This Deep Space Nine episode, in many ways, did not surprise me. The plot points were more or less to be expected, but as with many of these episodes, I find myself seeing the episode less as a series of plot twists and turns and more as a character study, done in ways both subtle and obvious.
So, what happens when Sisko and O’Brien find themselves in a previously unknown human colony where technology doesn’t work?
Sisko and O’Brien are out scouting for possible colony planets when they find one that not only already has human life signs but also some kind of energy field. The two opt to beam down from their runabout and look around, only to realize they can’t leave afterwards because their communicators, tricorders, and phasers aren’t working. However, there is a colony down there. They’ve been down there for ten years, under the leadership of a woman named Alixus, after their ship crashed there. They haven’t been able to get off the planet since, so they settled down and made the most of it. Aside from some updates on the outside world, the colony seems to be more or less happy to be there, though Alixus says that anyone who wants to leave can.
But I’ve seen enough TV to know this is a lie, and Alixus proves it by immediately telling her adult son that the colony now has two more healthy men living there. So, yes, they aren’t exactly looking to allow Sisko or O’Brien to leave.
Now, I did find it appropriate that it would be Sisko and O’Brien stuck there in that, unlike the rest of the crew (not counting Quark), they are the only ones with a family to get back to. That would, you would think, make them all the more interested in leaving. But no, that wasn’t quite what happened. Sisko only mentions Jake in the cold open in the sort of “they grow up so fast” sort of way, and O’Brien says of Keiko only that, as a botanist, that she would love it on the planet.
Instead, Sisko and O’Brien go about their business, doing work with the colonists as required of anyone staying with them while Alixus clearly tries to break the pair. She does this in ways that are obvious (frequently telling Sisko to take his uniform off since it will get too hot to wear it) and more subtle (referring to Sisko and O’Brien by their first names in a more familiar manner, making them more equals to the colonists). She also tries sending an attractive woman to Sisko’s guest quarters to seduce him, a tactic he sees right through and demands answers for.
Besides, he sees flaws in the story from the beginning. Reasoning that an energy that blocks technology can also be used to power it, Sisko learns from Alixus’s son that she never much liked technology, and it sure was convenient she had paper writing pads to writer her manifestos in. It’s almost like she knew they were going to be there, and it sure was convenient that a woman who thought technology ruined people landed somewhere where technology didn’t work.
So, yes, the whole thing, going on ten years, was a trick Alixus pulled on the others and only her son knew about it. That some colonists were dying of a mystery disease didn’t change her mind about the possible benefits to people who had to work with their hands. And they even had a sweat box for people who broke rules as Sisko and O’Brien learned when a guy got pulled out after spending a full day in there for stealing a candle.
In order to break Sisko, Alixus charges O’Brien with their most serious crime, wasting time, for daring to work on the way out for the two Starfleet men. But since Sisko won’t give up his position, he’ll take the punishment in the box.
And he’s in there a long time, even crawling back in when Alixus offers him water if he’ll just yield that night.
Of course, by then O’Brien found the energy source and shut it off, and he has a working phaser. Plus, it turns out Alixus and her son had managed to get up to the runabout and rigged it to fly into the nearest sun. It missed, so the subplot was Kira and Dax trying to capture a runabout flying around without any passengers onboard at warp speed.
But as I have seen plenty of TV, I knew how this would go down. Alixus would make a speech about how being on that planet without technology made them all better, that she would gladly even sacrifice her own son for the sake of her ideals, and that she would also take her punishment. And then the other colonist decided to stay, unsure if they’d turn the anti-tech field off or not. So, really, a run-of-the-mill episode of TV, enlivened by showing Sisko’s quiet determination, O’Brien’s inventiveness and military experience–he talks about being on the Cardassian front at this time–and to a certain extent, the oddball pairing of Kira and Dax doing Kira and Dax stuff. It may be a run-of-the-mill story, but it was still one told very, very well.