In which Bashir is an idiot, nothing important happens, and I have a new nemesis.
Sisko is wearing his dress uniform, and Jake is wearing an ugly-as-usual jumpsuit and casually mentioning that he’s eye Bajoran girls. But don’t worry folks, he’s already gotten the Sex talk from his friend Nog. Sisko will be doing damage control tomorrow – today he’s in a first contact situation with the Wadi from the Gamma Quadrant.
Strike one: Julian didn’t pack his dress uniform and forgot that he lives on a space station with replicators. Unless somehow you can’t replicate a dress uniform? It’s hard to tell which would be more unfortunate: a dress uniform that couldn’t come out of a replicator, or your chief medical officer if he couldn’t remember that he has access to a replicator.
The Wadi have leaborate mustaches and head tattoos, and otherwise look basically exactly like humans. They are also not at all interested in protocol. They are interested in games. The leader, Falow, asks/demands to be taken to Quarks.
First contact may be a big deal to Starfleet and the Federation, but even if the playing of games is a first-contact ritual for the Wadi, they would likely attach some measure of import to it in a way that the Universal Translator could pick up on and translate. Probably, anyway. We can get a sense of the political landscape of the Gamma Quadrant by looking at just how little the Wadi seem to care about brand new contact.
Fallow and his retinue are learning Dabo, but their barter is not something that Quark finds valuable, except for their boring gemstones. Items so worthless that even with 22nd-century replicator technology Kirk passed a morality test over them by accident. What do you know, that episode was good for something.
As the Wadi keep winning at Dabo, Sisko gets bored of waiting for them to get bored and Quark is desperate to stop them from taking all his money. So he has one of his more… unsavory helpers man the roulette table and press the hidden ‘cheat’ button. And doesn’t even bother to make it look convincing. He is caught immediately. He offers them casino credit, his holo-brothel, and their money back. Instead, they open a box which contains a pretty amazing piece of technology.
Upon opening, the box scans the local area, locates an object of sufficient mass, emits a bright light, and transfigures said object into a game board. We might presume more functions, such as ensuring that the object isn’t structural or integral to the local surroundings, or else that box would be a fantastic weapon. The technology underlying it still is. Point it at, say, a warp core, and see what happens.
The game is Chula, Quark has some pieces, and Sisko wakes up in a strange soundstage we’ve never seen before with a familiar triangular motif. Sisko’s commbadge and the normal ‘end program’ commands don’t work, and it is immediately obvious to anyone watching the show (if not to the characters thereon) that he’s in the game somehow. Given the transfigurative properties of the technology, it’s just as likely that he’s actually physically in it as that he’s asleep and dreaming. The Wadi leader Fallow is in there too, shouting maniacal nonsense. Also present are Bashir, Kira, and Dax.
Kira is the most upset. After all, she’s not Starfleet. Bashir and Dax almost seem giddy at the opportunity to be involved in an alien psych evaluation. Science officers, am I right guys?
Okay, seems like they’re really physically in the game somehow. Ben Sisko does not register as on board the station. Not only is he in the game, the game is preventing the Computer from locating him. The security guy, Primmin, is completely unconcerned that the entire senior staff is missing. Man, you give them even a hint of praise and they coast on it forever. We are now taking bets on how long it will be until this guy is dishonorably discharged for Geneneral Incompetence, Major Negligence, and Paying Too Much Attention To His Privates while on duty.
The game is learn-as-you-go. Quark wagersm rolls, his pieces meet some sort of challenge, and the senior staff find a girl playing hopscotch and endlessly chanting. There’s a force field in the middle of the room. One gets the sense that one of the actors insulted someone on the writing team, and this scene is the revenge. If only we innocent viewers weren’t caught in the crossfire.
From Quark’s perspective, he rolled some dice, Fallow made some ominous statements, and then a few minutes later unilaterally declared that Quark won a couple of gemstones. For a supposedly shrewd and jaded person, Quark is remarkably trusting that Fallow won’t simply declare that Quark lost and forefit his bar. Never bet on a game you don’t know the rules for.
Then again, he does pretty much instantly pick up on the implications when Odo arrives to ask if Quark knows where Sisko and the staff are. Four game tokens, four missing officers. And Quark gets to make a choice – a safe path, or a risky path with greater rewards. He was about to choose the dangerous path, until this moment. It’s not entirely clear whether Quark actually cares about the staff or is just terrified of what Odo will do to him, but he changes his mind.
The game scenarios are pretty stupid. There’s a room full of partying people, all with the same drink, which slowly fills with toxic smoke. That this is any sort of challenge whatsoever indicates that the Wadi must have designed the scenario for a culture with some specific taboos. Otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be much of an obstacle here. In fact the only reason there’s any tension whatsoever is because Sisko stopped Bashir from just grabbing a drink first thing.
This is one of those episodes where there simply isn’t enough whisky in the world to make it enjoyable.
Odo and Primmin scan the Wadi ship and find a persistent matter/energy flux and Odo beams over to check it out. He is prevented from doing so by a light field that sends him right back to Quark’s just in time to watch a roll result murder Bashir via Menacing Tinkerbell.
Based on this, Quark decides that the only reasonable solution is a single risky encounter. Which, if you knew the mix of encounters that can be solved and encounters that just randomly kill a player, could be a good idea. It becomes painfully obvious why you have to learn the rules of the game as you go – as soon as you know what all the cards say it becomes a trivial exercise.
Quark’s roll, of course, winds up forcing him to sacrifice a piece to save the others. It’s a character moment for Quark, where he can’t bring himself to choose. Maybe he really does care. Of course, someone still has to die, but now the game will pick ‘at random.’ Jadzia gets her leg wounded in time for a crisis situation and why is my glass bereft of whisky? It needs more, this is just so terrible. I’m sorry guys, the space-gambler appearing out of a plane of light shouting non-contextual gibberish was just too much. This is excruciatingly drawn-out and there’s no point to it and if I were watching this in syndication I would lose about 90% of my enthusiasm for the show.
Anyway, the Starfleet officers refuse to let someone sacrifice themselves, they all lose and appear in the bar. After all, it’s only a game. Even within the fictional context of the universe there were no stakes in this episode, and even Quark’s character moment amounts to nothing. So really the only thing we’ve learned from this is to be incredibly suspicious of episodes written by Michael Piller.