Progress (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 1, Episode 15) Kira befriends a stubborn squatter

Rewatching ST:DS9

Dax and Kira are chatting in a runabout (Dax says Morn is “kind of cute”) when they discover humanoid life on a moon that’s scheduled to be technobabbled into uninhabitability in the name of progress.

On the moon, Kira meets Mullibok (the great character actor Brien Keith), who escaped to this moon decades ago, during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. With folksy stories and a cantankerous attitude (he calls her “girl” and “child), Mullibok gets under Kira’s skin, but she also admires his tenacity — empathizing so much that a Bajoran minister suggests tasking the evacuation to another officer.

Because this is TV, instead of just beaming the squatters up from orbit, she returns with an armed detail. The confrontation does not go well. Instead of beaming the injured Mullibok up to the runabout, Kira sends for Bashir (who wasn’t part of the original detail), and then promptly overrides his medical decision to evacuate the patient, saying she’ll stay behind to care for him.

Sisko does what he can to smooth over Kira’s insubordination (she’s disobeying her Bajoran superior, not him), and lets Kira know when enough is enough.

In an earlier act, Kira advocates for a compromise, but this is not a TNG commercial for the Roddenberry future, where the right technobabble can resolve our petty squabbles. Instead, it’s a complex story about living the “trolley problem” when someone else has already pulled the switch.

The substantial B-plot involves Nog offering to throw away a shipment of “yamok sauce” that Quark thinks is worthless, trading it for a shipment of “self-sealing stem bolts” that might, for all we know, be just as worthless. After Jake suggests trading the bolts for a parcel of land, Nog thinks he’s failed, but (because this is TV) he overhears Odo telling Quark that the Bajoran government just happens to want to buy *that particular plot of land*. There’s not a plot contrivance particle field to be seen… this is just pure sit-com level coincidence.

Guest star Brian Keith is perhaps most famous for playing the dad in the original The Parent Trap, though in my youth I also knew him from reruns of Family Affair, and 60s comedies like The Hallelujah Trail, and With Six You Get Eggroll. I was aware of him well enough to look forward to his performance as the Russian ambassador in the otherwise forgettable cold war action film Meteor (1979). Kieth’s admirable performance in this DS9 episode justifies the time spent on his character.

Today it’s routine for TV shows to use CGI to extend sets and provide detailed, animated backdrops, so the set for Mullibok’s homestead that would have looked good in the 1990s seems a bit claustrophobic now. Nevertheless, the big finish features not only great dialogue that brings Kira’s emotional arc to a close, but also a powerful practical effect — not the usual glowy blobs added in post-production — that achieves a level of visceral realism Trek doesn’t often provide. (Of course it’s all just pretend, but I caught myself caring.)

I’m not too thrilled with this herky-jerky adolescent Nog, but I’m comparing him with my memories of how he developed across seven seasons. This early in the show’s run, we’re not supposed to think too highly of him, so that when Jake and Nog team up we’ll be duly impressed by what they accomplish. The B-lot seems padded in oder to provide scenes for O’Brien and Odo, but the moment when Quark figures out what’s going on does manage to make an important character moment of the low-stakes world-building shenanigans.