Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Free-For-All: Deep Space Nine's "Plain and Simple Garak" on root beer and crying wolf

I've long been of the opinion that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the best series of the franchise, and one of those reasons is the character of Garak, played by Andrew Robinson. From his first appearance in the second episode of the series, Garak announced himself to be just "plain and simple Garak." In fact, that was far from the truth.

Deep Space Nine was a space station abandoned by the Cardassians, a race in a state of truce with the Federation, after they were finally forced off of the planet Bajor by the revolt of the populace. Basically, think of the Cardassian Military as the SS and Bajor as WWII-era Poland. Thus, the Cardassians weren't too popular on Bajor or Deep Space Nine after the evacuation - making Garak's continued residency an oddity that immediately made one wonder about his history.

Beyond that, Garak was often a good source of the sorts of "outsider" observations and often dark lines that some of the other characters couldn't get away with. There's also the fact that he so often bent the truth that eventually everyone stopped taking anything he says at face value. In this clip from Season 3's "Improbable Cause," Dr. Bashir uses "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" as an analogy for why no one trusts Garak when he seems to be in danger. Garak - in one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue - offers a different interpretation. (The teleplay is credited to Rene Echevarria.)

Another excellent Garak scene is this exchange between him and Quark in Season 4's "The Way of the Warrior." Here, root beer is used as a surprisingly deft metaphor for the Federation. This episode was written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe


  1. Huge ST fan and loved DS:9. I hated when it ended. I think it could have gone at least two more solid seasons - but hey - that's TV and its all about the numbers, right? DS:9 had the best ensemble of all the Trek series and I credit that to it being a base station and not a starship hell bent on exploration. It was a hub. Ugh - now I wanna watch it! Darn it, Bitter!!!!

  2. The reason it was so good, is because it had a story arc and complex characters, alliances and motives (Sisko's wife was killed by Picard and the Borg, Kira was an ex-terrorist, Garak an ex secret policeman, and Worf... well Worf was just Worf)

    Moreover, Sisko wasn't just the captain, he was the Emissary. He was on the front line of the war against a powerful and complex enemy.

    And because they weren't afraid to go dark for long stretches :)

    Without DS-9, there would not have been a Galactica.

  3. DS9 is, indeed, wonderful. I think it is the richest of all the STs because it places characters above idealism.

    This series of essays is very good, and I think gives some great insight into what made the writing of DS9 so good. The essay on Kira is especially illuminating:

  4. This aversion to idealism also meant they put characters in situations in which they are directly in conflict.

  5. One thing that needs to be said is that TV series are borne from the prevailing mindset.

    DS-9 was the Trek Universe's response to Babylon 5, and was clearly influenced by that earlier series, not just from the premise of a space station that was a hub, or diplomats who were terrorists in their earlier lives, but also in terms of the overall story telling, and DS-9's masterly quasi-serial format.

    In some senses, DS-9 raised the bar further, by showing that there is an audience for this kind of sci-fi, provided the themes are strong enough.

  6. Gotta nip this one in the bud - DS9 was not "clearly influenced" by B5... and how could it be? DS9 premiered in January of 1993 and had been in development for well over a year. (Discussions about the series had been active since shortly before Gene Roddenberry's death in October of '91.) B5's premiere movie was over a month and a half later and the series itself didn't debut until almost a year AFTER that in Jan of 94.

    Several DS9 writers are on record as saying they never watched Babylon 5. In fact, few of them even watched Voyager regularly when both shows were on the air.

  7. Ok, I'll recant, except for two things.

    I have a *strong* recollection regarding similarities/issues between the two shows when they were on, being a B-5 nerd. So it certainly felt, at the time, that there was "cross-pollination" between the two shows.

    Secondly, JMS pitched B-5 to Paramount in *1989*, including a pilot, bible, character outlines and synopses for the 1st season. Moreover, filming on the B-5 pilot ended before filming on the DS-9 pilot began.

    I'll let JMS speak for himself:

    In any case, at this moment it's irrelevant. To be honest, now that all the smoke has cleared, imho history has been kinder to DS-9 than B-5.

    JMS might have been just a little too ambitious with his story and trying to write the whole thing himself (although to be fair he did have to suffer the indignity of the season 4/5 fiasco, and warner bros tv) and didn't have the budget to do a good job on the action sequences, whereas the war plot of DS-9 and the superior production values, work much better in episodic form.

  8. and this one from JMS

  9. Only thing I can remember about B5 is how whiny the creator was at a sci-fi convention I was at. All he did the entire time was say that Paramount stole his show. Turned me off it forever. There are ways to say the same thing without sounding like a 3 year old who just had his lollipop taken away by his mean nanny.

    You know, Mark Hammil is a big whiner too. All he did at the last one I was at was whine about how he had to use two hands for a light saber and in the new movies they were using just one hand and doing neat tricks with it. I just wanted to go up on stage, smack him, and tell him to grow up.

  10. I'm sorry, but I don't buy into JMS's conspiracy theories. I've read too much about the development of DS9 to believe that creators Piller & Berman ripped him off. To that end, I'm glad he stops short of saying that, but he still furthers the completely unprovable fact that "well, the Paramount execs told them what to write so they'd rip off my idea."

    Unless he can produce a memo from Paramount execs to Berman & Piller that shows that the studio did such a thing, it's an utterly groundless statement to make. Accusing another writer of plagerism or of being an unwitting party to plagerism is a DAMN serious accusation to make.

    The only provable fact he does have is that Paramount saw his pitch packet. But let's explore this for a minute - this is the studio that made Star Trek. Further, when TNG premiered, the convention wisdom was that sci-fi was dead on TV and that syndication was REALLY dead. And yet TNG thrived, becoming the #1 rated syndicated scripted series. (Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy always out drew it, obviously.)

    So if you've got a sci-fi series, where are you going to go to pitch it? I'd be shocked if Paramount wasn't a major stop for a lot of writers looking to sell such a series... because Paramount had a track record and TNG proved there was a market for it.

    I don't doubt there was some competitiveness on Paramount's part when the other show was announced. This was someone else moving onto the sci-fi turf that they'd held a monopoly on - but it's a leap to go from that to say "Hey, let's dig through that old pitch material and steal whatever we can to undercut this other show. Then we're going to make Berman and Piller write all this without telling them where it came from."

    It's ludicrous.

    DS9 didn't even start as a station-based show! If you're doing sci-fi, you're pretty much limited to three options for your setting: a space ship, a space station or an alien planet. The first thought was to set the show on an outpost actually on Bajor. That was scrapped when the costs of erecting permanent standing stages on location would have been cost prohibitive. With TNG on the air, they didn't want to do another ship show, so they shifted their focus to a space station.

    Simultaneous development happens all the time in the business, particularly within a narrow field. I can understand how JMS might be sour over the circumstances but he has NO proof that DS9 was a ripoff - no matter how he tries to tailor the circumstances to make it appear so.

  11. I was countering your point about which came first, and offering some evidence to support it, which includes a clear sequence of events and press anouncements.

    Let's be clear, JMS absolves Berman and Pillar of any wrongdoing, and goes further and clearly states that he considers them to be honorable men. But not so for the executives.

    But for you to suggest that B & P were given complete free reign, and created DS-9 and, more importantly in this case, it's pilot without extensive notes and input from studio executives... well, I suspect you'd laugh at me if I said it.

    I really don't want to get into a pissing contest here. Like I said, history has shown DS-9 to be a better show, but I'm convinced that the DS-9 writers were freed from the shackles that bound the TNG writers as a result of competing with B5.

    That was the point I was really trying to make.

  12. My point is that anyone who states as a certainty that Paramount "ripped" off Babylon 5 is deeply misinformed. And I couldn't let that accusation stand. There are plenty of people willing to do JMS's dirty work for him by spreading this falsehood. If Google sends someone to this post, I want them to see why JMS's accusations don't meet any standard of proof.

    Sure, the execs gave notes... by why is JMS so convinced that those notes HAD to have guided DS9 to being closer to B5? There's no proof of that at all, and the fact that the pilot has Berman & Piller's fingerprints all over it shows that they likely made the show they wanted to make. They've been candid in other instances when the studio has tied their hands - so why do none of many, many articles on DS9's development say, "The studio had some great ideas/demands/suggestions?" All indications are that the writers got to make the show they wanted to make.

    JMS can't provide a smoking gun. He barely provides a gun at all. Does he really believe that the development execs would have given notes that could have moved DS9 180 degrees from what B&P wanted... just so Paramount could screw with him? He can't accuse B&P of theft (because then they might sue him) so he instead accuses nameless Paramount execs - provides ZERO direct link between the individuals guiding DS9 and the people he pitched to, and then basically calls DS9's creators nothing more than stenographers for Paramount's Great Sci-Fi Theft.

    As far as DS9 having greater autonomy creatively due to competing with B5, it's pretty well documented that you can actually credit Voyager with that. Ira Behr was the guy who pushed DS9 to its greater heights in later seasons, and most of the writers agree that they got away with a lot of stuff because Rick Berman's attention was on Voyager (as well as the studio's, for that matter.)

  13. First, it's undeniable that Paramount were given JMS's pilot script, bible, etc back in 1989. There's a paper trail.

    Secondly, Paramount wasn't out to screw JMS, they were out to screw Warners. JMS and his show just happened to get caught in the crossfire.

    Thirdly, JMS and Warners didn't sue because what Paramount did wasn't plagiarism, in the legal sense.

    I'll accede your point re: Ira Behr, although I still contend that DS-9 was doing far edgier stuff than TNG from day one.

  14. I don't dispute that Paramount got JMS's pilot script. But that's not nearly enough to hang these accusations on. We can't imagine how many pitches those particular execs saw in the span of time from JMS's meeting to the debut of both shows. Just in my job, I've seen scripts come into a company that bear shocking similarities to something they've had in development but haven't been announced yet. It happens, but it doesn't mean there was theft involved.

    The only paper trail that would matter would be a Paramount memo from the execs that JMS pitched to Berman & Piller, offering suggestions that were taken straight from JMS's pitch. And JMS can't even prove that whoever he pitched to had anything to do with DS9's development. Hell, we don't even know if that person was still at the studio at that time! Sure, there'd be a paper trail of that execs notes on the meeting, but if it was a PASS, someone would have to know to go look for this.

    The fact that "Paramount got a pitch for a station-based show" and "Paramount made a different station-based show years later" ain't nothing close to a straight line, no matter how much Joe keeps using his tried-and-true method of fighting a case on the internet that he can't win anywhere else.

    And whether they were out to screw with Warners or JMS, the accusation that they'd employ B&P as completely unwitting stooges while somehow still miraculously keeping both writers somehow under the impression they were actually producing the show they wanted to, is utterly laughable. I don't doubt that on the business end of things, Paramount played hardball to stay ahead of Warners - but on the creative end there's no straight line from JMS's Pitch to DS9's conception. Just one pitch meeting with one unnamed studio exec at a very large studio.

    True, DS9 was doing edgier stuff from the beginning, but that was also by design. The writers were chaffing under Roddenberry's "no conflict among the humans/Starfleet people." Setting essentially outside of the Federation, with a cast half-composed of people who weren't native to Roddenberry's utopian view of Earth was their way of introducing inter-character conflict without breaking Gene's rules.

  15. Here am I getting into a pissing contest when I said I didn't want to. apologies.

    First of all, the fact there's a paper trail means that JMS's pitch to Paramount was clearly more extensive than a simple 15 minute meeting with some random junior executive. The paper trail means that Paramount execs *requested* his materials.

    JMS has clearly stated that *execs* (plural) at Paramount read his script and materials, and that some of those execs ended up working on DS-9. I agree, JMS should have named names, but there you go. I don't doubt, for a second, that he has the names.

    Secondly, I wish you wouldn't set up these strawmen. I never once suggested that P&R are stooges for the Paramount execs, simply that they were highly receptive to notes and suggestions these executives would have, particularly during the making of the pilot.

    And that conversation doesn't have to be complicated, for example:
    P&R: We want to set the show on Bajor.
    Exec #1: too expensive to shoot outdoors
    P&R: well we don't want to make another show set on a ship.
    Exec #2: Why don't we set it on a Space Station? Make it like some interplanetary Casablanca.
    Everyone: *awesome*
    P&R: That's good, but why is the space station there?
    Exec #2: maybe to guard over a transportation point, like a star gate in space.
    P&R: That's kinda tacky.
    Exec #1: but it should be important to have the space station there.
    P&R: I know, what about making it a worm hole?
    Everyone: *double rainbow*
    and so on.

    See, it's that simple. And who gets the credit for the idea? It's not a question of a rip off, or plagiarism (which this is not). It's simply a matter of JMS having developed fully formed answers to questions that were bound to arise in DS-9 development, and the Paramount execs taking advantage of that foresight.

    Someone once said that every great fortune is the result of a great crime. I've been dealing for many years with very similar situations dealing with venture capital companies, helping to get startups off the ground, where VCs *steal* ideas and presentations, sometimes from multiple startups, and give them to people they think are better suited to making the whole thing work. So I recognize it when I see it.

    I know you feel compelled to defend the ST guys, but given that those execs knew about B5, had access to extensive preproduction materials (that they had earlier explicitly requested), and were mindful of (because of the competition), I think it's naive to assume that they wouldn't dip into that bag for inspiration every once in a while.

    Moreover, if I were going to do something like that, I'd make sure to cover my ass. They'd be no different.
    Even so, there's more than a line to join the dots.

    What *is* a ridiculous thought is the idea that out of all the studio and development execs on the planet, the guys in the ST group at Paramount, and in particular those who worked under Brandon Tartikoff, are the only ones who wouldn't be venal mofos like all the others.

    Picasso and Stravinsky (and others) once said: "The good borrow, the great steal."

  16. Alright, we're going in circles here. I'll just say that if my characterization of B&P is a "strawman" argument, yours is equally so.

    For starters, B&P said that the wormhole thing grew out of them wanting to explore something they hinted at in "The Price" - what if there was this wormhole that opened up an entirely unexplored region of space? It was their way of bringing in a new canvas to play with so the show could have its own identity, lest it feel too familiar to TNG. It was basically their way of doing "Seek out new worlds" while anchoring the show at a stationary point.

    And it's not unreasonable to buy that as the thought process that led to the wormhole as opposed to some exec's "off-hand" suggestion. That's why I've never bought JMS's "guided by the execs" story. Too many of the similarities he cites are easily accounted for by B&P's statements on their own development process. Even JMS agrees those guys are above reproach, so why would they lie about THAT when B&P were supposedly manipulated into believing they didn't do anything wrong?

    As I said, if JMS alleges that Paramount played dirty pool with the affiliates and tried to squash B5's launch, I have zero trouble believing that. Him impeaching a creative process he had no part in is where I take issue with his accusations. It's all innuendo, guesses and suppositions. And when he accuses other writers of theft (either wittingly or unwittingly) he'd better have something more to back it up. It's an incredibly serious charge to level against people who make their living developing intellectual property.

    But at this point, we're both pretty much digging in on the same points. I don't see either of us conceding, so perhaps we agree to disagree having each presented our side of the argument thoroughly?

  17. I agree to your suggestion of a ceasefire.