You Talking Trek to Me? – “For the Uniform”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 13

Deep Space Nine quickly earned a reputation (and even criticism) as a darker and grittier Trek series. It’s easy to see why, what with its more exotic alien locale, a mixed cast of Starfleet and non-Starfleet characters, and more complex, morally grey themes. But for the most part, the “dark and gritty” rep seemed like an exaggeration – it was maybe slightly more of both as compared to The Next Generation.

That is, until Season 5.

Deep Space Nine did such a wonderful job of building its own complex mythology within the larger one of Star Trek. By the fifth season the show was chugging along elegantly, dropping in on a number of plot threads with a bevvy of primary, secondary, and even tertiary characters. The intensity of the series began to build gradually from the second season, propelled by the looming threat of the Dominion. Season 5 also marked an increasing darkness that crept into the stories and the show began to really embrace its dark and gritty rep. In a seemingly minor visual change, the uniforms switched midway through the season to the more drab and grey ones introduced in Star Trek: First Contact. But considering the tone of many episodes from Season 5, it seems a thematically significant shift. The show went grey in more ways than one, and I think about that visual demarcation as when “shit got real” in the series. True to that, “For the Uniform” is a shocking illustration of how far outside the bounds of Star Trek’s moral universe Deep Space Nine was willing to go, for better and for worse.

Benjamin Sisko has always been a very human character, a mixture of the optimistic enlightenment of Trek’s 24th century along with some more relatable emotional nooks and crannies. Brooks’ performance always suggested a deep well of emotive intensity beneath Sisko’s calm and measured surface. “For the Uniform” highlights Sisko’s ugliest side and probably goes too far in doing so, but the pure shock value of its climax – as well as the twists and turns along the way – makes for an unforgettable and entertaining episode nonetheless.

Like many of Deep Space Nine’s episodes, “For the Uniform” relies on some long-running threads that have been built over the course of many seasons. The renegade Maquis had been a thorn in Starfleet’s (and Sisko’s) side for a few years now, punctuated by the more recent defection of former Starfleet security chief Michael Eddington to their ranks (and who is now their leader, we learn). That personal groundwork had thus been laid for the heightened and even operatic emotions at play in this episode. The Maquis had betrayed the Federation (while at the same time feeling like they were the wronged ones), and Eddington betrayed Starfleet. But more importantly, he betrayed Sisko.

A key scene is Sisko physically working out his frustrations on a punching bag held by Dax. Dressed in regular workout clothes and drenched with sweat, Sisko furiously pounds the bag as he voices the exact particulars of what’s enraging him. It’s a far cry from the sanitary (and somewhat goofy) workouts we’ve seen Trek people partake in. There’s nothing futuristic about the equipment here, no wacky tunics or Samurai gear – it’s just a guy beating the shit out of a punching bag because he’s pissed. It’s so gritty for Star Trek, and illustrates the primal emotions at play here. Eddington beat him (twice) – not because he’s a naturally superior form of life or on a different plane of intelligence. He’s just a regular guy who outsmarted him. And it fucking sucks. Kenneth Marshall’s irritating and sanctimonious performance as Eddington only bolsters how shitty of a loss this is for Sisko. This fucking weenie? Seriously? It’s a great scene because of how it depicts the personal emotional stakes for Sisko in a palpable, down-to-earth way. This guy has gotten under his skin and he’s absolutely pissed over it, screaming “HE BEAT ME!” It’s a potent line to end Sisko’s tirade – he rationalizes his feelings throughout, but ultimately that’s what it comes down to. He was beaten and humiliated, and his pride is smarting.

“…I even let him hold my signed Robert Urich memorabilia!”

We haven’t seen Eddington since his defection, and the episode does a good job of ratcheting up the tension and hatred these two guys have for each other. Sisko is infiltrating a Maquis colony to meet up with his undercover operative, but Eddington gets the drop on him and holds him at gunpoint (while informing him his contact was found out and marooned on some godforsaken planet). He forces Sisko to look at the downtrodden Maquis refugees who have been driven from their homes. The plight of the Maquis is not something enough screen time was devoted to (a consistent flaw of Deep Space Nine, not to mention Voyager), but apparently they’re suffering. Sisko seems sympathetic, but is also able to tune it out by blaming their situation on them, as well as Eddington. It’s not the best look and definitely sets the tone for the episode.

(Although, the popular consensus about the Maquis seems to be that they were whiny and entitled colonists who are largely to blame for their situation. As Sisko states, they have been offered resettlement. I don’t entirely agree or disagree. It seems like a characteristically complex issue and storyline without a clear resolution.)

Warning Sisko to stop coming after him, Eddington beams out. Sisko transports to the Defiant, and they pursue Eddington’s ship. He coordinates with Captain Sanders of the USS Malinche nearby and is able to corner Eddington, who makes a seemingly suicidal run at the Defiant. Suddenly, the Defiant’s main computer goes kablooey, courtesy of a sabotage device Eddington placed on the ship back when he was still working there. Completely dead in the water, Sisko has to watch as Eddington appears on his bridge (via a new holographic communication system) and gloats, which he perniciously punctuates by pummeling the Defiant with phaser fire. Eddington insufferably points out how completely defeated Sisko is and how he could destroy him, but the Maquis aren’t killers. God, tell us more about how noble and magnanimous you are, ya prick. He implores Sisko to leave them alone, and they’ll leave him alone. There’s no need to make it personal, and he bears no ill will towards his former commander. The text of everything Eddington says is in the right, but Marshall’s smug performance gives it a all very punchable quality. Sisko impotently screams that it’s not over as his bridge explodes in sparks around him.

“Here’s a nice double-double for ya, ya keener!”

The Defiant is towed back to Deep Space Nine and will require several weeks of repair to get operational again. To add more insult to injury, Sanders informs Sisko that Starfleet has put him in charge of bringing Eddington in. Sanders is a great one-off character I wish we could have seen again; I always like seeing hard-ass (but virtuous) Starfleet captains. As Sisko explains during his Punch-Out session, he’s never been taken off an assignment before, so this business with Eddington represents a personal and professional failure.

“I’m going to go cook the shit out of something. There’s some asparagus that will feel my wrath.

Later, they get a report that Eddington has used a biogenic weapon to poison a Cardassian colony world – the weapon is harmful only to Cardassians, thus leaving the planet ready to be retaken by the Maquis. They apparently have enough biogens to poison every Cardassian planet in the Demilitarized Zone. Sanders and the Maliche aren’t close enough to do anything about it (of course), so Sisko decides to take the Defiant out to stop Eddington.

O’Brien’s only half done fixing the ship, and all its systems have to be controlled manually. In a great sequence, the crew have to manually do dozens of procedures just to get the Defiant underway. Our Starfleet heroes have always been portrayed as very smart people, but it’s cool to see how much so they are while manually controlling the ship. So much of their lives are controlled and automated by computers, and it’s nice to see they still know how to do everything themselves if need be. The ship spins around a little too fast and almost collides with the station until Dax’s last minute save. Nog has to act as the manual comm system, relaying orders from the bridge to engineering, and it’s a great way of involving him in the story.

2Deep 2Nine: Denorios Drift
“Sir, Chief O’Brien reports that the holographic communicator, phaser alarms, and several other useful features that we’ll never see again are fully operational for the next 45 minutes. Get ’em while they’re hot.”

Sisko chases down what he believes is Eddington’s ship, but it turns out to be a fake sensor signal. Eddington gloats again and sends him a copy of Les Miserables. This fucking guy. “Thank you, but I’ve read it,” Sisko rumbles. Eddington compares Sisko to Javert, the villain of the book who wastes his life chasing a man for a minor crime. Of course, what Eddington has done is in no way comparable to stealing a loaf of bread, but bonus points for being an insufferable dick.

Even more frustrating is that while they were chasing this sensor ghost, the Maquis have attacked and disabled the Maliche. A humiliated Sanders glumly admits that he couldn’t get the job done, either. He turns over a signal from Eddington he intercepted and wishes Sisko luck.

“Captain, the Malinche’s been completely kerfuffled from chasing a nasty deke. Jesus Murphy, they really got caught with their gotch down, eh.”
“Just do me one favor. When you uppercut Headington’s teeth through his stupid bald cranium and send him to hell, tell him Captain Handsome says hi. He’ll know what that means.”

The use of the holographic communicator adds a lot to the episode – instead of talking to people on the screen (which can be a little flat), they appear in person on the bridge. The singular use of this tech is odd, but it creates the necessary intensity to the story. It’s thematically clever that Eddington appears on the Defiant bridge – he’s dug into Sisko’s head like a tick, a wolf in sheep’s clothing that infiltrated his professional and personal life (Sisko took him to a baseball game once!). Imagining a version of the episode without it makes for a much less memorable time.

“Sup, donkeynuts. You know, if you really want to catch me, you might want to head on over to the Ligma Sector.”

On DS9, Odo has decoded Eddington’s signal as a Breen nursery rhyme, and suggests that it means he has been storing his weapons near a Breen colony. The crew narrows their search and heads to the nearest Cardassian colony, only to find that Eddington has already poisoned the planet with his biogenic weapons. The Defiant chases down two Maquis ships and destroys one.

“According to this coded transmission, I believe Eddington’s weapons cache may be in the Suckma System.”

It’s a shocking moment the episode doesn’t spend any time on, but they don’t try to disable or capture the ship (as our heroes normally try to), they just immediately blow it away. These small ships usually only have one or two people aboard (and don’t pose any threat to the Defiant), but still. Sisko’s not fucking around!

The other ship (which has Eddington on it) manages to attack and disable a Cardassian freighter, which starts to fall into the planet’s atmosphere. Of course Eddington has to point out to Sisko that he can capture him or save the ship he attacked, not both. Sisko reluctantly breaks off pursuit to tractor the Cardassian ship out of danger, and Eddington infuriatingly waves goodbye. Get bent, asshole.

Eh, go walk on some ice, ya hoser.
“This fuckstick’s Twitter feed is worse than the Leafs’ ’85 season.”

With Dax, Sisko ruminates on Les Miserables and what that means to Eddington (I love Dax’s unimpressed opinion on Victor Hugo). Sisko realizes that Eddington sees himself as Valjean, and that in addition to being the hero of his own story, he seems to have a self-sacrificing martyr complex. Without explaining himself, Sisko says that he needs to become the villain to catch him.

Sisko orders the crew to modify their torpedoes so that they would poison human colonists (but not Cardassians) in a reversal of Eddington’s plan. He then broadcasts a message to the Maquis colonies that in response to their recent attacks he will poison their nearest planet unless they evacuate. The silence of the bridge crew afterwards is deafening, and I like the WTF expressions of Worf and Kira. This is where things get nutty.

And by “nutty” I mean “full-on ecological genocide!”

“You never showed me your Dantana merch…”

Eddington butts in again, thinking that Sisko is bluffing. Sisko nonchalantly responds that in attacking a Federation ship, the Maquis have proved themselves to be an intolerable threat that he will singlehandedly remove. Now in orbit of a Maquis colony, Sisko orders Worf to fire on the planet. Worf – god bless him – doesn’t do anything at first, also believing it to be a bluff. But Sisko repeats the order, and Worf follows it. The weapons rain down on the planet, rendering it inhospitable to human life for the next 50 years.

Um. Holy shit?

Maquis ships scramble to evacuate the planet, but still. What the fuck. Eddington is horrified, and Sisko coldly informs him he’s going to do the same to all their planets. The plot is structured and built to support everything leading up to this moment, and we’ve seen Trek heroes do crazy bluffs before. The crucial difference is that Sisko actually goes through with his evil plan in order to flush the villain out.

It’s a dizzying amount of stuff to process. Again, the general lack of specificity of the Maquis and the sketchiness of the details involved do a disservice to the story. But as Eddington puts it, Sisko is singlehandedly turning thousands of colonists into homeless refugees – the same kind we saw at the episode’s beginning. It’s… too far, in my opinion. Sisko would of course go on to do some incredibly shady stuff for “In the Pale Moonlight” (one of the best episodes ever), but that was at least to save the entire Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion.

This? This is just to catch one guy. A slimy weasel of a guy sure, but just one guy. Sisko commits a war crime in order to apprehend a single combatant, which is absolutely fucking nuts.

Eddington winces and bleats about what he’s done, and Sisko fires back, unhinged: “YOU BETRAYED YOUR UNIFORM!” I almost get the sense that Sisko is playing the part of the villain and purposefully hamming it up here (much like Kirk did in The Wrath of Khan), but he has too much personally invested in Eddington for this to totally be true. Earlier in the episode O’Brien recommends not going full impulse in the Badlands, to which Sisko angrily bellows to get him more speed. He’s clearly too hellbent on catching Eddington to think straight. Of course, the few times Avery Brooks goes full bugfuck nuts is always a pleasure watch, so I don’t hate it.

“WAGER, STRUT THAT PING WAFT!”

The Wrath of Khan is a good reference point for this episode, as both stories rely on obsessive retribution. The moralism of that film is starkly binary – Khan is completely bad and evil, while Kirk is totally virtuous and good. In contrast, “For the Uniform” plunges its normally virtuous hero character into extremely morally dicey territory. If anyone is Khan here, it’s Sisko. Which – as I keep saying – is nuts. He indeed seems willing to chase Eddington round Perdition’s Flame and through all obstacles. To apprehend him, not kill him, of course. But the furious myopia that Sisko embodies here is not far off from Khan’s, and just like in that film, it reaches planetary levels of destruction.

Sisko forces Eddington to give himself up to stop the attacks, and finally wins. Eddington drips with contempt as he refers to Sisko as “Javert,” but you also get the sense that there’s something intensely self aggrandizing and rewarding for Eddington. He’s never been a bigger big shot than he is here – he’s leading the Maquis into new heights of destruction against the Cardassians, and even has his own arch-nemesis! In their next (and final) episode together, Sisko accuses Eddington of wanting to play the part of hero, and it does seem that this mild-mannered nerd is living out some heroic power fantasy. I wish the episodes played that aspect up more, the idea of both of these guys (not just Sisko) being in the wrong – a couple of emotionally entangled macho dickheads who can’t let the other one get the last shot.

“Fine, you win. Bring me in, daddy. I’m all yours.

In a log entry, Sisko casually states that the displaced Cardassian and human colonists will be resettled on the opposing worlds that were poisoned, thus restoring balance and order.

Except… holy shit?

The way this calm log entry tries to paper over everything that happened is crazy and totally ineffective. How easy and quick is it to escape a planet and resettle another? Did not a single person die during this conflict? The Maquis aren’t all exclusively human, either. I’m imagining a first-person perspective of being on a planet when suddenly poison starts raining down from the sky (and in a modern series with bigger budgets that could have been shown). How much of a nightmare would that be? The way it’s depicted in the episode is so sanitized, but that’s probably not the reality. I admire the guts of the episode to take Sisko this far, but I think the way in which it’s done here is too much, and in service of too little. How is Sisko not court martialed for this sort of thing? He lightheartedly admits to Dax that he “forgot” to clear his war crime with Starfleet. Ha ha, That’s So Sisko! SENSIBLE CHUCKLE, roll credits, Paramount logo.

Insanity!

“For the Uniform’s” flaw is that it doesn’t fully interrogate the depths of darkness it presents, something that Deep Space Nine was usually quite adept at doing. Its bombastic bluster is entertaining and I somehow like it in spite of itself, but the episode is devoid of any moral commentary on Sisko’s actions. There’s something glaringly conspicuous about that, even in the context of the series’ increasing darkness. Sisko makes a logical decision that he must act like a monster in order to stop the bad guy. But the rub is that he actually does act monstrous, after which the episode winkingly shrugs and calls it a day. It’s not the cold, ruthless moral calculations that made “In the Pale Moonlight” such an arresting hour. This is an unhinged, furious Sisko maniacally dedicated to catching one guy who burned him at all costs, much like the ruinous journey of Javert (or Khan). The problem is that the episode lets him have his cake and eat it, too. Sisko gets to become the villain and win but suffer zero consequences, either from Starfleet or his own conscience. Star Trek has often depicted the self-destructive results of myopic obsession, so for the committer of it to get off scot free is unsettling, even if it’s in service of something good. It’s a daring reversal and subversion of expectations to be sure, but at what cost? For a series that was so good at depicting the fallout of its characters’ actions, “For the Uniform” drops the ball in a shockingly blase fashion.


Stray Observations:

  • As Sisko and Dax have their SENSIBLE CHUCKLE about WAR CRIMES, Dax says that sometimes she likes it when the villain wins. Big yikes, considering how she eventually dies. >.<
“Sometimes I like it when a female cast member gets vindictively written out of a show by an egotistical misogynist executive producer!”
  • I’ll just never get over how disinterested Deep Space Nine was in the Maquis, a story thread the series basically invented (although it was an offshoot of a TNG episode). It would seem to play to the strengths of the show, but I get the feeling the writers never had much interest in it. I liked them as an overall concept (although I feel that I’m largely alone in this), but the lack of follow through never made them come alive. The best illustration of them and their plight was in TNG’s “Preemptive Strike,” oddly enough. Similarly, Voyager – the show that featured them more than any other – seemed to have even less interest in their background and dramatic potential. By the end of this season, the Maquis would basically all be unceremoniously killed off screen as the Dominion War approached. Just as well, I suppose.
  • I love Odo’s gentle “I told you so” when he asks Sisko to remind Starfleet that they assigned Eddington to DS9 because they didn’t trust him. In keeping with the show’s upending of expectations, the dweeby clean-cut Starfleet guy turns out to be a villain, while the shifty alien who worked for the Cardassians stays true.
  • The updated SFX of the Badlands are really awesome.
Upset space? Try Malox.
  • So uh, did anyone go pick up Sisko’s marooned operative?
  • It’s an ever-present complaint that applies to so many episodes, but how is it that the Defiant is the only Starfleet ship within a million light years? I know it’s for the purposes of the plot, but it seems like there should be a bunch of ships A) assigned to Bajor, B) patrolling the border of a semi-hostile alien race (the Cardassians), C) guarding the wormhole, which is the border of an outright-hostile alien race (the Dominion). Oh, and also the Klingons. This seems like a general hot spot. Starfleet, why are you like this? They also leave Earth this completely unguarded all the time, so at least you can’t accuse them of playing favorites.
  • I think the holographic communicator would only be seen once more in Deep Space Nine. It’s kind of silly overall. I think it works well for this episode but seems distracting in any other context. Weirdly, this style of communication would be seen in Star Trek: Discovery, which takes place over a century earlier than this episode. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯