Star Trek Deep Space Nine had an advantage its sister show Next Generation lacked. That would be that, by the time Deep Space Nine came along, the people working the franchise more or less knew how to put together a quality sci-fi show. As such, unlike the first season or two of Next Generation as everyone involved was figuring out how to make the show work, those lessons could be applied to Deep Space Nine right away. That doesn’t mean that Deep Space Nine was formed whole cloth from episode one. The show still has room to evolve. It just means that the beginning doesn’t feel so rough.
It also means that “Captive Pursuit” feels like a good episode of Next Generation. Maybe not a top one, but at least one where it seems like everything is working and the final result is a quality episode.
In fact, much of what follows does have a lot of Trek staples going on. There’s a plot reflecting on the real world and how we may hope ethics are different in the future. Classic Trek concepts come along in the form of First Contact and the Prime Directive. And, at its core, is a very human character trying to make a humane decision.
This time, that human character is Chief O’Brien, and his working class, everyday Joe kinda quality really shines here. Wikipedia tells me this actor Colm Meaney said this one was his favorite of season one, and it makes sense. Unlike the last time I thought we were getting an episode to showcase O’Brien, this time around we do have one.
And it all starts because O’Brien takes a liking to an alien from the Gamma Quadrant, the first sentient life to come through the wormhole, and he’s Tosk.
That’s all this guys says to identify himself. “Tosk” could be his name or his species. He’s a little off, has the ability to turn invisible, and doesn’t seem to understand a lot of what he sees. He doesn’t seem to need food or drink or anything along those lines. He asks questions, may or may not know how to repair his damaged ship (the reason he met O’Brien or came to the station in the first place), and doesn’t really know what to do with himself at Quark’s at all since, well, nothing Quark has to offer seems of much interest to Tosk. He comes across as more of an animal than anything else, even if he clearly has the ability to speak and reason things out. He may be one of the most harmless aliens to ever come to the station. And considering the Cardassians and the Ferengi hang around here on a routine basis, that’s not exactly a high bar to jump, but you get the idea.
In fact, even when alone and he asks the station’s computer where the weapons are stored, he doesn’t come across as sinister or anything. Mysterious, sure, but it does feel like that comes more from the fact he is incapable of explaining himself in a manner that will satisfy everyone involved. And when Odo does catch him trying to break into the armory, Tosk doesn’t try to attack the constable. He tries to make a run for it.
Why would anyone distrust this guy? Sure, he’s not explaining himself, but it seems more like he can’t than he won’t. Besides, the answer comes shortly after that when a second ship shows up, and its occupants beam aboard the station, forcing a confrontation between station personnel and the mystery aliens. These guys want Tosk, too. And it isn’t because Tosk is a criminal or anything.
These guys bred Tosk’s race to hunt for sport, and catching one easily in a security cell means the hunt was ruined and Tosk will be subject to ridicule when they get him back.
That actually explains a lot. Tosk’s furtive actions are clearly the work of someone being hunted, and his inability to explain things does sound like something a genetically bred being might say. He’s Tosk because, well, that’s all he was ever going to be. And now he’s going back to where he came from, and he won’t ask for asylum in the Federation because, well, it’s dishonorable. The Prime Directive means Sisko can’t hold onto Tosk either. Tosk is going back with the hunters whether he wants to or not.
And that’s when O’Brien really shines. Since he took such a liking to the guy, he opts to help him by doing something unexpected. Inspired indirectly by Quark and how Ferengi change the rules when they aren’t working, O’Brien helps Tosk escape, gives him a weapon, and puts the guy back on his ship to fly away. And sure, Sisko will read O’Brien the riot act afterwards, but O’Brien did note that Sisko didn’t exactly try to stop O’Brien with the security fields, a feat that would have been rather easy for the commander to do. If anything, everyone, even the hunters, left the station more or less happy, so what was the harm?
Considering Tosk was being hunted for pleasure, it does seem to fit more with less acceptable forms of hunting like the fox hunt than with anyone who eats their kills later. Likewise, the aliens wore red like those aforementioned fox hunters, so while O’Brien and Sisko didn’t even make a dent in whatever culture these guys called theirs by suggesting rights for Tosk–something Tosk himself might not know what to do with–that doesn’t change the fact that the show made a statement, one connected to the real world, and did so with a fairly cute lizard man all things being equal, where a member of the station crew made a new friend and did right by the fellow.
That sure sounds like a good Star Trek episode to me.