Friday, June 14, 2019

Games – Star Trek DS9 S1 E10: Move Along Home [Media Notes 1]

Note: This is episode 9 on Netflix, where the first two episodes are combined into a single numbered episode.
Broadcast March 9, 1993

I’ve been watching a lot of episodes from Star Trek franchises in the last few months, most of them in fact. And I’ve watched a great deal else besides. It’s my impression that, more than any other series or franchise, Star Trek presents many episodes as puzzles or games, with more or less explicit conventions or even rules. These conventions/rules always have an element of explicit logic to them.

One type of episode is one in which some of the continuing characters become pieces in a game played or manipulated by characters specific to the episode. Move Along Home is one such episode.

The episode is set on the space station, DS9, as it is visited by the Wade, the first species from the Gamma Quadrant to visit DS9. Upon boarding DS9 the Wadi head straight for Quark’s casino where Quark engages them in Dabo, which they master and then proceed to clean Quark out. They catch him and force them to play a game they brought with them, Chula.

They refuse to tell Quark the rules. FWIW the game appears to be played on a pyramidal set of layers and involves four game pieces which move about the layers according to Quark’s through of dice-like counters. Once the game is under way we learn that four senior officers of DS9 have been transported into an abstract world that seems rather game like.

Which it is. What they do in this world is motivated by/constrained by the moves Quark makes at Chula. The episode moves back an forth between Quark playing Chula and the officers (Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Bashir) in their abstract world. The four slowly figure out they’re in a game and Quark comes to realize that the moves he makes in the game are being played out by those four officers, who have apparently left the station without a trace. And then things collapse. The game is over and the four officers appear in Quarks. The Wadi leave and Sisko has a talk with Quark.

I have, of course, omitted all the details of gameplay etc. My purpose here is simply to register this as one example of a type of episode the occurs in Star Trek. What’s the point, if I may, of this kind of episode? What's it trying to achieve? By way of comparison, mysteries are also explicitly about puzzle solving – who done it? But they’re quite different in construction and import, no?

Addendum 6.15.19: I’m thinking I probably short-changed Quark. When he finally realizes that his game’s play may well cost the lives of the players he begs for their lives and pledges that he’ll never again cheat if they’re spared. Odo hears this pledge and at the end, tells Sisko to talk with Quark about what he’d said, though Odo doesn’t mention the pledge itself. We don’t year the pledge and, of course, we know the Quark will go on cheating. These is, of course, a sense in which the Wadi are dishonest as well, for they didn’t indicate the ‘dark side’ of their game when they brought it out.

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