Politics

Star Trek’s Dueling Notions Of Justice

The frontier semi-lawlessness of the station is a big part of what makes “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (DS9) unique in the Star Trek universe. Far from the perfected world of Earth and the other Federation homeworlds, Starfleet characters are forced to deal with things that are messier than they are accustomed to seeing. Episode eight of season one, “The Passenger,” is one of these law-and-order episodes in which hardened criminals and the cagey Constable Odo interact.

The episode, which aired on February 21, 1993, opens with Bashir and Kira meeting a disabled ship as they return from a mission. The vessel piloted by Ty Kajada (played by Julie Caitlin Brown,) a Kobilad security officer charged with transporting an arch-criminal she has spent twenty years tracking down. The criminal, Rao Vantika (James Harper), started a fire aboard the ship, hoping it would help him escape. The plan backfires and Vantika dies of smoke inhalation after attacking Bashir as he tries to save him.

Back aboard the station, Kajada examines Vantika’s corpse and is unsatisfied with Bashir’s analysis that the man is dead. She stabs the corpse in the heart and demands an autopsy. Odo, to this point, has stayed out of the Vantika business, since he agrees with Bashir that the prisoner died on his way to DS9. But he is watching Quark, whom he believes has some caper planned involving a shipment of deuridium, a vital medicine that the Kobilads need to live. Meanwhile, a Starfleet security officer, George Primmin (James Lashly) questions Odo’s methods, setting up a conflict between the two men on the right way to police the distant outpost.

Law Or Order?

That theme is one that we have seen before in the series and will see again: Odo came up under the Cardassian justice system; he knows who is guilty and wants to see them punished. Primmin, like Commander Sisko, represents the Federation’s approach, which is essentially the American constitutional approach: due process, fair trials, and the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Sisko’s time at DS9 is already affecting his opinions on frontier justice: when Primmin complains to him about Odo’s methods, Sisko suggests the newcomer could stand to learn a thing or two from the seasoned constable.

Meanwhile, Odo monitors the deuridium situation while Kajada continues to insist that Vantika is not dead. Primmin apologizes to Odo for doubting him, but Odo is not mollified. He offers Sisko his resignation, now that the Starfleet man is here to take his place. Sisko tells him he is being ridiculous. Someone then erases all of the station’s active computer memory, which forces Odo and Primmin to put aside their dispute and get to the bottom of things.

Dax and Bashir join the investigation and begin to suspect that Vantika was trying to convert his consciousness to a computer program, which he would then “upload” into someone else’s brain. Given their proximity on the ship, the first place they suspect the criminal’s mind might reside is in Kajada, his old antagonist. They lock her out of the investigation, but meanwhile someone shoves her off a balcony. She is injured, but survives, and Dax and Bashir still cannot figure out where Vantika’s computerized brain is hiding.

Brain In A Jar

Dax figures out that Vantika’s spirit left his body through a device in his fingers, which means anyone he touched could have been made into the new receptacle for the criminal’s mind. Meanwhile, Primmin finds another sabotage device, suggesting that whoever Vantika is controlling is still active and plotting something.

Attentive viewers will have realized by now that the only person Vantika touched besides Kajada before “dying” was Bashir and, indeed, the doctor is now controlled by the digitized brain of a criminal mastermind. He is working with Quark to hire mercenaries to arrange the theft of the deuridium, hoping to hold the essential medicine for ransom (as always, the question of greed in the post-scarcity universe raises more questions than it answers). Bashir-Vantika hijacks the freighter but the DS9 crew captures it in a tractor beam before he can flee.

Now in a high-tech Mexican standoff (can we still say that?) Bashir-Vantika threatens to blow up the ship and everyone on it, including himself, if he is not allowed to go free. Dax designs an electromagnetic pulse—the multitool of the Star Trek universe—that matches Vantika’s brainwaves, disabling his control over Bashir. Bashir “reemerges” and, though confused as to how he got there, agrees to Sisko’s demand that he lower ship’s shields. Dax extracts the Vantika-ness out of his brain and stores it in a computer chip, which Kajada—serving as judge, jury, and executioner—then vaporizes.

“The Passenger” is one of those status quo ante episodes that leaves everyone in the same place they started. There is not much character development, but the plot is entertaining and the theme of justice in deep space was explored a little more deeply. The Kobilad system of justice, if Kajada is representative of her people, inclines more toward the Cardassian style Odo favors than the Federation’s rights-based approach.

The interactions between Odo and Primmin make for some interesting tension between two crew members, but unfortunately the Primmin character would be forgotten after appearing in just one more episode later this season. Still, the conversation around law and order is a good one. That conflict is another indication that on the far reaches of their democratic empire, Starfleet officers are going to have to make some tough choices in the future.

Kyle Sammin is a lawyer and writer from Pennsylvania. Read some of his other writing at kylesammin.com, or follow him on Twitter @KyleSammin.
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