Friday, October 21, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x15 "Paradise"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko and O'Brien are marooned on a planet they soon learn is inhabited by colonists who have rejected technology.

what it's all about: This is one of those incredible episodes you wonder even exists, as it cuts so clearly through some of the nonsense we allow ourselves to believe, mostly about the need for conformity and the impossibility of tolerating any rebellion against it.  It isn't so much a screed against fascism, because the society "Paradise" explores is so limited in scope it's really more of a general commentary on the pitfalls of any particular mode of thinking.  And while it's from a franchise dedicated to the wonders of advanced societies, it doesn't condemn those who reject technology so much as forcing everyone to think the same way about it, the kind of reactionary thinking that has become more prevalent since the episode first aired, unfortunately.

The more advanced cultures get, those who feel left behind tend to feel incredibly uneasy about it.  We can see that very easily today.  In the '60s, the original series confronted the seeds of this backlash in the several episodes it dedicated to the counterculture of that decade, and yet those were such obvious parallels to such an obvious movement, it might be easy to dismiss them as too obvious.  No such possibility with "Paradise," which remains downright scary, so much so that it manages to give Sisko his first strong appearance of the series when he takes his typically principled stand against the tyranny with which he is confronted, being forced to abide by rules that don't apply to him except by accident.  It becomes downright harrowing when he is forced, essentially, into the life of a slave, with similar punishments, the first time the series alludes to the color of his skin, really, well before the much more famous and deliberate episode "Far Beyond the Stars."

How far do I want to say this episode succeeds?  Do I want to call it a classic?  In the end, no.  It works better as a Sisko spotlight than as a true indication of Deep Space Nine's potential.  Once again, there's no real relevance to the series itself, as with so much of the first few seasons.  You really have to read into the material to see how much it accomplishes.  While this is fine for someone like me who thinks a lot about what everything means, for the average viewer it'll be harder to appreciate, and I try to base my recommendations on what's readily accessible, how and why, the basic success elements of any story.  But then again, you might go ahead and consider it a classic for those very reasons, because the more complex a story, the bigger the emotional impact, I'd say that trumps its relative impenetrability (which is something a lot of people have a problem with, which is why for the purposes of this review, I'll assume it's not so easy to see the slavery parallel, and thus take that out of consideration for the moment).

What's interesting is that "Paradise" stands in stark contrast to a similar culture in Star Trek: Insurrection, one that has also rejected technology but is far less hostile about it.  In the end, it's not really about technology at all, but power, and the lengths some people will go to acquire it.  I always thought of "Paradise" as one of the most chilling episodes in the whole franchise, the mounting horror of Sisko's plight something that's just impossible to ignore, once you've seen it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the most successful episodes of Star Trek to explore the perils of power.
  • series - Not an episode that's otherwise relevant to the series itself, unless you consider it an analogy for later explorations of Gul Dukat and the Founders (but that would be a stretch).
  • character - The first time Sisko really shines on his own.
  • essential - Either of the two previous selected criteria work well enough to make this essential viewing for them.


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