By Robert Ring, Mon, 01/31/2011 – 18:04
It’s been a long time, but I’m back with a little more Star Trek under my belt, so let’s pick up where we left off two months ago. For this LTLST entry, I watched Deep Space Nine’s “The Passenger.” I found this one to be not a great episode but a good one. It moves away from the Next Generation-fan-pandering of recent previous episodes like “Q-Less” and “Captive Pursuit” and goes back to how this particular Star Trek series started — confronting relevant hypothetical scenarios. Works for me.
In this one, a Kobliad named Ty Kajada shows up near Deep Space Nine with her ship essentially falling apart, as her prisoner, a Kobliad by the name of Rao Vantika, started a fire on the ship in order to escape. Vantika seemingly dies in the fire, but Kajada is not convinced of his death.
It is pretty clear after the first few minutes of the episode that we’re not going to learn, “Oh, he really was dead after all. Case closed,” because this is Star Trek, and how boring would that be? Instead, we’re left pondering for a while, If Vantika is truly clinically dead, and if all tests reveal the dead body definitively to be that of Vantika’s, and if all scans of Kajada’s ship turn up no signs of life, then how could Vantika possibly still be alive? One of the episode’s merits in this regard is Kajada’s persistence as to the likelihood of Vantika still being alive, knowing that he has become a master of faking his death. In most situations, such a character either would say, “Yeah, I guess he must really be dead this time,” or would have some kind of theory about how he is still alive, but Kajada demonstrates that she’s smart enough to realize she doesn’t have all the answers. She just knows the history of her subject and, based on that knowledge, admits to herself that there is probably more going on than she would understand. She would make a horrible politician.
Of course, the key element of this episode is the answer to how Vantika has kept himself alive — by transferring his consciousness into another body, namely that of Bashir. This brings rise to that classic question of what makes us who we are. If it is truly only one’s psychological and moral traits that defines them as a person, then we have to deem Vantika as being fully himself when he is in control of what we understand to be Bashir’s body. But does a copy of one’s consciousness constitute the same person as the original consciousness? If we maintain that a copy is only a copy — a duplicate of the original but not the original — then we also have to believe that one’s physical makeup does in fact influence who they are. For the purposes of their investigation, Kajada, Sisko, etc., do treat the copy as the true Vantika, but there is plenty of room left for speculation as they never really approach the matter philosophically, only practically.
One thing that very, very, very (very) slightly irked me in this episode is the ending, in which they capture Vantika’s conscious into an electronic device and hand it over to Kajada, who immediately vaporizes it. I thought it would have been much more interesting if she had held onto the device, especially given that earlier in the episode someone had mentioned that Vantika and Kajada, due to their endless rivalry, were essentially as close as any two lovers. How crazy would it be to know that you had your worst enemy’s living conscious trapped inside a device in your pocket, or on your desk, day in and day out? Plus, I would have liked to see if, years later, the DS9 writers could come up with a way for Vantika to beat that “death,” somehow resurrecting himself out of the device. The ending is not bad as it is, but I think it could have been opened to some cool possibilities down the line.
Regardless of my preference as to how it could have ended, this is not a bad episode at all. The characters and their dilemma are interesting, and there are some intriguing philosophical matters at play. I haven’t cared for the past several episodes of this series, but I have a feeling this is the beginning of it picking up again. Tell me if I’m wrong.
1. Alexander Siddig (Bashir) plays a horrible villain.
2. Kobliads are ugly.
Next week: DS9 – “Move Along Home”