, as he lies stiff as a board next to her.
O’Brien wakes up with his hand on Keiko’s hip. Taking a second to remember, he yanks it away like he laid it on a stove burner.
“Another one of you corporeal beings’ weaknesses: the need for physical intimacy.” O’Brien speaks his intention to send Molly to a friends’ to sleep over, but Not-Keiko reassures him that she won’t hurt Molly unless he forces her to. She makes no similar promise about their new baby, but I’m pretty sure that’s only because the writers forgot they had a baby.
Walking down the hallway, O’Brien asks the computer where Captain Sisko is. He’s in Security. O’Brien turns down the hallway to go there but Not-Keiko appears on the Promenade. She calls “Miles!” in a convincingly distressed voice, then tumbles over the railing and hits the floor.
Down in Sickbay after the act break, Sisko and Odo are grilling O’Brien for details. He lies about being on the Promenade to go to lunch. Bashir steps in and says she fell luckily and got away with a broken femur and a fracture to the right parietal lobe, which is a region of the brain and can’t fracture. He grudgingly lets O’Brien see Keiko for a few minutes, but “Don’t excite her.” Not going to be a problem, doctor.
“You were going to tell them about me,” Not-Keiko says. “Stop trying to fool me… how much damage do you think this body can take?”O’Brien vows to have the work done in 36 hours, which Not-Keiko tells him to cut down to 13. She cows O’Brien into giving her a kiss as he leaves to keep up appearances.
While working in the Jeffries tube, O’Brien gets the ale scared out of him by Rom. He’s come to find O’Brien because he finished all his work, and he can’t just call O’Brien because why would you give this idiot a comm badge? An incredulous O’Brien looks at the vast amount of work Rom was able to finish. Rom says it was easy to finish quickly because he wasn’t distracted by anyone talking to him.
O’Brien enlists Rom’s help on what he calls a “top-secret Starfleet project” that Rom can’t tell anyone about. Thus begins a swift montage over purposeful music, in which the camera swoops around O’Brien and Rom in tandem as they open up various panels and hold various light-up gewgaws to various mixed-media art projects and cause them to make sound effects.
The montage finally ends in Ops, when Dax scares the porridge out of O’Brien. Dax can’t sleep, and being a Starfleet officer, is a huge dork, so she’s been running diagnostics. She’s encountered evidence that they have a saboteur aboard Deep Space Nine. Dun dun.
In Sisko’s ready-room, Sisko, Odo, and Dax are staring at some graphics of the station while O’Brien hangs sheepishly in the background trying to be chill. He says that so far no actual harm has been done to the station, it’s just put the systems a little off-spec. “But this might just be the tip of a very large and dangerous iceberg,” declaims Sisko in a dubiously apt metaphor. Odo and Dax theorize that their saboteur is someone on the maintenance crew.
While Sisko waits exasperatedly on O’Brien’s answer, he gets a call from Molly and Not-Keiko, the latter hovering ominously in the background while brushing Molly’s hair. “I told her you had to work another two hours, 22 minutes and 13 seconds,” she says knowingly.
After the Chief gets off the call, Sisko asks again who he thinks the saboteur might be. O’Brien thinks he has an idea. Cut to Rom flat on his belly, his Bajoran onesie riding distastefully into his crack…
…when Odo grabs him accusingly. He asks what Rom is doing. Rom faithfully keeps mum. Odo takes him to the brig, but he’ll only talk to O’Brien. O’Brien is called away from “figuring out what Rom did to these systems” to go talk to him. The computer tells O’Brien he has 36 minutes left. O’Brien initiates a security override and scrambles some surveillance channels. I’m sorry, but why is it even an option to tell the computer to scramble a security feed? At least the self-destruct button has legitimate uses.
O’Brien goes to the brig. Rom still thinks the captain is in on the project (“Captain Sisko is really angry! If I didn’t know he was pretending…”), and the only thing he wants to know from O’Brien is why they’re focusing a chroniton beam at the wormhole. O’Brien had no idea they were doing this. Rom says they are, and furthermore this will kill the god-aliens in the wormhole, which the Bajorans revere as the Prophets. (Time energy is harmless to humans, who exist in the normal flow of time, but fatal to the Prophets, who exist outside it, which seems like the opposite of how it would work, but whatever.) He’s still willing to do it, but he wants to know why the Prophets need to die. The camera zooms in on O’Brien and the horns in the score go nuts.
O’Brien wonders why anyone would want to kill the Prophets. Rom’s Bajoran girlfriend, luckily, has been telling him all sorts of local folktales, and according to what Rom’s heard, there was once a group of god-aliens that lived in the wormhole but were cast out for being false prophets, and the real Prophets banished them to the Fire-Caves forever. O’Brien finally catches up to the audience and realizes that Not-Keiko is a Pah-wraith who wants back into the wormhole.
O’Brien leaves Rom and goes back to the doohickey he was working on but Odo’s there. Odo says that the sabotage had to be committed by at least two people. The files that would have matched up movements to maintenance were lost in a failure yesterday. “There have been a lot of systems failures lately, haven’t there?” Odo asks. “I wouldn’t know,” says O’Brien, “I’ve been too busy repairing things.” “Like the surveillance channels in the holding cells?” Odo asks pointendly.
Caught out, O’Brien remembers that Odo turned into a real boy a couple of episodes ago, and he punches his lights out.
O’Brien gets on the horn to Not-Keiko. He reveals he knows what she’s planning and offers to pilot a runabout so she can watch the destruction go down. “I don’t care about the Prophets or your non-corporeal feuds,” he says, “I just want my wife back.”
Cut to a more-sophisticated-than-usual effects sequence of a runabout leaving the station. Not-Keiko watches breathlessly as energy begins to arc across the station’s pylons. “Target the center of the wormhole,” she glowers. Inside Ops, alarms blare.
Sisko barks over the radio for the runabout to return to the station at once. O’Brien ignores him and hits a button to fire a chroniton beam at the wormhole.
But instead of striking the wormhole, the beam hits the runabout. I think we’re supposed to assume that O’Brien planned this, but it’s just as plausible, and much funnier, to see it as a freak accident. Energy pulses through the ship’s cabin and strikes Not-Keiko right in the center mass.
She shrieks and tumbles about the cabin for a bit before passing out. O’Brien rouses her, and she finally greets him with Keiko’s usual sweet affect, the alien in her having been ruthlessly murdered by chronitons. They depart the shuttle and the senior officers are gathered to meet them. “Chief,” says Sisko, “You have some explaining to do.”
Later, after several off-screen days of interrogation/full board review/court-martial hearing (one would assume), a fully exonerated O’Brien hugs his wife. The camera drifts around Keiko while she describes what it was like being possessed. The two realize that this scene isn’t contributing anything and abandon it quickly.
Rom walks in to Quark’s dog-tired. Quark tut-tuts about how the night shift is driving Rom to an early grave. (Come back to my bar, where you’ll never have to work nights!) Rom says he was actually promoted to the day shift in recognition of his
willingness to cover O’Brien’s ass hard work. He’s tired because he stayed out all night celebrating with his new work friends. And since he’s discovered that bacon doesn’t agree with him, he orders pancakes for breakfast instead.
And with that, we’ve reached the next brief respite in the carnival of woe that is the life of Senior Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien. In our next Trials of Miles, some colossal moron in Starfleet Command will think it’s a good idea to make him a spy. Sounds disastrous!