Episode 05: Captive Pursuit
The skinny: The first ship from the Gamma Quadrant finally shows up at Deep Space Nine. And, like the first ship that stumbled through the wormhole from the Alpha Quadrant, the destination comes as a complete surprise to the pilot.
It goes without saying that the pilot isn’t just confused, he's twitchy as all hell. His ship's been shot to pieces, and he can't or won't say why. The upper management decides that a formal first-contact greeting probably isn't the way to go here, and O'Brien is assigned the job of getting to know our new reptilian friend. Odo, with his awesome ability to imitate bad artwork and hang himself on the station's walls, is given the job of surveillance.
Think of O’Brien as the carrot of Federation friendship if our new friend is harmless, and Odo as the stick of Bajoran justice if he ain’t.
While the alien ship is being repaired, O'Brien gives Tosk a quick tour of the public spaces of the space station. It's no surprise that O'Brien — friend of the working man no matter where in the universe he comes from (provided the dude isn’t Cardassian) — ends up adopting the twitchy Tosk. As for Tosk, he’s more than a little taken aback by the laidback lifestyle of the Alpha Quadrant.
Think of it as our first hint that life in the Gamma Quadrant is a whole lot less, ummmmm, comfy than life in the Alpha Quadrant.
Just as things start to go swimmingly, all hell breaks loose. Tosk is caught trying to break into the station's weapons locker and is tossed into the brig. The dudes that are chasing Tosk finally show and proceed to invade the station without so much as a “by your leave” in an effort to capture their prey. When the red-suited and masked hunters discover that the Federation has not-so-helpfully captured Tosk alive, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of both Tosk and his hunters.
And that’s when the Federation folks find out that some alien races are just a little too alien, if you get my drift.
If you haven't guessed, this episode is a new wrinkle on that classic Star Trek genre: "How will our heroes break the Prime Directive without actually breaking it this time?"
The short answer? Give the hunters exactly what they want: Break Tosk out of prison and re-start the hunt.
The wrinkle in this plan, of course, is that O’Brien pretty much unilaterally made that decision after Sisko had decided to turn Tosk over to his hunters.
There are a couple minor quibbles of "plot contrivance" that do show up here, but they’re minor and handwaveable in what is otherwise a pretty solid episode where O'Brien gets to establish his working class hero street cred.
For one thing: Why the hell would the station's computer helpfully tell someone without the proper security clearance (or in Tosk's case any security clearance) where the closest weapons locker is? Seems to be that it should be filed under "none of your bees' wax" whenever anyone asks.
The other thing: When O'Brien, who has already shown that he empathizes waaaaaaay too much with Tosk, arrives at security and informs Odo that Sisko has ordered him to replace Odo as the escort to the aliens' ship, you'd think Odo would've called up to security to double check. But nooooo. Instead, Odo huffs up to operations center on foot so he can whine to Sisko in person about it.
Despite those issues, and the fact it's a clichéd plot in the Star Trek universe, the episode is engaging and a fun watch. The thing that helps it rise above the norm is the twist: in this case, why Tosk is being chased by armed goons that look like cops right out of an futuristic, authoritarian government.
A lot of it is due to the acting. Scott MacDonald as Tosk is believable as a creature that’s been bred to be prey. The physical tics and mannerisms are easily reminiscent of every prey animal on earth. Colm Meaney makes O'Brien's quick identification with and empathy for Tosk completely believable even though the script shortcuts it just a little bit. Sisko's horror and disgust when he finally gets the truth about Tosk hits you right in the gut.
Some stand-out points:
- Meta! This episode introduces not just one, but two new company members into The Franchise. Scott MacDonald (Tosk) went on to play various aliens in all of the Star Trek series, except TOS. Gerrit Graham who plays Lead Hunter also showed up in Voyager sans alien make-up.
- The Battling O'Briens have apparently reached legendary status on DS9 already. The gossip vine continues to speculate on the status of the O’Brien marriage, and report that Keiko is still not happy living on Deep Space Nine. It's referenced in this episode more than once. It's not only a nice carry-over from previous episodes, but it shows that their issues were not entirely resolved two episodes ago when Keiko started up her school.
- At last, an alien culture that's really freakin' alien. So alien, in fact, that both Tosk and his pursuers are upset that the Federation officers keep seeing Tosk as a victim in need of Federation protection, instead of the magnificent example of bravery and cunning they expect him to be.
- Sisko's grudging agreement to allow hunters to bring Tosk back to their home planet, where he'll be humiliated for the shame of being captured alive, followed by the lead hunters equally grudging agreement that no more hunts will be allowed to go through the wormhole.
- Sisko ripping O'Brien a new one for interfering and allowing Tosk to escape (in what turns out to be the utter delight of the hunters), and O'Brien innocently countering that Sisko kind of helped him out by extending that non-interference thing to extreme levels and not stopping Tosk from escaping.
So, although the ending was a bit pat, and O'Brien got off waaaaaay too lightly, overall it's a good episode. Certainly it's one of the better episodes in what I call "the Prime Directive Blow Off" genre.