Occasionally, you get a situation where no consensus develops. The audience collectively throws its hands in the air and wanders off to binge Kimmy Schmidt. It’s generally accepted that the best episodes of DS9 are “Trials and Tribble-ations,” “In the Pale Moonlight,” and “The Visitor,” while the worst are “Meridian,” “Profit and Lace,” and “Let He Who Is Without Sin.” But, this week’s episode, “Fascination,” no one quite knows what to make of it. It’s an oddball, to be sure. A broad farce set in the middle of Trek’s gloomiest property, but before it gets condemned for that, comic relief is a vital part of even the darkest stories. Shakespeare wrote that whole “knock knock” scene in MacBeth to make the audience laugh, and it was actually funny back then. Probably because Tina Fey hadn’t been invented yet.
The Bajoran Gratitude Festival has come to Deep Space Nine! This basically looks like one of those Venetian parties from Assassin’s Creed 2, complete with Cirque du Soleil street performer types. To their credit, it actually looks like fun. The point of the festival seems to be letting go of the worries of the past by writing them on little scrolls, then throwing them into fires. While the hard SF fan rebels at open flame on a space station (YOU’RE BURNING YOUR OXYGEN, MANIACS!), the soft SF fan sees a nice detail added to the rich tapestry of Bajoran culture. Of all the regulars and semi-reoccurring characters, silent barfly Morn (a lumpy presence in the background since the pilot) has the most to burn. Dax is politely shocked by his extensive list. The funny part, when we finally get the Morn-centric episode, this makes perfect sense.
It’s also a romantic episode. As I mentioned in “Meridian,” DS9 handles those better than most due to the serialized format. Here, they wisely stick to the pairings they’ve established. Jake is depressed over his break-up with Mardah the dabo girl, while Major Kira and Chief O’Brien are getting welcome visits from their significant others. Bareil, fresh from his promotion as one of Kai Winn’s top advisors, is spending the festival with the Major. Keiko and Molly are returning from a two-month absence on her Bajoran expedition. The real problem starts when Lwaxana Troi returns the station to harass Odo and starts giving everyone headaches. Literal ones this time. Not just because Lwaxana Troi does that when she talks.
She turns out to have some Betazoid sickness that makes latent attractions manifest in uncontrollable desire. So now, Jake relentlessly pursues Kira, Bareil is obsessed with Dax, Dax wants Sisko, Quark loves Keiko, and Bashir and Kira can’t stop making out with each other. It’s all played for laughs, and other than some minor creepiness from Bareil and Lwaxana, it mostly works. You can tell the cast is having fun playing out of character too, and no one comes off more charming than Terry Farrell. She absolutely lights up in her seduction scenes with Avery Brooks, and her fending off Bareil with a disgruntled Sisko sets up the best moment in the episode. An addled Bareil attacks Sisko, which as you should know by now is the absolute dumbest thing you can do, and Sisko hilariously treats it like an annoyance. Then, Dax rolls Bareil up like . . . well, like he’s a pacifistic monk, and she’s an Amazon.
Nothing is better in the episode, though, than the relationship between Keiko and Miles O’Brien. We live in an age where romantic love is held up to unrealistic standards, and these standards are drilled into the culture at an extremely young age. True love is supposed to instantly silence all debate and stop all arguments. As anyone who has been in an adult relationship will tell you, this is simply not true. Real disagreements will crop up between people, no matter how much they love one another. It’s how they’re solved that matters.
The disagreement between Miles and Keiko is perfect because it’s real, and they both have excellent points. Miles is predictably upset because he doesn’t get to see his family for months at a time, and she’s going to be gone much longer than he thought she would be. Keiko is finally able to pursue her love -- botany -- which she is doing with her husband’s blessing, and now he’s trying to alter the terms of the deal. I like that the show allows them both to be a bit pigheaded here, and also allows them both to forgive. Sure, the Chief is still without his wife, but they’ve reaffirmed the bond between them and are certain it is strong enough to withstand this. They love each other, and it’s an adult love, stripped of the illusions of youth but stronger for it. They know how much they have to sacrifice for the other, and they will do it because it matters.
This episode also cements the friendship between O’Brien and Bashir. Remember when they hated each other as only opposites can? Well, now their racquetball games are how O’Brien is staying sane while Keiko’s gone. Eventually, their hobbies will veer into the ridiculous (although perfectly in keeping with the genre), but the important thing is they’re pals now.
Total side note here, but Molly’s toy, “Piggy,” is a stuffed targ. Now, I desperately want one, too. Sadly, this was before nearly everything was merchandised, so my dreams of snuggly Klingon monsters will go unfulfilled.
Generally speaking, I line up with the critical consensus on DS9 episodes, though I am perhaps more generous than most. So, where do I stand on this one? I don’t really know. As much as I like Sisko and Dax in this one, not much else really does it for me. It’s not really funny enough to qualify as comic relief, and there’s no real sense of danger to the proceedings to be anything else. In the end, “Fascination” is just a trifle, to be forgotten as soon as the next episode starts.
Next up: 20 minutes into the future