Overall Rating: 6.8
DS9's first attempt at high concept "crack" humor fell a little flat when the actors hammed it up a bit too much...I got the distinct impression when re-watching this episode that the writers pitched it by saying something like "how can we get Kira, Dax, Sisko and Bashir to hopscotch and sign a silly rhyme?" :)
The first formal first contact with a species from the gamma quadrant doesn't go quite as the Federation had planned when it turns out that, as a race, the Wadi are completely obsessed with games and care about nothing else while on their visit to the station. Sisko, after watching their delegation play Dabo late into the evening, gives up on them and goes to bed, leaving Quark "in charge" by default. Unfortunately, the Wadi, being expert gamers, defeat his Dabo wheel rather easily and Quark is forced to cheat them to avoid going bankrupt. Their revenge is to intimidate Quark into playing one of their games - only their game appears to risk the lives of four senior officers as they are transported to a labyrinth and tested in several ways, ranging from the silly to the serious. Odo eventually deduces how the game works and bears witness to some spectacularly pathetic groveling when Quark is told to "sacrifice" one of his players so the other two may live. It turns out that none of the officers involved was ever in any real danger when, at the conclusion of the game, they are all returned safely to Quark's. A rather cruel little trick, if you ask me, but it does make for an interesting hour of TV.
The writers had a "cute" concept...a reviewer has to be on guard for being too negative or expecting too much realism when "crack" is intentional (as you can tell it is with this episode - they were clearly going for high concept fluff). The key to a good piece of crack is that the characters must all stay internally consistent and the plot must not have any gaping holes. The plot is sound here and I do think the characters were consistently written. If this episode misfired a bit, the fault lies with the actors, not the writers.
Most of the actors seemed uncomfortable with this script, with the exception of Primmin and Odo. The worst offenders were Bashir, Quark and Kira, and I'm not sure that's particularly surprising. Nana Visitor had, by the time this episode filmed, likely grown accustomed to playing a very real, very earthy character dealing with real-world consequences to major problems. Putting Kira Nerys in the center of a game is just...awkward. Nana took the annoyance she knew Kira would feel way way WAAAYYY too far. I get that Kira wouldn't be a fan of being held captive and forced to play some game that seemed very dangerous, but when you're screaming "THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!!!" and the anger is dialed up to 11 on the gauge before you're even in danger, there's a problem.
Similarly, I understand that Quark thinks he's being asked to kill one of his new found friends, and, as a Ferengi, he's given to fits of hyper-drama (like melodrama only crazier), but the groveling sequence seemed a bit overdone. Shimmerman being one of the best actors on the cast, he gets a pass on this one (it was pretty funny watching him get down on his knees and beg :) ) and we'll move on. Alexander Siddig was the youngest and least experienced of the main actors in the cast with the exception of Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), and you can see that he's among the weakest links every time his character is forced to play on a different stage. In "The Messenger" he had to play a completely different character, and he was extremely ineffective at doing so. Here, he's playing the same character but in a crazy environment, and once again, his performance lacks subtlety and nuance. His acting chops greatly improve in later seasons, but for now, he's the baby in the family.
Two good things to say about this episode. It's fluff, so there are no major moral messages, and no reason to be offended, really. And we get to see that Quark really does have a moral compass and cares about the people in his life. I could quibble with whether the writers made it "OK" to torture people for amusement as long as no one is ever in real danger...I guess technically, that's morally dubious...but...it's crack! We're not supposed to take it seriously. And Sisko does get pretty indignant after the game ends, barking at Falo "In this quadrant we take first contact VERY seriously..."
DAX: "Don't let sentiment get in the way of..."
DAX & SISKO: "Command decisions."
SISKO: "Yeah...you taught me that." - after which he lets sentiment get in the way of his command decision and refuses to leave Dax behind. :)
QUARK: "One man's priceless is another man's worthless!" - hee
JAKE: "Dad, I know this stuff already!"
SISKO: "Who are you talking to about girls?"
SISKO: (terrified) "Nog?? Looks like I've got a LOT of damage control to do..." - I love Jake and Ben together. :)
One of the strength of Trek throughout the ages has been that the writers refuse to take themselves too seriously. Every once in a while, they poke fun at their genre, at themselves, and at this universe they've created. They recognize that this is supposed to be fun for the viewer and that one of the best ways to build connections between the audience and the characters is for us to see them in new and unusual ways and have a little chuckle. This is the first attempt at lighthearted reverie. They largely get better with time (with the exception of Ferengi-centric plots which get drastically worse as we go through the years) and DS9 achieved some of the best fluff episodes in the entire Trek canon.