You Talking Season 5 DS9 to Me? – “The Ship”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 2

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a Saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

Sisko’s angry tirade to Kira in “The Maquis” was an iconic piece of dialogue that any Deep Space Nine fan knows by heart. What makes it so notable is that its ideas pop up time and time again throughout the series, and I would consider it the most thematically-relevant chunk of dialogue in the show. It’s an elegantly-expressed idea that goes far beyond the issue of the Maquis and helps to deepen and impart some realism on Star Trek’s ideal utopia without destroying it. It’s easy to be a decent and polite person when you’re comfortable and everything is hunky-dory, like it is on Earth. But if you take those decent and polite people and plunk them down in a shitty situation, some interesting and not very pretty things can happen, as they do in “The Ship,” an intense and sweaty episode that pushes the crew to their limits.

What’s interesting about “The Ship” is how it seems like a setup to a classic Trek Moral Quandary. There’s a crisis with clearly-defined boundaries, goals, and a clear adversary, but there isn’t a whole lot of ethical debate here. Instead it takes a sideways path to plunge the normally decent and genial crew into some interpersonal bullshit, and reveals some ugliness in a daring way. It’s not about dry ideas of right and wrong, but something grittier and greyer than what we come to expect from Star Trek‘s crises. Thankfully, it doesn’t go full Lord of the Flies, but there’s whiffs of what happens when external forces wear down the polite veneer of society.

Sisko and several officers are doing a planetary survey in the Gamma quadrant, assessing the place as a potential mining spot. They’re supposedly a good distance from Dominion space, but as a Jem’Hadar ship enters the atmosphere and crash lands on the surface, that bubble gets popped. Beaming to the location with phasers at the ready, Sisko, Dax, Worf, O’Brien, engineer Muniz, and a random blueshirt find the ship embedded upside down into the cliffside.

“Sir, it’s a Playmates Toys original Jem’Hadar fighter model. It looks like the decals are intact!”

The scale of the ship’s set is impressive and fairly convincing, and the trouble the creators went to in making the interiors upside down is crazy. They really didn’t have to do that, but it makes for a memorable time, and thematically emphasizes how out of depth and uncomfortable the crew are in this alien environment. It’s the first time we’ve seen the inside of a Dominion ship, and it’s a cold, grey, utilitarian place. There aren’t any chairs since the Jem’Hadar don’t sit down (or sleep), and there isn’t even a viewscreen – only a couple of headsets for the Vorta in command and the Jem’Hadar first. I love these details, and they really contribute to the diamatrically opposed Dominion way of doing things.

The crew enters the ship but find the entire crew dead. The sight of all their dead bodies hanging from the ceiling is a grisly one that’s memorable. They quickly determine the simple but disturbing cause – the inertial dampers failed, so that when the ship accelerated to warp every bone in everyone’s body was broken by the sheer force of their speed. It’s a stark reminder of how inherently dangerous space travel is. Trek’s ships have a bevvy of marvelous technology that keep the crews safe, but if even one of those systems fails, the results can be disastrous and deadly.

“Captain, this set is enormous! We’ll never get to the bottom of it! Nope, there it is actually.”

Sisko is eager to get the ship back to the Federation and underlines the intelligence value of such a find. The runabout doesn’t have the power required to pull it out, so they call on the Defiant to come get them. However, disaster strikes when the runabout is suddenly attacked by another Jem’Hadar ship and destroyed (killing the three crew members aboard). Soldiers beam down and begin firing at the crew, who scurry inside of the ship for protection. The blueshirt gets killed and Muniz is shot along the way.

Bracing themselves for an imminent internal assault (as there’s nothing to stop the Jem’Hadar from beaming inside), Sisko and the others are surprised when it doesn’t come. Instead, the Vorta in charge contacts them through the ship’s comm system. Named Kilana, she asks to meet Sisko outside with one guard each. An attractive woman, she flirts and tries to sweet talk Sisko into vacating the ship, but he’s not having it. Her sweet demeanor is completely at odds with the threat she represents (and the deadly Jem’Hadar at her command), and I think it gives the episode some additional interest. The Vorta are generally very outwardly friendly but in a slimy way, which makes them compelling antagonists in their appearances. Kilana tries to lure Sisko away from his prize like a siren, and although there’s no chance of him falling for it, it still provides an unsettling shade to the ordeal.

“What our ships lack in chairs and food they more than make up for in eye shadow! I got a whole cargo hold of it, we can give each other makeovers!”

She offers to ferry Sisko and his crew back home, but he puckishly claims salvage rights and refuses. As they talk, a single Jem’Hadar beams onto the ship below and dashes off under cloak. O’Brien and Dax find a recently-placed surveillance device aboard the ship and are attacked by the invader, who just has a knife. They’re saved by the injured Muniz, who dragged his ass up to phaser the guy. Hearing the commotion inside, Sisko and Worf immediately jump back inside as Kilana beams up.

There is tons of death in the episode and a pile of bodies by the end of it, but Muniz’ presence personalizes all of it in painful detail. The trope of the expendable crew member(s) is a well-worn one in Star Trek that at times reaches a comical quality in its predictability. But “The Ship” is remarkable because of the tragedy it imparts on the redshirt trope by drawing out the slow and painful death of Muniz. Injured earlier by the Jem’Hadar, he continues to bleed out and it’s clear the Dominion weapons are designed to do this. Again, it’s another great detail of how brutal and viscous enemies they are, and how calculated their approach to combat is.

Muniz is one of O’Brien’s engineers who appeared previously in “Hard Time,” so it’s nice he’s not just a nameless goon. Him and O’Brien have a teasing relationship with one another – which can be a bit much at times, but it gives them some personality. O’Brien worries that Muniz is getting worse but puts on a brave face to try and reassure him. Worf, however, has a difference of opinion about that.

So Worf… is just a dick. Not just here (although especially here), but in the entirety of Deep Space Nine. It’s mostly the Worf we knew from The Next Generation, but his characterization on DS9 always rubbed me the wrong way. The writers seemed to have bled (heh) any gentleness or grace from his character when they imported him into this show, and he always goes full Klingon, full dick at all times. Several storylines on DS9 imply that he doesn’t know or understand human values, even though he was raised by humans and has spent most of his life among them in Starfleet. Of course, one of his characteristics is that he tries super hard to be a Klingon, but he should still be able to navigate human relations and culture better than he does on this show. Or he’s just choosing not to, which is what makes him a D-I-C-K.

“All right you two, how about a compromise? Worf, you stop being an asshole and in exchange you can eat one of Muniz’ legs.”

Privately, Dax tries to reassure a glum O’Brien that Muniz will survive. But Worf immediately butts in and loudly proclaims that he’s as good as dead already. O’Brien is furious at Worf’s callousness and yells that his only chance for survival is if he fights and doesn’t give up. There’s a tiny modicum of sympathy from Worf and he implores O’Brien to just be straight with the guy and let him prepare for death. It suggests a clash of culture in how death is treated that seems classically Trek, but it’s still no excuse for Worf’s dickery here. Even if you do believe he’s doomed Worf, you should know humans well enough after several decades of living among them to just keep that shit to yourself. Plus what does “prepare for death” in this specific situation entail? And how would it help, really?

Klingon culture can be self-contradictory at times, but under their belief structure it seems like fighting until the bitter end totally fits in with how they do things? This was the basis of Riker and Worf’s beef when he got his back broken and wanted to commit ritual suicide. Riker lambasts him for just giving up, and references their former comrades who fought for every second of life when their time came. Worf ends up changing his mind in that episode (and is now alive as a result), but apparently didn’t learn anything from it. I feel like the writers shook his character like an Etch-a-Sketch and just had him conveniently forget a lot of lessons he learned on The Next Generation. Worf is a pretty fatalistic guy, and seems to embrace death a little too readily.

And there’s no yielding from Worf when O’Brien pushes back on him, no acknowledging that he’s speaking out of turn. Which adds to the very unsympathetic portrayal of the Klingon here. There’s a tense moment where it looks like him and O’Brien are going to start swinging until Dax swoops in and separates them. She makes a snide remark that she’ll teach Worf some of the finer points of diplomacy. It’s a joke, but shouldn’t Starfleet officers value and uphold diplomacy anyway? So again, something that should not be an alien concept to Worf. You’ve joined Starfleet and you’ve agreed to uphold their values, even if they don’t always sit well with you. PLUS, Worf switched to command when he joined DS9. That necessitates being able to deal with people in a much better, tactful manner. Just shut up dude, you suck at everything.

“Captain, he’s redshirting all over himself here.”

Despite all this, I do appreciate it as an overall plot point and source of drama for the normally chummy and civil main characters. The situation is already pushing them to uncomfortable places and it’s only going to get worse from here.

Kilana calls Sisko and apologizes for the deception. She wants to meet Sisko again, but won’t bring a guard this time. Sisko agrees and clearly not fucking around, converses with her while holding his rifle pointed at her. She confirms Sisko’s suspicions that the Dominion wants something on the ship, something so valuable they won’t risk damaging it in a full on assault (which is why the solider was only armed with a knife). She’ll even let Sisko keep the ship if he agrees to let them go in and retrieve it. He counters by saying that if she tells him what it is, he’ll bring it to her. She gently refuses that, and Sisko asks “Don’t you trust me?” sarcastically. At this point neither side seems to be negotiating in good faith, and Sisko confirms that there’s nowhere to go from this point. Kilana’s face hardens and she beams up as charges start raining down from the sky, with Sisko rushing back inside.

“It was the Vorta’s Xbox! I couldn’t beat his Call of Duty score so I tore it out of the wall in, uh, not frustration.”

The charges aren’t meant to destroy the ship, just rattle the crew. It’s reminiscent of the loud music the ATF blasted day and night during the WACO standoff (the strategy of trying to drive people crazy makes as much sense here as it did then). Muniz is delirious and thinks the charges are fireworks from his youth. Nerves start to fray from being trapped in the ship with the constant barrage of noise. Worf and Dax’s attempts to find the coveted item that’s on the ship fail and they bicker about it. O’Brien continues to worry about Muniz’ chances, and Worf continues to be an absolute ass. O’Brien angrily says that he’s not a bloodthirsty Klingon looking for an excuse to murder his friend, and Worf shoots back that he’s just another weak human too afraid to face death, at which point punches start getting thrown.

Sisko screams at them to control themselves, and Dax makes a snide remark about the boys buckling under pressure. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but no one’s laughing,” an annoyed Sisko blasts her with. She shoots him back an icy, dead stare. It’s a shockingly raw scene for Star Trek as not only morale is breaking down, but common decency. Worf and O’Brien have known each other for years and the pressure is causing them to hurl racist remarks (and fists) at one another. Dax is snickering at it off to the side, and there’s something unsettling about seeing everyone start to wobble so hard (punctuated by the guy who’s bleeding to death right there).

You knuckleheads made Sisko use his Dad Voice.

In an angry speech, Sisko acknowledges the awful conditions – they’re trapped in a hot, dark, noisy dungeon and they’re filthy and tired. Paradise is clearly very far away and people no longer have the energy to be saints. He yells at them to start acting like professionals, and assigns everyone a mission to keep them occupied (and out of each other’s hair). It’s actually an impressive performance from Sisko, since although he’s under the same stress as everyone else (if not more, as the person in charge), he channels his anger constructively to focus everyone’s attention and maintain some discipline. Everyone gets to work on their stuff, and Sisko wearily orders Muniz to just stay alive.

After 10 more hours of constant bombardment, the crew is ready to try and fire up the ship’s engines and escape. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work and the ship ends up worse off than before. There will be no escape until the Defiant arrives. As O’Brien checks on Muniz, he sees that he died during the escape attempt and he hangs his head mournfully as the other look on. It’s rough.


A defeated Sisko talks with Dax, torn up over the fact that he told Muniz he was going to live. He quietly doubles down on pulling some kind of meaning out of all this mess by vowing to get the ship back to Starfleet. He really sounds like he’s running on empty at this point, and Brooks’ acting choice here communicates how beaten down he is. He’s not wavering in his mission at all, but he can’t ignore the losses piling up. The silence is broken when a strange liquid drips from the ceiling, revealing a disguised Changeling. But it’s injured and it lazily swats at the two of them before collapsing on the ground while screaming a deathly howl that can be heard by Kilana and the Jem’Hadar outside. Sisko finally realizes what their enemy was after, and as the Changeling dies he knows that there won’t be anything to prevent a full-on assault anymore.

“God, I’ve been listening to you solid assholes for days now and I’m sick of it! It’s now Time for Slime and I’m reaaaaaally gonna teach you a–“ *dies*

Instead, Kilana beams in and informs Sisko that all of her men committed suicide because they allowed one of their gods to die. She angrily tells him he should have trusted her, but how could he when she was lying from the beginning? She was afraid that Sisko would have hurt the Changeling if she had told him about it, and he seems wounded by that thought – all he wanted was the ship. Which she was willing to give him, if they had only been able to come to an agreement.

More than anything, I think it’s an illustration of how strong arm tactics like those employed by the Dominion don’t engender trust or foster good relations. Making peace with people and establishing a rapport often requires a degree of vulnerability and submissiveness. Diplomacy is all about creating mutual agreements, and the Dominion doesn’t do diplomacy – it’s their way or the highway, and they just take everything by force. Which works great if you’re forcefully expanding an empire and have an unstoppable army to back it up, but not so great if it’s a delicate situation when someone has something you want. Kilana says her offer to take them home was genuine, but who knows if that’s true. The Vorta are as duplicitous as they come, and by design have no allegience to anyone but the Founders. With the exception of the defective “good” Weyoun from “Faith, Treachery, and the Great River,” Kilana is the most sympathetic Vorta we’ll see. But it’s a very low bar with them.

“On second thought, could I get some of that eyeshadow?”

So as it’s shown here, brute force is ultimately a self-defeating way of dealing with people. And unfortunately, when you’re up against a force that has no scruples or respect for life, you can’t take the risk of trusting them. So Sisko didn’t really do anything wrong here. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Dominion never operates in good faith, so the death of the Founder is on them. If the stakes are high enough, you need to be the ones to bend over backwards and show some humility. But they’re not capable of that. Instead, the Dominion does its best to drive the crew crazy, which would seem to only increase the chances of the Founder getting injured or tortured if found – not smart. There’s something karmic about this Changeling dying because the empire its people created doesn’t allow for trust or negotiation with others. Eh, that’s how the shapeshifter crumbles.

But that’s not the only life that was lost, and Sisko is left with two sides of dead bodies, his own crew and Kilana’s. He partly blames himself for them being dead – which is decent of him, but as I said, I don’t really agree. Unable to stop Sisko, Kilana simply asks to take some of the Founder’s ashes, to which Sisko agrees. She asks if he has gods, and he cryptically replies that there are “things” he believes in. She hopes the ship was worth it as she beams out, and he can only hope it is, too.

The Defiant eventually arrives and has no problem yanking the ship out and bringing it back to the Federation. Dax drops in on Sisko in the mess hall trying to write a report of the ordeal. Starfleet is very happy and is giving everyone medals, but Sisko is stuck on the list of names of the fallen crewmembers. Trying to alleviate his guilt, Dax states the callous truth that those handful of lives could save thousands or even millions someday. Sisko agrees with the ethical math and even confirms he would absolutely make the same trade again – it’s the emotional aspect of everything he’s struggling with.

He quotes the wisdom of maintaining emotional distance from those under your command, and it’s a theme that has come up in every Trek series. There’s a necessary loneliness to command and Sisko admits he tries to follow it but it isn’t very easy in real life. In a wonderful speech, he calls out various personal details of all the people who died, including that Jake and Muniz have the same birthday. It really gives some life to the mostly faceless people who died here and underlines the tragedy that they’re all gone. It’s some painful sonder, the realization that everyone around us has complex lives just as we do – something that’s easy to forget and difficult to contemplate. It’s used here to very good effect and is the first time Star Trek has put this much emotional effort into getting us to care about the redshirts. It works, and helps to communicate the depth of Sisko’s pain so well. I think it’s one of the most important scenes of Trek.

Meanwhile, O’Brien sits before the torpedo coffin of Muniz, speaking to him about the retrieval of the ship. MY EYES. Worf enters, and mentions that he’s performing an ancient Klingon ritual of keeping the predators away from the body. It’s about as much grace as this emotionally limited Klingon is capable of, but still seems magnanimous thanks to Dorn’s performance. And again, this guy is such a try-hard Klingon and total nerd that everything that happens must be filtered through that cultural prism. But it’s still a nice moment, and O’Brien says it’s a fine tradition. They sit together with the body, and it’s a minimal but emotionally satisfying way for the two of them to bury the hatchet.

Name a more iconic mourning trio.

“The Ship” is a remarkable episode because it has a lot of familiar trappings of Trek adventures, but uses the Deep Space Nine gritty magic to push it to deeper places that are raw and uncomfortable. Even in the enlightened future utopia, there’s some unsightliness to humanity that the series was always keen on exploring. The battle of wills that takes place here ends in a technical win for the good guys that stops just short of being a pyrrhic victory. The focus on the loss of life is endemic of Trek’s shining humanism and the episode is one of the most potent spotlights on how all those faceless deaths are still tragedies all the same.

Stray Observations:

  • As much as I like the episode, the plot’s setup is conspicuously forced. Sisko and eight officers are doing a planetary survey in the Gamma Quadrant in a runabout? Why the hell did they not take the Defiant? So that they could get marooned and stuck, of course. But there’s no other reason to not take a ship with proper defenses into an area that’s adjacent to enemy territory. There’s some attempted explanation that the planet is weeks away from Dominion space, but I’m not buyin’ it! Plus four people on a runabout seems like the maximum comfortable number, over double that sounds insufferably cramped – especially for a trip to the other side of the galaxy that’s a couple days away. Just imagine the flavorful bouquet of all that alien B.O. mixing together.
  • Again, I love the disturbing visual of all the dead bodies hanging down, but what’s keeping them up there? There aren’t any chairs, after all. And definitely no straps or belts. The technical minds behind the series conceived of the inertial dampers as a device to explain how a ship traveling faster than light wouldn’t reduce the crew to “chunky salsa.” So if anything, there shouldn’t have even been any bodies in the ship at all – not intact ones, anyway. Paint the walls with guts! But that’s a gory visual you’d need to watch Event Horizon for, not Star Trek.
“This place is a tomb creepy ship full of dead bodies.”
  • What’s funny about the lack of chairs on Dominion ships is that the Jem’Hadar are totally fine being alert at all times, but the soft and weak Vorta are the ones that have to put up with it. There should probably be one chair/throne for the head honcho.
  • The cause of death for the Changeling isn’t specified, but we can infer that it was injured by the same malady that took out the rest of the crew – blunt force trauma, basically. We’ve seen Odo knocked unconscious by objects (which is bullshit, honestly), and so it stands to reason even a gelatinous being could be critically injured by a warp-capable ship accelerating or decelerating too rapidly. It’s pretty amazing the thing survived for any length of time afterwards at all – imagine the physical force at play in such a disaster (it probably looked something like this). The writers were adamant that although the Changelings were amazing creatures with crazy abilities, they were still mortal beings. And indeed, we see several of them die (and get injured/ill) in various ways throughout the series.
  • Kilana offers Sisko some food and drink, which he smartly refuses. She claims it’s not poisonous, while Sisko replies that it isn’t to her. Interestingly, we will later learn that Vorta are immune to all forms of poisoning so she may have indeed tried to serve him up some arsenic tea, which is totally tracks with how the Dominion operates.
LOL, down, girl. You’re making a Vorta spectacle of yourself.
  • The writers were critical of the produced episode and felt it could have been better. One regret they had was having Sisko exit the ship during the course of the episode – they thought the sweaty tension and claustrophobia could have been heightened if they were stuck in there the whole time, with the unseen Vorta’s just being a disembodied voice trying to lure them out. I agree in theory, but visually that sounds like a really stale episode. The outside scenes break up the tension I suppose, but they also break up the visual monotony. It’s an interesting alternative to contemplate though, and I always like knowing the creators’ postmortem thoughts, positive and negative.
  • The crew was stuck in the ship for at least a couple days – what did they eat? The ship’s main power wasn’t really working, and there’s no indication that it has food replicators (later confirmed when it reappears the next season). Maybe there are rations for the Vorta in charge? This could have been yet another source of survival drama, although there’s so much going on already.
  • Hey, a Benzite! Haven’t seen those fishy fools in a while.
Girl, is that eyeshadow or soy sauce? Either way, YUM.